If Life Is a Play, Write Yourself a Great Part

I always loved theater. I grew up on musicals like “Oklahoma”, “Westside Story”, “Sound of Music”, “My Fair Lady”. I was blessed to live near New York City so I actually saw these plays live. But what with the Covid restrictions and ever-blooming new variants I am not going to a dark, dank petri dish of a crowded theater. I just can’t do it. Every time I hear some one clear their throat I want to scream. It’s worse when I have to clear my throat. I try to suppress it like I am hiding pox marks during the plague.

In High School we were all a flutter about “The Fantasticks”, “Hair”, “Jesus Christ Super Star” and of course all of Shakespeare. I was in plays, musicals, and variety shows growing up. In college I designed (and sewed until 2am) costumes for “The Pirates of Penzance”. Later in life I designed and built sets for local TV productions. I was once the guest Ringleader at “Barnum and Bailey Circus”. I even starred in and produced a 1-night comedy charity benefit on Broadway. But that was a long, long, time ago.

The thrill of creating characters, designing new worlds, using costumes to tell a story. I love it. But at 71, who’s going to hire me on? And, oh yeah, I no longer live in New York City with a short subway ride to Broadway. And. Let’s get down to it, I don’t want a full-time union job. What to do? Enter community theater. Whether through your local college, a small theater, a place of worship, summer camps, or the local neighborhood, if you like theater someone would love a volunteer with experience, or at least enthusiasm. Entering theater-arts is the perfect Staycation. You become someone else and live in other worlds. You can be back by dinner time. Theater is like reading about Narnia for the first time. Mesmerizing. I dress up for Halloween. Every chance to wear a wig or flowers in my hair, I’m there.

During the first summer of Covid I was a part of an “Old Time Radio” video production. It was perfect for my medicated-malaise-infested mind. I read the script on stage (no memorization). I got to dress up like a 1940s radio star with victory rolls and a red silk rose in my hair (Think Prairie Home Companion at Lake Woebegon). We were 12 feet apart. Very Covid safe.

This year I was helping pull costumes for “Arsenic and Old Lace”. If you remember playing dress-up in your grandmother’s attic, pulling petticoats out of an old trunk, you are getting to close to how much fun I had. And I was all alone. So, no one was ripping a new find from my grasp claiming seniority AKA the older/taller cousin with long menacing fingernails.

No, I was left to myself, two massive rooms (yes, in an attic) filled with rack upon rack of dresses, suits, hats, scarves, boots, belts, and ascots. I had to pull outfits for 14 characters, 13 corpses (for a curtain call) and 13 extra hats for a hat rack. And I had to identify Spinoza’s shoe…if you know the play.

I tried on most of the costumes to check sizes. And um, because it was so much fun. My sister (a former florist) helped me make five silk flower matching corsages. I was lost in “the world of make-believe” (as Mr. Rogers called it). For days on end, I searched for the right colors, sizes and patterns that would show up best on stage. I selected three costumes for every character and every scene so the actors had choices.

If you have left the days of Drama Queens behind, but still long for “The smell of greasepaint, the roar of the crowd” get thee past the nunnery and off to the local theater. Or find a group of kids (Boys and Girls Club?) and offer to produce a variety show. As Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney used to say, “I’ve got some costumes.” “And my dad has a barn.”

Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopause


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