Don't worry, I'll be wrapping up this little series tomorrow. And I'll stop increasing the number of memories tomorrow, too :-)
17. February, 2008. Our touring group had just come back from our first prison booking (Angola Prison in Louisiana). It was an incredible, eye-opening and heart-melting weekend. We'd had such a great spiritual high that weekend. Then, the following Tuesday, one of our team members got into an argument with the company manager (and a couple others) during company meeting and, thirty minutes later, they quit.
Crazy couple of days.
The phone call I received from our company manager was kind of funny. "Hey there. We need to know what our options might be to replace (other team member)." "Okay, why? Anything wrong?" "Well, I'm not sure. But apparently, he's just quit." "Oh. Wow. Okay."
The fun part of this: we had four performances of four different shows in the next nine days. So we needed to put up four shows with a cast member missing with no more than two rehearsals before any of the performances. That was pretty awesome.
While my office-mate sat stunned, I mentally tore through our company roster. Who has done this show before? What about this one? Who's in the current mainstage? Are there teaching conflicts? Who's available? Who wouldn't need to rehearse much? What do we do about the show that is tomorrow? I flipped through the rest of the year's schedule to see where conflicts might arise. I asked if we could swap out two bookings for another show to give us one less thing to work up. I met with the director of the upcoming children's theater show to see which actors he could spare. I contacted our booking agent to see if we could black out a couple of dates or times that would conflict with said children's show.
It was a pretty busy forty-five minutes.
Once I had a plan in place, my supervisor blustered into my office. He looked frazzled already. "You know what happened?" he asked. I quickly and calmly assured him that yes, I'd heard, and here was what we could do: we could put this guy in this show, because he'd done it before and it was going up in two days. This guy can go in this show because he directed it and would probably be better for the part anyway. And so on, I explained what conflicts we'd avoid and how much rehearsal time we'd need/have for each of the five shows we had going on for the rest of the year. When I finished, my boss looked a little stunned and possibly a tiny bit confused, as though he'd been ready for us to have a grand hand-wringing freak-out moment rather than a solution to a fairly complex set of issues. "Okay," he said. "Let's do that, then." And then he left.
It was one of those few days I actually felt really effective in my office job :-)
18. May, 2008. Waiting backstage before a performance of Paragraph. Two actors already onstage during the typical lengthy start-of-show monologue this particular playwright is so fond of. Two actors backstage, about to go on. And because I was apparently feeling really professional, I tied my co-stars shoelaces together. (I'm not proud of this, by the way) Unfortunately, when she noticed me doing it she did the one thing you should never ever do when somebody is tying your shoes together: she quickly tried to kick her feet apart. If the knot is already mostly in place, this gesture will just finish the job. And the harder you jerk, the harder the knot will cinch. See, what I was doing was a harmless prank that she was going to have to reach down to untie and give me an "Oh, you" kind of look. What she did was practically super-glue her shoes together about sixty seconds before her entrance (preceded by an actor who is supposed to interrupt his already-too-long monologue upon her entrance). Clearly, this was not my fault. The knot has now been squeezed together so tightly I can't even get a grip on it with my fingernails.
We pick at the knot furiously as we hear the scene coming closer to her cue. This is sooooooo not good. I'm praying feverishly that we're able to get this undone. The cue comes and goes.
Fortunately the actor onstage is good at covering, and fortunately he only has to cover for about seven more seconds as I finally get the knot untied and quickly lace her shoes up in time for her to be an angsty teenage girl again.
While I'm generally told I've got wisdom and maturity beyond my years, sometimes I do stupid things. Lesson learned: don't tie your co-star's shoes together right before they go onstage. Just...don't.
Incidentally, this was one of those DVD extras-type bloopers that I really hope God got a laugh at when it happened.
19. December, 2006. The busiest weekend in my entire tenure at the Players. Our mainstage Christmas show had shows Thursday through Saturday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Our kids' stage Christmas show played back-to-back shows Thursday through Saturday. Our Christmas touring unit had two shows in different locales on Saturday and Sunday. We had people manning a booth at the Winter Festival at George R. Brown. And we were touring our first mainstage show of the year, The Trip to Bountiful, to Waco's historic Hippodrome Theater. Literally every single person in the company was doing something somewhere.
I was part of our Waco contingent. The Hippodrome (which was recently closed, which is sort of tragic) was a beautiful theater. It's listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and the rosters of the Texas Historical Commission and the League of Historic American Theaters. It opened in 1914 and had been restored and reopened in 1987.
Amazing space. And the acoustics were unbelievable. You could sit in the upper balcony and hear a conversation happening onstage at normal voice. Such a fun place to play, even if the downstairs dressing rooms were kind of dungeon-esque.
I played a small roll in Trip to Bountiful (Houston Ticket Man) and also ran sound for Lion, Witch, Wardrobe that weekend. A group of us went out to the Dr. Pepper Museum. (If I were to describe the museum in one word, it would be "Unnecessary.") The weather was beautiful, we had hotel rooms, pretty much everything about this trip was awesome. Also met up with a friend of mine who had apprenticed with us the summer before and was a student at Baylor. (She since graduated college, worked full-time at the Players for a year, and is now married. They grow up so fast!) She and I went out for dinner at Cheddar's, and it was during that conversation that an off-hand comment she made triggered a story idea in my head. I'd been wanting to write a story for my wife for a Christmas present that year, but I couldn't come up with a story I thought she'd love. After eating at Cheddar's, the whole thing fell into my mind overnight. By lunchtime the next day, I had the entire story that would become The Girl Who Wore Golden Clothes pretty firmly set in my mind.
All in all, it was really just a wonderful weekend of friends, theatre, and good food.
20. June, 2011. This happened just this morning, actually, but it's a memory, and one that reflects the power of what it is we do on a different level. As my last assignment before I'm out the door for good, I've been teaching our summer theatre arts academy class for high school students. I've actually never taught high school kids before, and due to the format of our summer classes (three hours a day for a full week) I really didn't think I could teach them much about acting in such a short time. Instead, I decided to go with something I know a bit more about: Playwriting. I've split the class into two groups and let them write their own plays. As they've gone on, I've stepped in to encourage and guide them to make a stronger product, and I'm really impressed with/proud of all the work they've done. Every single one of them has been totally engaged in this project, and I think they've probably learned more about theatre than they would have if I'd tried teaching a class where performance was the primary objective.
As the week has progressed, however, I've been particularly impressed with the work of one student in particular. She not only writes well, but she already possesses a pretty solid grasp of many of the nuances it takes to be a successful playwright. There are certain elements of the craft that can be taught and others which...well, let's just say they're more difficult to teach. She's instinctively got a handle on some of these second elements, which puts her ahead of other writers her age. I met with the director of our academy to ask if she thought it would be appropriate to provide individual encouragement to this student, and she said it was a great idea, so this morning I pulled her aside toward the end of class. I could tell she thought she was going to get yelled at (she has sort of a take-charge personality, and I had to call her out a little bit for her in class today), so I assured her she wasn't in trouble. Then I just told her she was very good and I hoped she'd consider pursuing playwriting. I told her she had an instinctive understanding of the craft and enough talent with writing that, if she were willing to put the work in that it requires, she could be very good at it in the future.
As I was talking, this girl's face absolutely lit up. "Wow," she said at one point. "This is, like, the best compliment anyone's ever given me." She instantly had questions, like what she should do if she were interested in learning about playwriting, what kind of opportunities were out there, what did I think was the difference between being a "writer" and a "playwright." Good questions. I handed off my email address and told her she could ask me any questions, I'd be willing to read anything she wrote, be available for advice or encouragement if she so desired, and she seemed really excited about the whole thing. And I wondered if possibly my experimental playwriting summer workshop class may end up having long-lasting effects on the theatre world.
I don't think many people who teach, whether full-time or only on occasion (like myself), realize what an opportunity they have to impact a young person's life. I wonder if it would change the way we teach our kids if we fully realized the opportunities that stand before us every time we teach.
(Incidentally, this story bumped the Gibbledegorb TAA story from my list of 25 memories. Long story short, don't try to brainstorm five-minute play ideas while you and your partner are both starving, because you'll end up with a story that centers entirely around peanut butter)