The evening I met with the actors who would read my play, I was nervous, as if I were auditioning for a part. The drama requires 5 actors — 2 men and 3 women – so, with the director and me, 7 of us gathered round a table to get acquainted. I’d eaten earlier but the others had come straight from work. Anticipating their need for snacks, the director tore open bags of Fritos and cheese puffs which the actors inhaled. Seeing how hungry they were, I felt guilty for having come empty-handed.
As they nibbled, I had time to observe that most of the people were acquainted with one another, had been in productions together or were familiar with each other’s work. Because this wasn’t an audition, the group seemed relaxed, almost effervescent, but when the director began to read the play’s opening stage directions, the atmosphere changed. The faces around me became masklike and I felt myself surrounded by a fresh set of strangers. And in a way, I was. The actors were assuming the mantle of someone else. My characters were about to speak.
This is the moment in any dramatist’s life, I imagine, that is the most terrifying and satisfying: to see wraiths of the imagination step into the three-dimensional world where they can be seen and judged. No one in the theater that night, except the director and I, had prior knowledge of the play, yet the words, when uttered, rang true and with feeling. Sometimes the actors surprised me, giving nuance to a line that I hadn’t considered. I laughed, because of it and, more than once, so that I had to apologize for appreciating my work so openly. But it wasn’t my work I admired. I was paying tribute to the actors’ magic.
When the last word of the last line had been spoken, a silence fell around the table. Nervous, I scanned the faces on either side of me. What were they thinking? Was it a good play? A bad play? Junk?
One by one, people began to express their thoughts while the director took notes. A few questions were raised about the characters’ intentions. One actor launched into a philosophical overview of the piece. Still another rejoiced and threw up her hands. “At last, a play about women.” When the remarks were concluded, feeling that my work had been treated with respect, I thanked everyone for their participation. After that, we hugged, a further sign that the reading had gone well, and then, as quietly as they had come, the actors disappeared like wraiths into the night.
The evening was no illusion, of course. It was real and I was left with some tinkering to do. Nonetheless, I drove home happy, eager to review the director’s notes. The play is still a work in progress but I dared to imagine the finish line.