Thursday, February 7, 2013
Stumbling into the Theater
The stage is like the stage at Harmon School in Aurora--sort of. And I appear to be the director of the show that's now in intermission--I guess. I have no idea what it's about. I recognize no one backstage. They all know me, though. Someone hands me a list of scenes. Twenty-two items. Intermission has come after the third one. This is going to be a long show. I look down the list again and ask--who?--which of these scenes require an open curtain (we have a large apron and often do scenes in front of the curtain). No one seems to know. I start making notes on the list: open, closed, open, open, closed ...
Then I smell peanut butter and wake up.
Another foolish dream has unfolded in my head--and then, as if the Dream-Bringer were disgusted with his own efforts, it ends abruptly with a smell that's not all that inexplicable: I've sneaked a jar of pb into bed while I'm watching The Rockford Files, in order, for about the tenth time. Sometimes, my life is pathetic.
But now I can't sleep, and I'm thinking about my "drama career," such as it was. I was in a few pageants at school and church when I was very little. There's a picture of me as a Pilgrim in kindergarten, as a bearer of the Ark of the Covenant a few years later. I recited "A Visit from St. Nicholas" for the parents at an elementary school Christmas program.
Nothing at all in junior high. (Nothing was available.)
Things picked up in high school. My freshman year (1958-1959) I was in our production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (Pish-Tush was my character). I got the part when another guy quit. It was the part I'd wanted, and I'd cried miserably when I saw the cast list. I was in the Chorus. But a few days later ... a Principal! I got to sing a great trio with a couple of seniors--and I can still sing it: "To Sit in Solemn Silence." Here are some guys singing it on YouTube: Link (It's only 44 seconds--watch it!).
My sophomore year--another operetta, an English-language (simplified) version of Strauss' Die Fledermaus called Masquerade in Vienna. I was Dr. Falke--one of the leads. I hope with all my heart there is no recording of that performance. Later in the year--a silly let's-put-on-a-play comedy called Curtain Going Up! I was a high-school kid named Milt Sanders, part of a play cast. In the play-within-a-play I performed ... hold your breath ... in blackface! I was the "old family retainer" in a play about the Old South. I'm stunned to see that the play is still listed by Samuel French as available for production. Link
My junior year--nothing was available.
At Hiram College I did not ever try out for any of the productions. I don't know why. Maybe I still had my daffy athletic dreams (soon to be crushed by Reality); maybe I knew I just wasn't good enough. I don't remember. But my senior year, my fraternity (a local), Theta Phi Kappa, tapped me to write and direct the annual Sigma-Theta Follies (the Sigmas were our "sister" sorority). I don't know why this happened. But I'm grateful. It changed my life profoundly.
Some friends and I wrote a silly musical comedy called Remember the Alamo. In our story, the Alamo is a retirement community for old heroes. Crockett and Bowie are there; so is James Bond. But they don't want to integrate (it's the 60s, remember?), so a battle ensues. Love breaks out at the end, though, and all ethnicities live Happily Ever After. (It's the 60s, remember?)
After I graduated (spring 1966), I applied for two teaching jobs--Aurora and Garrettsville. Got two interviews. Aurora Middle School made an offer first ($5100!), and I took it. I had a job! And very soon I had a car! An apartment! Some debts!
And--as I've written here recently--I found myself, early that first year, as the faculty adviser to the "Drama Club." What to do? I decided to write a play with them. Our masterwork was The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath, a story about how the Rev. Ku Klux and his followers first settled the community--but had to deal with the Native Americans first. Hilarious stuff. (The 60s, remember?)
TO BE CONTINUED--My drama career in Aurora, 1966-1996.