Acting has been called a liar's profession - But I would disagree. If done well, if done right, it is a work of truth, of honesty, and of empathy. Actors are evangelist of story, they bring people, and places, and feelings back to life - or create life. They break through bricks of stagnant emotion, shining a light from their beacon of truth into whatever cracks and crevices need to be exposed. Acting, good acting, shows the best and worst of us, and illuminates the path to change.
It’s been a week and one day and I’m still at a semi-loss for words.
Our play, “It’s Complicated” has been put to bed and we’re already discussing our next venture. I have to admit, there was a lot going against us for this particular play. The weather wrecked havoc with our rehearsal schedule and we had to postpone the show by one week, which put the new performance days right smack in the middle of the opening of March Madness. In Kentucky.
Due to limited availability, we could only use the facility for one weekend, so there wouldn’t be a word of mouth buzz to boost our second weekend of attendance.
The Board also set a goal of increasing membership, and as an incentive to join at a higher level, Rachael and I offered signed copies of our book. But we only signed 10, which we felt was probably aiming high. I left some extras in my car and laughed at myself for doing so.
Finally, the show wasn’t ‘well-known’ material, in that it was original content, the bulk of which was written by me. Early on, one of the cast members asked me how it felt seeing my work performed, and I answered truthfully that it didn’t feel like my work. It was all very surreal.
While I have had plays or sketches performed before, I always have one ear open, waiting for the cast to say, “Oh wait. Nevermind. This isn’t a real play.” The fact that they all just accepted my words and acted like I knew what I was doing was too humbling. I told myself that maybe the cast might have enjoyed it, but that didn’t mean it would bring in people. For one weekend only, during March Madness. In Kentucky.
My expectations were shamefully low. To top it all off, I still get crippling stage fright. I’m absolutely certain that I’m going to forget every single line, and I become hyper aware that I am on stage, in front of a group of people saying words, and oh no wait….what are those words supposed to BE??? HELP HELP HELP.
It takes me halfway through the play to settle down and ease into the role. I took two photos opening night before I left for the theatre. The first, showing what my ‘outside’ looks like. The second, my ‘real’ inside.
But then, performance weekend happened, and every expectation was shattered to bits. I had every intention of signing on closing night and gushing about all my feels. But when I sat down to say things, nothing would come because I couldn’t put into words all the feels that I felt.
Three Local churches donated snacks to keep us energized. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing it is for actors to have food waiting for us at the end of a show (or before, depending on the butterflies in our stomachs!!) Our deepest thanks to Campbellsburg Baptist, Smithfield Baptist and Campbellsburg United Methodist.
We were thrilled beyond belief when on Friday night we jetted past our previous attendance record with 101 people in the audience. We thought we’d reached the pinnacle, but on Sunday 103 people came and we all nearly fainted with delight, myself more than anyone else.
Our two board members (and cast members) Angela and Kevin had a private goal in mind for new memberships, and not only did they reach that goal, they doubled it, in one day, during one intermission, which lasted about 15 minutes. I’ve never in my life seen two people raise so much money in such a brief period of time. It was astounding. We were all a bit dumbfounded. I went through sixteen books.
Finally, people actually seemed to love the show. They loved the content, they loved the writing, they loved the acting…we were showered with so much love it was overwhelming. Too overwhelming.
So here I sit, one week and one day later, still overwhelmed. Still unable to say thank you enough times. To the cast for wholeheartedly believing in my words, and to the crowds for showing up, signing up and standing up at the end of our shows.
Mid-way through the run, before the second day of breaking 100 people, I looked around at the cast and crew. While audiences were large, and money was coming in, that doesn’t always mean the show is a complete success. I only consider it a full and perfect success if, at the end of the show, the cast and crew are still happy they signed on for this endeavor.
So, I looked around. I saw their happiness, their smiling faces, their joy of performing and being together, and I thought, “We did it. This. This is really what success looks like.”
Today I spent the day in love. Well, sort of. I mean…It’s Complicated.
Ohhhhh…I can already tell the jokes are never going to get old. 🙂
While the book is away being read over by Jillian, I decided to spend my time working on the poster design for our community theatre show, It’s Complicated: An Evening of One Acts About Life, Love and Other Important Things. I’ve written about the origin of the title before, (https://ashleyraymerbrown.com/2015/01/29/35-days-to-35-its-complicated/) so now I’ll tell you the story behind the poster.
Today, I took a break from the book. I felt like this weekend we spent enough time together, so I took care of small projects and mostly looked forward to tonight. For tonight, we began the six week rehearsal process that will bring It’s Complicated: An Evening of One Acts About Life, Love and Other Important Things from ‘page to the stage.’
Because this kind of show gives us the freedom to do so, we (Russell, Jill and I, who are sharing directing duties) have broken things down into three groups.
Group A rehearsed today, Group B tomorrow, and Group C on Thursday. We arranged it so that actors who are driving longer distances have all their material rehearsed on one night, making the process a smoother and more enjoyable one during these chilly winter nights. If people are donating their time, we certainly want to do our very best to show them we value that time.
An Evening of One Acts. That sounds so simple. So straightforward. So….boring.
If a community theatre is putting on a show that their potential audience hasn’t heard of before, which we are, because four of the five are written by me, and two of the four I wrote specifically for this show, then the title is pretty important. It’s like an outfit you pick out for a first date. It’s the first thing your audience will see, and often a snap judgment will be made based on that title. I want the reaction to be more, “Ooo! That sounds good! I think I’ll go see it” rather than, “Yawn. I’d rather stay home and watch a Netflix marathon of Friends.
An Evening of One Acts just wasn’t cutting it. Based on that title, I didn’t even want to come see the show. I was racking my brain trying to come up with a unifying theme for the subject matter. There was so many themes to choose from: Love, Life, Literature, Friendship, History, Second Chances, Second Loves, Second Thoughts…
SO MANY COMPLICATED THINGS.
Last year, I was part of a four person team that created a new community theatre here in my hometown. (www.thetheatredownstream.com) I’ve written about the experience a few times, and how rewarding/enriching/tough it was, and has been. We even created a web series documenting our progress from first production meeting to final dress rehearsal. See the first episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuAZg_ayNWE
If you view the series in its entirety, or especially those first few webisodes, you’ll notice how one of the problems that plagued us last summer was the lack of a corporate sponsor. A corporate sponsor, for those not in the know, gives you a large(ish) chunk of money up front to help you fund your show expenses. (Paying the musician, stage manager, prop or costume costs, printing costs, etc). This enables you to make more profit on ticket sales to be used to help fund future larger shows, such as musicals.
In return for their financial contribution, you shower them with perks such as their name on all advertising material, including the poster and program, complimentary tickets, a poster signed by the entire cast and crew presented opening night to a company representative, your unending, undying devotion and the right to name your first born.
Minor things like that. It’s a small price to pay to help a fledgling theatre get off the ground.
“If ever we are going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed; you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.”– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest.
Today’s weather has been a gift.
Four years ago, on October 2 and 3 of 2010, I was part of the production team shooting two scenes for my very first independent feature film, No Lost Cause. The weather was abysmal. Overcast skies tinted everything a pale blue-grey, and the air had moved beyond crisp and autumnal into the slicing cold of deepest winter.
The scene called for our actors to play basketball, while wearing shorts and sleeveless tops. The crew was in heavy overcoats and wrapped in layers and these two men were left with the acting job of their young lives: warm.
There were many shooting days, but these two stand out because they were the absolute worst weather we experienced, and October 3 is my Grandfather’s birthday. Which is why I notice the weather today and why I am particularly reveling in it’s balmy breeze. I’ve left the window open nearly all day, and I’ve made the time to sit on my front porch and read…soaking in the last possible heat before another rumored long and difficult winter begins.
Today is my half-birthday. If you were born in the frozen tundra of late February like I was, you might understand why, while I don’t necessarily celebrate it, I do enjoy acknowledging the day. I spent it with some of the people I love, doing things I love.
It’s also begins the six month countdown to the middle of my thirties. The first five years (so far) have been full of unexpected adventure and some incredible sadness. I started working in film, co-authored a book, flew in a plane for the first time, traveled (a lot!) went back to acting on the stage after a very long hiatus, co-founded a theatre, and gained a surrogate niece. I also lost my two very best furry friends and my Grandmother.
Seven Questions with Ashley Raymer-Brown (Rosalind)
1. What was your first role?
My very first role was as the second flower on the left in my elementary production of….something. I think some sort of Fairy Tales. I also remember playing a Chimney Sweep in “Step in Time” from “Mary Poppins.” My first leading role, however, didn’t come for another twelve years until 2001, when the director took a chance on a complete newbie and cast me as Roz in “Moon Over Buffalo” actually.
2. What is your favorite role to date and why?
Shelby in “Steel Magnolias.” I didn’t really connect with the character until I did some research and found out she was a real person. I’m very sentimental and melancholy, so after finding that out, I connected on a very deep level. It was the first time ever on stage that I wasn’t ‘acting,’ I was authentic. I found the part of me that was her, and my emotions became her emotions. I got goosebumps when I did the emotional scenes, and I became very close with my stage Mama. It was a profound and special experience to be her, and I think it changed the way I approach a role.
3. What is your dream role and why?
For a really long time I’ve wanted to be “Fred” in “Once Upon a Mattress.” I love Carol Burnett, and I really enjoy being funny on stage. I’d love that chance…although I fear my limited dance skills would be a challenge for the “Spanish Panic!!” Also, I’d love to play the gangly, awkward “Myrtle May” in “Harvey.”
4. Why do you think theatre is important?
Theatre was important for me personally because it brought me out of my shell. I’m an Introvert, and for many, many years, I was extremely, painfully shy. Through playing different characters, theatre helped me reach outside of myself. It helped me connect with people. I made many, many friends…some short term, some long term, but all have brought something new and interesting to my life. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
5. What advice would you give someone starting out in theatre?
Be authentic. I held back a part of me for so long, and I regret it. I think that I could have been doing much better work.
Acting demands all of your time and focus when you’re on stage. But the audience can spot a faker. If you have to cry, find the part of you that understands the part of the character that makes them sad. If you have to be in love, find the part of you that loves the part of them.
Be as real as possible, and be as open and vulnerable as possible. The audience is living through you, give them someone worthwhile to live through. Also, be open to correction from directors. You can’t see the whole picture and they can. You’re not always right.
Love your castmates and understand that they all have a different method. Be adaptable. Be understanding. Be giving. And finally, remember…it’s a play. If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing this.
6. Who is your favorite actor? Locally and professionally?
Professionally, I always loved Johnny Depp (even before it was cool to love Johnny Depp.) I liked him because he consistently chose a completely different role every time. He was never the same person twice. He might have been weird, or funny, or scary, but he was always different. I really liked that quality, and it helped me to search for more variety in my roles.
Locally, I don’t think I could possibly choose. I have so many incredibly talented friends, that I’d feel really weird singling one out over the other.
Instead, I’ll tell you who the two actors are I’ve connected with the most on stage. The first was Kathy Todd Chaney as my Mama in “Steel Magnolias.” I felt such a deep relationship to her as Shelby that it arguing, crying and laughing with her was very easy, because there was such a feeling of love behind it.
Secondly, Russell Cooper as my Paul in “Moon Over Buffalo” has been an incredibly fun experience. I’m sure he hasn’t noticed, but there have been several times when I’ve had an idea for a way for us to do something funny, and before I say it, he’s already doing it. He is very, very funny, and very, very talented–and to make people laugh with him has been just as delightful as I’d hoped it would be.
7. What is your favorite show?
“Beauty and the Beast.” I never, ever get tired of watching it, and it makes me laugh and cry.
“Moon Over Buffalo” is the debut show for “The Theatre Downstream” and opens September 5th and runs weekends through the 14th.
Visit their website www.TheTheatreDownstream.wordpress.com for more show information and to view their ongoing web series.
Support their production by becoming a member at:https://squareup.com/market/the-theatre-downstream
Every time someone passes away, no matter what the circumstances, there are people left mourning. A celebrity brings joy to millions, and so, that loss is felt by millions. A woman from a small town may not have affected as many on a global scale, but her loss is just as deeply felt by those who loved her.
Earlier this month, Vicky Wise, a beautiful beacon of my community, passed on after a six year battle with cancer. And today, I, along with most of the world, was shocked at the loss of comedian Robin Williams.
Two very different people who faced their final days in very different ways. One was in tremendous physical pain, while the other was in tremendous emotional pain. Vicky was surrounded by loved ones in her final moments, while Robin, presumably, was alone.