Red River Scrapbook: Way off Broadway
By Edward Southerland
Jun 20, 2017
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As the school year ends it’s time for the annual school sponsored play. The theatrical business at the high school level has ratcheted up a notch or two since I played in the limelight long ago. All the schools in this area seem to be active in the University Interscholastic League One Act Play contest, and some of them are really good. Several high school thespian troupes have trod the boards all the way to Austin a couple of times and other schools have turned out classy performances as well.

Even the shows put on for purely local consumption have reached out to try something different. Guys and Dolls, complete with Nathan Detroit, Nicely Nicely Johnson, Big Julie from Chicago—he of the dice with no spots—and the “Fugue for Tinhorns” has been staged a couple of times, and even more complex musicals and drams, turn up regular in schools large and small.

In days of yore...  (Note: “In days of yore” usually is used to start stories about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. I don’t go back nearly that far, but I’ve always wanted to start something “In days of yore,” and this seemed like as good a time as any.)

If you move back into the King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable era, the preferred beginning is "in days of olde." This is useful to know if you are writing a King Arthur poem as the second line can be “When knights were bold” or “The story’s told” or “something, something, something fold.”

I’m not giving away any secrets here, as the idea was used for the theme song in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot TV series. The show, which starred William Russell, only ran one season, 1956-57, with thirty episodes.

The audience may have been confused by the fact that they had two different King Arthurs during the season. I’m pretty sure Queen Guinevere seemed confused.

Nevertheless there was a lot of jousting and knave and varlet smiting and that was right popular back then. It a well known true fact (Dr. Murney. Das Wel Knowen Tru Facten. Berlin; 1923), and some experts allow, that a decline in pubic smiting of knaves and varlets has let to much of our current predicament, such as it is.)

Another opening, another show...

Now, where were we, oh, yes, in days of yore at my alma mater, the theatrics were limited to the senior play. This was put on each spring and directed by a teacher who taught Spanish and algebra. How these disciplines qualified her to direct a play was not explained. Perhaps she drew the short straw early in her career and just got in the habit.

Usually the play selected was a Broadway comedy of a few years back, something with low royalty fees and a lot of people in the cast. The latter qualification was important as it directly impacted on the number of people in the audience. While never proven, it was rumored that the more members in one’s immediate and extended family, the better one’s chances for a leading role.

The performances took place in the school auditorium, which still stands, and ran for two days to glowing reviews from the drama critic of the local paper. That the play story and the reports of the previous season’s football games seemed to have a similar tone and feel, bothered no one.

My high school class at was distinguished in many ways. For one, there weren’t very many of us, only about sixty-five seniors that year, a much smaller class than usual. Secondly, every time we had an event it rained. Having our class do something special was better than washing your car during a dry spell to guarantee a cloudburst. And C, we did the worst play ever written.

Now don’t get me wrong, we did a good enough job, but the play itself made Getting Gertie’s Garter, look like Ibson or Eugene O’Neill. It was called The Peace Corps Girls. JFK was in the White House, and the Peace Corps was a bold new idea. The play’s author, obviously taken by the concept, had taken fifteen minutes out of his busy schedule to dash off this timeless work. It was like a fluff musical of the twenties without the music. I ran a Google search for the title and author and turn up nothing—quite a feat considering the universe of useless information on the Web. That’s probably a good thing.

As memory serves, the plot had something to do with the Peace Corps girls and boys going off to help the natives in Whango Bango, or maybe it was New Jersey. I know it was somewhere with a lot of jungle and where people in the back country didn’t speak much English. Of course that could apply to New Jersey as well, I suppose.

No, I err. It was the Philippines.

(Aside: Ever wonder why the country is the Philippines with a “P” and the folks who live there are Filipinos with an “F.” I found a good explanation of this, but you’ll have to do your own homework to find the answer.)

There must have been a plot of sorts, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. There was something about a snake crawling into a hut, and the Peace Corps girls running around and screaming a lot, but that was about it. They may have been waiting for Douglas McArthur to return, but I doubt it.

I played the lead, not as Peace Corps girl, mind you, our town would not have been ready for that, but as a Peace Corps boy named Linc. Even if I do say so myself, and who is around at this late date to question me, I was excellent. On the opening night, one nascent thespian got mixed up on her lines and suddenly jumped from the middle of act one to the middle of act three. This would have cut out all the best of the snake stuff and the screaming and then we would have been a real pickle.

Ever the trouper, I jumped in and ad-libbed, working my evolving lines back to a point where we could get back to the stuff we had skipped. Another member of the cast figured out what I was doing, started screaming about a snake, and we were back in business.

Audiences well well dressed back in the day.

I saved the play again on night two with a similar feat of alibiing and then lost the Best Actor award to the guy who had all the laugh lines. On the positive side, I got to kiss the leading lady, but in front of several hundred people in the audience, it didn’t lead to anything exciting after the curtain fell.

Ah yes, those were the golden footlight days. And never even a nod from the Tonys or a call from Broadway. Go figure.