UIL show gives junior new perspective of theater


Junior Colton Johnson receives help from senior Grace Hickey with putting on his stage makeup. Johnson played the role of Pascal in “The Axeman’s Requiem.” Photo by Odin Contreras

Story by Colton Johnson, feature editor

“I can’t, I have rehearsals.” This phrase quickly became integrated into my everyday speech.

For 15 actors and actresses, four techies and four alternates, it became the repeated decline to plans. A day off was rare, almost unheard of during the months of February and March, as the cast brought the magical world of New Orleans to life on stage in “The Axeman’s Requiem.”

It was a show I never planned on being part of. During our musical “Cinderella,” which I played the part of the Chef in, our director, Lisa Newton, approached me and asked if I was interested in being an alternate for the UIL One Act Performance. I agreed, not giving the slightest consideration to the thought that I might be on stage.

So, when someone dropped out and I got the text message saying that I got a part in the show, I began to formulate my own existential crisis of everything that could possibly go wrong before I even began.

This was different than “Cinderella.” I was the one with the least experience, whereas “Cinderella” had been a hodgepodge of new actors and actresses singing and ball dancing across the stage. The UIL show had a seriousness about it that I had not felt in “Cinderella,” so when we all stood in a circle the first rehearsal I was shaking.

However, I soon came to learn that this ragtag group of wild theater kids would become a family to me. How this happened I do not exactly know. Whether it was scaring each other with horror stories on long bus rides home or the united feeling of going broke over all the meals we had to pay for.

We saw each other at our highs, coming into rehearsals excited and ready to try on new costumes. However, we also saw each other at our lows whenever the sleep deprivation would catch up to us and the critique had been brutal enough to make sure our spirits did not rise. But at the end of the day, we were all working towards the same goal: to make the art that would be our show.

It was the first time that I actually didn’t groan when I got a text in our theater “Remind” saying that rehearsals would run late. I didn’t mind giving up my time for the show. I wanted to be up at the theater creating the sketchy alleys hiding voodoo and magic and the spry setting of Cafe DuMonde complete with the beignets that we all desperately wished weren’t fake. I was excited to bring to life the Mardi Gras parade in the aisle of the theater even if it did lead to me rolling my ankle at the first rehearsal.

Throughout the production of this show, I began to understand why people say the theater is their second home. It wasn’t just because the cold, uncomfortable stage became a place for power naps when rehearsals ran late into ungodly hours of the night or because we honestly spent more time there than we did at our homes. It was a home because of the people that were there. It was a home because our directors cared about us. It was a home because we all cared so much about the same thing. It was something I had never truly experienced before, and I fell in love with it.

I fell in love with the set and the characters in the show, and when the lights faded in as we opened at what would be our final show at Area, I began to think about how far we had all come.

We had been to clinics, dressed in all black to receive critiques that resulted in a complete redesign of our set. We had tried, and failed horribly at accents. We had discovered the souls of our characters and Facetimed with the playwright to create a new ending for the show. We had won various awards at District and Bi-District and had spent countless hours perfecting what we all were so confident in.

So when our name was not called as an advancing school at Area, it broke the soul of the show. Not only that, but in that moment it broke the souls of everyone in that cast. It was our masterpiece, and we were told by three judges that it wasn’t good enough.

That was the last show the seniors would perform for Texas High. That was the end, and for a while, the fact that it was over was the only thing I could seem to think about.

But after I had cried my tears for the show, for the characters I would never again meet on stage, for the life of my own character and for the seniors, I was able to reflect on how lucky I was. I was so close to not having this family. If I hadn’t made the deliberate decision to audition for Cinderella, none of it would’ve happened, and someone else would’ve played the part of Pascal.

We were told that it wasn’t good enough by three judges, and as much as it sucked, that’s not what mattered. What mattered was that we were proud. We left it on the stage, and the applause that echoed throughout the theaters we performed in as the lights died down proved that what we had done mattered.

For that reason, I will always look forward to auditioning, and I will always be okay with having to work the phrase “I can’t, I have rehearsals” into my life.