Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Ah! The Glamorous Life of the Theahtah!


March 31, 2024


A Glamorous Life

in the





I live in a flat that was once an Italian bakery, and am thus blessed with big storefront windows where I can advertise anything I want. This time it was my own one-night performance of HICK: A Love Story.

When last heard from, I was telling you ghost stories and urging any Bloggelini within driving distance to attend the show so that I could convince the artistic director of The Marsh that HICK was a great audience draw. Mission accomplished, on that point. The 100-seat theater was sold out. So thanks to all the Bloggelinis who made it.

And now I'd like to tell you about the performance itself, which is quite a story.

Carolyn, my long-time collaborator, had come down a week ahead of time to direct me. She has been directing HICK since the first production in 2014. I had promised I would be off book (ie whole script fully memorized) by the time she arrived. In the 10 days before I

had been working on my lines with our Gift-from-the-Universe stage manager, Joyce. Things were coming along.

But I wasn't off book yet when Carolyn arrived.

You see, the ability to memorize declines as one ages. I'm not saying I'm old, but I am 77. And even though I had done HICK so many times, it wasn't exactly the same play. I am always rewriting. I had added some very important lines, I had cut lines that weren't really necessary. And, as I'd aged (that word again!), I did have to re-memorize the script any time I hadn't done it in a while.

I was pretty solid on pages 1-23. But pages 24-34 were shaky. And the last scene had the most new writing.

But hey, I have always considered myself The Ultimate Trouper. Everything would fall into place by the time I walked onstage on Wednesday night. Right?


So Carolyn and I rehearsed in my living room, with Joyce on book so I could ask for my lines when I went blank. I just love being directed by Carolyn. We have been collaborators since 1972 because we have a common vision of theater and the world. Everything she tells me to do, I do, because it makes sense to me. Carolyn's direction opens me up, helps me see Hick more clearly, go more deeply. When we're rehearsing, I trust her completely. We have a very joyful working relationship.

So I was going deeper and deeper into Hick's story through rehearsal, but I still didn't have all my lines down.

On Tuesday afternoon, the day before the show, we finally got to work in the theater. We had four hours for a rehearsal with our wonderful technician, Alexa. That's all The Marsh allows for its Marsh Rising series, which HICK was part of. At the tech, the director works out the lighting cues with the technician. That's how it always is. The lights only come in at the very end. Finally everything comes together -- the lights, the sound, the set.... the actor.

In a normal tech schedule for a performance of a full-length play, you have at least three full rehearsals in the theater. (Theater is a very labor-intensive activity. There are no lazy people in theater. You have to like to work.)

  • First rehearsal: Cue-to-cue. The actors are there basically to stand around so the director and lighting and sound tech can see how they look under the lights and to very precisely time all light and sound cues. (This is the rehearsal we had with Alexa on Tuesday.)

  • Second rehearsal: Tech run-through. The actors run through the play with all the cues. The director stops the run-through whenever something isn't exactly right and that moment is re-worked until it is exactly right.

  • Third rehearsal: Dress. The dress rehearsal goes without any stops. If there are any mistakes, the show goes on just as if an audience was there. The actors need that experience of a whole performance. Hopefully, there would be time before opening night to re-work the rough spots.

Carolyn and I had realized a few days before the performance that it had been a mistake to make this one-night production so full -- ie, set, lights and sound. But we just laughed it off. Oh well, it was too late to change it. We were both troupers. We would pull it off.

So I went home after our one tech rehearsal on Tuesday, not having had time for a full run-through. I thought to myself, "I have all evening to work on my lines, and all the next morning. And in the afternoon before my evening performance, I'll have a full run-through. And I'll be ready for my performance that night.

I devoted the evening to learning my remaining lines. That didn't go very well. I always have a harder time memorizing at night. Oh well, I thought, "I'll get up really early and work all morning. It'll be alright. After all, I'm The Ultimate Trouper."

I woke up in the middle of the night with this crystal-clear


I can't do it.

I cannot walk out on that stage and go through this one hour and twenty minute play without looking at my script. I cannot memorize any more lines because I'm terrified. Once you're afraid, it's Game Over. I couldn't memorize new lines and I couldn't even remember the lines I'd already memorized.

I told Carolyn first thing in the morning. She understood immediately and completely: "The only important thing is that you're comfortable." We both knew what needed to happen:

I had to have a music stand with my script on it, center stage.

I would go through the play

standing behind that music stand,

so that I could consult my script if need be.

What had been advertised as a full performance

would become a reading.

We decided to keep all the sound cues, but Carolyn needed to figure out how to transform the lighting cues because I would be stuck behind the music stand that held that precious script -- except for two moments when we decided I would move. We eliminated all the furniture in the set that Joyce had so carefully repainted. The set was used to designate three different areas: Hick's apartment, Hick's office, and a center stage area that stood in for every other location. The set had always seemed absolutely necessary to clarify to the audience what were happening and where. Oh well. Goodby set.

We eliminated all the props except Eleanor's letters. There would be a table to my left with all the unread letters and a box on the floor to my right where I would deposit the letters after I read them.

And then: Goodby typewriter. I would just move my fingers like I was typing. And goodby phones -- we had three. When the phone rang (Remember, we still had sound cues), I would put my hand to my ear as if I held a phone.

Oh, as Carolyn and I sat there discussing everything we were throwing out, I felt myself getting lighter and lighter. My fear evaporated. I knew now what my job was: I had to give a performance so fabulous that the audience wouldn't care that they were seeing a reading instead of a full performance. I had no doubt I could do that. I love a good challenge.

We went to the theater at 1pm and worked through all the transitions with me behind the music stand. At 5:30, Alexa arrived, and Carolyn presented her with the new light plot she had created and they worked through that. Then at 7pm I was backstage getting dressed, for the 7:30 curtain.

In the first scene, I'm old Hick, in a dressing gown. I enter and read a letter I've just gotten from the FDR Presidential Library. I've always been a little worried about remembering to bring that letter onstage with me. Now I was even more worried because, you know, the memory thing. Then I realized I could just put the letter in the pocket of my dressing gown, relieving me of the necessity of remembering it at the last minute. Problem solved!

Then I went to take a final pee before going onstage. As I got ready to sit by hiking up my costume, the letter fell into the toilet bowl. Yup. The letter that motivates the action of the entire play was not peed upon, but it was soaking wet.

I went back to the dressing room and tried blotting it with paper towels. Joyce came in and we both blotted. The letter was unblottable. It was falling apart. The situation seemed absolutely hilarious to me, and I felt it was a sign from the universe that everything would be alright. You know how people say "Break a leg!" to actors to wish them luck? I felt "Drop your letter in the toilet!" was some kind of equivalent. It was like the universe had just wished me luck. A sopping letter could not derail me. I love Hick and Eleanor so much, and the story of their love is so incredible and complicated and real. I couldn't wait to become Hick and tell that story to the audience, letter or no letter.

I told Joyce to tell Carolyn what had happened. I didn't want her to be surprised when she saw... What was she going to see? I wasn't sure how I would solve this problem. Maybe I could improvise something about a big rainstorm that wet the letter. Maybe I could enter without any letter and just tell the audience what it said.

Blot blot blot. It was hopeless. I couldn't stop laughing.

Then, right before I had to go on, I found, in the chaos of extra letters lying on the table, another copy of the FDR Library letter!

And I went out there with my pristine dry letter, and ....the audience applauded me!

I had never experienced that before! The audience was applauding me for the work I'd already done. I was completely startled. I loved it. I had no idea how to handle it as an actress. Should I bow? That is the usual response to applause. But who was it who was bowing? Once I stepped onstage, I was Hick. Why would Hick bow? The applause was for Terry.

In the event, I just pretended to ignore the applause and went on contemplating the lovely dry letter that I (Lorena Hickok) had brought onstage with me, until the audience quieted down.

Then I said the first line of the play, "Look what came in the mail today!" And somehow, from that moment on, I was Hick. I was more in love with Eleanor than I'd ever been. I was more gobsmacked by her love for me. I was more overwhelmed with all the difficulties that arose. I was more filled with joy when I finally decided to give the letters to the FDR Library. It was all really real.

In the end, when the lights came up for the curtain call, I got a standing ovation. And I finally faced the audience and bowed, as Terry. But I didn't speak to them as Terry, as I usually do, to thank them for coming. I wanted them to remember Hick's voice, not mine. I wanted them to remember Eleanor's wonderful, quirky letters. I wanted to give them a little more time to savor the amazing journey these two women took together.

I left the stage without a word, knowing that what I had done was not just a performance. It was an event.

With that night, I came into my own power as an actress.

I can't wait to be Hick again.

After all, I really am The Ultimate Trouper!

All for now, Bloggelinis!