This story includes excerpts from the play Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. Any text in italics is a line from the play. If you don’t want spoilers from the play, maybe skip this story! I used the Samuel French publication for reference. Thank you for reading!
I was tired from moving around the country nonstop for two years working in an endless stream of regional theaters. Some contracts were a midsummer nights dream. Others made me feel like I had hay fever. I’d played huge roles like Laura in The Glass Menagerie all the way to odd servants or comedic relief characters in Shakespeare festivals.
I made friends, filled up my resume, and grinded the fuck out of my career in the theatre. It was exhausting but role offers, making friends, and seeing the country kept me going. But I found it harder and harder to stay positive. All this grinding was for what? To play bigger roles in theaters that no one’s ever heard of? To serve a career that would ultimately be in New York? Maybe make it to Broadway? Was that it?
I had a feeling deep in my gut that I could do something great–so great that kids would watch me on stage and beg their parents to become actors. Great enough to make a hardened old man weep. Something great.
But my confidence just wasn’t there. Something was always in my way: director was bad, cast was bad, script was bad, audience didn’t understand…that’s what I told myself, anyway.
I started to realize I didn’t have any ownership over anything I did. I was always serving a vision greater than my own, always under someone’s thumb. It was fucking deflating. Actors worship Brandos, Streeps, Cranstons: talents who wouldn’t let someone boss them around. These are actors who’s instincts were often on the money. But in general, actors are taught to be subservient. Go here. Talk now. Make these choices. The irony wasn’t lost on me what we call a choice in the theatre.
The director is king, queen, and god to an actor. Sure, I’d worked with great directors who made you feel ownership over your work, but almost never did it feel like a real collaboration. I didn’t want absolute power, I think. I just wanted respect and to feel like an equal.
And here I was about to have my first day of rehearsal playing a dream role at a dream (Regional Tony-Award Winning) theater. I don’t know how I wormed my way into this contract, but here I was. I was terrified of blowing it.
I was playing Emily in a production of Our Town by Thornton Wilder. If you’ve never read it, I suggest you do. Act Three always makes me weep, and that’s exactly the part of the play I was most nervous to perform. If Emily isn’t played well, the whole play falls flat. So no pressure, right?
The director, Colm Daniels, was well-known in the theatre community. He’s directed once or twice on the West End and had recently made his way to the US, doing the rounds at regional theaters in hopes of attracting Broadway or maybe a position as an artistic director somewhere. He was known to be avant-garde which was theater code for either brilliant or dumb-fuck bad. So this production could go either way.
I was picked up from a nearby airport by theater staff and driven to actor housing, my eyes out the window to see what the Pacific Northwest was like. It was pretty. Rural. Peaceful.
The housing was in a glade surrounded by pines, the ground covered in a soft layer of brown needles. My room was small but tidy. I unpacked and took out my script, leafing through the pages to look at notes I’d already written. I knew how I wanted to do this role. I just had to see if Colm agreed and if it would work with the actor playing George, Emily’s love interest.
I put on a long white linen skirt, a black, fitted tank-top and brown lace-up boots for rehearsal, my long dark hair falling behind my shoulders, collarbones pronounced, a silver necklace with a turquoise pendant hanging around my neck. I checked my phone for the twentieth time, petrified of being late, and decided to make my way to the rehearsal hall a few minutes early.
The facility was pretty new, but designed to look lived-in. It had tall ceilings, warm natural light, and despite its size, felt intimate. Tables were set up in a circle for our first read-through, with name tags designating where the actors should sit. “Stephanie Dalton – Emily”, right next to “Seth Logan – George”. Hilarious. I bet he got Seth Rogan jokes all the time. I hoped he wasn’t a douche.
Stage managers, designers, producers, actors– everyone was filing in. Some knew each other very well and others, like me, were still outsiders. The air had a friendly-but-competent vibe.
Everyone was seated and Colm, who was across the circle from me, began introductions. He was in his mid-forties, thin, with salt and pepper hair. He was handsome. Everyone went around sharing who they were and what their role was in the production. Finally, Colm began talking about his vision. It sounded…less Büyükesat Escort “out there” than I expected. The play is supposed to be bare-bones, unadorned, emotionally vulnerable, and devoid of ego. Colm wanted to lean into that.
With that, the actors begun to read.
My heart was beating out of my chest as my first lines rolled around. Suddenly, my voice was filling up the rehearsal room, a little self conscious, but prepared.
I ‘m both, Mama, you know I am. I’m the brightest girl in school for my age. I have a wonderful memory.
The rest of the play flew by once the butterflies went away. By the end, the whole room was emotional. Hearing the play out loud was special for everyone there, I think.
Early rehearsals went smoothly. We got a rough sketch of the blocking (where actors are supposed to stand on stage), talked about interpretation of lines, tried a bunch of different ideas, and the atmosphere was creative and affirming. Seth was a sweet guy, turns out, and we had great chemistry on stage. He was cute too. A little jock-ish for me at first, but he was sensitive and a great listener. Our scenes weren’t giving me much anxiety except for maybe our big scene In Act II. But it was coming along fine.
After a few days, we had a rough sketch of Acts I and II. Colm was quieter than I expected, but decisive when he spoke. He was a good listener, or at least good at pretending to be. I could’t quite get a read on him.
At the end of week 1, we ran through Acts I and II and were left with 30 more minutes of rehearsal before end of day. Colm gave us the game-plan.
“Ok, folks. We are a little ahead of schedule, so I’d like to start Act III. We won’t get through much, but let’s use the time we have. If you’re not in the top of Act III, you’re dismissed for the day.”
Our stage manager, Nancy, chimed in. “Thank you everyone, I’ll send an email soon with call times for tomorrow.” And with that, all but a few actors left.
In Act III, Emily is dead. But she’s alive to the audience and shares the stage with other dead townsfolk. She discusses the option to go back to the world of the living and witness a day from her past. The dead warn her it isn’t a good idea. But she will not be deterred. Act III is what I’ve been most nervous to tackle.
“Steph, let’s talk about this moment. Why does Emily choose her twelfth birthday to relive?” Asked Colm.
“Emily says it’s special enough to be happy, but not too consequential a day as to break her heart.” I replied.
“Break her heart, huh? But she’s already dead.”
“She is. But the dead seem to experience pain here. Emily doesn’t understand why though.”
“What could go wrong, right?”
“Ok, let’s run it again.”
I didn’t know what he wanted me to do differently, but I was game to do the scene again.
But Mother Gibbs, one can go back; one can go back there again–into the living! I feel it! I know it! Why just then for a moment I was thinking about–about the farm–and for a minute I was there and my baby was on my lap as plain as day!
Colm stopped me.
“Ok. I see it. Steph, this is a new Emily we’re meeting.” He said.
“She’s being impulsive. Emily in life is bright, rational, measured. Of course, she is plenty emotional, like any teen, but she’s smarter than the rest. Why isn’t she able to see the trap laid before her?”
“It’s a tremendous temptation, isn’t it? To watch your life unfold in front of you? And she listens to Mrs. Gibbs a bit, right? She doesn’t pick the most important day of her life.”
“True, but she’s not really hearing. I think we need to see Emily be impulsive. I want to see that Emily isn’t fully thinking this out.”
“Ok. I can try that.”I started the scene again.
But Mother Gibbs, one can go back; one can go back there again–into the living!…
We continued a bit further into the scene when Colm stopped us again–but before he could say anything, the stage manager made an announcement.
“Colm, sorry to stop you, but that’s time for the day.” Nancy interrupted.
“That’s alright, thank you.” He said, addressing Nancy. “Thank you for your work today, everyone. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
But something in me told me I needed to keep working. I was finally starting to feel more in control of Act III and I could not let that go. I walked quickly to Colm who had sat down at his table and begun taking notes.
I put my hands on the table and leaned down towards him, not wanting to seem like a suck-up or try-hard to the other actors.
“Hey, Colm. Do you think we could keep working? I feel like we’re in a good flow.”
He looked up at me, a bit surprised. “I mean, we can. You’ve done a lot today though, no need to overwork it.”
“I’m good to keep going if you are. Really, I’m game.”
He was staring into my eyes now, trying to glean my true feelings on the matter. Was I trying to be a good-little-actor, or was Elvankent Escort I on the precipice of something. His eyes narrowed.
“Sure. Let’s keep working.”
“Great.” I said, energetically standing back up, breaking from his gaze.
“Let’s go from when you enter on your twelfth birthday memory.”
“Hey, Nancy. Steph wants to keep working and I’m game. Don’t feel obligated to stay. I don’t think we’ll be too much longer.” Said Colm, leaning in Nancy’s direction.
“Steph, you’re ok with this?” Nancy asked.”Yeah, it was my request.” I said, earnestly.
“Ok, don’t go too much longer you two. You both need rest.” Said Nancy with the matronly warmth of a stage manager.
“Thanks, see you at dinner, Nancy.” I said.
“Yes, thank you.” Colm chimed in.
Nancy grabbed her bag filled with her laptop, script, and notes and headed out.
“Let’s go from page 80. I can’t bear it. Bottom of the page.”
I ran the scene. It was a little challenging without the other actors there, but Colm read the other lines for me.
“Steph, you are really nailing the high school scenes. You capture the self-consciousness of Emily as a young woman, but her stubbornness to keep to her principles. Emily here is different.”
“I know. She’s desperately seeking something that is unavailable to her. But she doesn’t know that.”
“You’re right. She doesn’t. So she drops in and out of character. Sometimes playing the role of twelve-year-old Emily, but impulsively demanding her memories to see her as she was when she died, as a mother and as a wife. I’m guessing you aren’t married with children, are you?”
“Nope, certainly not.”
“How do you think Emily feels about these identities?”
I thought about it. Emily goes into the memory thinking she’d like to observe, but once there, she can hardly stand to role play the past. She sees things. She sees her parents seeing. Or rather, her parents not noticing. That’s her agony. That she can see every wasted moment they might have spent together.
“I think she just wants to be seen.”
“Why does it matter that she should be seen? What does that mean?” Asked Colm.
“I don’t–everyone wants to be seen.”
“Why? Seen how?”
“I can’t articulate it but I feel like it’s obvious.”
“It isn’t obvious to me.”
“Well, Emily agonizes watching everyone fail to notice life as it passes. They don’t realize how precious and short their waking time is, and it breaks her.”
“And Emily, dead at twenty-six, wife and mother, smartest girl in town…even she probably missed a lot of life. So I think she’s feeling really sorry for herself.”
“It’s life or death–excuse me, life and death.”
I covered my mouth with my hand as I started to weep.
“I’m sorry–I” I couldn’t get the words out.
“It’s just. I feel like I’ve been skating through my twenties just thinking about what comes next and maybe I’m just too afraid to see what my life is. If I look too close, my heart will break. I’m twenty-six. And if I died tomorrow I would have missed most of my life.”
I looked at Colm out of some desperation. Fuck, this was not how I wanted rehearsal to go. I didn’t need to be losing my shit in front of this guy. He’s going to think I’m unhinged. But he didn’t look put off at all. He watched me, chin in hands, gently and with great consideration. I think if I’d asked him for a hug he would have gotten up and given me one. But I wasn’t going to do that. I kept weeping thinking about how much time I had wasted worrying about my future while my life was passing before me. It was almost too much.
“Do you want to sit down?” Colm asked.
“No, no. I–I’m good.”
Suddenly, lines started jumping into my head.
It goes so fast. We don ‘t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed! Take me back–up the hill–to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look! Goodbye! Goodbye, world! Goodbye, Grover’s Corners– Mama and Papa– Goodbye to clocks ticking– and my butternut tree! And Mama’s sunflowers– and food and coffee– and new-ironed dresses and hot baths– and sleeping and waking up!– Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute? I said, out loud, as Emily.
Colm whispered, No–Saints and poets maybe–they do some.
I got it. With tears streaming down my face a smile dawned. Everything Emily felt, I felt. It was so clear to me. I looked at Colm who was staring at me with eyes starting to water, mouth slightly agape.
“Good.” He said.
“Fuck me.” I said, exasperated. “This is not how I thought rehearsal was going to go.”
“Me neither. But you just broke through to something.”
When was the last time I’d cried in front of someone? Or swore in the rehearsal room? To the director? I was always studious, buttoned up, quiet, Beşevler Escort and professional. Something had broken in me and I didn’t care if this was my last theatre job because I was going to give the greatest performance of Emily anyone had ever seen. The confidence was like a drug to me.
“I need to do this play right now! It needs to happen now!” I said, pacing excitedly.
Colm laughed. “Shall I have the cast reconvene?” He joked.
“Goddamnit, I wish you could.” I said, playing along.
“It’s not everyday I get to watch an actor go through epiphany.”
It’s one thing to want directors to treat you as a peer. It’s another to feel it. To feel like your rapport is beyond the banal.
“I know. You’re welcome. You should be sucking my dick right now.” I said, not thinking. Feeling only bold.
Once the words were out, I froze, not believing what I’d just said. I expected Colm to tell me to cool off. His response surprised me.
“You’re right, I should.” He said.
“I’m going to give you the best Emily you’ve ever seen.”
“You already have.”
“Oh, I have?”
I stood staring at him from the rehearsal floor as he sat behind his table.
“You better not be fucking with me.” I said.
“Stand here, look me in the eye, and tell me you’re not fucking with me.”
Colm was about to run a hand through his slightly disheveled salt and pepper hair, but he stopped. He got up and walked around the table to meet me. He stood half a foot taller than me, but I felt like I towered over him.
“You are Emily.” He said. I felt like he wanted to put his hands on my shoulders but he didn’t dare.
I felt valuable. I felt respected. I felt needed. I felt…my body start to respond. Colm was a foot away from me, waiting for me…it felt like I could ask him to do anything in the world and he would.
And I let myself want.
From under my black tank top, I felt my nipples get hard. Was the air getting cooler in here? No, I felt hot. I was getting turned on.
“I’m not Emily.” I said, finally. “But I get her.”
Colm nodded in agreement.
Without breaking eye contact with Colm, I slowly reached out and clasped one of his hands. He let me. His hand was soft, but a little stiff, small tufts of hair growing on the back. It had seen and done a lot and I wanted it to touch me. I slowly lifted his hand to my chest, putting his palm over my erect nipple. He closed his fingers around me, taking what I offered him.
I felt his breathing getting faster, like mine.
His eyes changed as if to ask, “Do you know what you’re doing?”
For the first time in a long time, I had no doubts about what I wanted. I kept his gaze.
Holding his hand still, I brought his fingers to my neck and collarbone, letting him feel my soft skin, hard lines, my dimensions. For a moment, he took the turquoise pendant around my neck and looked at it.
I could tell how badly he wanted to grab me and have his way with me. He swallowed and licked his lips.
“You’re terribly beautiful, Stephanie.” He whispered.
With that, I took his hand again and pulled it away from my body. I saw a brief moment of disappointment in his face before I started guiding his hand down my torso. With one hand, I slowly started hiking my long white skirt up and brought his hand underneath to feel my soft, toned legs and the heat radiating from inside me. His hand was shaking.
I looked down and saw him straining through his pants. It looked almost painful.
I brought his hand up the inside of my thigh, his fingers stroking me, a little sweaty. I wanted his fingers in me, but I needed to take my time, enjoy it, not give him too much too soon.
Up I went with him until I had his fingertips graze the outside of my panties, a thin, wet, lacy piece of fabric. Through it, he could feel the shape of me. Unable to control myself anymore, I brought his pointer finger up to my engorging clit over my underwear and moved his hand in a circle, pleasuring myself with his hard fingers.
After a few moments, he understood how to move for me and I could feel him doing it without my help. I let go of his hand to let him work. His fingers felt hungry for me. With both hands free, I wanted to touch him.
I brought one hand to his face, a little grey stubble growing over wrinkles, his jawline tight. His mouth was open and as my fingers found his lips, he lightly grabbed one with his mouth and gently sucked. He wanted so badly to taste me. My body shivered, his hand still massaging me, applying more pressure, making my legs a little weak. I could feel myself leaning into his fingers more, almost losing control and letting him take me.
One hand at Colm’s face, I brought the other down his chest to the straining in his pants, a small wet spot staining the front. For a moment I grabbed his belt and waistband hard, like I could have pulled him anywhere I wanted. His hips came forward when I grabbed, moving him an inch or so closer to me. I could feel his heat even more now and his impulse to grab me being staved off.
My hand leg go of his belt and slowly trailed south as I felt his length for the first time. He was hard as a rock, and bigger than I’d expected, though not intimidating. My fingers traced up and down his shaft and I could feel his cock pulsing under the fabric.