The Night I Returned

Well, I’ll be dipped, I actually have another theatre tale for you.

As you may remember, I finally got my theatre mojo back after it being in abeyance for quite a while.  Of course, in true comedic fashion, the universe decided to answer my renewed mojo by either not having plays with suitable roles for me or the double whammy of having the rear end of my car redesigned by a truck and the conflict of my annual Christmas B & B review interfering with shows that did.

Then fate finally tossed me a bone.

Last year, BlueBarn Theatre began a new series called Musing which is a storytelling series where people (not necessarily actors) tell a true story based on the theme of the night.  The series has been wildly successful with routine full houses.  Now I’ve lived a story or two, but I knew this one would be dynamite for the show once the proper theme night was available.

In August, Musing announced that two sessions would be held during the 2022-2023 season and the theme for both would be Storyteller’s Choice.

Bingo!

I contacted Seth Fox, Musing’s curator, and sent him the link to Devastation for a pitch.  In less than an hour, I had a reply from him saying that he loved the story and that he had a spot open in the October session and offered it to me.  I accepted without batting an eye.

While not a role, it was my first performance in a very long time and I was glad that I’d be sharing the tale of my audition for The Elephant Man.  For starters, we had just passed the 20th anniversary of that audition so it seemed a bit of poetic justice to commemorate it in some way.  But more importantly, it was the most honest and dramatic work I could present.

I’ve had a pretty good body of work, but, in my regular acting days, I got typed/perceived/what have you as a light-hearted actor.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love doing comedy and bits and I enjoy watching them.  But my first love in theatre has always been dramas and my dramatic moments on the stage have been few and far between.

So if Musing was going to begin a regular return to the stage, it was important to me to be able to present myself in a new light so that those who knew me would see me differently and to introduce myself to those who only know me as the writer in the boldest way possible.

So I went about cutting my story down to the 10-12 minutes I would need for Musing and began to polish it up.  I started performing it simply so I could get a feel for the words.  Then I started preparing it the way I knew best:  as an actor.  I added the emotion and interpretation and began shaping it into a performance piece.

Now the preparation for Musing was closer to reader’s theatre.  Seth and I met twice virtually to work on my story and then we had 2 full group rehearsals before the performance.

Our first group meeting was at Sozo’s Coffeehouse where Seth had rented a study room and we presented our stories publicly (more or less) for the first time.

Other storytellers were Ralph Kellogg who had a moving and brutally honest story of how he dealt with a most unwelcome houseguest; Teresa Conway had the funniest story of the group with how she took an advanced ballet class with a group of kids; local beat poet, Fernando Antonio Montejano, kept eyes pinned to him with his well spokentale about returning to his hometown for the funeral of his sister, Bianca; and Sara Strattan closed things with the sweet, but sad, tale about her relationship with her husband who had died from cancer.

All of them did a wonderful job with only minor changes needed.  I just loved their honesty and their sincerity and it just reached out and grabbed you.

Then there was me.

No, no, I’m not about to beat myself up.  But I presented the story through the lens of an actor.  And, as a performance piece, it wasn’t too shabby.  But it was the wrong take.

I remember my late friend, Kay McGuigan, once saying my acting style reminded her of Val Kilmer due to its intensity.  I never really understood that until after I did this piece, but I finally got it.  I do put serious oomph into my performances which makes for good acting.  But acting was not what was needed here.

Seth told me to take Kevin’s advice of not being so earnest and to tell the story as if I were telling it to friends over coffee.  With those words and the vision of the works of the others flashing through my mind, my path lit up clear as day.

There was no need to enhance the emotion of the story.  It was there, naturally.  I didn’t need to perform the story, I just simply needed to tell it.

I literally got into my car and did the story again, but removed the theatre from it.  And I knew I had something magical.  I chuckled at the way life seemed to be repeating itself.  Back in 2002, Kay had helped me get Merrick on the correct course.  Now with Seth’s mentoring, a story about Merrick was now set on the proper course.

Each time I practiced my piece from thenceforth, I could feel the momentum building and I was ready for the dress rehearsal on Monday.

On Monday, it was a completely different ballgame.  I felt the power of the simple delivery and when I wrapped up, I knew I had struck pay dirt with the entranced looks and thumbs up coming from my fellow readers.  Seth’s compliment of, “That was some great fine tuning” left me with a profound feeling of satisfaction.

Then came the real deal.

The one downside to the whole process was how little bonding time I had with these people.  Still we did have a sense of camaraderie as we all shared the same vision of blowing the socks off the audience with our tales.  We did enjoy a little fun time as Sara and Teresa battled Ralph and myself in the game, I Should Have Known That.  (We lost).

Then it was time to go to work.  Seth had changed the lineup.  Originally, I was to be the fourth reader, but ended up swapping places with Fernando to become the third reader and the flow made perfect sense.  Most of our stories were heart tuggers, but there was definitely a different energy and feel to each.  Ralph’s tale was a hard hitting intro that segued into Teresa’s lighthearted fare.  I became the bridge from Teresa to Fernando as my piece was certainly sad, but ends on a positive note.  From there Fernando broke the hearts of the audience while Sara certainly had the audience sobbing, but its sweetness helped to buoy them.

For my own work, I was extremely pleased.  I don’t normally take much stock in my own voice, but this time it was like a part of me disengaged and I heard myself telling the story as I was telling the story and I thought, “Dang, this is gripping.”  It was the storytelling equivalent of forgetting I was acting which is the peak that an actor can hit.  I had forgotten I was telling the story.  I was that lost in it.

All too soon, it seemed like the show had come to an end.  We took our final bows in front of a standing ovation, mingled with the audience, took a group photo, and went our separate ways. 

My only regret of the night is that we couldn’t do it a few more times, but I was glad for the brief time and truly enjoyed my return to the stage.

The good news for those you reading this who now wish they could have seen it, you will get your wish.  The show was recorded and I shall be posting the link to the Corner once the show is posted.

Until the next time.