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Stage Fright, Pt. 3


Here’s what I’ve learned so far while I have been embedded in the Town & Gown production of August: Osage County (so-named because it’s situated in Osage County, Oklahoma).

The Taco Stand or some other takeout joint should underwrite the theater. Actors basically have to eat between work and rehearsal. Even then, they’re generally eating with one hand and holding their script with the other, or a power drill, or a steering wheel.

The theater is like baseball: a lot of people with individual skills play as a team.

Directing a play is impossible, at least at this level. You’ve got to design the set and then build it, and if you don’t know how to run a table saw, you’d better know somebody who does, and you’d cast actors who can carry a sofa down a ladder from the loft. Then you have to go contend with loud wedding bands across the way at the Taylor-Grady House booming the sounds of Motown into the quiet climax of your production.

Acting is the ability to appear not to be acting. You can’t do that until you learn your lines so well that you don’t even have to think about them. Even then, you forget them. Sometimes you leave out big chunks of your lines. This can be disconcerting for the actor next to you whose cue you just blew.

Acting is the ability to appear not to be winging it if you have to wing it.

The theater is like an iceberg; 90 percent of it goes on behind the scenes. There is a lot of waiting around. People sit chatting, reading or checking their lines, then walk out on stage and turn into serial killers (none in this play).

Each performance is different; each audience is different. The audience is a big part of the performance: some are live, some not. A live audience enhances the performance.

Actors are just like you and me. You could be living next door to one and not know it.

They’re not just play-acting; they morph. I have watched them up close, and I still don’t know how they do it, but it has a lot to do with practice, like baseball. You wouldn’t be able to just walk out on the field and turn a double play.

There are people whose titles seem insignificant without whom there would be no play: the guy running the lights and the sound and the stage manager, who runs the show from behind the curtain. The stage manager is constantly on the go, keeping up with every actor and every prop and assuring that they go on at the right time together.

I’m not really qualified, nor is there room, to tell you who all these actors and others are, but I’ve got to mention their names, because you have seen them in other productions around town, and together they make up one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled in Athens. Allen Rowell, himself a fine actor, directs August, assisted by Carina McGeehin and Adam Shirley. Bryn Adamson and Gay Griggs McCommons—I mention them first, because they could be considered the leads, and they’re giving the performances of their lives—are surrounded by the experience and expertise of Mitch Maxey, Emily Myers, Derek Adams, Skip Hulett, Kelly Doyle-Mace, Patrick Hooper, Heather Reed, Asia Meana, Rex Totty, Isabella Germain (a 14-year-old pro) and me. Ashley Laramore designed the lights, Steve Wildey designed the sound, and Jameson Totty runs them both. Heather Sitler manages the show behind the scenes with quiet aplomb. A lot of other people have helped put this production together—building and painting the set, working on everybody’s hair (Holly Richards), etc.

The London Telegraph reviewer called August: Osage County “the first great American play of this century.” It is a beautifully written, very dark comedy with strong language. Please come let these actors enthrall you. They know how.

For tickets call 706-208-TOWN or go to www.townandgownplayers.org. The play is at the Athens Community Theatre behind the Taylor-Grady House on Prince Ave. and runs Thursday, Apr. 18, Friday, Apr. 19 and Saturday, Apr. 20 at 8 p.m., with the final performance Sunday, Apr. 21 at 2 p.m.

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