It was December, 1987. Casting call had gone out to South Albany High School for The Sound of Music. I don’t know whether it was encouragement from my friend, Eric Wyatt, or just because I loved to sing and loved the story; whatever the reason, I went ahead and tried out. At auditions, I sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. In January the results came back. I would be in the nuns’ chorus and had a speaking part as Frau Schmitt, the housekeeper. I was able to act beside my friend. Eric had one scene where he got to yell at me because the Captain wouldn’t fly the Nazi flag. Little did I know the impact that one play and the director, Ms. Bentley, would have on my life.
Scrapbook page from Sound of Music
Four years after playing in The Sound of Music, I married my friend, Eric Wyatt. He had had more experience in drama at South. He called himself a ‘drama junkie’. He hung out in the drama room whenever he had the opportunity to do so. He went on trips with the drama club and loved theater. So, for our honeymoon, he purchased tickets at Ashland’s Shakespearean Festival. It was my first introduction to Ashland and to professional theater. I fell in love! Through the years, we returned again and again to Ashland and the festival. In 2003 we decided to introduce our two oldest children to Shakespeare. The kids were 9 and 14; they were old enough to enjoy Romeo and Juliet. We brought along the younger two, ages 6 and 7, to enjoy Ashland. Eric had arranged for childcare for the younger two and we were ready to have fun. To our great surprise, the childcare fell through! To our even greater amazement, we were able to find two more tickets located just a row below the original seats. With grateful hearts, we settled in to enjoy a Shakespeare classic. However, it was not presented in the classic style. When we reached the end of the play, Juliet pulled out a gun and shot herself! The stage rotated upward and showed Juliet in white, on a white stage with the red blood dripping down. Eric and I exchanged glances and grimaces. That wasn’t what we had expected or wanted for our 6 and 7 year olds, but it had happened. Once outside, all four children agreed that was the best thing they had ever done, and they wanted to do it again. We agreed to stick to Shakespeare’s comedies from then on out. It became such a standard in our life that the one year old who had stayed home, counted down the years until he was old enough to join us. As soon as he turned six, we took the whole family to see A Comedy of Errors. David sat spell-bound for the whole time and the next year, when I took him to see another play, he was disappointed when they didn’t introduce it exactly like the year before.
Our love of theater and drama has carried over into our everyday world. From the time the kids were little, they have been in Christmas plays. Our oldest son was Baby Jesus before he was born! Eric and I were Mary and Joseph in a living nativity scene the weekend I went into labor with our oldest son. Each one of them have played a version of Baby Jesus at some point in time. Our youngest son, David, was a very unhappy two year old Jesus who needed a “nanny”, so I sat on stage to keep him with Mary. As the years progressed, we moved from just the kids acting in dramas at church to Eric and I writing, directing, and playing in more grown-up dramas. Our first was a two night production of The Passion Play. It was a dinner theater that moved the audience from one part of the church to another. They started out in the foyer, moved to the gym for dinner, moved to the auditorium for the garden scene and trials, and back to the gym for the crucifixion and burial scene. Eric and I co-wrote and co-directed it. Eric and our oldest son had parts in the drama as well. That led me to my Christmas program writing. I wanted to give the church a solid Christmas and Easter message in one setting. I knew people came to Christmas programs to see the little kids. So, I incorporated the little ones into the plays, but also gave more meaty passages and themes to the adults. My first one was He Made a Way in a Manger. It was the same year as The Passion Play. The play is about the Christmas story but it is seen from Mary’s point of view at the cross. She has monologues as she recounts the story remembering what happened and trying to make sense of why her son is on the cross. It ends with Jesus coming and talking with her about why it all had to happen the way it did. The second was God in Human Form. I used some musings that Eric had voiced to me to showcase Joseph’s reactions to the whole story. Finally, I produced Heaven Bends Down. This play is the Christmas and Easter story from the point of view of the angels looking on. It was so well received that every so often our pastor still refers to it from the pulpit.
This early introduction to acting has shaped the lives of our kids. Our two youngest sons have found a love of acting. Our 19 year old surprised us when he joined drama his sophomore year. He blossomed on stage. A quiet, non-talkative teen became a boisterous bell-boy, a hairdresser who portrays a window, and a mentally disabled young man who falls in love. By his senior year, he was quietly encouraging the younger students to step up and take part. Our youngest son, David, was intrigued with his older brother’s performances. His day was made and he was in heaven when the drama teacher said he could tour backstage. So, when his friends told him about a local kids’ theater, he was ready to audition no matter what Dad or Mom thought! We were behind him and let him participate. He was a huge success as a bunny rabbit in Cinderella last year. This year, his acting ability was stretched as he played Colonel Poupon in Clueless in the Ballroom. This Friday he will have opening night of New Artist’s Production, Peter Pan. David is one of the lost boys.
As I sit back and see how we have grown over the years, it is amazing to see how much drama has influenced our lives. From one simple audition for me and a choice of class for Eric, we have directed our own lives and the lives of our children. Little did Ms. Bentley know what she was doing when she taught a gangling high school student. How many more lives did she impact over the course of her thirty plus years of teaching drama and English at South Albany High School?