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Monday, April 16, 2012

First Day of Rehearsal

I don't know that I've ever been the first on the schedule for a play. Certainly, I've been the first for a read-through, but then everyone is. I think it might have been all the way back to when I was in high school and doing work at school and at the Community Arts Center (which sounds impressive but was really only a few steps up from a double wide mobile home. For a town of 36,000, it was fine... acceptable... okay... disappointing.).

I remember seeing my first play there, first one for me with grown-ups in costumes and not kids in outfits made of pillowcases that there moms threw together the night before. Not our mom, however. She always sewed everything she could. She loved it when the schools sent home patterns (yes, friggin' patterns!) for the moms to sew together for a Christmas play. There was one year and one year only my sisters and I all went to the same school because I was almost 5 years older than my youngest sister. That year, we all had to have angel costumes made and not one of us had a real part, not even Chez, who was considered the most beautiful and who the teachers all tripped over themselves to do things for her. They were horribly simplistic patterns but the material was so good, all of us wore them for years as our pajamas. We were identical except for our heights and the fact I was so dark, I looked like the maid's kid. Eh, it was a running joke. A joke they laughed about, mind you..

Anyway, my first real play to see was at the Community Arts Center. I remember being so dumb about the whole process - where to clap, where to stand - all the little things that show you've been here before and aren't a total ninny, in other words all the little gestures and whatnot we use - yet again - to judge each other by. Anyway, when intermission came scurrying by in "The Glass Menagerie", I thought it was a weird place to end a play. I didn't get it. Of course, I have never seen a play with two acts. I was a kid, for Pete's sake. I never saw plays I wasn't in.

Anyway, I thought about that the other night as we were getting ready to rehearse. About how I went from someone participating by force to someone watching to someone participating by choice. Even that was a bit tempestuous. I started out working backstage, getting yelled at by The Lion in "The Lion in Winter" because he was, in his words, " character and you were in my bloody way!"


Then the following year, my sister's boyfriend's older sister was directing "Sleeping Beauty" and asked me to sing for Sleeping Beauty. You read that right. I was to sing for her; not be her. Apparently, the girl cast was beautiful, which I was not, and I could sing my head off, which she could not.

I knew it had to be embarrassing for her, but look, I was the one being forced to be backstage not because I couldn't act but because I wasn't as pretty as she was. Still, she would do weird things onstage to throw everything off. She would speed the song up and make it brighter than necessary, making my haunting version of the song sound like it didn't match. It was just bizarre. I mean, hell, I wasn't the one who gave me this weirdo role. It wasn't my fault I could sing better than her but she could look good in a bathing suit without a cutoff girdle...not that I did that...much.

Who am I kidding, man, I used to wear girdles and tights IN HIGH SCHOOL when they were most certainly NOT in fashion. I used to wear them so tight I got gas and had a glorious muffin top I'd hide with baggy shirts, thereby subtracting the very reason for wearing the gas-inducing girdles. 

Anyway, I knew eventually I'd find my way around the stage. It happened by accident. I was the prop master on my high school's version of "Story Theatre" when the director came to me because a girl in the cast got kicked out of not only the show but also out of school because she'd been drinking. She asked me did I want to take on the part. She said, "I don't even need to wait for an answer, You look like you're jumping out of your skin to take it. It's yours."

I had done other parts in junior high, but this was huge. Huge, huge, huge to me. I got to do something like four or 5 parts because of the way the story was structured, my favorite being The Fisherman's Wife. I don't even remember the story for that scene, I just remember the costume and how my family took incessant pictures of me during the play's short run, every single night.

And I loved that part, I loved being asked. So what if I got it by default. It wasn't going to say that in the programs. So, I acted my friggin fanny off AND still got all the props together, including seven edible mice (Twinkies painted with a gray mixture of food coloring...and on the last night, injected with a syringe with red food coloring into the gooey parts... yes, I am a bit macabre... what of it?).

So, here it is, almost 30 years later, and I'm still doing this. It just felt weird walking into the rehearsal room, just me and John, the director and the stage manager, and starting to talk about the characters we were going to dig our fingers into and mold. I could almost hear Norma Desmond voice from the empty piano room beginning, "I don't know why I'm frightened. I know my way around here...." But, it felt good. So good, I think I'll go back.

We are currently in rehearsal for "Oliver!", directed by the British National Theatre Company of America and produced by Super Summer Theatre. This will be at Spring Mountain Ranch Wednesdays - Saturdays beginning July 11-28, 2012. More information at

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