Saturday, May 25, 2024


another entry in the occasional series describing my adventures pursuing my MFA

This is the only photographic evidence I have uncovered that proves I did, indeed, play studly leading man Cassio in Othello. Or at least, I tried to play him; I was not very successful.  I blame the mullet.

It's been pointed out to me that my last entry in this series was over three years ago, and how the hell long does it take to write about a couple of years in a guy's life? I really do want to complete this series, I've just been lazy about doing so. I started writing these memories <ahem> a few years ago, and if you're interested, you can read all the installments, in reverse chronological order (that is, the newer stuff will come up first), by going here.

This is the Dance Instructor in USC's original production of The Emperor's New Clothes. I performed in this children's show simultaneously with playing Moonface Martin in Anything Goes. That same summer, I taught at the USC summer conservatory for kids,  studied for and passed my comps (a year early), and completed the first draft of my MFA thesis (two years early). I was cookin' with gas.

The most recent entry covered my adventures in the summer of 1994, after which I was pooped but proud. As I headed into my second year of my MFA training, I was feeling pretty confident. So confident, in fact, that I inadvertently made a huge blunder before the fall semester even began. 

The first show of the season, which went into rehearsal weeks before classes actually started, was Hot L Baltimore, a Lanford Wilson relic which I did not like. I had seen only one production of the show, directed years earlier by my former acting coach and mentor Bobbi (I wrote about her influence on my life here), and I didn't like it then either. Having completed the exhausting summer I described here, I really did not want to leap into rehearsal for a show I didn't like. When the director, Ann Dreher, dropped a note in my mailbox asking which role I would be interested in playing, I made a big mistake. I responded that I would prefer not to do the show and could I be excused from playing in it? This was a request which was fairly out-of-line for USC's Acting grad students; we had been enrolled, after all, to perform in whatever play the faculty placed us in, we were not really supposed to pick and choose our own roles. The department had been roiled in this question of student control only months earlier, when several grad students refused to participate in the winter production of Measure for Measure (I wrote about that controversy here).  Now here was another grad student asking to be released from his commitment to the department's next show. I fully expected Ann to refuse my request, but when the cast was announced, I was not in it. I felt a weight off my shoulders, realizing that, for the first time since I arrived on campus a year earlier, I would not be in rehearsal (at least, for a month or so). What I did not realize was that Ann had taken my request very, very personally, and not only did she release me from Hot L Baltimore, she refused to cast me in anything else she was to direct. I did not know of her sudden animosity for many months, since Ann taught only undergraduate students, and mostly non-majors, so I did not cross paths with her during my daily life.

It was very disturbing to find out, the following spring, that the quirky and outspoken teacher whom everyone loved had revealed herself, at least to me, to be petty and vindictive. But that's a story for a future entry.

I'm not bitter about any of that these days, as I'm sure you can tell.  At the time, all of that trauma was in the future, so I began the semester fairly light-hearted. My academic load was greatly reduced from my first year; I had already taken the two semesters of Theatre History my degree required, so I was now at liberty to choose my own academic classes. 

It will surprise no one that I aced my Musical Theatre History class. I wrote term papers on Sondheim, Michael Bennett, and George Abbott, all without research.

My friend and mentor Jim Patterson was teaching his History of Musical Theatre, so I enrolled in that fascinating class. I was also teaching the undergrads Beginning Acting and Speech & Diction; one of the reasons USC could afford to give their grad students a generous assistantship was the fact that we were used as teachers for undergraduate students. We taught undergrads in the morning, and took our own classes in the afternoon.

Now that I had ducked performing in Hot L Baltimore, I was slated to perform in two other main stage shows that semester:  Eastern Standard by Richard Greenberg and Othello by you know whom. Othello was slated first, and was to be directed by our newest faculty hire, a young(ish) fellow named David. I don't remember his last name.

This is a very typical look of David's, who was usually involved in an intense conversation with someone. I would have liked to have had one of those convos regarding his miscasting of me in his show.

I didn't have fun in Othello, but
as the title role, Elliot sure did. 
He played the role again in
regional theater a few years

 was not one of the highlights of my USC career. I had been cast as Cassio, who is basically the young leading man of the piece, a man of honor whose life is upended when he is manipulated by the villainous Iago into appearing to be Desdemona's lover.
Mullets get a bad rap, but mine was the best
part of my performance as Cassio.

Nobody in their right mind would ever cast me as such a character, but in the spirit of "grad school is your time to stretch your boundaries and explore roles you may not play in the real world," I tried my best.  It was not easy, particularly when I had desired to play Iago to begin with. I don't recall any audition readings being held for this show, at least for the grad students, and I was disappointed to learn that one of the new arrivals in the program would be playing one of the juiciest parts in all of Shakespeare. 
These folks were all in the class ahead of me, 
and became close friends, but after my first
year, they disappeared into their internships.

Before the semester got underway, I had had to say goodbye to my good friends who were in the USC class ahead of me; it was the third year of their program, so they went off to their internships. Meanwhile, five new actors arrived in the class behind me, and one of those upstarts had somehow snagged my part in Othello

This is the MFA class behind mine, so they joined
me for my second year. I'll introduce them later,
but for now I'll say, only 4 of them ended up in

I don't remember the guy's name who was cast as Iago, so I'll call him Fred. Fred was a personable guy with leading man looks which, I thought, suited my role of Cassio much more than the dark Iago. I really had no idea why this clown was playing Iago, and it turned out, he shouldn't have been. 

"Fred" arrived at the first rehearsal for
Othello not having read the play.

Fred turned out to be a flake, in terms of responsibility, which was apparent at our first rehearsal of Othello. At that first read around the table, before reading the text aloud, director David asked each actor to tell the story of the play from our character's point of view. This was a great exercise, I give credit to David for that. We all had fun tracking our characters' story arc within the play, then it came to be Fred's turn. He was very vague and non-specific, it was apparent that he had not even read the play yet. This joker had been handed one of the greatest roles in the Shakespearean canon (and one of the biggest), and had done zero preparation for the first rehearsal. Turns out he had done zero preparation for all his classes, too, as in the next week or so, he was not only removed from the Othello cast, he was booted from the entire MFA program.

Mindi was wonderful as our Desdemona, Nan
played our cross-gendered Duke.

A major postponement was announced. The USC production of Othello would now be produced after Christmas, during the following semester. The only explanation from the administration was that there was a "scheduling problem" resulting in the change. That was true enough, though the scheduling problem had to do with the actor who was hired to replace Fred as Iago.

Bob Hungerford was an established professional
actor in Columbia. USC hired him to play Iago, and
he was a great one. 

Rather than shuffling the MFA actors around (and perhaps giving me the chance to audition for this dream role), the department went outside USC and hired an older professional actor to play Iago.  Bob Hungerford had a strong reputation among the actors in Columbia, SC, so I assume USC wanted him so badly that they rescheduled Othello to accommodate him.

My classmate Bodde (rhymes
with OK) played Emilia
(Mrs. Iago). 

I don't remember a lot about the actual performances of our Othello when it finally ran in January, 1995. I had a pretty fun scene playing Cassio getting drunk, but my other scenes are a blank.

Mindi had a birthday during our run. Here she's over the moon for my gift, a Wizard of Oz sweatshirt. Or rather, she's over the rainbow for it.

As I said before, I was not successful playing the romantic leading man, and the Columbia press agreed. One of the local critics, a gent who was exceedingly complimentary of my other roles played during my two years on campus, subtly wrote "R. Scott Williams is not cast into his strengths."  Ya' Think? 

(I am making a promise to myself that I will continue these memories of grad school until their conclusion. And I will not let another three years go by, for heaven's sake. Next Up: I am cast in one of my most successful and meaningful roles, in Eastern Standard, and I take a flying leap off a very high cliff with the agony and the ecstasy of a one-man show.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Gamecock Diaries, Part Six: My Summer of Silly Accents

another entry in the occasional series describing my adventures pursuing my MFA
During my years in Los Angeles, my college crowd always gathered for Easter Brunch, a tradition we continued for many years after graduation. When I got to South Carolina, I continued the tradition by suggesting to my new bestie Deborah that she host this Easter Brunch at her house. It was one of many social events, large and small, which added meaning and resonance to my time at USC.  That's me in the purple silk shirt behind the camera. And that hat?  I was too precious for words.
Deborah, the redhead, hosted many social
events, including this Easter Brunch. Kim
was soon to wow audiences as our Reno
The MFA program at USC was designed to encompass three years, two spent on campus in Columbia, and the third spent in DC on internship.  The summers between those years were not technically included in our curriculum, but the Powers That Be had come up with a plan which allowed the graduate students to remain on campus during the summer, continuing to earn the assistantship money provided by the school, and at the same time, providing the labor for USC's summer programming.  That programming included several full scale productions and a lavish children's show.  In addition, the university offered a theatre camp for kids, from which, like all theaters everywhere, they made a buttload of money. Grad students were the faculty. 

what is this
Kim and Richard were to play the leading roles in Anything Goes. Take a look at our swanky "Grad Student Office", complete with up-to-date computer.

So the summer of 1994 was going to be jam-packed, in fact it would prove to be the busiest time of my MFA career. 
A Walk in the Woods, Strange Snow,
Anything Goes, The Emperor's New
Clothes, The Search for Signs of
Intelligent Life in the Universe

The Summer Rep that year included five full productions, I was cast in the two largest.  As I mentioned in a previous entry in this series, Anything Goes was placed in the season after several grad students displayed some musical talent.  USC was a classical program and did not, as a rule, produce musicals, but the late great Jim Patterson felt confident that this was the time for a full scale crowd-pleasing extravaganza.
Strange Snow ran in roughly the same period as Anything Goes. It's a small, 3-character piece full of what I think of as "truth and beauty" acting. My grad school chums Steve and Deborah were terrific playing opposite recent grad Steve Harley, who had become the leading man at the local professional theater. Like all the other shows in the '94 season, it may have been slightly overlooked as Anything Goes, with its lavish costumes, turntable set, and large cast, sucked up all the energy of the theatre department.
I've written about Jim Patterson throughout this series; when he was directing me in
The Importance of Being Earnest, he was already planning for Anything Goes.  He gave me a huge compliment, in retrospect.  He asked me which role I would like to play. 
The cast was so large it had to be
augmented by several local actors
of note. Jonathan, only in his teens,
was already a stage vet, and he was
an audience favorite in the big 
numbers. He is now a cabaret
artist and arts administrator in NY.

There are two comic roles in
Anything Goes which were appropriate for me, and though I only knew the show from the famous Patti Lupone revival cast album, I knew either one would be fun to play.  There was a British twit who has a comic song in act two which some consider to be the show's 11:00 number, and the larger role of the comic villain, Moonface Martin, a hapless gangster on the run. 

An old friend of the show's leading lady, Reno Sweeney, Moonface had two songs (plus inclusion in some group numbers) and lots of room for comedy. I told myself I had already played a British twit this year (Algernon in Earnest), what would I learn from playing another one? So I chose to play Moonface, but let's face it.  I picked it because it was bigger.
I don't have any production shots from Anything Goes, but here's Joel Grey playing my role in the most recent Broadway revival. (Joel and I are practically twins, which I wrote about here.) Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13, spends most of the show disguised as a priest, which causes a problem for anyone playing him.  It is difficult to be funny dressed in black. (There's another problem, too. Priests aren't funny.  Nuns are funny, priests are not.)  You can see here that Grey mitigated the problem of being in black by adding a jacket. Cheater.
I got great response to my performance, including from the USC faculty.  Our opening night ran like a dream, with the duet between Moonface and Reno, "Friendship," one of Cole Porter's best known songs, bringing down the house.  The day after that first performance, I received a handwritten note in my office mailbox from Ann Dreher, who had directed me in my first show at USC, The Cherry Orchard.  (I wrote about that show, and Ann, here.) 
Ann's note to me was so flattering that I kept it. I should have reread it a month later, when she asked me who I'd like to play in her next show. My answer was not very judicious. 
Ann claimed I had stolen the show (and who am I to quibble with a faculty member?);  I was super flattered to hear this, but a little later in the summer, I should have remembered that note more clearly, as it would affect a decision both Ann and I had to make. (More on that in a mo'.) 
Kim (on the left) was actually studying for her M.A. when director Jim cast her as Reno Sweeney. She tore the roof off the joint, but the show ruined her relationship with Jim. As I understand it, she had asked Jim's permission to hire her friends to tape the show, and Jim agreed. He later claimed he thought Kim had meant to tape only a few songs, but the filmmakers arrived that night with the intention of taping from Overture to Curtain Call. Jim raised a stink (as only Jim could) and ejected the cameras, literally seconds before the overture began, in front of a full house. Kim almost quit, she was so angry, and the incident soured her enjoyment of the show from then on. The legality of this situation is clear: taping the show, even in an academic setting, is against the rules (everybody in academia breaks those rules, but they are the rules).  Still, I wouldn't mind having a copy of our Anything Goes, even if it was a bootleg.
The second show I appeared in that summer was an original adaptation of The Emperor's New Clothes, written and directed by USC's resident provider of children's programming, Jayce Tromsness.
Jayce wrote and directed large scale kids' shows for the Summer Rep, I worked on his shows both summers I was at USC. They were lively and fun, full of energy.
In this one, I was slated to play one of the Emperor's servants named Mop:  
When I first spoke Mop's lines aloud, I realized Jayce had subconsciously written the dialogue in a Cockney rhythm, so that's how I presented him at our first read. It worked well. I was already using  an over-the-top New York Brooklynese accent to play Moonface Martin in Anything Goes every night, and now I was using a British Cockney brogue during the day. I was to add one more silly accent before I was done.
Nan was in my MFA class, here she played Mop's
wife (I'm not sure she had a name). I did 11
shows while in SC, and Nan was in most of them.
Adding 5 more shows we did together during our
internship, and I'm sure I've worked with her
more often than any other actor, or indeed any
other person, in my career.

During our first read-through of The Emperor's New Clothes, there were a couple of very small roles which Jayce had not yet assigned to his company.  I had my eye on one, a single page scene in which the goofy Emperor, hilariously played by Steve Harley, took a dance lesson from a pompous instructor. 
Steve and Monica Wyche were
hysterical as the Emperor and

Here again, Jayce had written a character's dialogue in a certain rhythm without really realizing it.  I, however, could see right away that this Dance Instructor was French. I volunteered to read the scene aloud, and went over-the-top Pepe Lepew with it. I now had two roles in the show (requiring an extremely tight quick change), a Cockney servant and French dance instructor. 
Theatre For Young Audiences and Classic Musical Comedy are not all that different from each other.  I spent the summer of '94 going over the top with both.
Steve was in the class ahead of
me. I don't remember his role
here, though I'm sure it was the
villain. We've remained friends
and colleagues; he has directed
me several times in professional
shows in DC.

I had a full schedule with the Summer Rep and with teaching teens all day, but I also made a decision which I thought was smart but others thought was nuts.  The MFA program at USC was performance heavy but was also an academic degree.  As such, the degree required passing a grueling comprehensive exam as well as writing a thesis.  Usually, grad students postponed dealing with those academic requirements until their second or third year, but I decided to tackle them both that first summer. 
The comps were offered twice a year, but MFA actors usually took them the summer after their second year. I was determined to get them out of the way, so I spent many late nights with members of the class ahead of me (including Deborah, above), studying the complete history of theatre from Thespis through Stoppard.
The test itself took four hours and included not only a resuscitation of facts but also a section of essay questions which were to be written on the spot. You couldn't graduate without passing this monster, so I was glad I did so early.  
Richard was in the MFA directing program, but was also an actor with musical theatre cred. He was great fun to hang out with.  He played leading man Billy Crocker, who sings "You're The Top" with Reno Sweeney (among other Cole Porter standards). Anything Goes is a bit odd, in that the leading man and the leading lady do not end up together, they aren't even interested in each other, they are best friends who help each other end up with somebody else. 

That's director/writer Jayce trying
to avoid my antics. He gave me
juicy roles in two splashy kids'
shows and an off-campus
Shakespeare, plus we acted
together in Mother Courage on
campus the next year. I think
those stories are coming...

That summer, I also wrote a complete first draft of my thesis, which was to be comprised of dissections in depth of four performances I gave during my time on campus.  My advisor Jim Patterson encouraged me to take the first four shows I did at USC and write this thing immediately, polishing it later.  I was smart enough to take this advice, so in addition to everything else going on that summer, I wrote in depth examinations of my performances in The Cherry Orchard, The Importance of Being Earnest, Measure for Measure, and Anything Goes. Though my thesis wasn't actually due for two more years, I was relieved to have written the lion's share of it so early. Here is the final title page as it was published by the University Press two years later (the format dictated by the university):

R. Scott Williams
Bachelor of Arts
California State University, Northridge, 1979

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts
in the Department of Theatre, Speech, and Dance
University of South Carolina

What a summer it was, I don't regret a single moment of it.  Well, except one.  Remember that swell note of congratulations I received from Ann Dreher regarding my performance in Anything Goes?  I didn't recognize its significance.  A month or so after writing that note, Ann dropped another note in my mailbox.  She was to direct the first show of the following season, Lanford Wilson's Hot L Baltimore, beginning rehearsal in mid-August. 
She wanted to know which role I was interested in playing?  I was flattered that, for the second time since arriving at USC, I was being offered my choice of roles, rather than simply being assigned a part, but I was fried.  Since arriving at USC the previous August, during the school year I had rehearsed and performed in three mainstage productions (taking one of them to Charlotte for a professional run), taken two semesters of upper level Theatre History (in which I had written five term papers), taught two sections of Speech classes for underclassmen, as well as attended a full caseload of MFA performance classes (acting, movement, speech and vocal technique). During the summer, I had simultaneously rehearsed and performed two more large scale productions, taught teenagers in the USC summer camp, studied for and passed my comp exams, and written a full first draft of my MFA thesis. Cue the violins.
I didn't particularly like Hot L
, and I saw no problem
with at least asking to be excused.
Boy, was I stupid.

I dropped Ann a note in response.  I wrote that I was exhausted and, as I was already slated for large roles in Othello and Eastern Standard in the fall, to add a third show in the same semester seemed unwise.  I hoped to be excused from her show, but if that was not possible, I guess I could play either X or Y (I don't remember which characters those were).  I didn't hear back from Ann, but when the cast was announced a few days later, I was not included. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I shouldn't have.  I did not know at the time that Ann had taken my reluctance to do her show as a huge insult, particularly after she had praised my work so lavishly only a month earlier.  I also didn't know that she could hold a grudge, and nine months later, that grudge would surface to cause me some real trouble during the following summer's season. 
The summer of '94 ended, and I was exorbitantly pleased with myself.  I had had significant success in my roles for the summer, plus my teaching of kids had gone well. More importantly, I had studied for and passed my comps, a year or more early, and had written the major portion of my thesis. I was pooped but proud.
My first year at USC had proven to me that my decision to uproot my life to pursue the MFA had been a good one.  I flew back to Los Angeles for a week or so to visit my old life, and was back in South Carolina before August ended, ready to hit the ground running for my second year of graduate work.  Oh yes, there's more.  
One of the requirements of doing the kids' show was meeting the kids out in the lobby. Well, I considered it a requirement. Others, like Richard, considered it a perk. 

Backstage camaraderie. 
This was indeed a summer of silly accents for me, but by no means did I consider myself an expert with dialects.  All three accents I used were lifted directly from TV. Moonface Martin was a male Rhoda Morgenstern.  The Dance Instructor, as mentioned, was Pepe LePew, before he was cancelled. And Mop's Cockney accent? That was Richard Dawson from Hogan's Heroes.  I am no expert with dialects.  But I am a cunning linguist. 

(You can read other entries in this series, in reverse chronology, here)

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Gamecock Diaries, Part Five: Groping for Trouts in a Peculiar River

 another entry in the occasional series describing my adventures pursuing the MFA 
This is Pompey in Measure for Measure, my first Shakespearean role at USC. My MFA program was considered classical training, largely due to our partnership with The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC.. Actors in the third year of the program were funneled into the acting company there, spending a full season carrying torches, understudying, and playing smaller supporting roles. So there was a definite slant toward Shakespeare and other classics in the curriculum, and in the production schedule. The annual Shakespearean production was a Big Deal here, and I hoped to shine in my first visit with the Bard at USC.
The main focus of the first few months of my second semester at USC was The Importance of Being Earnest, our show which ran on campus in February, then transferred to Charlotte Repertory Theatre in North Carolina (I wrote about that show in our last episode).
A serious moment in our out of town engagement of The Importance of Being Earnest.
I spent the second part of the semester working on Measure for Measure. The piece is known as one of the Bard's problem plays, and this particular production had more problems than most.  In fact, it created controversy among the MFA actors long before I ever arrived on campus. 
Steve and Christina were in the class ahead of me, and became my good friends as soon as I arrived at USC.  They were infuriated by the casting plans for Measure for Measure. The rule regarding the MFA "talent" was very clear: we were in essence a repertory company in service of the department, and we did not have a choice of roles or shows. We were placed in shows without our input, in fact, it was rare that we even auditioned for anything.  It was insubordinate for any MFA candidate to refuse to do a show. But three of the actors in the class ahead of me, including Steve and Christina, did exactly that. I was to run afoul of this "Mandatory Participation" rule a couple of times in my second year, but for now, I was unaware any of this was happening.
When Measure for Measure was announced for the spring season, the actors in the class ahead of me were very excited, as the show contains two of Shakespeare's most complicated characters: the puritanical hypocrite Angelo, and the virginal nun Isabella, who is extorted into sleeping with Angelo in order to save her brother from death. Fun stuff, eh? Certainly fun to play; the chance to dip into these rich characters made my fellow actors giddy.  Unfortunately, the faculty also thought these characters would be fun to play, so two of them took these roles for themselves. 
This dark photo is the only one I have of our two MFA acting teachers. The gent on the right was the head of the graduate acting program, the gal on the left had the MFA actors in class. "Professional development" is an expectation for MFA faculty everywhere, which usually means the acting faculty is expected to spend some time continuing to hone their craft on the outside, with some summer stock perhaps, or working as a guest artist in another program. At USC, this expectation was fulfilled by teachers taking leading roles in campus productions. So Lisa and Richard took the plum roles of Isabella and Angelo in Measure for Measure
I didn't know the details of any of this until the casting for M4M was announced, and three of the five actors in the class ahead of me had not been assigned roles.
Kathryn and Jerry were also in the class ahead of me, but
they had no problem with faculty usurping the 2 leading
roles. Kathryn was sweet as Mariana, inexplicably in love
with Angelo. Jerry played the Duke, one of the thorniest
and BIGGEST roles in Shakespeare.
I suppose the director decided forcing an actor to appear in a show against his will would be more trouble than it's worth.  I had been cast in the comedic role of Pompey the Tapster (Shakespeare gave him the last name "Bum." It was that kind of role).  I don't count this performance as one of my successes. Like many of Shakespeare's comic clowns, a lot of Pompey's humor came from arcane language which was difficult for a modern audience to understand.  It was my job to interpret this language, and since our director was also the Theatre History professor, I should have had lots of help.  But Dr Hart was a pure academic with little theatrical sense, and the show reflected it. (Hart was the guy for whom I wrote many a term paper, I whined a bit about those struggles in this earlier entry.)  
Patrick played Elbow, a dim-witted constable. While I spent
the evening pretending to be funny, Patrick was
My struggle with this show was reflected in the comments of my advisory committee, who were tasked with issuing an actual grade for my performance in the show. My chair, Jim Patterson, with whom I had already worked in The Importance of Being Earnest, put it bluntly: "I don't know why Pompey wasn't funnier."  Thanks, Jim. I don't know why, either. (My committee gave me an A for effort anyway).
Longstreet Theater  featured stadium seating in the round. It was not used much during my tenure; I did eleven shows in two years at USC, but only 3 were performed in this space.
I'm sure I did more shows with Nan, here
as Mistress Overdone, than any other
actor I've ever worked with. Out of my 11
shows at USC, I think I did nine with Nan.
The show did, however, afford me with one of the best entrances of any show I did at USC.  The show was performed in Longstreet Theater, an arena style stage in the round.  The play was already well underway on the stage floor when I made my entrance, by surprise, along the upper riser at the top of the audience. It was pretty swift seeing every head in the theater suddenly turn around and look up at me as I delivered my first line to Mistress Overdone, who was down on the stage floor. The young juvenile had just been arrested for impregnating his fiancee.
Pompey: "Yonder man is carried to prison."
Overdone: "Why? What's he done?"
Pompey: "A woman." (big laugh)
Overdone: "What is his offense?
Pompey: "Groping for trouts in a peculiar river." (Another big laugh. It was all downhill from there)

As the play progresses, Pompey is sent to prison for pimping and lechery; he is given the chance to be released if he will aid in the execution of young Claudio, condemned for knocking up his girlfriend. It was decided I would carry a bag like this, filled with gruesome instruments of torture. While unpacking this thing, item by item, Pompey lists the various lowlifes and scoundrels who inhabit the underbelly of Venice. Someone decided it would be great fun to change these items every night, so I had no idea what peculiar props I would reach into the bag to pull out. I was already struggling with the text, as Shakespeare's lists are notoriously difficult (I've been saddled with more than my share over the years), and this added distraction pretty much did me in.  I would never put up with such nonsense today, but I was still trying to make a good impression in grad school and never wanted to rock the boat. This bag pretty much summed up how I felt about my performance by the time we closed: dull, listless, beat-up, and worn out.
So, the semester had a nice high, with our performances of Earnest at Charlotte Rep, and a mediocre finish with Measure for Measure. I have to mention, though, that the biggest low of the semester didn't have anything to do with grad school at all.
This is the parking structure at the Northridge Fashion Center, after the earthquake demolished it. I parked here when I worked at the Sears Complaint Department in the 1980s.
In January of 1994, a huge earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles.  This event, now known as the Northridge Earthquake, caused big damage to two places I had spent much of my young adulthood, the Northridge Fashion Center (where I worked at Sears for a whopping 15 years) and Cal State Northridge (where I spent 4 years earning my undergraduate degree). 

I was deep into my second semester at the University of South Carolina when this devastation occurred back in the place I considered to be home.  I had been busy in South Carolina, dissecting Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare, settling into a very new life of taking class, teaching class, making new friends, making a new life.  I did not think I was moving back to L.A. after earning my MFA, but I still considered it home.  These images of destruction were hard to take. While I was building a new life, the structure of my old life was being dismantled.

Next up: the summer season of 1994, the busiest of my two years on campus. If you care to read the previous entries in this series, you can find them here, in reverse chronology