Nine Years, Nine Lessons

Diana as Fortune Teller in The Skin of Their Teeth, Thespians Anonymous 2006
Diana as Fortune Teller in The Skin of Their Teeth, 2006

Nine years ago in Finnish class, I met a girl planning to join an English-language student theater club.  I performed as a child in the chilly winter air of an open-roofed stage at the local community theater. So, when my friend asked me if I wanted to join with her, I thought, why not?

Little did I know then what a huge role Thespians Anonymous (TA) would play in shaping my time in Finland.  I could probably write a novel about it, but instead, I decided to share one lesson I learned for each of the nine years I spent in TA.

1.  Art mirrors life.
In my first TA play, Crazyface, I played a pregnant teenage bride. After the show, I learned that I really was pregnant, at age 20.  That didn’t stop me from participating in the club– I switched temporarily to set design for the first Festival of English Theater In Finland (FELT-IF).

2.  There is no such thing as a small role.
My second play with TA was The Crucible.  I had a young son at home, so I thought, “I’ll just take a small role to get myself out of house.”  This turned out to be foolish as acting is only one of many things that need to be done to put on a play.  For example, we sewed all the costumes from scratch and built a massive wall (with working doors!) as the major set piece.

3. That said, you find skills you didn’t know you had.
In amateur theater, you may come for the acting, but still you might find yourself doing lights, sounds, sets, makeup, hair, choreography, advertising, directing, music design… You may even find yourself on the board, as I did, learning how to take care of the club’s finances or navigating your club’s rights with the student union.

Diana as Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Thespians Anonymous 2005
Diana as Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, 2005

Cast of Appointment with Death, Thespians Anonymous 2008
Cast of Appointment with Death, 2008

4. Theater people are a unique brand.
They are children who get a thrill out of playing dress-up, teenagers who refuse to grow up, youngsters who insist they are independent enough to do it all themselves. One year we decided to do Alice in Wonderland, and when we didn’t find an adaptation we liked, we wrote it ourselves. Playing dress-up was only part of the fun.

5. The drama doesn’t end when the show is over.
Just take my word for this one! Those after-parties were certainly memorable.

6. Trust yourself.
Stage fright can freeze you. But remember, the audience hasn’t rehearsed the play as much as you have. They don’t know when you mess up unless you tell them. So act like you know what you’re doing– after all, acting is the name of the game!

7.  Putting on a play is a LOT of work.
Some people do this as a full-time profession.  I directed two full-length plays during my time with TA, Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death and a stage version of George Orwell’s 1984, both of which took at least 5 months of nights and weekends, rehearsals, and production group meetings.  Putting on a play is a big investment and commitment.

8.  The process is strangely addictive.
A week before opening night, over-rehearsed and exhausted, you tell yourself that this is the last time.  Never again will you be roped into putting your heart, soul, and social life into an amateur theater production!  But the moment the audience applauds on the final night, the curtains close and you all go home– trust me, you’ll be aching to get right back to it.

9.  Theater is a thrill.
Play-making is a highly satisfying experience.  When it’s over, you’ve accomplished something, despite the hard work, the behind-the-scenes drama, the moments of doubt.  Maybe you’ve made the audience laugh, maybe you made a complete fool of yourself, but in the end, what it comes down to is an incredible ride, unique and unforgettable.

Diana Cousminer has been dedicated to Thespians Anonymous since 2002, and only recently learned how to say “no” to one more term on the board.  She has enjoyed acting since childhood, and although no longer an active member, continues to be overly dramatic in her personal life.

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