Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Twenty-One: Them Early Years

It will be helpful at this point, I think, to give you a brief sketch of the town I grew up in. I know I've mentioned it and talked a little about it before on this blog, but I think it'll help you get a better picture of Wellington Community Theater if you have a better understanding of Wellington, Kansas.

Wellington is not a large town by any standards, but it's a fairly average size for small-town Kansas, and much larger than those population-three-to-six-hundred towns that you find all over the state. The population seems to be pretty steady at somewhere between 9,000 and 10,500. It's exactly halfway between the Wichita metro area (Wichita the largest city in Kansas and the metro the 2nd largest behind Kansas City, I believe) and the Oklahoma border. Neighboring towns lie 15 minutes away in just about any direction. It's half an hour from Wichita, so when any of the Wellington kids want to go to the closest big city that's where they go. However, to the south, east, and west of Wellington lie a number of smaller communities, so Wellington is sort of the "big" city and gets a lot of visitors because it has a bigger grocery store, or a better WalMart, or (from time to time) a movie theater.

Wellington is a football town. And, to a lesser extent, a baseball town. But for the most part, basketball, wrestling, and track are only there to keep the football players in shape year-round. Many of Wellington's residents are WHS alumni, so the entire town generally revolves around the high school during the school year and the wheat harvest during the summer. (Wellington is the seat of Sumner County, which produces more wheat than any county in the world, thus the nickname "What Capital of the World.")

So, you've got a small-town dynamic--everybody knows everybody, and there are two or three big families that just about everybody belongs to in some way or another--and a high school sports town that does have arts classes (band, choir, drama, visual arts) but they're treated more like extracurricular activities than disciplines. Furthermore, a large portion of your adult population is a product of this school system. Consequently, the local community theatre is very much in the minority, and while there was no animosity toward our group that I was aware of, we were generally not the hot ticket in town.

I was active with just about every WCT show from 1992-1999, whether I was in the show, on the crew, or laying out the program. (In retrospect, that's a skill I wish I would have kept up on) When I jumped on as a nine-year-old, the Board of Directors was a very dedicated group that stuck together and did pretty much everything. It was quite a few years before new faces really started stepping up and taking some initiative. Every show had pretty much the same cast, for a couple of years Connie directed everything herself (more because no one else would than because she wanted to), we were a really tight-knit group. My sister and I were essentially the child stars of WCT during this time. If the play called for a boy and a girl, it was she and I. The grown-ups loved us, and my sister was eventually the youth representative on the Board, a position I filled once she moved away to college.

The first show I did after The Nerd was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which of course featured a large cast of children and church ladies. This was one of the best things to happen to WCT in my time there, as the kids' moms all stayed for rehearsals, and a lot of them became friends, and rather than individuals, families started to become the core group for WCT. We tried to do shows that could get a lot of people involved, and for a couple of years just about everybody who auditioned got into the show. (At this point, large cast meant about 20, by the way. That would change eventually, too)

We did fun shows for small houses. There was usually one around Christmas and one in the summer, and after awhile they started doing a dinner theater in the late winter that was smaller cast and adult-only, so I have very few memories of those shows. We had a blast. I definitely had a blast. My dad even got in on the action, playing the villainous Ebeneezer Humbug in the melodrama The Plight Before Christmas, featuring my older sister as the heroine. (I was too young for any of the roles; however, we put in a vaudevillians oleo routine between each act so that, again, we could get a lot of other people involved, so I did that. I also ended up learning everyone else's lines, so when somebody couldn't be at a rehearsal, I jumped on stage and filled in for them. There's video of me playing both the sheriff and the villain at the same time. They were still talking about that one years later)

I've recently learned not to be embarrassed by any of the dumb things you once though or did as a kid. You were a kid, you were dumb then, it's no big deal. Well, when you're a kid who craves an audience, and you've got a decent amount of talent, and you always get cast, and you have grown-ups telling you how great you are all the can guess. I got a bit of a big head. I actually tried really hard not to be arrogant, and I think I managed that more often than not, but really, I went into pretty much every audition expecting to get the role. And why not? The roles were generally handed to me. I don't point this out to rag on myself, but it's important because this was really only one of two points in my life where I believed I could be an actor when I grew up. (Only the thing was, at this point I believed I could be an actor RIGHT NOW if I got the right breaks. There were kids in movies, right?) It's significant because this was the first time where I entertained the possibility of being in theatre for the rest of my life.

Again, this was a very fun time, and it's probably a contributing factor to my life's trend of wanting to spend time with people older than I am as opposed to my peers. (This has lessened since college, but is still there to a degree) I've got so many fantastic memories of shows and people. I used to get a buzz every time I'd walk into the Memorial Auditorium. I actually still get a slight buzz when I drive past it. Next time I go back to Wellington I really need to walk around that old building again.

We did Cinderella. We did Breath of Spring. We did The Mousetrap. We did No Time for Heaven (which holds the distinction of being the only show I've done where the actors were so embarrassed by the show that they talked about conspiring to cancel the show a couple of days before it opened while standing at the top of a staircase...while the director stood at the bottom of the same staircase, grinding her teeth in the shadows). We did nice shows to our small, friendly audiences, with the same ten or so people in just about everything.

And then we went crazy.

And then we did something we'd never tried before.

And then we decided to stake everything--our present, our reputations, our very future as an organization--on one insane experiment in Wellington Community Theatre.

We decided to do....A MUSICAL!!!!