Thursday, May 23, 2013

Good Bye Nancy.

It was in the mid 80s that I decided I needed to get out of the house, at night and let John take over with the kids. Staying at home was wonderful but I was feeling overwhelmed with motherhood.
For the fun of it I auditioned for a play being done by the local Acting Company. I got a part as a court reporter, with one line. 
Next feeling cocky I stood in a long line of women to audition for Uncommon Women, also by the same Acting Company. I met my best friend in line, got a wonderful part, John bought me the camel wool suit that I wore for the part as a surprise. I loved that suit and I love that he surprised me with buying it for me.
The entire cast of women for that play won the coveted award of Best Actress of the year, in the city.  We all received little fake gold trophies at the 
awards ceremony. Mine now resides on the shelf above my gardening work table, in the garage.
Now, full of myself I decided to move on to another Acting Company in town, Children's Theater of Madison. 
I auditioned for and acted in five plays with Children's Theater over the last part of the 80s.I Remember Mama, You Can't Take It With You, Twelth Night, Red Shoes and Christmas Carol.

I worked my way up with bigger and bigger parts. The Director liked me, knew I was a stable actress, responsible, good to have on the set if there was a problem.
I always had everybody's lines memorized so I could ad lib if need be, if someone was floundering. That seldom happened though, because Nancy Thurow ran a tight ship.
She was tough, handled little people and big people on stage with discipline and soft words. She was extremely demanding but she understood theater.

She taught us to stand up straight, stand as if we had grapefruit's under our arms, to be a PRESENCE on stage. 

She moved rehearsals along with rapid clapping of her hands if she thought we were going to slowly.

Opening night she wished us well and went out to the back row to enjoy us.  She had already moved on to the next play, auditions for that, working with set designers. The current play was now in our hands.  It was up to us to captivate the audience with our story, draw them in and make them feel the magic of the live theater.

We worked on a thrust stage with a balcony. We learned out to move, to project, to include every seat in the theater.

All of us came to her as an amateur and through her guidance we left as professionals.

I played Reba in You Can't Take It With You. By this time I had already tucked a Shakespeare play under my belt. Nancy gave me stage moves and had me work up an understanding of my character.  She had me rehearse in the slippers that Reba would have worn because of her sore feet. As a result, by opening night I was Reba, the beloved cook. 

When setting the stage, on opening night I dropped a fork on the stage floor, I picked it up without breaking stride, blew on the fork and continued setting the table. I had to hold my next line until the laughing stopped. 

A note was slipped into my makeup case in the dressing room.  It was from Nancy, "Keep the dropped fork in, it works!"

Donna, my best friend had a major role in the same play. I think that Children's Theater production was one of the funniest and best I have ever seen, including the professional versions.

In the annual production of A Christmas Carol, Nancy had a local musician write a musical score. We learned to dance, sing and I got to play two different parts in that production. My own and the part of another actress that had a slight problem with well, how to saw this, heck, she drank too much. She was an older woman, but a good financial backer of the theater so she often got a small part in the annual production. Lucky for me we were the same size and I knew her lines. Unlucky for her because Nancy didn't tolerate that kind of thing.

I Remember Mama was a beautiful play. I had a small role as a nurse. I sat center stage with maybe one or two lines but I ended the scene with my desk and myself revolving around on a turntable. Some nights it worked beautifully, some nights it didn't and I would have to ad lib doing my charts, in the single spotlight until the turntable moved. 
One night they gave up and just turned out the spotlight and left me to find my way off the stage.

The Red Shoes gave me a chance to play three different parts and not because I had to replace anybody. I think Nancy just wanted a certain height of person or someone on stage to keep balance or order. I didn't care what her reasons were I was delighted to switch roles. The demands of changing outfits, makeup, hair and personality were tough but exciting.

Nancy Thurow really did understand the magic of theater and it's ability to enrich and transform lives.

Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy Thurow died on April 30, 2013


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