Coincidental Players

I’ve been in a church play before.

It was my first and only acting experience. The script was written by our pastor’s wife. It had a run time of ten minutes and we performed it once once during an advent service.

So in August when I heard there were auditions happening for a play to be performed in our church, I tried out because I could bring my son, the five year old thespian, along for the experience.

He enjoys drama. In fact, he’s passionate about it. If you’ve been following the blog, you may recall my writing about his flair for narrative. Whether it’s his extended creative stays in imaginary lands or his comical imitations of fatherhood, his passion for acting and storytelling has been his most consistently preferred area of recreation.

Acting has always been the thing I’ve wanted to do, but lacked the courage and circumstance to try out. Growing up, I was a gym rat. You could find me on the blacktop most weekends, playing pickup basketball until the sun went down. My son—he just turned five mind you; a lot can change—prefers pretending to be a sport player to playing a sport.

And I love it.

It is testing a core philosophy of parenting: push him to excel and explore whatever he expresses interest in. And right now, it’s drama.

We began writing scripts a few months ago at the dinner table. I picked up a scrap sheet of paper and asked, “What do you want your play to be about?”

“Beauty and the beast!” He said with a growl, already deep in character.

“Well, you’ll play the role of the beast, obviously. Who am I?”

“You’re Gaston.”

“Fair enough. Where does our scene take place?”

“On the roof of the castle.”

“And what happens?”
I noted the choreography of action he described. Essentially, we were to perform a thirty second summary of all the violent acts in the movie: Gaston stabs the beast in the back; the beast pins Gaston down; Gaston slips and falls to his death.

He said that a line of dialog was needed as well. He gave it to himself, the little show-stealer that he is. When the Beast pinned Gaston, he was to say, “Get out!”

I studied the sequence of events a few times before we invited my wife and daughter into the room for the show. My son began the evening with a word of caution.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, now impersonating an usher he had seen at a children’s play the weekend before. He cupped his hands in front of him and gave a smirk, the smile he wears when pretending to be anyone over the age of twenty, a knowing confidence—the sort of knowledge he must imagine all grownups have. “There are some scary things in this play. If you have a baby, and you’re a grownup, put the baby in your lap. Your baby will be scared.”

Then he walked out of the living room to don his beast costume, the one we would later use on Halloween, the one my wife pieced together using thrift-store items and a sewing machine.

His abbreviated version of the Disney classic went well. Something I noticed was that, without being prompted, he enacted his script right on cue. He had it all memorized. At the diner table, when he was describing the frenzy of cartoon violence we were to enact, I thought our performance might resemble herding a cat. But he stuck to the script and nailed his line, grabbing me by the shirt and saying, “Get out!”

That’s when I began to think we might really have something here: an interest, at least.

 

There really is no stopping the power of coincidence.

Were he not in character half the summer, I would never have thought to audition for what I imagined was another simple church play.

The night after our pastor announced the audition, Ev and I showed up to the church. A sign pointed us downstairs. Two men I had never met sat behind a desk in front of a stage. The desk had a stack of papers in it. There were headshots and bios. That was the first of many indicators that I had no idea what I was getting us into.

I read the scene where Marley warns Scrooge of his fate, then sang a couple Christmas carols. Ev got on stage too and sang, eventually. The director told us we both had a part in the play. We celebrated by listening to Ev’s favorite musical soundtrack Les Miserable on the way home.

A strange thing this life. One year you are on the sideline designing football plays for a championship game, the next you are humming show tunes with your five-year old to celebrate your being cast together. Sometimes life moves so fast I don’t want to keep up with it. Instead, I want to let it take me wherever it wants to go—and hang on as it flies me around.

There was another major indicator that I was in over my head when a Facebook post from director William Dean Leary tagged the other actors cast in the different roles for the Wolfpack Theater Company’s production of A Christmas Carol. I was in a cast of talented and experienced actors.

Thus began six weeks of prep for an eight-show run in December that concludes next Sunday night. I, Bob Cratchit, have four sons: Tiny Tim, of course, Joey, Hope, and, in his on-stage debut, my son, playing the self-ascribed role of “Optimus Cratchit.” He loves Transformers.

I was intimidated at rehearsals. The cast is composed of incredible talent. I was not expecting the level of professionalism to be as high as it was. I was warming up next to singers who used operatic inflection. The highest compliment anyone has ever paid to my singing ability was when a friend called it, “A good voice to have around the campfire.” A compliment that, looking back, may not have been as complimentary as I first perceived it.

Luckily, the production has a dynamite musical director in John Osborn. He was the first one my son came home imitating—which is definitely a compliment. At the dinner table, he began to lead us in vocal warm ups: “Many mumbling mice were making merry music in the moonlight. Mighty nice.”

There were many rehearsals when, in addition to the customary self-doubt that comes with trying something new and nerve-racking, I thought all was lost for Ev. It would be late into the hours of a school night and he would be high on lack of sleep and spent energy, rolling around on the stage while pretending to be a dog. Total waste, I thought, imagining this to be a failed attempt at bonding.

Then, without fail, the next morning at breakfast, Ev is going on and on about the scene we rehearsed the night before. “Mom. You gotta see it. Tiny Tim dies like this,” he said, nearly falling from his chair when his body went limp.

The kid is a born performer. I’ll give him that. I can tell because he has already proven to love the process. Entering my first tech week, I was warned about its hellish monotony and long hours. When I picked Ev up from school and told him we had to go to rehearsals every night this week and stay late he asked why.

“Because it’s tech week.”

“Yay! Tech week! Please can I go every night, daddy? Please?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, daddy! Thank you!” He ran to grab his coat in a frenzy of excitement.

If you’ve been in a production before, you know that tech week shouldn’t inspire this sort of emotion. It was like I told him I just bought two tickets on the Polar Express and reserved an audience with Santa Claus once we got there.

My boy did me proud last week. He came with me to rehearse late into the night and got through each school day like a champ. I was truly impressed because I totally dragged through the week, doubling my coffee intake just to survive each work day teaching.

Opening weekend was exhausting in a way I’ve never experienced before. I now understand the reason for the incessant repetition of rehearsal. Performances are pay day. And without others to lean on, I would have collapsed backstage several times.

 

Recovery has helped me to be present.

Living one day at a time—one second at a time on some days—for ten years has taught me how to be on stage, to be ready for each little nuance to change, and to go with it, accepting each gesture and turn in emotion as exactly how it’s supposed to be—because it is how it is.

I’ve never been more grateful to my son. After four shows, I can write with certainty that, while this began as a coincidence to help him gain some stage experience, but the process has been a priceless gift to me. I’ve made some new friends. And those friends have given me a crash course in acting. I’ll never forget it. And boy, did Ev kill it on stage.

Here he is in the opening scene, gathering around the fire barrel for warmth and putting those vocal warm-ups to good use. (Photo Credit: Rachel Zirkin Duda)

 


 

The Wolfpack Theater’s Production of A Christmas Carol has four remaining shows next weekend.

There have been two positive reviews, via Theatre Bloom and DC Metro Theater Arts.

December 15, 8pm

December 16, 2pm (matinee) & 8pm

December 17, 8pm

Tickets are available here.

8 Responses to “Coincidental Players

  • ❤️ Love this on so many levels Mark.

  • Love this!
    xo
    Wendy

  • Awh seriously, just wonderful. Wish we could be there, have the most fun #sobrietyrocks S 🙂

    • It does!

      Been walking that dog hands free. The cold front has helped me keep the phone at home on those walks. But it is definitely better to be out there in the elements, enjoying the frigid air and not glued to my phone. Thanks again for that advice!

  • Rosalia
    1 month ago

    What a wonderful experience Mark. Enjoyed the narrative and wit. Thank you!

  • Amazing stuff Mark – I don’t know where you find the time for this, but you continue to astound me with your attitude and your ability to just jump into things. Blessings Paul

    • Thanks Paul. It’s great to hear from you! Right, time. My next post, obviously, is about how exhausted I am and how badly I need a break. Which I will take until the second Monday of January. I’m done man. I need a reset. Thanks for, like a good friend does, seeing the things I can’t always see in myself.

  • That sounds like a wonderful experience, and a lot of fun 🙂

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