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Becoming 'part of the process'

For a switch, a reporter joins the cast of Victor/Victoria and gets an eye-opening experience when she lands the part of a reporter and chorus member.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001

The last time I auditioned for a play, I was a college sophomore.

Things haven't gotten any easier.

For the last three years, I've written about the people and projects at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill. Often, people outside the community theater set tell me how they would like to get involved, but can't see themselves surviving an audition.

I'm always quick to assure them that it's no big deal. Just learn a few bars of something from West Side Story and go for it, right?

Well, not exactly.

I munched on a few of my own words in February when my editor and I decided I should go through auditions for Stage West's production of Victor/Victoria, a big splashy musical made famous by Julie Andrews, and then write a column about the experience.

The playhouse stage had never looked quite so big as when I stood in the center of it facing an empty house, except for a panel of about five people, including director Tom Russell. I was almost sure I detected a faint echo.

All of the previous times I had heard or sung I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables, it lasted about three minutes; this time, I swear it seemed like a half-hour.

The strange thing was that for weeks I stood in front of my couch at home, trying to imagine myself on an empty stage. The moment I got there, I wished I were back in my living room.

It wasn't that Tom and the rest of the directors weren't nice to me -- they were. It's just that nothing can compare with the feeling of being alone on a stage. For some, it is bliss; for others, it's a little like being run up a flagpole in your underwear.

As a card-carrying member of the second group, I was flabbergasted when they asked me to be in the show. What's worse, they also asked my friend and co-worker Jean Hayes to be in the show. I mean, hey, I had only auditioned on a lark, and Jean had come to lend moral support. Neither of us had any intention of being in the show.

If Tom Russell hasn't considered running for public office, he should.

By the end of the week, he had convinced both Jean and me to join the Victor/Victoria cast -- she as a waif of a flower girl who sings Paris by Night in the second act and me, imagine this, as a reporter and part of the chorus.

And so began a marathon of weeknight and Saturday rehearsals. Every weekend, along with a dozen or so other "non-dancer dancers," I would pile onto the theater's smaller stage for rehearsal with choreographer Jane Russell Geddings.

"It's all just part of the process," she would tell us as she closed her eyes and let the music move her across the stage. Over the next couple of months, those eyes came alive as her ideas began to move from body to body across the stage.

During that time, I made great strides. I learned how to sashay and box step. I even got my first pair of tap shoes.

That's why I think Jane was more disappointed than anyone -- including me -- when just two weeks before opening night, I broke my leg while coming down a set of stairs.

Although I still say all three of my lines in the first act on stage, I now spend the second act singing from the orchestra pit.

When opening night came, and the rest of the cast filled center stage to take their bows, I thought for sure I'd feel a twinge of disappointment at missing out on the curtain call.

But a funny thing happened as the applause swelled behind me. Betsy Glasson, still wearing her final Victoria headpiece, blew me a kiss. That one acknowledgement said more about being part of a team than anything else.

Since that night, many other cast members have quietly thanked me during their curtain call. Because of them, I don't mind missing the bows.

This summer, Jan Lavin will direct a summer special for the playhouse, The Rocky Horror Show. Like always, I'll write a story to let readers know what they can expect.

What won't make it to print -- but will inevitably wind up between the lines -- is the commitment and hard work that goes into Rocky Horror, Victor/Victoria or any other show.

Because of this experience, I will do my job with a better appreciation for those I write about.

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