Thursday, 8 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - Haunted History Lantern Tour

Not to sound like a broken record, but being in Sea Tea has lead me to do some odd gigs over the last few years. And I mean "odd" in the sense of "stuff I would have been interested in doing anyway but never thought I would get to do". With most of these gigs I am with at least one other Sea Tea'r, but for one I did last month I struck out solo.

Our self described "biggest fan", Tomas Nenortas, contacted Julia about having some of us help out for the Cedar Hill's Haunted History Lantern Tour. I was the only member available. When I signed on, the only thing I knew was that it was a haunted cemetery tour and I would need to play a dead person. But that was enough to pique my interest. I thought this would be something along the lines of a haunted house where I would be dressed in rags and spend a few hours screaming and scaring young couples and teenagers. The reality could not be further from that.

The way the Cedar Hill Haunted History Lantern Tour works is that guests get a tour of the cemetery by light of flashlights and glowsticks. At certain points along the way, the tour pauses, the guide turns on a light in front of a grave, and a spirit appears to tell the interesting story of either their life or death. It was my job to play the part of Helen, the stepdaughter of Richard Beckwith, a Titanic survivor.

I had all of one rehearsal with the group doing the tour, during which I was incredibly ill. Note to self: spending a cold night in graveyard when already sick...not a good idea. I spent the next two days sick in bed. I was given a monologue to learn and asked if I would be able to find a decent costume. I of course had only to pick something out of my closet.

Standing in front of the Beckwith monument in my "costume".
It doesn't happen often, but whenever I play the part of a real person, it always makes me feel a little odd. My first thought is always, what would this person think of how I am portraying them if they were to see me? I played Helen a touch insolent towards her mother and step-father, and very much in younglove with her boyfriend (and future husband). This experience in particular was made extra weird since I was standing on the Beckwith family plot.

The night itself was interesting and boring in turns. Tours went out every 15 minutes from 6:00 to 9:30. Which meant I gave my monologue 14 times (am I doing my math right?), but there was a lot of sitting around and waiting in between the tours. I sat in my folding chair, wrapped in my shawl. I trolled facebook and twitter, texted friends and read Game of Thrones on my phone until the phone nearly died. I also made up a few songs to amuse myself (my favorite was called "My Glowstick", prompted by the glowsticks showing the tour path).
Addressing one of the tours.
When a tour would come up (and I could always hear them coming from my hiding place behind the grave monument), I would walk to my mark in front of the light. I kept my glasses off as they are a bit too modern looking for 1914ish. Once everyone gathered, the light would be turned on and I would be pretty much blinded after having sat in the dark. I would give my monologue into the light, trying to connect with an audience I couldn't see, and always enjoyed the reaction from the tour-goers when I mentioned "Titanic". When I was done, I would turn back towards the grave and the light would be turned off and I would be blinded again since my night vision was ruined. My pupils got a workout that night.

I felt oddly disconnected from the audience. As an improvisor I am always reacting to an audiences suggestions, to what makes them react or laugh. Plus I almost always have a scene partner I can connect with. It was a little lonely in that pool of light, saying my scripted words. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun and would be happy to do it again next year if they ask me. I heard one woman say as the tour was leaving "Good actress...cute too!" which made me smile. Another woman stayed behind after the tour to come talk to me, I foolishly was expecting a compliment but was instead told to correct my grammar in the final line of my monologue. Yeesh.

Anyway, here's to more odd and fun gigs.

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