40 Years Ago – Star Wars at Penn Theater

Recently, Star Wars celebrated its 40th year anniversary of its original theatrical release in 1977. I remember it well.

I was nine years old and had seen an extremely low number of movies in my lifetime up to that point. Maybe two. One for sure. My family didn’t go to movies. We were not the entertainment type. We were the sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors type. I do remember seeing The Hiding Place in 1976, which we undoubtedly saw because of its Christian foundation. I enjoyed that movie tremendously, and re-watched it two years ago before visiting the Corrie Ten Boon house in Haarlem, Netherlands. Star Wars, however, was different.

My sister, Melanie, who was seven years older than me with a drivers license, had bought into the media hype surrounding the big release and wanted to take me and my brother, who was 15. Of course the movie had never before seen special effects! It was all as mesmerizing as it could have been by word of mouth or by a small black and white ad on the next to  the last page of the daily Butler Eagle. Melanie arranged a time when the car would be available and we went, most assuredly, on a Saturday afternoon of early May 1977.

I remember three things about that day. The first was my brother’s doubts about the film. He downplayed its potential because “he didn’t like science fiction” films. He was such the skeptic that I wondered why he went, but I didn’t care. We were standing in line at the Penn Theater in downtown Butler with my brother’s doom and doubt sitting on our shoulders, and it was wonderful. There was excitement in the air–an opportunity to go out on the town, six miles from home without any parents, an amazingly rare treat for us back then. It turned out that Star Wars was just the beginning of an unforgettable year for me.  Just one month after the opening of Star Wars, our family would have our yearly end-of-school celebration where we would go to Winky’s and eat a hamburger. That was our yearly ration of restaurant fare. Later that summer, I would attend my very first Pirates game. I still remember that they lost 4-1 with Dave Parker scoring the only run, to which I commented “Of course, he’s the only one who ever does anything.” I wouldn’t mind having that lineup back.

1977 sat large on my mind that day and would forevermore since it would also be the last year we would have with our sister Melanie, as she passed on in February of the following year.

So that line, on that day, in my memory today, holds a special moment. A frozen link to my childhood that I’ll never forget. We went in and watched the film. The second thing I remember is how I was mesmerized from start to finish. It must have felt like a second in a wonderland, a million miles away from the slow-paced country life I was used to. A dreamworld where anything could come true and a small boy of nine could realize his potential in profound and unforgettable ways.

The third memory is when my brother ate crow. His face shone wide-eyed and his expressions exaggerated as he blurted out the most contrarian line he could think of as we emerged onto Main Street: “That was the best movie I’ve ever seen!”

Yes, it was. And it’s still one of my best memories.

 

 

Twenty Shows: A Ten Year Lookback

Go back eleven years and drama wasn’t even in my radar. It may not have been in my galaxy, and if it was, it certainly wasn’t connected with original drama.

Now, in 2017, looking backward I see that I have written (or co-written) and produced 19 original, full-length dramatic productions in the past ten years. Here’s my wall to (kind of) prove it:

dramaboxes

I painted 21 squares on my wall and randomly colored them with whatever colors of paint I had. Now I’m going back and printing out a poster from all of my productions and inviting all my students to sign in any square in which they participated in. It’s a way of recalling what we have accomplished as I head out of Penang for good this coming June.

It’s been a wild and crazy ride. Moments of joy, laughter, tears, and euphoria — some of it even on stage! It’s been so fun to see young actors develop their confidence and soar through a production to impact the audience in unexpected ways. It’s also been rewarding to develop my skills as a playwright. I’m not finished developing, not by a long shot, and in fact I know I will never be finished  growing and experimenting in my craft. I’m in it for the long haul because I thrive on creative ideas and the challenge of bringing them to life. So as I work on completing my drama wall in my classroom, let me list off the original productions I’ve had the privilege of writing and producing at my school. An asterisk* denotes a script I co-wrote with student writers.

2008 What I Wouldn’t Give for a Monkey Love Potion*

2009 A Tad of Trouble*

2010 Take Two*

2011 Spy Blue*

2011 Romans on the Couch

2011 RLT Players present The Road Less Traveled*

2012 Life with Stewart*

2012 RLT Players present Drive All Night (Back into your Arms)

2013 Grandparents’ War*

2013 RLT Players present Captured in Time & Space

2014 Boardwalk Melody: A Musical*

2014 RLT Players present For All Generations

2015 A Tad of Trouble: A Musical (updated and re-written)

2015 RLT Players present Tales of Wonder

2016 Secrets of the Magic Pool

2016 How to Build a Dictator: A Black Box Experimental Piece

2016 RLT Players present Tales of Wonder II

2017 RLT Players: A Collection of Our Best

2017 RLT Musical: A Journey Down the Road Less Traveled

2017 RLT Musical: Tales of Christmas

 

 

A Season of Change, A Season of Craziness

So much is going on in my life this week that I think I need to write it all down just to keep track of it all.

On the homefront: May 13 marks my 26th wedding anniversary. Planning on doing something special tomorrow evening to celebrate.

On the author front: May 15 marks the end of my new novel on Kindle Scout. Now the two week waiting game ensues to see if Amazon wants to publish it.

On the drama front: May 19 is opening night of my new show, “A Tad of Trouble.” I’m really excited about this one, but wow do we have a lot of work to accomplish before then.

On the family front: My daughter plays in her final high school softball tournament on May 13. Four years, gone in a flash.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, my eldest daughter graduated from college last weekend on May 9.

With so much going on, I feel it’s important to take a moment to reflect upon this remarkable ten day period. So much joy and memories being crammed into a very small fragment of time. So many blessings lined up like well-behaved Terracotta warriors.

I’m so fortunate in so many ways, and it makes me want to remember those who are less fortunate, who suffer daily under a variety of heart-wrenching situations.

May we always cherish the wonderful moments God presents to us, and even in the midst of those, may we always remember to help those around us in need in hopes of creating a wonderful moment for one of them.

I’ll leave you today with a couple of nostalgic shots of my daughter’s last tournament.

Sigh.

2015-05-12 13.02.25 2015-05-12 13.11.44

I used to eat out only once a year.

In my last post, I connected my past to the silly memories of McDonald’s restaurants throughout the course of my life. Those nostalgic Big Mac memories made me think of another fast-food chain which I loved for a very special reason. It’s name was Winky’s, and I ate there once a year. Here’s the story:

My parents always had a huge garden. When all of us kids were young, our big yard, where we played baseball, was only half the size of the garden, which my parents, especially my dad, cultivated to perfection. I always loved the years he would line the whole bottom side of it with tall majestic sunflowers. It was always in the running as garden of the year in our little neighborhood.

By mid-July the corn would be chest high and a mere few weeks away from harvest. By that time we already had many other vegetable seasons which had come and gone. My mother would spend mid-summer to early autumn canning everything from tomatoes to pickles to beets to beans. She would freeze corn and berries and would make loads of jam and sandwich spread. We had a fruit cellar stocked year round with home grown produce including onions and potatoes that would last until spring.

With home production at this scale, it is little wonder that we never ate out at a restaurant. I mean never. Ever. Except once a year. That’s it. Once a year. Are my kids reading this? Remember this the next time you are less than enthusiastic about heading out to eat, OK?

Once a year. What a magical day it was – the last day of school.

On that early June day, we would rush home with a summer’s worth of expectations in our heads. I couldn’t wait to ride bikes through the woods, play army with my friends, hit the ball, play in the creek, and just be a boy.

And the kickoff to each summer was when my dad would pile us in the car after leaving all books at school and drive us to the promised land – Winky’s!

Winky’s was a fast-food hamburger joint only in the Pittsburgh area. It was modeled after McDonald’s back in the 1960s and grew to be a popular local brand until it went bankrupt in 1982.

All six of us would trudge up to the counter and order our burgers, and since we didn’t do eating out very well, we would take our burgers to go and sit in the car and eat them down. I can still smell the food – especially the steamed buns and the glistening hot fries. It was magic in my hand and went down much too easily.

When finished, I would crumble the wrapper in my hand and say goodbye to my precious evening out that would come again in 365 days.

Once Winky’s was gone, we migrated to McDonald’s but for some reason it was never the same. I had grown up. I had a little income from working here and there. I had friends who had cars. We would go out and stop at McDonald’s or other places to eat. I got my driver’s license which enabled me to have more freedom on my own. Frequency lessens the special nature of things which touch us, and so too I became a mindless teen not really understanding how fortunate I was when I could only eat out once a year.

Now that I’m a father, I realize how different a life my kids have had compared to how I was raised. They have eaten out thousands of times in their young lives, a thousand times more than my parents have eaten out in their entire lives.

Times change, but I do wish I could have a large garden full of vegetables and a yearly trip to Winky’s. Now that would be something.

19 Still Felt Right

I was typing away, submitting a book promotion on a certain website where they asked me to enter the year.

My fingers automatically started typing ’19’, and I stopped to ponder what that meant. A year hasn’t started with ’19’ for fifteen years. What in the world is going on? What does that mean when nineteen comes flowing off my fingers easier than 20?

Let’s ponder some of the possible reasons.

This might get painful.

Let’s see, old habits die hard. Maybe.

The ‘1’ is next to the ‘2’ and the ‘9’ is next to the ‘0’ on the keyboard, so perhaps my geography was just a tad west. Probable.

I’m nostalgic. Most definitely.

Or, here it comes, I’m just getting old. Ouch.

Actually, I don’t really believe that. As I get older, ‘old’ as a concept seems to age as well.

I was talking with some students this week, and I was reminded about the time I was in high school. We pondered the year ‘2000’ less than 20 years into the future, and couldn’t image the day when ’19’ would not longer be relevant. I remember thinking that I would be 33 at that time – how preposterous!

Oh, the fleeting whims of youth.

But it’s good to remember how the past shapes us even in the present. It’s good to recall the air we used to breathe in the last century. We are the sum of where we came from. My kids will never have the attachment to ’19’ as I do, but I suppose they will have their own reminders of things which are important to them.

So, keyboard, I do apologize if my fingers slide a little too far to the left at times.

What can I say? I’m a relic of the last millennium.