These past two weeks at the Hangar Theatre have truly been momentous in the development of my career, both personally and artistically. I was cast in an adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, where I played a character named Jetsam who, along with his partner, Flotsam, recounts the tale. Now there are a couple of things about this play, I should say. 1.) It’s only thirty-five minutes long, and 2.) I played about nine different characters throughout, which means to say that this was a play geared toward children and therefore dubbed, Theatre for Young Audiences (or TYA for short).
What exactly does that mean though? Recently in the theatre world a clear distinction has been made between children’s theatre (plays with kids acting in them) and TYA (professional actors in a play for children), with the end goal of inspiring the younger generation to engage their imaginations and become artistically aware and culturally responsible citizens. I, of course, find this to be hugely important in a society that is constantly trying to undercut the arts and humanities in schools everywhere… But that’s a blog for another day…
My point is that now I have experience this wonderful thing first hand, I have been able to appreciate its value so much more. After our shows of The Little Mermaid, we actually signed autographs and took pictures with the kids who ranged from infants to fifth graders, and some even exclaimed to me that they wanted to do what I was doing. Playing make-believe on a stage, with toys and costumes, going as far as their imaginations would take them. I found this to be a beautiful sentiment for it made me realize, “Holy crap! I was actually one of these kids, when I was inspired!”
Technically, I did not get into theatre until ninth grade, and technically I had always dreamed of being a Steve Irwin/Indiana Jones explorer or a sports player, but when I look back on my childhood I see that the acting seeds had been sewn early on.
In 1998, I saw my first play, Dracula, at the Osceola Center for the Arts in Kissimmee. I don’t really remember specifics of the performance but I do have a very clear image of having the actor playing Dracula sign my program- and just like the Mermaid kids, I was shy and embarrassed, yet to determined to get that autograph. Now what was the effect of this play on my seven year old psyche? Like I said, I did not remember specific lines, moments, or jokes, but I did remember the essence that the play was pulsating and it inspired me enough to go home and reenact the famous climax. I think either my brother or cousin, played Dracula rising out of a our toy box, and me with a rubber knife, driving it through the vampire’s heart. It may not have been “Theatre for Young Audiences,” but it inspired me in the same way.
In fact, looking at other times, I can clearly define other moments when I was unknowingly stretching my latent skills. All I knew was that I was having fun with my imagination. For instance, my brother Max and I loved watching a particular Western named, El Dorado, With John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and James Caan, and you can bet it inspired us in the same way Dracula did. We set up a makeshift saloon in the bedroom, filled the glasses with orange soda, and played a scene where Max was the bartender serving me a drink until our cousin, Colton, mosey’d on in to start trouble. It’s okay, I ran him out of town and took a swig of Max’s soda. He didn’t like that, but neither of us realized that I had just made my first choice. A-ha! Those are the two big things I remember, but I also ran around the backyard as Godzilla and put a backpack on with a broomstick in order to be a Ghostbuster.
Ah, the innocence of youth and the power theatre can have on impressionable young minds. I lived it myself as a youngster and now have been given the opportunity to bestow this wonderful gift of art to a new generation, who will hopefully take it and think,”My sense of play and imagination does not have to wane as I grow up, to be tossed aside in favor of formalities and conventions!” I mean, those things are great too, but everyone has a creative side lying dormant, and if I can get kids to hold on to that now when it’s easy, then I know I am truly contributing to my society, and helping the world in some small way.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”