I’ve had the privilege of being a cast member of several theatrical productions. A life-long dream of being in a classic Broadway musical was fulfilled in my being awarded the role of Eli Whitney in Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ under the direction of Brook Hall and Maestro Ted Runcie.
It was a fantastic experience. (There’s that word again; ‘experience’ – both a noun and a verb, in English.) I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with true Broadway veterans with whom I have lasting relationships. Damned hard work by which I proved my mettle as a stage actor and musical performer.
I’ve also held the title role of Morrie Schwartz, the mentor and professor who dies of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS) in the play ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’.
(That was my first dramatic role since high school – ‘way-back-when’ in drama club when, as a member of the Thespian Club, I starred in an Ionesco-style avant garde play about self-actualization, in which my character’s key line was “I am…” repeated several time at the play’s end.)
Following the role of Morrie, I was given the role of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank in the eponymous play ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. It was a very taxing and extremely weighty role. Every performance of this tragic tale left me emotionally drained as Otto fights to protect his family and spare them their ultimate fate of death in the concentration camps at the hands of the Third Reich.
It was during the run of this production (14 shows) that I realized that I was actually an actor.
Ironically, I was told by my director in high school that I had no acting talent. That tale is told in my semi-autobiographical novel, ‘Ovoid, Illinois’. (Available at Amazon.com, BTW…) I didn’t accept her verdict but it took another 50 years for me to satisfactorily prove her wrong.
It was the theatrical director, Brook Hall, who recognized that my performances with my Chicago Blues band, BoPoMoFo, were another form of acting. He observed that I took on the role of a Blues singer when I sang. I immediately knew what he was talking about. Each set of music was a relaxed theatrical performance. This epiphany had been revealed to me years earlier in Boulder, Colorado when a colleague from work saw me sing and play at a club gig. He told me ‘You’re a completely different person up there. You’re not the guy I work with every day.’ I was gob-smacked at this observation. I knew it was true but had never considered it before then.
My take-away from that insight was that many others did not or could not separate their on-stage persona from their daily lives. Bluesmen, Rockers and Pop Stars took up the dark path of alcoholism, drug abuse and wanton sexual adventurism in an attempt to ‘live the life’ of their on-stage characters.
I could see that that way lied madness and profligacy.
No great wisdom was at work in my decision; I had little to lose and did not want to lose it.