Our Town ~ An Actor’s Experience

by Lance Ekum on · 46 comments

“The pur­pose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste expe­ri­ence to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and with­out fear for newer and richer expe­ri­ences.” ~ Eleanor Roo­sevelt

Today I have Greg Ryan with us.  I met Greg in June of this year, dur­ing our time together work­ing on the play “Our Town”, which we both per­formed in.  Greg is here, shar­ing what this act­ing expe­ri­ence has meant for him.

Greg and I had a cou­ple of scenes we were in together, and I’m really tempted to keep call­ing him Mr. Webb (his stage name)!

With that…Greg (errr…Mr. Webb), take it away!

An Actor’s Experience

Com­mu­nity The­ater is an odd bird.  Some peo­ple don’t con­sider it “real the­ater” because it’s not per­formed on one of the big-name stages.  The pro­duc­tions are often found in high school audi­to­ri­ums or back-rooms that you could walk right by if you weren’t look­ing for them .  This pro­duc­tion of “Our Town” was at Sum­mer­Stage, an out­door the­ater in the mid­dle of Lapham Peak State Park, about 30 min­utes out­side of the Mil­wau­kee area.  It’s a lovely the­ater, but it’s def­i­nitely in an odd loca­tion off the beaten path.

Even though I’m over 50, I’m still rel­a­tively new to act­ing. So when a direc­tor casts me I expe­ri­ence a flurry of emo­tions.  I’m ini­tially flat­tered since the direc­tor is essen­tially trust­ing me with the pro­duc­tion. In my short tenure, I’ve seen first­hand how one actor can jeop­ar­dize an entire pro­duc­tion. This mem­ory helps the flat­tery to fade and I turn my atten­tions to my next emo­tion: worry.  Can I actu­ally do it?  Can I mem­o­rize my lines?  Can I really BE this other person?

Under­neath all these ques­tions is the real­ity that I’m putting much of the rest of my life on hold dur­ing weeks of rehearsal and, finally, the play’s run.  For the next two months or so, many evenings and
week­ends revolve around the stage.  Actors spend less time with friends and fam­ily; even their careers can get upstaged.  Will this deci­sion affect their long term rela­tion­ships?  My wife wasn’t all that happy when I took this role because she felt that sum­mer is such a long-awaited time in Wis­con­sin and we’d miss out on activ­i­ties we’d nor­mally do together. Luck­ily, after she observed me falling in love
with this play, she became more under­stand­ing and supportive.

Of all the plays I’ve acted in, none have made me think more about being human than Our Town.  It’s rather amaz­ing, con­sid­er­ing that dur­ing the read through I thought it came off as corny and dated.  But
the more I rehearsed and saw my fel­low actors assum­ing their roles, the more I real­ized that the play is time­less.  Sure, some of the words we spoke may have been from the early 1900’s but the thoughts
that they expressed still ring true today.  How do you feel about a new­born baby?  Or when you dis­cover that the per­son you love actu­ally loves you back?  How would you feel if both your chil­dren died before
you did?

Con­nie Gehl, the actress who played my wife in “Our Town,” needed to cry dur­ing the per­for­mance.  Her sor­row was so con­vinc­ing that I, as her hus­band, was com­pelled to com­fort her so she was not alone in her grief.  Her per­for­mance pulled me in and, I believe, helped me truly embody my part as Charles Webb.  It was just one of the won­der­ful aspects of this production.

Mem­o­ries and Emotions

I’d like to share two more won­der­ful mem­o­ries of this show.  I was mov­ing fur­ni­ture from the stage to another build­ing.  One of the younger actresses stopped me and we chat­ted pleas­antly for a moment.  She said that she just loved inter­act­ing with all these cre­ative peo­ple and she obvi­ously was includ­ing me.  Still feel­ing like a new­comer to the the­ater, I was inwardly sur­prised and flat­tered.  Am I actu­ally an actor?  I guess I am.

The other moment occurred dur­ing the wed­ding scene.  I play the father of Emily, the hes­i­tant bride.  At the begin­ning of the scene, she’s scared and looks to her father for reas­sur­ance.  After a lit­tle
father-daughter chat, I kiss her fore­head, drape her veil over her head and walk her down the aisle.   Well, I walked my own daugh­ter down the wed­ding aisle about three years ago.  This is a priv­i­lege
that fathers of girls have enjoyed for cen­turies and it may be the only time I ever do that in real life.  But because of this play, I was able to relive the expe­ri­ence dur­ing every per­for­mance.   And my
“real” daugh­ter saw the show, too.

When a show ends, I expe­ri­ence more emo­tions.  Sor­row that the pro­duc­tion is fin­ished.  Per­haps, relief too.   I com­muted about 40 min­utes to the venue, but the major­ity of the actors live out in the
Delafield area so I may never work with or even see many of them again.  I’m wist­ful when I real­ize that these peo­ple have passed through a brief part of my life.

Although I do feel sor­row,  grat­i­tude is the emo­tion that over rides all the oth­ers.  I’m grate­ful that Diane Pow­ell cast me in this play.  I’m grate­ful that I was able to work with Ethan, Mason, Amanda,
Con­nie and Lance as well as the rest of the cast and crew.  I’m grate­ful that we had good weather for all of our pro­duc­tion dates. I’m grate­ful to the audi­ence who usu­ally laughed at the right times. I’m grate­ful to my body and brain for hang­ing in there and allow­ing me to phys­i­cally and men­tally han­dle the part.  I’m grate­ful to my wife, Brooke, for sup­port­ing me in a very per­sonal endeavor.  I’m grate­ful to Face­book because it allows me to know some new friends even if they turn out to be temporary.

Well, on to the next audi­tion.  I’ve just been cast in a new one act play, but I’m con­fi­dent that this pro­duc­tion of “Our Town” will stay with me until I play in my own real life funeral scene.


You can keep up with Greg at his per­sonal web­site — Our Next Thing, and on Face­book.

Lance writes sto­ries from his heart, aim­ing to inspire and moti­vate, as you align more fully with YOUR true peak. When he’s not here, you can find him hang­ing out with his fam­ily, rid­ing a bike, or just gen­er­ally act­ing goofy.   Sign up for the Thoughts from the Tree­house newslet­ter and get addi­tional inspi­ra­tion in your email inbox!
Lance Ekum
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