It took 24 years.
That’s how long it has been since I appeared on stage in a local theater production. That will change next month.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I participated as an actor in 20 to 25 shows in Salisbury for several theater groups, mostly Piedmont Players, and worked on the crew for at least another half dozen.
My last production was PPT’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” back in 1989. If it were to be my last, it was a great show in which to wrap.
Wife Julie’s and my priorities shifted from our activities to supporting those of our two children, and they were busy little rascals, so time to do a show became virtually nonexistent. But now, the young-uns are grown and gone, I’m retired, so the time is available.
I did read for a show a few years back, but the wise director assembled a cast which did not include me. I pouted for maybe a day. But he knew what he was doing. His selections were perfect, and the production was fantastic. Not getting cast sometimes is part of the process.
So, I was minding my own business early one morning about a month ago when, out of the blue, I received a message from local writer, director, actor extraordinaire and longtime friend Jenny Hubbard, asking me to attend tryouts for the upcoming St. Thomas Players’ production of “Arcadia.”
Our exchange of messages continued (isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing)...
“Tryouts? For what? When?”
“What’s an ‘Arcadia’?”
She told me.
Uh, then my brain went into excuse mode.
“I don’t know, Jenny. Committing two months of what’s left of my life for a show. I don’t know. To be honest, I’m not sure I can still memorize dialogue. It’s been a long time.”
I thought that would discourage her. Wrong.
“There’s a couple of roles you could do that wouldn’t be too stressful” — or whatever word she used.
“Gee, I don’t know, Jenny.” That should convince her. Wrong.
“David Pulliam is director, and Claudia Galup is assistant director,” she wrote.
Well, that was my hook. David has been one of my closest friends for over two decades. I never would have thought I could ever do a show with David, as I’m not a Catawba College student, and that’s where David does his thing.
And I have long admired the talents of Claudia as an actor and director. Here was an opportunity to work with her.
I no longer could or wanted to say “no.”
So I messaged Jenny later that day that I would be there.
And I was.
Sir David of Pulliam had selected specific sections (I love alliteration) for the readings. As we all took our turns, I sat in awe, thinking that everyone there, except me, had been practicing together for weeks already. It sounded as if they were performing “Twelfth Night.” When I read, it was more like “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
But the casting call did come, later at home, while I was watching my time-delayed daily dose of “Judge Judy.” Lady Claudia of Galup asked if I would undertake the role of landscaper Richard Noakes. I accepted without hesitation.
The 24-year drought had ended.
So here we are, three weeks into rehearsal, and things, at least as far as I can tell, are going wonderfully. Because of Sir David’s structured rehearsal schedule, all of the cast has not yet been together at a single session. Sort of why the President and Vice President never travel together, I guess. But we will.
I can report, however, that I am surrounded by brilliance. Several I can attest to by their other performances locally. Justin Dionne is Salisbury’s “Boy Wonder” these days. With all Justin has going on right now, I don’t know how he has the time to do a show, but I’m glad he found it. And I have always enjoyed Len Clark when he appears in a show.
And back to Jenny Hubbard. I watched and sometimes appeared with all three of the “Hubbard girls” (as we called them) back when they were tykes. I was in “The Sound of Music” with Jenny when she appeared as one of the Von Trapp children. I had an adult role in that show. I wanted to be one of the kids, but they told me the full beard I wore in those days disqualified me.
The remainder of our cast is filled to the brim with fine actors. Some I have seen in shows, some I haven’t. But I’ve seen them all rehearse, and they’re great already. I speak of Jean White, Preston Mitchell, Alison Bird, Brian Davis, Chris Honsaker, Willow Beeker, Paris Battle and Dante Cataldo (whom I haven’t yet even seen). That’s because of Sir David’s scheduling.
And I wish to mention that our stage manager is Lizelle Restar, whom I first met 27 years ago when the Cline family moved across the street from the Restar family. Lizelle was a moppet then. My kids and Lizelle played together. Now I have to do what she tells me. It makes me think of the adage “Be nice to your children. They’ll determine to what retirement home you’ll go.”
Some of these folks weren’t born the last time I was in a local production. I’m depressing myself.
The play “Arcadia” is a two-time Tony Award winner. It was selected the Best Play of 1995 (its initial Broadway run), then again in 2011 as Best Revival Play of the Year. So we’re not talking “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” This is quality stuff. It is set in both 1809 and the present.
And since we’re talking England, we’re also talking English accents, which can be tricky. We’ve all been working on nailing the appropriate sounds since day one. Len Clark is doing the best so far. And as he has real-life experience, since he’s spent some time over yonder, he’s pitching in as our dialogue coach. Jolly good job, Len.
Our production opens the second week of June, and in spite of my participation, I predict it will be a dilly.
And I promise that I’ll really work on my accent so it will sound as if my character lives near London, England, not London, Kentucky.
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies played in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.