I recently wrote about the horrors of adolescence. Last night I was telling a friend this story, which reminded me that not everything about being a teenager was terrible.
The summer I was 15, I joined San Diego Junior Theatre, a wonderful program for kids 8 to 18, then based solely at the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. We got to put on big musicals in a large, well-equipped theatre with a great staff of adults. That summer we did How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I built sets, painted flats, and during the actual performances I was both house manager and a grip. (As one of the least athletic kids, it amazes me how often I got the jobs that required the most strength.) I also took acting and stumbled my way through a dance class. Later that year, my dance instructor left for New York, where he was in the cast of A Chorus Line and then Cats. Our lead in How to Succeed… has since been nominated for two Tony Awards for his choreography. In other words, I was working with some really special, talented people.
My family lived 15 miles from Balboa Park, and for a teen without a driver’s license, that was really far away. I spent an awful lot of time on the number 7 bus. One day, I was riding to a rehearsal when I noticed this really cute guy. He reminded me of Luke Skywalker. He got off at my stop in the park, and we both walked the same way, until I came to my theatre, and he kept going. My curiosity (and early stalker tendencies?) got the best of me, so I followed him. When he reached the Old Globe Theatre, he went into the outdoor Festival Stage. I asked somebody what was happening there. I was told it was a rehearsal for Julius Caesar. Not only was this guy cute, he was an actor!
The San Diego Old Globe Theatre has a Shakespeare Festival every summer. In 1978, the main theatre was destroyed in an arson fire. While the theatre was being redesigned and built, performances continued at the newly constructed Festival Stage. The plays that year were Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and The Comedy of Errors. I was determined to get involved, so I formed my own group of volunteer ushers and signed up for a bunch of dates. Ushering is a great way to see plays for free, especially if you want to see the same plays over and over. Once I got a festival program, I was able to learn more about my actor. He was a college student and an acting intern, so his roles included servant, messenger, and best of all, a soldier dashing back and forth across the stage carrying a colorful banner. It was difficult to judge whether he had any acting talent, but I wasn’t there to judge.
The first time I ushered, I sent my actor yellow roses (a very safe color!) and he came out to meet me. He was smiling, and I was flustered and blushing and so very thrilled. Each time I went back, I would see him at the stage door, or I’d stick my head into the green room, where he was usually passing the time playing backgammon with fellow interns. He was always friendly, and if he was laughing at me and my silly crush, he never made me feel anything but happy. As the summer progressed, he allowed me and my best friend (and loyal co-conspirator) to take him out to lunch. I took up watercoloring that summer, so I spent several afternoons painting the Old Globe Theatre buildings, a tricky business due to the big empty space where the main theatre used to be. The actors would walk by, stop to check out my progress, and say hello. I kept seeing the plays as often as I could, and I never got tired of them.
All good things come to an end, of course. When the summer was over, there was a talent show featuring many of the actors from the festival. They did magic, they sang and danced, and they performed comedy sketches spoofing the plays. I said good-bye to my actor and gave him my Old Globe watercolor. He gave me a quick kiss, which was one of my first, and it was perfectly innocent and perfectly wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.
After I told my friend this story, we both decided I was very lucky. This actor could have been a creep who took advantage of my age and innocence. Instead, he played along, and I hope he enjoyed having a fan. We decided to google him, and I was happy to discover that he is still working as an actor. He’s had some good supporting roles both off and on Broadway, and he’s been in a few films. It looks like he’s still a really nice person, too. Maybe I’ll send him a Christmas card to say hello, to thank him for the memories, and to tell him he still has a loyal fan.
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight? – As You Like It