Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Charleston Tea Party

 In the early 1980's, the South Carolina Educational Television folks put together a group of actors for a series of programs for their instructional network.  The programs would be sent out to students in the schools around the state.  I was chosen to participate in a program called The Palmetto Special, which was designed for 8th grade history classes.  The first one I did was called "The Charleston Tea Party", and it was filmed in 1981.  As far as I know, it was shown in classes into the 1990's and maybe beyond.
 The program was about a little known event in South Carolina history that occurred in 1774.  Everyone knows about the Boston Tea Party, but the one in Charleston was more about taxes and contraband.  I played the evil Mr. Lindsay, who was one of three Charlestonians who brought in tea to the colony over the objections of the residents.
 We filmed the majority of the program in and around Charleston.  Most of those in the cast had Theatre experience, and the crew had a lot of TV experience, so it made for a professional look.  We were dressed in wigs and period costumes.  They put us up in a motel off Meeting Street in downtown Charleston.  Our first location was at a bank about two blocks away.  I walked in costume over to the bank.  Some tourists thought I was a tour guide and was asking me about where one thing or another was located.  I sent several tourists in the wrong direction.  Sorry guys.
 The scenes at the bank had an outdoor courtyard scene in the back of the bank, and the other scene was upstairs in a meeting room.  The outdoor scene required dialogue between the three evil tea merchants.  Because there were cars and planes around town, we had gone out about a week before and recorded our dialogue in the depths of Sesqui Park outside Columbia in the dead of night, so that there would not be any noise.  There is also an earlier scene of a bonfire, which was also done in the park.  So, when we got to the bank in Charleston, the crew put up giant speakers behind the bank, and we mouthed our lines to the audio.  We had to do several takes.  I also had to work without glasses, and I was pretty blind.  There was a narrow brick walkway that we had to proceed down toward some steps.  There was a brick spot that jutted out, and I kept tripping at that spot.  If you ever see the finished product, you will see me glancing down as we walked.  I was looking for that spot.
 As we walked up the steps, I had a line about "bowing to Mr. Gadsden".  I thought of doing a bow with my hat.  The director liked that idea and kept it in the film.  We got up to the meeting room for the next scene.  I had my glasses tucked into the cuff of my coat.  There was an actor (one of the evil three) that had to make a short speech.  He was flanked by me and another actor.  He had a tough time keeping a straight face while making his speech, and he would laugh.  The director would have to stop the film, and he would do it again.  We did several takes.  The actor on the other side of him and me began pinching the actor to try and get him to stop laughing.  If you see the program, he looks like he is in pain while delivering his speech.  He was.  One regret about that scene for me was I was not consistent in tilting my head.  One shot it was one way, and then another shot was another way.
 Our other big scene was the dumping of the tea into Charleston Harbor.  We shot that scene at Charles Towne Landing on a very cold day.  The wind was blowing off of the water.  The crew had made boxes out of Balsa Wood, so they were very light to pick up.  Nothing was in the boxes, and we had to look like we were dumping the tea into the harbor without actually doing it.  The boxes were down in the hold of this period ship that was moored to a pier.  One actor got at the bottom of the steps in the boat and picked up a box, supposedly full of tea, and gave it to me.  I was at the middle of the steps, and I had to carry it up the steps to another actor at the top of the steps.  He then proceeding to carry it over to the side of the ship for dumping later.  First of all, it was hard for me as I couldn't see to carry the box up the steps without falling.  But, the first actor in the hold made it look like it was a heavy box.  He gave it to me, and I just carried it up the steps like it was nothing.  The third actor took the box, and he made it look like he was getting a hernia.  I looked like I was the strongest man around.
 We then had to look like we were dumping the tea.  The two actors did a box together.  They then gave me a box to "dump".  The thing is that the boxes were sealed, so it had to look like we were dumping the tea, when nothing would be coming out.  After we had done this, the director decided that he wanted a shot of someone breaking open the box with a wooden club and to do it in slow motion.  One of the crew members did that.  They then wanted me to use another box to dump more tea flanked by the other two actors.  It was one of those already sealed boxes.  I was to then take the box and bring it back down to the deck of the ship.  I asked the director about that, and he said that I would be out of focus and no one would see that the box was sealed.  It was while the narrator was finishing up the story on camera.  I was right behind him.  When I brought the box back down, I was in focus, and everyone could see the box was sealed.  I wish I could have used the box they broke open, but that one had been destroyed by the crew member.  I just hope 8th graders didn't catch those errors.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Philly #2

 Our Singles group at church did so well in 1980 going to Philadelphia to do Vacation Bible School for the kids, they invited us back for another week in the summer of 1981.  We took more people this time.  Some of those from the year before went, but most of them were newbies, so us veterans could tell them what to expect.
 We stayed at the same church as the year before.  However, they had us set up one VBS site at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.  I did the puppets.  I only had three people doing puppets rather than the four the year before, so I had to rewrite the scripts for just 3 puppets.  It wasn't too hard, although I only had one female, so her lines were a bit more than the two males.  We used another refrigerator box for our stage, and we did 3 shows per day.  The kids seemed to like it.
 One of the kids who came was named Zoom.  I don't know his real name, but he ran everywhere.  He had more energy than anyone.  If anybody knows Zoom now, tell him hello.
 One night, our group went downtown to look around and have a steak dinner at a restaurant.  I ordered the cheapest steak on the menu, and the waiter brought a steak that was much bigger than the picture.  I started in on it, and got about a quarter eaten, when the waiter came over and told me that he had mistakenly given me a steak ordered from another table.  He asked me to give him the steak back.  I asked him what was he going to do?  Serve an eaten steak to someone else?  The waiter then said I would have to pay the difference for his mistake.  That would have been close to $50.  So, I asked to speak to the manager.  He came to our table, and I told him what had happened.  He said it was the waiter's fault, and I could have the expensive steak at the price I should have paid for the cheaper one.  Good customer service kept me from having to wash dishes to pay for the bigger steak.  Good call, Mr. Manager.  I hope the waiter wasn't fired.
 Another trip we took while there was back to Amish country.  We ate at a restaurant there which was out of this world.  If you ever get to go to Amish country, bring an empty stomach.  One guy in our group ate an entire chicken, or maybe 3.  He couldn't eat anything for a couple of days.
 One afternoon, the kids in the neighborhood challenged us to a stickball game.  We had never played stickball, but we had played a lot of baseball, so we knew we would win.  After all, most of us were in our twenties, and these kids were in like 6th grade.  The stick was a broomstick, and the ball resembled a small tennis ball.  If it hit anything, it wouldn't break it.  We played the game in the street with cars on either side.  Everyone had a nickname, so the kids named me "Walt the Stalt" after the basketball player Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain.  We found early on that you couldn't just swing the stick as hard as you could to hit the ball.  Their pitching was relentless.  They knew that if they hit the ball under a car that it would be a homerun, because we couldn't get to it in time.  They beat our socks off.  It was rather humbling.  But, we had a good time interacting with the kids on their home turf.  We definitely didn't let them win.  They were just too good for us.
 I did have a scare while in Philly.  I had to eat a Hoagie.  It was a requirement.  I don't know what sauce they used, but it turned out I was allergic to it.  My tongue and lips got swollen.  Thankfully, it was our last night before leaving to go back home, so the puppet shows were done.  The swelling went down by the next morning, and I was okay, but I think I won't be getting a Hoagie again.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Butterflies

 In the spring of 1981, I was cast in the lead of a children's play called "The Butterfly That Blushed".  It was for the Gingerbread Theatre at Columbia College.  My role was called Worm, and I played a moth, while everyone else had turned into butterflies.  So, all of the butterflies made fun of Worm.  In the end of the play, Worm turned into the most beautiful butterfly around.  The moral of the story was that there is more beauty on the inside than the outside.  The play was for young children mostly.
 One of the things about the play was that I had to perform two songs.  I had never sung a solo before in a play.  I had done musicals before but only in groups.  It scared me to death this time.  The director told me that little kids didn't care how bad I was, but I wanted to do as good as I could.  The music was written by a local pianist, so I wanted to do good for him too, since he was also handling the music for the show.  The first song was pretty easy.  It was a depressing song about why didn't anyone like me.  The second song was harder, as it was a happy song about Worm turning into a butterfly.  I had problems with doing it.  It also required me to dance.  I just have a hard time singing and dancing at the same time.  Kind of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.  So, I worked with the director and figured out I could speak the song instead of singing it.  I think I became one of the first ones to do rap in public.
 Another problem I had involved one of the other actors.  There were two men in the play and seven women.  All of the women were students at the college.  When I had been in some plays before, there had been one dressing room for everyone.  You just changed and didn't look around at anyone else.  For this play, there was a dressing room for me and the other guy, and there was one dressing room for all of the women.  Before the dress rehearsal, the other guy was putting on his makeup, and I was changing into my leotard.  A knock came on the door, and I said come in.  The stage manager came in and screamed, as I was not dressed.  I apologized, and the other guy explained that this school wasn't like others.  So, I learned.
 We had two shows.  After each show, the actors stood outside of the theatre to sign autographs for the children.  I would sign my name and put "Worm" next to it.  About a year later, I was at work and two kids looked at me and got very excited.  They started screaming--"Worm".  It really surprised me that they remembered my role.  It  became a running joke for several years after that, when they would see me and still yell out "Worm!"
 I auditioned for "The Wizard of Oz" at Columbia College later that semester.  They wanted me to sing something, so I chose the song from "The Butterfly That Blushed".  I didn't get the role.  I guess singing for kids was different than singing for adults.
 I got the Best Actor Award for a Gingerbread Theatre production in 1981 at Columbia College.  They gave me a certificate, which I still have.  I have gotten several awards over the years for acting, but I think the award in 1981 meant the most to me.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

White's Part 2 & Lennon

 I was hired for Christmas help at J.B. White's Department Store at the end of 1980.  My job was primarily working in Stationery as a sales associate, but I also helped in Housewares, Luggage, and Lamps.  That experience helped me further in life, when I worked at Belk and Rich's/Macy's, but those stories will come later.
 Stationery was pretty easy.  I just rang up cards all day and into the night.  Most of my hours were during the latter portions of the workdays.  The security guard came by my register one day and looked at me.  He said that I looked familiar.  I told him that I lived nearby and shopped at White's all the time.  I recognized him too.  He was the same guard who caught me shoplifting from that store 12 years before.  He had a great memory, but I never let on that I was the same guy.  That was a long time ago.
 On the morning of December 9th at 6am, my Mother woke me up and told me to cut on the radio.  I didn't have to be at work until much later, but I did as she said.  My radio was tuned to a NYC station, as I was listening to it the night before.  When I turned on the radio, I heard the news that John Lennon had been killed.  I was stunned.  A Beatle was dead!  How could this be?  I was in a fog the rest of that day and several days afterwards.  I grieved along with everyone else.  He was my favorite Beatle.  His solo music shaped many of my social beliefs.  I went into work, but I was on autopilot.  I couldn't be cheerful to customers.  It was as if I had lost a family member.  In retrospect, it was worse than losing a family member.
 A few weeks later, I was working one night with a bad cold.  I took some medicine that made me very groggy.  While ringing up two women with cards, I felt faint.  I excused myself and took about 5 steps and collapsed in the aisle of the store.  I tried to get up to get to the lamp stockroom.  My legs felt very rubbery.  I crawled the rest of the way to the stockroom.  The customers that I had left were complaining that I had left them in the middle of their transaction.  They were more concerned about their .79 cards than me.  When I finally got to the stockroom, I sat on some steps to try and get myself together.  My supervisor, who was the father of one of my youth friends from Kilbourne Park, got to me in the stockroom.  He told me to go home.  After feeling better, I called the next day to see when I was working again.  They never gave me hours, but they never terminated me either.  J.B. White's closed later on.  I guess they had to close to end my relationship with them.
 Back to Lennon.  In early 1981, I was scheduled to perform at a actor's showcase for the SC Arts Commission.  I was supposed to do my monologue of Hosea, but I changed it at the last meeting and did dramatic readings of 3 Lennon works--Imagine, Across the Universe, and In My Life.  It was very tough getting through the readings, because my emotions were still raw.  By making that choice, it cost me getting some acting jobs that year.  The Arts Commission wanted to see my talents, not my reading skills.
 I also wrote a one-person play on the day John Lennon died in NYC.  I wanted to use his music, and I wrote to Yoko Ono to see if she would give her permission for me to use that music.  She said no.  I ended up performing the play without the music a couple of times.  Yoko was nice to me by sending a cost price list of Lennon eyeglass frames that Eagle Eyewear produced.  The wait time in stores was 7 months at a price of around $200/each.  I got my 2 pair of frames for $30/each, and they came in less than 2 weeks.  It pays to know people.  Yoko and I had a friendly relationship for several years thanks to a mutual friend who paved the way for me to contact her.  Our friendship became strained years later due to a money problem I had, and she cut me off from being friends.  A couple of years ago, I had to write to her about the death of our mutual friend.  It was the hardest letter I have ever had to write.  She responded.  I hope she doesn't hate me anymore.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

2 Projects

 I was hired for two writing projects during 1980.  The first was from Epworth Children's Home.  They wanted me to write their annual report.  The second was from the Columbia Metro Baptist Association.  They wanted me to write a play that would be presented in their annual meeting about the work they do.
 I met with the director of Epworth to get all of the material about their work during that year.  The director seemed nice.  I took all of the material home and got to work to compile it into one concise format.  I took the history of the institution and brought it forward to the current year.  I used charts and words to describe what it looked like.  When I finished, I brought it to Epworth's director, and he didn't like it.  He wanted a "pie chart".  He liked "pie charts", and he wanted a "pie chart".  I felt the report stood on its own without a "pie chart".  He insisted on having a "pie chart" or else I wouldn't be paid for my work.  So, I gave him a "pie chart", which did not fit in with the overall report.  He was happy and paid me.  I was not happy.  After all, I am an artist and a writer.  Not one to do "pie charts".
 The other project was for the Columbia Metro Baptist Association.  The idea was to have the workers at their office to play parts in the short play.  It needed to run between 15-20 minutes.  I got an idea to develop it around a game show format, because the play was to inform others about what the association does.  It was called "The Columbia Metro Show".  I had the association's director be the emcee, and the secretaries be the contestants.  I had to give each secretary a character, and I decided that the oldest of the three women would be the one who got everything wrong.  She was not pleased with her character, but she was a trooper and did it anyway.  The show was well received, and was actually done twice--in 1980 and then in 1981.  I was in the 1981 show, because the older lady said she would not repeat her character.  Some actors can be so temperamental.  That play opened me up to write and act in Stewardship Dramas for my church to promote giving.  One thing leads to another, except for "pie charts".

Friday, November 10, 2017

White Elephant Party

 I went to a White Elephant Party at my church around Christmas time in the early 80's.  If you don't know what that is, you bring unwanted stuff to the party and exchange them to others to try and get better stuff.  It can get interesting, because the other person can exchange their gift for something they like, and so on.
 One person brought an oil painting of Richard Nixon.  It was exchanged around until someone got it that actually wanted it.  I guess they were a fan of the former President.  I wanted it for a dart board, but that person found out and wanted it to keep me from using it in that way.  I don't remember what I ended up getting that night.
 When I got back home, I wrote a letter to Richard Nixon.  I lied and told him that I had gotten this painting of him, but it got stolen out of my car.  He sent me an autographed picture of him and Pat standing on the beach.  I thought that was nice that I had conned him out of an autograph.  I sold it years later.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Elton #2

 The second time I saw Elton John in concert was in Columbia in 1980.  I went with some friends I knew from my federal job.  We sat on the side facing Elton's piano.  I brought binoculars and had fun watching Elton's expressions as he interacted with his drummer, Nigel Olsson.  Somebody else brought some grass, and we listened to the music while getting stoned.  The show was great.  So was the pot.
 After the show, we went out to a bar in the St. Andrews area of Columbia.  We smoked more dope out in the parking lot.  I was a little scared, because we were outside and could be seen by police folks.  That was the last time I ever smoked the weed that was called "marijuana".  That was also the last time I saw most of those folks from my federal job.
 As an aside, the opening act for Elton was Judie Tzuke (spelling?).  She only did a few numbers, because people were shouting they wanted Elton.  I felt sorry for her.  She didn't have a good night.