When I was a little girl I loved to perform. I was what my grandmother called “a born entertainer.”
My earliest memories were spent writing, directing and acting in plays with my two younger sisters. I even crafted tickets to the shows, which we performed in our basement, where my mother had a clothesline from which we’d drape our stage curtain.
As I got older I lost my showmanship. I threw my creative energy into writing, instead. When my high school held auditions for its first musical, I offered to take backstage photos for the yearbook, documenting the experience as only a budding journalist can.
As this newspaper’s A&E editor, I’ve been granted backstage access to almost every performing-arts venue in Sarasota. I’ve watched ballet dancers get scolded, seen actors lose their tempers, rummaged through suitcases with prop masters and through fabric swatches with costume designers; all of it in the name of reporting.
When my mother-in-law asked me if I’d be willing to perform a monologue at Tampa’s Carrollwood Players to raise money for her Susan G. Komen three-day breast cancer walk, my first thought was, “Now this is a backstage pass I’ve yet to write.”
The play was supposed to be “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s ode to femininity. I’d seen it before and I knew it wouldn’t require script memorization or acting. I pictured myself sitting on a stool, making zero eye contact with the audience, reading with intensity, pausing for dramatic effect.
“Sign me up,” I said.
A month later, I got a phone call.
“We can’t get the rights to ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” my mother-in-law said. “But I found another play. It’s called ‘Talking With.’ I’d like you to memorize the script. You still in?”
I was caught off guard, in the middle of writing a story (ironically) about an actor. The hopefulness in my mother-in-law’s voice was palpable. Did I mention she’s a 10-year breast-cancer survivor who has been training for this 60-mile walk since November?
I told her, “Of course. Sign me up.”
A month later, I got the script for a part called “Audition.” I had been cast as a maniacal, ditzy actress, somewhere between Bride of Chucky and Phoebe from “Friends.” The monologue was three pages of disjointed sentences and bizarre outbursts. The only saving grace was that it called for a cat, so I pitched the idea of using my pug instead.
My first rehearsal was a total bomb. I flew through the script like a livestock auctioneer. If my mother-in-law — a longtime Carrollwood Players board member and the show’s co-director — was worried about the performance, she gave no sign. She told me I was a born storyteller and that I’d be fine.
So, I went home, smoothed out the script, highlighted the words I had stumbled over and rehearsed the part again and again. I recorded it on a handheld tape recorder and listened to myself as I drove to and from work. I searched for actresses performing it on YouTube and used my husband’s music stand to hold the papers while I acted. Eventually, I surprised myself and nailed the part.
On stage opening night, with the pug as my sidekick, I slipped into a new, but familiar, zone. I gestured and sauntered. Yelled and whispered. I presented the best maniacal ditz I could. And, in the end, when we got a standing ovation, I felt like a kid again.
When I was in the receiving line after curtain call, a little girl approached me.
“You were my favorite,” she said.
“Why, thank you,” I replied.
“Is it true you’ve never acted before?” she asked.
“Not entirely,” I said. “I used to act when I was little girl.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].