Our First Audition

By on 24 June, 2011 in Art, Greg Thornton with 1 Comment

Men wrongly lament the flight of time, blaming it for being too swift; they do not perceive that its passage is sufficiently long, but a good memory, which nature has given to us, causes things long past to seem present.

– LEONARDO DA VINCI, Thoughts on Art and Life

Among the finer things about a life in the theatre are the remembrances you carry around of terrific actors, amazing performances, and the myriad stories, whether true or fabricated, that still sparkle as if just revealed. The chat that bubbles forth in the green rooms, the tap rooms, the dressing rooms of old theatres urges the back and forth of memory to touch the deeper recesses of one’s spirit and taps the heart and holds things close. Actors are blessed with good and long memories. And audiences are constantly impressed by the exhibition of that. “How do you remember all those lines?” is a pervasive and honest question and has been asked at just about every post-show discussion I have ever been a part of. And the answer is simply, “That’s our job.” From the slightest moment of an audition to the closing night and beyond, fragments and whole passages flood through the portals of memory and bring a laugh, a nod, a shock of recognition that can fill the memoirs of the greatest to the least of us and have done, thankfully, many times over.

Whether it was the dropping of a line, the cutting of a cue, the forgetting of a prop, the missing of an entrance, or the holding for the phone ring that never comes to bring the play to its inevitable conclusion, every actor who has ever walked onstage and every audience that has been witness to it, carry these moments and they remain etched in our consciousness. I recall one performance of Hamlet, during the final duel between the Dane and Laertes. As I sat on the throne as Claudius, I watched Hamlet’s foil get broken in half and its “point envenomed” end go soaring above and out into the audience, with ne’er a clank to be heard. We thought, in our stunned silence onstage, that one of the patrons had been taken to his or her reward. And, of course, the actor in me, mind racing, thinks “Well, how’s he going to kill me now?” The planned staging was for Hamlet to come after Claudius with his sword which was now out there, stuck in the house, literally. Our quick-thinking prince, (you’d have to be to tackle that role), grabs the nearest Danish soldier and, relieving him of his dagger, bolts toward me, weapon at the ready. The King, at last, is dead, long live the king.

After the curtain, I walked back onstage with my colleague, Hamlet, and sat for the post-show chat. We could hear lots of buzz from the patrons about the sword “moment.”

“Was that part of the play?”

“Oh, yes,” we replied, “but we never saw it work so well until now.” The whole time, the two of us are trying to see where the thing ended up, but no luck. The chat with the audience continued on, discussions of melancholy, and loss of fathers, deaths of lovers, did Shakespeare really write these things? No sword forthcoming. Finally, we see a raised- hand and hear a low voice from mid-audience ask if it was hard, physically, to fight like that every night. And our Hamlet answered, “Yes, especially without weapons!” Well, the voice in the dark said, raising the blunted sword, “So, maybe you’d like this back.” We both shouted, “That’s where it went! Yes please, thanks for finding it and hopefully, you weren’t hurt.” The voice offered, “I’d like to keep it if you don’t mind. It will remind me of the first Hamlet I ever saw.” And thus, we left him to it.

Not all memories born of a theatrical life are as pointed as that. At the Cloverdale Playhouse, we are just beginning to fill the vault of our archive. On Thursday last, the doors of the Playhouse opened to a number of actors gathered to read for a few roles in a project we have been asked to facilitate. We had spent a few hours beforehand, preparing audition material, placing tables and chairs, setting the place up to make it as comfortable as possible in anticipation of what, we hoped, would be the first of many more auditions for full productions. As the first actor began to read from the script, a popping noise was heard and sparks were seen coming from a utility pole outside the theatre. The lights go out, the a/c stops running, and here is the actor just continuing to read for the role. Concentration is a wonderful thing! As I asked someone to call the Fire Department, we began to gather our things together and proceed to the garden that graces the side of our building. We set up out there, sirens blaring from the quick-to-arrive MFD, (Thank You!) and on we went.

A few more actors auditioned and soon the sound of thunder, followed quickly by lightning; on we forge. This is the theatre, after all. As the evening wore on, darkness began to settle and we still had no power, no lights, no cooling air. We asked our final two actors to read for us on the front steps of the Playhouse, as there seemed to be just the slightest glimmer of light left. Or perhaps it was the electricity in the air. While our last actress was squinting at her script, I couldn’t help but admire the courage and fortitude of the group that came out that night. It was an impressive display of pluck, desire, and determination. I thought it bodes well for the Playhouse and its audience. There will be stories to tell and memories to treasure, like the night the Cloverdale Playhouse held its first audition. If the actors can get through thunder and lightning and fire and storm, we’re in for quite a run!

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

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  1. Heather C says:

    Never a dull moment 🙂

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