I have felt connected to the Guignol Theatre and the University of Kentucky Theatre Department in some way since my junior year at Bryan Station High School.
My high school English teacher arranged for our class to have access to discounted tickets to UK’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Jill Geiger played a major role in that production. Jill went on to perform with and later own The Dorset Playhouse in Vermont. She was a successful person. (Side note; Jill’s bridge-playing was precise but conservative. Bridge was our time-killer of choice in the Green Room — I learned a good bit of acting while playing bridge with other actors).
The day before we attended the show, my teacher gave us instructions on how we were to behave in “The Guignol”. The quotation marks come from my remembrance of my teacher’s obvious reverence for this Temple of the Arts we were entering.
How helpful for me.
I wore my clip-on tie (my fellow Guignolite and playwright/screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue – a successful person – was not to teach me to tie a proper knot for another five years – how absolutely helpful for me). I applauded at all the proper places, and was profoundly impressed by the show. So much so that I attended (on my own this time) UK’s next production in the Guignol of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals. Bekki Jo Schneider (friend, mentor, and ex-sister-in-law) played a major role in that show. She became the owner/operator/director of Derby Dinner Playhouse in Southern Indiana – a successful person. (Bekki Jo’s bridge-playing was aggressive but distracted).
The next year, my senior year in high school, I attended Dark of the Moon in the Guignol and Under Milkwood in the Laboratory Theater which is now named the Briggs Theater (Wally Briggs spent his adult life teaching theatre to UK students. Yes, he too was a successful person – Wally’s bridge-playing, by the way, was ultra, ultra conservative). Dark of the Moon featured Julieanne Pogue. Julieanne has gone on to a strong regional acting career, become an award-winning reader of books for the blind, and an uber-caring psychologist. Julianne is another successful person. Her bridge-playing? It was occasionally brilliant when she bothered.
Both of these shows also featured a freshman in leading roles which explains why I attended UK to study theatre. Where else could I possibly want to go? UK offered an immediate opportunity to act…..in major productions…..in real costumes…..on beautiful and exciting sets…..in front of real audiences.
I remember those audiences as being drawn from all of Lexington. John Jacob Niles (another successful person and a legend to me — if you don’t know him, look him up, you’ll be intrigued) sat in the middle of the first row every opening night I can remember. Teachers from all the Lexington schools were there. Mary Agnes Barnes reviewed for the Lexington Herald. John Alexander reviewed for the Lexington Leader. Betty Waren wrote a theater page for the Herald every Sunday. The Theatre Department faculty was there…usually multiple nights. One memorable Sunday matinee was attended by José Ferrer (he was successful too).
I attended UK for two and half years, performed in seventeen shows, and became an adult; a thinking, listening, caring, evaluating, listening, tax-paying, voting, listening adult.
The arts do that for you.
They make you whole.
They make you reason.
They make you listen…with all your senses…and with your mind…and with your heart.
By all means, teach our children to add and subtract…please. Teach them to write a logical paragraph. Teach them to tell a whimsical story. Teach them their country’s history — all of it. Teach them the scientific method. Teach them to sing. For God’s sake, teach them civics so they know how their government works and are thus less vulnerable to the lies filling the air about them.
Make them whole. Make them successful.
A couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time with the students at UK as a small part of Ragtime. I was frankly thrilled and intimidated by the talent and work ethic of the cast and proud to be associated with them.
Then I attended the UK Theatre Department’s production of Once on This Island. This is not my favorite show, but I was again impressed by the talent and cowed by the revelation that the cast’s closing performance was to be followed by a week of finals before graduation.
These millennials have no bridge game at all. They’re workin’. They’re becoming whole.
I’m OK with that.