The world is supposedly a stage, but being an actor for the first time can be an unnatural, weird experience. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you confront the intimidating reality of being perceived by others – of allowing your very existence to be defined by an audience.
When I was little, I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. I eventually learned that I am more of a writer than a performer; I prefer to live one more tier into my own imagination. But being a good writer requires stepping outside of yourself once in a while.
Jack Lunch convinced me to participate in my first ever community theater performance a few months ago with the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre (one of his favorite directives is making new Sheet staff participate in a Mammoth play).
I played a maid named Jane in The Women – a small, inconsequential role. Yet, my few lines tested me, and for some reason, speaking onstage while pretending to be another person made me weak at my knees.
I eventually got the crowd to collectively laugh with a solid delivery of a one liner: the lead (the woman whose housemaid I was) confided in me about her distress over her daughter not wanting to be a woman. She said, “Oh Jane, Little Mary just doesn’t seem to want to be a woman!”, to which I responded dryly, “Who does?” The crowd roared. In that moment, I truly understood the whole acting thing. It’s addicting.
Mammoth’s upcoming Shakespeare in The Woods festival, which begins Wednesday, June 29 (for details, see p. 3) is jointly put on by Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre and Sierra Classic Theatre. And it also features some first-time actors.
One is 24-year-old Bobby Schuyler. He moved here from New York in January. Like a lot of people who come this way, Schuyler did so in order to ski at Mammoth Mountain.
Schuyler was convinced to audition for Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure by Pricilla Toledo, a frequent theater performer in Mammoth who also works at the mountain. He hasn’t regretted the decision.
“I have my ski bum friends, but that’s a very specific kind of breed. Theater has become kind of my own secret little world, full of super interesting people,” said Schuyler.
He plays Claudio in Measure For Measure. “He’s sort of an every-man who got himself into a messed up situation. He got his fiancé pregnant, and the new Duke is a bit of a Puritan. And so he’s cracking down on every minor moral infraction. Because of that, Claudio is about to be put to death basically over a technicality,” explained Schuyler.
*Editor’s Note: First time I’ve ever heard pregnancy referred to as a technicality.
Schuyler says that bringing a character to life is both the most challenging part of performing, as well as the most rewarding. “It’s one thing to get your lines down and overcome stage fright, but it’s a whole other thing to truly breathe life into a character,” he said. “It’s hard, especially with Shakespeare, because nobody talks like that anymore. But once it clicks, it’s so beautiful.”
Schuyler describes the experience of community theater in Mammoth as being “very Breakfast-Clubby.”
“It’s a very eclectic group of people, who are very passionate about theater. It’s so fun,” he said.
“What am I most looking forward to with this performance? I wish I had some better words, but to tell you the truth, it’s glory,” said Schuyler.
Also in Measure For Measure, first-time performer Ronnell Hill plays four different characters: The Gentleman, Froth, Friar Thomas, and Barnadine.
Three out of the four characters are all pretty similar; The Gentleman, Froth and Barnadine are all men who enjoy drinking too much and frequenting whorehouses. Then there’s Friar Thomas, a priest, who sheds moral wisdom onto the Duke.
Out of his four characters, Hill says that Barnadine is the most challenging to portray. “He’s kind of the jester. He’s supposed to own the stage and be completely unbothered by everyone else around him. There’s a certain level of confidence that I need to tap into for that,” said Hill.
In one scene, Barnadine is woken up from a drunken stupor and told that he’s about to be beheaded. “He basically says to the Duke, ‘Nope, I’m not getting beheaded today. I’ve been drinking all day, and you’re not going to kill me today. I own this place, I’m the king of this prison.’ And you know what? He gets pardoned,” said Hill.
Hill says that what convinced him to audition for a play was turning 40 years old.
“Turning 40 made me think a lot about my life. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m still single, and I love where I live, and things are good, don’t get me wrong, but I want to try something else. I want to live,” he said.
In his early twenties, Hill had done some film projects and appeared in a few short films as an extra. “Performing for a camera is one thing, but performing in front of a live audience is another thing,” said Hill. “You have eyes staring at you.”
“I think that the hardest part [of performing] is maintaining authentic emotional connection with the audience,” said Hill. In one scene, he has to switch from revealing his inner self as a sad, shameful drunkard, right back to the outer persona of being jubilant and care-free. “That was a challenging switch, but once I hit it right for the first time, I realized that it wasn’t that hard. All that it required was me not thinking too much about it before I just did it,” he said. “That’s the trick.”
The Mammoth Shakespeare Festival will run from June 29-July 17 at “The Woodsite” in Mammoth. Showtime is 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with two different productions alternating nights.