I started out by performing in a Sixth-Grade play adaptation of the book of Johnny Tremain, as the culmination of the three years of “Creative Dramatics” classes every student took in the Evanston schools at that time. I went on to have some involvement (mostly in the front-of-the-house) at Evanston Twp. High School, although I did have a little backstage involvement, as well. The production I most remember being involved in was a summer one of The Importance of Being Earnest, although there were a number of others, enough that I had decided I was pretty serious about this theatre stuff.
When I went to Indiana, I got seriously involved quickly, as in my first week as a student. From then on, as a Theatre Major, I worked on most shows in some capacity. I acted small roles in some shows, was on shift and/or construction crews a lot, ran sound (for the production of The Tempest in 1964, we used 2 reel-to-reel tape machines, with three reels of tape for each one, and about two dozen tape cartridges for short, quick cues. Combine that with selectable speakers all over the house and stage, and it took three of us to keep track of it all. As I remember it, I also ran lights and stage managed some. If I didn’t work a show, I generally ushered for it. The summer after my Freshman year, I spent doing summer stock with a buddy of mine at Beloit College in Wisconsin. We did ten shows in eleven weeks! That kept us hopping. During my final summer at IU, I was a member of the Brown County Playhouse company, which was the University’s summer stock theatre in a theatre that IU ran in Nashville, IN during the summers at that time. There, we did three different shows over the course of the summer while taking classes, as well.
When I started on my master’s degree, I stayed at IU because I was offered a Fellowship as a “Graduate Artist-in-Residence” to serve as Co-Technical Director of the Indiana Theatre Company. That meant that I helped with set construction, designed and supervised lights on the road, and was co-driver of the company truck, as well as acting in smaller roles and sharing stage management duties. We generally left Bloomington on Thursday afternoon to drive to our first gig; setup and ran the show on Friday; then (a good deal of the time) we struck and loaded out after the performance. On Saturday, we tech folk got up early to drive to a second gig; got setup for the rest of the company to arrive by mid-afternoon; did that night’s show; loaded out and (after sleeping a bit) drove back to Bloomington on Sunday. For the first semester, at least, we had rehearsals most evenings Monday through Thursday to get the second and third shows ready to add to the rep, for we did three shows each year. And we did them in rep, so we might do two different shows in the same weekend! Over the two seasons I was involved we did: Tartuffe, The Taming of the Shrew, Amphitryon 38, The Rivals, The Glass Menagerie, and The Death of a Salesman. Of course, we also had classes (a minimal load), with folks like Oscar Brockett, who my Theatre History students will remember wrote the history text I used. It was a busy couple of years.
After two years “on the road,” I had finished my classwork, so I spent the next year working for a local department store in Bloomington, IN, while I was writing my Master’s thesis (an analysis of the promptbook for a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham, England during the latter half of the 19th Century) based on the actual promptbook, which was kept in the Lilly Library [the rare books collection] on the IU campus. So, I’m not sure if I really should count that as a year of theatrical activity, but I’m going to do so, anyway. After all, the thesis was theatre related.
After finishing my Master’s, I took a position as a Designer/TD with the Children’s Theatre Company which I had attended as a child and which had been taken over by the local school district from Northwestern U., which had founded it. This meant that I was, technically, a public-school teacher, but I really built sets, did lighting and props, directed a summer show, supervised crews, etc. Much of the work was done with and by Junior High students. We did six shows a year, three aimed at the primary grades (K-3) and three at the upper grades (4-6). We kept busy. After two years with them, the school district lost a bond referendum (it's first such loss in history), so they had to cut a lot of stuff, including the Children’s Theatre program. I was sorry about that as, at the time, that was the longest continually operating children’s theatre in the country. In any case, that put me back on the job market in the summer of 1971.
I, rather quickly, was offered a position as Designer/TD by a guy named Don Loeffler at a little college in the mountains of western North Carolina; a school called Western Carolina University. Little did I know that I’d spend the rest of my career there. For more than forty years, I was designing and TDing sets, lights, and some props; doing some directing; promoting the theatre program (which the Dean referred to as my being “Director of Theatre”) for several years, dealing with House management; and teaching Stagecraft, Theatre Appreciation (in many variations and under several names), Intro. To Theatre, Dramatic Literature I & II, Theatre History I & II, Concept Creation, Intro to the Professions, Intro to Theatre, Intro to Professional Development, BFA Thesis, Basic Public Speaking (several variations), and probably others which don’t come to mind right away. I was also co-founder of Western’s summer theatre program at Fontana Village in 1974 and spent two summers “in residence” out there doing rep with a faculty colleague and about a dozen students. In the mid-1970’s, I took a year’s “leave” to do my doctoral course work in fifteen months at the University of Georgia in Athens, where I also managed the Fine Arts Auditorium. I returned to Western, however, and spent the next several summers completing my dissertation. In the later days of my career at Western, I also served in the Faculty Senate several times and as Chair of the Faculty for two two-year terms.
AND, I can’t forget that I got married during my first year of Graduate School at IU, and Bonnie and I had two daughters and multiple cats over the years. And we’re still married, although I’m not sure why she has put up with me and my life for all this time.
All things considered, it’s been quite a long and, generally, happy life. Now, this is NOT a suggestion that I am planning to die anytime soon. I’ve still got stuff I want to do. But, the beginning of a school year always makes me just a little nostalgic. While I’m glad that I retired when I did (it was time!), I confess that I do miss my colleagues and, especially, my students (at least most of them).
So, while considering what to write about a lifetime of educational theatre, I looked through my collection of jokes and cartoons to see if I had anything appropriate. I hope you enjoy what I found.
As I always tried to be a complete educator, I had to deal with my students in the classroom, as well as in the shop and rehearsal hall, so I got a bit of a grasp on what was going on in some of their heads. Here’s some person’s pictorial view of that:
A Theatre Dictionary
IN is down, DOWN is front,
OUT is up, UP is back,
OFF is out, ON is in,
RIGHT is left, LEFT is right.
A DROP shouldn’t and a
BLOCK AND FALL does neither.
A PROP doesn’t,
And a COVE has no water.
TRIPPING is okay.
A RUNNING CREW rarely gets anywhere.
A PURCHASE LINE will buy you nothing.
A TRAP will not catch anything.
STRIKE is work (in fact, lots of work),
And a GREEN ROOM, thankfully, usually isn’t.
Now, BREAK A LEG!
I confess, thinking back on all those years, I have to ask: “How did we all survive?”