By the early 1990s, my life in Los Angeles was both settled and unsettling. I was pretty settled in my day to day life: I supported myself quite well as a waiter, a job I actually enjoyed.
|The entrance to my last home in L.A.; I loved|
my Silverlake apt. If I had remained in CA,
I'm sure I'd still be living there.
I was living in a huge apartment nestled in the hills of Silverlake. I had a large circle of close friends, some of whom dated back to my high school and college days, who kept my social life humming. And I was more than occasionally appearing onstage. But my life felt unsettled, too. The last three or so years of my life in L.A. had brought some soul searching, regarding both my living logistics, and the larger question of MY LIFE.
|From my deck in Silverlake, I watched smoke rise on downtown L.A., as the Rodney King riots erupted. I wrote about that night here.|
|My family home in the San Fernando Valley, which was hit with a freak snow storm a few years before I left. Snow covered cactus was just one indication of the mood swings Mother Nature was inflicting on Southern California.|
|I lived in our family home, at the north end of the San Fernando Valley, for most of my time in CA. The "sold" sign out front ignited lots of emotion. A decade earlier, my mother had died here, and in 1990, my father retired and moved back to my hometown of Atlanta. My sister also relocated to the east coast, so all my relatives were now thousands of miles away.|
I started to look at graduate programs around the country, but with very specific criteria. I was not going to uproot my very fine life unless I found a program which had certain things. First and foremost, I wanted a program which had strong ties to a professional regional theatre. That's an aspect of MFAs which is pretty common these days, but 20 years ago, those programs were relatively rare.
|USC's relationship with The Shakespeare Theatre in DC|
was the primary reason I pursued a degree there.
Secondly, I wanted a program which afforded me the chance to actually teach on campus while I was studying. Thirdly, I wanted a program which was production-heavy. There are a lot of three-year MFA degrees out there where, in the first year, you don't go near a stage; you spend your time only in the classroom. Even in your second year, you may perform in laboratory productions directed by fellow students, but it's only in your third year of study that you actually set foot on a main stage. That kind of program was not for me; I knew I would get much more out of an advanced degree if I was to be applying my classroom work onstage immediately.
The University of South Carolina fit all my criteria, but by the time I had hunted them down (remember, this was before the Internet made it easy to research such things), I had missed the deadline to apply for the University Resident Theatre Auditions (commonly known as the URTAs) which the gang from USC would be attending in CA.
I wrote a personal letter to the theatre dept at USC, wondering if it was possible to be seen after hours while they were in LA, and they agreed. So, I auditioned for the USC MFA program in the hotel room of their representative, the head of their graduate acting program. The experience of performing my two very theatrical audition pieces in such close quarters was not one I'd like to repeat. I think I pinned the guy's ears against the wall. To his credit, he gave me a chance to redeem myself. "Do you have anything...um...um...else?" Thankfully, I understood exactly what he meant: he wanted to know how I handled Truth And Beauty (you know, that weepy stuff). I pulled out a monologue I had worked on years earlier, in my acting workshop.
|I studied privately with Bobbi Holtzman for a decade, give or take, after graduation from CSUN. I wrote about her influence on me here. The workshop gang surprised me with a farewell party, which turned out to be only one in a wonderful string of such events during the summer of '93.|
The summer season of plays was underway, and I snagged a ticket to their evening offering, which I barely remember. I was to become friends with most of the cast of the show, though I did not know it then, so I am embarrassed to admit I don't even recall which play it was. I think it had a nun in it. Anyway, I bought my ticket in the afternoon, and struck up a conversation with the box office gal, who became the first person I met at USC (her name was Carol, and she turned out to be a roommate of one of my future classmates).
|The first person I met at USC, before classes even began, was|
Carol (center). She remained an acquaintance, but the gals
flanking her became my very close friends. Stay tuned for
|Lisa was also to sit on my MFA|
advisory committee. I wrote a bit
about that in the prologue to this
series of entries.
Carol, who worked part time in the costume shop, knew that the designer there would be anxious to snag my measurements for their files. I did not know at the time that I had already been cast in the first show of the season, which was to begin rehearsal before classes started. All I knew was that I was holding up my arms and spreading my legs for costumer Lisa and her measuring tape.
|Another farewell event, this one in a restaurant in Studio City. There are several college buddies here, plus a couple of guys I had done shows with in L.A., and of course, my good friend Judy, on the far right.|
I drove cross country in four and a half days (it was my third such cross country drive, so I knew the terrain), and pulled into the dirt road which led to my new home around midday on the fifth day.
|Richard was in USC's directing program, and|
became a good friend. It was he who nicknamed
my Columbia digs, pictured below.
I had barely emerged from my car before a 10 year old boy approached me, holding a cat. "Are you Scott?", he asked in a thick southern accent. "Um...yes," I answered, unsure where this was going. He excitedly reported "we've been waitin' fer you furever! This is yur cat!" This kid, I was soon to learn, lived up the road, in the rundown house with the abandoned toilet in the front yard. I didn't see him much during my two years living in Columbia, SC; my refusal to take ownership of the cat may have had something to do with that.
I had arrived several days before my furniture, so I set up my camping chair in the empty living room, unrolled my sleeping bag in the empty bedroom, and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. This new chapter of my life was no longer hypothetical, I had really upended my entire life. I was anxious and nervous about it all. I hadn't been in a classroom in 17 years, I had never used a computer, and I had left behind everything and everyone I knew and loved, only to enter this world where I knew only three people: the faculty member who recruited me, the box office gal who sold me a ticket to a summer show with a nun, and the pre-teen cracker from up the street who tried to give me a stray cat. Was it any wonder I spent that first night nursing a migraine?
Go here for Part 2 of my Gamecock Diaries, in which I meet some great comrades, endure some Chekhovian distress with my first show, and face the challenge of graduate school academics with only a typewriter.