The Charlie Chronicles, Part Two: Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Nov 4, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance Mc Arthur

“Have fun at your play group.”

That’s what my wife says when I leave for rehearsals, on my way to the Selma Arts Center. I was asked to understudy the part of the bad-guy anvil salesman, Charlie Cowell, in the Raisin Cain Players production of The Music Man, and fill in for one performance on Saturday, November 21.

It seemed like it would be easy. Learn the lines, go to a few rehearsals, look cute onstage for a couple of hours, and take my bows. It seemed like it would be easy.


Portrait of the actor as a bit confused. Terrance in rehearsal for his one-night (November 21) understudy performance in The Music Man in Selma


I Talk the Line

Most of my shows for the last few years were one-man performances, or plays I had written. I knew what I was saying. Nobody else depended on me giving them the right cues. Now, I had to learn lines and get them right, and that included the rapid-fire dialogue of “Rock Island,” the train sequence that opens the musical. Hamlet might have said “Words, words, words,” but he didn’t have to worry about rhythm, too.

I don’t learn lines as quickly as I used to. In fact, I’ve made a few mistakes during shows that make me nervous about taking some parts. I’d played Charlie before…in high school…46 years ago! I asked other performers for advice. The director, Joy Bratton, suggested recording the lines and playing it on my mp3 player, but I don’t have one.

Duffy Hudson, who does one-man shows of Edgar Allan Poe, Albert Einstein, George Burns, and all the characters of A Christmas Carol, recommended reading the lines 50 times…until the words were burned into my brain. I remembered one technique: write out all the lines in longhand. My mother would sit me down with a script to read her cues and go over her lines over and over…and over. I’m reading, I’m practicing…..and I’m praying.

What Did You Say?

Since I wasn’t playing a regular part, but I was there at a lot of rehearsals, I became a fill-in part-reader. If an actor wasn’t there, I read the lines. One night, I was substituting for one of the other salesmen in the train sequence, the one who has the line that contains the title: “He’s a Music Man.” It’s not a song, but it is structured rhythmically to sound like a train, and it goes along at a speedy clip. I was doing pretty well, until….
The line reads “…and the piccolo, the piccolo, and uniforms, too.”
I said “…and the unicorn, the unicorn, and unicorns, too.”
The spirit is willing, but the brain is weak.

I Love These People

One of the best things about the theatre is that you meet such interesting people. In a few short weeks, I have met…
• Hannah Nielson York (Marian the Librarian), who I have reviewed as Maria in two productions of The Sound of Music, an impressive actress;
• Peter Allan (Harold Hill), an energetic man with a gentle calm;
• Michael Argain (Marcellus), a theatre fan who is onstage for the very first time;
• Randy Mc Farland (Mayor Shinn), who has been a major figure in Selma’s theatre and media for ages;
• Kevin Carillo (Tommy Djilas/Salesman), clever, inexhaustible, and possessed of several amazing voices.

By the Way….

At another rehearsal, Joy Bratton, the director, wanted to talk to me. Either I was in trouble, or something was up.
It seems that another performer needed to miss one night of the show. Could I learn those lines, too? So….
I will play Charlie Cowell on Saturday, November 21, AND I will play the town constable on the prior performance, Friday, November 20.

Why not?

Check out the first part in this series here: and learn more about the show, which opens this weekend, on KRL’s local theatre page.


Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public’s information needs.


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