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FST enlists Observer's arts editor as true friend and good writer

Spencer Fordin is a ham. But he's not an actor. Not until Florida Studio Theatre asked him to walk on to Charlotte's Web.


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Editor's note: No actors were harmed in the making of this article. But they may have been inconvenienced.

I'm wearing a trench coat and a fedora. I'm standing center stage, flanked by talented actors. 

And despite blowing my only line, I'm being asked to take a bow.

This isn't a scene from a wildly improbable dream. It's what happens when a journalist steps outside their comfort zone. The generous people at Florida Studio Theatre offered me the chance of a lifetime; the opportunity to be part of the cast of "Charlotte's Web" despite having no acting experience at all.

For one day, the author was a thespian. Two days if you count the dress rehearsal. (Photo by Destiny Jackson)
For one day, the author was a thespian. Two days if you count the dress rehearsal. (Photo by Destiny Jackson)

Of course, they weren't crazy. They didn't ask me to step into Charlotte's web-slinging role.

My job was to deliver two sentences as The Reporter, a job that has consumed my waking energy for two decades.

How hard could that be?

The first job was learning my lines. I only had two sentences to say and I drilled them into my head.

I said them in the shower and while brushing my teeth. 

I even tried different line readings while driving the car.

I was confident. I knew these words backward and forward. At least I did before I hit the stage.

Dress rehearsal

I arrive at Florida Studio Theatre on a Friday, and I briefly meet my castmates and stage manager Rach Roach.

They suit me up in costume and send me backstage to wait for my cue. The music begins, the lights carving out silhouettes on the curtain in front of me.

All of a sudden, it's my turn. I stride out on the stage and confidently utter two sentences. We do this three times; Two out of the three times, I deliver the right words.

The third time, I edit the first sentence and make it easier for me to say. I don't even realize it until the words come out, and I apologize once the scene is over.

The actors don't care! They barely notice. They knew what their cue is and they covered my mistake.

"That's theater," they say.

It's not really the wrong line as long as you commit to it.

The Big Day

It's Saturday morning, and I'm sitting in the closest seat to the stage at FST's Keating Theatre.

I'm watching the early show as an audience member and walking on to perform at noon.

Quickly, I make two observations.

The reporter and Caroline Younglove, the talented actress who graciously gave up a few lines to make room for him. (Photo by Destiny Jackson)
The reporter and Caroline Younglove, the talented actress who graciously gave up a few lines to make room for him. (Photo by Destiny Jackson)

I'm the only audience member who has not accompanied a child. And the members of the cast are super-talented; they're playing different roles and using different voices, delivering their lines impeccably and throwing themselves into the physical nature of their act.

Marissa Gast, who plays Charlotte, does an intricate silks routine. Benjamin Brandt and Jack Bausch, who play a variety of roles, run into the audience, and they're constantly helping to move props around.

Caroline Younglove, who has graciously given up a few lines for me, keeps everything moving as the narrator, and later, in a quiet moment backstage, she demonstrates that she knows every single line of the play.

Gemma Vodacek moves everyone in the theater with the empathy she brings to Fern, and Jeric Gutierrez, who plays Wilbur, has the hard job of being sanguine about his future despite the chopping block hanging over his head.

When it's over, I'm touched;

I wipe a tear from my eye, and the usher catches me.

"I saw you crying," she says teasingly after the cast has taken its bows.

Getting in character

I move my car in between the 10 a.m. and noon performance. 

The chief reporter of the Weekly Chronicle can't afford a parking ticket.

Now I'm backstage, wearing my costume, hanging with Brandt and Bausch in the dressing room.

Florida Studio Theatre went to the great lengths of publishing a temporary playbill for the reporter's appearance. (Photo by Spencer Fordin)
Florida Studio Theatre went to the great lengths of publishing a temporary playbill for the reporter's appearance. (Photo by Spencer Fordin)

We talk about our backgrounds; Bausch, like me, is from New York. He and Vodacek know each other from their high school and college acting days.

Brandt, like me, is a University of Florida graduate. We both wrote for the same college newspaper.

Then they're gone, performing in the play, and I'm left alone. I drill my sentences over and over.

"I'm mighty honored to cover it, Mr. Zuckerman. Why don't I get a picture of you and the pig together?"

It's showtime. Younglove, who tells me she studied journalism at New York University, comes back to get me.

Here I am, wondering what I got myself into, repeating the lines in my head.And then I'm cued onto the stage. 

I hit my spot.

I'm speaking before I know what I'm saying.

"I'm mighty honored to be here, Mr. Zuckerman. Why don't I get a picture of you and the pig together?"

The words come out clean. They are enunciated and projected. But they are not what's written on the page.

It doesn't matter; Brandt, playing Mr. Zuckerman, acts as if I've said exactly what I'm supposed to say.

We finish the scene, and Younglove walks me back off-stage. The cast congratulates me. Brandt asks if I'd like to come out for a bow once the show is over.

I agree, and I stand right behind the curtain as the final scenes play out.

I'm watching these incredibly trained young actors nail it, and I'm thrilled to be in their company.

When it's over, I'm nervous about coming out for the bow, but Brandt has told me where to go and what to do.

This is the first time I've actually seen the audience.

I had been looking at my castmates when I deliver my lines. I walk out and it's a full house, cheering for the amply talented people arrayed around me.

I take a bow. But I know the applause isn't really for me.

Epilogue

Moments later, I stand back as the cast meets the audience, and I think about how fortunate I am.

I've walked into the best possible place to make your theatrical debut; it's in a children's theater, and children both rarely boo and have notoriously poor throwing arms. They couldn't hit me with a tomato if they tried.

I thank my castmates profusely for allowing me to share their space and I go home riding an adrenaline boost.

I tell social media what just happened to me, and suddenly I have a great sense of perspective.

Florida Studio Theatre, you may not have found a great acting talent, but you have stumbled upon a novel ticket sales approach. My mom absolutely will buy tickets to every performance you put me in.

 

 

author

Spencer Fordin

Spencer Fordin, the Observer's A+E editor, hails from New York and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1999. Fordin previously worked as a sportswriter for MLB.com for 16 seasons and as a features reporter for The Cayman Compass on Grand Cayman.