As Spencer Elliott and fellow actors proceeded through the lines in the first scene of Act Four, Elliott gazed into the eyes of fellow cast member and on-stage and real-life lover Ashley Chase, just as he was supposed to. After dutifully reciting the Shakespearean lines in which Demetrius, Elliott's character, declares that he no longer has eyes for Hermia and that Helena (Chase) is "the sole object and pleasure" of his eyes, he broke from script, dropped to one knee and asked Chase to marry him.
After a few moments to gain her composure, the startled Chase announced that she accepted the proposal -- and tried on the engagement ring that Elliott offered her. The rest of the cast, several of whom had been aware of Elliott's plan, applauded and joined the couple on stage, where rehearsal took a backseat to celebratory hugs and some sharing of cake and beverages.
I was on hand to take pictures because I was one of those Elliott had tipped off that this would be happening. He trusted me with providing a permanent record that he and Chase could enjoy for years to come. I'd never witnessed a public marriage proposal, so this, too, was the first I'd ever photographed.
We've all heard stories about how this kind of special moment went down for various people we know. Some stories are more remarkable, more creative than others. Most people elect a private method, because to them, the one-on-one intimacy is what makes it special. Others, however, view the public approach -- like what Elliott decided to go with -- as the thing that makes it special, because very few people dare to go through an incredibly nerve-wracking moment in front of people who will remember so many of the details.
Right about the time when someone called for a "group hug" in the celebratory aftermath, Elliott explained to everyone present that he had participated in several community theater productions before, but that no assembly of cast and crew had made him feel as at home and as comfortable as the group surrounding him and Chase that afternoon.
The words were the crowning touch to a very special moment, indeed.
The pictures here are from my shoot from Sunday, beginning with the one on top, which is right at the point where Elliott is breaking from script to transition into taking a knee, immediately below. Performances of Midsummer will be at 8 p.m. Sept. 21-22 and 28-29 (rain dates are Oct. 5-6) at the MacAllister Center for the Performing Arts in Garfield Park, Indianapolis. Admission is free; donations are welcome.
A full -- but temporary -- gallery of images from the proposal can be found at this link.
Above and next two below: Chase is reeling from the unexpected, and in the first frame below, she's resorts to a one-foot hop to help her deal with the emotions. After she accepts, Spencer stands up and offers the comfort of an embrace.
Above and below: The embrace as seen by fellow cast members who were with the couple on the stage for the scene (above) and those not on stage for the scene (below), observing from the front rows of the MacAllister Center for the Performing Arts.
Above and next two below: Elliott helps Chase try her first fit of the engagement ring.
Above: Chase and Christy Walker (red hair) portay Helena and Hermia, respectively, in the Shakespeare play, while Elliott and Andy Sturm (blue T-shirt, right) play the love interests of those women. It seemed appropriate, then, that they give each other the first hugs from fellow cast members after the big announcement.
Above: Chase still getting used to that new addition of jewelry.
Above: The celebratory cake, with the now-empty jewelry box at left, sitting atop -- appropriately enough -- one of the actor's play manuscript.
Above: Elliott, perhaps a bit shell-shocked himself, although the tell-tale expression is as genuine as genuine can be.
Above: The group hug, featuring cast members (clockwise front left) Stephen Foxworthy, Lexie Brown, Gabby Sandefer, Elliott, Andy Sturm, Cody Blackford, J.D. Bonitz and Ben Konz. Observing in the background are (from left) Chris Burton, Clara Ross and Todd Crickmore.
Above: Ben Konz takes a turn serving up a slice of cake to fellow cast member Sha Rebekah Collier.
Above: Chase and Elliott getting a little practice at serving each other a bite of cake.