I don’t know what I thought I was signing up for in 10th grade when I took Mr. Marhafer’s Creative Writing course. Probably learning how to inhabit Narnia with orcs or something like that. I’m sure I wasn’t expecting to keep a journal. My life was boring the hell out of me; what could anyone else find of interest in it? And how was that creative anyway, just documenting my 16th year on the planet?
I had only completed a month’s worth of entries—which included a Cheap Trick concert at the Palace and accounts of my job at Teresian House—when my father picked it up and read it. He didn’t have a problem with the descriptions of weed sales in the men’s room but my description of a resident in the second floor of the nursing home with a club foot, who confided in me that she was growing toes, had him accusing me of making fun of the elderly.
I had failed to communicate my admiration for her hopefulness. Nevermind that he had invaded my privacy, or that I was only keeping this stupid notebook as an assignment, but now I was thought to be poking fun at the residents. I would show him. I would no longer accept rides to work. I would walk from our house off Sand Creek Road to Washington Avenue Extension.
Soon after, I discovered that in our class’s exploration of different forms of writing, we would be spending the next few classes reading something called a play. I would do anything to speak or cut-up in class, perhaps celebrating my years-long struggle over my very prominent lisp, so I volunteered to read the part of Tom in “The Glass Menagerie”… for three straight days.
I had never read a play before and I was thrilled and anxious and ecstatic to be going through the Wingfield’s crisis and to have such glorious words on the page to express my roiling feelings. The more you shout at me about my selfish pleasure, the quicker I’ll go, and I won’t go to the movies either. Once we finished and I received laughter, applause and so many of my classmate’s congratulations and thanks, Mr. Marhafer said to me, “Very impressive, Mr. White. I believe you have a calling.”
Emboldened by this success and smarting over not making the varsity soccer team as a junior, I decided to audition for the school musical, “Carnival.” I had been cast as the tallest elf in the 6th-grade pageant to give me something to do which did not involve singing, but I gamely learned the words to Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” to sing acapella.
It was very lucky for all involved that I was cast in the only non-singing part-Dr. Wilhelm Glass, which I had a blast with. Every day I would try something to make my cast and director laugh—his speech, a funny walk, a steering wheel around the neck. One day I was called out to center stage in front of the entire company by the director, Pat Fattibene, and the butterflies in my stomach swarmed about. “Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is an actor!” He went on to extol all my virtues in front of everyone. “He shows up on time, he’s always prepared, he tries something new every day.” It was one of the greatest days of my life.
There have been greatly influential teachers, brilliant directors and more than generous artists who have given me great instruction, advice, and counsel. Lately, I am very keen to the folks around me who say nice things about me, my work and those around us. I work, and it isn’t too terribly difficult, to say nice things about my students every class, about the students I work with in my day job and about every show I see. You never know when something nice will become a bell that is struck that will resonate for a lifetime.
Capital Region Premieres!
“The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington” by James Ijames
Meader Little Theatre | June 7-16
Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY, Inc presents the Capital Region premiere of this wild look at American history. It’s Christmas Eve in 1800 and the “Mother of our Country” is on her death bed being ministered to by the very slaves who will go free according to her recently deceased husband George’s will. She enters a fever dream and is confronted with scenes from her family and country’s history. Directed by Patrick White.
“Waitress” Music & Lyrics by Sara Bareilles, Book by Jessie Nelson
Proctors | June 11-16
An all-female creative team brings this still running Broadway hit to Schenectady about a single mother working in a pie shop who takes control of her own life and creates something delicious with it.
“Hold These Truths” by Jeanne Sakata
Barrington Stage Company | May 22-June 8
Unsung American hero Gordon Hirabayashi fights passionately for the Constitution against an unexpected adversary: his own country. During World War II, he defies the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry, launching a 50-year journey from college to courtroom and eventually to a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A story filled with hope, this play will leave you cheering for a man who stood up for the true meaning of patriotism.
“A Human Being, Of A Sort” by Jonathan Payne
Williamstown Theatre Festival | June 26-July 7
It’s 1906, and at the Bronx Zoological Park, an African-American convict named “Smokey” is guarding the zoo’s most sensational exhibit: Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy. As the public’s fascination intensifies and protestors call for Ota’s release, Smokey must grapple with the fact that his own freedom depends on another black man’s captivity. This world premiere play is based on a true story.