I’m at the main library, while Susie is at the Davis Center auditioning for Honk, Jr. After Davis fell victim to the city’s budget axe, I never thought I’d be down here again for this purpose, but Davis is back on its feet and Honk, Jr. (based on "The Ugly Duckling") will debut in May.
Drama was one area where I was content to remain behind the scenes. The only time I ever appeared in a play was in fourth grade, when I played Joseph in a Nativity play at Washington School in Marietta. The work was pretty simple. It meant sitting by the manger where Baby Jesus (played by a hidden light bulb and a rubber doll) lay. All I had to do was sit there in my bathrobe and look pious. I don’t even remember if I had any lines. If I did, I’m sure Richard Dreyfuss had more lines in The Graduate than I did in that play.
But in high school, I discovered the joys of working behind the scenes, mainly running the spotlight and the light board for the Senior Class Plays (not just my own class) and the All-School Plays, rolling out such masterpieces as Oklahoma!, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and The Mouse That Roared. Tech crew was practically a parallel universe, with its own jargon, worries, and schedule. I viewed it as an extension of my fascination with any device that recorded or played back recordings, especially when we tested or placed microphones. "Getting too much reverb on this mike," I’d say during a test. "Bring ‘er down just a tad!"
And it was fun to stare at the school’s vertically mounted reel-to-reel machine and shout, in feigned awe, "Look at all that tape on the floor!" so I could see the panicked reaction of another technical person, while others onstage didn’t have the slightest idea what the hell there was to provoke such worry.
In my junior year, I was even called into service when I didn’t expect it. During the fall of my junior year, The Flying Machine, a band from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, came to do a concert. They opened with "Lonesome Loser," which was pretty popular at the time. (I approved, since I liked the Little River Band.) When the song ended, the lead singer pointed to the ceiling and said, "Can someone bring down these house lights, please?"
I counted to five, and no one did. There’s no one back there on the board? I thought. So I got out of my seat (close to the lip of the stage) and ran backstage and flipped the rheostat that began darkening the auditorium. I went back to my seat for the rest of the show, and almost jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the principal, asking me to bring up the house lights, which I did.
The closest I came to working with anyone famous was when Max Morath came to Marietta to do a ragtime piano concert. I was totally ignorant of ragtime, but I had heard the name, since he had recorded public service announcements for the Library of Congress’ program of talking books for the blind.
My not-so-latent anarchist spirit splendidly rose to the occasion when a high school band, ignoring a direct order from the principal and assistant principal, included Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" in their repetoire. I was expecting that electricity to the lights and mikes would immediately be cut off, but it didn’t happen. I was in the audience with the spotlight, prepared to make a stand to defend it in the name of the First Amendment.