Sunday, June 28, 2009
"Welcome to the final showing of Alphabet Soup," Sylvia Langworthy said, standing in the middle of the stage in the black box theatre at the Masque Youth Theatre and School, Inc. in Rochester, Minn. Sylvia was retiring after being the artistic director for the past 23 years. The Masque was closing its doors after being unable to raise enough funds to pay for all necessary annual expenses. This show was not only the last showing of "Alphabet Soup;" it was the final stage show at the Masque Theatre.
"And will all the alumni please stand?" About 50 of us, a small sampling in the hundreds of people who have been influenced and affected by Sylvia and the Masque over the last 23 years, stood... All of us there to celebrate and bid adieu to the theatre of our youth, the Masque. Most of us spent countless hours there during our school years, 4-6:30 pm on most weekdays (later if the rehearsal was going badly or people were forgetting lines) and many hours in classes on Saturday mornings. The alumni included people in many careers: communications, media, professional performing, academic, medical, and more. We all had the common ground of being strongly influenced in our lives by our years spent learning, performing, rehearsing and teaching at the Masque and working with Sylvia. Ok, focus...
The play, excellent as usual, had been rehearsed by the small ensemble of young actors for the past six weeks. I've seen professional theatre with actors less focused than these young actors. Each actor was on cue every time, not one of them ever broke their character, each gave over 110% of their energy, and each entertained the audience. The acting quality and focus of the actors has always impressed me at the Masque. Perhaps I am a little biased... After all, 19 years ago, I was a young actor on stage, in my first show at the Masque.
I began taking classes at the Masque after noticing ads for upcoming plays in the season that I was interested in participating in as an actor. My mom called for more information about the auditions, and the Masque receptionist suggested I sign up for a creative movement and mime classes in preparation for auditions. After taking several creative dramatics, movement and mime classes, I knew I loved everything about the theatre.
A woman named Sylvia led the first audition I participated in. It was so much fun that I forgot I was trying out and forgot to be nervous. Sylvia had almost-white hair, a huge smile, a purple sweatshirt (her favorite color) and a loud voice which I could hear across the huge auditorium. Meeting her after the audition, she was very encouraging and suggested I keep taking theatre classes and trying out for plays...
I tried out for every play that season. My mom would drive me to the theatre the day the cast list would be posted, and I'd anxiously look for my name on the list... I didn't get in the cast of the first few plays I auditioned for, but I did attend a peformance of each play. I tried out for "The Nightingale," my fourth audition, and the next day I rushed to the theatre to look at the cast list. I scanned the posted cast list quickly- and there it was- my name! After the first run-through of the script at the first rehearsal, I felt like I was part of the ensemble. I had a servant part and a couple lines in the play, but still many responsibilities during the show such as prop and scene changes and understudy roles.
"The Nightingale" was the first of over a dozen plays I participated in at the Masque in roles including cast member, assistant director and stage manager. I eventually joined a smaller ensemble of students in performing troupes at the Masque, and we'd perform each year at the Renaissance Festival and various community events. I went on to teach many classes at the Masque in high school, to study theatre as my minor in college, to travel to southeast Asia performing drama for an interim college course, and to watch professional theatre in places including London and Stratford in England. I have continued to keep theatre a part of my life after that first audition at the Masque.
Sylvia continued to be friendly, encouraging and positive during that first play and in other plays and experiences. She cared about each student and she'd give the biggest hugs. But she was also tough, and she pushed and challenged me and every student she worked with to do our best, to do whatever it was we loved to do, to keep learning and to set high goals for ourselves. She pushed me because she could see my potential, just like she could see the potential in every person's life. I learned responsibility and self-discipline through learning lines by a set date and by being on time to rehearsals. I grew in confidence each time I got on stage in front of a hundred people or more, after hours of hard work and rehearsals.
The cast worked together as a team in every aspect of the production, from working specific scenes and helping each other in memorizing lines, to having specific cleaning responsibilities assigned after each peformance, to tearing down the set at the end of a production's run. Every person in each cast was made to feel like a valuable member of the team. We were all actors, all working together to create an excellent production. It took time, perseverance, energy, and hard work. But in the end, we were all proud of the work we had completed and the final production.
Nineteen years later, Sylvia and other guest directors still direct each production at the Masque with a positive and encouraging attitude, while coaching each actor to grow towards their full potential. A few quotes I will always remember from the Masque, spoken by Sylvia and other teachers: "Focus!... Accentuate the postive, eliminate the negative... Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art... Focus!... Leave whatever's going on in your life that's distracting you, outside the theatre... Don't tell me, show me... Energize! Risk! Trust! Focus!"
Thank you to the Masque Theatre and especially to Sylvia, for making a lasting impact in my life, for encouraging me to do whatever it is I love to do, to do my best in everything I do, to always be positive, and to always focus. The Masque Theatre stage lights may have been switched off for the last time, and the last set has been cleared, but the life lessons I have learned and memories I have will always stay with me.
The Masque's final ensemble production took place on June 30, to a full house. The actors and Sylvia were given a well-deserved standing ovation and many hugs. Sylvia's retirement party will be at the Masque on Aug. 1, to celebrate her 23 years as artistic director at the Masque Theatre.