"Dad's Goshen Player Story"
You need some background before I can tell you dad's story, so let me set that up for you:
Back in 1949, my dad would have been about 30 years old with a wife and two kids (I hadn't shown up on the scene yet). My family lived in the very small town of Goshen, Connecticut. Dad worked at a bank in Torrington - about six miles away.
The town had two churches - one was Roman Catholic and the other Congregational. They were less than a mile apart. The Congregational church, which my dad attended was majestic. It occupied one of the four corners where the two main streets of the town came together. The other three corners had the town's only gas station, the tractor dealer and the old town hall. The Roman Catholic church was a beautiful, quaint little church that was my mother's and brothers' church. My family - just like the town - was divided into these two faiths.
Dad was a social and popular guy in the town. Somehow, he and a bunch of his friends decided that since the town was divided by faith, they should find a way to bridge that divide. Someone came up with the idea of putting the two church choirs together and sing. Apparently, the choirs did just that. They started singing together and realized that they didn't want to just sing hymns. So... Someone decided that they should start singing the music from musical shows composed by the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan.
This band of locals decided that if they could sing those tunes, why not put on the actual plays? "Trial by Jury" was their first show, and people in the town really liked it. The town hall in Goshen had a good-sized stage and room for about 250 people. "H.M.S. Pinafore" was their second production in 1950. The group has put on a play every year since 1949, and they're still going to this day. Starting in 2005, they are doing two shows a year - one in the spring - the other in the fall.
This has become a renowned group in the area. Yes, it's community theater - but you wouldn't believe what goes into each year's production. I was the third of my parents' three sons, and each one of us was a part of the annual production which ran on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings for three weeks in a row. No joke - that's 9 shows plus a matinee or two. Full costumes / sets / music. Amazing really...
I was born in 1956 and my first show was "A Time for Singing" in 1967. I was either on stage or backstage for the next nine years, all the way through high school graduation and my first year of college. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not afraid to be on stage or in the front of the room presenting. I learned so much by being involved in theater all those years. So many of my speaking and people skills were taught and honed at a young age - in community theater. I am forever grateful for being a part of a wonderful group and tradition. I have stories about that group that are pretty funny, and maybe someday I'll share them with you.
Now it's time for my Dad's Story...
Dad was very proud that he was one of the founding members of The Goshen Players. It meant a lot to him. Dad said that when they first did a production in front of people - the whole group was a little nervous. But... By the time they were a few years in, they had a reputation for being pretty good and putting on a good show.
The story goes that they started feeling pretty smug about themselves. They were now almost famous across at least three or four small towns in a corner of the state. They knew that they had "arrived" when they were asked if they would take the show "on the road" and present it at a nursing home.
** I'm laughing out loud as I recall my dad telling the rest of the story.**
They got the scenery and props and costumes all packed and had set up the show at one end of the largest common room at the nursing home. Dad said that one by one, the folks strolled in and took a seat. Some of the folks were in wheelchairs and were rolled into the room. And dad said that there was one guy who must have had a broken back or pelvis or something - this guy was brought into the room on a stiff board and lean up against the far wall in the room.
The lights went out and the show started. The pianist played the overture for the show. Then they started performing the show as scripted. There was singing, dancing, and dialogue. Dad said they were about 20 minutes in when the first older gentleman sitting in the audience got up and left. And apparently, he wasn't happy that his time was wasted. One by one, the rest of the audience got up and went back to their rooms. The folks in the wheelchairs turned themselves around and left. Dad said at the end of the show there were a few people still there who probably weren't sure exactly what they were seeing, AND... (dad's words) "The poor bastard that was leaned up against the far wall who had no way to escape."
Dad said that that particular experience put them back in their place. Their thespian abilities didn't go to their head after that.
I heard my dad tell that story countless times. I can still see his facial expressions for each line of the story. I can see his arms pretending that he's steering the wheelchair out of the room. I can see him with that far away look as he set up the last line of the guy leaning against the wall.
I probably didn't do the story justice here, but please know that when my dad told a story, he kept every person in the palm of his hand. And when he finished the story, he'd be laughing harder than anyone hearing it.
I learned a lot from Goshen Players about not fearing an audience. But the greatest gift was learning how to tell a story.
Till Next Week!