Theater is an antidote to many things | News, Sports, Jobs

In a “Saturday Night Live” skit titled “Cast List,” Will Ferrell plays a theatrical, temperamental, and inappropriate acting teacher.

“I just wanted to let you all know, we’ll be using the ‘Hamilton’ casting rules for this show,” he tells his students. “So any run for any part, unless of course it feels weird to me.”

He leaves, closing a door adorned with the masks of comedy and tragedy. As his students, who await his release from a mailing list, begin to circle, he presses his middle-aged eyes to the holes in the door and the watches. Finally, it emerges to free them from their misery or to confirm them in it.

This is an exaggeration, of course. “Saturday Night Live” is a comedy, not a documentary. But there is a kernel of truth in the sketch.

If Alpena High School has been the scene of any cast-list meltdowns, it wasn’t during my time.

But I seem to remember, during rehearsals for “Mousetrap”, a cast member noting director Pat Jacques’ more flowery encouragement, including one that referenced the goiter protruding from a fictional aunt’s posterior.

I’ve never really been a theater kid. I stumbled upon it, looking for something to do. Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker” saw me step into the role of Ambrose Kemper, an artist defined as young, energetic, clumsy and passionate. I had words “young” and “clumsy”. Half-way!

Then comes “The Mousetrap”, in which I awkwardly entered the scene through a window, and then… nothing, really.

I rather liked the theater, but I was happy to withdraw into the public. I attended several screenings of “Guys and Dolls”, loving music and humor. I had a crush on the woman who played idealist Sarah Brown until she used her real voice during a Q&A and, fatally, took off her wig.

I still saw shows, occasionally, especially when friends were there. I saw “The Pirates of Penzance” at the invitation of my friend Esther. On stage, she was both herself and not, both the effortlessly cool girl I knew (clove cigarettes, silver jewelry) and a serious singer and performer.

Then for a long time I didn’t look at anything. Instead, I spent my evenings in bars. It was fun for a while, and a little crazy – twice strangers asked me out to fight, only one of which had any real justification. Once a couple tried to lure me and my friend Jessica to their hotel with promises of Red Bull and vodka, which the bar had in stock. I ventured into karaoke from time to time, whether I had the mic or not.

But it got old.

I started writing about art, music, and theater for Grand Rapids publications, and discovered something I had neglected to notice before: the city had a robust and notable theater scene.

I’ve sat in small theaters to watch minimal Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Co. productions, slightly larger theaters to watch mighty Jewish Theater Grand Rapids or Actors’ Theater productions, and larger theaters to watch big, bright shows put on by Circle and Civic. I had no idea.

In the meantime, movies, which had become increasingly adept at taking us to other worlds, had mostly ceased to take us to interesting worlds. I decided to let other people follow Marvel, instead spending my free evenings watching real, non-CGI people pour themselves out.

It was powerful, knowing the work that had to be put into these productions – the energy, time and talent poured in from people I might have met at the grocery store. I realized that I wanted to come in.

I wrote a short play called “Alcina and the Potential Guest” and submitted it to a local theater competition. Oddly enough, he made it to the semis and was read publicly by professional actors as if he was good enough to be there. Stranger still, it might have been.

This month I started rehearsals for “Turandot,” which will be staged by Opera Grand Rapids. I don’t sing – God forbid. Instead, I play a guard. It’s a quiet little part of a big, gloriously loud production, produced by rigorous professionals and featuring some of the most beautiful music ever written. That’s enough to make you shiver with gratitude.

COVID-19 has exacerbated a trend that was already prevalent: withdrawal from each other and into our cellphones.

It’s wrong and we know it.

Theatre, in all its forms, is an antidote.

Drink a lot.

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About Marco C. Nichols

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