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All the world's a stage: What are you putting into your character?

Had you been permitted to enter the Middle School auditorium last Saturday afternoon -- and had you, beyond any logical reasoning I can conceive of, housed even an inkling of desire to do so -- you would have come across 40-some Detroit Lakes students, hearts a-pounding, voices a-harmonizing, and minds a-analyzing.

That would be callbacks, baby, and they signal that high school musical season has indeed arrived.

For those of us not coordinated enough to play soccer (me), not motivated enough to run cross-country (also could be me), and in too deep to get out now (most certainly me), the fall musical provides an outlet for teenage theatrics. (Disclaimer: There is no "average" cast member, and, for that matter, certainly nothing in any way average about any of us. My lack of athletic ability should not be mistaken as being applicable to every other person gracing the stage in "Les Miserables" this fall. We've got runners, football players, dancers, trivia team members, speechers, AP students, volleyball players, divers, chronic text-messagers, fraternal twins, social deviants, Central Market employees and all other variety of thespian.)

However, last Saturday afternoon saw an aspect of the show that few are so fortunate to experience. Callbacks consists of lining up all prospective Cossettes, Master Thenardiers, and "ladies of the night" (censorship is an absolute travesty, no?) firing squad-style on an astoundingly intimidating stage, requiring that they listen to (what might be considered) their competition sing show tunes before commanding that they themselves step forward and croon music regaled for its excellence, before sending them home with the realization that they have done all they can do, and now it's a waiting game.

(My legs had almost quit their shaking upon reaching home. And this after my most confident callback yet! Again, I ask that you do not substitute my experience for that of every DL actor/actress; no one with that title can fit into any Jell-o mold I've ever seen, and none of them come labeled in soup cans. Honest.)

The entire ordeal is somewhat disconcerting. Normally, if one is in a circumstance that forces his or her heartbeat into theatrics of its own, said individual is not asked to prove his or her vocal ability through song.

But, really, it's a great experience that I emphatically recommend. Safer than skydiving! As proven by the lack of legal waiver.

I was sitting there, on a stage that I've performed (let me count 'em quick) 12 different productions on over the past 10 years, thought process incomprehensible, face flushed and heart hyper, when I heard something truly gorgeous.

It was in the voice of every other teenage actress lined up with me, and it was incredible. (This is my plug for the show: you've got to see it. We're not a week into rehearsals and I can promise you a spectacular performance already. They're amazing. If not, I give my word to stop making extraordinary claims without sound basis -- something I would only swear if I were certain I wouldn't have to follow through.)

With directors, prospective castmates, definite classmates, and some ridiculously talented vocalists appraising their every facial expression, pitch, rhythm, and syllable, their voices still flourished.

I realized something while perched there, trying to rate the severity of my hyperventilation. Shakespeare was on to something: All the world's a stage. You heard it here, via Jacques, via As You Like It, via Willie S., all circuited through Thressa Johnson of Detroit Lakes for your enlightened pleasure.

It's true: we're all "merely players," though I'm not absolutely certain about that "merely" bit. Sometimes we can't hit the high notes (I can't), sometimes a phrase dips so low we can't fathom reaching the bottom (I didn't), and sometimes our voices falter from sheer emotion.

But other times our enunciation is clear, is concise, and our facial expressions lend themselves to the depth of our words, and our breaths are precisely paced and our phrases flow.

Often, people are watching. Without knowing how they will react we act out our very existence in front of them. They might laugh, they might cry, you might move them, you might bore them. You'll wish they missed your fouled lines and clumsy entrances, even as you'll love their approval and applause.

The audience might not understand or even care to see all that goes on in the darkness of a scene change, but that doesn't mean you aren't still completely invested in your performance. Characters develop as plots thicken, thin, climax and seemingly cease, though those acting know better than to believe it over just because no one is any longer hanging on their every delivered line or stanza.

We're still onstage, still on display, whether you're attentive or nodding off in the balcony, program unsettling on your chest with every snore. We're playing our parts. You are, too. (All the world's a stage; remember?)

Your character is only what you bring to it, your lines only as believable as you make them, your emotion only as raw as you allow it to be. And someone's always watching.

Maybe callbacks aren't so scary.

Thressa Johnson is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.