Featured, Theater Thursday

Theater Thursday: Blithe Spirit

Acting hasn't been a part of my life for too long, but in the last few years it has been incredibly influential and undeniably eye-opening. As I approach my eleventh production in almost five years, the conversations I've had and the memories I've shared with my theater family have made me realize I don't remember all of my previous productions as well as I had thought. So this blog series seeks to delve deep into the experiences I've had thus far, as few as they may be when compared to those my many people I've acted beside.

Following the emotionally draining production that was The Rimers of Eldritch, I was eager to do something lighthearted and fun again. The next play that Patrick Spradlin was directing was a comedy called Blithe Spirit, and it proved a unique experience in its own way...

Auditions - I Hate Hamlet

Shortly before auditions for Blithe Spirit were underway, Brainerd Community Theater was also holding auditions for the show I Hate Hamlet, which would be directed by - now friend of mine - Erik Steen. This particular audition I remember a few specific points - one was that this was the first time I would audition for a show alongside Rachael Kline, a talented and boisterous woman who I found easy to audition with. Secondly was that this was an audition which I felt I got clear indication from the director that I'd be cast. However, a week or so later I received the email thanking me for my audition but stating that I would not be cast in the production.

I did go to see I Hate Hamlet, and saw that the talented Mitchell Dallman, Kevin Yaeger, and Bob Spear had all been cast in the roles I had done line readings for. Any semblance of disappointment I had was quickly dispelled at seeing these actors on the stage. It really started to hit home that this is a work of passion from everyone involved, and while - as Kevin Yaeger would point out years later - we compete for roles, that is really where the competition ends. At the end of the day, everyone involved with community theater - especially in our area - wants to see everyone else succeed. It truly is a community of supporters, something I would be reminded of with every show I would be a part of.

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Trust Me, It's a Comedy

I Hate Hamlet was an exciting and fast-paced comedy that explored a specific time in the life of a specific actor portraying a specific role. It was funny and engaging from start to finish. Blithe Spirit, however, was a very different beast.

A smaller cast than other productions I've been in, I got the chance to act alongside Kevin Yaeger and Bri Keran once again. I played the role of Dr. Bradman, an outspoken skeptic in a play about summoning the spirits of the dead - specifically his former wife. It was a comedy with some truly funny moments, but it was also a comedy that all but lacked any physical elements to it. It was a lot of standing around and talking at each other. My role, and that of the actress that played Mrs. Bradman (Brianna Engels), were only present on stage for two scenes - once to complete the séance in Act One, and once in Act Two when I get called in for a checkup on Kevin Yaeger's character. The scenes were short and simple, and in retrospect were quite a breeze compared to many other roles I had before, and to those I would have later.

I remember feeling a small amount of bitterness at being cast as such a secondary character. I was approaching a time in my life when my schedule was becoming increasingly contested, and plays were starting to seem a bit more like a luxury from a former part of my life - a part I was beginning to transition out of. When I am in a production, I pride myself on devoting my time and effort to it for the length of rehearsals. I often show up early to run lines or practice blocking. I make it my primary endeavor, for the next six weeks, to ensure my performance will be the absolute best it can be. And then, after the first read through, it had set in that - for this production - I was only needed for a fraction of the time.

Ultimately, however, I got over my own inflated ego and actually enjoyed the rehearsal and production process with limited stage time. It gave me an opportunity to really explore other avenues of my creative work.

Stage Write

My memory of my time working on Blithe Spirit is dominated by sitting in the dressing room or towards the back of the theater between my scenes and clacking away at my small laptop as I penned the first book in my Astral Tides series, Rimward. I had just finished Cybersaurus: The Awakening some time ago, and rather than jump into the sequel (which is still under development - trust me, dear readers!), I instead decided to begin my space-fantasy epic of piracy out in the starry void. And a good amount of the early work for that book was completed during the rehearsals and performances of Blithe Spirit.

Live Performance - 2014

The live performances for Blithe Spirit went off without a hitch - mostly. While there were a couple of times when the other actors on stage missed one of their many cues which resulted in some amusing ad-libs (such as Bri Keran's added line that was both very earnest and fit her character in the moment, "I have no idea what's going on!"), there was one specific night where it felt like all of us were having particular trouble. It was a rare moment when five of the seven actors were all on stage together, and I came on with one who promptly missed their cue, forcing me to lead them into their line after a brief, uncomfortable silence.

Later in that same scene, my character makes a final remark to the main couple and then makes to leave before he is stopped by another character. In previous performances, this has never been an issue. However, this particular evening, I delivered my line, and then turned and took a step towards the door before stopping. But nothing other than my own muscle memory stopped me. I paused for a beat, waiting for a line that wasn't coming, and then I spun on my heel to face my scene partner - and the audience as well - and saw a look of horror on their face as they clearly forgot what to say. I did what I could to prompt the line, and then they found it and we were back on track. However, in hindsight, the anarchist in me wishes I hadn't stopped at all, and instead had continued through the doorway and out of the scene altogether. If nobody was stopping his exit, after all, why wouldn't Dr. Bradman just continue onward?

While not a highlight in my acting career, it still helped to teach me about the craft, particularly that there are no small roles. Even if your time on stage is less than others, or you have fewer lines, you can take any role and make it memorable. But one role that would remain memorable for both me and the audience, was my portrayal of Christopher Wren in Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which we will delve into in next week's post.