In the summer after my freshman year of high school, I auditioned for a local summer stock theatre, Hackmatack Playhouse. My little sister auditioned as well. It was our first “professional” auditions, and the panel of directors seemed very happy with my audition and very amused with my sister’s. Not that she wasn’t good- the opposite- she was not afraid at seven years old to get up there and sing her heart out! They cast both of us in The Wizard of Us (her as a munchkin, and me in the adult chorus), and they offered me an apprenticeship position, where I would perform in the ensemble of one show and work tech for another. I got paid a stipend of $50 for the summer (probably about 6-8 weeks of 40+ hours a week).
For those of you who might not be familiar with summer stock, the general rule is that one group of performers is hired for the whole summer and performs in 4-5 shows, back to back. So when you begin performances for the first show, you begin rehearsals for the next show during the day. That summer I rehearsed for Wizard of Oz, and then performed in Wizard of Oz while working in the costume shop during the day, preparing for the musical, The Who’s Tommy. Then, I worked as a dresser during the Tommy performances, while many of the same performers were rehearsing Forum during the day. So my schedule wasn’t as crazy as some, but it was busy and I loved every second of it. We had high school apprentices, like myself, who were in one show and teched another, local college interns who were in the ensemble of all the shows and teched all of them as well (as much as they could while fitting in rehearsals), and core cast members, who were other college students from Boston and New York who played all the leading roles in the shows, and who did NOT have to tech shows. Interesting hierarchy, but it worked! They even had one separate dressing room area for the “lead” of the show, as well as specifically marking off certain seats in the dressing room for other principals.
That particular theatre is amazing. It is literally a barn that was converted into a fully functional, professional theatre, with an amazing stage and technical elements. They have a smaller building called the rehearsal barn, where early rehearsals for the shows take place, where the stage area is all taped out on the floor, so you can have accurate staging. The costume/scene shop is another separate building, as is the box office/concessions; they are all red and white wooden buildings that match the main barn/theatre. The grounds are landscaped with grass and cedar chips, with picnic tables and benches in various areas.
I learned SO MUCH that summer. I learned about the rehearsal process, how many elements it takes to put together a show, and how to sew! I pulled period costumes from the wasp-infested top of the costume shop, I did company laundry, I took apart and put together a sewing machine by figuring it out myself, I learned about choreography, I sat and sewed while listening to the Tommy cast practice their difficult harmonies, I witnessed the men practicing jumping into the trap door of the stage, I became a part of all the backstage silliness, and learned about the core cast members’ plans for their career paths and began to plan my own. Etc, etc, etc. It was a magical summer, and when it rained… I can still smell the wet cedar chips and remember running through the rain to get to the dressing room to change over the laundry, while the cast of Tommy was singing “Sensation.” In addition to the things I learned about theatre that summer, I gained confidence and improved my own talents, and my intentions to pursue theatre were solidified.
The next school year I helped with tech for the fall play, and then in the spring I performed in two musicals at once! I did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at school and The Sound of Music with a local company (same one that did Oliver, but this time directed by the scary director!), about 30 minutes away. There were several days when I would go to school all day, stay after from about 3-5:30 for one rehearsal, and then drive 30 minutes to my other rehearsal from 6-9ish, then drive 30 minutes home. My sister was in Sound of Music with me as well, so my mom drove us both to those rehearsals. In Sound of Music I was one of the nuns, and in Joseph… well that’s a long story. To make it short, at the auditions we were tested on singing and dancing and they marked down who could do which satisfactorily. A small group of us were singled out to be “Jacob’s Wives” while a larger number were declared “chorus” and others were “dancers.” Those of us who had been singled out basically ended up being blended in with the chorus, and the dancers were the ones who really got spotlighted. It was a little frustrating for me, because I had stood out as a singer and a dancer, and those who had not been able to sing were getting all the stage time. As it turned out, I got pulled out of the chorus more than once to fill a dancing position, so I got plenty of stage time.
For the spring play that year we did “The Dining Room” which is a huge ensemble play that can be done with a small number of actors playing many characters, but instead they cast many actors playing 1-2 characters each. I was one of the few who got 3 roles! I played a 5-year-old (they never said her age), a 10-year-old having a birthday party, and a 16-year-old, in one of the funniest scenes.
I don’t remember exactly what happened that next summer, but I didn’t go back to Hackmatack. It might have been because they had a shift of artistic directors, and I don’t remember if I auditioned or not. Either way, they did The Sound of Music, and my sister did that production (moving up from playing Gretl the first time, to playing Marta this time!). I worked that summer, and returned to doing theatre my next year of school.
As a junior, I played Laurie in Brighton Beach Memoirs, then was ensemble in South Pacific, with a lot of dancing parts, and then I stage managed Arsenic and Old Lace (along with playing a dead body onstage!). The next summer I ended up back at Hackmatack, this time performing in two shows! I got to be in the ensemble of Damn Yankees and The King and I. I didn’t do as much tech that time around, but I had an amazing time once again, being part of summer stock.
My senior year of high school I got cast in a play called The Wrestling Season, at a local theatre, and due to that role, I wasn’t able to audition for my high school’s production of The Crucible. It may have been a poor decision, as I was talked about for the lead in The Crucible, but I stuck with my original show and had a great experience.
The musical that year was Into the Woods, and I finally got my chance at a lead role. Up until then, our musicals mostly featured only one female, and there was another girl in my grade who was a fantastic singer, and for that reason she scored all the leads. Everyone expected me to be cast as Little Red, which would have been great, but I was happily surprised to get the part of the Baker’s Wife, which is still my biggest role to this date, and I had so much fun performing it!
Another conflict happened with the spring play my senior year, as I had made the All-State Choir, and the weekend of our rehearsals and concerts conflicted with the spring play. So I wasn’t able to be part of that at all, but my drama teacher (who was consistently supportive and awesome during my whole high school experience) let me sit in on auditions and weigh-in on casting.
Another cool thing about my senior year was that my high school tried something different with English classes. Instead of requiring a full year of plain-old senior English (which I took anyway, so I could take the AP English exam and get college credit), they had a bunch of different half-year options such as college composition, mythology, etc). One of the options was Play Reading, so I got to take that and be exposed to a lot of playwrights I hadn’t known about before then. In addition, that year they made my drama teacher full-time, so she offered some new courses, including Comparative Acting through Film and Directing, both of which I took and thoroughly enjoyed. I also got more involved with dance my senior year, taking a jazz and a tap class at two different local studios.
Once again, this is getting too long, so I will wrap up part 2 by saying that, after a tour of colleges in upstate New York, New York City, and Connecticut, I decided to stay close to home and go to the University of New Hampshire for Theatre, with concentrations in both Musical Theatre and Secondary Theatre Education. I was awarded a major academic scholarship for my class rank and SAT scores, as well as a musical theatre scholarship (through an audition with the UNH theatre department). I worked the summer before starting college rather than doing theatre, and in the fall I moved into my dorm and began college life as a theatre major!