(image courtesy of thunderbolttheatre.com)
I’m here in a coffee shop, determining how to finish the letter I’m crafting that I hope will end the reign of the Wicked Witch of the West, the manager of a home accessories store who’s ruined my friend’s life. Mere moments ago, a lanky, smiley-eyed fellow exited the shop, highlighted play script and cup of latte remnants in hand, and, unbeknownst to him, he has inspired me to write about a first experience I had in this hollow shell of a town. Earlier, when I walked into the place, he was perched on a stool at one of the hightops, his height obviously unable to take on a regular table. He was eating little, rolled bits of nutty banana loaf straight from the bag and concentrating intently on his lines from the script. I passed his table, and we exchanged a brief glance. I recognized him only just, and I could see in his expression that he was trying to recall who I was.
It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t know me personally, and I don’t know him either. We just happen to know a lot of the same people from the same theater collective.
Artist cliques, especially in small towns, are often difficult to break into. Whether it’s a writing clique or a filmmaking clique or a theater clique, it doesn’t matter. I get it. I do. We tend to congregate with like-minded people who have similar interests. The only problem is with artists and their groups, their cliques, there’s always the green-eyed monster lurking around there, waiting to spring, and friendships are easily broken as a result.
I used to be a member of a local improv troupe. It was out of fleeting interest, and I was dying to meet people who were witty and fun to be around. I also wanted to try on something that would hone my communication skills in the classroom. The experience helped me immensely, and I did meet a number of people, some of whom I still consider friends. All of that aside, however, there was always that underlying feeling of biting competitiveness, something I often sense when I’m around groups of artists (and, in my life these days, academics).
There were several of us from the group who had gotten much too close in such a short amount of time. Any outsider looking in would’ve been lost trying to comprehend the inside jokes and secrets. It grew too much too handle, and I suppose I ought to have paid attention to that nagging feeling I had in my gut that kept telling me to Get Out. I can’t speak for the others, but having been through so many moves and an absolute disaster of a marriage, I was desperate for a bond of some sort, anything to ease my loneliness and sense of inadequacy.
So…I did what any desperate, lonely woman does when she feels she’s about to have a bad breakup: I threw a get-together. Nothing like a good party to tie people back together. During that party though, two members of our little group revealed that they were auditioning for a comedy play — a farce I’d adored — that was being put on by the local theater. I went into full-blown panic-mode. After all, theater clique meant New clique and our little group of friends would be officially broken. I said I’d audition as well, thinking it would, perhaps, save the remnants of whatever was left of us.
And then, to add insult to injury, one of the two who’d shared the news of the audition actually scoffed at me, claiming, of all things, that I wouldn’t get a part, that my odds of garnering a role were slim to none simply because there were so few female roles.
I don’t know what was worse — the fact that they were clearly intent on “moving on” or the fact that a supposed good friend and fellow performer had so little confidence in me.
Of course, in response, I did what any rational, remotely sane person would’ve done during a break-up: I blew up in a grand guignol display of theatrics and emotion. I screamed bloody murder at them, threw things at them, hurled filthy insults at them…and then I cried until my eyes burned.
They knew it had been coming from me. That moment was inevitable.
After I’d mellowed just enough to sort through my swarming, angry thoughts, to process everything that had been said, I went back to them, looked the one who’d scoffed at me dead in the eye, and calmly said, between sniffles,
“I’m going to audition for that fucking play, and I am going to be the leading woman.”
It would be the first time I’d audition at that particular theater, and it would be the last. I didn’t particularly care to do it. For one, I’d not been in a play in well over a decade. I’d forgotten what an audition process was like, what callbacks consisted of, what a “cold reading” was all about. It was often a grating, unnerving experience. Also, I’d been warned of the theater’s constant casting of the same people again and again (usually quite typical in theater cliques), but I knew if that were the case, the “friend” who’d scoffed at me would have a slim chance as well, the larger number of male roles aside. It would be his first time there as well.
The next day, when I showed up for the initial audition, my “friend” was already there, waiting on the other. Of course, he wasn’t surprised to see me. He smugly grinned at me, nodding, and said, “I knew you’d be here.”
Classy me, I just flipped him the bird.
A number of people showed up, as was expected. I had more of a challenge having to read with my so-called friends while half-ignoring them at the same time. No one around us knew the extent of what went on only the night before. The director, a man who’d been brought in from elsewhere, was demanding and strange. I embarrassed myself several times during the whole audition, but I kept as controlled as I could, despite everything, despite the awkward situation I’d forced myself into. I made a new friend during that evening, too, which gave me another push I needed. She was my…well, my competition I suppose, and I partially realized that. However, my mission wasn’t to actually compete with her. I liked her.
No, I was merely there to make my “friend” eat his fothermucking words.
After the audition, I don’t know if it was the strange, nervous energy between us all, but the three of us gathered again, over beer and bad appetizers, to mull over the entire experience. We kept our discussion heavy on the possibility of the show, light on what had happened the night before, but I didn’t forget, and I wouldn’t forget.
The following week, I’d only just landed at the airport in my little sister’s hometown when I got the call from the director. He asked me if I’d play the role of the lead female, the banker’s frantic wife. After that, my “friend” called me to tell me he, apparently, got the role of the male lead, the banker. Our other friend would be playing the stooge. Funny, the director would later tell us that he chose the three of us because we had the inexplicable chemistry that some performers just have together.
(But of course we had.)
And that was just my luck. I’d said I would get it, and I DID get the leading female role. However, I had to spend a number of uncomfortable weeks knowing that our friendship, the dynamic we’d all had, such as it had been, had changed…for the worse…for the better.
Still though, it was quite an experience all in all, one I will keep with me for a very long time.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “First!.”