The Meme-ing of Life: Undercover Understudy

Most people journeyed into their first year of high school with a handful of classmates from their middle school, but that wasn’t the case for me. I went to a small, private Catholic middle school where my classes from kindergarten to eighth grade were made up of the same thirty people. In my freshman year, I became friends with as many people as I could to make up for the fact that I didn’t know anyone in my high school. Among the friends I made, one was a girl I met in my PE class. Even though class started at eight o’clock in the morning on a cold, foggy field, she radiated a theatrical aura. When we were warming up, she would gracefully prance around with her hands flared out near her shoulders. It was almost exaggerated, as if someone was filming her frolicking in a field for a movie. Also, she frequently sang songs from musicals that I’ve never heard before, and would often quote movies. This, combined with her flamboyant personality, made her an easy fit for drama club. In the following semesters, I watched her perform in the school plays and by the fall semester of sophomore year, her involvement with drama club convinced me to audition.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my friend became as famous as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

In our school’s halls, there are always posters scattered on the walls. In September of sophomore year, there was a particular flyer that detailed the date, time, and place where auditions would be held for the upcoming performance of a play called The Sleeping Prince A few weeks later, auditions were held for two days in the auditorium.

From watching the other school plays, drama club looked like fun to me. Although I didn’t know the other actors and actresses personally, they seemed like a closely knit group of friends, always laughing at each other’s jokes and giving each other nicknames. In addition, the ardent drama teacher was serious about making the plays the best they could be. It’s as if her curly, red hair held the energy and bold personality that was needed to manage the entire drama club. A lot of work went into the acting, the costumes, the sets, the props, the lights, and the sound. Everyone dedicated their time and I wanted to be a part of the process, but I didn’t have any experience acting. I didn’t even really have any experience talking on stage in front of a big group of people either. Needless to say, I was intimidated by the world I was trying to enter.

When the day of my audition arrived, I was definitely nervous, but I made myself walk through the auditorium doors. Drama club students were sitting in the front rows, near the stage. The drama teacher was standing in the aisle, waiting for more people to come in who were interested in auditioning. A table covered in piles of paper was up against the front of the stage. Luckily, I saw my friend, the one who made me interested in drama in the first place, also auditioning and I sat with her and we talked to get my mind temporarily off the anxiousness. When it was time to start, the teacher’s booming voice silenced everyone. She handed out forms and explained that we were supposed to fill in our contact info and the roles we were most interested in: a lead role, a minor speaking role, or a minor non-speaking role. I definitely didn’t want a lead role, but I did want to have lines so I checked the box for a “minor speaking role.” She then briefly explained the plot of the play, which was a mix of a romance, comedy, and political fiction. It surrounded an American dancer and a European Regent (a person who is appointed to replace a monarch in a time of need). In a visit to America, the Regent saw the dancer perform and invited her back to his embassy in an effort to seduce her. She suspects his attempt and cleverly gets out of an awkward situation. In the process, she becomes friends with the servants, the son of the Regent (who is also the teenage king of the European country), and the Grand Duchess, the wife of the Regent.

For the audition itself, the drama teacher picked two or three people, assigned them a character, gave them pieces of paper from the table (which had scenes from the play), and sent them into the hallway outside the auditorium. We were supposed to practice our scene with our assigned characters for a couple of minutes and then go back into the auditorium and perform it. We rehearsed our lines and the accompanying actions. When we went back inside, we had to act it out on the big stage while everyone watched. As we repeated this process a few times, the teacher took notes. It was entertaining to watch the other students interpret the scenes. Everyone put an emphasis on different words and performed different actions.

By the end of the week, a casting list was posted outside of the drama teacher’s classroom. The suspense grew as my eyes scanned the list for my name. Although it wasn’t what I signed up for, I received an understudy position. I thought the role of understudy didn’t participate at all unless an actor or actress couldn’t perform, but still I agreed to occupy the position. But was I wrong! My two fellow understudies and I did a lot. My experience as an understudy included many odd jobs. I showed up to rehearsals after school for a few hours, three days a week, which differed from the rest of drama club, who had to come everyday. At first, it was difficult for me to integrate because I felt like I was encroaching on the drama community, but my friend helped me get to know everyone. I warmed up with the rest of the actors and actresses by doing tongue twisters and playing funny games. The games were used to help everyone keep rhythm and adequate volume, acclimate to being on stage, and encourage improvisation.

One of the most difficult games for me was a game that taught actors how to suppress their laughing. We stood in a circle with one person in the middle, who had to go up to somebody and try to make them laugh by saying, “Honey, I love you, will you smile for me?” And the person who was asked had to say, “Honey, I love you too, but I just can’t smile.” If the person smiled or laughed while responding, they became the new middle person. I always lost in this game because I thought it was absurd. People would come up to me and make funny faces, knowing that it would not fail to make me laugh.

Most of the time, I was taking notes on my copy of the script. The drama teacher would tell the actors and actresses in the scenes where to walk on stage and what to do, which is called blocking. I had to write down every single detail of blocking on my script as a record of the movements just in case I had to go on stage. If the main character went to stage right, but crossed to it by walking in front of the couch on stage, then I had to write that down. If a character had to pick up a glass and pour themselves a drink, then I had to write that down. Sometimes the dialogue was changed, so I had to record that information too.

I would make a joke about drama club, but I can’t think of a PLAY on words. I should just stick to the SCRIPT next time…. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

When I wasn’t busy recording blocking, I was probably helping everyone practice their lines. I was amazed that they were able to remember all their lines without their scripts. In instances where they needed help, that’s where I would come in. I followed along with my script to make sure they didn’t miss anything, and then tell them the beginning of the line that they forgot, so they could fill in the rest.

When the dates of the plays approached, I stayed at school rehearsing until about 9pm with everyone else. Before starting, we got pizza, which made up for the fact that I was missing hours of sleep from getting home late and doing homework. When the actors and actresses ran through the entire play without the script, I sat in one of the auditorium seats and followed along the entire time. If someone messed up, I had to tell them. If the drama teacher stepped out, she normally trusted me to take notes on mistakes I noticed. Additionally, in my time away from the auditorium, I helped with laying out costumes and preparing tickets.

At the end of October, posters were scattered on the high school’s walls announcing the four days of the plays. I was excited and relieved when the days finally came. During the plays, I sat in the dark auditorium with the drama teacher, and took notes on whatever she told me to write. For the most part, I could just sit back and eat a cookie. Even though I never got the chance to perform on stage, I knew most of the lines by heart, from hearing them over and over again.

The overall experience was amazing. It was nice to admire the play, knowing that I put all my effort into it. Yes, it was difficult to keep up with the rest of drama club without the guarantee that I would perform on stage, especially since I was also juggling school, volunteering at the library after school and my ridiculous sleeping schedule. However, I met many amazing, talented people, became comfortable being on stage, and improved on how I articulate and act. Although I wish it didn’t require me to stay so long after school, I would definitely consider auditioning for a play in senior year. But next time, I would try to get a speaking role.

Juggling everything from school to memes