By Tim Takechi
I waited impatiently for the lights. As a nine-year-old boy making his theatrical debut, I knew that once the stage lights were turned on, the show starts. The wait felt like forever. But soon enough the show commenced.
Thus began my acting career. I played a palace guard in a production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." The show itself was cute, but far from Broadway. To a little kid, however, that made little difference. The theater fascinated me. I adored the costumes, lights, sets, characters, actors, audience and the imaginary stories we got to tell. Like all little children, I loved to play "make believe" – that freedom to become anything from a swashbuckling pirate to an astronaut exploring an unknown planet. However, we were special. We had the honor of playing in front of a live audience.
Aside from bringing me into this world, signing me up for summer theater camp was one of the best things my mother has done for me. While most of my friends spent their summers playing soccer or camping in the woods, I spent mine in a far-off fantasyland full of enchanted animals, evil witches, brave princes and bumbling dwarves.
Two summers after my theatrical debut, I switched to a different youth-theater program. For the next five summers I had the chance to portray such zany characters as the father of Cinderella, the Wizard in the "Wizard of Oz," and the all-powerful king in "Sleeping Beauty."
During the run of "Cinderella," the moment the lights poured on stage, the audience no longer sat in a mere church building. Rather, they were instantly transported to a faraway land where a peasant girl becomes a princess, a group of mice overthrows an evil stepmother, and a pumpkin transforms into a carriage.
Eventually I became too old to do children's theater. After high-school graduation I attended Whitworth. I eagerly auditioned for the fall mainstage production of "Our Town" and was cast in the small role of the town gravedigger, Joe Stoddard.
Maybe it was Whitworth's academic surrounding, or the professionalism of the cast and crew, but I was determined to deliver the best-crafted performance possible. Working on my character required capturing Mr. Stoddard's mannerisms, style of speech and movement. I wanted to make my small role mean something. I wanted to be perfect. As an adult, I must prepare like an adult. Joe Stoddard was an old, kindly man. Watching movies and television shows featuring older men helped me develop my character. I felt like an NFL quarterback studying in-game footage rather than like an actor. As a child I never used any method in preparing for a role. This was the Brando in me finally coming out.
Opening night was anti-climactic. At that point, our cast and crew were so prepared that the show operated like a machine. Everyone, including me, knew what they were supposed to do and when to do it. I had my character down to a science. Joe Stoddard was more of a calculation than a living, breathing person.
After more than a week of getting into costume and putting on makeup, I found that "Our Town" entered into my daily routine. I casually walked into the theater building as if I were attending class or going to lunch.
After the show closed, I thought about those far-removed days of carefree fun and excitement. Then it dawned on me how apathetic I had become. At that moment I realized my childhood passion for theater was gone. I asked myself: What happened to that love of theater? What happened to the awe and wonder of the stage that changed with the desire to be perfect? What happened to me?
I quickly realized that when the adult in me was born, the child in me died. I could no longer walk into a theater building with the same excitement and childlike giddiness that I once felt. Theater became a job, not a game. Perhaps it is a time for change, I thought. Perhaps I need to re-examine why I loved this hobby in the first place.
I loved theater because of where it took me. It took me to places where seven dwarves and singing mice can help an innocent girl in danger. It let me become characters who led fascinating lives. I loved it because I got to become a part of something bigger than myself. When I got to college, I abandoned these feelings.
A year later I participated in a one-act play festival. I vowed to recapture that same adoration for performing that I had so long ago. This time the story was set in ancient Greece. I played Jupiter, the mightiest god of them all. For the first time in a while, I aimed to make my character come to life. As I stood backstage ready to experience a new time and place, I promised to bring out the kid in me again who loved to play dress-up and made people laugh.
And I will do it, once those darn lights come on.