It was my fourth or fifth full year at The Playhouse. Another night in another season of playing Burl in “Smoke on the Mountain.” I loved the show, but sometimes a performer wants a newer challenge. Sometimes even acting feels like a job. After the show, I felt flat. The audience had been quiet. It was the end of a long Playhouse week and I was weary. We had to go out to the lobby for the “enjoyed-it” line, and it was the very last thing I wanted.
It isn’t that I minded greeting the audience—I liked it, in fact. But on this night, I found myself standing next to Patty Payne while person after person lavished chapters of praise on her before shooting me an obligatory “You were good, too,” as they fished for their keys and headed for the door. Now Patty is brilliant, and I love her. And I’d been in this situation before, and usually I would simply tease both her and the customers that the rest of us were up there working just as hard in support. But on this night I wasn’t in the mood. I felt flat, impatient, and generally dissatisfied with life.
Then a woman circled ahead of Patty’s most recent fan and approached me directly. She took my hand in both of hers. She looked at me with misty eyes and said the following with great sincerity: “My mother is dying of cancer. I’ve been caring for her for a long time. This is the first time I’ve laughed in 3 months. Thank you so much.” This is the magic and the importance of The Cumberland County Playhouse. It offers affordable theatre to people who are hungry for stories and laughter—people who might never otherwise feel the crackling alchemy of the actor/audience exchange as they and the performers co-create that one night’s ineffable and ephemeral work of art.
Well over a hundred thousand people a year pass through those beloved Playhouse doors. Think about that. Thousands of these are schoolchildren who may have never before and may never again have the opportunity to see live, professional, performing art. As actors we must remember that we can never know who or how many we are touching on a given night. It is my distinct honor to have worked in this beautiful, crazy institution, which so truly and devotedly serves its public. I remember my five years at The Playhouse with full-hearted fondness for the people who were my family in art, and with great gratitude to Jim and Annie and Mary, who poured their life’s blood into keeping a home for that family.
© Tom Angland 2014
Used by permission