June 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
I enroll in three (of thirty required) 3-hour courses
(Greek Theatre, Playwriting, Creative Writing),
teach Voice & Diction to non-majors at 7:00 AM,
make time to act, direct, design, and write, and
find my place among the faculty, the grads, the undergrads,
hippies and straights, soldiers and protesters,
Joel and Wes,
while Sandra takes a painting class (tuition-free for us both),
keeps house, sews, crochets, and works part-time as a cocktail waitress.
Joel hasn’t changed much in six years. We find him in his Speech Department office in Eisenhower Hall, and he shows us around, introduces us to people we’ll see later at the party, after which he leads the way to the house he’s found for us on Manhattan Ave, where we learn our pets are not allowed. It takes a day or two, but the old magic kicks in and I find a better, cheaper bungalow on Bluemont Ave, close to campus.
The annual faculty/GTA welcome (back) party takes place at the home of Speech Communications Department Chair, Dr Norma Bunton, a closet lesbian, conservative in all her other ways, crashing her way through the glass ceiling and holding on with an iron claw. Joel’s there with Zoe, Wes and Dude, and I remember Carl and Edie Hinrichs, also from UNC. They both teach: Carl stagecraft and design, Edie dance. I don’t remember Australian Mark and native Chapel Hillian Becky Ollington (James Taylor’s babysitter), but she remembers me in Oh Dad, Poor Dad. It’s Carolina West.
New faces that come to mind are tight-assed History/Lit Professors Wallace (Wally) and Trish Dace, Mike McCarthy (Acting/Speech), Lydia Aseneta (Costumes), and teaching assistants Mary Horton (later CTC booking agent/PR manager) and Fred Martell (owner of a rent-controlled lease in Greenwich Village, secretly sublet while he completes his one-year MA; where we later spend a night). More than a dozen other names and faces blur, all of us drinking, jabbering, drinking, laughing, singing, drinking some more, until Mark reels, stumbles, and falls into and through a glass-top table that shatters, then his face and hands all blood. Nothing serious. Welcome to K-State.
The first thing Sandra does when we move in, as she does everywhere we live, is scrub the floors, the tub and toilet, all the drawers and cabinets (lining them with contact paper), and paint the walls and woodwork, while I (always) build shelves for books and records, my solid state Hi Fi, our European souvenirs. When we’re through, the walls are black, the wood is white, and there’s a wall-to-wall black rug on the hardwood floor. It’s a work of art.
These walls are witness to quite a number of significant events, from wild and crazy parties to more intimate occasions, some exhilarating, others devastating. Top of the list is our Halloween party, loads of people, lots of fun. The nadir is the night I feign insanity for spite. In between there are good times with people who come by to party, chat, rehearse, get high. It’s where we eat, sleep, study, paint and write, play with the animals and each other. The down side is too often Sandra’s working (a job she hates) when I’m here, here when I’m at school, and we grow more apart.
She takes the first job she can find, cocktail waitress at the Cavalier Club, catering to redneck farmers and soldiers from Fort Riley. Kansas is Carrie Nation country, which means you have to join a club to buy a drink. Membership for a night at the Cavalier Club is a dollar. Several nights a week she pretties herself (hair, make-up, mini-dress) to go out and pretend to be what she looks like, the sort of person she detests, a flirt, almost a whore, for tips. Guys tip better when a girl plays the game, abides the innuendos, ignores the hands unless they roam too close. It’s just not her. She gets off at two AM, pissed and humiliated, comes home to shower and sleep.
On her own, when she’s not keeping house or painting, she sits at her portable Singer and sews, hippie clothes—long flowing granny skirts and peasant blouses for herself, broad-striped bell-bottoms and huge-collared psychedelic shirts for me. It’s a hobby that comes in handy as the years go by.
Our doors are always open; our spare bedroom free to anyone in need of a place to crash until Ron Shepard mooches for a month, then steals my treasured blueish-brown suede fringe vest from Paris and disappears not long before the cops show up to arrest him for dealing drugs. He’s the reason we’re evicted later in the year.
Evidently Carl tells me at Norma’s party (I’m too blotto to remember) that he’s just found out John Jagger—his Professor in the summer production of The Lesson and slated for a revival tour of local schools starting in a week—has been drafted, and evidently I regale him with my saga of directing Fred, then stepping in. Whether I volunteer to save his ass or he makes up that part is up for grabs, but for the next week I rehearse non-stop, and Monday afternoon at 2:03 I walk on stage.
And go straight up.
The trigger is my John Lennon granny glasses. Just before the show Carl says they’re perfect for the part. I’ve never worn glasses on stage before, but he’s right. Big mistake. The Maid enters; the doorbell rings; the Pupil enters; the Maid exits, and I walk on: “Good morning, Miss.” Then all those faces, all those eyes! Jesus! And above them, in the middle, in the back, the round white face of a clock with numbers and hands. It’s 2:03. Forty-two minutes to go.
The lines are an actor’s nightmare to begin with; whatever makes me think I can re-learn them in a week? It’s gibberish. I pick a line out of the air and jabber until I get lost, at which point the poor Pupil moans, “Oh, Professor” (later “I’ve got a toothache”), while I jump to another line that comes so mind and jabber more, bouncing back and forth in the script, repeating bits and pieces, sweating like a horse, always with a 20-20 eye on the clock. At 2:40 I launch into the death scene and we take our bows to bewildered applause. The rest of the tour is cancelled.
Greek to Me
Wally Dace is a pompous pedant in his fifties, past whatever prime he may have had, who goads me into arguments that force me into serious research for the first time in my academic life, and I revel in it. The Oresteia teaches me how tyrants in the Golden Age used theatre to introduce the world to trial by jury and male supremacy (among many other things), and leads me to immerse myself in Mycenaean myths; the Theban plays of Sophocles (and Theban myths) elucidate the potent truth of tragedy. But it’s Bacchae that grabs me by the balls. Dionysus is a god I can deal with.
I borrow from Joel (and never return) both paperback volumes of Robert Graves’s Greek Mythology, underline and highlight, dog-ear all the pages, and mull them through the years, and the plays, and Aristotle, all and more (all since) culminating ultimately in my own still rough but startling Bacchae adaptation, as I turn seventy.
The New Play Program
My Creative Writing class (English 661: prose fiction) is moderated (by no means taught) by a locally celebrated published author whose mind is always somewhere else. I give him my two Paris stories, and he gives me an A.
Joel, on the other hand, is a man on a mission. Hired only the year before as head of Theatre in the Department of Speech and Communication Arts, he dreams of turning KSU into his private playwriting Mecca, and his production schedule for the year includes staged readings of new full-length plays (including my Seance and Wake), two bills of original one-acts, and two of Wes and Mark’s new children’s musicals.
Proponents of his program are most of the faculty and students who write plays or plan to teach. Wannabe actors turn to Wes. Norma plays both ends against the middle, while I sit on the fence.
His class is not the hotbed of creativity I remember from Chapel Hill. Am I just less naive, or has he lost interest? Instead of analyzing student plays, he reads us his. Am I the only one who turns one in? Or are the few that are submitted (the class is six) dealt with as summarily (and forgettably) as mine, one reading in class, his critical comments rambling from the script to personal anecdotes and cryptic, zen-like aphorisms, the sardonic sage.
The only thing I remember about that class is the story he tells about a student (him?) who walks into theatre at UCLA to find the eminent scholar (designer, producer, director) Mordecai “Max” Gorelick seated alone in the house, and asks what he’ doing there. “Praying,” the old sage replies.
The course requirement is at least one one-act play, from which he will select three for the spring bill. My one (I’m uninspired) is “The Elephant Gun,” a virtual monologue with a walk-on landlady and an offstage voice, blatantly derived from Ionesco. (Scott, a starving artist, attempts to focus on his work while his adjoining neighbor Leo plays a tuba.) I hand it in for an A.
The Magic Isle
Joel bring Wes to K-State to produce the plays his program generates, but Wes has grander plans. He and Mark collaborate in Denver on a handful of children’s musicals to rehearse here and send on the road to schools. The first play of the season is The Magic Isle, for which he contracts Mark and Becky and transfers three of his Denver devotees (Charlie Leader, David Huff, and a name-forgotten chick who thinks she’s Janis Joplin) to play the leads. Once it closes, Wes books a 3-stop trial run tour.
The play is (as are all their works) delightful slapstick kiddie-drama with an interactive twist, the actors breaching the fourth wall for advice, direction, in the end the final clue, and signing autographs in character after the show. This one is modeled on commedia dell’ arte and uses stock characters and silly songs to tell a tale of shipwreck and adventure, magic and mischief, old fools and young lovers.
Charlie plays old Pantalone, David the villain Capitano. (The chick’s too stoned to play at all, and soon goes back to Denver.) Pantalone’s pal, the Doctor (Il Dottore) is Ron Sheppard; their zanni are Chris Macho (Pulcinella) and Michael Pule (Arlecchino); their children ate Nancy Tiption (Celia) and Jerry Webb (Leandro); Jean Pflieger plays the nurse (Franceschina), and Skip Pickering is the Captain’s minion (Coviello).
Of these, only Jerry is from Denver, but all except Skip (a rancher at heart) coalesce into Wesley’s inner circle, joined soon after by Coral McEachern from Aspen, Pam Walker from Colorado Springs, their Kansas husbands-to-be, John Dillon and Lynn Wohler, and others to become the core of CTC.
One thing they all have in common is Hair. The musical we don’t see in London.
The Purple Masque
The old auditorium burns down four years before I show up, so the K-State Players carve out space in the shop—a cold, dank, concrete cavern under the grandstand of the old, abandoned football Stadium—and christen it the Purple Masque. While I’m here, the university erects state-of-the-art McCain, Auditorium, where “The Happy Prince” plays one afternoon, but the Purple Masque remains the mainstage until
Thrust stage against a flat black wall, high ceiling sloping down (the grandstand) to the back of the 100-seat house. Entry through a door in the stage left wall; door to an office right; scene shop through double doors in the house right wall, light booth above; nothing house left. Where are the dressing rooms? A poor excuse for a university theatre, I think, until I recall Playmakers.
I know now how much she hates it, why she does it, why I let her (make her?). Even then I know. What I know now is the reason why she hates it. Making love is not the cure.
She finds comfort in Walt, the bartender, who befriends her, teacher her to mix drinks, sometimes lets her work behind the bar. This intimacy is noticed by the manager, who doesn’t like her anyway (she isn’t what she looks like), who fires her; but Walt has connections and she’s soon serving a higher class clientele in the lounge at the Continental Inn (membership $3.00); next semester, when he moves to the VFW, she works there too.
I meet Walt only once, an older student, ex-Navy, Vietnam, divorced with kids, nice guy apparently, later heavy into drugs, arrested for dealing. I never know him.
Typically, I take the car to school for my (too) early class and remain on campus until she needs it to go to work. When I’m cast in The Miser, that gets tricky (Maybe she rides with Walt.) On nights we’re both free, she joins the fun and games, gets to know the gang. In time, she melds with them, much more than I. She lets them talk about themselves; she listens. I can’t keep my mouth shut. She gets into rock and roll, learns all the songs from Hair. I don’t. (Can’t. Don’t know why. Not since Elvis and Buddy Holly.) She’s an earth-mother flower child; I, as David Huff once puts it so succinctly, am a “pseudo-hippie.” I envy her attachments.
Sometimes we have fun together, just ourselves. Afternoons at Tuttle Creek with Andromache, at the pathetic little zoo, with the scraggly old lion and the peacock, Johnny Caw in the park (a ridiculous gigantic painted statue universally known as Johnny Cock); later nights alone in the Purple Masque dressing the back wall for The Beautiful People. We’re beginning to discover who we are (and aren’t) now that the Army and the rocky Paris honeymoon are over, both as one, in wedlock, and as two fundamentally different human beings. It’s not easy.
David’s a shit. His malicious off-hand remark stings so bad it haunts me still, reminding me not only that, no matter how hard I pretend, I don’t fit in; but also that my pretense is transparent.
Case in point, a trip to KC to see Woodstock on acid. I do get Woodstock. I don’t learn the words—they don’t register—the drums, the bass, the pounding rhythms overwhelm them in my head, they don’t connect (or they’re all the same)—but my body rocks instinctively in time and I feel love all around me. I ache to connect to the culture that creates it. I do ardently believe the War is wrong and women, blacks, and gays have rights, and all the rest, including (best of all) free love; I wear homemade hippie clothes, flash the peace sign—it doesn’t work. Something in the way I’m made (or am brought up) keeps me forever on the outside (upside, downside) looking in (or down, or up).
I look back and see myself in high school, pseudo-beatnik in harlequin boatneck and calypsos, Maynard (G. Krebbs, with goatee) to the rubes on the job site who (I think) think I’m for real, just weird; I swell with pride when my Army buddies call me the Hippie Lieutenant. Are they ridiculing me?
Thee more I remember, the more I see myself as others see me at the time. It’s not the pretty picture I pretended to project. It’s who I know I am.
Halloween, when John Francis visits from New York and dozens of my theatrical comrades (mostly undergrads) come to brainstorm, then go out to improvise in public (a la San Francisco Mime) and return to record their exploits on tape.
John poses as an East German spy, Sandra and I his operatives, stalked by a beautiful blond special agent/grad student and her husband (what are their names?)
Dogs & Cats
Andromache gets out, gets pregnant, slips away somewhere in later October, presumably to die in puppybirth. Dogs will do that, Sandra says. It’s sad without her,
Maggie the Cat has litter after litter, several of .
Kismet, Seigfried, Didi and Gogo.