Thursday, August 12, 2010
My last Summer in Springfield.
Off to Missouri today. Dear, old Springfield. Haven't been there since Reagan was president. A lot of memories in that town.
My first encounter with Springfield was in the Summer of 1979 when I traveled there for 'orientation.' They crammed a ton of we incoming freshmen into the dorms and gave us some useless classes about what to expect in college. I don't remember a word of it. What I DO remember is that all the fraternities were using that time to scout possible incoming pledges so they were all throwing parties. Not one to miss out on a party, I, of course, attended all of them. And then, oddly, found myself pledged to the Pikes. That is, Pi Kappa Alpha. I have no idea what I was thinking. I guess at eighteen I was just looking for something to belong to. It was, after all, the first time I had been away from home and I was timid and a bit confused. So there I was, a Pike pledge, not having any idea what that meant.
Fortunately, it only took me about six months to realize that wasn't what I wanted. I dropped out and almost immediately began devoting myself to the comings and goings of the theatre department, although at that time, I was officially a political science major. I had some vague idea of getting a law degree and eventually going into politics.
Late in my sophomore year I officially changed my major to English and then, a bit later, to Theatre. An altogether useless degree, really, but fun. If I had it to do over, hindsight being 20-20, I would have gone straight to New York. I have never, in thirty years in show-biz, been asked where I went to school or what kind of degree I had. Unless one goes to Yale or Julliard, it simply doesn't matter in this business.
The first week I was at college I auditioned for my first play, Guys and Dolls. The rascally Howard Orms was directing and I remember taking a song in for the auditon...it was Who Can I Turn To from Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd. I actually remember singing it like Anthony Newley, who I had on an album singing the song. That must have amused old Howard. Anyway, I didn't have a resume, per se, of course, so I simply wrote down all my high school credits on a sheet of a paper longhand. And there were a ton of them. I had been the BMOC in high school and had done all the lead roles. Howard must have been amused with my imitation of Anthony Newley. I thought at that age the idea of singing a song for auditions was to do it exactly like it was in the broadway show. I still giggle and shudder at the memory.
So I fully expected to be cast as either Sky Masterton or Nathan Detroit (both of which I later did as a professional) and was a little shocked to be offered a role in the chorus. But I took it and thus began my initiation into the theatre department of SMSU with all it's politics and gossip and intrigue. I loved it.
I developed a mad crush on the girl playing Adelaide in the show...I can't remember her name today. She was very good, I thought. And she was an older woman...22, I think. I played an anonymous gangster in the show. I didn't have any lines. I sang in the back row of 'Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat.' That was it.
But I knew in my gut this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
My buddy and best man at my wedding, John Bader, is attending the engagement party over the weekend. We plan on heading over to the university and re-visiting some of my old haunts. I'm sure nearly everything has changed in the past thirty years.
It took me a couple years to get noticed in the theatre department. And, really, it didn't happen there at all but rather when Mick Denniston offered me the lead role in They're Playing Our Song over at the local little theatre. After that, things started to look up for me and I happily did a whole slew of lead roles for next couple of years.
I befriended a few people that were to become lifelong friends during that time; Dwayne Butcher, the late Robert Fiedler, Joe Hulser and, of course, my wife-to-be, Angela Peabody. It was a heady time and each day seemed to promise a new adventure back then. Three people sort of took me under their wings my last couple of years there, the late Dawin Emmanuel from the Music Department, the aforementioned Mick Denniston, the artistic director with Lander's Theatre, and Dr. Robert Bradley, the head of the Theatre Department. In fact, Bob (the only one of the three still alive) is supposed to be at our party Saturday night. It will be good to see him.
I hate travel days. But that's what is in store for us. Oh, well, by 7:30 tonight we should be in Springfield.
Time to pack and get ready.
See you tomorrow...actually, probably next Tuesday.