Monday, September 20, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 153

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 20
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 15


I had decided to produce and direct the Laconia Christian School’s middle school musical of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and I was committed to handling most of the business aspects of the high school musical of “Oklahoma” that Brenda Carney was directing. Brenda had secured the talents of Barry and Margaret Armitage and Jane Jepsen to handle the music and choreography chores of Oklahoma. Dennis Emmerton, a talented carpenter and parent of some of the students, offered to build the set for Brenda.

I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get help with the middle school play. Cassy was playing the role of “Ado Annie” in Oklahoma but she was willing to help me with the choreography for Charlie Brown. Stephanie Goddard agreed to play the piano for the play so I was relieved that this very important task was in talented hands. Belinda Simpson and Lyndel Jackman offered to help me with set construction. It was a good thing, because I have no skills at all in construction.

The high school play was going to be performed at a local public high school with beautiful facilities. The auditorium was much larger than the facility we had used the year before when we put on “Annie.” I was a little concerned that we wouldn’t be able to sell that many tickets. I’d hate to have any unfilled seats! I created a diagram of the seating and began to pressure the students and parents to buy their reserved-seat tickets as soon as possible so that they’d have their choice of the best seats in the theatre. Cassy played every sport offered for girls at the school and we attended almost every game, even the boys’ sports, so I used these opportunities to sell tickets to the play to the other parents and students in the audience. It didn’t take too much pressuring because the play from the year before had been so good that parents were eager and willing to buy tickets for this year’s high school play. I was concerned that selling advance tickets for a middle school play might not be quite as easy.

The play we were doing for the middle school, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” was written to have six characters. I knew that if I included more students in the play we’d be able to sell tickets to their parents and grandparents so I wrote parts for a large choir. This consisted of about fifteen kids and I added a part for the character of “Pigpen.” I hoped that this would result in at least one hundred advance ticket sales. The school couldn’t afford to actually lose money on one of our plays so I needed to be very careful with the budget for the middle school play. The royalty fee to perform this play was almost one thousand dollars. We certainly couldn’t afford to rent a theatre for our performances because the cheapest of the nearby venues charged at least $1500 to use their facilities for two days. We decided to do the play in the gymnasium at our own school. We had about 175 chairs available and we had an old, plywood stage that came in several pieces. We would have no stage “wings” or backstage rooms to use so we knew this was going to present a few problems but we really had no alternative. It wasn’t ideal but it would have to do.

I had a videotape of a performance that was co-directed by my son Adam a few years previous so I showed the students how the play looked. This helped the actors understand the progression of the story. I decided to change quite a few bits of the “blocking” to keep the action flowing more. This was something I had learned by watching Brenda work as the director of last year’s play. The kids learned their lines very quickly but the songs needed much more work. I’m not a singer so I asked for help from a woman who had recently moved to the area and was working as a music-vocal teacher, giving private singing lessons at the school. Dona Lynn Curry had worked as a performer for many years and she was a very talented performer and musical director. Cassy had been taking lessons from other vocal teachers for several years but she learned so much more since she had switched to lessons from Dona Lynn. I was disappointed when Dona Lynn told me that she just couldn’t fit the play into her crowded schedule.

Someone recommended that I ask Cathy Stephenson, a parent of a school student who had been volunteering at the school teaching chorus to the younger students. With the coaching from both Cathy and Stephanie, the actors learned their songs. Abel Broughton, the actor playing Charlie Brown, was taking private vocal lessons from Donna Lynn and he used much of his time with her to master his songs. Everything was working out great.

As we neared our performance dates I needed to step in and help out with some of the props. I decided I’d paint Snoopy’s doghouse a nice bright red. I set the doghouse up on our makeshift stage and began painting it, holding the paintbrush in my right hand while I was holding the gallon of paint in my hand. I was all alone in the gymnasium because all of the students were currently in the classrooms. The gym floor had just been replaced with a brand-new textured vinyl tile and the students were instructed to be very careful with this expensive upgraded floor. As I was leisurely painting one side of the doghouse, I fell off of the stage and landed directly on my head, almost losing consciousness. As I was falling, all I could think of was how much grief I was going to get because of the nearly full gallon of bright red paint that was going to splash all over the gym floor! While my head and neck throbbed with pain, I cleaned and scrubbed for over an hour to clean up my careless accident. By the time some students came into the gym my mess was mostly cleaned up and I realized how lucky I was that I had not broken my neck. I could have been lying on the floor, undiscovered, for over an hour.

Next chapter: The two plays are performed.

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