Middle Age Bulge - My Theatrical Life
In many ways, theatre has been the one constant in my life in Fort McMurray. Jobs have changed, as have volunteer roles. Creatively, I’ve slowly developed my writing skills and have become a rather prolific painter, but acting has always been there, a constant companion.
The memories of my time on stage are many, connected to both moments and people. A number of them lie just below the surface and easily rise to the top when the opportunity comes to share stories.
Perhaps most poignant is how my eldest son came into the world right in the middle of a run of The Taming of the Shrew in 1999. He was due in April, but decided to make an early entrance into the scene in February of that year. His mother went into labour watching the Saturday evening performance; Dylan was born two days later.
Dylan celebrated his 15th birthday with the cast and crew of the epic production of Les Miserables two years ago. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life when he made a little speech during the warm-up about how theatre had changed his life, and in some ways saved his life. He broke down in tears (as did I) and the 50-plus cast members surrounded him and enveloped him in a massive group hug.
The theatre was also there during not-so-good times. I was in the process of ending a relationship when we were doing Death of a Salesman in 2000. My inner life was in turmoil and my stress was off the charts. The combination of those two factors probably contributed to an unforgettable moment as I was exiting stage left during Act One. I fell into the wings, feeling like I’d been hit in the back of the leg with a blunt axe. It took everything I had not to pass out from the pain, climb up to the second level of the set and get in place for the next scene with actor Sam Charles up in the bedroom. I hobbled through the remainder of the performance, finished the show, then went to the cast party. It was only the following morning after I went to Emerg that I discovered that my Achilles tendon had snapped, live in front of a theatre audience.
I did three different one-act shows with Kenny Jones, former morning show host of Country 93.3, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. One of those, The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, produced a lot of memorable moments including dropping several pages of dialogue during interPLAY performance that took place in an intimate temporary venue in the original location of The Redpoll Centre. Tape holding a swath of curtain decided to let go in the middle of the performance, and that one distraction was enough to scramble my brain for the briefest of moments. Most people had absolutely no idea that anything had gone wrong.
My favourite performance of The Zoo Story happened in front of an audience of five in the basement of our home. We were at the point in the rehearsal process when getting audience reaction was very important. So, we did the show for Heather, Dylan and Ben, and Sheila and Norm, our neighbours. I treasured that experience for its intimacy and immediacy.
I am so grateful for the innumerable gifts that theatre has given me over the years, especially the opportunity I have had to work with my sons on stage. Dylan and Ben were both a part of Les Miserables in 2013. Ben and I were able to play together in last December’s production of A Christmas Carol - he was the Ghost of Christmas Past; I was Scrooge. Going through the process of putting theatre productions together has given us a common language, a set of processes, technical terms and experiences to which we can relate.
My hope, if I can be so bold as to put it down in print, is to work with Dylan on a production of a play called Mass Appeal by Bill C. Davis before he completely grows up and goes off to pursue his own theatrical life. The clock is ticking on that notion as he will graduate in the spring of 2017.
Russell Thomas writes a regular blog at www.middleagebulge.com and can be followed on Twitter @rvthomas67.