As a eight year old many things made me happy. Opening a new pack of baseball cards, organizing my baseball card collection for the 100th time, playing on the play ground in my backyard, watching the latest Disney movie, also for the hundredth time.
And the things that made me miserable were just as clear, work, and doing anything that caused me to work. That is why my guard was up when my mother walked in and said that I should audition for a local play. “It will be fun,” she said with a large grin. I knew what my mother considered fun. Picking up apricots that had been smooshed and were rotting on the ground was an activity she was always trying to get my friends to do always with that same grin and always with the same words, “It will be fun.” She said the same thing about cleaning my room, folding laundry, weeding the garden and canning applesauce. I was certain that the day the definition of fun was taught in my mothers elementary school she must have been out sick. The problem was that once my mother decided I should do something ‘fun’ I had very little choice in the matter. She would slowly crank up the pressure by threatening to take away toys, movies and even Saturday morning cartoons.
I was going to that audition and I knew it, but one thing was for sure, I was going to make sure that my mother would never call it “fun” again. I complained as she took me out to the car, I wined as we drove to the audition, and once there I was basically dragged kicking and screaming into the theatre with the green awning bearing it’s name. Hale Center Theatre, as I looked up an read it I was certain they had misspelled the first word.
But my plan backfired. I made such a fuss the director must have looked out the window and seen me fighting and pulling against my mother. I looked like the most disobedient bratty child one could acquire. The problem was the auditions were for the Larry Shue play, “The Nerd”. The only part for a child was the young boy Thor, a disobedient bratty child. Assuming I was merely a method actor getting into character they excitedly gave me the part.
I complained when I heard it. I knew this meant reading and memorizing lines. Not only that my mother was constantly coaching me on how to deliver said lines. Who was she to say? After all, who was the expert on being a brat? But in time I actually started to enjoy the part. True rehearsals cut into my time I would have been watching Disney or organizing baseball cards, but it wasn’t too bad. And perhaps best of all, I was able to get candy bars from their concessions for 25 cents, and all the soda I wanted for free. After all once shows started they paid me $5 a show, and I could take $2 and buy eight full size candy bars, something I did almost every night. In fact, I was only in the first half of the show, but once and a while they let me stay for curtain call. On one night when I stayed and it was time to bow, I was nowhere to be found. They eventually searched and found me passed out on the floor of my dressing room, twix and reese’s wrappers on the floor and chocolate droll rolling down my face.
This was the beginning to an exciting career in acting. From age 8 until 16 I did many plays and even some film work. And while I loved it don’t for one minute think that it wasn’t stressful or hard work. Most people are familiar with the stress of school. It is a stress that is always part of us. Many of us still have nightmares that it is the end of a semester and we have never attended class, or that a huge test is being given and we didn’t study. Well, the only other reoccurring stressful dreams I have are around acting. I find myself standing behind the curtain about to go on when I realize I don’t know any of my lines.
There is no way around it acting is stressful and hard work and simply speaking in the short term more misery than fun. So it was with mixed emotion that over 30 years after my experience with my mother my wife recommended me and a few of the kids audition for Matilda at Signal Mountain Playhouse. I did enjoy theatre in my childhood and I wanted my children to have the same opportunity. The problem was I was busy. Jeanine had just a that week given birth to Telford our 9th child, I was working on my dissertation for my PhD, my second book “Of Pigs and Priest” was about to launch, and there was also the little matter of my full time job. Taking 3 hours a night after work to rehearse, plus the time I would need to practice on my own seemed unreasonable, and not, “fun”.
Auditions came and Hyrum, Adalyn, Annabel and myself all tried out. We didn’t have to take them to the auditions kicking and screaming but there was plenty of wining and complaining involved. One of the questions on the audition form was experience dancing. I wrote that I had taught ballroom classes. And in my defense this is technically true. The part I didn’t write was, my wife who is talented convinced me to help her teach a few ballroom classes at our local church. I am pretty sure that statement about ballroom landed me the part of Rudolfo the Latin dancer.
I was excited yet fearful. I was right about the time it took and frankly the first three weeks were miserable. The music was harder than I had thought and I felt like I wasn’t getting it. The part of Rudolfo not only required me to sing much higher than I was comfortable but it was clear I would have to put in a lot of practice on the dance, something I had very little time for. But the worst part is my kids had learned how to do the kicking and screaming routine and now fought me at every rehearsal. They hadn’t been excited about the play but trying to learn music that was above there level, all while not talking to anyone was miserable to them. They wanted out. Several times I told them, if you want to quite then you tell the director, I’m not going to. That did the trick and none of them quite on me.
But slowly we got better, as did rehearsals. As we neared opening day I wondered if we could even pull this off. Our first full run through didn’t happen until dress rehearsal. One of the numbers in the show is “miracle” speaking about the miracle of human life. And while I don’t wish to distract from that community theatre is a miracle. The shear number of people who sacrifice so much for no worldly gain. The hours and hours of building stages, putting up lights, getting microphones prepped, the orchestra, the actors, the directors. All of them doing things that on their face are miserable and stressful to put together a production that they will see little to no monetary gain from.
Why? Because they understand something that we all must learn to find true happiness. True happiness, long term happiness doesn’t come from doing things that give us instant short term happiness. Think about it what will make you happy right now? Perhaps it’s eating a donut, or watching a show you love. But once the chocolate frosting has disappeared and the credits run does it really make your life better or make you happier in the long run? No long term happiness often comes from pushing ourselves to do things that are hard, and may even sound miserable at the time.
My kids did come around and they loved the show, and they can’t wait to audition for the next one. I am so honored to have been in the show with so many talented and hard working individuals. It was hard, it took a lot of time and effort and brought on stress. But I can say without hesitation that it was more than worth it. It has brought a level of fulfillment and happiness I could have not achieved otherwise. And I know if I will continue to stretch myself, often setting aside things that sound fun for those that are hard I will continue to find happiness.