Saturday, May 28, 2016

Belk Toys

 You may remember I time when there were downtown department stores.  This was before malls got popular and the downtown area became a ghost town.  So, around Christmas, 1974 I was hired as a stock boy for the Toy Department in our downtown Belk Department Store.  It was just a Christmas job before going back to PC for the Spring semester.
 Officially, my job was to restock the toy shelves during the Christmas rush.  I worked with 2 other people.  Belk sat on the corner of Main and Hampton Streets, which is where the art museum is now along with a bank.  Other stores downtown included Davison's, Penney's, Haltiwanger's, Tapp's, and one or two more.  Belk was the biggest.  It had four floors, although only three were for selling to customers.  The fourth floor had offices, a restaurant, and stock rooms.  Our toy stockroom was on the fourth floor.  Near the back of the stockroom was an opening with a metal slide that connected to the stockroom behind Toys on the third floor.  The concept was to slide the toys from the fourth floor to someone on the third floor to restock the department.  It was a good concept, since the third floor stockroom couldn't hold many toys.  We were told that we couldn't slide down the slide between floors, but we did anyway.  After all, one had to have fun.
 There was a lot of downtime during the day, so I would go out onto the floor and help customers find stuff.  It also got busy, when a sales associate would leave the register to go help someone, so I learned how to run the register, and rang up stuff for other associates.  One in particular--Cathy.  She was nice, and I had a crush on her.  Her sales started going through the roof, because I would ring stuff on her number.  She didn't find out until I was about to leave the job.  My supervisor got mad at me, because I wasn't supposed to ring stuff up, but then I thought that it meant more money for the store, because customers might leave mad because I couldn't help them.  That was the start of my thinking that the customer was the most important part of the equation.  My supervisor wanted me to just stock toys, but there were just so many toys we could put on the fixtures. 
 I would return to Belk after graduation from PC to work a year, while saving money for my next adventure.  I will write about that later, but for now just to say that retail during Christmas is not very fun.  Be kind to those workers.  They are trying to help you, whether you believe it or not.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Breaking of Bread Revisited

 As you know, if you have been reading this blog, one of my most successful ventures in Theatre was at Anderson College doing "The Breaking of Bread".  If you don't know, you may want to read about it, but if you are too lazy, this play was a one-act that we did at AC and in surrounding churches.  It was about two soldiers in the Civil War, one Union and one Confederate, encountering one another with wanting to kill each other and then becoming friends.  It is a powerful play, and one we thought was jinxed, because someone got hurt or something went wrong during each performance.
 So, my first directing venture was at Presbyterian College in 1974.  I was required to direct a one-act play, and I chose "The Breaking of Bread".  After all, I was familiar with the piece, and it would be easy to direct it.  I immediately found a problem with it.  The Klan was very apparent in Laurens County at that time.  If I did a Civil War play about two soldiers coming together, there might be problems, so I rewrote the play.  Instead of it taking place during the Civil War, I changed it to World War III.  Instead of two soldiers from the US, I changed them to one from America and the other from England.  Yes, England and America were at war against one another.  And, there had been a nuclear war that had wiped out everyone except these last two guys. 
 Our casting went okay.  I cast a guy from the Theatre Dept. to play the American.  I brought in a guy from outside the department to play the British soldier.  We had a month of rehearsals, and everything was going great.  Then the jinx raised its head.  One afternoon rehearsal, about a week before opening night, the actor playing the British soldier said a line that I thought was funny, so I laughed.  He thought I was laughing at him.  I was laughing at his character.  He got mad and stormed off of the stage.  He said I insulted him.  I tried to coax him back, but he quit.  What was I going to do?  I was going to be graded on this play. 
 The other actor suggested a guy he had seen, who he thought could play the role of the British soldier.  I was desperate, so I saw him, and he was perfect for the role.  I had a flashback to the time I did the lead in "Up the Down Staircase" at Anderson with two days to cram for the role.  This new actor had to do the same thing.  Once again though, one has a great advantage in the Theatre that the audience does not have the scripts in front of them to know if a mistake was made.  Everything went off without a hitch, and the audience liked my play.  One thing about the Theatre that you should know is that the audience sees the finished product.  Thank goodness they don't see the rehearsals.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


 One of my favorite TV shows is "Whose Line is it Anyway?".  It is an improvisation show.  It does not use scripts, and the actors come up with scenes from suggestions that the moderator gives or by those in the audience.  One very successful franchises for improv is Second City.  If you are not familiar with them, they have been around a long time, and many SNL cast members have come from there. 
 In 1974-75 at PC, I was required to direct two productions.  I am going to talk about the second one first. My second was an Improvisational workshop.  Back then, not many people knew about improv.  So, the workshop was part entertainment and part educational.  I assembled some actors from PC who knew how to do improv and we worked a couple of weeks beforehand on some techniques.  We only did one performance for PC.  We had promoted it all over campus, but only a few people showed up, and most of them were Psychology or Theatre students.  We had a good time, though.
 I have been accused of being a trend-setter for one thing or another.  I like to think that I introduced people to something back then who now take the form of Theatre for granted. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Where Did We Go Wrong?

 Toward the end of the Fall semester at PC in 1974, I was cast in the lead role for a play called "Where Did We Go Wrong?"  It was a Christmas-themed play about the 4th Wise Man, and his goal to make money on souvenirs at the birth of Jesus.  He was consumed with the commercialization of Christmas. 
 We didn't have much in the way of props.  One of the funnier moments in the play was when he invents a car, because he hates camels.  We used 4 stools to represent the inside of the car, and much of the action was mimed.  It was hard to work out some stuff like everyone leaning to the left or right when making turns in the car.  The play had a lot of funny moments, but the end was very serious.
 We did a preview performance of the play at our theatre, and then we took it on the road.  We went to 2 churches in Clinton, and both were well received.  We then set out for Atlanta.  Our first performance was at the North Decatur Presbyterian Church.  All went well. 
 Our second performance in Atlanta was at the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, I had been introduced to alcohol at PC.  It had been about a year since my first taste, and now I was a seasoned professional.  Earlier in that day, before the performance that night, I went with some friends to a bar at the top of our hotel in Atlanta.  I drank several Vodka Collins.  If you ever hear a drunk say that they can handle it, don't believe them.  We got to the church, and I could barely stand up.  Thankfully, much of the play required me to sit, so I didn't fall down.  However, one very scary thing happened.  I did all of my lines perfect.  My characterization was great.  My acting was great.  The scary thing came after the play.  People came backstage and told me it was the best performance they had ever seen.  They were comparing me to Olivier and DeNiro.  They were telling me that I was the best actor.  Others in the cast were fawning over me.  I couldn't remember a thing about what I had done on stage.  I had basically performed the lines on auto-pilot.  One of the actors told me that he could tell I was "different", but he couldn't put his finger on what it was.  I was drunk.  Because it was due to vodka, no one smelled it on my breath.  I only wished I could remember how great I was.  Never again did I ever perform either drunk or stoned.  I never wanted to forget that I was good.  That may sound egotistical, but I know I was the best.  I still had a problem with alcohol for years later, but never on stage again.  That one was scary.
 I loved that play.  It is one of my personal favorites of all I have done over the years.  If you can find it, you may want to look into doing it in your church.  Just don't have anyone drink before you do it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Blue Hose

 I have seen a lot of movies in my life.  I guess you could say that I am a movie buff.  I haven't seen every movie, but I would estimate that the movies I have seen are in the thousands.  There are some movies that I want to see, but haven't for some reason.  In the Fall of 1974, one of those movies I had not seen was something called "Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round".  PC was showing that movie for students one night, and I thought it was a great chance to see it.
 The room was only sparsely filled.  It was me and some football players with their girlfriends.  I wanted to watch the movie.  They came to cut-up.  They had water pistols and some might have been drunk.  They caused such a ruckus that I couldn't hear the film.  I got mad and left.
 As I have talked about before, I had a place in the school newspaper for my letters to the editor.  They were something of a staple for the paper.  When I didn't write using my name, I used a pseudonym.  No one was supposed to know that the fake name was me, except for the editor and asst. editor.  I turned in a letter criticizing the football team and its players.  The letter questioned the IQ of the players.  It was pretty bad.  I used the pseudonym.  It was printed the next week.  The football team at PC was revered.  Not because they won games, because they didn't win many, but because sports was the number-one draw to the school, and they made a lot of money for the school.  No one dared criticize the players or coaches. 
 After the letter was published, the coaches and players wanted to know who wrote it.  The editor said he wasn't going to say.  Apparently, the asst. editor spilled the beans.  The team had a meeting and decided to put a "contract" out on my life.  Word came to me that I could go to class or meals without retribution, but any other time that I was outside, there would be trouble.  And there was.
 One person taped the paper to my dorm room door and set it on fire.  It burned a bit of my door, but someone put the fire out before it got worse.  Someone threw a lit firecracker under my door, while I was sleeping.  It got so bad that I wrote a letter to the security dept., asking them to insure my safety.  They didn't do anything.  I guess they sided with the team.  I also wrote letters to both the administration and the coach in which I denied writing the letter to the editor.  That didn't seem to work either.  So, I left school for a week.
 I went to Greenville and stayed with a couple of friends, hoping all of this would blow over.  I missed two mid-term exams in Shakespeare and Modern Poetry.  I ended up failing both classes.  I came back to school and wrote a letter of apology to the coach.  I admitted that I wrote the letter.  They had another team meeting and called off the "contract", but there was a condition.  I was to attend all home games, and they would assign a seat for me in the stands.  If they didn't see me sitting there, the retribution would start up again.  So, I agreed to the "punishment" of sitting in the stands, and watching PC lose, but it was worth it to get on with my life.  The letters continued after that ordeal, but I was much more careful what I wrote.  Freedom of the Press can be dangerous.  I proved that.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Alpha Psi

 Toward the end of my Junior year at PC, I was invited to join Alpha Psi Omega Honor Dramatic Fraternity.  One had to accrue points from being in or working on plays.  I was already a member of Delta Psi Omega from my work at Anderson College, and those points transferred to PC.  At that time, I was the only person in South Carolina to hold both memberships.  I guess that was a big deal.
 Everyone had heard about the initiation into Alpha Psi.  We heard about the ritual, and how hard it was.  Each person had to memorize a passage from a work by Shakespeare, and it had to do something with the Theatre.  I chose a part of "Hamlet".  I crammed and memorized it, but I have never been a fan of Shakespeare, because his language is very difficult to learn.  They had the initiation at night, and we had to stand outside until our name was called to enter the Black Magic Theatre.  I was sweating bullets, as every candidate was.  We had heard that if we messed up the soliloquy, that we would be rejected. 
 My name was called, and I entered the dark theatre.  There was a small light on the Alpha Psi members seated behind a table.  They made it seem very scary.  Imagine a haunted house.  That was the ambiance.  I was more nervous about something than I had ever been before.  They asked me to perform my passage.  I guess I did okay, but I really don't remember.  I was too scared.  They preyed on your emotion.  After I finished, they all gave critiques.  They were very cruel.  Then the vote came, and I was unanimously voted in.  I found out later that everyone got in that were nominated, and the critiques were all an act. 
 The next year, I got to sit behind that table and do the same thing to those candidates that had been done to me the year before.  After that night of initiation, they put a star beside my name in all of the programs noting that I was a member of Alpha Psi Omega, and I was included on a special page in my Senior yearbook.  It turned out to be a big deal.