All the World's a Stage, But They Aren't CastingThis is the fourth in a continuing series of autobiographical blogs. For Part one click here, for Part two click here, for Part 3.1 click here and for Part 3.5 click here. As sands in the hourglass, so are the days of the Rogue. From humble beginnings as the son of a carpenter in a small Louisiana town, to the heights of mediocrity as the youngest member of a team of professional drinkers in a slightly larger Louisiana town, the Rogue had gone far. But his adventures up till now, were nothing compared to what fate had in store for our intrepid hero...College Theatre. We find our hero, nervous, anxious and out of his element (ie. the bar) awaiting the cast list for the William Shakespeare classic, "Twelfth Night."
It was September of my third year at Tech, what most students refer to as their Junior year. I always like to call it my first Senior year (I would eventually enjoy three of those). I had been involved in the community theatre in high school and had even done some second stage shows my Freshman and Sophomore year, but this was my first REAL audition at Tech. I was nervous, anxious and out of my element (ie. the bar). See, I told you. I had come to the audition mostly out of curiosity, but during the process had gotten really excited about the possibility of playing Sir Toby Belch, one of Shakespeare's funniest characters. When the cast list was posted, and my name was there beside the role of Toby, it was literally one of the happiest moments of my life (yes, I am a simple, sad little man. Have you not been reading this auto-biography?). The whole cast was excellent, the concept for the play (60's music and costuming) was really cool, and I was going to get to act again. This was another transitional moment for me. From hanging out with the Rick, Shaun and Amanda crew to spending most of my time with a group of actors. I was lucky that they turned out to be cool people too. A guy I hit it off with immediately was Stewart. He was cocky (he would say confident), funny, and really laid back. Just my kind of friend. Stewart is now working and living in New York. I'd like to thank Stewart for three things: 1. John Conlee -- Stewart and I shared a secret, undying love for cheesy, 80's country music. We had both been raised on it, and it had stuck. While we outwardly professed appreciation for hardcore country acts like Johnny Cash, as well as an interest in Rap music, we listened to John Conlee's "Rose Colored Glasses" as often as we got a chance. 2. Lonestar -- Probably my favorite role, I ever played (and the one that won me a coveted Tech Tony) was Roy in "Lonestar." Stewart directed the show his last quarter. Rehearsals are never more fun than when two friends run them. 3. Two hour lunches -- Stewart was preparing for graduation in the spring of that year and had a serious case of Senioritis. The really bad thing was that even though, I was two years away from graduation, I caught it too. He and I scheduled our Spring quarter so that we could enjoy a two hour lunch three days a week. We would eat at the Student Center, maybe take a swim at the nautatorium or just lay out in the grass, catching some sun. It was quite possibly the most relaxing thing I ever did as a student. After my escapades as the Drunken Rogue, Sir Toby (That's where I picked up the nickname, by the way. It's a line from the play, "Twelfth Night") I was cast in a decidedly more serious role. Hallie or Harold in "Master Harold and the Boys." A play set in South Africa, about race, neglectful fathers and self loathing. It's a laugh riot, really. The process might have been too heavy to be enjoyable, if it weren't for the presence of the lovable, laughable, Nick (my brother from another mother, kinda like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover). Brother Nick (although he didn't have that nickname yet) was Grambling University's finest actor, and in a show of community unity the two schools produced the play together. Nick and I became thick as thieves during the rehearsal process. He also befriended several other Tech students, and so it came as no surprise when he announced during strike for that show, that he was coming to Tech for his Master's Degree. As summer approached, most of my new theatre friends were leaving for summer acting jobs around the country. I however had none. I had inquired about this place called, "Blue Jacket" that a lot of the older students talked about, but hadn't gotten any real answer. Stewart was headed there for the summer, and I really wanted to go too. My previous summers in Ruston had consisted of odd jobs for my Dad, and one spent selling cars in Minden. I did not want repeats of those. On the day of Graduation ceremonies, with literally three days before actors were to report to Blue Jacket's offices, one of my theatre professors, Mark Guinn, called to ask if I was interested in being in the show. I accepted and he asked when could I be there. I told him four days. Where is there? Xenia, Ohio. The picturesque (sarcasm) little town is located roughly thirty miles east of Dayton, and seventy miles north of Cincinnati. Or if you're counting it in Bastrop miles, roughly as far away as the moon. So in four days, I moved out of my apartment, packed my important belongings (tv, dvds, stereo, video games, oh and a toothbrush), and headed to great white north (little known fact: The great white north, is not a nickname for everything north of the Mason Dixon line. It actually refers to Canada, where the sun never shines and the ice never thaws). Ok, I didn't head for the great white north, but I had no idea what to expect in Ohio. I found one of the coolest places on Earth. If you have never been to Ohio, you probably imagine that it is a fairly boring place, and you couldn't be more wrong. Top three things to know about southern Ohio: 1. Driving into Cincinnati from Kentucky at night is breathtaking -- I drove the whole way (15 hours or so) in one day, and by the time I arrived in Cincy, it was nearing midnight. I rounded a curve, topped a hill and BAM there was the city, laid out before me and lit up beautifully. If you ever have a chance to pass this way after dark, do so. It's well worth it. 2. Yellow Springs, OH is the coolest town in the entire USA -- Every heard of Antioch College? A bastion of liberal thinking and a major influence in the civil rights movement, it is nestled in the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. This town is also where Dave Chappelle and John Lithgow make their home. The population was 3,761 at the 2000 census, and yet they have not one, but two used bookstores in this village. They also have a community symphony, an art house theatre, a Tibet Buddhist supply store, anda fully stocked winery. Horace Mann, the first president of Antioch College had the following motto -- "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Pretty strong statement. But it fits the attitude of the community well. 3. Blue Jacket the Epic Outdoor Drama -- One of the coolest theatrical experiences you will ever have. It runs throughout the summer, in the small town of Xenia, OH. It tells the story of the Shawnee Indians, and an adopted white man, Blue Jacket. It's action, romance, adventure, battles, everything you are looking for in summer fun. So what was it like when I showed up for that first summer of professional theatre (albeit it low-level professional theatre)? It was amazing, though the rehearsal process was exhaustive. Twelve to fourteen hour days in the summer sun, running, riding horseback, fighting etc. I worked my fat ass to the bone. It was also some of the most fun you could imagine. The cast that year contained roughly fifty young actors, from 18 to late 40's. These were vibrant, lively, fun-loving people. People that had dreams and aspirations and more than anything wanted to grab life by the horns. We worked hard, and we played hard. Bonfires, drum circles, naked woods running (trees are prickly), trips to the company hangout "Sure Shots," some activity was held just about every night for the entire three month run. One thing that astounded me was that the rules of life for most of us, don't seemingly apply in summer theatre. Pot is not only legal, but sort of expected; sex is just an expression of appreciation for being a cool person, no strings attached; staying up until 6 in the morning and then sleeping until 4 in the afternoon is just part of a balanced life. All of these are exaggerations of course, but summer theatre IS sort of an adult playground. A hyper-reality if you will. Stewart and I got to be very close during those three months (sharing a room in a small apartment about a million miles away from home will do that). We had a lot of good times, but here's three great stories to illustrate that first summer at Blue Jacket: 1. Christmas in July -- Every year at Blue Jacket they have a big party for "Christmas in July" with a week full of Secret Santa gifts leading up to it. Everyone that wants to participate fills out a slip with their likes, dislikes etc. so their Secret Santa has gift ideas. Wes, mine and Stewart's roommate and fellow La Tech student, filled his out very simply. Likes: Boobs. And man did his Secret Santa deliver. Throughout the week, he got small presents, boob shaped remote control, a coffee mug in the shape of boobs, peek-a-boo playing cards etc. But the big finale was the real payoff. The night of Christmas in July he opened his present to find a framed postcard, showcasing a huge set of boobs, and attached to the frame were pint-sized snapshots of literally every female cast member's boobs with the nipples strategically covered. Best Christmas (in July or otherwise) present ever, for Wes and his roommates. 2. The Rain Delay that Didn't happen -- Blue Jacket is (as the "epic outdoor drama" tagline implies) an outdoor performance. Imagine if you will half a football stadium with bleachers reaching up to the sky, and a field laid out below. That's sort of what the theatre looks like. Except no turf, just rocks and sand. We perform every night (except Mondays) from June to September no matter what the weather is. Unless, the rain is so intense as to create hazards for the actors and horses (yep there are horses in the show, real ones), or if there is cloud to ground lightning in the area. The actors portraying Native Americans, largely carry spears and tomahawks with metal blades, they look a lot like lightning rods, so... If the weather is too bad to perform we generally hold the show. We can hold up to 45 minutes and then if we still can't go, the show is canceled. About two months into our run, we awoke at our apartments to find one of the worst storms I have personally ever been in. Torrential rainfall, crazy amounts of lightning, strong winds, it was biblical. The time came for us to head to the theatre and still we hadn't gotten a call from management about the weather. We arrived to find the stage in horrible shape, the rain had washed the sand into big ruts, and the lightning continued. We assumed a cancellation was immanent. Thirty minutes to showtime and still no word on a rainout. The rain incidentally had stopped by now, but who would come out in this weather? Thirty minutes later we got the answer, 15 people. In an amphitheatre that seats a couple of thousand, with a cast of 50 and 20 horses, we played to 15 people. The show went on, but it was one of the most uncomfortable situations I have ever been in. 3. Joel, Zima, and the warm yellow puddle -- All of the horses in the show have a distinct personality. Some are ornery, some are gentle, some like men and some like women. Zima was (and is) by far my favorite of the Blue Jacket horses. I am by no means a good rider, but with Zima, at times, I could almost look like I was in control, even experienced. When I took over the role of one of the major Shawnee Chiefs (the regular actor was out with an injury) Zima was my horse. She treated me well and I appreciated her for it. Sometimes on days off, I'd come to the theatre and ride her for a while just for fun. I thought we developed a bond, apparently so did Zima. When in my regular role, I died in the final fight scene and laid, dead, on stage for about ten minutes. About two scenes before my death, Zima would stand just about where I died, while her rider made an important speech. One night Zima needed to use the bathroom and that was the place she was at the time. That night, I died same as ever, and lay for about ten minutes in a warm, yellow puddle. For those that don't know much about horses, Their urine has a strong odor, to say the least. Even though the stage was watered down, every night, that odor hung around. So the next night, Zima stopped there for her rider to deliver his speech, smelled her leftovers from the night before and thought, "Ah, the bathroom." She went again, and two scenes later, there I lay in a warm, yellow puddle. It seemed that Zima got a kick out of it, because after that second night, she would skip a night or two, so I would feel safe to die in my regular spot, and then without warning, Joel would be all wet (figuratively and literally). It took a while, but I finally got wise. I asked the stage manager (who watches the show from the front) to announce over the headset to the backstage crew, whether or not Zima had relieved herself. No more puddles. When the summer ended and I headed back to Tech, I had been in a play continuously for more than 12 months. I decided it was probably time for me to slow down a bit. I did audition, I just handicapped myself, by saying I was only interested in the lead. I didn't get the role, but I did get the rest I desired. Debbie and I (after a summer apart) had really dissolved now, and I was finally ok with that. I was enjoying life as a single man, and hanging out with Brother Nick, who I had missed all summer. At the opening night party for that fall's show, "Goiter on Rye" (yes, it's the worst title every created), I got into a lengthy conversation with a guy named Richard Bennett. Richard was a transfer from some Junior college in Mississippi, who after a year or so at Tech, had decided to get involved in the theatre. He was in "Goiter" (I shudder every time I write that name) but since I wasn't, we hadn't seen a lot of each other. It turned out we had a lot in common, and before long, we were hanging out frequently. We both liked to talk about music, movies, and politics. We both had open and inquisitive minds as far as spirituality was concerned and we both liked pretty girls. The pretty girl he had his eye on at the time (or more accurately that had her eye on him) was Allie. Allie is a year younger than me, but considering I di dn't start dabbling in the theater until a year into my college career (and, that I graduated a year late) she might as well be in my class. Spunky, funny, beautiful, with a southern drawl (or is that yak?), Allie was the preeminent overachiever. She always went to class, was President of the theatre organization, made solid grades, and was beloved as dependable and trustworthy by her professors. I was, largely, none of those things. My grades were acceptable, I didn't lie but I'm not sure I would be called trustworthy, and while most of my professors liked me, they also knew I'd take the easy way if I could. I always liked Allie, but you have to see the dichotomy that existed. Richard was more like Allie I think in the beginning. Hungry to learn and prove himself. However, the more he and I hung out, the more we reinforced each others inner slackers. So Allie and Richard got more serious as a couple, Richard and I got lazier, and theatre continued to happen. Amazing isn't it how much goes on in the theatre building? Three reasons I love Richard: 1. Richard, Kevin and the janky TV -- Richard, like me was a film-lover. So much so, that in the early days of DVD, he had gone out and purchased a television with S-Video inputs. At the time it was fairly state-of-the-art, especially for a college kid, with zero money. He blew some $500 bucks on this TV and enjoyed for years the best video image he could afford. However by the time I knew him, this TV had seen it's better days. The audio output on the back had a loose connection on the inside, and while watching a movie, the sound would suddenly disappear. Without missing a beat, Richard or (his then roommate) Kevin would just stamp their foot down on the floor of their little rent house, shaking the TV set and turning back on the sound. Of course he could have gotten a new tv set, but probably not one with S-Video inputs. Richard was willing to endure the annoyance of dropping the audio occasionally so as to maintain high fidelity video. 2. Richard vs. Wendy's -- Yes, I mean Wendy's the fast food establishment. While Richard understands the health hazards and low-quality food of the fast food business, he also doesn't mind it as a whole. He and I have grazed at McDonald's more times than I care to count, and the man's love for Taco Bell knows no bounds. He does have a deep-seated resentment and anger at Dave Thomas' chain of burger joints. While the roots of this hatred, may be much deeper, the surface injury is easy to explain. Wendy's has, and still does, market itself as an "up-scale" fast food restaurant. They claim (and some swear to it) that the food is simply better than the "other guys." Richard stands offended. How dare they claim to be "up-scale" fast food and charge an extra thirty cents for the same crappy food? (This is Richard's opinion, I personally find Wendy's delightful). 3. He's a MonkeyBall Wizard -- For those that have not had the pleasure, let me introduce you to the single greatest video game series of all time. Super Monkey Ball from Sega. It's multi-platform now, out for PS2 and the Xbox, but I played it on Gamecube. Richard might claim otherwise, now that he's a serious military man and all, but let me tell, "That boy plays a mean monkey ball." The idea of the game is like Labyrinth or Marble Madness. You maneuver a ball through a maze, not by moving the ball, but the whole maze...oh and there's a little monkey in the ball. The game also includes dozens of mini-games, like bowling, target, soccer, baseball etc. all with the monkey-in-a-ball theme. Richard and I spent the better part of a year playing this game. We were very productive. That year after the first summer at Blue Jacket was great, but before long the summer was here again. I was headed back to Ohio, and had tried to secure Richard a job there as well, but to no avail. He went to Indiana, to seek out his own adult playground. I would however, be accompanied by two La Tech boys to Blue Jacket: Brother Nick (we'll finally get to find out where he got his nickname) and Andrei. But that my friends, is the next blog. Coming soon to a blog near you:
The Life and Times of the Drunken Rogue: Part 5 -- Blue Jacket II: Drink Harder