In community theater, we don many hats – actor, director, tech, stage manager, costumer, set builder – you get the point. You are a Jack/Jane of all trades and you like it. One of the most common issues when putting on a larger show in community theater is the need to double cast your actors to cover all of the roles. Needless to say, this can be tricky at times to ensure you haven’t double cast an actor for 2 roles that are on stage simultaneously at any point.
I am in the upcoming Reedy Point Players production of Pat Cook’s play Titanic: Tragedy & Trial. The director of the show is a veteran actress/director and has directed the first act of this show as a one-act play previously. So, she knows what she’s doing. This is helpful when you have approximately 30 actors and a potential for 60+ roles in a show.
Our director asked at the time of auditions if we, as actors, would be willing to take on more than one role, should the need arise. I, of course, said certainly, as did most others. The role I really wanted was that of Maggie “Molly” Brown, though I knew in this production it was a smaller role. I really admired this person and wanted the chance to portray her, no matter the size of the role. Our director had the foresight to offer me said role and I accepted – doing a happy dance.
A little later on I was also offered the role of Emily Ryerson. Again, I was happy to take on another role. It seemed I had a little research to do now so I could portray both women accurately, even if their time on stage was brief.
This is the first show in which I will be portraying “real” people – those who lived and breathed, not ones created from a playwright’s imagination. I want to be certain that I know the women I will become for a brief moment in time. So, I headed to Google.
First up, Mrs. Margaret “Maggie” Brown was put into the Google search engine. This charismatic trail blazer of women’s rights and philanthropy has quite a bit about her on the web. There were a number of factoids I never knew. She ran for the Colorado state senate around the turn of the 20th century – something unheard of – especially since women didn’t have the right to vote yet. Maggie Brown was not referred to as Molly until after the Titanic sinking when a reporter gave her the moniker “the unsinkable Molly Brown” in a story highlighting her heroism during the Titanic tragedy. She was an avid activist, philanthropist, suffragette and in her later life an actress. Pretty amazing woman.
Next, I searched for information on Mrs. Emily Ryerson. Nowhere near as much information on this dear lady. She was my age at the time of that fateful voyage, from Haverford, Pennsylvania. Emily Ryerson, her husband, their three children and two servants were first-class passengers on the Titanic. Mr. Ryerson helped to load lifeboats, but unfortunately he did not survive the sinking. Emily, her children and servants were on lifeboat #4 and all survived. She provided an affidavit regarding the events surrounding the Titanic’s sinking to the senate hearings that took place in May 1912. Mrs. Ryerson eventually remarried another wealthy man and lived a long life. The only other information was some society column mentions.
The easiest way to distinguish the women when portraying them is their accents and their demeanor. Molly Brown was a larger than life character with a southern/midwestern accent. Emily Ryerson was a true society lady with the clipped accent of the upper crust of Philadelphia’s Main Line. Luckily I know both types of women and at times I am both in my own life.
Some would think it’s over the top to research these women when the roles are minor, relatively speaking. My thinking is that old adage – there are no small roles, just small actors. I’m excited for this production and want to give it my best.
When you care about what you do, you do your best, no matter the task.