Life on a Great Street

Spent a bit of time recently digging through files and found a lot of black and white photos from my days studying acting at UNC-Greensboro. Most of the pictures are black and white. I believe that is what was used to print in weekday editions of the Greensboro News & Record. Color was reserved for weekend papers.  I was there for a little over three years after transferring from the North Carolina School of the Arts. I’d also had experience working as a high school intern at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival and at the Monomoy Theatre in Cape Cod.  So I was eager to get time on stage and playing roles after spending so much time being near it. Looking back, UNC-G gave me a lot of that.  A true bounty of gifts on Tate Street…

At 20, I thought I was too grown up to the play the 14-year-old character Charlie in A.R. Gurney’s play. We mimed props most of the play but I did get to use actual mud at one point. This was one of many collaborations I had with the director Mary Rowland who helped me find my way in many roles that were outside my experience, including Julian in Lillian Hellman’s “Toys in the Attic.” Also, my grandfather who served during World War II let me pick his brain about what life was like at that time. He shared things I’d never heard from him.
Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a bucket list role in my young life. I pierced my ear to have a dangling skull earring for this role. One that probably didn’t read to the audience. I loved running and jumping all around that stage. One of my best exits ever was leaping upstage center towards the distance. They cued the lights to go completely out when I hit my peak height so I appeared to vanish in the air. In actuality, I landed on a big safety mat and crawled off stage under the set. One night, the 10-year-old who played the Changeling Boy was goofing off on the mat at that moment. I hurt myself in three different places to avoid landing on him.
I got to play Father Toulon in “Red Noses” by Peter Barnes. It’s like Monty Python takes on the Black Plague. Did a reading of this play recently and realized that Alan Cook gave me the most interesting role in the play because Toulon confronts his own beliefs and changes. I didn’t have the life experience at the time to truly get that. Alan would say, “He’s almost a Maoist.” That was also lost on me, but I took that to mean to be more emphatic early in the play.
The UNC-G Drama Faculty. We recently lost Alan Cook, center right, and Marsha Paludan, bottom right. They were both big influences on me.
I was one of the three Protean characters in the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” This allowed me to use clown skills and focus on timing. This was the only show I did in the very big (1600 seats!) auditorium at the corner of Spring Garden and Tate Street. I didn’t fully appreciate the outrageous joy of this experience because I was so focused on making choices. The director was nervous because I didn’t find my characters until late in the process at this point. And I was playing a bunch of them. I think I needed to get a sense of what everyone else was doing and then figure out where and how to fill in certain spots throughout the show. I was helped in discovering my soldier character by having a helmet that would not sit straight up on my head so he was always off balance.
I’m second from the right in the back playing the role of the servant Scrub in George Farquhar’s 1707 comedy “The Beaux’ Strategem.” It was directed by Alan Cook. Years later, my graduate thesis role was Lt. Clark in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good.” My character directed the prisoner characters in a production of “The Beaux’ Stratagem.” Alan directed me to go up the stairs built up from the orchestra pit loudly, “Like you’re scrubbing the floor with your feet when you enter.” My mom thought that was hammy and told me not to do that. I had to explain to her the concept honoring and following through with a note from the director.
The guest director for this production of “Geniuses” was its playwright. It was a take on the events of the filming of “Apocalypse Now.” A stressful and chaotic process. This was the first time I got really sick during the run of a show. My character had a couple lines in the first act that I delivered over a microphone from the lighting booth as though he was calling down from a helicopter. Then I didn’t enter until last 45 minutes of a three-hour play. This gave me a lot of time to warm up. Lots of stretches and Linklater exercises. This was one of the roles that required me to play high status and be big in size while working with my slight physical stature. It took me a lot to gin that up in those days. I broke one prop stick by hitting it too many times on the set’s couch during rehearsals. I looked like a keyboardist in a new wave band.
(Bonus color pic! I’m fourth from the right.) I was an actor who always had ideas. Some directors like that and other really don’t. The director of this version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” put me in charge of the show’s choreography to get me to zip it. (A great people managing technique.) I chose to do three cartwheels across the stage early in the show. One show, my wrist said, “no thanks” and I was an embarrassing mess going across. I had to turn around to lead with my other arm.

I got to do other parts in mainstage productions of “Medea,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I was also in student-lead black box productions of “Marat/Sade,”  “As Your Like It,” “A Doctor in Spite of Himself,” “Pyramus and Thisby,” “How Much Is Your Iron?,” “The Bald Soprano,” “Woyzeck,”  “Cowboy Mouth,” and Fred Chappell’s “Duet,” among others. 

I was on the Dean’s List my first semester but let my academics slide a bit as I got more involved with performing. I took 22 hours my final two semesters and summer classes to graduate on time. I received a nomination for the Irene Ryan competition for my role in “Toys in the Attic.” I went on to make the top 10 in the regional competition. 

I do owe a great deal of gratitude to all the directors and teachers with whom I worked at UNC-Greensboro: Betty Jean, John, Mary, Kay, Steve, Tom, Jim, Marsha, Alan, Jonathan, Imre, Mark, Bruce, Jean, Belinda, Ellen, the other Jonathan, Nicole, Wade, and Lori. You provided me with experiences that shaped me in many ways and prepared me for the life I grew into over the years.