Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Acting Career

While attending Iowa State, I was in the cast of the university’s annual open house show called “Stars Over Veishea” twice participating as a dancer.  Veishea is an acronym formed from by using the first letters of the five colleges at that time, Veterinary medicine, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics, and Agriculture.  I was and still is, the largest student run university musical events in America.  In addition, I performed in the annual Modern Dance Club recital each year I attended ISU.  These activities helped me immensely by providing me diversions from my rigorous engineering studies and various jobs I needed to have to provide money for myself. 
Anyway, I had dancing in my blood and spending a year out of college dancing and teaching at Arthur Murray’s only reinforced my craving.  So I after the family and I moved to Dayton, Ohio to work at Frigidaire and after I got settled, I started looking for a way to continue dancing on stage.  I got a part in “Guys and Dolls” being produced by Dayton Community Theatre.  I didn’t have a speaking role but I was required to look slightly thuggish, something I probably have a natural talent at. 
One day, the actor (who resembled Pacino) got a hair up some opening of his body which seems to irritate him to no end and I noticed it caused the director to question his whole approach to playing the part of Nathan Detroit.  He and she had words, He walked out. The director turned to me and said, “I want you to play Nathan”.  I was stunned and did not feel I was ready to make such a psychological leap, and I protested, sighting my lack of singing talent, only to be cajoled and “a we need you now” plea from the director. 
So for two nights, I held my play book and read my lines to help out, and felt the first realization that I was starting to enjoy this and all the challenges it might bring.  Then HE came back.  The humble and contrite one came back and reclaimed his rightful place as Nathan Detroit, leaving me with mixed feelings, with relief being the strongest one.
So the play went on and was performed and we all did a great job.  I studied how to play the part of Nathan secretly, just in case.  Nathan was the central figure in the play and the actor did a great job.  It was a great feeling to be in a cast, to be part of something that was so rewarding. 
My wife and I did meet a lot of people in amateur theatre after that and much of our social life was tied to people that attended amateur theatre or took part in it. 
Eventually, we moved from Dayton to Marion, Indiana home to RCA and a manufacturing plant just starting to mass produce color picture tubes, where I work at various engineering related jobs. 
After one lives in Marion for a while, a town of 42,000, one finds time to wonder “that am I going to do with all this time on my hands?”  I searched and found Marion Civic theatre in answer to a small notice in local paper of tryouts for the play, “Never Too Late”.   I went only to check everything out but was asked to read for a very small part in the very first of the play.  And I walked away with the part of Doctor Kimbrough. 
As it turned out, this was my first role with many others to follow.  I can count 26 roles I had either at Marion Civic Theatre or in Kokomo Civic Theatre.  Probably the roles I had most fun portraying was Oscar, in “The Odd Couple” and Col. Thomas McKean in “1776”.  What roles do I think I portrayed the best?  That would be the brother Tom in “Glass Menagerie” and Creon in “Antigone”. 

And I directed 8 productions including, “Music Man”, “Picnic”, “Antigone”, “I Never Sang for my Father”, “Plaza Suite”, “Six Rms Riv Vu”, “Prisoner of Second Avenue”, and “Play It Again Sam” with the help of my daughter Vikki. 

The photo below was taken for the Kokomo Civic Theatre program of "Desperate Hours" where I played an escaped convict, one of Humphrey Bogart's roles.

I was president of Marion Civic Theatre for a long time, I build sets, I lugged chairs and platforms, I helped with lighting, and I sold tickets along with several other dedicated people.  It was what I did, that, and playing golf in the summer.
Vikki went off and became a theatre major, first at Penn State University, then at Pittsburgh University where she received her MFA.  She has used her talent by appearing in several plays in small Chicago theatres, before getting married to an actor and moving to Los Angles.
When I moved away from Marion, I never felt the urge to start over at another amateur theatre group.  I found skiing and tennis and they have commanded my attention.  I did gain a lot in my theatre experiences and I did slowly become a better actor and perhaps if I stayed with it longer, I could have become a good actor.  But the flame that burned so intensely for such a long time is keeping me warm and comfortable now by my occasional looking back at it with wonder. Ok, with a little pride also.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

Wow, I never knew that story about the Nathan Detroit role.

Growing up in a "theater family" definitely includes some of my fondest memories - going to rehearsals, painting sets, opening night, etc. And don't forget my ground-breaking performance as one of the blind kids in Miracle Worker. I still remember my line: "Annie, is that you??"