Welcome to the Tribe – Anne-Marie Bouthillette

My first introduction to the Players was when I auditioned for the musical Hair! in 2008. Until then, I had never even heard of Community Theatre. I had been living in Cobourg for 4 years by then and was still just getting to know my community. I’ve always had a passion for theatre – and musical theatre in particular – but until then had only experienced it from the auditorium seats. 

Hair! is my favourite film. I saw it when it was first released in the late 70s and memorized every song. Every. Song. As any self-respecting obsessed tween does. So when I saw an ad in the local paper telling us that the show was going to be staged in Port Hope, I got very excited! I’d never seen the play, only the film (about a gazillion times, by this time). I was talking to my neighbour about it and she said, “Why don’t you audition?”

I said, “Pardon??”

That’s when she explained that the Northumberland Players was a community theatre company, and that this meant that all the actors, crew, etc. were community volunteers. I hadn’t treaded the boards since my (one night) high school performance of Arsenic and Old Lace, but I saw this as a bucket list moment and decided to go for it. I found out when the audition was taking place and practiced my song, with the help of my wonderful neighbour who is also a piano teacher. And with the courage that only comes from complete naïveté, I went to the audition.

Anne-Marie Bouthillette in Hair!

I knew no one in that room. Not a single solitary soul. And it was very clear from the first moment that EVERYONE knew EVERYONE in that room. There were hugs. There were hellos waved from across the room. There were smiles. All of us auditioning sat at the back of the room, and the production team sat behind tables across from us. There were roughly 20 of them – at least, that’s how I remember it.

It was overwhelming. And then the director, Shannon Oliver, got up to introduce herself and the rest of the team, and as she did, she started nonchalantly taking her clothes off. And I thought, “Huh. OK then. This is happening.” I knew, of course, that the play featured an infamous nude scene; I hadn’t been sure if a community theatre version would include that, but now I knew. The director had every intention of being as faithful as she could to the original script. Good to know. (As it turns out, Shannon was wearing a flesh-tone body suit under her clothes that day, and was not actually naked. The production, however, did feature many of us in full or partial nudity – no body suits to cover us!)

At this point, I figured the worst was over. The ice was broken. That’s when I learned that we would be performing our audition song in front of all 20-something members of the production team, AS WELL AS all of the other people auditioning! Believe me, for someone who had never sung in front of anyone other than her young children, and drunk family members at Christmas gatherings, this was positively terrifying!

And then, one by one, in spontaneous hand-raising order, people got up to sing their audition. And they sounded amazing! Crank the terror factor up several notches. At several points I decided that I would just walk out and never look back. There was no way I could compete with any of these talented people! But each time I reminded myself that I would regret it forever if I didn’t at least try. And worst case scenario, I didn’t know any of these people and I probably would never see them again.

At long last I stood up and told them I was ready. I had brought sheet music, but at the last minute asked Perry Lichtenberger (who had accompanied his very talented wife Joyce when she sang “Signs”) if he knew “Me and Bobby McGee”, and if he would accompany me too. Of course he knew the song, and he played for me. In the wrong key. I struggled for a few minutes and then stopped and we changed the key. I made it through but it was weak. The pressure I had put on myself after hearing everyone else, and then the false start – I knew I had blown it. But at least I had tried my best.

After the singing we did a dance audition (which was MUCH easier! LOL) and I went home, patting myself on the back for having shown up and tried. To my shock and surprise, I was asked to come for a callback. Where we actually got to sing songs from the show. I love each and every one of those songs, and knew them all by heart. Even the songs I wasn’t asked to sing, I couldn’t help but mouth along to when others sang. And I had a big old stupid grin on my face the whole time. I was truly happy to just have been there, and having the opportunity to sing these songs that I love, with talented people, and with a live accompanist!

When I finally got a call from the producer offering me a part in the ensemble, it was like I had won the lottery. And it was said to me that, although I wasn’t the strongest singer (which is 100% accurate LOL), I made up for it with my obvious passion for the show and my enthusiasm. And the rest is a history that is still being written. 

The Tribe in Hair!

The cast for Hair! is known as “the tribe” – a group of hippy misfits who have become a family and who love each other deeply. Many of my closest friends today were part of that tribe. It’s not easy to find your place in a small town, but my tribe made room for me and for my family, and has been by my side through the good and the bad over the last 12 years.

And not only has my Northumberland Players tribe grown substantially over that time, it has also opened the door to many more opportunities for me and for my children, and deepened our connection to our community: not one year has gone by where one or more of us haven’t been involved in a production, whether on stage or behind the scenes. On a few occasions, I even got to perform with my children!

Memories were made, connections were made, but mostly, I have seen my children and myself grow and develop thanks to our involvement with the Players – thanks to the chance I took twelve years ago, and to the leap of faith that the team behind Hair! took when they offered this crazy hippy a spot in the tribe. Peace!