As I was doing a school check tonight, I saw a bunch of cars lined up outside of one of the entrances. I pulled up next to one and asked what was up. “Play practice” came the reply. Convinced that there was nothing afoot that required my attention, I went along on my merry way.
I drove along remembering back when I was in school, going to practices for the drama club.
Back then, our director was one of the social studies teaches, with a spectacular talent for putting on drama productions. He was a perfectionist too. He tolerated nothing but the best, even from the kids who worked with him. To say he was a cruel task master wouldn’t be fair, but he was a strict, vocal man whose end results were always worth the near hell it was to work under him at times.
I started off doing lighting, my first show was a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I was a mere seventh grader, and was floored by the talent that the director was able to coax out of my older peers. The show went off amazingly, and I was hooked.
I remember that parents used to be very upset at him all the time because rehearsal would sometimes run late into the night, but we never minded, and nobody could argue with the results.
In spite entering the world of drama, In the technical field, I longed for stage roles…. mainly because I had a massive crush on one very talented girl at the time.
Eventually I landed a few supporting roles, and had great fun with them, but I realized pretty early on that I wasn’t really much of an actor. Instead, I found a calling backstage. Set construction, stage managing, and later, in college, fly operation. Those jobs gave me free reign to use my skills of improvising and problem solving. The director would say “I want to do….. . Can you make it happen? ”
Myself and the inevitable crew of absolute geniuses would be given the task of “making it happen.”
I improvised solutions to problems that occurred in the middle of shows, and helped arrange rapid and complete set changes, designed and built sets in historic buildings that required everything to be free- standing since we couldn’t secure to walls…..
So much fun.
In college I spent a little more time on stage, landing a small role as a cop in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” That was my last on stage show, and myself and the other cop had to improv a bit when one of the other actors jumped a whole page of script. We rapidly crammed the whole page into two lines and moved on.
After that I was strictly backstage and loved every minute of it.
When I left college, I managed to hook back up with my old high school director, since retired from the school, but working with another local theater group. I ended up backstage, along with my wife, on what to date has been My last show, “Steel Magnolias.”
All told, I’ve been involved in about fifteen productions, in numerous capacities, and I miss the hell out of it.
I miss the time consuming process of learning cues, set changes, lines and the people I was working with.
I miss creating magic for people, and having fun doing it.
I miss people coming to me with problems that needed solving with duct tape, some airplane cable, decking screws, or some careful application of fireworks.
One of the major regrets in my life right now is that I don’t have the time for that anymore. I know things change and we all have to move on, but some of the people I worked with, and the shows I spent time on occupy a huge positive part of my past.
The biggest thing was the payoff. Unlike a lot of things in life, the harder a team worked on a show, the more obvious it was come performance time. I never worked with a crew who wasn’t willing to bust their asses to make sure the people onstage had everything they needed, and still were on call to make on the fly changes as circumstances might dictate. I never worked with a cast who want willing to work with us as we tried things out to get it “just right.”
During a college performance of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” we spent almost a week with trial and error in attempt to fly in a wooden cross for the crucifixion scene that would be steady enough to actually hold the weight of an actor while being secured only by the wires that flew it in. The actors worked with us without complaint as we worked out a system that looked friggin awesome when we put it all together in the end.
Theater productions are as much, if not more about teamwork than any athletic undertaking, and I miss that. Even my six months in the police academy couldn’t match the level of teamwork and cooperation that even the smallest theater production could boast.
I guess I’m a bit nostalgic tonight. While technically I am still charged with problem solving every night, it isn’t quite the same. I miss the experiences and some of the spectacular people that I spent many nights on a darkened stage with.