Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Thirty: In Which I Finally Get to the Camel Story, and it's Not That Amusing After All

My junior year of high school, I was completely out of involvement with Wellington Community Theater and Houston had just been chased from WHS. I wasn't taking any drama classes, either, because they hadn't fit in my busy junior year honors-laden schedule. So, I headed into the year looking at no performance opportunities. (But this was okay, because I always knew I would have to walk away from it someday, right?)

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I found an ad in the Wichita Eagle (which my grandma got every day before promptly giving it to my dad to take home with him) for an audition for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Music Theatre for Young People up in Wichita the following weekend. I loved the music from Joseph (still do, really) and saw that they were casting middle and high schoolers with a children's chorus and thought, "hey, no reason not to!" Sort of last second, but I can be a spontaneous guy when I want to, so that weekend I went to the audition.

MTYP is a great organization that gives students of all ages from the Wichita area the opportunity to participate in a professional-environment audition process in the hopes of performing a fully staged production at Century II's little theater. We worked with professional directors, choreographers, and music directors in what was easily the biggest deal of my theatrical career up to that point. I got cast in the teen chorus for Joseph and had an absolute blast working on the show. Most of the kids my age in the production had done MTYP before, so it was an accomplishment to break in at all, even if it was an ensemble role. (And really, I've never had a problem being a part of the ensemble)

MTYP's second show of the year was open only to former MTYP actors (it wasn't a public audition, but not exactly invitation-only, either), so I got to try out thanks to Joseph. The show was Here's Love, written by the same guy who did The Music Man.

Here's Love ain't The Music Man.

Imagine all the saccharine sweetness of the movie Miracle on 34th Street--either version--and then make it into a large-cast musical spectacular. I understand that people like cheese at Christmas, but o holy night! I kid you not when I say that the show-stopper in Act II had a chorus that went, "Thaaaaat man over there is Santa Claus, I know, I know, I know! I can tell by the crinkle in the end of his nose, the wink of his eye and the twinkle of his toes and the jooooooy wherever he goes; that man is he!"


Anyway, I auditioned for the show and actually played the lead, the lawyer guy. Now understand, a LOT of MTYP regulars did not audition for this show, and if they had I probably would have been the mailman or something (and a dang good mailman I would have been!), but this was still a fine accomplishment! It was a nice boost to my confidence, which had gone from "I should be a movie actor now" when I was a kid to "I pretty much suck" in high school.

Ah, the teenage years.

Anyway, MTYP kept feeding that buzz that live theatre brought me the first half of that year. Springtime was the forensics season (remember, speech-and-drama competition) and I finally got to work with the new drama teacher. What Houston did for me in music, Dan did in theatre. He let me try anything I wanted that forensics season and gave me some tough suggestions as well. I became highly, highly competitive, and while I did extremely well that season (I believe I qualified for state championships in duet acting, improvised duet acting, humorous solo performance, and dramatic solo performance) I was rarely satisfied.

I'm very glad Holly didn't kill me in this time. (Probably paying me back for finding ways to keep her from killing anybody else during our year-point-five in Dan's program. This is probably my greatest contribution to American theatre to this day, by the way)

Significant about this period of working with Dan and the forensics team is that the teacher and I became pretty good friends. Really, there was a core of us in the program who all got really tight. We inspired one another. We brainstormed together. We created things together. While a lot of this didn't pay off immediately, it definitely set the groundwork for the amazing things we were going to accomplish over the next two years.

But that's not part of this post.

Oh, right. Camel story. During Joseph with MTYP, one of my responsibilities was camel wrangling. It wasn't too hard, because the camel was made out of 3/4" plywood and was inanimate. "Inanimate," however, does not mean it didn't possess a mind of its own! (Yes, Tarvis, I do realize that that is exactly what "inanimate" means) See, the camel was mounted on a rolling steel platform, so I would pull it by a rope around its neck while another Ishmaelite would push from behind. The cue that he was ready to go on was pretty simple: he started pushing. Well, opening night, I felt the camel come forward exactly as it usually did when the other guy (Patrick, maybe?) pushed it, so I took off with camel in tow. Halfway across the stage, I realize that there is absolutely no added weight to this beast, and that I am the only one pulling. I turn and see the plywood camel bearing down on me, full speed. Since I'm wearing sandals, I'm not sure it's a good idea to try to kick out a food to stop it, so I brace myself to try to catch the thing and hope its forward momentum doesn't drive it into me, cracking my collar bone. (I also got a brief glimpse of the other Ishmaelites running after the camel, arms flailing. It probably looked awesome) Fortunately for me, the camel started to veer away from a collision course as it drew close. That's right, little camel, away from me...

...and straight toward the orchestra pit.

Now it was my turn to take off running after the beast. One wheel hopped off the lip of the stage and dangled menacingly over the drummer as I threw my arms around the monster's neck (the camel, that is, not the drummer) and pulled it back onstage. I shook my finger angrily in its face--it's all part of the show, folks!--and life went on.

Thanks to me, in the case of that drummer.