The curtains part and a hush comes over the crowd. I stand in front of all, both oddly calm and blinded by the spotlights below.
Never in all my life did I imagine this is where I’d be and what I’d be doing when a gym full of people thrust their undivided attention upon me. There’s no turning back now — it’s time to carry out what I came here to do. Make them all laugh.
Anyone who knows me understands that I have absolutely no experience acting. Growing up, I always thought theatre folks were strange, and I did everything in my power to avoid being part of it.
But after 20 long years of resistance, I started to waver and let curiosity finally outweigh the hesitation. Life was about to get interesting.
Queue the New Year’s resolution.
As many might recall, I made two specific resolutions this year. The first: to assist with the hog birthing process (still a work in progress). And the second: to try my hand at acting.
Why? Because I wanted to see if I could do it and, well, prove some perceptions wrong along the way. With a community play on the horizon, I had no excuses. It was time to be bold and sign up for a role. It was time to see if I was indeed a strange person.
Slap-stick comedy — a genre this town clings to — and this year’s restaurant-based comedy was certainly no exception. Being new, naturally I asked for the smallest role. Instead, I got cast in one of the largest. What had I gotten myself into? Reluctantly, I went to work transforming myself into a lovable, incredibly ditzy busgirl named Ginger — a role my family claimed wouldn’t be too far of a stretch for me.
When the first practice arrived, I was a nervous wreck. I found myself in a room full of strangers all speaking in bizarre theatre tongues. The task of the evening was to run the cast through the entire script, and I had no idea what to expect (nor what was going on).
It became clear I was the only inexperienced person there, so I looked for a dark hole to crawl into. This was going to be a long season.
For the next two months, I practiced my lines religiously. In front of a toddler by day, in front of directors by night. With their careful critique and support from the cast, I slowly began making up ground. Voice projection, delivery, choreography, makeup — all the things that made Ginger come to life — started to have a place in my mind.
Before long, I was blending in with the seasoned cast and feeling ready to rumble.
Opening night finally arrived and a packed crowd came with it. My deodorant kicked in as I tightened my apron and waited for the curtain to pull back and deliver my fate. The air felt electric and the audience eager to laugh, so we dug in.
The first scene began, and much to my surprise, I was exceptionally calm. Why? The bright stage lights completely blocked the audience from my view. Elated, I made myself right at home and slipped into full Ginger mode without the pressure of watching eyes.
Like clockwork, I delivered my lines with great ditz-like animation — adding to the ham-fest the entire cast was putting on. Mistakes did happen, but they were eclipsed by the fun we had trying to cover them up. By nights’ end we had the crowd rolling. To the symphony of happy applause, we all joined hands down-stage and took a bow.
It was an incredible moment — one I will always be proud of. As the gym lights came on, I looked out over the crowd and I saw our community staring right back. Neighbors, fellow parishioners, families from the elementary — they all came to see the show and to support us. There was no greater feeling.
Looking back, I feel truly fortunate to have done all of this in my small town. Nowhere else could I have been so warmly welcomed and trusted with such an important role from the start. In the big city, I would have met immediate rejection, but out here, there has always been room for ambition no matter where it wanted to go. My recent experience serves as proof of that theory.
In a night filled with so many revelations, I’d like to leave you all with just one more. Ready?
Theatre people are not that strange. Yes, I said it. They’re just ordinary folks with an unbridled willingness to put themselves on display for all the world, no filter applied. That’s it.
Now get out there and do the same. You might just like it.
Dixie Albertson moved from Cedar Rapids to a small town in southern Iowa, where her husband, Travis, joined the family farm. They have three children.