Get Madison Magazine delivered to your office or home.
Gift subscriptions now available!Subscribe Now
Editor’s Note: “Stage Write/Stage Wrong” is an occasional series by Madison Magazine theater reviewer Aaron R. Conklin about those occasions when live performances do not go entirely according to the stage directions. Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive dropped lines, stumbles and misbehaving props, but it's the confident ones who are willing to relive and share those experiences with us.
For Cassia Thompson, the unexpected curveball of spending a summer at American Players Theatre has been … learning to pace herself.
Thompson’s a New York-based actor who’s one of several actors taking part in APT’s Apprenticeship Program this summer.
“I’ve never done a repertory schedule before,” she admits. “I’m used to having only one show to focus on.”
This summer, Thompson has two big ones (she plays an ensemble part in a third show). She stars as Queen Marie, the sunnier of the titular monarch’s wives in “Exit the King” and multiple roles, including the central heroine, in “Our Country’s Good.”
“It’s mental and physical,” says Thompson of juggling a three-pack of roles. “The question becomes, how do you save you energy? How do you know when to take a break? This has been a hard and fast lesson in self care for me.”
Fortunately, she’s had no shortage of help from the APT acting community. For instance, APT Core Company member David Daniel, who isn’t even in a production with her, took her aside and prepped her before she walked on stage for the first time. It’s that kind of support and collaboration that may lure her back to Spring Green in the future.
“If there’s an opportunity to come back here, I’d definitely be interested in it,” she says. ”It’s been an amazing summer.”
When she’s done with her APT stint in early October, Thompson will head back to New York, and then south to join the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where she’ll play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” and Emily in “Our Town.”
While still in the Madison area, she took time to reflect on a few non-APT stage experiences with us.
One of Thompson’s favorite performances came last fall, when she starred as Juliet in Pennsylvania Shakespeare Company’s educational touring production of the Bard’s most beloved romance. Like a lot of her contemporaries at APT, Thompson finds she really enjoys performing for younger audiences. Or, in this case, a packed gymnasium with 300 middle school students in Pennsylvania.
This is middle school we’re talking about, which means most of the kids haven’t encountered the particulars of “Romeo and Juliet” in their freshman English Lit class yet. That became eminently apparent to Thompson, when, at the end of the fateful poison scene between the star-crossed lovers, Juliet abruptly comes back from the seemingly dead.
“I opened my eyes and sat up, and the entire gym screams,” she recalls. “Kids were grabbing their faces. They clearly had no idea my character hadn’t actually poisoned herself. Then, as I’m grabbing the dagger to stab myself, they’re screaming, “No! Don’t do it!’ They’re trying to save my life.”
Thompson finds energizing kids who haven’t experienced the highs of theater one of the most rewarding parts of her job. And it doesn’t matter if it comes through the lens of complicated Elizabethan English.
“The language can be clear if you make it clear,” she says.
While Thompson was a junior at Webster University in Missouri, Thompson starred as Sara in playwright Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss.” It’s a challenging role that requires some unusual acting chops. For those unfamiliar with the play, we’ll let Thompson explain.
“For a lot of the second half of the show, my character is in a coma,” she says.
On one particular show night, Thompson was feeling a little out of it backstage. She thought she heard the beginning of the transition music that signaled the start of her character’s first “coma scene.” She walked out on stage, crossed to the bed, lifted the covers and laid down.
About a minute later, she realized something was horribly wrong.
“I remember thinking, ‘This transition sure is going on for a long time. And why are the lights so bright?’” she says.
Turns out she had badly jumped her cue, coming on stage a full two scenes earlier than she was supposed to. And now she was stuck, unable to duck backstage without compounding her mistake.
“I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t sit up or open my eyes. I had to just lay there!” she says.
After the play, Thompson discovered that some audience members realized what she’d done, while others thought it was all part of the play.
“One of my friends told me, ‘Oh, I thought it was a dramatic choice,” Thompson says. “’You were so haunting.’”
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.