Walt’s Soapbox: Fuck Stage Fright

So after two months of rehearsal, script reading, buying costume pieces at Goodwill (or digging them out of my seemingly endless car trunk), not to mention the countless hours of trying to memorize my lines, we went live with Matt Panfil’s post-apocalyptic drama Meta/Stasis.

Friday night, I got to the theater at around 5:30, an hour before doors opened as our director Alexa Halstead requested, finished a cigarette, and unloaded my costumes and props from my car to the cramped and narrow backstage area of the Khaos Company Theater. This was it, we were going live. I tried to think of it as just another run through like our rehearsals or just another Rocky gig, something to take my nerves down a notch. After I unloaded my shit, I got into my costume and went to the john to spray some gray into my hair to make me look like a diseased old fuck and then stepped out with Tony Nathan, one of our actors (who plays the role of a funeral director named Joey), to have another cigarette.

We had our final prop checks at around 6:00, making sure we had everything set and ready; we did some warm-ups and then before the call came to take our places, Alexa gathered us around the big trash can on stage and said, “I’ve done all I can and I’m proud of all of you. But now I turn this production over to you, it’s all in your hands now”. I guess I looked a tad uneasy because she then turned a glance at me and sort of chuckled “Are you nervous, Walt?”. I said I was just a tad. Case Jacobus, who does our stage lighting, then replied brilliantly from the lighting booth “Probably because this is the most clothed you’ve ever been on stage!”. With a bit of a laugh to take the edge off my nerves, we were told to take our places, the house was getting ready to open.

I sat on the ratty old couch backstage, my dinner jacket and cane sitting right next to me, trying not to keep so nervous. I was flipping through my script, making sure I still had everything nailed down. I was absolutely convinced I was either gonna stutter my brains out on stage or worse yet, I was just gonna lock up and not be able to move when the time came.

At 7:00, Case started working the lights and Alexa stepped up to introduce the production. After a few short words of welcome and thanks, the live soundtrack kicked on and the show began…

My first lines were a voiceover delivered off stage and I seemed to handle that alright, didn’t stutter, didn’t freeze (shit, maybe I got this. Since I wouldn’t be making an appearance on stage ‘til the second half of the play, I settled back on the couch and began flipping through the latest issue of The Word. It was the primary election issue and I thought some queer politics would help me relax a bit before my cue came.

As the crass capitalist death rep finished up her lines, it was my cue; the lights went down for the scene change, I walked on stage and sat down in my wheelchair to be my part as the good-humored dying father. I tried to shut off the audience in my mind and get completely into the headspace of the elder Lowery.

The next fifteen minutes or so may have been the most nerve-wracking and thrilling minutes of the night for me. I was central for the next three scenes along with the actors in the role of the son Chris and his girlfriend Aimee. But I didn’t choke, I didn’t stutter, I got completely into my character and just grooved on it. I don’t think it was worthy of an Academy Award or anything, but after my last scene, I wheeled the chair backstage and damn near breathed an audible sigh of relief; I did it and I didn’t puke or shit my pants in the process.

After the play’s final scene faded out in a final burst of noise and lights, the house lights went up and we went out to take our bows. I allowed myself to take a good look at the audience, it was about a half-full house and they were clapping loudly for all of us. I felt good, I felt accomplished.

The night ended perfectly for me, down at a joint called the Red Lion in Fountain Square; Tony told me as we left the theater for a celebratory drink, “Since you popped your theater cherry tonight, Walt, the beer’s on me.” We sat there in that pseudo-English pub; I was drinking a pint of Guinness and eating a plate of bangers & mash. It had been a strange, fast night, I had never considered being a “real actor” before, but thanks to Tony and his partner in crime Case, I had been talked into being one and sitting there with a glass of my favorite beer after my first show, I sure as hell felt like one.

Meta/Stasis is running for two more shows at the Khaos Company Theatre, located at 3125 E 10th Street in Indianapolis, May 13th, and 14th. May 13th is Pay What You Want Night, tickets for the show on the 14th are full price. Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:00. For more information, go to: https://www.facebook.com/kctindy

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