Playing Tommy in UMW Theatre’s production of Matilda the Musical has been such an invaluable experience. During this process, I’ve learned so much about acting, musicals, and myself. There are also things I wish I’d done differently and things I’m incredibly grateful for.
One of the first things I learned was that musicals as big as this one are a lot of physical work. I’ve always known musicals like Matilda are not easy, but being an actor in Matilda proved how difficult it really is. Healthy singing while doing tricky choreography and acting is a workout! I’ve never done a show that requires so much from me physically. But from this, I also learned that I can endure a lot and that strength is something you build. I needed time and motivation to keep going. And in the end, I surprised myself with what I could do.
Secondly, I learned how to bring a character to life even when they don’t have many lines and how to tell a story through acting, singing, and dancing. Just because a character doesn’t have a lot of lines or isn’t on stage very much doesn’t mean the actor still can’t bring them to life. Reacting to what’s going on around your character and having a clear point of view really adds life to your character. With Tommy, I tried to be very engaged with every scene and react like I believe a five-year-old boy would. Storytelling is bigger than words; we can use our whole body to tell a story. I’ve never been much of a dancer, but during this process, I realized the value that dancing adds to the storytelling of a musical. Dancing can add emotion that words can’t describe, but you must feel those emotions while you dance. You can come up with actions or tactics to a dance or a song like you would with an acting scene. There’s much more than just singing the right notes or knowing the choreography.
One of the other big things I learned was that I get in my own head easily. One of the most difficult parts of this process for me was getting over the fact that my body didn’t look like the other little kid actors. For some reason, I thought having a different body would make my performance less believable. Even though this production wasn’t going for realism when it came to casting, I felt out of place. This is something that just kept popping into my head every now and then and was just not a good feeling. Over time, I realized that thinking that way isn’t productive and is doing more harm than good. I was cast for a reason, and I can do an excellent job as Tommy, no matter what I look like. It took me getting into costume the first few times to accept this. I wish I hadn’t let these feelings get to my head, but I’m glad to have learned this about myself.
Some things I wish I’d done differently were keeping up with my rehearsal journals better and appreciating the process at the moment more. Overall, I think I did well with my rehearsal journals, but some days, I forgot to journal and ended up doing a few in one sitting or just skipping the day altogether. I wish I hadn’t because it made things a little harder to catch up on, and I feel like I lost a memory of the days I didn’t journal. I actually like the idea of keeping a journal for rehearsals because it’s something I can look back on and remember what I was feeling and see how I grew from that day. Unfortunately, I forgot to appreciate a lot of the little moments of the process because I was in my head or just generally tired. I wish I had seized the moment more during the process instead of reflecting on it after. It reminds me of that quote from The Office: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” I feel this way about every show I work on, and it’s something I’m trying to get better about doing. In the future, I hope to remember this feeling and really try to focus on savoring each moment of working on a show.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to play a child, to work with such a dedicated group of people, and to work on a UMW musical in general! I don’t think I, a 22-year-old woman, will ever get the opportunity to play a five-year-old boy again. It was such a freeing experience. To be able to ride on scooters and be goofy with my fellow castmates on stage was unique. Sometimes, I take life too seriously, but Tommy and this show reminded me I can still have that childlike wonder. Working with Gregg, Angie, Sam, and the whole cast and crew made the experience all the more special. Having a group of people who are not only fun but also hard-working and dedicated is a privilege. And lastly, I’m happy and proud of myself that I was able to perform in a musical at UMW.