I had resolved to stick with it (acting, theatre, whatever you want to call it), and that fall I started my freshman year at Penn State. The first few weeks were a whirlwind of meeting new people, getting oriented to the campus, attending classes, and being waylaid by Philip Klopp, Randy’s cousin, for whatever his latest cause was, and Philip always seemed to have a cause.
And it was superb. The only thing not fully professional about it was that it was being performed on a university campus.
And I realized that I was not in the same league as these Theatre Arts students, so I decided not to embarrass myself by auditioning for any of their productions.
(By the way, the actor who played Littlechap in that production, whose name I can’t recall right now, did go on to have a professional career. I saw that he appeared in New York City Off-Broadway productions in the 1970s before I lost track of him.)
I took a play writing course during the spring term of my first year, thinking that might be a way to ease myself into the Theatre Arts community as well as get myself started on a possible career in writing, which was one of the things I thought I might want to do. But I discovered that although the theatre people were friendly enough, they were also pretty much a closed group, and I was most definitely not one of them. I also discovered that although I did have a little bit of a talent for writing dialog, I had absolutely no gift for developing a plot or fleshing out characters. Good to know. That being said, I did better in that course than most of the actual Theatre Arts students did, as practically none of them seemed to have any aptitude for writing at all.
Now State College had a thriving community theatre, but I wasn’t aware of it until several years later. And when I attended one of their productions, Hello, Dolly!, performed in the round, I decided they didn’t need whatever talents I might have to offer.
Flash forward a few years to the mid 1970s, and I was living in Richland again. In the fall of 1975 I went to auditions for the LCTI’s production of Night Must Fall, Emlyn Williams’s thriller about a psychotic killer. In the intervening years, LCTI had finished refurbishing their barn, and after a few years that barn had burned to the ground. Then they managed to get financing for a theater at Stoever’s (pronounced “stay-vers”) Dam, where they remain to this day.
Despite not having Arlene and Maryann to push me up to the stage, I summoned up the courage to read for a couple of the parts, and I must not have done too badly, as the director had me read with a few of the other people trying out.
But in the end the part of the killer went to George Smith, a psychiatrist from Harrisburg, and one of the other male parts also went to someone from Harrisburg. The director was from Harrisburg. Hmmm.
But I had mixed feelings about the auditions. On the one hand, Betts was there, and she remembered me as the fellow who had been in Janus. On the other hand, a couple other people that I had known were there but they didn’t seem to remember me. And the auditioning process was truly anxiety ridden. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole time I was on the stage.
I went to see the production and it was terrific. George Smith was great as the psychotic killer. And really the whole cast was fine. It seemed as if with the new performance space, LCTI had leaped to a new level of quality.
Allie was in the lobby, and we greeted each other warmly. It was great to see her again.
But for some reason, I never went back. Never rejoined LCTI. Never went to the meetings. Never went to another production. It just wasn’t the same. Not without Maryann and Gary and Arlene and the rest of the gang from high school.
Someone asked me once why I found auditioning so anxiety ridden, and I had a few ideas, but as I was getting ready to write this post a thought occurred to me.
I’ve mentioned that I have no problem getting up in front of a large group of people to perform or give a speech or whatever, but it’s just the auditioning process that makes me nervous. On the other hand, I’ve often interviewed for jobs, and I don’t recall ever being particularly nervous during those interviews, and aren’t job interviews like auditions?
Yes, they are, but there’s one big difference. I’ve never interviewed for a job that I didn’t think I was fully qualified for, so I was always confident during the interviews. But I didn’t have that same confidence when I auditioned for a role in a play. Plus it had been years since the Janus production, so whatever momentum I might have felt from that had long since dissipated. And even though people had been telling me for years that I have a great speaking voice, I didn’t hear it myself, so I never fully believed it.
As technology has evolved, in recent years I’ve discovered something that I enjoy far more than performing, and that is editing. As in editing videos. I don’t think I could have ever made a career as a film editor when that meant working with actual film, because I recall the days of working with audio tape and I always hated having to splice the physical tape. But now that video or movie editing involves working with digital media—if I had been born a mere 50 years later I could well imagine pursuing such a career.
I dwelled on my Janus memories much longer than I had anticipated (though I have some memories that I wasn’t able to work into any of the posts), mainly because I’ve enjoyed reliving that period in my life, and I hope I communicated some of the joy of the experience. If I could literally relive just one period in my life, that’s probably the one I would choose. It’s a shame that I don’t have any photos of the production or of my fellow cast members or crew. It’s sobering to reflect on the fact that I never saw any of my fellow cast mates after our final performance (save briefly John Roberts the following week in the library), and that barring something unexpected, I’m unlikely to ever see any of them again. Assuming they are still with us, and I fervently hope they are, Molly would be about 80 years old, John about 90, and Chet somewhat older. Mary Ann would be in her early 70s, and our director, John, would be, I think, close to 90.
As I don’t believe in an afterlife (actually, I’m as certain as it’s possible to be that this is the only life we get), I’m not expecting any kind of reunion in the great hereafter. But if I turn out to be wrong, and we all find ourselves together again in some version of the Good or the Bad Place, I can visualize John gathering us together for an encore performance as he whips us back into shape.
“Hold it! Denny, repeat that last line. And this time say it as if you mean it!”