This week I received an opportunity I never thought would come my way, namely a chance to play a part in a play.
Like many adolescents that weren’t on a sports team or in the band, I gravitated towards drama in high school which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t my best move since I couldn’t dance or sing my way into, or out of, a musical to save my soul then. But even then I knew the fourteen year old equivalent of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in a Catholic high school was definitely in the theater department.
I said ‘Yes’ without hesitation or bothering to find out when the play, or rehearsals, were since, in any non-moral decision-making process, yes is my pat answer. I then blissfully went about my day and when my lunch partner asked questions I should have been able to answer, but couldn’t, she found out the play opened in five days!
She focused on how I could learn my lines that quickly. I was more concerned about how I could learn to act that quickly.
Then I learned it was a Play Readers production so I’d have the script right on me. Phew!
The next area of concern was what part was I? Three local lads were the advertised leads and, obviously, I wasn’t any of the female parts. That pretty much left the reporter role that was mentioned over the phone when the topic came up. The reporter had only one scene (ok by me) but gets drunk in it.
Playing drunk is serious business. Remember Lucy Ricardo doing Vitameatavegamin? Lucille Ball herself admitted it was her best work, but like any great drunk scene it takes real talent. Sure, doing silly is easy but to convey the pathos of knowing something is amiss but you can’t stop yourself, and still be funny, is no easy task.
Luckily I dodged that bullet and landed the smaller role of simple-minded senator. Phew!
Reading an unknown script was an interesting experience. History has shown how some stars can read a script and “see” the finished film and latch on to the good ones. Other stars, despite obvious talent, can’t read a menu and see it leading to an enjoyable meal. Now I understood that in my own small way.
Some lines and jokes I simply found offensive and worried about being in a local history play with those bits might tarnish my star as an author and storyteller with a vast knowledge of local history and culture.
When the script was read, by truly talented folks, I saw both my error of ego and their gifts for comedy. Going back to Lucy, it reminded me of reading a book by her sole female writer. She wrote that many of the comic gold I Love Lucy shrugs and eyes rolls weren’t in the script, but solely, Lucille Ball’s natural antics and reactions to her real-life husband.
It was obvious in my first rehearsal my fears were unfounded and I was in the company of artists far greater than I. I’ve frequently held the attention a theater full of folks for up to two hours in the palms of my hand telling my own stories. However, these folks could take someone else’s stories and bring them to life and make them funny. I was stunned.
So, if you want to see a piece of San Miguel history, when vets came down after World War 2 to get their degrees in art and how that shook congress’ moral compass, with humor and flair, now is your chance. G.I. Bill: A Tale of San Miguel is being performed Wednesday through Friday at 3PM at the Shelter Theater.
by Joseph Toone