I have never forgotten that particular moment in my freshman year of college when I auditioned for the part of the mother in G.B. Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.” We were reading a speech in which the character passionately describes the Bulgarian Army’s victory over the Serbs. Everyone had taken a turn with the first run-through, and I was not happy with my first reading. My voice had been too soft, and I knew it sounded as though I were indeed reading the lines and not delivering them.
Now the director ordered a second try, since we were more familiar with the character and the plot of the play. Determined to do at least as well as I thought I could in interpreting those lines, I read the speech to myself once, closed my eyes, and simply withdrew into myself for a moment. When it was my time to read, I could not believe the power with which that speech filled the room! Gestures, emotion, and perfect recall (at the time) of the lines! “Pour-r-ring over the hillside…and sca-a-attering the [something] [something] like chaffff!” I emoted.
When I finished, no one said a word, apparently as dumbfounded as I was. The audition did go on, and the director told us that we would be notified about whom he had chosen for each part. The next day, a girl, an upperclassman who had also read for the part, approached me. She was afraid that I would get the part, she told me, and she wanted it badly, since she was about to graduate, and she had never had the lead in a play. “Would you please let me have that part?” she asked. I really did not need to be in the play. I only wanted to work on it, doing makeup perhaps, so that I could stay in the Dramatic Fraternity, !QS. So I told her she could have it, since I had time to be in other plays. And I’d had my personal victory.
She got to play the mother in “Arms and the Man”, an important supporting role, if not the heroine, and she did well, probably better than I would have done in the long run. But I have wondered ever since then, where did that one terrific performance come from?