You know the saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intensions?” Well, my intension to post on a regular basis is good but my execution — not so much. But we’re back on track now with the next installment of “How I got from there to here,” my personal story of triumph in this crazy business.
The moment I saw the white sands and the blue-green water of the Gulf of Mexico I knew we had picked the right beach but I wasn’t sure about the city. Pensacola only had a population of 55,000. It was a tourist destination, the home of the Naval Air Training program, a retirement mecca for Yankees and Southerners alike, and because of those retires, Pensacola hosted a booming real estate business – but would those people support a professional theatre company?
Looking back I’m amazed at how ill prepared we were for the task at hand. We had no money, really no money. I was living on unemployment. Edward Miller, my partner in this crazy scheme, was unemployed; the only one who had a job was Edward’s wife, Teresha Thames.
It was the classic case of “My Mom’s got a trunk full of clothes, my dad’s got a barn” except there was no trunk full of clothes and there was no barn. All we had was a dream coupled with desire and determination.
We didn’t know anyone in town so I suggested we tryout for the Community Theater’s upcoming production of The Night of January 16th. We both got roles and met some wonderful people but when that show closed we weren’t any closer to fulfilling our dream so we decided to mount a production of our own.
By this time we both found jobs as substitute teachers at the private high school in town and the principal let us use their stage. We put on two one-act plays, I can only remember one of them, The Dumb Waiter. We didn’t set any box office records, we actually lost money, but the newspaper, the Pensacola News Journal, sent a reviewer and she gave us a glowing review.
Armed with that review we started knocking on doors. And while a lot of doors opened and a lot of people expressed interest nothing really happened until we met Jon Schiller. Jon owned a private arts club called Meatpackers and he invited us to mount a play in his club. To entice his members to attend he served them dinner in various rooms throughout the building and then the audience entered the “theatre” – really a large room – to see the play. He billed it as An After Dinner Theatre.
We picked Luv, a three-character comedy by Murray Schisgal. Edward and I cast ourselves in the two male roles, hired Roger Danforth (he was teaching at the University of West Florida and would later be the artistic director of the Cleveland Playhouse) to direct, and brought in Barbara Langford, a very talented local actress, to fill out the cast.
We rehearsed at night and built the sets during the day. When I say we had no money, I mean we had no money. How broke were we? Our first set of lights were #10 food cans (those big cafeteria size cans) that we got from the Florida State Penitentiary – but that’s a whole other story.
Two days before opening night the fire department showed up and issued a cease and desist order shutting us down…because of our lights. But…and there is always a “but” in show business stories (and if ever there was a “the-show-must go-on-story” story this was it). In show business stories the frog always turns into a prince, the evil step-mother always gets her comeuppance, the good guys always win over the bad guys and in this story, we were the good guys.
So, two days before we were supposed to open the fire department shut us down but…drum roll, please…at the last minute a fairy godmother showed up and (to be continued)…