It had been (covers mouth) years since I’d stepped on a theatre stage and to be perfectly frank, I was terrified. While I was a reporter for AOL Patch for three years, I was able to interview the incredible actors who called the theatre home, and do my best to give a surprisingly little-known gem in Carrollwood well-deserved accolades. But after a while, reviewing the shows felt incomplete; I wanted more.
I’d seen the talent that performs at Carrollwood Players Theatre and though I thought I’d be much better writing the articles to promote their performances, I dusted off an acting resume and proceeded to hyperventilate as I grabbed sides to audition for the 2012 One Acts.
I figured if I was going to ease my way back into acting and get involved with community theatre, a one-weekend showcase with performances no more than 15 minutes each would be the way to do it.
You see – one of the wonderful side effects of CFS/fibromyalgia is called fibro fog, so I was seriously petrified that I would get on stage and stare blankly at my fellow actor. Words lost and mind numb.
But as I was determined to not let an annoying affliction control my life, I read for a couple of roles.
I was deeply concentrating on stopping my hands from shaking and hoping the casting directors wouldn’t notice the flush spreading down my face, neck and chest. I knew I forgot to enunciate or even talk loud enough for the guy in the sound booth to hear me. I didn’t honestly expect much. I just wanted to be able to say I did it, despite the outcome.
But later that week, I got the call.
And so it began.
When you have memory issues, the best way to compensate is to record the other actors’ lines on your computer, (I love Audacity for this), leaving space for you to say your own lines and simply play back repeatedly.
It was a life-changing experience going from reading the script in street clothes at the director’s house to being completely off-book, in costume and performing on the stage in front of a live audience.
There is nothing in the world better than audience reaction. When they laugh at a line you thought was funny, it is euphoria, plain and simple.
And behind-the-scenes is as much fun as on the stage. The camaraderie, the unexpected friendships, the food, the silliness, the bonds that form when you work together side by side, especially when you share a dressing room. I’ve been blessed with an extended family that I would never have discovered had it not been for Carrollwood Players Theatre.
Deb Kelley backstage with a fellow cast member Dennis Johnson at the 2014 One Act Weekend
My goal is to continue in small supporting roles that don’t have tons of lines, but are still integral to the overall performance.
And I’ve branched out.
Performing here gave me the confidence I needed to produce my own charity variety showcase Life Amplified that raises funds for worthy nonprofits. I’ve tackled human trafficking, bullying, PTSD, and sexual violence at events at Tampa Pitcher Show. In May, my kid’s only showcase Life Amplified KIDZHELPINGKIDZ found its new home at Carrollwood Players Theatre and Life Amplified was recognized as Fox TV’s Hometown Hero. The kids took on cancer, raising funds for Bricks for the Brave (formerly Legos for Leukemia.) In September we performed for Animal Coalition of Tampa and raised funds for their facility destroyed by arson. In January 2015, Life Amplified EMPOWERS will benefit Equusolutions who uses equine therapy to help military women suffering from PTSD or MST (Military Sexual Trauma.) In May 2015, a special after-hours showcase, Life Amplified MASQUERADE will benefit Carrollwood Players Theatre – as many people forget they, too, are a nonprofit.
I don’t think without the experience of this theatre under my belt, I would have even attempted to produce one two-hour showcase, much less be celebrating my third year anniversary.
When staged readings came to the theatre last year, I began submitting my scripts to Black Coffee and several were accepted in 2013 and 2014. I love Black Coffee Staged Readings because there is no line memorization required. You become a character and still have the safety net of reading (and in some cases singing) from a script. You handpick your cast and if anyone has ever seen ANY performance at the theatre, you know that is one heck of a talent pool. And the feedback you get from the audience can completely change the way you look at your words. The talkback after the reading is a gift of give and take. The audience gives, and I took away so much insight my head was left spinning.
Having my work read and performing in Black Coffee gave me the courage needed to submit my short plays to be reviewed for the 2014 One Act Weekend. And in April I got the call that my play, Cradle Robber, about a loving lesbian couple facing not being able to adopt a baby due to homophobia, was selected to be performed. I had my directorial debut with a brilliant cast and was honored to share the playbill with seven other amazing directors and playwrights.
Hearing and seeing my words come to life is the most gratifying and incredible experience I’ve ever felt in theatre. Hearing the audience sniffle because a line that came out of my imagination moved them to tears is something I had never experienced before.
On the last night of One Act Weekend, I was emailed that Cradle Robber was also selected for the inaugural competition at the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival.
And now I am addicted.
I’ve since gotten more deeply involved with Carrollwood Players as a chair of the publicity committee and was voted on to the Board of Directors.
I want other people to know about this magical place and this is best way to be able to do it.
So if you ever wondered about getting involved in theatre, but thought you were too young, too old, too busy, or like me, simply scared you’ll forget every single one of your lines and make a fool out of yourself, this family has your back.
Trust me. You will be glad you did and you’ll never look backward…. Except at the transformation you experienced, the show selfies you posted, and the many new friends you had to add to Facebook.