LESLIE CRISS: Introvert discovers stage debut to be delightful, not daunting

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“Acting is not about dressing up. Acting is about stripping bare. The whole essence of learning lines is to forget them so you can make them sound like you thought of them that instant.”
– Glenda Jackson

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
– Helen Keller

Our parents – my sister’s and mine – raised two shy introverts, each of whom secretly harbored a dream of being on stage.
My sister, four years younger than I, dreamed of being a dancer. Several years ago, I attended a recital in which she, in her fourth decade of life, participated after having taken a tap dancing class.
This big sister nearly burst with pride at Beth’s courage. And her amazing toe-tapping proficiency.
She did not look at all afraid. Rather, she seemed to be having the time of her life.
Since I saw my first community theater production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in my hometown when I was in elementary school, I wished I had the outgoing, fearless personality it must have taken for those folks to take to the stage.
My secret dream grew greater as I’d watch from the audience other community theater productions, as well as professional theater in larger cities, especially New York.
Tupelo is the first place I’ve lived where I’ve become somewhat involved in community theater. My biggest gig was serving as a dresser for the incomparable Judd Wilson of the “Tuna” series.
Until now.
Recently, a call came asking if I’d consider taking on the role of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Normally, my stock answer would be, “absolutely not.” This time, I heard these words shoot from my mouth, “I think I’d like to think about it.”
For the past eight weeks I’ve been a part of an incredible cast working hard to bring Nelle Harper Lee’s beloved story to the TCT stage.
I’ve watched three amazing kids go from audition to opening night to final performance, having transformed from Jacob, Cole and Mary Conlee to Jem, Dill and Scout. I am awed by their abilities.
I’ve watched a very nice man named Josh become Bob Ewell, one of the most despicable characters in literature, and other good guys, including my friend and co-worker Scott Morris, become part of a racist mob.
I’ve seen a lawyer named Jonathan breathe life into an attorney named Atticus, honorable men both.
There’s a City Hall fixture named Sally, a nurse named Nicole, John and Bobby, bankers both. There’s another John, a gentle soul, filling the shoes of another gentle soul named Boo; there’s the mother of twins-plus-one Erin, and Martha Ann, who with Judd, Mary Conlee and Cole, has made this production a family affair.
There’s the “town tongue” Beverly, the meek Melodie, “Sheriff” Russell, “Rev.” Torris, “Judge” David and “Prosecutor” Ron. And dear Landon, who took to heart the notion of “break a leg.” And I can’t forget director Suzye and stage manager Cheryl.
My stage debut has been the adventure of a lifetime, thanks to my fellow castmates and new friends.
Thanks, all, for the amazing ride.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com