Sunday, June 13, 2010

Overdue Thanks from a Proud Theatre Geek

27 years ago, I made my Shakespearean debut as the villain Claudius in Hamlet. I was crapping my pants scared. First Shakespeare and I'm in Hamlet? Playing 20 years older than I was (as I did in almost every show I ever did for a very long time) and cast opposite a woman who was actually 20+ years older than I., as one of the most famous villains of all time? This was no Bye Bye Birdie, my friends. This was Theatre.

I remember it being a rather intense production, The principles were cast from a Spring acting class taught by a wonderfully eccentric and often brilliant professor, who was directing the following fall. Each of us met with Sir (a name Q and I will always remember fondly) once a week over the summer to work on technique, diction and vocal production, with occasional character work thrown in. It was that summer that Sir helped me truly figure out what my voice was capable of, and how best to use it on stage. He also taught me the intricacies of playing a villain ("You must believe that your actions are not only for your own good, but the common good") and the value of advance planning as a director (though my personal directing style was much more influenced by another wonderful teacher who I promise to talk about soon).

If you haven't figured it out by now, that's Uncle P on the right, entreating Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take Hamlet back to England with them. I know the young man in the middle was a British exchange student named Pip (he was with me when I got my ear pierced), though I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the brunet or who played whom. That was 27 effing years ago... I remember those faux-fur costumes were hot as hell and I went out and spent $120 on boots at some trendy store (which my father threw-out when I moved to California, briefly). I remember the massive revolving set and the performances of several cast members; Rich M. as Horatio; Terry D. as Laertes; Steve O. as Hamlet; Lillian B. as Gertrude; Rich W. as The Player and the Gravedigger... I remember the actress who played Ophelia (Betty... something...) took her mad-scene costume outside and rolled around on the ground, getting a massive grass and mud stain on her ass, which we could not look at without bursting into hysterical laughter... I remember good times and laughter to combat all the sturm und drung that is Hamlet; a very intense experience for such a young actor and in the end, a production that was actually quite good for college theatre. It was also the first time I actually understood Shakespeare without having to fight to get it (another gift bestowed by Sir). I recently reconnected with Steve O. via Facebook. Steve shared pictures from the production, which I never knew existed. And there I am...

Today, the gray hair and the goatee are real, though the perm (thank God) is a thing of the distant past. What isn't gone are those feelings of accomplishment and the lessons learned (not to mention the friendships made) over the course of one production.

The casual theatre-goer knows only what he or she sees on stage, at the performance he or she attends. Like most movie audiences, they see only the finished product (in as much as live theatre can ever be considered 'finished'). What they don't see are the months and months of planning and preparation; casting and rehearsing; prop gathering; costuming; set-building; lighting design; etc., etc. that go into that finished product. They also don't know the kind of camaraderie and even sense of family that happens among small groups of people with an intense, albeit (by definition) temporary, common experience. It's why real theatre people do theatre.

Yes, we get artistic satisfaction. We get applause and kind words from strangers (especially if we're any good). We still get to play make-believe long after every other profession in the world (Pro Wrestling nonewithstanding). If we are very, very lucky we make lots of money, become famous and win ultimately meaningless awards. Because if we love doing theatre, we love it for all the same reasons Trekkers love "Star Trek" and X-Philes love "The X-Files." It boils down to a sense of belonging, I think. Its time spent being yourself among like-minded folks, all the while creating something completely artificial to present to a group of judgmental strangers in order to seek approval. We get each other, us Theatre Folk do. Just as any other bunch of geeks get one another.

So, from a still very proud Theatre Geek, this post is dedicated to Dr. Harold Hogstrom. Teacher; adviser; director; inspiration. My TSC contemporaries will either agree wholeheartedly or call me mad (though I doubt the latter). None of them will argue that Sir had a profound effect on all of us, in one way or another.

Thank you, Sir (with love)...

Yeah, I went there. And yeah, I know I'm totally ripping off "Glee," but I don't care. The older I get, the more I realize how influential Sir would become, long after I was no longer his student. And thank you, Steve, for sharing those amazing pictures.

More ramblings, anon.


Anonymous said...

how many times, especialy recently, have i wanted to write to him...dont think he's on FB (!). I needs must just write a good old fashioned letter..

Stephen said...

A lovely rememberance & tribute.
Theatre families can be very powerful. I am still friends with people that I did shows with 35+ years ago.

Love the perm. Like you, & played older than my real age often. I convincingly played Fagin when I was I was 25 years old.

Rich M. said...

Just read this post Brian. Well said! We had a great time, didn't we? And it was a damned fine production, too.