Feeling optimistic after a good day

Went to my first play practice in a long time today, and you know . . . I’m so very, very glad that I’m part of Shakespeare in the Park this year.

The play is The Comedy of Errors, and I’m playing the Abbess Aemilia. It’s a nice part, kind of like Dumbledore — very steady, firm, wise. I don’t come on until Act V, and that’s okay. I’ve got enough going on right now that any more would send me over the edge, I think.

But I realized today, as I was waiting backstage and recording my blocking and practicing my lines, how much I’ve missed being a part of live theatre. I usually end up directing or producing, you see — oftentimes, it’s both — and while I can get into demonstrating for my actors how I want the scene to be played out, that’s as far as I get. I usually do theatre with high school students for them to have the experience. Last year, I opted to just advise and produce, stepping back from directing, and this year I didn’t do either for a whole list of reasons.

And I missed it. Oh, how I missed it. My husband told me at one point that he didn’t miss the usual drama of my springtime theatrical endeavours, but as weird as it sounds, I felt a little empty without it. There’s a painful side to the pleasure of being in a play. It’s all worth it in the end when the performance is out there.

There was a time, years ago when I was still in high school, when going through for a Fine Arts degree was a goal I held close to my chest. I wanted to be an actor, to try costume design, to direct — whatever I could. I wanted to audition for the National Theatre School of Canada, or try out for Julliard just for the hell of it, to have that experience and if I was very very lucky, to be accepted into the program. But I didn’t. I went into teaching instead. I get my bits and pieces on top of the performance art that teaching sometimes can be.

I take comfort in knowing there are examples of successful actors who entered the profession and industry later in life, although it’s funny — when you search up “successful actors who started late” you get mostly men, and the majority of them started in their late 20s or 30s. I’m pushing 40. I’ve got ten more years of direct parenting before both kids are out into the world. And I know that there are many, many pressures on women in the theatrical world.

So the more community theatre I can do to fill that inner need for expression, the better. I write, but I’m a performer, too. Sometimes my writing is just the performance taking place in my head, so to speak. I’m also interested in film-making, though I’ve never devoted any time to a film project other than attempting fan vids. There’s a local group that performs a cabaret-style variety show every winter, but I’m not into that. I’m happy doing Shakespeare. I’m happy pushing boundaries with experimental and social performances. I’m happy writing plays and seeing the words come to life beyond the page and my own imagination.

Maybe, in an alternate universe, teenage me got up the courage to fill out the audition forms, travel to the places where the recruiters had gathered, and strutted her stuff across the stage. Maybe she got accepted and was lucky enough to live for a year or two in the big city, learning the craft for the love of it, the challenge of the roles and the thrill that comes with all of that. Maybe I’ll find out in my next life, if I take my love of theatre with me.

Or, maybe, one day in fifteen or twenty years, I’ll get an agent or pour some money into a project of my own. Maybe I’ll make a movie out of one of my books, and have a walk-on role, just for the taste of it.

In the meantime, I’ve got the writing and the start of a return to community theatre. In a way, it’s relaxing to be involved with a play in which I’m not in charge. I’m a part of the whole. It’s like being in a band again, my voice a part of a chorus of images and voices and action. I’ve gotten an outlet back.

“5 Minutes Earlier…” (working title for grade 9/10 play for 2013)


*Updated with new ending*


Bethany, the birthday girl
Katie, her best friend, organizing the surprise party
Steph, her cousin, responsible for the cake
Lainey, her sister, in charge of decorations
Will, Steph’s boyfriend, in charge of party food and drink
Alex, her friend, helping with decorations
Chelsey, her friend, in charge of music
Kaitlyn, her friend, helping with keeping things clean and tidy

AT RISE: A backyard patio with table and seating for 5. It is partially decorated for a birthday party. The house entrance to the yard is at stage right. There is a fancy garden clock showing the time as 6:00 pm.

Noises of fighting are heard before the curtains open — voices overlapping each other:

KATIE: You’re going to ruin everything!

STEPH: Ow! Be careful, watch out!

LAINEY: (loudly sobbing) Waaaahhhh!!!

WILL: Get off me, Katie!

ALEX: Give me that before you break it!

CHELSEY: You owe me now! You owe me $250!

KAITLYN: You guys! She’s going to be here any minute!

Curtains open. KATIE is on WILL’s back, pulling on his hair. STEPH is standing in front of the table with the cake, at center stage, trying to keep the cake from getting wrecked. LAINEY is kneeling over crushed presents, trying to pop boxes back into shape. ALEX is trying to get a portable iPod dock from CHELSEY, who is trying to beat him over the head with it. KAITLYN is running back and forth, trying to keep friends from killing each other and comforting LAINEY.

KATIE: No-one is going to eat that garbage! You had $50 to get pop and chips, what did you do with it?

WILL: I swear, she loves black licorice!

LAINEY: First the bird, and then this! I told you all, just gift cards!

KATIE: (gets off WILL, elbowing him aside to confront STEPH) And you — you had ONE job! ONE!

STEPH: Hey, it’s not my fault these losers can’t keep their fingers to themselves! (She picks up the box and shoves it toward KATIE to show her.) I did the best I could!

ALEX: (in a tug-of-war over the iPod dock, backs into KATIE) Hey, watch it! This was a Christmas present from my Grammy!

CHELSEY: Then you can tell Grammy you had to sell it to buy me a new phone!

KAITLYN: Can we please try to clean all this up before– (she is interrupted by BETHANY entering stage right)

BETHANY: Oh…my…goodness. What is going on?

KATIE furiously shoves the cake up toward STEPH’s face. STEPH moves at the last minute and the cake ends up all over BETHANY.

WILL: Surprise!

Blackout. Music: “Tiki Room” plays while scene is quickly changed: the clock’s hands are changed to 5:55, presents are stacked neatly next to the table, along with an empty birdcage; the cake box is in the centre of the table, as well as a flat of pop. One can is already open on the table. There is a feathery lump on the ground near a laundry basket filled with tablecloths: a dead budgie.

Lights up: All are gathered around the dead bird.

ALEX: Ew. Its eyes are gone. (He pokes at it with a straw.) They must have dried up and fallen out in the washer, or in the dryer maybe.

KAITLYN: Don’t touch it! That’s disgusting!

STEPH: Yeah, put that straw in the garbage now.

WILL: It’s probably sterile, you know. After all, it did go through the wash. (He turns away and sneaks a lick of frosting and a drink from the open pop on the table. He ends up with frosting on the corner of his mouth.)

LAINEY: Now what are we going to do? This was supposed to be Bethany’s main birthday present!

KATIE: We can still give her the cage and tell her she can pick out the budgie on her own. Quick, we’re going to need to get rid of the evidence.

CHELSEY: I’ll go and get a bag.

KAITLYN: What for?

CHELSEY: To put it in the garbage, duh.

KAITLYN: That’s so cruel! We should bury it in the garden.

WILL: We could give it a Viking burial! Make it a little boat and burn it while it floats away on the pond! (He high-fives ALEX.)

STEPH: I knew it! I knew you were getting into the cake! What is wrong with you?

KATIE: This is the last time I ever organize a surprise party for anyone. (She goes
to drink from her pop, but it’s empty. She turns it upside down
.) Okay, who drank my pop?

WILL: Sorry, just trying to save the rest of it for the party. Frosting makes me thirsty.

STEPH: Why couldn’t you snack a little on the party food?

WILL: Nah, I don’t like it.

KATIE: Will, this is dollar store Hallowe’en candy. Hallowe’en was ten months ago!

ALEX: Time for some music! Chelsey, toss me your iPhone!

CHELSEY: Don’t drop it.

ALEX: I have excellent reflexes. (CHELSEY throws it. He misses and drops it,
falling backward onto the presents and crushing them.
) Crap.

Blackout. Music: “Tiki Room” plays while scene is quickly changed: the clock’s hands are changed to 5:50, the cake box is in the centre of the table, and a flat of pop. One can is already open.

Everyone is in various stages of preparing for the party, except for STEPH and KATIE, who are offstage. KAITLYN is sweeping the patio, LAINEY and ALEX are hanging streamers and/or balloons, and WILL is filling bowls with candy in between sneaking drinks from the open pop. CHELSEY is unrolling an extension cord behind the table, bringing the end to the portable iPod dock at stage left.

CHELSEY: I have all of Bethany’s favourite songs on a playlist. It took me a few hours but I know she’s going to love it. (She shows ALEX, who is helping LAINEY with decorations.)

LAINEY: That’s great, but we really need the tablecloth now. Katie’s bringing the presents in from the house and I don’t want them to end up on the ground. They’ll get all dirty.

CHELSEY: Where are they?

LAINEY: In the dryer, right next to the back door.

CHELSEY: I’m on it! (As she passes the cake box, she sneaks a fingerful of frosting from the edge of the cake.)

ALEX: Bethany’s going to be so surprised! I’ve never been to surprise party before, I think I’m more excited than she’s going to be. Can I do the music for a bit, just for fun?

KATIE: (enters from stage right with a stack of presents, and the empty birdcage is on top) Guys, I can’t find the budgie. You have to watch it really carefully when it’s flying around.

WILL: Well, you can’t leave it in the cage all day. That thing is tiny. (He sneaks a bit of frosting off the cake.)

KATE: It’s just until she gets it home. The bird needed exercise. Nobody saw it fly out the door, I hope? (She goes to set the presents on the table.)

LAINEY: Can you just put those by the table for now? We’re just waiting on the cloth, and it’ll be a pain to move them all.

KAITYLN: Will, can you hold the dustpan?

ALEX: Make sure you wash your hands, after. Otherwise it’s just like we’re eating food out of the dustpan.

WILL: Yeah, yeah. I’m done anyway.

KATE: Okay, I know I haven’t had more than a couple of drinks from this and it’s already half empty. Who’s been drinking my pop?

STEPH: (enters from stage right with a can of frosting and a butter knife) You’d think that a cake decorator would know how to spell “Happy Birthday” properly. Guys, I can totally tell that you’ve been tasting the frosting! Stop it! (She prepares to fix the cake.)

CHELSEY: (enters from stage right with a basket full of laundry) Okay, tablecloths are fresh and ready to go! Kate, can you help me with this? I love fluffing it like a sail.

KATE: (grabs a corner of the top tablecloth) Remember when we were in kindergarten and we’d have one of those big parachutes? Everyone would hold a side and we’d put a ball on it and pop it all over the place. (They shake out the tablecloth and a feathery bundle flies out, landing on the patio floor.)

Blackout. Music: “Tiki Room” plays while scene is quickly changed: the clock’s hands are changed to 5:45. The table is at stage left.

KATE enters from stage right with CHELSEY, ALEX, and LAINEY.

KATE: So, I was thinking, it won’t take long at all to put everything together. Just move the table over here for the food, cake, and presents, and put the streamers on the trees. Boom, done!

CHELSEY: And where do you want the music?

ALEX: I brought my dock for you, but I think we’d get better sound on the other side of the yard. We need an extension cord.

KATE: I’ve got one in the kitchen.

LAINEY: I’ll get started with the decorations. Alex, want to help me?

STEPH: (enters from stage right with the cake box) Am I late? There was a little problem with the cake, but I bought some icing to fix it.

KATE: (opens the box and looks in) Happy Birthday Insert Name Here dot dot dot? Seriously, Steph?

STEPH: I know, but I can fix it!

WILL: (enters from stage right with shopping bags of candy, a flat of pop, and a bowl, that he sets on the table) Oooh, yummy! Can I have a taste?

STEPH: Your finger gets near this cake and you get back a stump.

KATE: I am parched — I hope nobody minds if I have a drink right now? (She gets a can and opens it, taking a sip.) T-minus 15 minutes to party, everybody!

CHELSEY: I can’t wait to see her face! And you got her the bird, right?

KAITLYN: (enters from stage right) That almost sounds dirty. Just like this patio. Honestly, you couldn’t have swept a little before we got here?

ALEX: Come on, everyone, let’s just be nice to each other. It’s a party!

Blackout. Music: “Tiki Room” plays while scene is quickly changed: the clock’s hands are changed to 3:00. The patio is empty.

KATE and BETHANY are doing yoga on the patio.

BETHANY: I don’t want any fuss about my birthday this year.

KATE: Why don’t you come for a sleepover? We’ll keep it completely low-key, just movies and popcorn.

BETHANY: Sure! That sounds like fun.

KATE: We could make it with all of our friends. But nothing birthday.

BETHANY: Nice and relaxing, it’ll be perfect. I’ll ask as soon as I use the bathroom! (She exits stage right.)

KATE: (takes out her cellphone and dials) Hey, Steph? Can you order a cake for tomorrow? I’ll email you the details after Bethany goes home, but we’re going to have a surprise party for her!

Blackout. Music: “Tiki Room” plays to the curtain call.

Bear in mind — this might get altered a bit by the students after they see the script. Comedy isn’t always my strong suit.