Number 116 by David Hedison
The Barter Theater was one of the highlights of my career. I got the chance to work in several plays, in all kinds of different and wonderful roles. Actually, the biggest memory was getting into the Barter Theater in the first place. It was my audition. The audition was held on the stage of then Morosco Theater in New York, where Frederic March was performing in Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden. Frederick March was one of the judges.
When you entered backstage you were given a number, then stood in line until that number was called, As I remember, there were about 300 people auditioning. One male and one female would be picked–which meant the chance of work that summer at the Barter Theater in Virginia. At the time I was a student at the Neighborhood Playhouse school in New York city. I was handed an number. I will never forget this. It was number 116.
I waited backstage while numbers were called. I was terrified. Number 89 was doing his audition, number 90 was next. And this is what I did. I crumpled my number, shoved it into my pocket and fled the theater. It was too much. I started to walk down the street, to get away from that maniacal atmosphere. Suddenly it hit me. Here I was studying so hard to become an actor, and at my very first audition I became so inhibited and frightened by all those others–I had turned and run like a big sissy. What kind of future was in store for me with this kind of behavior?
I think at that moment God must have touched my shoulder. I screwed my courage to the sticking place and ran back to that theater, recovered number 116 from my pocket and dashed back to the stage door. Number 112 was emoting. He sounded wonderful, and his voice filled the theater. Now 113. Now 114. The theater was cold and smelled musty and damp. Number 114, please. I was close to the entrance. My hands were clammy. What do I do? Run out again?
I stood in the wings by stage left while 115 did his bit. The stage was huge. Then my number was called. I walked to center stage. It was at least seven miles. I turned, looked out into the vast darkness, and I think God touched my shoulder again. I said my name–and then did my monologue. I felt good. And I felt like an actor. A good one. Then I was called back for the finals. And then Mr. March announced: Would Al Hedison and Rosemary Murphy please step down to the footlights. We did. And we won. And I was on Cloud Nine. I was actually going to PAID for acting. $55 a week. Oh, WOW!!!