After 20 years, the magic hasn’t gone away. You know what magic I mean, don’t you? I’m talking about Weathervane magic.
You’ve felt it if you’ve been in the audience at one of the Playhouse’s productions. You’ve felt it if you’ve built scenery in the giant scene shop, or hunted through the props and set pieces in the basement. You’ve felt it up in the rafters working the fly system, or making costumes in the costume shop, or ushering in the auditorium, or sitting on one of the organizational committees.
And you’ve felt it if you’ve had the privilege and pleasure of performing on the stage, as I’ve been doing for the past two decades.
I recently returned to Weathervane as a cast member of the theater’s latest mainstage production, “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” I say returned because, although it had only been two years since my last show here, that’s a long time to be away from this place, as many of my fellow Weathervane actors know.
Starting rehearsals in late January, I was reminded of the excitement that comes with every production from the very first day and how much I enjoy the remarkable process of creating a show. You start from absolutely nothing, at the first script read-through. It’s just a bunch of people in a room, reading words on pieces of paper. Then you start to put the show on its feet. You get a feel for your character and what your function is in the story that’s being told. You start to bond with the other people in the cast and that often translates to a connection on stage (or vice versa). Little by little, as rehearsals go on, you start to crack the code of the play. It ceases to be an elusive collection of words on a page and becomes a living thing, made whole by all the talented people contributing to its creation — the director, actors, stage managers, designers and of course, eventually the audience.
As I write this we are still up in one of Weathervane’s rehearsal halls doing what Jim, our director, calls a “stumble through” of the show. Preview night is a little over a week from now, and it still feels very far away. But earlier tonight we got our first tour of the set (which looks fantastic, thanks to Ralph Cooley) and in a couple days we’ll move down to the stage for our rehearsals. Then we come to our tech week — the final rehearsals before we perform for an audience — where lights, sound, costumes and other elements are incorporated. Basically the whole kit and kaboodle will start to come together.
And, oh baby. That’s when that magic I talked about really starts to happen. That’s when it really starts to feel like a show. You feel the bright hot lights on your face. You’re surrounded by your fellow performers on stage, and you’re all facing the same seemingly impossible deadline of having the show ready for opening night. But you know that together, you’ll make that deadline and it’ll be a blast. That’s when it gets in your blood. That’s the magic that brings me back here again and again.
I first felt it when I saw Weathervane’s 1992 production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Had I not attended that show to fulfill an 11th-grade English class requirement — and learned how, incredibly, it was possible for Shakespeare to be fun! — I might never treaded these boards. When my sister Karen played Snow White a few years later here in a youth production at age 15, that sealed the deal. I knew I’d have to get involved. I auditioned for and was cast in a wickedly dark comedy, “Loot,” and relished the experience. I still adore all five of my castmates from that show. And one of them, Tom Stephan, is our leading man in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”
I’ve been so lucky. I came to Weathervane in 1996 with no ambition other than to act (it’s worth noting that the theater offers so many more opportunities than acting; so many different kinds of people with varying interests converge here) and over 20 years I’ve gotten to do that in abundance, with so many terrific people. And my story, important as it is to me, is by no means unique.
Like any actor who subjects themselves and their ego to the audition process, I’ve had my moments of heartbreak at Weathervane (I’m still smarting from losing a bucket list role — a certain musical man — a few years back). But ups and downs are part of the exhilaration theater brings, and most of my feelings about this theater are joyful. I mean, truly joyful. Laughing with friends backstage. That feeling you share with a fellow actor when the two of you really “nail” a scene together. The way the auditorium feels when a sold-out house is applauding for your show, and how it feels completely different when you are totally alone in there, on stage facing a dark and empty house, just reflecting on how many memories you’ve made in this place and how many more may be to come.
“The Man Who Came to Dinner” has a cast of 22, the largest group I’ve performed with at this theater. Some are longtime friends of mine, and some are folks I’d never met before. What a great example of the fellowship that Weathervane offers. I met my wife Emily in a play. I met many of my best friends in plays. I honestly wouldn’t know how to meet people without theater, and the camaraderie at Weathervane is one of its defining qualities.
It’s a somewhat rare, wonderful thing to be able to recognize a special moment when it’s happening. Every time I open a show here, I’m acutely aware that it’s a time that will never come again, and I remind myself to savor it.
Not counting a few staged readings over the years, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is my 26th time on stage at Weathervane. It feels fitting to be starting my second 25 productions on the cusp of my third decade with the Playhouse. In 2036, I hope I’m lucky enough to be writing a piece called “50 Shows in 40 Years.” The theater will surely be different then, with an even younger generation of performers and artists bringing new levels of energy to the stage. But with any luck I’ll still be here, feeling the magic, and I’ll keep coming back for more.
- Thursdays — March 31 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Fridays — March 25 and April 1 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturdays — March 26 and April 2 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Sundays — April 3 — at 2:30 p.m.
- AND Wednesday, March 30 at 10 a.m.
No performance on Easter Sunday, March 26.
For tickets, please visit www.weathervaneplayhouse.com or call 330.836.2626.
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