Remembrances of a Lumbering Bear, Part One

Wherein Rob reflects upon his theatre career, play by play

Act One, Scene One – 1985 – The Glass Menagerie, by Tennesee Williams. Produced by the UPEI Theatre Society. Directed by David Moses.

Role: Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller…. Also with David Moses at Tom Wingfield, Nancy McLure as Laura Wingfield, and Sharlene MacLean as Amanda Wingfield

My first ever theatrical role. I was in my 2nd year at UPEI, freshly switched out of the Psychology Department and into an English major. I had started to hang around at university just a bit with David Moses and his friend Nick Grant, and was enjoying the new influences that they introduced me to. I don’t recall having any interest in acting or performing before David asked me if I wanted to be in a play. I’m not sure why he asked me, but I do still remember the exact spot where he asked. It was at UPEI, on the path just in front of Main Building. I remember thinking how I thought it was a curious and alien concept: acting. I can’t remember why I agreed, but I did. Although maybe not right away. However, it turns out, that decision entirely changed the course and path that my life would follow.

I don’t remember much about the rehearsal process. I can’t even remember where we rehearsed, or even where the performances took place. Either The MacKenzie Theatre, or the gymnasium at UPEI? I do know that I was somewhat intimidated by the talent and confidence and simmering sexuality of Sharlene as she wonderfully played the Wingfield matriarch. I wish, in hindsight, that I would have known a bit more what the heck I was doing, so I could have learned from her. Nancy was terrific as Laura and I was often genuinely moved by her performances. She made it easy for me. David seemed to relish playing the broody, unhappy Tom. I was fortunate to have such talents surround me.

I played Jim, the gentleman caller. He is supposed to be a somewhat vivacious, energetic, optimistic and charming character. As a true-life shy, unassuming, under-the-radar type of person myself, I was surely out of my depths in those regards. I had absolutely zero experience as an actor, and really had no idea what I was doing. I have no true idea of how I did, although I shall assume I did okay.

I have two distinct memories of the performance. 1) I recall, in one performance, at one specific point in the play, I thought I did something that seemed real and honest and true. I had a bit of an Eureka moment, like “Oh, so THAT is what acting is supposed to be like!” The glorious moment immediately preceeded 2) As I was basking in the personal triumph of mastering what acting is, the play continued around me. I hurtled back down to Earth from my lofty Thespian self-indulgence to realize that it was my line. Nancy was waiting for it. I totally blanked and was, for what seemed like forever but was likely less than a moment, filled with extreme and agonizing panic. But I pulled through. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. And it was in those two moments where my love of performing was likely born.

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