Behind the Scenes: Preparing for the Stage

The first time I stepped onstage, I was 4 and dressed as an angel. My mom, unsure about how her shy preschooler would fare in front of a crowd of hundreds, waited in the wings.

Matas in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"
Matas in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
The first time I stepped onstage, I was 4 and dressed as an angel. My mom, unsure about how her shy preschooler would fare in front of a crowd of hundreds, waited in the wings.

But—as she tells it—I ran off when my song in the Christmas pageant finished, looked at her wide-eyed and asked, “When can I do that again?”

In the 20-plus years since, I’ve been in musicals, plays, one-acts and even an opera. It’s not my day job, so I’m no expert, but here’s what I can tell you about what it’s like to audition, go to rehearsals and perform.

One of the best parts of being in a play is getting to do all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t otherwise experience while pretending to be someone else.

I once faked giving birth in front of a live audience for a college production—a fact the other people in the cast still tease me about. I hope that when I squeeze out a child for real, there are fewer people there to witness it.

Matas performing in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"
Matas performing in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
The first time I wore a wedding dress, I was 15 and in my high school’s production of “Father of the Bride.” My mom cried. She kept it together the following year, though, when I put one on again at the end of “Oklahoma!”

Last year, I was in a musical during which I had to proposition my now-boyfriend and then sing a ballad about our upcoming date that left little to the imagination. My sweet grandmothers, who came to different performances, both told me afterward that while they liked the show, they did not enjoy all of the scenes. Apparently, my hints that maybe they should skip this play and catch the next one were too subtle.

Of course, to get to the point of mortifying your family, you have to audition, which is pretty much the worst. There might be some people who are not overcome with crippling anxiety and fear at this prospect, but I am not one of them.

Basically, what you do is stand up in front of a lot of people who either are being paid to judge you or are your competition, and try to convey how skilled you are in about two minutes, the whole time wondering whether you picked the right selection to sing or if this is the inflection you’re supposed to be using when reading the lines and whether your face looks anything like what the director imagined for the role you want.

Matas (second from left) in a play in second grade
Matas (second from left) in a play in second grade
If you do really well at your first audition, you get to suffer through a higher-stakes version of this experience again at callback auditions, when the director and the rest of the production team invite a smaller group of people back to read or sing for specific roles to help narrow down who is going to play what part.

But the nerves don’t subside once this ordeal is over, because then you wait to see whether your name is going to appear on the cast list.

And when it does, the fun begins.

During rehearsal, you inevitably make friends with people who previously were strangers. It’s kind of hard not to, when you’re spending all of your free time together acting as though you’re in love or best friends or mother and daughter. You just get a lot closer a lot faster.

I surveyed the other cast members of the most recent show I was in—“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”—for their take about getting ready for a play.

The scariest moment, I think, is that minute before your cue comes and you walk onstage. For me, that’s when all the doubt about whether I’m going to remember my lines and whether my voice is warmed up enough creeps in. —Alison Matas

Kevin Wells, our director, said he enjoys building rapport with the actors—learning their personalities and back stories—because it helps him understand how they’re approaching their characters.

Andrew Donaldson, one of the actors, (also known as the aforementioned boyfriend) said the process gets most stressful once the director gives the date you have to be off-book, which is when you’re supposed to have everything memorized. This includes your lines, your songs, your cues and your movements onstage.

That deadline sneaks up on you, as does what’s called tech week.

Marilyn Wells, also one of the actors from our show, describes it like this: “Either everyone is prepared and everything goes according to plan (as in, never) or we go into ‘Hell Week’ with all kinds of issues with tech, schedules and unexpected little things around every corner.”

theater4My co-workers probably better understand tech week as when I start wearing my hair in a messy ponytail every day and come back from my lunch break with more coffee.

It’s during these late-night rehearsals you finally add in stage lights, microphones and costumes. And somehow, it seems like much of the hard work you’ve put in during the last five weeks to get the show running smoothly didn’t happen, while you stop and start and repeat to make sure everyone knows what’s supposed to happen when and can do it capably.

Those hectic-but-somehow-exhilarating rehearsals take sleep-deprived you right up to opening night.

The scariest moment, I think, is that minute before your cue comes and you walk onstage. For me, that’s when all the doubt about whether I’m going to remember my lines and whether my voice is warmed up enough creeps in. I’ve learned to ignore it. Besides, once you step into the lights, you’re not supposed to be you anymore, so there’s no space in your brain for worrying. Plus, they’re so bright that you usually can’t see anything, anyway.

And after that, it’s a blast.

Coming to local theaters

Want to see more local theater performances? Check these out on stages near you.

“Steel Magnolias” by Carnation City Players
May 1-3
Firehouse Theatre: 450 E. Market, Alliance
carnationcityplayers.org

“Les Miserables”
May 15-17, 22-24, 29-31
Players Guild Theatre: 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton
playersguildtheatre.com
*See Alison Matas perform in this show.

“American Idiot”
May 28 through June 14
North Canton Playhouse: 525 Seventh St. NE, North Canton
northcantonplayhouse.com

“The Andersonville Trial” by Carnation City Players
June 5-6, 12-14
Firehouse Theatre: 450 E. Market, Alliance
carnationcityplayers.org

“Hello Dolly!” by Voices of Canton Inc.
June 12-14
Lions Lincoln Theatre: 156 Lincoln Way E, Massillon
voicesofcanton.org

“Trumpet in the Land,” “White Savage” and “Hairspray”
Throughout June, July and August, starting June 19 and ending August 22.
Schoenbrunn Amphitheatre: Trumpet Drive Northeast, New Philadelphia. (Follow the road to the top of the hill.)
trumpetintheland.com

“Mary Poppins”
July 30 through August 16
North Canton Playhouse: 525 Seventh St. NE, North Canton
northcantonplayhouse.com