Rehearsals have started in full force for Our Town. We are blocking scenes, feeling our way through Wilder’s brilliant script, and admiring the talents of others.
All of which reminds me of my first stage experience.
When I was a junior in high school, I was cast in Shubert Fendrich’s Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch (or the Perfumed Badge) at the Columbus School for Girls. You’ve never heard of this play, which makes it ideal for a high school production by first-time actors you know too well.
I played twins separated at birth, to be reunited on stage: a western outlaw and a British detective hot on his brother’s trail. As the photos show, the brothers shared a lot of hair.
(Spoiler alert!) The play climaxes with lights off, so that the two can shoot it out, as I mangled both accents in the dark.
But That Wasn’t The Moment of Highest Drama.
A big moment came early, when the legendary, late faculty director C. Edgar Fry welcomed us to the first rehearsal with a speech that started:
Congratulations on being cast. This means that, not only are you here today, but you are committed to being here at every rehearsal and every performance. Do you accept that commitment?
Before you answer, let me tell you this true story. I once had an actor who backed out during the last week of rehearsals. Don’t worry. The show did, as they say, go on. We grabbed another student and taught him the role very quickly and he did a great job.
Then, after the show closed, I found out what colleges the first actor planned to go to and I called each and every one of their admissions directors to make sure they appreciated the gaps in his character.
If you drop out after today, I will do the very same for you.
Mr. Fry was a great teacher. And that was a lifelong lesson, well taught.
But That Also Wasn’t The Moment of Highest Drama.
The biggest moment was later, during that first rehearsal.
We were on stage and it was time for me to kiss the lovely Muffy Melvin. (After 30 years, I hope this can be told and I not be scolded for kissing and telling. Plus, "Muffy" long ago returned to her given name and can disclaim her role in this story if she wishes.)
We arrived at the moment and — because it was only a rehearsal for goodness sakes — didn’t consummate our dramatic union.
We just turned to C. Edgar Fry with the deer-in-the-headlights look. (This look has been the cornerstone of my career.) I know I wore that look and can only imagine that Miss Muffy Melvin did as well.
C. Edgar Fry responded typically, "The script says to kiss her. So kiss her."
Having never kissed Muffy Melvin before and full aware that I wasn’t ever going to be invited to kiss Muffy Melvin under any real-life circumstances, I was more than a little nervous. "Now?" I asked.
"Now," directed Mr. Fry. Or he might call all my future colleges.
And There Was Muffy’s Beautiful Face.
We obeyed Mr. Fry by doing the same thing. We planted our feet. We tilted our heads to the side, because we both recognized that my nose would be in the way. And, well, movie stars all tilt their heads when preparing for a smooch.
Problem was: we both tilted on the same plane. That is, I tilted to my right and Muffy to her left. So our noses were still aligned and the lips remained out of reach.
So we both corrected. But we both corrected at the same time. Muffy to her right, me to my left. Noses aligned. Lips away.
And again, to the other side.
And again, to the other side.
And so on, in a bit of a panic, until we resembled metronomes. (Are you picturing this? We just couldn’t get skewed.)
Everyone laughed and Mr. Fry said:
That’s why we are going to rehearse every bit of the play every day. We are not going to be surprised by anything when the show opens.
Oh, C. Edgar Fry, I salute you.
You taught me how to kiss Muffy Melvin. That’s a skill I was not going to learn any other time.
I dedicate all my rehearsing until I am "off book" (lines memorized) to the fond memory of C. Edgar Fry. And to Muffy Melvin wherever you are.
Update: Muffy Melvin approved this message.