I learned a lot more than my lines in ‘Calendar Girls’

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Rather than writing an epilogue about my first foray on stage, I’m collecting my thoughts halfway in because I want you to have a chance to see “Calendar Girls.” Plays are like trains — when they’re gone, they’re gone.

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Why do I want you to see it? Because I’ll never have a chance to! And it’s such a great play! It hit me as we opened last weekend: I’ll never see this play. And that made me really sad. Sure, I’ve heard the lines so many times I could probably recite them all by now and I’ve seen random scenes during rehearsal, but I won’t get that enraptured suspension of disbelief from watching a play or movie, when you sink into the performance and all life’s worries and troubles drift away for awhile.

I’ve been reviewing Winters Theatre Company plays for more than 23 years, and admittedly, I may be biased, but I think “Calendar Girls” is one of their best. You’ll laugh. And I don’t mean courtesy twitters. I mean full-on belly-busters. If you don’t laugh, well, you’re probably a boring person and we can’t be friends.

It’s one thing to review plays and quite another to be on stage. I have new respect for anyone who performs in community theater. It’s an incredible amount of work, even when you have just a little spit of a character as I do, and everything from lighting to how to properly change a tablecloth during a scene change all have to be meticulously worked out. I was always attracted to acting, but had little faith in my memorization skills, based on my trouble memorizing piano music — without sheet music, I’m lost, despite 13 years of lessons. But I discovered something amazing in this play: I really can memorize things, with enough practice.

Practice? You mean that’s why I failed at belly dancing? It takes practice?

Well, that’s overly optimistic. I could practice for a year and I’d likely still dance like a chimpanzee having seizures. But practice might have helped me memorize music.

Ooooh, Life! Why do you wait so long to teach us stuff!

So, yes, I practiced and practiced, and by the time I stepped out on stage, I knew my lines. Until someone else flubbed theirs. Or skipped a line. Or made one up. You see, there’s an entire network of memorization that must all come together. A play isn’t a series of solo performances. It’s an orchestra of words, exquisitely timed, and if someone fumbles, you can’t just put your hands on your hips and stare at her until she gets it right. You have to ad-lib on the spot and smooth it over. The audience is watching!

That ability to memorize so much material and then coordinate it seamlessly was what impressed me so deeply. I witnessed these “Calendar Girls” — Lori Vaughn, Sara Wieringa, Linda Glick, Mary Young, Christine Deamer and Janene Whitesell — go from reading scripts around a table to a finished performance, working and working and working on the tiniest details. Watching the play materialize before my eyes was truly magical. And now … I don’t even get to see it!

(Insert full lower-lip pout here.)

I’m also so impressed with Director Anita Ahuja. She is just delightful and so patient and encouraging, and made my little romp into the unknown a very positive experience. Would I do it again? Sure! But very cautiously, because the time commitment — even for a small part — is substantial, particularly for someone with very little white space on her calendar. But here’s the flip side of that: I use my packed schedule to brush things away with the “I don’t have time” excuse. Turns out, time can be made. It just requires effort.

Which sounds a lot like practice, doesn’t it.

Ugh.

Why can’t everything come easily, like writing.

So, besides the really lovely experience of stretching my brain in new directions, being in this play forced me to face some of my own self-sabotage. My favorite line from the play is Jessie’s (Mary Young), in the midst of a rant about how women are made to feel old by the time they’re 30:

“The smallest incidents of life will expand to fill the hours you allot them, and the saddest thing on God’s Earth is those with the fewest hours left allowing less and less to fill more and more.”

Wow.

That’s it, right there. As decades tick past, many activities fall out of reach, and not simply because we didn’t practice enough. Some things just become physically impossible, or at the very least, unwise. It struck me recently that I’ll probably never ride a horse or go skiing again — not because I doubt my ability, but because I could no longer withstand a fall. What used to bounce would now break.

Horses and skiing — out.

It’s been 10 years since a bone collapsed in my arch and ripped a tendon, and my podiatrist stared me in the eyes and said, “You’re never going to run again. Deal with it.” Unless, of course, I’d have reconstructive surgery on my foot and even then — no guarantees.

Running — also out.

So. We have a choice here. I could sulk about what I can’t do, or find new activities that I CAN do, particularly those things I used to discount as too slow or boring (hiking comes to mind), or impossible, like being in a play. I mean, there must be something else to do besides drink wine, which I’m still really good at.

So. Hiking and acting — in.

Yes, Jessie, I heard you: Don’t allow less and less to fill more and more, or pretty soon, you have a whole lot of nothing. True, horseback riding, skiing and running are behind me, but maybe I don’t have to go 70 miles per hour to have fun. I can go 35 and enjoy the view. It sure beats the hell out of stopping.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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