“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
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.