Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Southwest Missouri State University.

So Angela got our airline tickets to Springfield yesterday.  The engagement party is on.  She's happy about this.  And if she's happy, I'm happy, generally speaking.

Springfield, Missouri, holds a lot of memories for me.  I did two stints there as a student: 1979 - 1981, and then again from 1983 - 1984.  I haven't been back since then.

They were formative years for me, to say the least.  Milestone years.  Like most people that have had the experience of undergrad, there are images indelibly imprinted on my brain from those days.  Most, of course, have to do with plays I did there.  Some have to do with people I met there.  And still others have to do with dreams I dreamt there.

I was first introduced to William Shakespeare in Springfield, Missouri, as incongruous as that seems.  1980, I think it was.  I was cast in the tiny role of Curio in Twelfth Night.  It was the beginning of a life-long love affair with Shakespeare.  There was an actor, I've long forgotten his name, that played Sir Toby Belch in that I recall, he wasn't even in the theatre department...who absolutely entranced me with his performance.  A whole new life opened before me as I watched him.  And it was perhaps the first time I realized (I was so youthfully arrogant back then) that there were things I simply couldn't do yet as an actor.  I wasn't good enough.  What a realization for a young actor.  Years later, when I was doing Brutus in Julius Caesar in New York, I often thought of that performance.  There I was doing that wonderful play in that wonderful role with The New York Times and The Village Voice in the ride on top of that language, that incredible language, over the course of an entire evening, is something unbelievably satisfying.  And the yearning to do it started right then, back in 1980, watching that performance.

My first stint there wasn't terribly memorable in terms of growth as an actor.  I was still very young and couldn't really get cast in the shows I wanted to do...rightly so, I suppose, since there were upper-classmen who had paid their dues for the big roles before me.  One moment that did stick out, however, was through a class I took with the legendary Dr. Leslie Irene Coger.  Oral Interpretation (I don't think they even TEACH -that anymore in school) was the class and my final consisted of writing and performing a one-person show.  I chose to do a forty-minute show on the life of Frank Sinatra.  I completely lost myself in it and Dr. Coger was incredibly supportive.  She held my work up in that show as an example of what she was trying to teach.  Later I used that work as a template, of sorts, for several shows I did in NY...Golden Eggs and Farley and Daisy.  And even later during my national, Equity tour of Give 'Em Hell, Harry.  One-person shows are a bitch if you don't know what you're doing.

My second stint there was much more successful in terms of landing good roles: Ken Tally in Fifth of July, McMurphy in Cuckoo's Nest, Vernon in They're Playing Our Song and Jimmy Winters in Oh, Kay!  Bob Bradley, the head of the department, Mick Denniston, the AD at Lander's Theatre and Dawin Emmanuel from the music department, all became mentors for me.  Bradley was a walking encyclopedia when it came to theatre.  Mick was someone I could relate to personally and Dawin simply snatched me up after seeing me in a play and said, "You're going to study with me now."  How fortunate I was to have met these people.  Mick and Dawin, sadly, are no longer with us, but Bob Bradley is still there and apparently attending our engagement party in August.  He was the first director to really let me run with a role.  Complete trust.  I shall forever be grateful.  He was also the first to encourage me as a playwright and even directed a show I wrote called The Flagger.

Springfield is also where I first met Angie.  And that was, as time was to prove, quite fortuitous as well.

As Angie has pointed out since then, we didn't really hang out a lot because I was part of the 'bad boy' set and she was not.  There was always controversy following me in those days.  Actually, in the days that followed, too, but my penchant for being outspoken started there.  As she has pointed out many times since then, "people either loved you or hated you.  I loved you."  Lucky for me.

I met some people there that are still good friends of mine:  Joe Hulser (who directed me in a Sam Shepherd play called Holy Ghostly) and lives less than ten minutes away from us here in LA, Dwayne Butcher, whom I still stay in contact with and Robert Fiedler, with whom I later spent a lot of time in NYC and who, sadly, passed away about a year ago.

It was during these years that I grasped the idea of being a professional actor.  It was no longer something unattainable.  I could do this.  That in itself was a seminal moment for me.

Howard Orms, Mike McElheney, Byrne Blackwood, Linda Park-Fuller, all teachers that made a mark on my psyche.  All extraordinary in their own way.

I look forward to toddling over to Craig Hall and Coger Theatre (if it's still called that) and looking around, remembering the old days.  Tent Theatre, the professional Summer Stock intertwined with the school, is over for the summer, so we won't be able to see that.  But we'll see whatever show is playing when we get there.  We'll arrive on a Thursday and leave the following Monday, so there should be time to see something, at least.

We're hoping to have a grand and intimate party on that Friday night at Rex and Rosemary's beautiful home in Springfield.  Rex and Rosemary are Angie's stepdad and mother.  They've been to visit us a couple of times here in LA and are fun and smart people.  I enjoy being around them.  We're trying to put together a karoake night (Angie and I don't drink so long cocktail parties aren't really fun for us anymore).  So we thought karoake might be a fun thing to do.  Still working on that, though.  Angie's close friends (and, by proxy, my close friends) Carolea Love and Mary Wilson (their non-married names) are organizing the whole thing and I have no doubt it will be amazing.  Back in the day I did plays with both of them, Company and They're Playing Our Song, respectfully.  I remember them both as having incredible voices and being very fine actresses.

We also plan to have an evening with Angie's Dad and Stepmom, who also visited us here in LA...really great people, too, and I look forward to seeing them and catching up.  Angie's dad is the very definition of 'laid back.'

So now that the airline tickets are purchased there's no turning back.  We're gonna have a party, as the song goes.  It should be a corker.  Many old friends will be there.  People I haven't seen since, well, 1984.  Hard to believe I haven't been there in 26 years.  And Angie tells me Rosemary is getting napkins made with our names on them...if that's not an auspicious reason for being in Missouri again, I don't know what is.

And on a purely personal note, I really look forward to having a family again...

See you tomorrow.

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