Turmon's Stage Presence Is Loud - Even if He's Not
Some grip white pieces of paper with handwritten notes in the margins. Others sit still, hands clasped together tightly in their laps.
But his hands are free, moving, communicating with his sign language interpreter at the front corner of the acting studio where auditions for North Greenville University’s fall play are about to begin.
I’ve taken one of the last free chairs in the room; more than 20 students fill the rest, no doubt reviewing their lines and chanting to themselves, “It’s only 60 seconds.” I’m not auditioning, but I feel nervous just being there with all of them, like I’ve somehow time traveled back to my high school audition for a cheesy murder mystery.
Dale Savidge, NGU professor of theatre, interrupts my memories as he steps up and calls our attention. After opening in prayer, he gives instructions and assures students they might not get selected — not because they aren’t promising actors, but the right role for them isn’t in this particular play: “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. He reminds us it opens only four weeks from today.
The monologues begin with a girl in a red dress who reads from “An Ideal Husband,” also by Oscar Wilde. Another recites from a “diary” written from the perspective of a cat. And yet another quotes lines from a script where his dad’s inside a baked potato. A few try British accents.
The one I can’t forget, though, is him.
He sits in front of me. The back of his T-shirt says, “A blood donor saved my life.” He keeps his book bag just between his Jordans, maybe in case he decides to bolt.
But when Salvidge calls out “Trei,” he takes the spotlight without hesitation.
I wonder what he’ll do. Can he speak?
Barely audible, he introduces himself and jumps right into his scene, signing as he goes. Most of the other actors relied primarily on their voices, the tone and volume. Not him. His mouth opens with only faint sounds, but his interpreter calls out the words in tandem and with vigor.
His motions more than compensate. His body moves not only with signs for the lines, but also the carefully-thought-out embodiment of his character, a man who’s peeved with a colleague for always yelling, “Yo!” to get his attention.
The colleague leaves the room, and there’s a long pause. Shaking his head and rolling his eyes, the character lifts his fist — with just the pinkie sticking up — to his forehead. The interpreter matches, “Idiot!”
His timing is perfect; the audience laughs at all the right moments. His is the most animated, the most fluid audition, I think, reminding me of physical comedians. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
The too-short performance comes to an end, and the whole room — every single one of them — raises their hands and shakes them in silent applause.
On Monday, I can’t wait to see the cast list. I walk back over to the Tigerville School of Theatre just to do that. Instinctively, I look for his name, and there it is: beside the Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.
My heart raises its hands and shakes them in silent applause.
Later in the week, I get to meet with theatre major Treiquon “Trei” Turmon (expected ’18) and find out why he wants to act. I’m not surprised when he tells me that, growing up, he was the family funny man.
“I remember one time, my uncle . . . he just had a weird walk. And I’d copy it, and then my family would — ‘Look, look, look, look! Look, he’s doing it just like him!’ And they’d always laugh, and they’d say, ‘Do it again,’” he remembers.
Imitation: it also drives how Turmon hopes to use acting, and perhaps preaching, to minister to the deaf community in the future:
“I believe in Jesus and everything He did in preaching and spreading the gospel . . . I want to be the same as that,” he tells me. “I want to be able to do [that] for deaf people because . . . they need to know about Jesus. How are they going to know what to do if no one tells them?”
If you ask me, his voice speaks loud and clear.
Theatre Department at a Glance
100% - Faculty members who hold terminal degrees
15+ - Unique theatre courses you can choose from in a typical semester
100% - Students who complete an off-campus internship
4 – Mainstage productions at NGU every school year
250 – Seats in NGU’s state-of-the-art black box Billingsley Theatre
91% - Employment rate of graduates surveyed
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