By Lewis Hatfield, Wesley Homes Lea Hill resident
I have a bucket list of things I want to do before I pass on, and at my present age of 93, I realize that I may have to speed up my pacing if I am to reach my objectives!
In February 2016, the theater director at Green River College, Joe Baker, invited me to watch a rehearsal of their spring production “Tom Sawyer.” At the rehearsal he surprised me by announcing, “I’m going to give Lew a role in my play.” I agreed to perform. When he created the part of “Clyde,” a very minor character, I threw yet another item in my “To Do” bucket.
“Tom Sawyer” is of course an adaptation of the Mark Twain novel of the same name. Anyone who has read the novel or seen the movie would agree that the stage play is faithful to Twain’s plot. The play opened in 2001 and had a comparatively short run on the Broadway stage, but the music and cast choreography are so rollicking that it is still a pleasant delight for audiences. When we reported for roll call at rehearsals, “Piano Bob” directed the assembled cast in a rendition of the main songs from the play. The cast had been rehearsing since January, and they had the music down pat. While all of the younger cast members had been in the summer theater productions, I also take my hat off to the many adult performers. Director Joe had a “stable” of older folks who were solid professionals.
As for me, I bumbled along, trying to contribute whatever I could. At first, I had six lines of dialogue to learn; but gradually (and cautiously) Joe began to give my character a bigger part. “Clyde” assumed the duty of church choir director where I got to lead the singers in performing “The Doxology.” Since just about every Christian churchgoer knows the words to the chant, it was not a big burden for me. Another expansion of my character was when Tom and Becky Thatcher get lost in a cave, and Clyde was added to the search party.
It was going great, but I must confess that I was confused by two problems I faced. Although I had actually earned a drama minor at the University of Washington and have directed stage plays in two different Washington high schools, I am familiar mostly with the proscenium stage, where acting takes place behind a curtain that is opened and closed throughout the performance. The Green River production of “Tom Sawyer” was staged in an arena setting with many stage exits and entrances. So I had confusion about knowing where to come in and exit. But the other cast members graciously pushed and pulled me and helped show me where to go.
Another challenge for me was that we did not rehearse the play in sequence. Since I was added to the cast in February, I was sometimes bewildered about where we were in the plot of the play and had to scramble to get on the right page in the script book. As we neared the opening dates of the play and stuck more to the chronological order of play events, I started feeling more comfortable in my role.
At the time of this writing, I have survived three performances in front of appreciative audiences without being issued a pink slip. It has been one of the most exciting and unexpected times of my life. I loved being a part of such a stimulating venture. My fellow cast and crew members were very understanding of my unique struggles in this drama world and were caring and helpful. They graciously appreciated my efforts during our public performances, and I appreciated theirs.
I have been familiar with the Heavier Than Air Family Theater for a long time — for perhaps four decades — and feel excited to enter their thespian community as an actual cast member. Who knows? Perhaps more Wesley Homes talent will emerge and be more visible in local theater. I wonder if I have opened the door a tiny crack.