Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Impossible Claim

I read, and enjoyed, Dale Wasserman's book The Impossible Musical, chronicling his writing the TV teleplay I, Don Quixote which he eventually turned into the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. Almost everyone is familiar with the song "The Quest", which begins "To dream the impossible dream/To fight the unbeatable foe..."

In his book, Wasserman repeatedly emphasizes that those two lines originated verbatim in his original teleplay, and generally laments the lot of the librettist. He writes:

It works like this: I, the "bookwriter" wrote, "To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe..." The lyricist then wrote: 
To dream the impossible dream,
to fight the unbeatable foe...
 
— whereupon, through the alchemy of contractual usage the words became his forever.

Later, Wasserman elaborates on this:

Once upon a time I invented a phrase, "the impossible dream." People think it comes from a song, but it doesn't. It's from my original television play, "I, Don Quixote". The phrase has gone into the language and traveled far and wide. It's been used (and abused) countless times, and will continue into the future. I invented it simply to explain Don Quixote's quest — indeed, the song's proper title is "The Quest." But the public seized upon the eponymous phrase and won't let go. 
...Sometimes I'm sorry I invented it. Sometimes I feel I opened a verbal Pandora's box and wish it could be slammed shut again.

Poor Wasserman. It must have been quite a burden for him. Of course, it would be much easier to sympathize with him IF HE HAD ACTUALLY INVENTED THE PHRASE. Thanks to the research of Dr. Howard Mancing, Professor of Spanish at Purdue University, we know that the lines "To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe" actually originated in the press materials at the back of the Samuel French publication of Paul Kester's 1908 play, "Don Quixote". Here's a 2008 news report dating from the month before Wasserman's death, that tells the story:



I wondered if it was possible that the script Mancing found might have been a later edition, and so the press materials were actually quoting the musical. I contacted Samuel French — they didn't know anything about the whole affair — and I heard back from two very helpful and interested employees. The script was long out of print, but one of the employees sent me a PDF of the entire thing. After examining it, it is unquestionable to me that the publication dates back to 1930, no later.

It's already pretty "impossible" to believe Wasserman's claim that he came up with the exact same ten sequential words, all on his own. But wait: There's more! Wasserman's Wikipedia page mentions that the phrase "To each his Dulcinea" appears in Kester's play as well. (I'm guessing this information stems from Mancing's research too, but I'm not certain.) "To Each His Dulcinea" is a song in "La Mancha", sung by the Padre.

Sure enough, there it is on page 30 of Kester's script:

PRIEST. (Smiling sadly) To each his Dulcinea!

Wasserman included his "I, Don Quixote" teleplay at the end of "The Impossible Musical". And lo and behold, on page 263 of that book, what do we find?

PADRE (A pause. With a sad smile:) To each his Dulcinea.

Wasserman borrowed not only the exact line, but also the sad smile!

And really, it's fine that he appropriated these words. It's inarguable that on the whole, Wasserman used Cervantes' novel as a springboard for his own original work.  But his vehement, angry, defensive emailed denials in the video are still troubling. Someone with a lot of time and interest should study first Cervantes' novel, then Kester's play, then Wasserman's teleplay, and finally the "La Mancha" script, to see just how much of a debt Wasserman owes to Kester. It sounds like a most interesting Quest.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Perfect Rhyne

A lyric I just overheard on iTunes Radio's "Original Broadway Cast" station:

I feel like the sun is shining 
Like every song is rhyming

Every song, I suppose, except that one?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Jim Henson: The Biography

I finished Jim Henson: The Biography this morning, and highly recommend it. Author Brian Jay Jones has done a superlative job of researching and writing about Henson's life, and there are many fascinating things to be learned in the book. I was especially surprised and pleased with the many insightful quotes from Richard Hunt, who died only two years after Jim. Jones was able to draw from an unpublished interview Hunt gave in his final years.

It's sobering to realize that of the early Muppets crew, only Frank Oz is still alive. Jane Henson, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, Don Sahlin — all gone. It's wonderful that Jones was able to interview Henson and Nelson for the book; it was written "just in the nick of time", so to speak.

Jones quotes most, but not all, of Jocelyn Stevenson's beautiful words from her speech at the London memorial service for Jim, which were published in It's Not Easy Being Green, and Other Things to Consider.
Here's the rest of that quote:
He changed our lives. He changed the world. And we'll continue his work, because that's how inspiration operates. People die, but inspiration lives and grows. Inspired by his gentleness, we'll fill the world with gentleness. Inspired by his vision, we'll fill the world with vision. Inspired by his chicken imitation, we'll fill the world with laughter.

Thanks, Jocelyn. Thanks, Brian. And thanks, Jim.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Forbidden?

I have a bunch of videotapes of old theatrical performances I've done. I've transferred most of them to DVD. But the existence of such recordings is problematic...There aren't really supposed to be recordings of theatrical productions, except (I believe) those made strictly for the theatre's own archival purposes. There are all sorts of problems with union rules and copyright restrictions.Yet for a while there, it seemed that every show I did was videotaped, and the cast was offered copies.

Then there's the problem of sharing them with others...because after all it's not just your performance you're sharing, it's everyone else's too. And it might have been a bad night for them, or they might just rather forget about the whole thing. So I've pretty much refrained from posting anything online.

I made an exception though with Forbidden Broadway, since there are lots of solo numbers in there, and I could post chunks of my own performance without anyone else's being included.

So...here that is.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Scrambled Abbreviations

I love animating Laurie Keller's work. I've done two of her books for Weston Woods, plus a video for Ralph's World that utilized her characters, plus the book trailer for her latest Arnie the Doughnut book.

I also love rewarding an audience for sitting through a film's credits. So I took a hilarious bit from the endpapers of The Scrambled States of America Talent Show and animated it underneath that Weston Woods film's credits. Here's the sequence, shorn of the credits:


Friday, September 13, 2013

Harper Lee Ever After


Probably the best present I ever got my wife was a personalized, autographed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, signed by Harper Lee herself. It's the 35th Anniversary edition, and there are a lot of autographed copies of that edition going around. People now seem to be asking a minimum of $600 for one.

First, I do believe these copies to be authentic. Why are there so many? Here's why:

Back in early 1998 I noticed a lot of copies appearing on eBay, usually for around $150. I contacted one seller, asking where they got it, and why there were so many. They kindly explained that two bookstores in Monroeville AL, Beeland's and Magnolia Cottage, were selling them. Harper Lee was spending a lot of time in Monroeville caring for her sick sister, and she had agreed to come in to the stores periodically and sign copies of the book for people to order.

I contacted Beeland's, confirmed this story, and was shocked when they said they were selling them for (if I remember correctly) $21, only $3 more than the cover price of the book. I asked for one, personalized for my wife, and sure enough it arrived promptly.

So, either two bookstores in Harper Lee's own hometown were running a wide but very low profit scam, or it's real. The signature certainly looks authentic, compared to those I can find on the Internet.

But this apparently didn't last long. Laura and I visited Beeland's on our "babymoon" in 2000, and they said that when Harper Lee got word of copies being sold on eBay for exorbitant prices, she quit signing them. So I got very lucky with the timing, I suppose.

The inscription, in blue pen, says:

Merry Christmas, Laura!
Harper Lee
1998

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tick-Tock Sick/The Countryside

It's not really known why Jim Henson recorded two songs and released a single in 1960. But here it is!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wormwood Forest

Wormwood Forest was a WSM radio show written by (and starring) Nashville puppeteer Tom Tichenor. I've got some old recordings of shows on my webpage here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Jon Stewart Show

As insomniacs may remember, Jon Stewart had his own late night syndicated show before becoming anchor of Comedy Central's The Daily Show. At the behest of staff writer Tom Hertz, Brian Maffitt and I created animations for a segment called "New Screen Savers". The segment was such a hit that we did a follow-up later in the season. Here's my webpage, with clips!

Monday, September 9, 2013

2013...so far

I made it! It's my birthday! It's 2013. It's now.

This is my 18,263rd day to be alive. In case you were counting.

So, what's happened in this year, thus far? Some neat stuff:

I finished I Want My Hat Back.

I contributed animation and title screens to String City, a show sponsored by the Country Music Hall of Fame (and Museum!), the Nashville Public Library Foundation, and Wishing Chair Productions. Very fun project.

I've done a bunch of smaller animation projects, including a book trailer for Laurie Keller's new Arnie the Doughnut book. (I also got to voice Arnie!)

I recorded the role of Doctor Dozous for a musical about Bernadette of Lourdes, written by Brian Hull and Sarah Hart.

We had a big screening of eight of my Weston Woods films at the Belcourt Theatre here in Nashville. It was almost sold out! This included the world premiere of I Want My Hat Back. Wonderful to see the films looking so fantastic on the big screen, and for such a large and appreciative audience.

We completed the first scene of Cosmo Kimball and the Perfect Hat, as a tool to get funding to finish the rest of the project.

And Laura and Burton have hardly been idle either! Laura has opened Whites Creek Flower Farm, with beautiful results. And Burton shot a zombie movie with his friends, which is still being edited! We're hoping for a Halloween release.

Our cat Dash died...that's been the only downer. That makes our running total, as I type, 6 cats (Keypot, Petunia, Indy, Shadow, Mary, and Sparta), 2 dogs (Cornelia and Missy), and 2 goats (Buddy and Milo).

And so, that's the first two thirds of this year! What's going to happen in the remaining third? I have my hopes and wishes...but who knows?

It's been an interesting experience trudging back through my life like this. Doing a year a day is kind of like living your life all over again, at 1:365 scale. I know that I began my life being so lucky to have such generous and supportive parents. My father continues this, to this day. I can take only slightly more credit for having the great fortune to marry Laura. And together, we've helped make Burton the awesome 13 year old that he is.

I have had a wonderful life thus far, and am so fortunate to have been in a situation that I could try to do what I wanted with my life. I pledge to try to be even more productive in the years to come, and to try "to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here", as someone once said.

Help keep me on track, okay?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

2012

2012? Heck, that was just last year. This shouldn't be too hard...

Well, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend got finished up. And I'm Fast! largely got done in 2012, since we were only beginning it at the end of 2011.

For the SSMAF DVD, we did a special feature, The Making of Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend. It was great to be able to "play Walt Disney" and demonstrate exactly how the films get made!

The same day we shot that special feature, I also shot some bits for the NPT 50th Anniversary Special. It was an honor to be asked to contribute to that, since the shows on NPT were a huge influence on my childhood.

Another nice puppetry gig: For Everywhere Fun Fair, I performed a beautiful bird puppet, built by Scotty Shoemaker. Great to work again with the good folks at Gemini Production Group.

We got another dog, named Missy.

We saw Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band's concert on July 7th, Ringo's birthday! Our "live Beatle" count was now up to 2, which is where it is going to have to stay.

I turned 49. Burton turned 12. And Laura turned into a flower farmer! The prep work for Whites Creek Flower Farm began this year.

I went to the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, where I got to actually meet Laurie Keller and Ralph Covert in person! Our My Magic Trick video screened there, as did All the World, so it was great to hang out with Ralph and Laurie and Scott Mack. Good times.

Immediately after that, I met Jon Klassen here in Nashville, as I was starting production on a film of I Want My Hat Back with Weston Woods. It was great to have so much input from the author/illustrator at this early stage of the game.

The app idea I began at the end of 2011 turned into Cosmo Kimball and the Perfect Hat. I found a fantastic illustrator named David Vordtriede to do the art, and we were able to begin to figure out what the world of Cosmo Kimball would look like.

On December 14th, I was able to throw Laura a surprise birthday party! It was a very nice affair, and many who couldn't make it were able to send video greetings to Laura, which I edited together for her.

It was a calmer year than the last few. But that's not so bad.

2012.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2011

For the third year in a row, something bad happened in January. My college friend John Dye passed away in San Francisco. The last time I had seen him was at the MSU reunion in 2001. This hurt. It still hurts. There's a lot I don't understand, and never can. We were thick as thieves in college, as I've written about before in this 50-year, navel-gazing travelogue. He had no computer, nor any interest in having one, but I sure do wish I had kept in touch with him better, through other means.

His brother Jerre asked me to sing at the memorial service in Tupelo. I picked "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin, which was John's audition song back in college. Kermit Medsker played the song for me, just as he had for John all those many years ago.

In April, my favorite cat Jack died, hit by a car. We got a new kitten, Sparta.

Lots of work. We finished Scaredy Squirrel and All the World. By the end of the year, we were working on Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend and just gearing up on I'm Fast!. I also did ten spots for Kroger, which were shown on the Jumbotron at Titans football games. There were some smaller animation projects too; I did some animation for a shadow puppet piece for Brian Hull, and a motion comic music video for Trace Adkins.

I went to two reunions: My 30th high school reunion and a 20-year reunion for the Beauty and the Beast show at Disney World.

There were also some puppetry gigs: A little more for the Quaver project, some promo appearances with the Brown Chicken Brown Cow puppets for Trace Adkins, and a fish character for Operation Overboard.

We took a trip to Chicago in the summer, so Burton could go to Brickworld, a Lego convention there.

We got our Honda Element.

I turned 48.

Towards the end of the year, I start to work out an idea for an interactive app.

And that was 2011.

On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world. — Henry David Thoreau

Friday, September 6, 2013

2010

2010: Wow, I cannot believe everything that happened this year. Insane. A great, great year.

But it started badly: Laura broke her right heel showing Burton how safe it was to sled down the slope in our backyard. This is while I was going in to Magnetic Dreams to work on Iron Man: Extremis. So I became our family's sole driver while she recuperated.

After that project wrapped, MD began work on a Thor & Loki motion comic. I only worked on the first episode of that, since I began to have two more Weston Woods films to do: Scaredy Squirrel and All the World. Work on those lasted through the year.

My friends at the Nashville Public Library and I made a whirlwind trip to Atlanta to do a video puppetry workshop with Steve Whitmire.

I did a great number of animations for Quaver's Marvelous World of Music, those also lasting throughout the year. Plus, there was just a little bit more puppeteering of Beethoven too.

I created Astaire Unwound, my deconstruction of Fred Astaire's ceiling dance, and one of my most popular YouTube uploads!

I did a fun music video for Ralph's World, to the tune of My Magic Trick. Great to animate Laurie Keller's art again!

This year I seemed to see just how many times I could go to Memphis! The answer was: four. All were happy occasions: A celebration of retiring MSU professors Gloria Baxter and Susan Chrietzberg; a performance by Voices of the South; a Nicholas Nickleby 25th anniversary reunion; and finally, seeing Barry Fuller in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Memphis.

But was all that enough? Oh, perish the thought! I'm Dirty! got accepted in the London Film Festival in October, and we three Fotts took that as an excuse to go there ourselves! So we saw the festival, Abbey Road, Shakespeare's Globe, the Tower, the Don Sahlin/Jim Henson bench at Hampstead Heath, the Natural History Museum, Hamlet, and Hamley's. But maybe best of all was the day we spent at Ashdown Forest, site of the Pooh stories. We took some sticks from Dorothy Ann Russo's farm with us, and dropped them off the Poohsticks Bridge. This required an immense amount of walking, but Laura was an incredible trouper.

Oh yes: And somewhere in there, I turned 47. Burton turned 10. And Laura turned...her sled toward a tree? Something like that.

Great year.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2009

2009 got off to a sad start. Dorothy Ann Russo, my "adopted grandmother", who has been with me throughout this 50-day journey through time I'm writing, died in January. She was always some sort of reference point, a touchstone, that I could come back to. I read the end of The House at Pooh Corner at her memorial. We adopted her cat Mary.

What's next? Another memorial. Keith Kennedy, chairman of the MSU theatre department, died. At the memorial, Tim Greeson, Kermit Medsker, and I did a song from Strider, which Keith directed.

I was busy for much of this year wrapping up The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon and The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. The latter was a particularly time-consuming affair. A nearly 20 minute film, which I did completely by myself. Over 60 characters. I remember losing a lot of sleep.

At some point, we got goats, Buddy and Milo. It was around this year.

Our cat Petunia had kittens! There were three: Indy, Jack, and Shadow. If there had been four, we probably would have given two away, but since there were only three we kept them all. I'm glad, because if we'd given one away it probably would have been Jack. He was a fussy kitten, but turned out to be my favorite cat since Ambrose.

I got involved with the Quaver's Marvelous World of Music project. I puppeteered the bust of Beethoven (built by Brian Hull and Co.), and also began doing a string of animations for them.

I turned 46. Burton turned 9. Laura turned heads.

At the end of the year, I started working on Magnetic Dreams' Iron Man: Extremis project. This was the first time I had to regularly "report for duty" at a location other than my own office for quite a while! But I had a great time, and feel like I made valuable contributions to the project.

That's 2009.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2008

2008: Another great year. But we begin with a bit of sadness: Our cat Ambrose died. Officially the Greatest Cat Ever. We got two more cats, Keypot and Petunia, to try to compensate.

I'm Dirty! and Do Unto Otters were released. I began work on The Scrambled States of America Talent Show and (at the end of the year) The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon. There were a couple of smaller animated projects as well.

More travel! I got flown up to NYC again for Adobe/PCMagazine, and Laura and Burton came too! We saw Mary Poppins, Burton's first Broadway show. Then we all went out to San Diego on a "family trip" with my Dad, Suzy Crockarell, my brother David, and Stacey. Legoland! Comic-Con! (I had a couple of films in the San Diego International Children's Film Festival there.)

We got our Prius, which we still have.

Another reason to mourn: My beloved Seaside Music Theater is no more.

Burton turned 8, and started at Abintra. I turned 45.

That was 2008.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

William "Rosko" Mercer

For a while now, I've wondered about a narrator featured in some old Sesame Street segments. Here he is doing the Queen of Six:



And he's at the beginning of the King of Eight:



And he's the voice of "Limbo" in this Scanimate film:



Thanks to a random commenter on YouTube, he's been identified! It's William "Rosko" Mercer, a prominent New York DJ. Here's more of that unmistakable voice:




All the above spots were done by Jim Henson, so Rosko must have been a favorite of his. Rosko's NYTimes obituary is here.

2007

2007: Lots more animation.

The Librarian From the Black Lagoon and Max's Words get finished and released. I begin work on I'm Dirty! and Do Unto Otters. Also, I do another PSA through Weston Woods for the Collaborative Summer Library Program, which Brian Hull animates.

I found Bigfott Studios; Max's Words is the first film in which that name appears in the credits. Laura starts to serve as Production Manager.

I'm still writing for PC Magazine. I get flown up to NYC again to attend an Adobe conference. While there, I see the revival of Company and Spring Awakening.

I travel to the wonderful Platform Animation Festival in Portland, Oregon. Librarian is screened at the festival.

Burton turns 7 and enters first grade.

I turn 44.

Our cat Camilla dies. We get a kitten, and Burton names her Dash.

We shoot a third season of the DVD series Live BIG. Bongo the Parrot squawks again!

Life is good, you know? Laura really likes Nashville. She makes jewelry. Burton's doing great; he's very tall, and happy. I'm very busy.

Life is good. 2007.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mickey Mouse Mystery Solved

Over on my grundoon.com site, I created a webpage devoted to trying to solve a mystery. The mystery was, essentially, who animated a classic sequence of Mickey Mouse dancing, and when, and why? I own a drawing from the sequence, so I had a vested interest. Rather than recount the whole story, I will just link to my original webpage here, which I had a good time putting together.

In April of 2011, I found out the answer to the mystery. Amid Amidi contacted me, asking for a scan of my drawing so that he could include it in his upcoming biography of Ward Kimball. At that time, Amid told me he had discovered that Ward Kimball did indeed animate the sequence, for 1941's The Reluctant Dragon. In John Canemaker's book Nine Old Men, on page 104, there are some storyboards that show how the sequence was going to be integrated into the film.

Disney cut the sequence from the film...and about 70 years later, they suppressed Amid's book. But I'm glad at least to know that I was correct about both the animator and the year. And, that I own a Kimball original!

2006

2006: A year full of animation work, and travel.

In February, I began work on The Librarian From the Black Lagoon. A very different film from Roberto, this one needed hand-drawn animation. So I had to figure out how to do that! It required drawing (no pun intended) on the talents of many friends and colleagues, scattered about over the continent. Huge portions of the film were animated by Micah Baker and Brian Hull. Work continued on the film almost throughout all of 2006.

Through the great folks at Magnetic Dreams, I did a segment for the Sesame Street Christmas Carol DVD. Scotty Shoemaker created the art for this.

Through the great folks at Weston Woods, Jerry and I wrote and co-directed a PSA for the Collaborative Summer Library Program, featuring Paul Giamatti. And in August, we began work on another Weston Woods film, Max's Words.

Roberto started appearing in film festivals, and I went to several. It was in the Nashville Film Festival, but that wasn't hard. I also went to festivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

In the puppetry world, we shot another season of Live BIG.

I continued to write for PC Magazine.

Burton turned 6. I turned 43. Life was good!

2006.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

2005

2005. This long and rambling story of my life is beginning to turn into the life that I recognize now.

Early in the year, I was flown up to NYC to attend an Adobe workshop, because I was reviewing Adobe's Creative Suite for PC Magazine. I also got to attend a Henson party at their new workshop, and I saw Avenue Q. Later this year I was named a contributing editor to PC Magazine.

I continued to write books with Deke McClelland.

We bought a house in Whites Creek, the house I'm currently sitting in as I write this. We got Cornelia our dog, still with us.

The big news was that I was working on Roberto the Insect Architect for the majority of this year. Laura's sister Linda helped enormously with the Photoshop work. Roberto was released this year, making that trip up to Vancouver seem like it had a point to it!

Burton turned 5. I turned 42.

I also got cast in 1776 this year at Tennessee Rep. My first show in 8 years. I missed a few early rehearsals though to attend my brother's wedding to Stacey in Las Vegas!

It was back to Guatemala yet again for the Coca-Cola Polar Bear for Henson. And I picked up a local video puppetry gig too, with the Live BIG video series.

Another incredibly busy year. And a great one.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

2004

2004: Here's another year that began with no idea where it would end. But pretty early on, we decided to move into Nashville. We thought about Austin TX too, but Nashville was closer, and we liked it. So we found a townhouse in Bellevue, and moved. I always say that I've lived in New York, Houston, Orlando, and Vancouver, but having been born in Clarksville, by living in Nashville I can always feel like I've made it to the "big city".

Jerry had sent the Roberto the Insect Architect animation to a company in Connecticut called Weston Woods, and by February, they were sounding interested in releasing it. Also in February, we came to the Downtown Public Library to see a puppet show. I was very interested to do this, to see how the program begun by Tom Tichenor was being carried on. I met the guy who ran the program, named Brian Hull.

I was very busy this year with writing. I continued to write for Macworld magazine. I began writing for PC Magazine as well. And I worked on at least two books with Deke McClelland, Photoshop Elements 3 for Dummies, and Adobe InDesign CS One-On-One.

Burton turned 4. I turned 41.

They love that Coca-Cola Polar Bear in Central and South America! I made two big trips for Henson this year, one to Guatemala and another to Costa Rica. Good times.

And by the end of the year, work on Roberto the Insect Architect was well underway. I scrapped all the work I had done before, since we got the transparencies from which the book had been printed and they were much higher quality. I was also a much better animator now than I had been in 2001.

Laura and Burton both seemed to be liking Nashville. I was too. And I had gone to animation school, and was now embarking on a project where I got to be an actual animator. Things were looking up.

Friday, August 30, 2013

2003

2003 — ten years ago — began in Vancouver. The program at VanArts started with traditional, hand-drawn animation. I'm very grateful for that. Even though my emphasis was 3D computer animation, we started with the basics. There was also life drawing, all the way through. I drew lots and lots of naked people. Frustrating, because although I draw better than the average guy on the street, there were plenty of people there who drew a heck of a lot better than me.

People always say "It's the journey, not the destination". I confess I'd always been more of a "destination" guy. Actors I knew would say they loved the rehearsal process most of all, and the performance was almost secondary. Not me: I liked the performance, and the curtain call! But on the very last day of life drawing, I had an "It's the journey, not the destination" moment. I realized that what I had been doing all year was training my brain to analyze, to process, to see. The drawings themselves were truly secondary. What was important was what my brain had learned to do, and not my attempts to record my perceptions on paper.

Anyway. I graduated. Vancouver was beautiful, but my student visa was running out, so we had to head back to the states. Where to head to? Since half our belongings were there, we headed back to Clarksville by default. Another long, 250-miles-per-day journey, during which I turned 40. (Burton turned 3 this year.) I well remember the celebratory milkshake I had at a Dairy Queen somewhere.

Thanks to a very generous offer, we stayed in the guest house of Suzy Crockarell. I sent my reel out to various animation studios. I also wrote some more reviews for Macworld, and updated Photoshop CS Bible — Professional Edition for Deke.

One nice surprise was that I went back to Guatemala as the Coca-Cola Polar Bear for Henson again!

And like 2002, I think it's fair to say that 2003 began with no idea where it would end. It ended in Clarksville, where my entire life began. I was 40.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

2002

Excitement! I think it's fair to say we began 2002 having no idea where we'd end it.

As I mentioned, I applied to several different animation schools. We ended up settling on VanArts, in Vancouver BC. Quite a long way from Kissimmee FL! We started the Herculean task of packing up our house so we could put it on the market and move.

Meanwhile, I was still reviewing software for Macworld. I also updated Photoshop Elements for Dummies into Photoshop Elements 2 for Dummies.

A Sesame Street 3D movie was shooting in Orlando, and I worked a couple of days on that as a puppeteer.

So that was that. Goodbye, Orlando. Somehow we got our Honda Civic to Clarksville. Then we set out in a big rental truck (which Laura drove) and our Ford Explorer (with Burton and me). First stop was Clarksville, where we stored half our possessions at my dad's house. Ambrose and Camilla stayed at the house of Suzy Crockarell. Then it was off to Vancouver.

It's hard to believe we actually did this, but we did it. We were worried about Burton having to spend too long in the car, so we only drove 250 miles per day. But we eventually got there, and got a nice townhouse in North Vancouver.

Burton turned 2. I turned 39, and started my year of schooling at VanArts. This was a wonderful experience, and I made several lasting friendships. As I mentioned earlier, it was odd being in animation history class, and realizing you were the only one in the room — including the teacher — who was alive at the same time Walt Disney was.

We did come back to the US to see Paul McCartney play in Tacoma WA. It was Burton's first concert.

And so the year ended. We Three Little Fotts had come very far from Kissimmee.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2001

Now the millenium arrives. This was a big, unsettling, but important year.

I continued to sing in Alfredo's.

Total Training by this point had relocated to upstate New York, but I continued to work for them remotely.

I launched my personal website, www.grundoon.com.

My friend Jerry Hunt had a connection with Reading Rainbow, with the idea that we could create animated children's book segments for them. He picked Roberto the Insect Architect as a sample, and I animated the first couple of minutes from it.

Thanks to a referral from Deke McClelland, I began to review graphics software for Macworld magazine. I also conceived of the idea of converting Deke's Photoshop for Dummies book into a Photoshop Elements for Dummies book, which was published this year. Suddenly I was a writer, reviewer, and co-author!

I sang a number from Milton Granger's Tale of Two Cities musical in a concert at Seaside Music Theater this summer.

Another wonderful event this year was the big Memphis State Theatre Department reunion. So many people came, and it was great to see so many old friends. I'd kept in pretty good contact with many, but it was especially good to see John Dye there, after 16 years.

Burton turned 1. I turned 38.

At the end of the year, George Harrison died. Half the Beatles gone.

9/11 happened. As a pretty direct result, Disney got rid of a lot of entertainment in the parks, and there was no more entertainment in Alfredo's. It's nice to look back on that and think it was definitely for the best; at the time, it was pretty scary. But I did take the bull by the horns, and decided to pursue animation seriously. I began scouting around for schools to attend, looking far and wide. Laura didn't much like Orlando as a place to live, so she was glad it was looking like we were going to leave.

I grew my beard, the same beard (in goatee form) that I still have today. And I started growing my hair long, too. Goodbye, Disney!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2000

A new decade! (Although the millenium didn't really start until next year.) The Y2K bug didn't kill us all!

Still singing in Alfredo's. We take a "babymoon" of the southeastern states in April: Monroeville AL (Harper Lee), New Orleans LA (fun!), Biloxi MS (Cirque du Soleil), Leland MS (Jim Henson), Memphis TN (fun and friends), Clarksville TN (likewise), Nashville TN (likewise), Atlanta GA (puppetry museum), Savannah GA (fun and food), and finally the Okefenokee Swamp (fun and Pogo). Great time.

Still working for Total Training too. And still making "Bear" appearances for Henson.

I start rehearsals at Seaside Music Theater for the title role in the musical Cyrano. We knew it would work out something like this, but in the middle of rehearsals, exactly on his due date of July 5th, Burton is born! 7 pounds, 11 ounces. I'm a dad!

Cyrano ends. I pull off my nose, shave off my goatee, and return to "real life". (Cyrano would be the last theatrical production I would do for 8 years.)

Lots of friends come to visit us, to see Burton. I turn 37.

And that's how the year ended: There are three in our family now! Laura, Burton, and me.


Monday, August 26, 2013

1999

1999 was a lot of "more of the same".

I continued singing in Alfredo's.

I continued working at Total Training.

I continued making "Bear" appearances for Henson. This year, I spent a week in Brazil.

But there were some new developments:

I turned 36. (You probably saw that one coming.)

We got our cat Ambrose, who was officially The Greatest Cat In The World. Every good quality we recognize in any of our cats these days, we always think "Ambrose was like that..."

Laura got pregnant!

No theatre for me this year, but we did spend the final day of the year with Laura helping me make a life mask, upon which I could sculpt a nose for my upcoming Seaside Music Theater appearance...

And of those last two news items, I will say "Stay tuned, gentle reader..."


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Steamboat Willie Fart Gag

There is totally a fart gag in Disney's Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey Mouse cartoon made, and the first one with sound. It happens at 1:11 in the video below. (This is apparently an official Disney video on YouTube, so it's surprising that the quality isn't better.)

Still: Pete berates Mickey. Behind Pete's back, Mickey blows a disrespectful raspberry at him. Pete turns around, and Mickey makes a little fanning motion with both hands down by his bottom, as if to try to convince Pete that the raspberry was actually just an accidental fart.

I have never heard any mention made of this anywhere, whatsoever. It's subtle, but once you notice it, it seems unmistakably obvious and intentional.

There's a fart gag in Steamboat Willie. Sorry. But someone had to say it.



1998

In April of this year, my mother died. We were all there. She was only 66, just 17 years older than I am now. I know my mother had a lot of happiness in her life, and I know that my brother and I were responsible for a large portion of it. I wish she had been alive to see Burton, and to see David's wedding to Stacey. Both would have made her so happy. In a way, it's also comforting to know that wonderful things that would have brought us joy will keep occurring, even when we're not here anymore. Laura's co-workers at Disney bought us a tree to remember my mother, and we planted it in our front yard. When last I checked, in 2011, it grew there still.

I still sang this year in Alfredo's, but Laura went down to just being a sub in the Voices of Liberty.

But lots of other things happened for me this year. I started doing live appearances for Henson as one of two bears: the title character from Bear in the Big Blue House, and the Coca-Cola Polar Bear. This gig was a heck of a lot of fun. As the Coke Bear, I spent over a week this year in Guatemala, and also appeared in various cities in the US. The costume/puppet was quite a high-tech affair; a videocamera in the bear's nostril went down to a tiny monitor strapped to my chest. This was the only way to see; there were no peep holes in the costume anywhere. I puppeteered the bear's head with my hand extended over my head. The Coke Bear could also blink and smile. There was a tiny fan inside. Henson would fly me to wherever I was supposed to be, and there I would meet the "bear wrangler", who traveled with two huge rolling boxes that held the two halves of the bear. The wrangler and I were on headset communication as well. Good times.

Brian Maffitt set up Total Training in Orlando, this stemming from the release of "Total AE" last year, which I worked on in Seattle. So I was able to work there during the day, and sing in Alfredo's at night. It made for 12-hour days, 5 days a week.

In the summer, I got to play Arthur in Camelot at my beloved Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach. My third time in Camelot, and I had worked my way up to the top position. Perhaps I can play Pellinore and/or Merlyn some day.

I turned 35.

On the day after Christmas, our cat Berkeley died. We buried him under the new tree in our front yard.

1998: A year of great highs and great lows.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

1997

The big news for 1997 was that we bought our first house. In the Indian Wells section of Kissimmee, it was located on the embarrassingly named Peace Pipe Drive. It was an older couple's winter home, and it came completely furnished. Our first act was to hold a garage sale, where we made $2000.

Same old same old at Disney. I believe there were more AT&T animations that Brian Maffitt and I did, too.

We flew to Puerto Rico to attend the wedding of Brian and Denise Davidson. I had introduced them to each other, as Denise had played Evita to my Che in 1992. A lovely occasion.

My mother's health continued to deteriorate. We made many trips to Clarksville. We arranged our days off so we could be off Friday through Monday, which gave us two consecutive days in Clarksville.

I don't believe I subbed for Gaston anymore this year, meaning that this was the first year in 23 that I wasn't in a theatrical production of any kind.

I turned 34. This is the age my father was when I was born.

Kind of hard not to see this as a stagnant period. Professionally at least, things would get better next year. But for now: That's 1997.

Friday, August 23, 2013

1996

Hmmm...I'm wondering if I'm going to have a hard time distinguishing all the "Orlando Years" from one another. Luckily I can refer to old holiday newsletters.

The main news, of course, was that I was singing in Alfredo's. As I said before, a ridiculously easy job. But I did begin to do other things:

I subbed some as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast at Disney-MGM, four years later. Never say "never".

Although Brian was still in New York, we collaborated on a series of animations for AT&T. These featured a character, "Mr. Browser", that we created, and the spots appeared on a big Jumbotron-style AT&T sign in the middle of Times Square. I did a great deal of the animation on these.

Brian also created a VHS training series for After Effects called Total AE. I flew to Seattle and edited a great deal of the audio for the series.

I also was called up to New York by Henson to do background Muppets on a policy trailer for Sony/Loews movie theaters, which was great. There was also another workshop, this one with Jane Henson, but I'm not exactly sure if it was this year or not.

I turned 33.

My mother's health started to fail. Cancer.

That's 1996.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

1995

In February, we did another reading of the Houdini musical. This, I guess, was a time of a lot more auditioning, without a lot to show for it. Sometimes, there are downtimes.

But on the upside: Laura and I got married! We planned the whole thing, and got married on her grandparents' farm in Perry, OK. Lots of friends came, and read or sang at the wedding. Honeymoon was at the Grand Canyon, where we camped out.

Then, back to New York. Through connections Laura made while waiting tables, Brian Maffitt and I got a neat little gig doing animations for the nationally-syndicated Jon Stewart Show. At this point, Brian was still doing almost all of the animation, and I contributed writing and also did all the audio. Very neat to see our work on TV!

My great friends at Seaside Music Theater offered me the part of Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden in the summer, and I leapt at the chance. This, along with Rutledge in 1776 the previous year, are probably my favorite roles I've ever done. A beautiful experience.

While down in Daytona Beach, I made overtures to the folks at Disney World that I might be interested in coming back. Laura and I had talked, and we both felt ready to leave the city. I believe Laura auditioned for The Voices of Liberty up in New York. We both got hired: she with that group, and me to sing Italian songs in Alfredo's restaurant at Epcot.

I have to say that if I have a regret in life, it is perhaps leaving New York at this point. I just got worn down by the grind. Laura did too. But I wish I had made it to Broadway, because that's the one thing everyone knows about stage acting in America: "Have you performed on Broadway?" And I have to say "No, I haven't." (Yet!)

And yet, much good came from this move. We packed up a truck, and left. Got an apartment pretty close to Disney territory. Berkeley and Camilla made the trip just fine.

I turned 32.

Singing in the Voices of Liberty is hard work. My job, however, was ridiculously easy. We sang four 30-minute sets an evening between the hours of 5:30-9:20pm, five nights a week. That was considered a full-time job at Disney. Afterwards, thanks to the generosity of the Alfredo's owners (not Disney), we were welcome to order anything off the menu — including wine — and eat there. Insane. Artistically, it wasn't doing a single thing for me. But the work was so easy, and the money quite good, and I'm ashamed to say I'd probably still be doing it today if it had been up to me.

And so, in this epic travelogue, we leave one era, The New York Years, and begin another.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

He's a Tramp...

Back in 2002, there was not a scrap of information to be found anywhere about Larry Roberts, the man who voiced Tramp in Disney's Lady and the Tramp. Over the years, I've done what I can to remedy that situation.

1994

Doing Phantom in Akron was, on the whole, a disillusioning experience. You work so hard as an actor in New York, going to audition after audition. It's brutal. Then, Eureka, you finally get a good gig! And when that good gig ends up being a less-than-positive experience, you start to wonder what the heck you're doing it for.

Of course, attitude is everything. One begins to want more control over one's life, and as an actor, it's hard not to feel eternally "at the mercy" of someone or something else. And, I worked with a lot of great people in Akron, and the theatre itself was fine. Maybe it was just me.

At any rate, it ended, and it was back to Manhattan. I did two readings of new musicals, Moll Flanders and Houdini.

One day I checked my voicemail, and there was a message on it from Kevin Clash. He asked me to call him, because he wanted to talk to me "about Muppets". It was a solid half year since I had sent in my tape, and then out of the blue, I get a call from Elmo. I called him; we talked. I had to freely admit that I had almost no experience whatsoever with puppets as an adult, beyond having made that video. He asked me to come in and hang out on the set of the 25th anniversary special that Sesame Street was taping for ABC.

So I went out to Kaufman-Astoria studios in Queens, and there it was: Sesame Street. Totally surreal. I still can't quite believe that happened. I met Jerry Nelson. Caroll Spinney. I was going to be there for three days, just hanging out and observing. On the last day, totally unpaid and probably against union rules, I got pulled into assisting on three shots. I got to right-hand Oscar inside his trash can! Enormous thrill.

I then got asked to assist on a shoot for a pre-recorded attraction for Sesame Place theme park. As I remember it, that was just before my first workshop. The workshop was a weeklong affair, led by Kevin. Here, I'm afraid, is where my total lack of experience hurt me, as of course it would. Attending this workshop with me, all of them total newcomers to Henson, were three puppeteers who already had a great deal of experience, and have gone on to major careers with Henson. Even a seasoned pro would have trouble making an impression alongside people like that. It was a very supportive, non-competitive process, not "cutthroat" in any way. But I do wish I had had a lot more studio experience before that workshop.

Back to the world of musical theatre. I got cast as Rutledge in 1776 at Maine State Music Theatre. This was a great gig, a great role, and I loved doing it. So it was great to have that experience, to remind me that acting and singing gigs could be wonderful.

Somewhere in here I did my first animation, doing 2D facial animation in After Effects for a calculator character for a gig Brian had gotten. This was a blast. I also did some voices for talking masks in the Jekyll & Hyde theme restaurant, courtesy of my friend Darin De Paul.

This was also a time of much auditioning. Following up on my 1988 experience, I auditioned for Les Misérables a countless number of times. Any time Johnson-Liff had an audition, they called me in. I ended up auditioning for every male lead in the show except Marius: Valjean, Javert, Enjolras, Thenardier. I probably would have been cast in a much smaller part, which would have been just dandy. I know that if it had been up to Johnson-Liff, I would have been cast many times. But it wasn't up to Johnson-Liff.

I played the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Montclair Operetta Club. Nice to be working "just outside the city", and to get to come home at night!

This year I surprised Laura with tickets to go see Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol, on Christmas Day. For the first time since moving to New York, I got to spend the holidays with Laura. It was a nice end to a year of big highs, and smaller frustrations.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

1993

1993 began in Daytona Beach, finishing up the run of Jacques Brel. Word came from Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach that they were in need of a Lancelot for their production of Camelot. I think I was hired purely on recommendation. I believe I may have had one day off between the end of Brel and the beginning of Camelot rehearsals. Such luck!

This made my second time doing Camelot, the show that so inspired me in 1977. I had moved up from Sir Third-From-The-Left to Lancelot! The best was yet to come.

Laura came down to see the show, as usual. Then it was back up to NYC, at last. Brian Maffitt showed me this neat new program called After Effects that allowed you to create animation. Together we wrote and recorded the soundtrack for a Sesame Street-style animated short called Farm Folk Forum. Brian did most of the animation, although I plotted the timing and movements of my character, the horse. I loved this. We did end up submitting it to Sesame Street; they passed on it, but praised the "very clever writing", or words to that effect.

Seaside offered me a couple of wonderful roles for the summer, so I went back. I was Nathan Rothschild in The Rothschilds, and Antipholus of Syracuse in The Boys From Syracuse. Good times.

Then it was back to NYC. At some point in here, Laura and I moved into Manhattan, to an apartment on 10th Avenue between 43rd and 44th. Actually, it could have been in 1992. Not sure. We had two cats around this time: I know Berkeley we got while we were in Brooklyn. And Camilla I believe was a Manhattanite by birth.

I had walked by the Henson townhouse at 117 East 69th Street several times. I had seen the famous stained glass Ernie and Bert window. Here I was, in New York, where Henson was based. I had always loved the Muppets, far beyond any degree that could be called "normal". How did you get to do that? I wrote a letter to them, asking how one got to be a Muppeteer. I got a lovely letter back from Leslie Converse, saying that I should send in a videotape showing my skills with a hand/rod puppet, and showing a variety of character voices.

I borrowed Brian's Hi8 camera, and got busy. I got my crappy old Anything Muppet puppet from home, made a bunch of characters, figured out what I was going to do, and taped it. I sent it in. Who knows?

I turned 30. I think this exploration into animation and puppetry was all by way of turning 30, and wondering what else I could do with my life in addition to being an actor/singer.

At any rate, I auditioned in NYC for the Yeston/Kopit Phantom at Carousel Dinner Theater, which was located in Akron OH. It was the largest dinner theatre in the country, or so they said. I remember the audition, and being up against several guys with Broadway credits, but I got the part. Once again I was Erik (the Phantom), the role I had played at Seaside the previous year. Laura had already worked at the Carousel, so I had some idea of what I was getting into.

Man, the winter in Akron is brutally cold. Anyway, that's how 1993 ended: shivering in a mask in Akron.

Monday, August 19, 2013

1992

Playing Gaston at Disney World had its definite "up side". But there was a down side too; singing to a tape gets really, really old after a while. I always stick very strictly to the recorded tempo, to try to create the illusion that the tape is following me. But it can only ever be an illusion, and singing along to recorded accompaniment is, ultimately, the antithesis of "live theatre". My contract was up in May, and I began to look for something else to do.

But first, I was asked by Disney to be a part of a very neat show in New York. It was a Beauty and the Beast-themed performance at the Waldorf Astoria presented to honor Michael Eisner. Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford were the hosts, and the show starred Paige O'Hara and Jerry Orbach, singing their songs from Beauty and the Beast. I got to be Gaston. For a little boy who used to sing along with his Disneyland records, to hear Paige sing "There must be more than this provincial life" — and to get to be the actual guy who answers "Just watch, I'm going to make Belle my wife" — was a thrill. But as an added bonus, I got to give one of the very earliest performances of "A Whole New World" from the then-upcoming film Aladdin. Joining me was none other than the singing voice of Jasmine from that movie, Lea Salonga. Together on top of a grand piano played by Peter Duchin, we sang the duet.

So, that was a real highlight in what had become a monotonous job. When my contract expired, I wanted out. Now, it's a given that an actor's life is full of rejection. So what happened next really, truly, almost never happens. Looking at local Florida auditions, I saw that on the same day the Mark Two Dinner Theatre was holding auditions for The King and I, and Seaside Music Theater was holding auditions for their summer season. I figured I could play Lun Tha in The King and I, and Seaside was doing both Evita and the Yeston/Kopit version of Phantom, so there was good stuff for me there, too. I auditioned for both companies, and within the week, I had job offers from both. Seaside was offering Tito in Lend Me a Tenor, Che in Evita, and the title role in Phantom, so the man at the Mark Two said he didn't blame me one bit for choosing them!

What followed was, quite possibly, the greatest summer of my life. I loved all the people I worked with, and cherish so many friendships from there to this day. Seaside really became my "artistic home". I got three fantastic roles, so I finally felt my full abilities were being utilized. I was a working Equity actor. And Seaside had a full orchestra! (Live!) A fantastic place, and a fantastic experience. Laura came down and saw each show!

So it was back to our beautiful Park Slope apartment after that. I had a strange feeling of accomplishment after that season at Seaside. A feeling of: "Okay...I did that. I know what that's like. Now what?" I certainly wanted to be in more shows, no question. There were bigger fish to fry in that arena, certainly. But I have to say that an odd, perhaps unwarranted sense of "fulfillment" in terms of being a musical theatre actor, made me wonder what else I could do.

My friend Brian Maffitt — he was Nicholas in Nicholas Nickleby — was in New York too. He had gotten into creating computer graphics, and was experimenting with animation. This, I found to be quite intriguing.

I turned 29, and of course hit the audition scene again. I got hired to replace another actor for the last few weeks of The 1940s Radio Hour at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. Once again I was Johnny Cantone, a role I've never felt I was an ideal choice for.

And the wonderful folks at Seaside offered me a role in their winter season, to play Man 1 in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. I eagerly took the gig. The show was baffling to me, and I never really "understood" it until we started performing it. But it was fun! And that's how the year ended: In Daytona Beach.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tom Tichenor

Along with Jim Henson, Nashville puppeteer Tom Tichenor inspired my lifelong interest in puppetry. I have a page on my website with some interesting Tichenor info, and it's located right here.

1991

Just as planned, I moved up to NYC at the beginning of the year. Laura had found a gorgeous apartment in Park Slope, and we moved in together. I started to figure out the audition scene.

And it wasn't too long before I got cast in a pretty exciting show. A production of Forbidden Broadway was opening in Philadelphia, and I was cast in it by director John Freedson and show creator Gerard Alessandrini. I had always loved Forbidden Broadway, so it was exciting to be a part of an official production! Unfortunately, the show had a very short run. The location probably could have been better, and just as audiences were starting to pick up, the producer closed us down. Maybe it was some sort of tax writeoff thing.

From another audition, I got asked to sing in a chorus of a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall. It was "Give My Regards to Broadway", and the stars participating were breathtaking: Carol Channing, Richard Kiley, Diahann Carroll, Ben Vereen, Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch, Judy Kaye, David Carroll, Rebecca Luker, Ron Richardson, George Dvorsky, George Abbott, Gene Barry, Laurie Beechman, Theodore Bikel, Betty Buckley, Marge Champion, John Cullum, Tyne Daly, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Phyllis Newman, Jerry Herman, Geoffrey Holder, Sally Ann Howes, Carol Lawrence, Dorothy Loudon, Andrea McArdle, Jerry Orbach, Harold Prince, Chita Rivera, Jule Styne. Wow. I can't believe I did that. Were all those people really in it? Some of them I remember vividly, others, not at all. Anyway, it was a great evening!

In the fall Laura and I both participated in a reading of a new musical called Columbus!. I had been involved in a recording of it in Houston, and it came to New York with the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.

I turned 28.

Then I saw an ad in Backstage that Disney was auditioning for a male and female singer for a stage adaptation of their upcoming film Beauty and the Beast at Disney World. They were looking for Belle (young, beautiful), so that was clearly "Beauty", and for Gaston (tall, powerful), so he was clearly "Beast". I went to the audition, and got a callback. It was only at the callback that I realized that Gaston wasn't the Beast at all! But the callback went well, and I got cast. It was a whirlwind experience getting ready to go down, as time was short. But I managed to have enough time to fly down to Tennessee, pick up my car, and head on down to Orlando.

This was a lot of fun. The show opened on November 22, the same day as the movie. I loved being an actual part of the world of Disney, and as Gaston I was a walking, singing cartoon. Hmmm...I guess you could say he was the first animated character I brought to life? Okay, maybe that's a stretch...

But, that's how the year ended: Disney World. Laura came down to visit. I spent at least one of my two days off every week in one of the Disney parks. Before I left there, I had done literally everything there was to do at Disney World, every ride, every attraction, everything. It was, in a way, heaven.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jim Henson and Walt Kelly

It's often noted that Walt Kelly and the Pogo comic strip were a source of inspiration to Jim Henson; I discovered published proof of this fact. Click here to see for yourself.

1990

The 90s! A new decade. My fourth, when you think about it.

So I came back to Houston ready to be in Camelot at Theatre Under the Stars, starring Robert Goulet. There was this cute chick from Dallas who was there to play Lady Anne. That was no Lady — that was my wife! Yes, it was Laura Jane Bigbee, then known professionally as Laura Burton. We hit it off, and hung out together. Something was clearly going on there.

In Camelot, I always say that I played "Sir Third-From-The-Left", but I did get to sing the "Guinevere" solo ("Out the room/Down the hall..."). It was exciting to get a nice dramatic baritone solo in a show that had Robert Goulet and Chuck Wagner in it!

I don't remember the exact sequence, but at Houston Grand Opera I also did the chorus in a production of Samson et Dalila, and in the Harold Prince production of Madama Butterfly. The former was pretty boring, but the latter was a wonderful, Bunraku-style production, with Diana Soviero a very moving Cio-Cio San.

Next came The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in which I was cast as an Aggie. After Camelot, I went ahead and joined Equity. I thought I had made a good enough impression that I could take the risk, and it paid off. Whorehouse was my first Equity contract. I was onstage with some mighty good dancers, and I worked extremely hard to be able to keep up with them in the Aggie Dance. But I at least managed to pass muster.

I remember being in the dressing room when the absolutely unbelievable, out-of-the-blue, that-does-not-compute news came that Jim Henson had died. What? How was that possible? Even though being a puppeteer, or anything other than a musical actor, was very far from my mind, I was shaken to the core. Devastated.

During these shows, Laura came back to visit, and we spent a lot of time together. I think the thing that really cemented the deal between us was Nicholas Nickleby. It took a lot of convincing, but late one afternoon I got her to watch the first hour of the RSC version. She liked it. We watched another. And another. And another. We got all the way through Part One. Then we went and ate Chinese food, came back, and watched Part Two, finishing at some horrible hour the next morning. I think that was when love truly bloomed, and I was convinced she was The One.

I turned 27.

So, TUTS sent out a tour of Mame, starring Juliet Prowse, based on the production we had done the previous fall. We had to audition for it. And I have to say, the thing that I believe really cemented the deal for my getting cast, was that I had played Ito! And I was therefore a reasonable candidate to understudy the role for the tour. So, while I don't really believe "everything happens for a reason", it was nice that even something I considered a "low point" had a very tangible, concrete payoff a few years down the road.

The tour was a lot of fun, and Laura joined me at least a couple of times on the road. Let's see, where all did we go? Atlanta, Detroit, Grand Rapids, New Orleans, Stamford, Richmond, and more. Best of all? Memphis! I got to play the Orpheum, stay at the Peabody, and hang with the old crowd down at the P&H Cafe. I forget exactly where we played in Florida, but I got to drive over and spend a day at Disney World! At last! Of course I didn't know this, but I would return, and very soon...

We hoped the tour would get extended, but it didn't. Laura and I formulated a plan to move to New York together. I remember telling my parents. They took it reasonably well. I don't remember exactly what happened when, but Laura went ahead and moved up to Brooklyn at the end of 1990, and I believe I drove to Houston and Dallas to corral all our belongings, with the plan being that I would join her right after the first of the year.

On November 21st, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson was broadcast. This was the first time we heard Kermit since Jim Henson had died. It was a pretty tough moment, and Steve Whitmire has gotten a lot better at Kermit than he was on that special. Still, the whole thing was handled delicately and sensitively.

Big year. Momentous. Good.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"I Want My Hat Back" and Other Weston Woods Classics!

Well hey, if anyone actually happens to be reading this blog, I should mention what is happening in Nashville, Tennessee tomorrow. Y'all come!


The "relocated" Abbey Road crossing

There's a rumor that the famous Abbey Road crossing has been relocated since the Beatles' famous album cover photo. Even the BBC said so. But I assembled a page of photographic proof that it hasn't.

1989

I started 1989 living in Clarksville, back with my parents. But I did a show at Nashville Academy Theatre (now Nashville Children's Theatre). In Wiley and the Hairy Man, I played the Hairy Man. This is probably the hardest I've ever worked on stage in my entire life. I wore a huge fat suit, big heavy stomping boots, fake beard, fake mustache, fake eyebrows, fake nose, bald wig, and huge hairy wig on top of that. It takes big acting to live up to an appearance like that.

I Yosemite Sammed my way through the role, bellowing madly. This show had what has been for me the hugest spontaneous audience reaction I've ever experienced, at least that wasn't at the end of a musical number or something like that. As the Hairy Man, I tormented and terrorized Wiley all the way through the show. But it was well known that the Hairy Man was afraid of dogs, particularly Wiley's Dog (played by David Compton, who I'm about to do another show with in Company at Tennessee Rep). Finally, there was the long-awaited-for confrontation between the Hairy Man and Dog. Dog got Hairy Man down on the ground, and after a brief scuffle, he pulled off the Hairy Man's huge shaggy wig, revealing the bald wig. The place EXPLODED, every single performance. It was wonderful. But man, what a lot of work that role was.

And then guess what? Yes, you are correct, Gentle Reader: Galveston. But for the last time! This time we added South Pacific to the mix of Oklahoma! and The Lone Star. For the record, in South Pacific I played Buzz Adams, in Oklahoma! I was Cord Elam, and in The Lone Star I was the kindly Father Muldoon. Our preshow quartet was now a slicker, "Broadwayesque" affair, two guys and two girls. I earned enough Equity candidacy points that I could now simply buy my way into Equity whenever I wanted to.

Now, I don't want to create the impression that Galveston was not a good experience. I enjoyed going back, and seeing old friends. Being in the pre-show quartets was always fun. I got along with the management, and everybody there. Those were good times. But it did feel a little stagnant, and without earning the Equity points, I never would have kept going back.

So I feel like that period from mid-1986 through 1988 was basically a lonely time, and hard to feel like there was a forward direction in my life. But things really started to look up now. While in Galveston, I auditioned and was hired to be in the choruses of both Theatre Under the Stars and Houston Grand Opera. So, I moved to Houston, turned 26, and got an apartment.

At TUTS we did Mame, starring Juliet Prowse, and The King and I, with William Chapman. It was great to hang out with a consistent group of fun people. I was hired non-Equity, so that's how I started working at TUTS. At HGO, we did Jonathan Miller's production of The Mikado, starring Eric Idle. Monty Python fanatic though I was, I never imagined a path in the musical theatre would lead to actually working with a Python, but I did. We even got a rehearsal with Jonathan Miller! A wonderful experience.

Some interesting things happened in the bigger cultural picture in 1989. Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando opened. Animation had some sort of renaissance, with The Simpsons debuting on TV, and The Little Mermaid opening in theaters. On July 10th, Mel Blanc died. He was the Laurence Olivier of voice acting. And on July 11th, Laurence Olivier died. He was the Mel Blanc of stage and screen acting.

Knowing there were more shows with both TUTS and HGO coming next year, I went home to Clarksville for the holidays. Things were definitely looking up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Astaire Unwound

I admit I don't have a complete grasp on the way Google's search engine works. But it seems to me some things get discovered more easily if they're in actual blogs, rather than websites. So I wanted to post here a few things I've posted elsewhere, on one of my sites or on YouTube.

Let's start with "Astaire Unwound", my deconstruction of how Fred Astaire's famous "dancing on the ceiling" number from Royal Wedding was filmed. It's on YouTube here:



And then my notes on the number can be read here.

Enjoy!

1988

1988 began in Champaign, Illinois, still playing Japheth in Two By Two. I think I immediately followed this up with a stint at the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. In They're Playing Our Song, I was one of the Voices of Vernon, plus I also understudied Vernon.

And then, guess what I did in the summer? Yep, back to Galveston. More Equity candidacy points. But at least we did a new show: Oklahoma! (Well okay, not exactly new to me.) So it was that, and The Lone Star. I believe our pre-show quartet was "Vasmin Fottberger and the E-Z Fold Trio".

Our fantastic musical director/genius, Mark Janas, got a job assistant conducting the bus and truck tour of Les Misérables, and arranged for a few of us to audition for it in New York. I was one of the lucky ones to get to audition. I somehow remember this entailed missing some performances in Galveston. Was it the final performances of the season? Because, I think I spent about a week up in New York, all together, so I'm guessing the season must have been pretty much over. I worked and worked on preparing "Alas For You" from Godspell, since they were looking for Broadway and/or rock-pop songs. It is a tricky song, with multiple meter changes. But I was assured that the accompanist "could play anything". Those were someone's exact words, I remember.

The big moment came. Out I stepped onto the stage of the Golden Theatre. (Bert Lahr did Waiting for Godot on this stage!) John Caird was leading the audition. (He co-directed Nicholas Nickleby!) Schonberg and Boublil were out there too. I give my music to the accompanist, who immediately says "Oh, I can't play this." This, shall we say, threw me for a loop. Of course, I now know I should have had five other, equally perfect songs ready. But this was my first big audition, and I didn't. The accompanist finally agreed to try to stumble through it, which is exactly what happened. John Caird worked with me a little bit on "Do You Hear the People Sing", everyone was very nice, but I didn't get in.

But with the encouragement and support of my parents, I did stay in New York for about another week. I saw a huge number of shows...I can count 8: Into the Woods, Romance/Romance, Speed-the-Plow, Anything Goes, Ain't Misbehavin', Me and My Girl, Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera...so many shows. New York. I needed to be here.

I turned 25. It's worth noting that, as I write, 1988 was the halfway point in my life. The best stuff hadn't happened yet!

I'm trying to remember if I went to some sort of regional audition...I think I did. And maybe the best offer I had was to stay really close to my home base in Clarksville, and do a show in Nashville? Let's run with that premise. I was cast in The 1940's Radio Hour at Chaffin's Barn, playing Sinatra-wannabe Johnny Cantone.

At some point this year, my maternal grandmother, my last surviving grandparent, died.

So, 25. Staying with my parents, but...still a working actor.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

1987

The year began in Rock Island, where I finished up the run of Mame at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse. Then I got cast as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma! there, so I stayed on for that. There was a significant romance, ultimately doomed because of long distances.

Back again to Galveston for the summer. Same two shows, The Lone Star and Hello Dolly!. Earning Equity Candidacy points. An excellent pre-show quartet, before both shows: We called ourselves The Four Basic Food Groups.

I turned 24.

Then came a run of Two By Two at the Sunshine Dinner Playhouse in Champaign, Illinois. I played youngest son Japheth.

This was the life of a professional actor. A gypsy, a vagabond. It was, basically, a lonely life. That's why the EMC points were important to me; they gave me a sense that I was at least working towards something: an Equity card.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

1986

Well, I was already in Memphis, regional auditions wouldn't be until Spring...why not do a couple of shows? And so I did. First up was Quartermaine's Terms, featuring a subset of the Nicholas Nickleby company. And then Baby.  I went from the nerdly Derek Meadle to the macho Nick Sakarian, proving perhaps that I am neither entirely nerdly nor entirely macho. Both shows were at Theatre Memphis, a community theatre with resources many professional theatres would have killed for.

It was tempting to stay around Memphis; I had an offer of a show to do there. It was tempting. But I was determined to be a professional actor, which was something you basically couldn't be in Memphis at that time. So I left, and went back to Galveston for the summer. That was some kind of turning point for me. We did the same two shows as in 1984, The Lone Star and Hello, Dolly! The best part was that we did a pre-show barbershop quartet before Dolly, which was a blast and started a trend. This year we were "The 7:50 Special". Or, "The $7.50 Special".

In Tin Can Alley, our show-after-the-show tradition, we did Trouble in Tahiti, and I was Sam. Another great experience.

At some point, I started understudying Equity actors and earning Equity candidacy points in Galveston. If it wasn't this year, it was certainly the next. But that's what kept me returning to Galveston, summer after summer. And it did come in handy.

Then, I guess I went to SETCs, turned 23, and got a gig at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, playing Ito in Mame. I always thought Jonathan Pryce should have been allowed to play the Engineer in Miss Saigon on Broadway, but only if he had to do equal time as Ito in Mame at a dinner theatre in Illinois.

According to Wikipedia, this is the year Pixar was founded, although The Adventures of André and Wally B. came in 1984. But clearly, big changes were taking place in the world of animation. Also, I remember seeing The Great Mouse Detective, and thinking it was a big improvement over the last few Disney animated features. Big changes were happening there, too. But animation was not much on my mind. I was a Professional Actor.

Monday, August 12, 2013

1985

Is it true that in the second half of my senior year at MSU, I only did one show? Quite a falloff from doing six in my freshman year. I feel like I'm forgetting some shows...

But that show, the final show of the year, was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I played the Bandleader, and actually did play in the band too. It was neat to open the show all alone, just me and my guitar. I was the narrator again. Was I onstage for the final moment too? I hope so.

And...that was that. School was out. Goodbye to friends. I was pretty much entirely out of the nest. And I did flutter away...although I fluttered back to Memphis for a spell.

But first: Timber Lake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll, Illinois. I drove up to the city and the sign said "Mt. Carroll — 1900". No, that's not the date the town was founded; that's the population. Right in the middle of The Corn, there was Timber Lake Playhouse. This was two-week summer stock. I was in Promises, Promises, Monday After the Miracle, Annie, Bleacher Bums, and finally the prize: Talley's Folly. This was an overall good experience, particularly getting to do the last show.

In the first part of 1985, John Dye and I were called in to audition for Rhodes College's production of the 8.5 hour Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. We auditioned for the title role, along with a guy from Rhodes named Brian Maffitt. It began rehearsals in the summer. I think I already had the Timber Lake Playhouse gig, but I'd seen the RSC version of Nicholas, and loved it, and thought it might be worth turning down paying work in order to get to be Nicholas. I didn't get the part — John did — and so that was that. But while I was in Mt. Carroll, I was contacted by Jerry Chipman and told there had been a lot of reshuffling of the Nicholas cast. John had dropped out, Brian had been given Nicholas, and I was asked if I would come back after the summer and take the roles of John Browdie and Sir Mulberry Hawk. They were both wonderful roles, and although I was now a Professional Actor and Nicholas was NOT a paying gig, I accepted.

In retrospect, I'm glad I did. It was a wonderful experience, and I established a strong friendship with Brian, which continues to this day.

I turned 22.

I should perhaps note here that concurrently with Nicholas, I was playing Goldie the Gender-Confused Reindeer for Goldsmith's department stores. Imagine me, dressing up in an animal suit, and walking around entertaining kids. It wouldn't be the last time.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

1984

1984 was another big year. At MSU, we did My Fair Lady. I played Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and really enjoyed it. This was somewhat of a "collaboration" between the theatre and music departments. The two departments were about 20 feet from each other, and shared a breezeway, but it usually felt like they were 20 miles apart. This frustrated me.

I think I went to SETC this year. Was it in Orlando? But I took a long bus ride with Ken Zimmerman. And from that audition, I'm thinking, I got cast in my first summer in Galveston. We did The Lone Star, a big dramatic spectacle about Texas' struggle for independence, and also Hello, Dolly!, starring Marilyn Maye. I made many new friends, and I would return here...a lot.

Before it was back-to-school time, we four Fotts took what I guess was our last "family vacation" together, to New York. I saw my first Broadway show, Sunday in the Park with George. Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters were still in the show, but I arrived at the Booth Theatre to find that it was Bernadette's week off. The actress in the role went up on the lyrics of "Children and Art". (I knew every word she was supposed to be singing from listening to the cast album, which had only come out earlier that year.) I was seated towards the back of the orchestra section, but I could clearly hear Paul Gemignani singing the correct lyrics up to her from the pit where he was conducting.

Broadway. My first Broadway show. And I saw something happen I had never seen even at the Clarksville Civic Theatre. I mean, Bernadette wasn't suddenly sick, and an ill-prepared understudy had to be rushed on. This was her week off! It was a planned absence! To be fair, I later saw the replacement actress in another show and she was very good. But it was a real eye-opening experience.

I went alone to Sunday, but the whole family saw La Cage aux Folles. George Hearn was phenomenal.

Time to turn 21, and enter my senior year. Eddie Powers directed me in a Lunchbox Theatre production of a shortened version of Talley's Folly, and that was quite a good experience. Then came Enter Laughing. Paul Bogart guest-directed, and John Dye and I both wanted the leading role of David Kolowitz very badly. John and I competed against each other a lot at MSU, and we had a pretty even share of wins and losses. But somehow it never affected our friendship, which I find truly remarkable. I remember very well that after the final Enter Laughing audition, without knowing who had won the part, John and I went to Garibaldi's together, sat down at a table, and together consumed five pitchers of beer. That's friendship.

Anyway, John ended up winning this "plum". I played his best friend, Marvin, and had a very nice time with it. I remember Paul wrote me a lovely note opening night, something to the effect of "Thanks for doing so much with so little. You're a gem." It was marvelous working with him. He treated that text like it was Shakespeare. Not that he didn't make a few changes, but he considered and respected every word, every punctuation mark that was written.

I also directed for the very first time. I directed Christopher Durang's 'dentity Crisis for directing class, on a double bill with John's Vanities. 'dentity Crisis went over terrifically well, people thought it was hilarious and weird. A very gratifying experience.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

1983

1983, and back for the second half of my sophomore year at MSU, to play the title role in The Wanderer. An adaptation of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes, this was a beautiful production directed by Gloria Baxter. It was a challenging script, and I don't think my acting skills were quite up to the challenge. But it was one of those life-changing experiences that only live theatre can bring about.

It seems like there was some other, smaller show in here...is this when I was in a production of The Twin Menaechmi? But the school year ended with a production of As You Like It, in which I played the old shepherd Corin.

It was in this summer that I became a Professional Actor. Josie hired me to be in The Red Balloon Players, a troupe that went around to various parks in the Memphis area and performed three different, self-created shows. I'm sure my guitar-playing skills, modest though they may be, helped get me the gig. I stayed in the beautiful apartment of my new friend John Dye, while John went back home to Tupelo. I had to have a car! So my wonderfully generous parents got me a nice blue Toyota Corolla.

My junior year began, as I turned 20. I moved out of the dorms and shared an apartment with old friend Eddie Powers (see 1976). This was a great year for life-changing theatrical experiences, because this is the year that Keith Kennedy directed Strider. I believe there was exactly one month's time between the first day of auditions and opening night. I am reminded of the great quote attributed to Leonard Bernstein: "To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." With Strider, we captured some sort of theatrical magic that can only have happened due to the pressures of time. It was a real breakthrough for me; I got to sing, play an actual grown-up man, and also play a wonderful, drunken, sad final scene. Keith is reported to have said that this was his favorite show he ever worked on. That makes me proud.

And to end the year, I ventured out into the larger Memphis theatrical community by playing Fred in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Memphis. This was the year the role of Scrooge was split between Sherwood Lohrey and Barry Fuller, two very different actors who both gave strong performances.

That's 1983.

Friday, August 9, 2013

1982

As predicted, 1982 opened with my playing Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World. Then there was Lydel Sims: Assignment Memphis as part of Memphis Moving Line. And finally, The Three Sisters. And so my first year at MSU ended. (During which I also experienced heartbreak, and joy, BTW.)

That summer, I actually got to "star" in a Hilldale Kiwanis Summer Theatre production, a clear sign that the Clarksville tradition was on the way out. I played Mr. Applegate in Damn Yankees. I was a bit young, but I guess it went okay. Also this summer, E.T. was released. Funny, I think of myself as "almost a man" playing Mr. Applegate, but definitely "a child" sitting in the movie theater watching E.T. That movie made a huge impression on me. More magic. As with the Muppets, I think it's all about bringing some fantastical creature to life. E.T. himself was nothing more than a complicated puppet. And the same impulse carries right on through to animation.

At some point in this year, my paternal grandmother died.

Back to MSU for my sophomore year, when I turned 19. Only two shows: The Robber Bridegroom and When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?. Chorus in the first show, but another titular role for me in the second. Most importantly, I got to act opposite the great Jeff Posson.

I went home for the holidays, again with a big show to look forward to in the coming year.

Looking at the world outside my bubble, Epcot opened at Disney World. I would spend a lot of time there, 13 years later.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

1981

1981: Another big year. High school came to an end. I was a member of the National Honor Society. More importantly, I also won the John Henry Winters award given for outstanding drama student; the award is given by the massive Winters family, several of whom I'm still friends with.

In the summer, the Hilldale Kiwanis Summer Theatre did Anything Goes. A letdown to be back in the chorus after Fiddler, but still fun.

And so I started college at Memphis State (now the University of Memphis), and I turned 18. Why did I go to Memphis State? At some point in my senior high school year, there was a Thespian convention that we went to. I remember Josie Helming making a strong and positive impression, and also Jeff Posson doing a humorous monologue for us, perhaps from Chekhov. Seeing that they had incredible actors like Jeff Posson there was all the encouragement I needed.

One has to wonder why no effort was made for me to go to a more nationally-recognized school. My GPA was respectable enough. I tested well on the ACT and especially the SAT, the latter well enough to qualify me for MENSA membership! I remember feeling pretty set on MSU. The department was strong, it wasn't that far away from home, and many of my friends were going there too, including Jerry Hunt and perhaps my oldest friend, Terry Fluker. I have absolutely no regrets about MSU, and I think I got a terrific education. But what would have happened if I had been pushed to go to Carnegie Mellon, or CCM, or Yale? Who knows?

But MSU it was, and it was a wonderful, enriching place to be. Three shows in the first half of my freshman year! Josie directed a children's show, Ring Around the Rainbow. Then Inherit the Wind, directed by Jeff Posson. And then She Stoops to Conquer! I made many new friends, and had a great time.

The year ended excitingly: I was cast as the lead, title role in The Playboy of the Western World, to begin rehearsals at the beginning of 1982. I remember going home for the holidays with a lot of lines to learn. And I also remember wanting and receiving The Illusion of Life for Christmas. It was a rather extravagant present for someone whose career seemed headed away from animation. I read it cover to cover.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

1980

A new decade! The 80s! And what would it bring? A lot. Let's take a look, shall we? Yes, let's.

I had an unfortunate incident in the speech tournament world. At the state tournament, performing "The Canal", I was "disqualified" because I was performing from an unpublished script. This, of course, was 100% untrue. I wish I had had the hardbound edition of The Goon Show Scripts with me, to whack the erroneous judge in the head. But this decision all happened behind the scenes, and I wasn't notified until afterwards.

Why didn't T. Webb do anything about it? Because, I believe, there was another student who he wanted to go to Nationals instead of me. So he didn't bother to protest. In fact, I choose to believe that mere "neglect" is the extent of his involvement in my bogus disqualification, but who knows? At the very least, he certainly didn't go to bat for me.

Then came the summer. The Hilldale Kiwanis Summer Theatre did Fiddler on the Roof, and I was cast as Motel Kamzoil. My excitement was off the charts. A real, juicy role! With a song! I was thrilled. This was the first time I really took the idea of "being an actor" seriously. I grew a beard, the first of many. I lost a bunch of weight. (He was a "poor" tailor, he should look hungry!) I tried really, really hard. It came out well.

This was the year that Northern Calloway, who played "David" on Sesame Street, went on a crazed rampage in Nashville. This was covered, not only in the Tennessean newspaper, but on the local TV news on WSM. There was footage of him lying on the ground, looking about wildly, photographed only from the waist up. Then you saw him strapped to the stretcher, being put into the ambulance, and you could hear him screaming and singing the Sesame Street theme song. Certainly one of the most unbelievable things I've ever seen.

Then my senior year of high school, and I turned 17. There were great disappointments here. T. Webb taught his classes, but that was it. No speech team. No tournaments. Not even a school play. I look back on him with fondness, but as I write this it's difficult to entirely understand why. Ultimately, one has to be forgiving. If my calculations are correct he was only 27 himself, for pete's sake.

So to compensate for the total lack of growth on the theatre side, I turned to music. I was in Concert Choir, Madrigals, and also Carnival, our show choir. I also took music theory, to try to figure out what was going on behind the guitar chords I knew.

My companion through almost all of this was my friend Jerry. He and I also shared an obsession with the Beatles. And so it was that on December 9th, thanks to understanding teachers, we basically hung out in the school library all day, trying to come to grips with John Lennon having been shot the night before.