Friday, May 14, 2010

Behind the Curtain with "Big Love": A Student's Experience

Christina Forster as Thyona takes a knife to Jesse Miceli's character Constantine in NAU Theatre's production of "Big Love. (If you look closely, you can see Thomas Steinhagen in the background.) Photo by Chie Morita.

by Thomas Steinhagen

Editor's Note: Thomas Steinhagen is a freshman in the Psychology Department. This is his story about participating in the NAU Theatre production of "Big Love" in April, 2010.

Any experience of participating in a Theatre production is nerve-racking. The audition process, the endless rehearsals, and the performances themselves are stressful, in their own ways. I experienced this straight from the beginning of my participation in the NAU Theatre Department’s ““Big Love”.” But, what made this experience even more dramatic, frustrating and exciting was the fact that this was my first on-stage production…ever. And I have to say, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

At the beginning of the Spring 2010 term, I was not intending on auditioning for NAU Theatre program. Although I did take part in Alpha Psi Omega’s 24-Hour Theatre and Arizona Playmakers’ New Works Showcase, I thought that that was as far as my acting would go for the year. The dominating thought in my mind was, “I did not have any prior acting experience; what do I have to offer?” However, with the support of my friends within the Theatre program and my own subconscious desire, I was convinced to audition for the Spring 2010 season.

When it comes to auditioning for performances on the University level, the competition between actors and actresses is high. The stresses and worries of life must be left behind in the waiting room. Focus and determination are the qualities that help someone prepare for the audition itself, but it is the essence of “play” that assures their success. This essence of “play,” or expression of creativity, is what the directors seek in the audition process. Of course, the former two qualities are necessary, but creativity is the most important, as it demonstrates what the performers are capable of performing.

Bear in mind that this was my second official audition for an NAU Theatre performance. The first was abysmal; my audition for New Works Showcase – my two minute monologue from hell. It was so bad, that the directors thought that my failed attempt to audition was part of the audition itself! My second, the audition for “Big Love”, was an improvement – anything was an improvement following my first audition. Sadly, I could not remember my lines, I was losing my focus, and I thought I lost my chance to be in Macbeth or “Big Love”. Fortunately, I was wrong – and I was cast as a “wedding guest” in “Big Love”.

Following the audition process, the cast, directors, and stage managers come together to rehearse. This two month process is considered the most stressful, as actors must learn their lines, “blocking” (or where they must move to and from), and nail down every single detail necessary for a successful production. But not everything is completed at square one; these rehearsals make up a process. For a successful production, everything must be taken bit-by-bit, and tackled one thing at a time. Rehearsals are broken down into: script readings, rehearsals, tech rehearsals, and dress rehearsals. In respect to this order: lines are memorized, characters develop, blocking begins and continues until the end, sound and lighting are added to the mix, and with costumes and makeup, the cast and crew perform a “final draft” of the play.

All of this effort amounts to the eight amazing performances of “Big Love.” And although creativity assures the success of a play, there is one unmentioned factor that is necessary for all types of performances: the audience. Without the audience, there would be no emotion: no reaction to love, death, and among other things, cake in the face. The audience is necessary to the performers, just as the performers are necessary to the audience. Of course, the audiences showed up, or did not show, according to the different days of the week. Opening night and Saturday were amazing, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday were slow, Friday and Saturday were packed, and the last matinee was decent compared to the first. Overall, the audience is what made the performances of “Big Love” so awesome, and without them, the cast and I would be…without a job!

Looking back on the experience of auditioning for, rehearsing, and performing “Big Love,” I must say once more that it was one of the greatest experiences in my entire life. Considering my lack of acting expertise, I have learned so much in the past three months. Some of these things include: how to relax, how to get into character, how to maintain character when things go wrong (or awfully wrong, for that matter), and more. But, some of the lessons I learned took place off the stage, such as: how to behave in public, how to behave backstage, when to listen to others and when to speak, and above all, what it means to have friends that have your back. My experience in “Big Love” can be summed up by the line of Piero: “That life is nothing for us, but an experience that we share with others.”