That Time No One Showed Up For My Junior Cast Auditions
A Reflection On Failure
by Kyle Durbin
That Time Nobody Showed Up For Auditions
by Kyle Durbin
“It’s still early,” my wife told me, as I paced back and forth in the church lobby, peering out the window of the front door intermittently. “It’s five minutes late,” I quickly snapped back, feeling like Noah waiting for the rain. For eight years I had built the theatre ministry of my church from a rag-tag group of enthusiasts to a well-oiled operation that churned out multiple productions a year, including participants of all ages and revenues that had since been used to fund other important ministries in the church. One of the biggest parts of our musical production was the addition of a junior cast of children under the age of 12, and over the past few years, their ranks had grown to double digits, and the benefit of their families ticket sales had afforded some pretty spectacular productions. No doubt “Disney’s Tarzan,” would bring them flocking in like animals to the ark, gorillas to be precise, and I’m talking in groups of seven, the Priestly account, not the mere pairs of the Yahwist (excuse my biblical nerdisms).
Yet, on this Sunday afternoon, the parking lot was all out of apes. “I feel like just sending anyone home if they show up,” I remarked, defeated. After all, how would I do a rehearsal with one child, much less endure the embarrassment of the worst turn out in the history of the theatre program. Then that one child showed up…and I cringed. At least if no one showed up, I could get back to the senior cast and get on with a productive rehearsal. I was faced with a decision, admit defeat or power through business as usual. “We’re just waiting to make sure nobody else is running late…I know I called you guys earlier than usual…” It was a lie, I told the girls mother, but it sounded way better than the truth at that point. Five minutes later another child showed up. I quickly grabbed two of the younger siblings of one of my cast members who happened to be at the church to stand it, just to make it look like somewhat of a group, and we were off.
Over the next three weeks, I rehearsed twice a week with these two children and their parents for 45 minutes a pop. I’m pretty sure we even tricked one of their schoolmates into joining the junior cast by inviting her and her mother to come sing and dance with us as they were leaving our church preschool one day. Through the whole ordeal, I tried my best to appear motivated. Twenty or so fewer cast members than I had anticipated meant an undoubtedly significant decrease in attendance numbers for the show, which meant all the extra money I had put into this production, justified by the guaranteed size of the junior cast, would not possibly be compensated.
As we got closer to opening night, I realized/remembered/finally admitted to myself that I needed to assign someone supervision of these three children as they were most definitely joining us for the show. Heck, they probably knew their songs and dances better than our senior cast did. Luckily, despite losing our former stage manager to college, this production had wound up with the biggest production team we’d ever assembled, sometimes even more eager to help than I had jobs to do. Two of our high school crew members stepped in, and it was if they were born with an innate ability to work with children. Opening night began and we were sold out, not because of the size of our junior cast, but because I had neglected to realize that while I was worrying about how to increase attendance numbers, I had assembled the biggest senior cast and the biggest production crew we had ever had, including more members from outside our congregation than ever, and all these people were very devoted to this production and had friends and family members who wanted to share in this celebration of art and fellowship.
To fill out our junior cast, my wife, Joanna, had borrowed fabric from one of the other junior cast parents and put a last minute gorilla suit together for our son, Harrison. Harrison and the three girls who joined him as baby gorillas shined every single moment they were on the stage. At one point, Harrison even stole the show by taking a banana he was eating on stage with him. Then, about halfway through the first act, I realized that my character was supposed to start a scene by playing with the baby gorillas. My high school crew member responsible for guiding the children kept them in their places for the scene change, and there I was to jump, laugh, and slap hands, gorilla style with every child on stage, to get the scene started. i even got to have a moment holding Harrison, in character, our first performance together!
Because the junior cast was so small, they became pivotal members of each performance, developing their own characters, and even joined the senior cast backstage for warm ups and pep talks. At intermission, the baby gorillas would run out and jump around the set and scenery in what became their own, private, highly animated jungle gym for fifteen minutes. After the production, each parent thanked me and told me that their children couldn’t wait til the next production and that they had suddenly realized a profound love for performing and theatre.
The next day, I was informed that I was being appointed to a new church as a full-time pastor. Unknown to me during those performances, “Disney’s Tarzan,” was my last production with the theatre company I had given a portion of my life to for the last eight years. The following Sunday, this was announced at church, and I was surprised to see one of our new cast members in the congregation. For eight years, Cornerstone Theatre has been an outreach ministry, and while I have had cast members become active in worship and other cast members become active in different ministries of the church, I have never had an entire family join the church. This family has been coming every week since.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely failed in my goal of bringing in the biggest junior cast our theatre ministry had ever seen. But now that the stories been written, it doesn’t feel so much like a failure. The lives of four young children were impacted positively for years to come. An eight year goal of welcoming a family into fellowship with a body of Christ has been realized, and that cast member? She’s taking over the summer camp portion of our theatre ministry now that I’m leaving. Another cast member who took a break from his full-time job as bartender and nightlife enthusiast to join our production just informed me that he had completed his first college course in over three years and was going to get back into theatre. And after raising Harrison through four different productions, I actually got to act on stage with him. Maybe it’s not so ironic that our Savior often refers to himself as the title of Harrison’s favorite song from the show, “Son of Man.” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12: 10, “So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. 10 Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.” I can tell you exactly what it feels like. I can tell you exactly what failure feels like. But I can also tell you, that failure is never the end. Amen.