The Stuff of Nightmares or My Ego Yaps A Lot

Last night, after a week of fretting, cramming, and teaching myself a role in a 2 hour musical that sees me onstage for 70-80% of it…I had my opening and closing night filling in for an actress whose work took her out-of-town.

This last week I was focused on learning the songs.  I had no music, no recording, no rehearsals.  Lyrics.  For the dances (which everyone tried to tell me I should know because I choreographed them) I had to recreate what I had done and learn it from the perspective of one person.  While singing songs.  I had to practice movements.  I had to purchase elements of my costume because the actress and I are different sizes.

No one offered rehearsal time, although I did get to meet with the actress for an hour or so earlier in the week.  She was worried that everyone was mad at her for missing, so I spent some time this week peppering her with small questions about the show and reassuring her that no one was mad and that I wasn’t trying to take her part.  It was her part.

I asked the music director if I could drop an octave at one point in a song and was told to wait until show night and she’d hear how it sounded…ordinarily that’s fine, but I was nervous and that made me more nervous. 

The director stepped away from this completely and only seemed to acknowledge it on his FB page the day before the show, mentioning that I was featured this week.  That was pretty nice.

It was hard work for me.  I didn’t want the actress to worry that I was trying to take something away from her.  I did what I could but knew that there were going to be some small elements/problems that only come up when you run a scene or song onstage with other live bodies.

I got there and still set up the stage as best I could.  That is still my job.

I put on the costume and felt, well, silly.  It’s a silly costume.  Pin-up girl kinda thing. 

I was nervous.  The directors, the music director all went about doing their thing.  I need to assume this was out of respect to the original actress.  But I needed an “atta girl” or a “do you need anything” but didn’t want to ask.  After all, isn’t that just my ego talking?  I don’t want my ego to talk!

So I told myself that I was doing this for the actress, that I was there to help out.  In my heart I was.  In my socks, I was shaking from nerves.

I waited for music warm ups and hoped we’d be able to run the five songs I was in so I could practice with music and other singers.  And, if I was lucky, run the dances.

We did two songs.  I was terrified of the other three. 

I spent the 45 minutes before curtain not hanging out with the cast, who were all checking their email and chit-chatting.  I told the lead that I was just going to go in a corner and practice and get my head around everything, and that I wasn’t trying to be stand-offish.  Love him to death, he absolutely got it and was supportive.  Another cast member kept kindly checking in with me to make sure I was fine.  I was fine…just nervous, unsure.   I went back to the green room to make nice with everyone and show I wasn’t a diva and chit chat.  Again, because I’m more worried about taking care of everyone else.  I am also worried about what impression my not being with the cast makes.

I can do improv (sort of).  I can act.  This was…somewhere in between.  Not in a good way.

No mention was made in the opening by the staff or by the actor who makes intro remarks that I was filling in or that another actress was taking on an extra solo for this actress.  I cringed.  Then I battled my ego…am I doing this for recognition?  Or would that have been professional?  Did it matter?

The opening number went…well!  Hooray!  I relaxed immediately and began to have fun.  I did the part as best I could.  I made three mistakes, two that were so minor no one else noticed, one that was a bit more obvious, but nothing glaring and nothing that stopped the action of the show.

During one of my precious moments backstage, when I was in the groove and smiling and ok, but still a little wary of the upcoming song/dances I had not run, three of the four veterans were gathered around backstage about two feet from me. 

“Someone tell Jackie to unclench.” 

“Hahahahahahaha.  Yeah.”

Then they all looked at me and feigned surprise that I was there.

There was no follow-up “Kidding, it’s great!” or “How’s it going?” or even, “Seriously, unclench, you’re fine.” or “Seriously, we’re kidding.  You’re unclenched.”

It just felt mean.

I had posted last week some events that had occurred tech week and opening night.  I removed them because I felt maybe the stress of it all made me kinda bitchy.

I wasn’t wrong.

It was mean.  If I am clenched, tell me to calm down nicely.  Support me.  If I’m not clenched, don’t treat me like I am and make me nervous.

I got through the first act happily, and the Assistant Director was the only one to speak with me…he was so amazingly supportive and told me how natural I was and how great the show was going and how much I was helping everyone out.

The magnitude of that comment?  Indescribable.  I needed a pat on the shoulder.  I just needed someone to stop treating me like I was some freak of nature who everyone was just tolerating.  I needed someone to make me feel like I hadn’t made a mistake spending so much time fretting about this.

Second act was also fine.  The other gal filling in for the music solo rocked the house. 

At the end, no one commented on how this other actress and I had filled in.  For all the audience knew, I was the other actress.  I felt, somehow, that this wasn’t quite appropriate.

But, then, my better nature battled with my ego.  Do I want recognition?  Or do I just want to not feel taken advantage of.

The music director saw me afterward and said, “Do you feel better now?”

The director — the one who suggested I fill in this week — avoided me completely, but told the other actress how wonderful she was.  I felt like a tool.  A tool who’d screwed up his show.  Or, at best, plugged a gaping hole.

But, and this is important — that other actress who sang the song basically led me through the evening onstage and learned a song (and NAILED IT).  She was brilliant.  I’m glad she was recognized.  She’s worked hard this whole show and she got to have her moment…one I am assuming is the first of many.  She’s quite brilliant.

I had done what many people have nightmares about.  I went onstage and did a scripted show with no rehearsal.  I did it. 

And I feel nothing but a vague sense of discomfort…that I somehow am being tolerated (with exceptions of course.)  And no, I didn’t want a parade or flowers.  Just a hug. 

Or a smile, which I did get from some wonderful folks in the show, most of whom helped me out onstage as well.  That’s the “teamwork” and “support” I’ve heard this community is supposed to have in spades.  I cherish it in these wonderful young actors.  Matt and Chris and Bethany and Katie and Trey, who will to my knowledge never read this blog, thank you.  I will thank them in person — again — whenever I see them.  Possibly for the rest of my life. 

This is one of those painful lessons that teaches a lot.  I still have to figure out what I’ve learned.  For now, I’m going to dive into some Halloween candy and be proud of my work.

I cannot work for other people’s thanks. 

I am happy.

I had fun.

I did my job and beyond.

I found harmonies in songs I hadn’t sung in a group.

No one got hurt.


2 thoughts on “The Stuff of Nightmares or My Ego Yaps A Lot

    1. Thanks, A. It’s a (terribly written) stream-of-pain-and-pride piece. At some point I may want to add punctuation, grammar, and/or structure. But it’s honest.

      This business is painful and beautiful.


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