I'm not quite sure what's got in to me. But it seems I want to experience this acting thing. So much so, that I tried out for a play this week. Yes, I did! For "Steel Magnolias." This is a story that many women remember dearly. Watching the movie recently on television, I thought, you know, I had not understood this story from the perspective of all the older women in it. I had always seen it from Shelby's point of view - the one who's played by Julia Roberts. We all loved Shelby, you see. I even wanted to name my little girl Shelby, if I had one. (Never did - there is not a little Shelby Bollinger running around out there...)
So when I saw there were auditions for "Steel Magnolias" the play - right here in River City, at the Spokane Civic Theater - and because I have dappled into the acting arena in 2008 (see here and here, for example) - I thought, what the heck. I'll do it. I'll try out. What's there to lose?
My pride, apparently.
I showed up on time - 6:30 Monday night. There were a lot, a lot of women. Maybe 50? I'm not sure. There were a lot of Shelbys - who could, at any moment, turn into Annelles (the other young woman in the story - the one whose husband deserts her, who turns born-again Christian, if that was a term used back then). But there were plenty of other characters there too.
When I went to enter the room, the stage manager stared at me and then said, "Please sit to the right." I wondered why she was staring. Did I have something on my face? Turns out, they were splitting us up according to characters. Shelbys, Annelles and Truvys (she's the hairdresser, played by Dolly Parton) should sit to the left. M'lynns (Shelby's mom), Clairees (played by Olympia Dukakis) and Ouizers (the grumpy one, played by Shirley MacLaine) should sit to the right.
This surprised me. I had thought, sort of, that I might be good as an older Annelle. Certainly I can play sweet, if need be (and don't let the opinion of those opposing counsel lawyers around town sway you that I cannot!). Or even Dolly Parton - I don't have the chest of course - but I least I have the hair to tease up...
But now that I was sitting on the right side of the theater I thought, well, this could make some sense. I could play the mom - or even a younger version of Clairee, perhaps...
"Beth?" Asked the director, after funny introductions. "Right here," I said. "Ouiser, page 28," he said.
Huh. Ouiser? Really? I should play a cranky, 60-year-old woman?
I just hoped it wasn't type casting.
He had stared at me too, during his introduction - likely to solidify his ultimate decision that I was a cranky old lady. He was pretty funny at the outset, and tackled up front the question that was on our minds - certainly on my mind: Why would there be a male director for "Steel Magnolias?" (And he looks so young, I thought.) He said he liked it because that meant he'd have the bathroom all to himself. We all laughed. And then he talked about being from the South, and his various, many experiences in the theater (just touched on them, but you could tell), and his all-woman household (four daughters!), and I thought, okay, maybe. And then, as he talked about the different characters in the play, and about the play itself, his face lit up and I thought - it's okay he's a guy, because he loves them. And he "gets" them. And he loves this play. He'll do justice by it.
The tryout part was so interesting. Some people said I read Ouiser well. I think I did pretty well on words to emphasize (we each were reading paragraphs of our characters). But then a woman got up and started channeling Shirley MacLaine - oh my gosh, she was so perfectly the Ouiser we all know and love! - and I thought, well, get ready to read for Clairee for the second monologue...
Nope. I read Ouiser again.
It was interesting who he chose to read for Shelby. And it was interesting how most of the young women played Shelby as a nag. They were each cold-reading the same paragraph - the part where Shelby's telling Jonathan, her betrothed, to get her some dresses out of her closet. I remember that scene in the movie - it's so charming, because Julia Roberts is, yes, bossing him about, but you can hardly tell because she does it in such a soft, flirty way. The softness disappeared Monday night though, in most of the cold readings. I think it would be a matter of simple direction - "smile when you read that" - but it was jarring nonetheless.
And the M'Lynns were interesting too. The woman next to me was spot-on, I thought. "She has the part," I thought. The Ouizers stood out too, but maybe that was because I was reading that part. The Clairees didn't stand out as much. The Annelles seemed, as a group, to rush through their lines, making them hard to understand (none of them realized that the word "commercialization" has a long "i" in it - that's youth for you)...
Actually, I think we all rushed our lines. Me included, though I tried not to. We're from the Pacific Northwest, you see. We don't quite understand the Southern drawl - the joy in taking your time to tell a story all drawn out-like in the words themselves - we don't quite get that. In law school, my two roommates were from North Carolina - neither of them law students, just living and working in D.C. My one roommate, Claudia - such a wonderful person - she died when she was 36, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of the rest of us - she had this way of saying the word "hello" when she answered the phone that turned it into a four-syllable word.... I teased her about it, and tried to say it sometimes like she did, but I never got it right. The closest I came to her kind of hello was the length of time it took for her to say it. I never did successfully copy the charm she had when she said it, though.
Now, here's a funny thing. Paul Castro, my writing instructor ("August Rush," from UCLA Film School) is good friends with Shirley MacLaine. She even called him once, last spring, when we were in the middle of class, and he had to call her back at the break. I've always loved her, so I loved it that Paul was friends with her. Now, here I was, playing one of her most definitive movie roles. So when I got up for the second reading, I said in my head, "Okay, Shirley, help me here...." Not that she could, or anything, or even knows me in any way. But at least she appreciates the idea of channeling...
I stood in front of the director, and got ready to start. "How long have you lived in Spokane?" He said. Fifteen years, I said. (Wow. That long?) He was noticing my resume of previous acting experience in Cheyenne. Which, it's true - I was in three plays there, and loved it - was in a female ensemble before too, actually, called "Quilters." "It takes a production of 'Steel Magnolias' to bring theater people out of the woodwork in Spokane," he said - or something like that. Which was nice, that he called me a theater person. "I was going to name my daughter Shelby, if I ever had one," I said. And then read my part. Got into it a little - even had a little bit of a Southern accent, I think. Thanks, Shirley! And as I returned to my seat, one of the women stopped me. "My daughter's name is Shelby," she said.
After the second reading by everyone, the director huddled with his production people and then announced the handful of names of the people who should stay and read more lines. My name was not among them. He did call out the name of the other Ouiser, who was so amazing. So I went home. And felt a little sad. But okay about it, too. Because at least I tried, right? And it was really, really interesting. Still, I was a little sad. No Ouiser for me.