An Actor's Perspective

By Marcus Benzel, volunteer actor

Christmas time.  It’s a time of celebration, a time of laughter, and a time to give back to your community.  So how does a social media recruiter like myself give back to his community during the holidays?  I do so by acting!

I know, I know; acting isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about volunteering, however, there is a 41-year tradition in Omaha of families from all over bringing their loved ones to the Omaha Community Playhouse to get that sense of Christmas spirit, and it can’t happen without lots of volunteers.

Over the years, there have been different casts and different directors but one thing that hasn’t changed at all is the hard work and dedication that everyone onstage and behind the scenes puts into the show.

You know, I should clear that up a bit more, because when I say “hard work and dedication”, I feel that that doesn’t do justice to what goes into putting on a show for the community. For most of us, this whole process starts way back in August for auditions, and from there we begin the rehearsal process.  We are talking about six days a week from 6:30-9:30 P.M. (heck sometimes even 10 P.M.!) where actors are learning music, blocking (stage directions), choreography or even how to use a proper British dialect.

Finally, after all those long hours of rehearsal, we have one final week to put on the finishing touches: trying on costumes and wigs, working with set pieces and props, practicing on the stage with the lighting and sound as well as discovering last minute connections with our characters to make them feel special to us.  In the theatre world, this is what we call “tech week”, and once that’s all said and done we put on six shows a week (two on Sundays) for five weeks in a row.

That’s a lot of time and energy that a cast of 35 puts in.  Like I talked about earlier, we do this to give back and to share our passion for theatre.  A lot of us like myself have jobs during the day, and some of our younger cast members come straight from cramming their brains all day at school and school-related activities.

To give you an idea of what a show day looks like for a volunteer actor, I wake up at 5 A.M. every day to do some dishes and pack my meals that I prepped on Sunday. I’m usually at work from 7:30 A.M.-5 P.M., and from there I go straight to the gym to make sure I get my workout of cardio kickboxing or resistance training in.  Around 6:30, I run like crazy to make sure I get over to the Omaha Community Playhouse so I’m able to make it to vocal warm-ups and grab a quick bite to eat before the show.  After I scarf down my delicious chicken, green beans, and potatoes (a meal that I’m known to eat every night), I gear up for the show by getting into costume and getting into place for opening curtain.

After the 2 and a half hour performance, I take some time to thank the community for coming and supporting the Playhouse (which is something I love because you can see them getting into the Christmas spirit right in front of your face). I tend to get home around 10:30 P.M. every night, take a quick shower, and finally hope to be asleep by midnight.  Then the next day I wake up and do it all over again!

This is just one story of one busy person who does this show, but everyone has their own story about how busy they are and still find time to show up and perform.  Even though my life gets very hectic and I may be losing out on lots and lots of this thing called sleep, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We do this for the community, because for a lot of people out there, this is something special that has become a family tradition.

I honestly didn’t fully understand the impact that A Christmas Carol has on the community until I was halfway through my first run of the show last year. To me, it was just another show I was doing because I love being on stage and performing for others, but after talking to generations of families who told me how important it was for them to come here (because they don’t feel like it’s truly Christmas until they have seen us jump around the stage doing the polka for the 200th time) I realized how many people this show has impacted.

Our community made me see that performing this show isn’t about the performance, but instead taking every chance we have to share the Christmas spirit with others. Now it’s your turn! Share in the comments below what A Christmas Carol has meant to you.