Every year I have the opportunity to be part of a production with Theatre Wellesley. Wellesley is a small town outside of Waterloo, famous for its apple butter and cheese festival. It’s a small town with a few restaurants, an odd little grocery store and a pastry shop. We inhabit the upper level of the old historic library. It’s dirty, it makes me sneeze, and the basement is beyond creepy. But it’s our quirky little home.
In November, we move into the Community Centre and set up shop. We practice every night leading up to show weekend. We draw anywhere between 50 and 150 people a night. It’s not a big crowd, but they’re a faithful (mostly blue-haired) audience.
We’re not professional. We’re not well known. We don’t draw hundreds and hundreds of people out to our shows. We’re a rag-tag, quirky bunch, but we are us.
If someone made a sports movie about our theatre company, we’d be the underdogs. We’re the little guys; the very definition of community theatre. In my opinion, we are the very best kind of theatre. We are fun, we grow, we support one another.
Sure, I’ve thought about what it would be like to act on a big stage. What it would be like to have dressing rooms that aren’t just chairs and tables draped with bedsheets. Or to be big enough to make the 6 o’clock news like some other companies in the city. I’ve thought about all of that. But all of that? That isn’t us.
We are funny. We are weird. We drive each other nuts. But at the end of a show, we’re a family. An insane, dysfunctional family. But a family, nonetheless.
Take our last show day, for example. We arrived around noon, bursting with energy and excitement for what was a well attended matinee. We did our hair and makeup, donned our costumes, sang the apples and bananas song, and then we put on a perfect show. No missed lines, no dropped cues. Lots of energy. It was perfection.
We went out for dinner time celebrations, ate, drank and were merry.
And then it all went to crap.
Colds started cropping up. Energy was drained. Some were nauseous and feverish. We weren’t sure how we were going to get through our last evening performance. We were trying to suck it up, but to say we were feeling good about it was an outright lie.
But a cool thing happened. We somehow still had fun. A butt was slapped, some profanity was shouted, we spilled some prop champagne on stage (all unplanned). We laughed until we couldn’t breathe backstage. We messed up a few lines, we giggled when we definitely shouldn’t have been giggling. We were deliriously tired, feeling like garbage, but we pulled it off. We had more fun than the audience did.
The best thing about theatre isn’t being on stage (although it is rather fun). It’s about all the stuff that happens offstage to make onstage possible. The audience doesn’t get to see the process. They don’t get to see us frustrated or confused or worried about how the crap this is all going to come together. They just see the end product. The fruits of our labour. They get to see our onstage chemistry that is a direct result of our offstage chemistry.
I’ve been a part of shows before, but I haven’t felt quite as sad as I do to see the end of this one. I’m sick, I’m exhausted, and my whole body hurts, but I’d do it all over again next weekend if I could. In fact, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself now that I don’t have this to think about. Other years it has been about the actual play. The lines, the timing, putting on a good show. This year it was about the people.
It was about the ladies who curled my hair every night. The teenagers that brought an incredible amount of energy and life to the show. Our weird director. My oddly mature 17 year old “love interest” (or is it just odd? I’m not sure). Our hip-wiggling entertainment director. Our cheeky Captain. Our New York Cop/photographer that makes jokes at all of our expense. My backstage mom, my onstage aunties. Our lighting guy, and even the guys who make enormous amounts of popcorn every night.
We may not be huge, we may not be overly professional, but we put on a dang good show. And we have fun doing it. We are us, and we are great. I love you, my Wellesleys!