Dreams in theater are joyful and difficult

Published 1:18 pm Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guest Column, by Abraham Swee

This morning I entertained an incredibly boisterous audience. It was an audience full of energy, giggles and the impulse to text message incessantly.

My fellow cast members were groggy (to their credit it was a 10:30 a.m. matinee) and apprehensive. “Will they listen? Will a fight break out between rival schools?” No one was sure how high schoolers would behave.

Abraham Swee

For so many of our listeners, this play, “Much Ado About Nothing,” was to be their first Shakespeare, their first time at the Guthrie Theater, or simply … their first play.

Despite the horror stories, I found our audience of young learners well behaved. No catcalls, cell phone rings or in-school fighting ever appeared. I’m not sure if the youngsters understood Mr. Shakespeare, or that every person stayed awake, but for the most part — and here’s the catch — they listened.

It wasn’t too long ago that the tables were turned — when I was one of those youngsters. And quite luckily, I remember that moment vividly. It was the seventh-grade field trip to see the Guthrie’s “A Christmas Carol.” And to borrow a phrase from one of my mentors, when the curtain went up, my life went with it. I was in awe. I was moved. And I had connected with something that would change the course of my life forever.

That moment wasn’t lost on me this morning as I prepared to take the Guthrie stage. I knew that many in our audience might use the three-hour performance to do such things as formulate the best plan to ask their prom date out. But I also knew this moment could be magical. It had the potential to change, inspire and literally alter someone’s life.

For the past three months I have had the blessing to be an ensemble member of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

No, I am not getting paid the big bucks. No, I have not hit the fast track to Broadway.

In fact, since I’m being completely honest, I have absolutely no lines. Zilch. Not a single one. But, and much more importantly, here is what I have achieved. I have eagerly gone to work each day, and I have ended each day with more joy than I began it. And, well, yes, I can check “acting at the Guthrie” off my list of childhood dreams.

My time at the Guthrie is almost over. Our 11-week run, a total of 64 performances, will soon come to a close. Many people have already asked, “What’s next?”

Oh, what a cruel and scary phrase. The answer: I have absolutely no idea.

People, myself certainly included, love repetition in their lives. You love knowing that next week you’ll go to work at 8 a.m. You love waiting for your kids to get home from school. And you absolutely love knowing that in six months, barring the unforeseen, you will be receiving a paycheck.

Theater does not repeat. It is a live art, and live art eventually must close. If I choose to continue in this profession, a hope I certainly have, I will live from job to job, week by week.

And so, no, I don’t know what’s coming up next. Nor will I probably ever know. But I figured out one thing: I made the right choice. Theater gives me joy. That’s something a steady paycheck could never, ever aspire to.

I must admit that I do have higher dreams. I dream of speaking lines on the Guthrie stage, and I do dream of at least making enough money to fully support myself.

On a grander scale, I dream of endowing a new theater in the heart of Albert Lea. It would bring in talent from around the world and visitors from across the nation. It would not bear my name but would certainly contain the following: The Lilah Estrem Aas Performing Arts Center, The Cindy Fjermestad Thrust, The Glen Parsons Black Box, the John Fure Scene Shop and the Diane Heaney Recording Studio.

“A Christmas Carol” changed my life, but those are the people who made it possible.

A few weeks ago I auditioned for that very play, “A Christmas Carol.” Talk about coming full circle. The result: Yes, but no. And while nothing matters before the but, that yes, however hollow, meant everything in the world to me.

Theatrical rejection usually comes in the form of silence. There is no courtesy email or “we’ve-gone-with-someone-else” letter. A few days ago the Guthrie called. They actually called. The answer: Had I not been involved in “Much Ado” my casting would have been certain. Yes, you’re right, I wasn’t cast. And yet, I can’t help but smile.

Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve mentally checked off getting cast in “A Christmas Carol.”

For now, I’ll continue to enjoy taking the stage each night at a place I hold dear. And I’ll look forward to the moment when I continue creating joy in my life and hopefully many others.

Thank you again to those names listed above. Without them this joy, this opportunity, these moments, may never have come to pass.

Abraham is 2011 graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. He holds majors in both musical theater and broadcast news. Abraham currently resides in Minneapolis and is a 2007 graduate of Albert Lea High School.