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My Life on the Globe Theatre Stage

October 16, 2012

From time to time, when the staples of lively conversation have been exhausted and there is nothing left to be said about politics, religion and the Roughriders, the question arises: “So, Mr. Miliokas, have you done any acting yourself?” Only it isn’t always phrased that politely. In fact, it’s never phrased politely at all. But that’s beside the point.

The answer, of course, is a resounding “sort of.” To refer to it as “acting” would be not only the biggest stretch since the invention of spandex, but also an unforgivable insult to the men and women to whom it is a calling and a livelihood, and who do it with an expertise that never ceases to amaze me when I’m sitting in my rightful place, which is to say a seat in the theatre.

And yet, well, the truth of the matter is I do know what it’s like, sort of, to stand naked and exposed on the stage. Figuratively speaking, you understand. Figuratively speaking. This goes back to the mid-1990s when I joined a troupe of non-actors from the community who were invited to perform in a couple of fundraisers for the Globe, one under the watchful eyes of Ruth Smillie, and the other with her immediate predecessor, Susan Ferley, calling the shots. Let me go on the record here as saying they are the two finest directors I have ever worked with. I would like to think this feeling of admiration and respect is mutual, but somehow I doubt it. Fair enough. I stunk the joint out. Both times.

In terms of technique, suffice it to say my acting style was 10 per cent Method and 90 per cent Madness. Tentative? That doesn’t begin to describe it. I’m reminded of something a British theatre critic once wrote, not about me, but it easily could have been: “He plays the King as though he was expecting someone to play the Ace.” Opportunity knocked. Unfortunately, so did my knees. Trademark line? No such luck. “Uh … uh … uh,” delivered in a squeaky voice, isn’t the sort of thing that is likely to attain immortality. Not even if “Uh … uh … uh” was in the script, which it wasn’t. Neither of them, come to think of it. Somehow I survived, mostly because I was raised in an age when you checked your ego at the door and there was no such thing as self-esteem.

The first play was a revival of A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, a family saga of multiple characters that are usually portrayed by a handful of actors. Susan simplified matters considerably by casting about two dozen of us. The scene in which I appeared concerned a mother and her three sons. The mother was played by Gail Bowen (yes, THAT Gail Bowen, the mystery novelist and playwright) and although we had not met, we became friends instantly and to this day we address each other now and then as “Mom” and “Ben,” for old time’s sake.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised Gail speaks to me at all. The scene is supposed to end with Ben walking his mother out the door and off the stage. But, this being theatre-in-the-round, there was more than one door, or so it seemed. The four exists looked identical to me, and in my confusion I escorted her out through the picture window, the two of us smiling with every step. Thank goodness for minimalist sets. Either no one noticed, or they were too kind to point it out. In hindsight, I wish I had paid closer attention in rehearsal. When I should have been concentrating on blocking, I was fantasizing about signing autographs.

The second fundraiser, under Ruth’s direction, was actually two shows for the price of one, a Star Trek doubleheader that consisted of a light-hearted episode followed by an edgier one. I was cast in the former, as Chekov, probably because my darker features allowed me to pass for a Russian, and also, I think, because I happen to be an immigrant and this led her to believe I can do accents. Well, the joke was on her. I can’t. Not for 60 minutes. Ruth had the last laugh, however. I spent the final portion of the episode in a torture chamber being zapped by some sort of current. Which made it impossible to show my best side.

I would love to act again someday. I wait for the telephone to ring, but, alas, it doesn’t. (Well, it does, but it’s always for my wife or one of the kids.) At the very least, my experience gave me a renewed admiration and respect for people of the theatre, and also a deeper and more profound understanding of the light bulb joke. Do you know it? How many actors does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the light bulb and nine to stand around at the bottom of the ladder shouting: “That should be ME up there!”

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Globe Theatre website at www.globetheatrelive.com.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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