Monday, August 9, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 136

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 19
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14


Although Cassy would have preferred to be back in Massachusetts with all of her childhood friends, she agreed to make the best of the situation at the small private school in Laconia, New Hampshire. Cassy joined the girl’s volleyball team during the fall semester of her freshman year of high school. She had come from a school that offered no sports at all so she lacked the experience that most of the other players had. Also, since she was quite small (less than four feet ten inches) she was at a disadvantage. Still, she gave it her all. She attended every practice session and worked hard. Luckily, the girl’s volleyball coach, Laurie Haines, was willing to let every girl play in the actual volleyball games. This established a positive “work-reward” attitude for the players. Cassy knew she was being treated fairly.

Cassy found the course work at this new school to be pretty easy, especially coming from the very strict and serious education at The Imago School. She realized that she had been fully prepared for high school academics. She worked hard enough to get straight “A’s” in all of her classes.

Mal and I were willing, and eager, to volunteer our time at this school. We met with Cassy’s whole class to discuss possibilities for their big senior class trip. Many were surprised that we would want to discuss a trip that was four years away, (a lifetime away for teenagers) but we knew that, historically, students would usually wait until the last minute to decide on a class trip and there wouldn’t be enough time to raise whatever money was needed for it. Camping was always an inexpensive option, but after talking with the class, it was evident that they wanted something different. We suggested taking a Caribbean Cruise and the kids seemed to be excited about the possibility of this so we agreed to help them plan this trip, since we had been on dozens of cruises in the past. This seemed to be a group of fun-loving, well-behaved kids, who were willing to work hard to reach any goal set before them, and Mal and I were willing to help them.

In the meantime, I met with Brenda Carney, the other volunteer who offered her time to put on a play. We discussed the “positives” about producing “Annie.” There were lots of characters so we could allow anyone interested to actually be in the play. The play was “clean” and was acceptable subject matter for a conservative school’s involvement. It was also a play that Cassy had been in a few years before and she had played the title character of “Annie,” so I knew she’d be comfortable doing it again. We wouldn’t have to worry about the lead character and that would take some of the possible stress off of us as first-time directors. I don’t remember if we held auditions for the role of “Annie” but I do know that Cassy was right for this role for several reasons, one of course, was her small size.

The auditions for all of the other roles surprised us. We announced, through the weekly school publication, “The Newsline,” that the play was open for any students grades five through twelve. Brenda and I publicized the upcoming auditions and we personally urged several students to try out for the play, including David and Peter Groleau, Andrew Hare, and (Cassy’s boyfriend at the time) the incredibly shy Bryan Parys. We had been told that the school didn’t have much success when they attempted to produce plays in the past because there just wasn’t much interest there, so we had no idea what to expect this time around. Brenda and I were really surprised when we had nearly 60 kids audition for the play for either character roles or stage-crew! Out of an eligible student population of about 130 kids, almost half of them were interested in being a part of this play!

The auditions were great and it seemed quite simple to assign the parts to the “right” kids. Although some students who wanted the lead roles may have been disappointed that they didn’t get chosen, Brenda and I based the decisions on a combination of abilities displayed during the audition process, and physical appearance. If the kids were really tall, but the part called for a short person, they wouldn’t get that part. We eventually found appropriate parts for every student who wanted an “on-stage” role. Several of the students were satisfied being “back-stage” as stagehands and stage crew.

The principal of the school, Mr. Borchers, located a place for us to perform the play, since we had no auditorium on the school property. The “Christ Life Center” was an old theater that had been converted into a church in the downtown area of Laconia. All of the original theater seats had been removed on the first floor, but the original balcony was intact. The stage was small and there were no real “stage wing” areas to store changes of scenery or waiting performers. It wasn’t exactly perfect, but since it could seat over two hundred and fifty people and was offered to us at no charge, we would make it work.

Once we had secured the location, I needed to fill out the contract with the owners of the play indicating the location of the production, the number of seats, and the proposed ticket price. All of these factors affect the fees that eventually get paid to the owners of the play. The royalty fee could be as high as $1000 for this play. After talking with some of the school’s staff, I got the impression that it we shouldn’t expect more than a hundred people to come to this play. I was further discouraged when I was told that I shouldn’t expect that people would actually pay to see this. It just hadn’t been done this way before. I knew that the school didn’t have any “extra” to spend on a big drama production and the businessman part of me wanted to this to be a money-making event so I strongly urged the school to continue to let me try this my way.

Knowing a little bit about human nature, I planned to get the parents and relatives to commit far in advance to attend this play by selling the tickets on a “first-come-first-served basis.” If they wanted a good seat, they’d have to buy the tickets right away. If the tickets had been given away for free and something else had come up on the night of the performance, or if the ticket-holder arrived home from work too tired, they would just not show up. Even though the tickets were going to be sold at a “bargain” price of only two dollars for students and senior citizens, and four dollars for everyone else, I knew that once the tickets were purchased, the people would come because they’d feel that the money would be wasted if they didn’t go to see the show. For many months before the performance, I carried around a large envelope of tickets and a seating chart for each of the two performances, encouraging and pressuring people to buy tickets while good seats were still available. Three weeks before the show, we were completely sold out! But in the meantime, it was up to Brenda and me to make this play work.

Next chapter: The play and the school board.

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