I saw my first show at Civic when I was in 4th grade. I was in love with Judy Bloom’s books at the time, and I found out Civic was putting on a production based on her “Fudge” series. I remember being so immersed in a story that I’d only ever seen on a page, now coming to life before my eyes. It astounded me to find out that everyone involved – the actors, directors, designers – were all members of the community! I had no idea there was so much talent in Grand Rapids.
Having been bit by the theatre bug at an early age, I stayed involved with theatre through high school and college productions. After hearing a friend’s experience with Civic, I knew I wanted to aim for the Majestic Stage. I walked into auditions for Civic’s January 2017 production of The Philadelphia Story with my roommate (you might remember her as Dinah Lord from that same production!) not expecting to find out a week later that I’d gotten a part – I was going to play a servant with one line, but it was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever gotten. It was thrilling to finally be a part of the Civic story.
The first thing I noticed when I started rehearsals was how welcoming everyone was. Even though I had a small part, I wasn’t treated like a “small part.” My role was seen as just as important as anyone else’s. My fellow cast members didn’t view each other as “smaller” or “bigger” roles or even just as fellow actors – we saw each other as a family (after spending eight-plus weeks with those people, you’d say the same!) After most performances, we’d make a quintessential run to The Cottage to unwind and talk about the show, and at the end of the run we had a cast get-together to say our parting words (not long after, however, we put together an Oscar party – it’s hard to stay away from a cast you’ve bonded so well with!). The friends and connections I made this past winter were indispensable. I consider it a privilege to have worked with them and with Civic.
Fortunately, I was given another opportunity to work with Civic soon after – this time as a marketing and development intern in the offices. I was nervous starting out, but after my first day I realized that the atmosphere is the same on and offstage: it’s welcoming, and it’s a family – but the more I learned, I realized how much of their work goes under-the-radar. I’ve been onstage and behind-the-scenes at Civic, and the work that’s done there is tangible. During The Philadelphia Story I watched Mary Jo DeNolf work tirelessly backstage as our stage manager, calling cues and making sure everyone was where they needed to be in order for the production to be seamless. Her hard work was evidenced by the quality of the production night after night.
It wasn’t until I went even further behind the scenes – into the administrative offices – when I found out how much work actually goes into running a theatre. I was working with the people who literally keep the lights on. Without these people, Civic wouldn’t have a playbill, a box office, sponsors and volunteers, a season – or even a theatre!
Working “behind” behind-the-scenes at Civic has helped me learn to appreciate everyone who makes Civic, and community theatre in general, possible – actors, designers, directors, and administrators. When I was in high school, I thought for sure I’d go to New York after graduating and try to make it as an actress. Now I realize that here in Grand Rapids, I can make even more of a difference. Civic brings quality performances to people who don’t have the resources to fly out to NYC and see a show. Civic offers classes for budding young performers. Civic has a very visible presence in the community, not just as a theatre, but as a symbol for Grand Rapids and its vibrant culture. I am so glad I was given an opportunity to help make that culture possible. Now I am able to say that I work for something I believe in – theatre.
Audrey is a senior at Cornerstone University studying Communications.