Terrifyingly Exciting: Stepping onto the stage for the first time
We don't go to the theatre just to be entertained, but to be transformed.
After gracing the Keyano Theatre stage in Good Night Ladies, Alexandra Tarasenco truly believes that, especially now she has been on both sides of the curtain.
The play was her first foray onto the stage; one prompted by a desire to step outside her comfort zone. As a coordinator with Leadership Wood Buffalo, Tarasenco knows participants are often asked to step outside their own comfort zones for several reasons, personal development being one of them. And she knew she couldn’t very well ask them to do it if she wasn’t prepared to do so.
“Experiential learning is one of the main tools we use in the program… This is all meant to move our participants out of their comfort zone, as this uncomfortable zone is where the biggest learning and therefore personal development and growth happens. I always felt I needed to get in the same zone of discomfort to be able to say to our participants: this approach indeed works.”
For Christophe Durieu, stepping onto the stage in A Few Good Men finally fulfilled something he had always wanted to do, but never dared. “And now I am too old to care, I just want to do what I like and live,” he chuckles.
A rekindling of a high school love prompted Aleaha Frigon-Manchester’s return to the stage, appearing in Cabaret.
The four-play series at Keyano Theatre has served as a great date night for her and her husband for years. One night, they spied a notice for open auditions for the play Boeing Boeing.
“I thought, ‘Hmmm ... I know this could be a huge fail on my part, but … let’s do it.’ I didn’t get that part, but it was literally a game changer.”
All three fledgling thespians would readily make a repeat performance, citing the absolute enjoyment of the rehearsals and the performances, learning the behind-the-scenes magic of theatre and the camaraderie often resulting in lifelong friendships.
The experience of being on stage, donning the persona of someone else, lent itself to personal transformations.
Durieu made mistakes.
“I learned you have to move on quickly, very quickly. Whether you make a mistake or your partner at that moment makes a mistake, you move on, and continue breathing life into the character. Chances are you won’t make the same mistake tomorrow.”
Letting go of self-doubt as well as anxiety over trying to achieve perfection and being in control are the lessons Frigon-Manchester took from it.
“At the end of the day, you just work hard, try your best, and you will learn and get better with each experience.”
Tarasenco admits, “It actually was a very powerful awareness moment when I realized how strong my inner critic is. Realizing that helped me become so much more independent and free I would say in expressing my opinions, in living according to my values and beliefs.”
Similar to Durieu and Tarasenco, Frigon-Manchester recalls that when Steph Link, Keyano’s resident stage manager, called to say she had the part, she went through a gamut of emotions.
“I was shocked then thrilled, like jumping up and down in my room with my kids staring at me like I had lost my mind thrilled, and then five minutes later when I Googled more about Cabaret, I was terrified.”
Appearing before an audience, is like nothing else: “It made me feel nausea, faint, sweaty, dizzy; my heart raced, my mouth was dry and then you step out there and the lights are bright, the people are waiting and it’s amazing. The best drug ever.”
Deep relaxing breaths and those all-important glasses of water readily available to quench any dry mouth are methods the trio cited to calm those pre-show nerves. Also, as Tarasenco points out, you become so immersed in your character, the audience just disappears.
Being on stage is like great Italian ice cream, compares Durieu. Talking about it is good, but tasting it is better.
“Theatre is really a live storytelling, and I think being human is about telling stories, sharing our stories. Theatre is not just entertainment; it’s food for us. Theatre is so essential in the life of a community and we are so very blessed to have the Keyano team.”
He admits to a concern about letting his co-stars and production team down.
“I was most impressed by the talent of all the actors around me, and Dave (Horak), our director, so I tried not to let them down. That made me more nervous.
“There are lot of people whom you don’t see on stage, whose work is to make the play flow. They’re not under the spotlight, but they deserve to be.”
Performing before a very silent audience during one show made Durieu realize how important the feedback like laughter and exclamations are from the audience for the actors.
“It’s amazing how we feed on that to give energy back.”
Link notes that those taking the stage for the first time bring a new energy to a production, an energy that’s different from people who’ve been on the stage many times.
“The nervous energy is exciting sometimes.”
That newness can also serve as the impetus for the returning crew to review varying facets of the production.
“When you walk into a rehearsal room and there are people who have never done it before, there are a lot of things we have to explain to them such as terminology,” she explains. “So sometimes it makes us look at what we’re doing and kind of revisit it with a new view. It freshens everything up for us.”
Paul Gelineau, a Keyano director, adds sometimes when he says to a first time actor, ‘Okay, you don’t have to worry about that lighting cue because it’s going to be an auto follow,’ a blank stare tends to be the response.
“They don’t know what that means so you have to explain it and what that means to them in the performance because they don’t necessarily understand.
“What’s going on around them is massive and there are as many people working off-stage generally than there are on stage. That aspect of it is always something that is very new to them and they go ‘Wow. There’s a lot of stuff going on.’ All the magic of theatre that you don’t see, they learn about and I think that’s one of the more fascinating aspects for anybody.”
Some fledgling actors will often end up working the off-stage side of a production.
“It’s an amazing side of a production, watching the other teams doing all of the other stuff and that can be quite fascinating for people.”
Both Link and Gelineau heartily encourage anyone thinking about auditioning to take the next step and do it. Link notes that nine of the 21 cast members for Into the Woods had never been on the Keyano stage before. Of those nine, three were lead roles.
“The directors pick the best people for the roles regardless of who they are, what their experience is.”
Gelineau directed last year’s performance of Cabaret and points out only a couple of repeats from that show were cast for Into the Woods.
“A lot of people came out to audition, so you can really never think that ‘Oh well. The more experienced people will get it.’ That’s not the case at all from a director’s standpoint.
“It’s hugely fun and as intimidating as it seems at first, just showing up is the hardest part, but once you’re here, you’ll have a blast. That’s just the way it is and you meet a lot of new friends that become friends for life.”
Community theatre is so much more than just putting on a show for the crowd, sums up Frigon-Manchester.
“It’s about people coming together, people from all backgrounds and talents, and working for a common goal. It’s about forming relationships, letting guards down, trying something new, and was honestly a mind blowing experience for me.
“In so many ways it has changed my life for the better. The fun, joy, love, acceptance, guidance and work ethic I have learned from the volunteers that do theatre to the directors who live their life for theatre has blown me away. I can’t wait to hear about the shows for next season
Picture left: Alexandra Tarasenco in Good Night Ladies. Above, top to botom: Christophe Durieu in A Few Good Men, Aleaha Frigon in Cabaret, Paul Gelineau and Steph Link.
- Photos by Sean McLennan, Keyano College