Stepping into a new season can take a strength we didn’t know we had
Funny how trains of thought work.
I was thinking about the concept of courage and my thoughts drifted to September. Wow. It was September again. The air cooling, the leaves turning, the re-emergence of sweaters and earlier sunsets.
Then, my mind sang to me, “Try to Remember,” that famous song from The Fantasticks. Wistful and nostalgic, the song and the musical, written by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, so beautifully captures the essence of transitioning into this season.
I was in The Fantasticks, so my mind took me there next.
And as the songs says, I remembered.
I remembered being in Michigan for 10 weeks, performing five different shows. If that sounds like a very quick turnaround and short rehearsal time to full stage productions, you are right. It was intense, it was exciting, and in the middle of it all, it was fantastickally daunting.
For those of you who are not familiar with the legendary hit that has run Off-Broadway long enough for generations of actors and audiences alike to experience it, it’s a charming, poignant, and subtly provocative six-person musical. Of the six, there is only one role that is decidedly female: the ingénue Luisa. I was too intimidated when I originally auditioned for the season to ask to be considered for that role. Instead, I requested to be considered for The Mute. The role of The Mute was fascinating to me and way less scary to play than Luisa, who sang a LOT (did I mention the show would be mounted in five days?).
I was very excited to learn I had been cast as The Mute, and cast in the roles I most wanted in the other productions, too. The Fantasticks would be the third of the five productions. What a summer lay ahead!
During the rehearsals for the first show, West Side Story, we learned that the actress cast as Luisa had to be replaced. Many of the other ladies in West Side Story put themselves forward to audition. Should I? The thought excited me and filled me with a bit of terror. Was I really ready?
Ready or not, there I went.
I threw my hat in the ring for the role and prepared myself as best I could. Waiting outside the same rehearsal studio we rehearsed in all day and knowing that when I walked in this time, I was taking a significant step forward, both figuratively as well as literally, is an understatement. I can only guess how much adrenaline was coursing through my veins. All I can say was that afterward, I was relieved and proud. I did it! I sang Luisa’s material and put myself out there. The idea of getting the role was still terrifying as well as exciting… but maybe I did have in in me after all??
As it turns out, none of us who auditioned that day got to play Luisa. They decided it was too much pressure to mount the show in five days with someone who had never done the role before (because she would need to learn all the lines and music, in addition to all the blocking, characterization, etc.) and who was already performing in another production every night.
So they cast an actress from NYC who had played the role elsewhere and flew her in for this one production. The producer was kind enough to say that my audition was solid and the casting choice was just about doing what would be best to get the show up quickly.
So I played The Mute.
It was incredible. Part of me missed the daunting challenge of playing Luisa, but I had always been excited to play The Mute, and now my energies went full steam ahead. I took all the same courage, vulnerability and risk-taking I had summoned for the shot at playing Luisa, and funneled it into the role I had.
We had an incredible director, Bill Castellino, and rehearsals were very exciting. In five short days, we mounted a rich, layered, and polished production. And bonus: my El Gallo (who is the character the Mute collaborates closely with throughout the show) was played by none other than George Chakiris, who played Bernardo in the movie version of… yep, West Side Story.
Taking a risk is just that—a risk. There is no telling how it will turn out, but we seize the moment, follow our heart, or our gut, or our dreams. When I look back on that season in my life, I remember what it felt like to be afraid and excited, and step into the unknown. And the memory of the chance I took reminds me who I am and how I want to live, in every month of my life, not just September. As the song says, “Try to remember and if you remember, then follow.”
Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow.