Coming up for Air

I began the following post just over a month ago and am just now, finally, post-show, post-holidays, getting around to editing and publishing it (everything needed to be shifted to the past-tense).  I believe this delay signifies what will be a change of approach for 2009 and beyond - less frantic, more experiential, more thoughtful.  It’s not a New Year’s resolution by any means - I actually resolved many, many years ago to never again make a New Year’s resolution, and I’ve been true to my word on that - it’s more of an overall mindful ease.  Or perhaps its just lack of natural, sun-derived Vitamin D.  Whatever, we shall see. Said post, without further ado:

I’ve spent the majority of my waking and non-waking hours since mid-November in a sweet and sleepy little Wisconsin town called St. Croix Falls.  Nestled on the St. Croix River, the town boasts an adorable five-block main street with shops and cafes and restaurants and the St. Croix Festival Theater, my performance venue for the stage version of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story.  Good ol’ A Christmas Story - you know the one: a boy’s campaign for a Red Ryder BB Gun, “you’ll shoot your eye out,” yellow-eyed Scut Farkas, the pink bunny suit, “show me how the piggies eat,” played for 24 hours straight before Christmas on TNT and TBS - yeah, that one.  I was cast as Ralphie’s mother.

Save for one exception in my performance history I had become accustomed to a 4+ week rehearsal process...this show, however, this show we had two weeks.  Minus Thanksgiving.  So basically 13 days. For a two-and-a-half hour show.  We were given the scripts well in advance so we could arrive at the first rehearsal fully memorized.  We then were given two weeks, with only Thanksgiving day off, to block, rehearse, polish, and be ready for opening, with two separate casts of children.  Two weeks of mostly 10-hour days.  Two weeks of learning the names of 14 adorable children as quickly as possible.  Two weeks of panic about opening night.  This was, without question, one of the most demanding processes I’ve experienced thus far, and yet I’m now, in hindsight, thrilled to have had it.

In all honesty, once the show had been up and running publicly for a week we were finally ready to open.  It might, might, have been possible if we adults (four in the cast) had only one cast of kids to work with and guide.  But we didn’t.  We had two casts.  Ranging in age from six to thirteen.  Two casts that couldn’t have been more different from each other.  And while that was twice the rehearsal time for us, it was half the rehearsal time for them.  Despite the panic and the drama, they came through shining.  One cast I am particularly proud of - they struck me as the underdogs to start, but they proved to be my little tortoises - slow and steady definitely won that race.

So back to me.  Me, me, me.  I was skeptical going in whether or not I could pull off a convincing mom to kids that age - if one is childless, which I am, it’s easy to romanticize motherhood on stage, ultimately coming off trite and silly.  Our director gave me a lot of room to play and discover before helping me refine the role, and I truly believe that we created a kind, strong, tired, loving, annoyed, diplomatic, amused, real mother.  A mother who actually lived in that three-sided house and was the queen of her domain.

Ultimately, our 25 performances were met with joy and appreciation (although the matinees with younger school children were a little more of a challenge - we may as well have been Charlie Brown’s parents in the adult scenes - cue muted trumpet! waaa-waaa-WAAAA-waaa-wa-wa).  It turned out to be a beautiful experience - laughing myself silly with my castmates, hugs from the kids, burping contests with the 10-year-old boys, stomping around St. Croix Falls and many hours spent at The Indian Creek Winery and The Buzz, rooming with the delightful Amanda at my lovely host-home with gracious hosts, fighting the town’s inane snow-emergency rules, and dozens of hours spent in the car coming home.  A beautiful way to keep warm as winter settled in.