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 (1979) 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 joined the cast of A Chorus Line and then Cats. Our lead in How to Succeed… was Casey Nicholaw, and he’s recently 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 a lot of time on the number 7 bus. One day, I was riding to a rehearsal when I noticed this really cute older 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 it 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 finally learned my actor’s name and a little bit about him. As a college student and an acting intern, 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 tell whether he had talent beyond banner-dashing, but I wasn’t there to judge. (Here’s a photo of him in the background next to a banner. At least, I think it’s him!)
The first time I ushered, I left my actor a note and yellow roses at the stage door as soon as we arrived. Before the house opened, he came out to meet me while I was standing at my assigned ushering spot. 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 schoolgirl crush, he never made me feel anything but happy. As the summer progressed, he allowed me and my best friend to take him out to lunch for Mexican food in Old Town. I took up water-coloring 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. When the summer was over, there was a special talent show at the Festival Stage. The company actors did magic, they sang and danced, and they performed comedy sketches spoofing the plays. I laughed and cheered and went onstage as a volunteer for a magic trick. After the show, I bid farewell 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. My actor could have taken advantage of my age and innocence. Instead, he played along, keeping it relaxed and fun, 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 been busy both off and on Broadway. He’s also had roles in some films and TV shows. It looks like he’s still a really nice person, too. Maybe I’ll send him a 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
The illustrations are paintings by Edmund Leighton. Idealized romance and chivalry won out over my motley collection of newspaper clippings from that summer. The Festival photos linked here are from the SDSU Archive Collection, which has more photos from the festival. It’s disappointing that there are none from The Comedy of Errors, because it was a fantastic production.