Something you may not have known about me is that I really like acting! While I’ve never seen a Broadway production and I’m actually not one to go to local theater very often, I became very active in my high school’s theater program in my sophomore year. While I don’t plan to make a career out of acting, it’s something that I absolutely adore doing, and I hope to continue participating in theater for the rest of my life. Today, I’ll be writing about my experience with the first play I performed in: Wonderful Town!
Wonderful Town is very much a feel-good musical that premiered in 1953. It had music composed by Leonard Bernstein, who would go on to compose music for West Side Story, but there’s a reason why he isn’t famous for this. It’s a purely average musical that follows the lives of two Ohioan girls trying to make it in Greenwich village of New York, one trying to be an author and the other an actress.
I got an ensemble role along with some very minor parts. I was a tourist who walked through the audience, a pervy director who unsuccesfully tries to seduce one of the leading ladies, an explorer who gets eaten by a lion offstage, and an Irish cop. My favorite role was likely that of the explorer. As the scene was a reenactment of the other leading lady’s melodramatic book, we were told to act melodramatically, which is definitely my forte. The Irish cop was the most difficult role for reasons I’m about to go into, but the pervy director was understandable the most uncomfortably, especially in a time when girls terrified me about as much as an approaching semi-truck.
I had wanted to join theater for a while, but I was so disorganized that I always forgot to sign up for auditions. Fortunately, I found the audition sheet only a day or two before the actual auditions! Every audition I’ve ever done has been really nerve-wracking, but the first was so much so that my performance really suffered because of it. I do have a good singing voice, however, so they decided to give me a role as part of a quartet with different harmonies.
This was a mistake. While I might have a good voice, that does not mean that I’m automatically a good singer. I had very little experience singing for an audience, and I just could not hear myself singing while other people were doing that at different pitches. It was a nightmare that didn’t really come together, and I was keenly aware that I was the weakest link, with everyone else and our choir director being visibly frustrated with my incompetence. This incompetence carried on to the choreography, where I would often be the only one in the group to still not understand the relatively basic movements. Finally, I would miss entrances, and even rehearsals, all the time. I missed one entrance so often that the other actors were more used to improvising around my absence than actually going with the script! It was so bad that my director said that if I missed it one more time, they’d just go with the improvised version instead. I didn’t miss it again. And I missed every rehearsal (unintentionally!) for one scene, so I simply wasn’t in it, and had to awkwardly shuffle into the next one. By all accounts, my performance in Wonderful Town was a disaster up until the last rehearsal, and it just barely came together in the end.
But I loved every second of it. Before joining theater, I could be loud and obnoxious in class, but had very few friends and was actually shy about talking to people directly, and I was under very deep depression. I would sit by myself on a bench right before rehearsal to actually avoid everyone, but a girl from the show sat down next to me and convinced me to eventually join everyone else. My obnoxious nature had normally led to either bullying or ostracism from my peers, but nearly everyone in theater was so unbelievably good at reaching out to me and making me feel included.
To say that theater changed me would be an understatement. I went from a social shut-in at best and nuisance at worst to someone who was valued and learned to value others. And while these things might be a bit superficial, I went from someone who nobody wanted to talk to to being voted “most original” in the yearbook and being nominated for prom king. And I believe the single greatest reason for this change was the incredibly accepting and warm welcome from everyone in my high school’s theater department.
I wanted to write about all eight performances, but I had enough to say about Wonderful Town that it became its own article! Let me know if you’d be interested in hearing about the other plays in a separate article, as well as any history you might have with theater!