Monday, September 14, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Six: Senior Year (#1)

Going back to my How-the-heck-did-I-get-here retrospective. If you need a brief refresher or are just joining us, here's the prologue, here's part one, this here is part two, followed, most naturally, by parts three, four, five, six, and seven.

I love reflecting on my artistic senior year of high school, because it really wraps up everything from those first seven entries in this series nicely. In a lot of ways, it was both a farewell tour and a step forward toward some things I'd never imagined would become such a huge part of who I am.

I believe I spoke briefly about the friendship I forged with the new drama teacher the last half of my junior year. That friendship really took off in my senior year, especially when we started work on our first large-scale musical, Little Shop of Horrors. Dan had a tendency to pick projects almost specifically for his favorite students, and I'm pretty sure the only reason we did LSoH was because he really wanted to direct it and I really wanted to play the lead, so we both got our wish. (Remember, we had better singers and better actors than me among the male gender in my school, but nobody who could do them both quite as well simultaneously. Also remember: we were a fairly small school without much in the way of a theatre arts program) I can't tell you how much fun this production was, from rehearsals all the way through performance. Most of my best friends ended up in the cast, and several folks who were destined to become my best friends were running the crew. The show was, in many ways, far beyond what we probably should have been doing: we didn't actually have a music director, we didn't really have the talent for that big of a cast, we didn't have the technical expertise to build a great set, and heck, I was the lighting designer! Our stage was too small, our SM had never really SM'ed before, the list went on and on. But we did it anyway. We threw everything we had at that little show, and after the opening performance it felt like we had just "won the big game." Yes, our curtain call may have lacked professionalism that night, but we were jubilant in what we had accomplished.

It's rare that I've been in a production quite like that, but it reminds me of WCT's Sound of Music opening triumph.

I spoke with Dan not too long ago about those few years he spent in Wellington (my junior and senior years and the year after that). He's moved on to a school that has a bit more appreciation for theatre, and he's got a bigger, more established program with a better stage, an actual stage tech class, etc, but he tells me he's never had a group of students like the core we had at WHS those three years. Looking back, I know he's right. What we had there was rare. We would get to school early to hang out in his classroom and work on our projects, whether for drama, debate, or forensics (remember, like speech and drama?). We used to get really excited when Dan would pull library duty in the evenings, because it meant he'd unlock his classroom and we could work on set or costume or scenes or monologues. Any project we decided to do, we got excited about. Musicals, children's plays, storytelling at grade schools, one-act Shakespeare adaptations with high schoolers who'd never touched Shakespeare. One reason, Dan and I agreed, those years were so awesome was that we simply didn't know our limitations. Heck, we didn't know we shouldn't do Little Shop, so we did it anyway! Nobody told us that you can't just write a play for 14 people one day and then perform it at a school two days later (that was the year after I left, actually, and my first production as a playwright--Big Liar, Little Liar, anyone?), so we did it! And the drama class went all out, staying late to make racecar costumes out of old cardboard boxes and everything!

In a way, we were our own Group Theatre. We identified with one another. We were so incredibly different from each other, and we loved that about one another. Everyone belonged. Everyone was excited. Everyone gave everything they had, and nobody ever bothered to ask "Why not?" when a crazy new idea sprung up. Those were awesome, awesome times.

Anyway, just a few weeks after Little Shop closed, I got to have one final kick with the Wellington Community Theater crowd. They were doing 12 Angry Men, directed by one of my best friends from the group, a lady named Chris who simply loved the opportunity to tell twelve men what to do. Because Juror No. 4 (I think) was a smaller role, they were able to hold pretty much the entire rehearsal period without me, and I just jumped in and played my part for the last week of rehearsals and into the show. It was a lot of fun. Uncle Max was in the show (did I mention the creepy part he played in the "Getting-rid-of-Houston" saga?), but it wasn't awkward at all. I actually got along very well with all of the men in the cast, many of whom I'd worked with before, but some of whom were new. It was a nice play to go out on, from a WCT standpoint.

By the way, I just saw that WCT had a show this past weekend! Hurrah! From my mom's reports, I wasn't even sure they were still around. Even better: Uncle Max appears to be out of the picture, and a lady I loved is in charge now! I need to write those people a letter!

Of further note (seemingly much less significant at the time): this year marked my first two kids' shows. I played Pony in Larry Shue's excellent My Emperor's New Clothes, which I hope to one day direct, and Prince William in Snow White. They were both fun shows, and they whetted a mild appetite for young audiences that...well, yes, we all know how that turned out.

My spring semester saw me rehearsing two shows simultaneously: one last shindig with MTYP in Wichita, and the second all-school play at WHS. The MTYP production was teen-only, which was a cool new experience. We did Jesus Christ Superstar, which was fun but, in the grand scheme of things, uneventful, so I won't go into tons of detail about it here other than to say it was continuing the theme of my "farewell tour" through Kansas--a theme wrapped up, incredibly enough, with the final WHS production, Larry Shue's The Nerd. As in, the same The Nerd from my first-ever audition with WCT back in the day.

Of course it was.

Turns out, The Nerd was a show special to Dan's heart as well, as the first show he'd done in college and the play that got him "hooked" on the theatre bug. (Or bit by Ta-Daa, as my current co-workers might say) Obviously, I didn't play the kid again, I played the title character. Remember what I said about Dan picking shows for his favorite students?

Oh, and do you remember what I said about getting ultra-competitive the previous year in our forensics competition? I somehow completely decided to let the competitive edge of it go this year and just focus on having fun with it. I did the pieces I wanted to do and enjoyed the friends, the tournaments, watching the other acts, and the general atmosphere that came with the whole thing. And lo and behold, I rocked it out that year. On one hand, I was hoping to prove my maturity by keeping a positive attitude, even when I wasn't winning. However, it seemed like everything I touched that year turned to gold. I ended up qualifying five of my events for the state championship (duet act, improvised duet act, informative speech--ha!, humorous solo act, and dramatic solo act) and won medals in poetry and prose events in competitions as well. Took my speech and my improv partner to state--and finished third in both. It was fun. Almost every moment of it was fun. What an amazing finish to an incredible year.

Also returned to Horsefeathers that following summer. Night and day, friends. Night and day. First off, there were far fewer divas and drama queens in the company; it had more of a "company atmosphere" than the year before had. I didn't feel awkward or out of place, and I made some good friends that summer. We did four shows, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, South Pacific (which until recently had the title of worst show I'd ever been in, but it was still fun), Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Singin in the Rain. I had small roles (and, usually, multiple roles), but for someone fresh out of high school in a professional company, I was doing pretty well. I was having fun. I was learning and growing. Those who knew me from the year before commented on what progress I'd made, both artistically and professionally, from the year before. It was one of the best summers of my life up to that point, and not JUST because the Avs had won the Stanley Cup. (I vividly remember weaving these giant potholders for the South Pacific set by hand while hunched next to my black-and-white TV, which was nothing but static with some play-by-play, praying game seven would end before I had to get to strike. Oh, what a night!)

It was a year that was a celebration of everything that had brought me where I was at that point: a farewell performance with WCT, the year of my life at WHS, one last curtain call at MTYP, a step forward in the company at H&A, and introduction to Shakespeare and to theatre for young audiences, and a decent acting scholarship ushering me into the next major phase of my life: four years of study at Oklahoma Baptist University.