by Yhá Mourhia Wright
I’ll start by saying that I have not performed on stage in two years - since March 2017. As I began to focus on my filmmaking career more heavily, the demands for it stole me away from auditions. I welcomed this change because I had developed into an anxious auditioner post-grad school. Seriously, I’m already a huge overthinking, overachieving middle-child.
So, in January, when I was presented with the chance to audition for Opportunity, I was already immensely missing theatre and intrigued by the subject matter of the play. Perhaps it’s because I gave myself time to rediscover the joy of being on stage, but this was my first audition in which I truly enjoyed the process and went home feeling full, not horrified and crazed.
Our offers were initially given to us via phone and I have a true artist story that I ain’t too proud to let you in on... when I received the call from writer Stanley Martin, I didn’t recognize the number. “Bill collectors,” I thought. “Nu ughn.”
Just like that, the call went to voicemail. Director Michael Blatt flagged me later in the evening to check my voicemail - I knew it at that moment. Did I just get the… (I gotta do it) Opportunity to be in this play? In fact, I did.
My challenge was to throw myself into work while also doing less thinking and more exploring. We didn’t have an extended rehearsal process so my training and previous experience had to come into play as I approached the role of Ashley.
My questions varied from, “what is she hiding?” to “What’s her favorite color?” and “What the heck does she need?” I’ve never approached a character who speaks what so many of us might have thought - come on, who’s a saint here? - from time to time in this industry.
Yet at the core of most artists I know is a little kid who, perhaps, only knew of entertainment as the chosen path or who escaped into their imagination because the real world was too cold or just not as colorful. Daily, people become patrons of the arts, travel near and far to see live theatre, and yet, they have no clue about what happens behind the scenes with these people who dares to put themselves on public display.
I love that Opportunity is comical with a dark reality of the challenges that many of us face be it body image, self-acceptance, aging, colorism, racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism - all dipped in competition. With only one week of rehearsals, by day two, I fell right into the swing of things with my fellow ensemble members. We have the honor of telling a story about some of the many trials each of us face in REAL life.
Back to Ashley, who is an anti-hero that I truly love because “what’s not to love?” Every step of the way, I asked myself what do I know about her and how do I relate to each character in this play? How - in one hour - can I find the joy that Ashley is experiencing by being around people who are like “family” while realizing that being with so many people like her is likely to present some sort of trigger.
It’s like walking down a hall of mirrors. Each day of brought new challenges from the standard, “line?” to losing lines because I finally listened to the words I was saying and felt something new. My process includes writing my lines over and over, using the scene study app to rehearse, and exploring why something in the text hasn’t resonated with me just yet.
This process allows me to find the places that are blocked, the places that I, like Ashley, might have shut down for the sake of survival in this world. Each time I’ve been challenged with delving deeper into text, I discovered that it’s because the circumstances are actually closer to me than I’d like to admit. Bittersweet.
I consider Opportunity as a theatre-goers chance to take a glimpse into the green room. A chance to listen in on the banter that occurs in the dressing room as lashes are glued on, hair is sprayed into perfection and tan lines are evened by thick makeup. A chance for people to finally see us in our element. It’s funny, it’s brash, and, baby, it’s real. I anticipate that folks will laugh, then their hearts will drop, and many will flinch as they think about that annoying person they always see at the same auditions who is just like a character on stage. Or, at least, that’s what I have experienced from the moment I received my audition sides. How uncanny.
The chance to play the anti-hero that absolutely, for sure, has the Instagram verification stamp of approval and doesn’t reply to direct messages, is invigorating. Three months ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be back on stage, living into such circumstances, but hey, that’s the nature of what we do in this industry - and there’s “No business, like show business.”