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!
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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance July 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

Greg,
Thanks for sharing your story here at the Jungle!

It’s interesting – the setting for this play – the early 1900’s – it was a different time. And yet, it’s also much the same (the emotions of love, of living, of sending our children out into the world, of dying…). We may have new gadgets, getting from place to place is easier (and quicker), it’s easier to communicate with people far and wide…beneath all of that, though – there is still this idea of the basic human condition…this idea of being here on this earth that we share with everyone who has gone before us.

It’s great having you here!

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Wendi Kelly Life's Little Inspirations July 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

Lance,

I wish I had known about this ahead of time, I would have driven up to see you in this.
Our Town is one of my favorite plays and over the years I have seen it preformed a few times and worked on it as well.
I have over 35 years in community theater, both as an actor and a director as well as countless other backstage assignments and here is no end to what a person can learn about themselves, people in general and the world in theater. I wish everyone could experience, at least once, the joy of being in theater.

Thanks for sharing this!

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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Wendi,
It was so much fun being a part of this – the whole experience, from the rehearsals to the performances!!

And I loved the story told by “Our Town”, too.

Next time…I’ll make sure I let you know ahead of time!! So, so great having you sharing your thoughts here!

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Lynn July 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

What a lovely thought – you and Lance in that play. I’m sure you are both wonderful. Sounds like a great experience.
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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Lynn,
Greg definitely had a much larger role in the play than I did – and he performed that role amazingly!!

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Erin Prais-Hintz July 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Community Theater is indeed REAL! I think that it can be even more exciting to see a side of your friends and neighbors as they bravely stand up and share their creative talents. I was quite excited when Lance told me he was in this play. Our Town is a favorite and is so timeless. And I, too, had a run in the Community Theater in Stevens Point back in the 90s. There is nothing like participating in live action theater. I love it. I was more into the musicals, although I did one drama and several Community Foundation plays (even more fun because the ‘actors’ were really the best and the brightest of the community, my favorite leading man was our sheriff!) I believe everyone should have a standing ovation in their lives. I got mine as the lead in Hello, Dolly! That was a highlight of my life for sure. Kudos to you and Lance and all the players. I wish that I could have traveled to see it!
Enjoy the day!
Erin
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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Erin,
What was so cool about this – I didn’t know any of the people performing in the play. And by the end – had a whole new group of friends!

How cool – you, doing this earlier in your life!!

…so awesome, as well, to know we share this in common now…

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Meg July 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I just went and saw a local play last night: Damn Yankees. It inspired me. I want to audition for some plays now. Once my schedule lightens up a little I may look into this. It sounds like you all had a GREAT time.
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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Meg,
DO IT!!! It will be so much fun!!!!

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Galen Pearl July 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Oh, I so admire you both for participating in community theater. For one thing, it’s a wonderful contribution to the community. But mostly, I admire the courage and self confidence it takes to do it. I’m comfortable speaking in front of people, but acting is another thing entirely. I can feel my heartbeat speed up just thinking about it! Bravo for you!!!!
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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Galen,
There’s definitely a level of courage to do this (there was for me, anyway!). Knowing that others are relying on you – and that there’s a whole crowd out there who have come to see this – definitely takes a bit of that courage.

Thanks so, so much for being here!!

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Melody | Deliberate Receiving July 30, 2011 at 6:48 am

Hi Greg,
I love how you share your emotional journey with us, especially how acting and the whole experience has allowed you to see yourself in a different light. It’s like witnessing a mini-evolution (“Am I an actor”, ” do I belong here?” “Oh, i guess I am an actor…”) Fantastic.

Thank you and also thanks to Lance for sharing this. 🙂

Hugs,
Melody
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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Melody,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts – and that’s really it: it’s a bit of an evolution to reach that place where you can say “I am” with confidence. Doing the work to make it happen, though, really does help to get you to that place…

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Holly Latty-Mann July 30, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Greg, as a 50-something, I think it’s totally cool you went for a new experience like that, which inspires me to embrace even more of life’s wonderment. What you said about emotion tells me that you’ve got to be really good at acting. Lance, I can see your name – and Greg’s – in neon lights on the west coast, if not NYC! Smiling here, Holly

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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Holly,
Greg performed his role so, so well!

Ummm….I’m not sure I’m ready for NYC yet!!!!

Thanks Holly – so great having you here!

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David Stevens July 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Hi Greg & Lance,
I reckon that’s great. You are getting out there, doing your thing. As a fellow 50 something there are plenty of new experiences occuring in my Life as well. And there will be plenty more. Good for you.
be good to yourself
David
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Lance July 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm

David,
New experiences can help us to discover more about ourselves…and that’s a pretty great thing!! Thanks!

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Hilary July 31, 2011 at 3:13 am

Hi Lance and Greg .. such a fun time you both had .. with so many benefits .. and who knows how many more – that’s the great advantage of .. what if & give it a go attitude .. we never know til we try.

Lance .. knowing you a little from blogging .. I’d have thought acting would suit you down to the ground .. learning lines – well?!

Such fun to read both posts .. and so pleased to read about it .. cheers for now .. and happy summers – Hilary
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Lance August 1, 2011 at 9:01 am

Hi Hilary,
…those “learning of lines”…that was the challenging part!

And I believe Greg’s already off to his next play – he’s rockin’ it!!

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suzen July 31, 2011 at 10:20 am

Hi Greg and Lance! Doing little theater and musicals is great fun and you obviously meet a lot of fun people doing it too! I had an era of that myself during the 1970’s and met some friends that I am still friends with today! When I couldn’t get the part I wanted, I still worked with costumes/make-up/set design – it is the team thing at it’s best! Yes it’s hard work and can be an emotional roller coaster at times but sooooo worth it all. Lance it sounds like you are hooked. Keep it up! You will never regret it!
hugs
suzen
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Lance August 1, 2011 at 9:02 am

Suzen,
Being part of a play is definitely a team project!! And that’s all the way from the actors to all the other supporting roles making it happen. And so cool to see it all come together!!

Very awesome – you doing this!!

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Tess The Bold Life August 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I love community theater and plays in the summertime! Love them and have attended many because my clients were actors and I loved watching them on stage. What a magical time it is for both the actors and the audience. Thanks for sharing so openly your experience.
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Lance August 3, 2011 at 5:51 am

Tess,
Community theatre is so much fun…especially being in it!! There’s something special about hanging out with this group of people – and really getting to know each other over the course of several weeks. And then…doing the performance – so cool to see how the play comes to life by these talented actors!!

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Megan Bord August 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm

What a touching post; thank you, Lance, for sharing this wonderful soul with us via your blog.

Greg, you write with tremendous heart, and my sense is that you live from that space, too. I admire that you consistently do what you love, at the potential expense of doing other things you love (like spending a summer focused on warm-weather activities with your wife). There’s something special about people who follow their hearts’ desires, and are open to learning along the way. That’s what I’m getting from you, Greg, not to mention the gratitude which spills forth in your words.

Lance, you always bring us such great people to our attention. Thank you, my friend!

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Lance August 3, 2011 at 5:54 am

Megan,
Greg did such a great job with his role as Mr. Webb – and that’s a testament to his commitment and heart in all of this. And that’s what makes it all come together – people who really want to be there.

And it’s weird now…not having rehearsals every night!! (although I am enjoying just more time hanging out and taking it easy!!)

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Jane@sensa weight loss August 2, 2011 at 3:39 am

Thank you Greg for sharing your experiences here at JungleOfLife, I agree with you, Thinking actors imagine everything before acting, i mean how would they react in a similar natural situations. With actors like you the Community Theater is still alive, keep doing the great work you are doing!
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Lance August 3, 2011 at 5:55 am

Jane,
It’s great people like Greg who truly bring life to these plays!!

Thanks so much for the comment!

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rob white August 2, 2011 at 8:03 am

Thank you for sharing this side of your life, Lance. I love whenever folks expand creatively and express more and more of themselves. You quite literally get to create a new version of yourself when acting. Acting is a great exercise to come to know ourselves better because we see how much of our personality is made up anyway. I declared myself a book author in my 60’s, so you are well ahead of the game, Lance.

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Lance August 3, 2011 at 5:59 am

Rob,
Yes, this really was an opportunity to create a new version of myself. And in that – there’s an expansion of what is possible, and of who we are. Pretty great side benefits to go along with just the fun of doing it all!

And very awesome – you, declaring yourself an author in your 60’s! (your material is always so excellent!)

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Adrienne August 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm

What a wonderful post Greg, so glad you shared this with us.

I’m also glad that you and Lance experienced this together. So does this mean Lance will be doing more theater? From the sounds of it, it has been a wonderful experience for you Greg. You also sound like an old pro.

I’m not an actress but my nephew is one heck of an actor. He was in all the plays during high school and the majority of the time played the lead. That is one talented young man and I admire anyone who can memorize the lines and then act out the part as if that’s your real life. Which is why I do enjoy seeing plays in person. I can admire the people who take the time to learn everything and then the hours it takes to rehearse and put it all together.

Too bad I don’t live in that area but if did, I’d love to come watch you both.

Adrienne
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Lance August 3, 2011 at 7:34 am

Adrienne,
Hmmm…I’m not signed up for any new theatre opportunities currently…although…it was such a great experience, I’m really thinking about doing more of this!

I had a minor part in the play, so my lines were not many. Some people, though (including Greg), had a whole load of lines to memorize – and so awesome seeing this all come together (and these lines become second nature for the actors)! Very cool – you nephew and his work as an actor!!

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Jannie Funster August 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Well, I sure hope his real life funeral does not come any too soon. Or yours, Lance. Can’t wait to go back and read your previous post, and have a better look at the photo of you all.

How much fun to be participating in a fun thing as a play! I remember my days on the stage (well, back in junior high) but the good feelings Do live on forever, as does the comraderie.

xoox
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Lance August 3, 2011 at 7:35 am

Jannie!!!!!
Hi!
I’m kinda hoping the same thing (about the funeral)!!

xoxo

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Amy Putkonen August 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Nice to meet you, Greg! Wish I could have seen it. I have often thought it would be fun to do that but never have. Looks like a pretty huge commitment, but like many things, worth the effort! Thanks for sharing such in such a heartfelt way.

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Lance August 3, 2011 at 7:37 am

Amy,
It was a big commitment – although it all went pretty quickly (we started rehearsing in early June, and were finished with our shows by late July).

And…so much fun (and a great experience for me, and a real newbie to the acting scene!)!!

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Andrew Walker August 3, 2011 at 2:00 am

Hi, Greg. It was a really fun and interesting story to share. Thanks for sharing this with us!
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Lance August 3, 2011 at 7:37 am

Thanks for reading Andrew!!

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Sonny - Kids' Crafts August 4, 2011 at 8:48 am

I’ve never watched or read “Our Town.” But if it covers human themes that are both universal and relevant to any era (like you say this play does), then it must be a classic…
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Lance August 12, 2011 at 6:41 am

Sonny,
This was my first reading of “Our Town”, and I loved the story line! If you ever get a chance, it’s so worth reading or watching!

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Sonny - Kids' Crafts August 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm

You know, this might be one of those films that need to be updated. The only movie version I could find of this is one that came out way back in 1940. I believe Hollywood needs a remake of this (they certainly seem to remake everything else).
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Joe August 8, 2011 at 9:20 am

Fascinating read. Greg’s write-up reminded me of Waiting for Guffman – a great little movie about the quintessential American community theatre experience. Plus Greg Ryan looks a lot like Christopher Guest.

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Lance August 12, 2011 at 6:43 am

Joe,
Greg was a rockstar our there! And community theatre is a great way to really expand your horizons and get even more connected within your own community!

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Jen August 9, 2011 at 11:18 am

I love the insight Greg, that you share in this post. Especially poignant to me is the timelessness you speak of that never changes although our society does……just like the emotions that roll through the hands of time!

I love that you, Lance, took a risk and tried something new. Both of you have my utmost respect and admiration! I will keep my eyes open for this play. I have never seen it, and it sounds wonderful!!!
Congratulations on a job (play) well done!! And thanks for sharing the experience with us all…..

Love,
Jen
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Lance August 12, 2011 at 6:45 am

Jen,
The idea of timelessness…such a good one. This is a story that’s told from the early 1900’s – and yet, the storyline still applies today.

You would love this play, Jen – definitely check it out if it happens to make an appearance at a theatre near you!

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Aileen | Kaizen Vision August 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Theatre of all types (musical, drama, improv) – can be an incredible process of personal development and living more consiously – more deeply. On the outside it looks like a time consuming activity that can really hurt real-life relationships since it so life encompassing, but really it’s an opportunity to live more fully and really go deeper into the life expereice and the hunman condition. It can enrich our real-life expereinces.

Community theatre is a blessing – it allows all people the chance to enter into the theatre world as performers or crew – and it brings theatre to areas all over the world. I can’t help but find theatre to be a sacred expereince – people coming together sharing a story – the performers give the story and the audience recevies the sotry. It’s a breath to breath experince – it’s magic, it’s sacred – it’s moving.

And what an amazing community it creates!

I enjoyed reading this post 🙂
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Lance August 12, 2011 at 6:47 am

Aileen,
I love what you have shared here – and how the theatre experience can take us more fully into the human condition. And from that – yes, we enrich our own lives, because of these experiences.

Thank YOU for reading, and for your wonderful support and friendship!

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