A Year Of Theater, Part 1: It's Possible

11:49 AM Amanda Prahl 0 Comments

2015 has been an extraordinary year. And for me, a lot of that has had to do with the remarkable and unique experiences of theater that I have been privileged to have. I thought I'd take a look back on some of the highlights of the year, but, wouldn't you know it, there was too much for one post. So let's start with the first half of the year, one filled with new beginnings, a dream come true, and just a little bit of magic.

One of the best parts of my theater experiences in 2015 was broadening my horizons beyond the big commercial theater that takes up most of my time. In early summer, I discovered a local initiative designed to bring together creative women in theater to support one another and continue making strides in improved representation. Attending their June symposium of new works, only months before beginning my MFA program as the sole female in the playwriting program, was an experience both engaging and reassuring. Every person I met was welcoming and kind and full of advice; a few of the women turned out to be already connected to me through my university or through mutual acquaintances.

The experience that stands out most to me was the reading of Heidi Armbruster's Dairyland, a witty play revolving around the complicated relationship between an elite New York City food writer and her father- a rough, gruff Wisconsin dairy farmer. Not only did I enjoy the play itself immensely, it was an amazing (and, at the time, brand-new) experience for me to be part of the feedback discussion following the reading. It reinforced what I love best about theater: the shared experience that makes it so much more than just a writer sitting at a laptop. I know I'll be following Armbruster's work in the future, and it was a genuine delight to spend that time with other creative women who love the theater as much as I do.

As always, I spent a fair amount of time, both professionally and personally, at the local Broadway touring venue. There was quite a wide range of musicals this spring, but the standout by far was the touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, a tour of the 2013 Broadway production and one of the most magical, genuinely beautiful shows I've ever had the privilege of seeing. I wrote a bit about the tour in this article about Cinderella in modern pop culture, but I do want to say a few more words about this show and, in particular, this wonderful cast.

Even for someone who has spent as much time around touring theater as I have, the sight of an understudy notice can still be disappointing, particularly when the usual lead is excellent, as in the case of Paige Faure as Ella, who sat out all but the opening night of this run. I really shouldn't have worried. For most of the performances I was at, Audrey Cardwell wore the glass slippers, and far and away was the best of the three Ellas. Her voice is clear and bright, soaring over songs like "In My Own Little Corner" and "Ten Minutes Ago", and her portrayal of Ella presents us with a girl whose strength is her ability to remain kind and selfless when most of us would have long since succumbed to bitterness, despair, and resentment. Opposite her was Andy Huntington Jones as Topher, an uncertain, charming, and endearing prince with a voice that sounds like it was made for Golden Age musicals and songs such as "Loneliness of Evening" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" The clear, easy chemistry between this leading lady and her real-life prince added such a warmth to this modernized fairy tale. Visually and musically stunning, with a cast as charming and sweet in real life as onstage, this tour was the highlight of my spring shows.

Andy Huntington Jones and Audrey Cardwell in "Ten Minutes Ago"
March also brought one of the highlights of my entire year: my first experience having a play of mine read. With a cast assembled from friends, colleagues, and a few kind strangers who answered a playwright's pleas for actors, I had the immense joy of spending an evening hearing my play come to life for the very first time. Perhaps there will come a day, sometime in the future of my career, that moments like these will feel more commonplace, but right now, this is one of the most special, remarkable memories I cherish. I remember nearly tearing up at several parts of the reading. Not because I was so blown away by what an awesome writer I am (even my ego isn't that big), but because these characters, these people, who had lived in my head for so long, were suddenly real in the way that the characters I've loved all my life were. Some of the people I love most in the world were there, and I didn't expect how many would come to support me, even just to spend two hours in crappy chairs watching a bunch of us sit around a table and read a script aloud. The first few months of 2015 were not easy ones, for many reasons, but culminating in this reading and my MFA program acceptance, I finally began to feel it was all possible. 

The premiere reading of Forget Me Not with cast and committee

Because I've been trying to focus more this year on positivity and gratitude, I'd like to take just a couple lines to say thank you to some of the awesome people from this half of the year:

  • -To my wonderful cast and play committee: thank you for your time, your input, and for being a part of this experience- I'm so grateful to you all, and none of this would have happened without you.

  • -To every person who came to my reading, or who perhaps couldn't make it but has supported me throughout: it means the world to me to have you in my corner, and I am so touched by your kindness and support.

  • -To the leading lady whose performance so moved me this spring: it was a joy to come to work each night and look forward to your wonderful performance, and you helped me remember it's all "possible."

  • -To the leading man who not only gave such a fantastic performance, but who took the time, upon meeting me at stage door on my day off/day as patron, to chat about experiences of working at a theater: I've never forgotten your kindness, and I wish you (and your "princess") the very best!

  • -To the wonderful women who treated me like one of their own: thank you for giving me a sense of belonging and confidence when I needed it most.
Coming up next: the second half of the year, with two stellar shows and one scary graduate program!