The fascinating world of acting
I have just finished running the lights for a play at the Old Opera House. I never get tired of working in the theater. I have been paid every so often for acting, but most of the time it has been a labor of love.
I first got interested in acting and the theater at an early age. The first play I was ever in was in junior high school. The play was “Oklahoma,” and I played the marshal.
Thanks to my mother I had also fell in love with the movies. First it was just the Saturday afternoon westerns with Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. My favorite cowboy was Gene Autry.
Then came the horror movies such as “The Blob,” “It Came From Beneath the Sea” or “Tarantula.” “Tarantula” was about a tarantula that started to eat up all of Nevada. As usual, the monster was created by an atomic blast.
In 1955 a movie came out with a young actor named James Dean. The movie was from a Steinbeck novel called “East of Eden.” It was the first movie I saw that was not made for kids. I became a big James Dean fan, in fact I still am.
The Ford’s Theater history began in 1863 when John Ford opened his theater. It was regarded as one of the grandest in the nation, with many decorative touches in its interior. On April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln were coming to the theater to see a production of a popular comedy, “Our American Cousin.” It was there that the president was assassinated.
Ford’s Theater in the 1950s was a walk-in museum with government offices above it. I had been to the museum several times. In the back of the building was an outline of where the stage would have been.
One cold day in February I went back to see the exhibits which I had seen a dozen times before. When I got there, there was an older man with a bunch of boxes that he was going to take to the basement. He knew me slightly and ask if I would give him a hand. Going into the basement was like stepping back in time. Hanging on a far wall was the stage curtain. Next to it in stacks was some of the flats from the show. They were part of the dining room set. Old seats and costumes were hanged hear and there. Standing in the middle of it I could not help but feel what the theater might have looked like in 1865. It was an experience I have not forgotten.
The other theater from that era was and is still in use was the National Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue. Lincoln and his son Tad had gone to this playhouse early in his presidency. On Dec. 7, 1835 the National Theater opened its doors.
Some time in the early part of 1958 I met Scott Kirkpatrick who was the General Manager of the National. He showed me the theater from top to bottom. The dressing rooms were just a few feet off the stage and were four stories high. Standing on the stage I felt small before the sea of seats that seemed to go on forever.
As you looked up there were four balconies. The fourth balcony was reserved for blacks during the Jim Crow era. When I spoke I could almost hear my voice bounce off the back wall. I saw several plays there thanks to Mr. Kirkpatrick.
I took acting classes at the O Street Theater. I paid for the classes by working back stage. I wanted to be an actor, and in some ways I fulfilled that promise. I don’t think there is anything finer than to make an audience laugh and the feeling you get when they clap after the show is over.
I’ll always love the theater.