Sunday, November 25, 2012

Memory Lane

I accompanied my partner, Cat Dancing, to an appointment in Georgetown this morning. Afterward, she had another appointment in Round Rock. It's been awhile since I've been around the area. I was born in Georgetown back in 1950, grew up not too far away in Liberty Hill, and lived and raised children in Round Rock from 1979 till about 1998 when I moved back to Liberty Hill for several years. So, aside from a few years in Austin, I lived in Williamson County all my life until I moved to McDade and Bastrop in 2007.

Oddly enough I was already thinking about Round Rock because of a dream I had last night. Several of my friends from Sam Bass Community Theater featured in my dream, so I awoke thinking of those days. Coming back into town today pulled a lot of memories to the surface.

In 1981 we had been living in Round Rock for two years. My son Bill was 5, my daughter Melanie was just born or nearly so. I read an ad in the Round Rock Leader about casting for the Sam Bass Shootout, a reenactment of an historical event, the shooting of Sam Bass (duh). The group was looking for new members to put on the production. It sounded interesting, so I showed up and joined in. The shootout was a lot of fun. The directors, Betty Porter and Zettie Vogler encouraged us all to also join the Sam Bass Community Theater group that sponsored the shootout group. I went on to participate in the shootout reenactment for 22 years.

I took them up on the offer to join the Sam Bass Community Theater as well. I had had no real exposure to theater previously. My high school didn't have a drama class when I was there. The Junior and Senior classes did put on a play each (called, respectively, the Junior and Senior Plays of course), we also participated in Theater for UIL competition. I enjoyed doing those in school but in thinking of getting involved in Sam Bass Theater I was actually looking for something my then wife, Linda, might be interested in doing. She decided it wasn't her thing, though, but I stayed with it.

At that time the Sam Bass Community Theater was housed in the old railroad depot building in downtown Round Rock. Later on the building was moved about a mile away to the Lions Club Veteran's Park and all of us pitched in to remodel it and build outbuildings.
The photo is from "Picnic" which was the play that was casting when I first joined Sam Bass Community Theater. Shown are my friends B.J. Machalicek and Doug Pope. 

In 1986 the Sesquicentennial of Texas was going on and Round Rock put on a large historical musical pageant named "We're All Texans Now!" Betty Porter was directing and asked me to join in. I played several roles and enjoyed it a lot.

I also started acting and writing in plays to benefit the Round Rock Public Library and the Friends of the Library. Betty Porter, again, was picked to direct the first "Library Mystery", which later became called "Mystery Night". Betty invited me to join in as an actor. The first production was one evening of an audience participation play, "Murder at the Library" and it was a success. We did it annually. The second year it was "Death in Berlin". When the third year (1991) rolled around, Betty called me and asked if I could help her find a western themed mystery play that we could "localize" easily for Round Rock. I had the bright idea of writing one. I brought her a very short first draft of "Murder at the TP Ranch." Betty read it and liked it but suggested I collaborate with Barbara Vance, Assistant Children's Librarian at the library. We had a great collaboration and developed a successful play. We went on to write several more as Mystery Night became a larger and larger production. Several of the plays we wrote have been performed in several states in the U.S. as well as Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, and Germany. Those yearly productions also included Reunion With Death('92); Play Dead ('93); and Death of the Party ('94)

Cast/set shot from Murder At The TP Ranch. Standing L to R: Wiley Gilmore, John West, Jerry (lost his last name), Jeanette Crabb, Barbara Vance, Betty Porter (Dir.). Seated from left: Patti Bowers, Chip Hadley (stage crew), Billie Blankenship, Bill Seward, Lisa Bilbrey (Friends Pres.)

Meanwhile with SBCT I auditioned for plays, got turned down, showed up to help with concessions and other helpful things. Eventually in 1990 I was cast in a play. My first one with SBCT was "First Monday in October". I was cast as Supreme Court Justice Richard Carey.

At right is a cast/set shot from "First Monday".  In the picture are Jim Grisham, Jan Stuckey, Phillip Robinson, Gene Cagle, Jim Prior, Doyle C. Carter, Mike Groblewski, myself, and Mike Stuckey. (Not in order). Also in the play were Andy Brown, Mark Brauner, Ben Irene Frederick, and Dustin Radabaugh.

During my involvement with SBCT the shows I did included: Bless Me Father; Close the Door So It Can't Get in Your Room; Dark of the Moon; Twelve Angry Men; Arsenic and Old Lace; Bleacher Bums; One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest; and many more. I also created an extra character during "Close The Door" we named "Melvin". He was sort of an unrecognizable stoner guy in the persona of a janitor. We had a lot of fun with that, and Melvin appeared in a few other random productions over the years as an add-in. He was uncredited and a mystery to the audience. He finally got a credited appearance as the night attendant in "Cuckoos Nest." 

Along with my acting and concurrent writing efforts, I also directed my first play at SBCT. We had a directing workshop about 1994. I chose Anton Chekhov's one act play "The Proposal". I came across it totally by accident and liked it. With that production I joined the list of Directors at SBCT. I had also moved into co-directing some of the Mystery Night Productions for the Library.

Some of our same group that did the Mystery Night productions staged a slightly different style of fund raising show for the Literacy Council of Williamson County. "The Mystery of Lotta's Boudoir" was another concept and script by Barbara Stopp Vance and myself. It was an audience participation mystery but with more of a "hands on" CSI feel. That was a lot of fun.
I believe "Cuckoos Nest" was about my last show with SBCT. Somewhere along that time I moved back to Liberty Hill. I love the theater, but doing a play is a commitment to show up basically every evening for six weeks or so. That's tough if you have to commute after a full time job as well. I did enter SBCT's One Act Play showcase twice and won a first both times. My first one-act, "Spinner", was especially a treat in that so many of my friends chose to act in it as well. The second, "Ghost of a Chance", was good as well, but the production was a bit of a disappointment to me. My son, Bill, however, auditioned and won roles in all but one of the shows in the one-act showcase, including mine. That was pretty cool!

Sam Bass Community Theater was, and I assume still is, a great bunch of people. I counted many as my closest friends. They supported me through many large crises at the time. I still am in contact with several of them. There were so many of them: Jim and Kathy Grisham, Jim Prior, Andy Brown, Jimmy Toungate, Veronica Prior, and on and on.

My involvement in both Mystery Night and SBCT ended when I remarried and moved to Liberty Hill, as I said before. In Liberty Hill I helped to found the Liberty Hill Public Library and the Liberty Hill Community Theater.

As Founder, Director and Resident Playwright of Liberty Hill Community Theater I was trying to start something that hadn't been done before in the town, much as we were doing in founding the Liberty Hill Public Library. We did have a good production of our "Reunion With Death", and tried to field a couple more but ran into problems with venue and casting. We had a lot of public support, but efforts to find a performance space just didn't work out. We quit trying to use the school auditoriums when the school wanted to charge us to put on a fund raiser for the school! A couple of efforts in casting plays met with little response, so I gave up on the idea. We did develop a very nice Youth Theater that kept going for awhile with the guidance and hard work of Laura and Lacey Cannon, their family and friends. They put on several excellent productions in the park and VFW hall that I was honored to end assistance to.

About the time I was giving up on the LHCT, the Public Library was taking off. We were able to pass a Sales Tax issue in Liberty Hill that gave welcome funds to the Library. With lots of volunteer help, labor, and many donated materials we built our first library in part of Foundation Park. I was elected as one of the Board of Trustees, drew up the original plans for the building, and served as Evening Librarian every Thursday evening. 

I also was asked to direct a couple of plays for a theater group in Georgetown. San Gabriel Productions was a small group in an old building called the "Polo Barn". It was a very challenging space. I saw an announcement that they were casting for "The Foreigner", one of my favorite scripts. I called about it and sent my actor resume and they asked if I wanted to direct the play. I jumped at the chance! It was a wonderful production. Later I directed "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for them. Again I had a great cast and a fun production. 

The breakup of my second marriage was a huge blow to me. I continued with the Liberty Hill Library for a couple of years. I also became involved with the Way Off Broadway Community Players in Leander. I did several plays with WOBCP and made more great friends. I acted in Streetcar Named Desire; The Trip to Bountiful; Daddy's Dying Who's Got the Will; Harvey and lots more. My final production with WOBCP was "It's a Scream". My first lead role, and a fun comedy. During the run of that play I was starting a new relationship (with my partner Cat Dancing) and soon afterward I moved to McDade, Texas (even smaller than Liberty Hill), and now to Bastrop. 

I haven't exactly resumed my theatrical career, as such. The distances necessary to travel and the desire to nurture a new relationship argued against it. Bastrop does have an acting and film group I am looking into. I have been pursuing acting work in movies, TV and commercials with limited success. We also have a friendly relationship with The Vortex Theater in Austin. They do some great shows and we are friends with the director Bonnie Cullum and many of the group.

It's not over. Just entering a new stage, so to speak.

Anyway, this all came to mind in Round Rock yesterday! Cheers!

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