Reflection (in poetry) on Rehearsing The Comedy of Errors

I spent most of today in a long professional development workshop, learning about our new school board-issued iPads, and for the most part, helping my colleagues who were struggling to set things up or learn how to use features. And then this evening, I got to spend time in rehearsal with adults I know as volunteers and teenagers I know from my classroom — which rather felt more like professional development than the other. I’m not in charge in any way, shape, or form, in this production. I have to memorize my lines and portray my character using the director’s suggestions, decisions, and feedback. I have to work in tandem with the rest of the cast, rather than giving orders (as is my usual role with a production filled by student actors). And I have to practice the skills that might normally be teaching. For years, I have advocated teamwork, laid out how to prepare for a performance, taught projection, advised young people in how to memorize their lines. Now, it seems as though I must put my money where my mouth is — walk the talk — in order to help this performance shine. It is an effective challenge. It’s both intense and great fun. Only six nights of rehearsal remain until the official rise of our metaphorical curtain. This poem is composed of some of my thoughts and reflections while in practice tonight.

Unknown-10edging closer to opening night


preliminary blocking complete


the lines are fragments still


that i stretch to bring into order


with timing and emotion


for the work of the Bard


a handful of days remaining


work and play both demanding effort


dedication to the words


markings by ink, scrawlings of lead


copies of what has come before


through years and decades


actors who are students who are actors


watch the young man memorize while


to also write paragraphs and reports


feedback that he uses to grow


while i struggle to memorize while


grading and exams and reports


what is the beginning for them


the play is the thing


an exercise in hearing and listening


patiently gathering wisdom


the student is the actor is the student


wondering if they see me as i see them


our positions change

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.