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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Gamecock Diaries, Part Four: What's It All About, Algie?

(another entry in the occasional series describing my adventures pursuing the MFA...)

Steve and I played brothers in Earnest, and hopefully overcame an age difference. I was 13 years older than Steve (still am, I think), but he was playing the older brother Jack to my younger, more impetuous Algernon. Thank god for my local hair stylist, who knew how to remove the gray so it looked natural. Steve and I had a lot of stage time together and worked well as a team, according to all the critics but one, who declared we were "dreadful." Ouch!  I did three shows with Steve at USC, and after we both settled in DC after graduation,  he directed me in a couple of productions.
I was cast in The Importance of Being Earnest as soon as my first semester at USC was underway.  The director was Jim Patterson, who was the chair of my MFA advisory committee (they were tasked with guiding my collegiate career and making sure I didn't, you know, jump off the roof or something).  
Jim directed me in 3
shows on campus
and 1 show after my
graduation. He's
remained a cherished
Jim was to become a good friend and mentor during my time on campus, I'm pleased to say we have remained in touch all these years later (in fact, it was writing about a dinner with Jim in NY that inspired me to begin this series of entries. So blame him).  At the time, Jim was the head of the directing program and was in fact the department's premier director.  His resume was long and varied, and he had a lively career directing off-campus as well as on-.

The guy on the right was the artistic director of Charlotte Repertory Company, where we played for two weeks on the main stage.  I think his name was Keith.  He was to drive the company to bankruptcy a few years later, Charlotte Rep is now defunct.
Earnest was probably the highest profile show of the season at USC, due to the fact that the show was to transfer to Charlotte Repertory Theatre after its run on campus.  This was a big deal for the Department of Theatre, as it would raise the regional profile of the MFA program at USC.  
Christina played Lady Bracknell beautifully.
She told me she thought she looked like
a Muppet, but old age makeup was necessary,
as she was decades too young for the role. Oh,
and those clothes! I had two complete suits
tailor-made to fit me, I've never felt so
comfortable in costumes. 
There were a couple of casting kerfuffles surrounding the show, if I remember correctly.  The actor who was meant to be playing Rev. Chasuble withdrew before rehearsals began, though I can't remember why.  It was decided that the kid who was set to play the minor role of the butler, Lane, would bump up to the larger role of the reverend, and our director Jim would step in to play the butler.  It was a small role, only appearing in the opening scene, but it had some importance as he and I (as Algernon) were tasked with getting the audience acquainted with the heightened language Oscar Wilde provided. Having your director onstage with you was a bit unnerving, particularly when he could not remember his lines.  Well, that's a bit untrue, Jim knew all his lines, he just could never remember his entrance cues.  After being late for one too many entrances, Jim finally grabbed a paintbrush and painted his cue lines directly on the backside of the scenery flat.  That flat traveled with us to Charlotte, so we were set.
For some reason, I don't have a single group snapshot of the members of my own MFA class. Our group did not hang out much, perhaps because the class itself was so fluid.  By the time our first semester ended, our program had lost two actors and gained one.  We lost a third actor at the end of the year.  By the time our second year began, we had shrunk from seven actors to four.  The above picture is the MFA class ahead of me, with whom I bonded much more strongly than with my own class.
Christina and Deborah took me in hand immediately, and we
became very close very quickly.
The second casting snafu was much more significant.  To play the young ingenue Cecily, director Jim had cast one of my new MFA cohorts, a lovely girl named Riley.  I have a clear memory of this gal, but I have no pictures of her, as she was gone before the first month of the semester had ended.  Riley had entered USC directly after earning her undergraduate degree, with no time in between.  So, counting from first grade to this first year of her MFA, she had been in school a whopping 16 years without a break. 
Mindi was a stranger to me at our first
readthrough of Earnest. A year later,
 we were very tight.
I am a firm believer that, in order to get the most out of the MFA, it's best to get out of school after college and live life for a while before tackling graduate work.  Perhaps that's not true for more academic studies like medicine or the law, but in the arts, I think it's key.  Riley was a perfect example of my thesis;  she was a very fine actress, from what I could tell, and as she landed the leading role of Cecily as soon as she arrived, she was clearly going to be used a lot during her years at USC. (It was a surprise that she was not cast in the first show of the season, The Cherry Orchard, about which I wrote here.)  About three weeks into the semester, Riley folded up her tent and hit the road, leaving a big hole in the cast of Earnest.

This is the typical Mindi pose. Always
upbeat and positive, she was to become an
important part of my life at USC.
This was weeks before rehearsal started, and Jim used the time to cast one of his favorite actresses, Mindi.  Mindi had gone through the undergraduate program at USC, and was still living in Columbia and working at the local professional theatre, though she was not, at the time, a student on campus.  I became very very glad Jim used an actress he knew and trusted, as Mindi was terrific in the role, and she became a close friend. (She would enter the MFA acting program the following year, so I worked with her often.)
In The Importance of Being Earnest, we don't meet Cecily until after the intermission. Because of this timing, Mindi and I often did not see each other backstage until we came face to face onstage.  I'm sure it added to the spontaneity of the moment.  I believe my favorite scene in the play was this one, during which Algernon and Cecily meet and instantly fall in love. 
Steve and Mindi cashing
their first check from
Charlotte Rep. It was the
first paycheck Mindi ever
received for acting.
I had a great time playing Algie, but the opportunity to play the role again at Charlotte Rep had a downside.  Our run on campus was in early 1994, but the run in Charlotte was later in March.  That transfer directly conflicted with another show running on campus at the time, a show I dearly wished to be in.  
This is directing stud Richard on the left, and my replacement Will on the right. I'm being dramatic; the transfer of Earnest to Charlotte Rep meant I could not be considered for Richard's production of Equus. Will played the role which was, let's face it, written for me. But I'm not bitter.
The role of the psychiatrist Dysart in Equus had been on my wish list ever since I saw Brian Bedford, then Anthony Perkins, then Anthony Hopkins, then Richard Burton play it (in fact, it's STILL on my wish list). The show was being directed by my friend Richard, who was earning his MFA in Directing, which required his directing several shows on the USC mainstage.  I was to appear in Richard's next show the following year, stay tuned for that story, but I dearly wanted to play in Equus.  Alas, the timing would not permit doing both Earnest and Equus, so I missed my chance.
This is what Brice Stadium, home of the USC Gamecocks, looks like today.  During football season, the campus turned pretty rowdy, I was to learn.  My house was so close to the stadium, I could always hear when the crowd sent up a whoop.  I also learned to keep a sharp eye on the schedule of home games, not because I wanted to attend them (I never went to one), but because  I was likely to be trapped at home during the games. My Shady Rest was at the end of a dirt road ("right next to the crik") which could only be accessed via the same main avenue leading to the stadium. Traffic was a nightmare on that road during home games, and southern hospitality went out the window when football fans needed to get to the game. After once or twice sitting at the entrance to my road, waiting for some kind soul to let me squeeze out of my street, I posted the full schedule on my fridge. 
Mindi and the famous nipple cap.
Despite that lousy timing, I had a ball playing Algernon.  In fact, I was surprising myself by how well I was growing accustomed to this new life of a grad student. I hadn't been in school in 17 years, but I was keeping up. 

I actually liked the group mentality which formed among the MFA candidates, we were all in this together.  It was easy to touch base with my family during the long holidays, as my father and sister lived only a few hours away in Atlanta, and another sister was in Raleigh, but really, in the tradition of all theatrical experiences, my MFA cohorts were becoming family too. 
So I'd call my first semester a smashing success. My second semester, in which I did my first Shakespeare at USC, was less so.  More on that anon...