For the readers who are wondering where I’ve been. I took the summer off – finished a crime novel and threw an amazing surprise birthday party for my wife. How amazing? Check out my Facebook page – John Howard Swain — I think you’ll agree, she was really surprised.)
As mentioned in previous posts I was enrolled, ready to go to grad school UNC Greensboro, to study acting. But first I decided to drive my motorcycle across country. Along the way I met two guys from the University of Denver. Impressed by what they had to say about DU when I got to Denver I checked out the theatre department. The department head, Abe Grossman, invited me to closing night of their season. I was wowed!
The next day I stopped by to thank him and he laid a line on me every actor wants to hear, “John, in our next season, we have several roles you would be prefect for.”
The next day I called the VA — I still had some money on the GI Bill. They didn’t care where I went to college as long as I was in college so, I called UNCG, dis-enrolled and then enrolled at DU. If you remember, it was summer, the weather was perfect.
I didn’t have much money but my brother got me a job as a dishwasher in a downtown Denver hotel. It wasn’t nearly as prestigious as my previous position but it didn’t carry the same level of responsibility and I was happy to not have any responsibilities. I spent the summer hiking, camping, going to concerts, taking advantage of all the wonderful things Denver has to offer. And I mentioned it was summer, right?
The first day of classes it snowed. Six inches. I’m from the South and while I’d seen snow before I had never seen it snow like that. It didn’t seem to bother anybody else but I was freaked. I hadn’t factored snow into the equation when I enrolled at DU but I thought, “Okay, I’m here now, let’s make this work.” I found a place to store my motorcycle and started taking public transportation.
Things progressed. My classes went from mildly interesting to boring (I didn’t really care why Shakespeare wrote what he wrote I just wanted to do it.) But I met a lot of wonderful people. Auditions for the first play of the main season were held – I didn’t get a part but I was cast in several student directed small-black-box productions. I loved doing those and found it increasingly difficult to focus on my class assignments. The only time I was really enjoying myself was when I was acting.
After two months I stopped going to classes altogether and starting working in the other theatres around the city. And interestingly enough, I was also cast in a couple main stage productions at DU – they didn’t seem to care or notice I wasn’t attending my classes any longer. The year I was in Denver I was in twelve productions and while I wasn’t in a degreed program I was getting the education I wanted.
Months passed, I was extremely busy, performing in one production while rehearsing two, sometimes three others. Suddenly it was summer again. It didn’t take a lot of brain power for me to realize it would soon be cold (and snowy) again and I didn’t want to spend another winter in Denver.
A friend I met in the graduate program at DU was also from the South. He didn’t like winter weather any better than I did so we started figuring out a way we could start our own theatre…in the South. Our criteria was to find a city that didn’t already have a professional theatre, that had the financial wherewithal to support a professional theatre company, and perhaps most important, a city on or near the beach. I mean, if you’re going to dream, go big or go home.
We did a lot of talking and found the city we were looking for. Actually my friend’s wife, Teresha, found it (turns out she was from there) and in August I left Denver headed for…to be continued.