From actor to stage hand – my play experience

Commentary by Madison Strickland
Special to the Times-News

Madison Strickland reviews cues for Burlington Day School’s “Wagon Wheels West” recently. / Photo submitted

   Drama performances have always been a part of my life. When I was 20 days old, I was Baby Jesus in a church play. Throughout my childhood, I was always in skits at school and the Christmas plays at church.
Music also has played a role in my life. My mother tells me she would play classical music every night as I slept. I was in a children’s choir from ages 3 through 5. In first grade, music quickly became my favorite class and I just would not stop singing. Anything to do with singing was like heaven to me. My favorite part of church was the hymns and the only reason that I would stop reading while in the car was to listen to the radio.
In sixth grade, I went to visit Burlington Day School, in the hopes of attending that school the next fall. During this experience, I got to meet all the teachers I would have and I absolutely fell in love with the school and the close-knit community that it is. My longing to go there was further deepened when I went to go see the school’s production of the musical “Pocahontas.”
Watching the kids, some of them the same age I was at that time, onstage giving all they could to make this play the very best it could be, made me want to jump onto that stage and become part of that Indian tribe or part of the group of settlers that had come to the New World. The play was the combination of two things that I loved: singing and acting. It sparked a flame in me that made me want to be a part of one of these musicals.
The next school year started and I had the extreme good fortune to be able to attend Burlington Day School as a student. I joined the Drama Club, remembering the wonderful show I had seen. We went through a series of lessons and got to do a few performances, and then the moment I had been waiting for arrived. Bethany Baker, (Drama Club teacher and play director), announced the name of that year’s play and gave us all tips for auditioning.
The play was “Peter and Wendy” (Peter Pan). I auditioned and got the part of the Neverbird. I wore orange tights, a yellow leotard with feathers stitched all over it. To top it off, I wore giant orange bird feet that flopped every time I took a step. They almost tripped me on several occasions. This was the first musical I had ever been in and when it was time for me to walk on stage, I saw the audience and the lights and I knew it was something that I wanted to do over and over and never stop. All the hard work had been worth it.
The next year, I did the same thing. I auditioned for a bigger role in “Bugsy Malone” and I got it. That role came with a solo and I learned to do a character voice. The play was a huge success and I had tons of fun. But, the last day of the play, when we were packing up the materials and props, I suddenly realized it was probably going to be the last day I would ever set foot on the stage at the Paramount Theater in downtown Burlington.
I graduated eighth-grade a little frightened of high school. The summer passed and I started ninth-grade at The Elon School. Much to my surprise, The Elon School is everything people said it was, plus more. Like Burlington Day School, it also acts like a close-knit family. About halfway through the year, Mrs. Baker asked me to be on the tech crew for this year’s Burlington Day School production, “Wagon Wheels West.”
Going into this, I thought it would be the same as the last two years, writing down my blocking, (where the actor is supposed to go on stage, timing, etc.), remembering lines, remembering cues, building sets and many other things. I was right, but not as much as I thought I was. I have to write down all the actors blocking, instead of just mine, and I must remember all the cues instead of just one or two. This time, I’m allowed to read off a script, but I have to keep up with everybody’s lines and not just mine. This job is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, but I still love it.
All the Burlington Day School actors look up to me. I’m a role model to them, and I hope when I come back to see a production, when I’m in college or beyond that, they’ll be the ones in Baker’s class, running the show.
They know that when they are being too loud or distracting the actors in some way, it’s my job to be stern with them, but they also know I adore them, and hate having to tell them what to do. In a few weeks, this will all be over and the actors will be thinking about summer and the parents about camps. I’ll be thinking about pools and calculating just how much sunscreen I’ll have to wear for me not to get sunburn.  Mrs. Baker will be able to relax, but that’s just until next year and then it starts all over again, and I’m going to be doing it all again and again and again.

Burlington Day School’s “Wagon Wheels West” will be performed at 7 p.m. May 3-4 and 2 p.m. May 5, 2013, at the Paramount Theater, 128 E. Front St., Burlington. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at the box office between noon and 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays or one hour prior to showtime. Credit card reservations can be made by calling (336) 222-TIXS.

 Madison is a ninth-grader at The Elon School.

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