Monday, March 17, 2008

The Moment

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time but haven’t had the time I wanted to devote to it. A recent reconnection with an old high school friend reminded me of ‘the moment’ I first became entranced with theater. Maybe for most people involved in theater there isn’t a distinct moment, but for me there definitely was. And that first moment opened the door to a whole series of them that followed, a magic trail of enlightenment and enjoyment. If you are like me and remember a specific memory, I invite you to share it here. You can either post a comment or email it to me separately. Who knows, maybe there’s a book in this or something…

It might surprise even some people who know me that in high school I was mostly a jock. I’d been playing football, basketball, and tennis since I was a kid and I was a three-season sports guy at school. My high school was too small to have a football team but we had an awesome soccer team. Two of my best friends and I made the varsity squad our freshmen year and in our sophomore year, we made the regional tournament. We traveled around quite a lot and, for an underclassman, hanging out with the seniors was a particular thrill. Our center midfielder, a senior named Fred Plecha, could do it all. He was fast and tough and clever. His most impressive feat was the way he could take any punt an opposing goalie launched, trap it and get on the ground back in play again in an instant.

Shortly after the soccer season wrapped up that year, my friends said they were going to check out the winter musical that the school was putting on. I had no specific interest in going but my friends were going so I tagged along. I had never heard of “Godspell” and had no idea what to expect. The lights went down and from the back of the gymnasium from an unseen performer came the first line in the show, sung a capella, clear and strong, in an unwavering tenor: “Pre, ee, ee, pare ye the way of the lord…” It was a transcendent line, crystal clear as if delivered from heaven, and it echoed majestically for several moments – maybe an eternity. The singer emerged and, if you haven’t guessed by now, it was Fred Plecha. He continued the song as he strode up to the stage and the band broke out into the rollicking music and I sat there with my jaw in my lap.

There would be further shocks in the show – Jesus was played by our goalie, Chris Toth, but he was a pretty flamboyant personality so that didn’t come as quite a surprise. But Fred Plecha?!? And he was so damn good! I never really thought about theater in the same way after that.

Upon reflection, I realize this is a scenario right out of ‘High School Musical,’ but as cliché as it may seem, it certainly had an impact at the time. Soon enough I would discover how many good-looking girls were involved in theater. I’d be surprised and delighted at the talent exhibited by people I’d only known as a cheerleader or a lab partner in science class or the treasurer of the National Honor Society. I would find out that there were plenty of jobs a stage-frightened wannabe like me could do to be involved in the process. I’d be lucky enough to see one Nora Gillis, an incredible actress with whom I was a wretched boyfriend, deliver the line “I have tasted my menstrual blood!” with unwavering conviction in about a dozen performances. I’d luck into a 5th-row center seat for “Me and My Girl” on Broadway starring the incomparable Robert Lindsay, a show-stopping performer if ever there was one.

I’d luck into the menial job of carrying around a bulky hammered dulcimer, a job that would result into a life-fulfilling relationship. And I’d eventually see more than 50 productions a year several years running, never getting tired of the myriad variations on theatrical conventions that make it on stage month after month.

And I have Fred Plecha and that resounding first line from “Godspell” to thank for it. I’ve never had a chance to thank Fred – now Dr. Plecha if I remember correctly – directly for that life-changing moment. Someday soon, I’ll have to look him up and do so.


Andrew Hamm said...

I was a band geek in junior high school, and not a very good one. I was a low-chair third clarinetist in the Intermediate Band in seventh grade who somehow managed to jump concert band and make low-chair third clarinet in the Symphonic Band in eighth grade. I wasn't especially passionate about it; I wasn't particularly passionate about much of anything at that point in my life. When I look back, I wonder who that awkward young man was.

When it came time to start high school, I intended to continue with band largely because nothing else interested me, other than reading fantasy novels instead of doing my homework. Before enrolling in the high school band class, the rising freshmen each ment face-to-face with the band teacher.

Wow, was he a jerk.

I can't even remember the guy's name, but I will always be grateful to him for being cold and mean when I met with him, because it made me quit band. I didn't have much initiative at that point in my life, but I knew enough to know I didn't want to see this guy five days a week for the next four years. I needed to fill an arts requirement for my advanced diploma, and I knew I couldn't draw or paint, so DRAMA 1 stood out. I signed up. I paid my dues as a freshman, got a couple good parts as a sophomore, was George in Our Town and Cherdyakhov in The Good Doctor as a junior, and was known school-wide as "king of the drama fags" (it was intended as a compliment) by the time I graduated.

So my moment of theatrical awakening is actually a story carved in negative relief. Theatre was there when I needed something to be there. Thank you, Mr. Whatever-your-name-is, for being such a jerk.

At least I still have my clarinet. You know, just in case I need it to fall back on.

Anonymous said...

I knew what I wanted to be in Kindergarten and I declared it to my Mother as much as possible…a nurse. So I practiced by nursing my dolls and I was in charge of all band-aid application (I secretly hoped people would fall down around me so I could run and get a band-aid and put it on them.)

Then in fourth grade my very creative teacher Ms. Tanturi decided that we were going to put on scenes from the musical George M. I should also mention that fourth grade was the year that I had my first BIG TIME crush...Tyler Papas. He was tall, funny, Italian (this was important to my Grandma Cutaia mainly) and a little bit of a bad boy…hmmm.

I was in a chorus class, but really never had any interest in musical theatre. Then I saw the cast list and noticed that there was the part of a nurse listed. I just HAD to get that part! Ms. Tanturi made those of us who were taking chorus class sing for her…which I did. The next day the cast list went up and some other girl had gotten the part of the nurse. Well, I burst into tears in front of everyone. Ms. Tanturi couldn’t understand why I was so upset because she had given me the role of Josie Cohen. AND Tyler Papas was going to play George! I was in HEAVEN!!!

By the time we closed the play the theatre bug had bitten me and my dreams of becoming a nursing were over. Sadly Tyler moved to CA the next year...I always wonder what happened to him.

Great post Dave…thanks for letting me tell my story…I want to hear more from others!

Jacquie O.