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
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.