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  • Writer's pictureMalia Lukomski

It has been over a month since I last stepped foot on a stage. I am confined to my parent’s house. I have shoved my belongings into boxes that still haven’t been unpacked. My days consist of bursts of motivation and spirals into depression. It’s pretty exhausting.

On the whole, things are a little better. My bad moments are outweighed by the good. I am writing from my mother’s office surrounded by stage makeup as I wash off my contouring project and get ready to apply old-age makeup.

It isn’t what it’s supposed to be, but nothing is.

The thing I can’t let go of, though, is that final performance.

Since October, I have been curating songs and scenes that represented my time at Augustana University. Some are old audition songs, others from performances long gone. Others are songs I discovered while here but never got the chance to perform live.

Six solo songs. There were supposed to be duets too, but that isn’t really possible anymore.

I can’t stop playing them, singing them, even when no one can hear me. I can’t stop imagining what it was supposed to look like to have that last night on that stage with this music carefully picked out to show my growth and my potential.

It was supposed to be my senior project. That’s changed now.

Six songs. Sondheim, Pasek & Paul, Will Reynolds. Classic musical theatre, brand new musical theatre; songs I performed and songs I never got to. Funny songs, sad songs, songs that make my voice crack at just the right moment.

I was so excited to hear from the people I have learned from that I had finally done it. I had finally reached the final point of learning and could move on to throwing myself at the mercy of the professional stage.

I won’t get to have that.

Instead, I sing those songs as I write final papers and apply stage makeup alone. I sing those songs while I put together puzzle pieces at my kitchen table while my mother works from the bar. I sing those songs in my room when the thought of getting up and being productive feels like moving mountains.

One day, I hope, I can sing those songs to an audience who will feel every moment of loss and joy and frustration that I have put into them.

I hope they’ll be as moved as I imagine them to be.

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  • Writer's pictureMalia Lukomski

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

This year is my senior year of college. I expected to say goodbye to professors and friends; I expected to say goodbye to the people who have made me better and more sure of myself; I expected to say goodbye to the stage I have cried, bled, and sweat on.

I didn’t expect this.

Like every theatre in the country and possibly the world, ours has closed. My final show, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, exists only in some universe where we don’t have to remain six feet from the people we love. My last safety net has drifted away into an unknown that scares me more every day.

We had big plans for the end of the year. Our graduation traditions range from the formal (a theatre gala where everyone dresses in their finest and receives awards) to the secretive (a final toast to the place we loved). When spring break began and I said goodbye to friends who were supposed to come back, I didn’t savor that moment. I didn’t savor the last time I saw my roommate, Emily, who I will probably not see again. I didn’t hug my professors tighter when we said goodbye. We made jokes about the virus, about how dangerous it was, not realizing what was coming.

The end has rushed up to meet me, far too quickly for me to process properly. My mind had built up savored moments and traditions that were meant to pave the way to goodbye. My mind has been left with unraveled what-ifs instead.

I find myself crying a lot. It’s overwhelming, the loss. The closest I can compare it to is the loss of my father, which happened in my senior year of high school. With how cursed my senior years are, I probably shouldn’t go to grad school. That’s just asking for trouble.

I don’t know what is coming next. I don’t know when I will step foot on stage again. I don’t know when I will be able to hear applause or go through the excruciating process of first tech rehearsal.

I was prepared to not know, eventually. After the ceremonies and the last goodbyes. I was prepared to go to a new city and not know whether I’d make it. I was prepared to go to audition after audition and fail a lot of them.

I wasn’t prepared to face the possibility of failing at what I love now. I wasn’t prepared to lose my last round of applause.

I am lucky to have had that last musical. We closed James and the Giant Peach days before the virus reached Washington. I am lucky that I can call my friends and play Animal Crossing with them. I am lucky that my family is alive right now, that I can call my mom and hear her voice. Every day, more people are unable to say the same. And I am grateful for what I have.

That doesn’t make the loss go away. Not for me. Not for anyone.

In these times, I go back to what I love. I listen to show tunes, I watch recordings of plays and musicals, I sing until my boyfriend puts headphones on in annoyance. I relish in the thing that I may have lost forever, even if I didn’t get to give it a proper goodbye.

For now, that will have to be enough.

photo taken Fall 2016 during my first show.

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  • Writer's pictureMalia Lukomski

photo by Mike Shafer

Tech week. The last few rehearsals before the doors open and people get to actually see everything you’ve been doing for the last two months.

There are a few things to remember during this time.

1. The first tech rehearsals aren’t for you

Gasp! But I’m an actor, you say, I am the most important part of this production. Of course, every rehearsal is about me.

Not quite. If the production requires light, sound, costumes, and set changes, it’s important to give the technicians their time to figure everything out with live people. You as an actor have been learning your show for weeks if not months. Technicians have to implement all of their work in a matter of days.

Why is this important to survival? Well, if you piss someone off enough, you run the risk of getting blacklisted. There are people at my small-town university who will never work on our stage again because of their behavior, especially during this most stressful time of tech week. Being purposefully obtuse, selfish, or rude will only get you one thing - banned.

2. Drink water. Mostly.

Anyone who has to do long hours doing anything has probably been told this. Water is incredibly important. There should be lines of water bottles backstage. I keep a gallon of water with me during shows. By the second technical rehearsal, it’s half-way gone.

Obviously, water will keep you hydrated and your body feeling refreshed as you run the same scenes over and over so that the stage manager and light designer can work out when exactly a specific lighting effect is supposed to happen. Water also keeps you cool when your costume has three layers and you feel like a damp sponge of sweat. That’s important, too. No one wants to see anyone pass out on stage.

But. If a latte in the morning relaxes you, don’t cut yourself off completely. In a perfect world, we will all be drinking water non-stop and allowing no other substances into our bodies. Yes, caffeine dries out your vocal cords*.

In the days and weeks leading up to the show, you should cut back. But stressing yourself out about drinking enough water will only add to the stress of the whole show. Drink water. But let yourself have some fun, too.

3. Sleep

Maybe an obvious one, but one people tend to forgo. Sleep is the only way your body can recuperate after hours and hours of rehearsal. Whether you’re in a musical or a straight play, it’s important to stay rested during this time. Schedule your life carefully, make sure you can catch a nap or two during the day. Find ways to unwind after a rehearsal or a performance. Being wired all night will only make the next day that much harder. And if you’re like me, you still have classes to pass. Not sleeping will make everything about this week so much harder. So do it. Even if it means taking melatonin to get your brain to shut off.

4. Know your show

At this point, if you’re not memorized, you had better be spending every waking moment learning your lines. Your director and stage manager do not have time to hold your hand.

In my last production of James and the Giant Peach, fellow actors and I found a close room to run lines when we weren’t on stage. It’s tedious, yes, but your lines determine when the button is pressed that make lights do pretty things.

You are the guiding force of the show when you are on stage. If you can’t do that job, you really don’t have a chance of surviving much longer. Similarly to the rule about being nice and patient in the face of long technical rehearsals, you also have to be prepared. If you’re not, word gets around pretty fast and you might find yourself blacklisted.

In university or school settings, you might not be outright banned, but you will be delegated to parts that require less focus and preparedness. You have to prove that you can do the work asked of you, or you won’t be asked again.

5. Have fun.

Okay, yes, this is cheesy and predictable. I know. But it’s the most important rule by far. If you aren’t having fun, the audience knows. An unresponsive audience is like the death knell to an actor. We feed on praise and applause. If you aren’t out there immediately giving the show 100%, you aren’t going to be able to get them back by the time the curtain falls.

Love what you’re doing. If it’s a serious drama, you still have to love it and find moments that are fun for you. I recently performed in a series of scenes taken from Rabbit Hole. This is a very serious play about loss and death but there are moments in each scene that bring about levity and create real people on stage. That is your job. If you can’t find the fun parts, you aren’t going to want to keep doing it.

This is a short guide and you can find many others, though I would steer clear from the ones that encourage constant coffee-drinking. Tech week is stressful and harrowing. But it’s also the time when everything you have been working for comes together. It is the preparation for an audience - and that audience better love every second of sweat you give them.


*1999 study done on the effects of caffeine on the vocal cords

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