A Midwinter’s Introduction to Midsummer

Much of who I am today can be traced back to a chilly evening in 1989. Not knowing then how important Jan. 30, 1989 would be to me, I have no recollection of what I ate that day, what I wore or what the temperature was (I said chilly but a search tells me the high that day was 50 and the low 35, so not so chilly).

I can guess I took a little extra time picking out what to wear and how to wear my hair. I would have walked from my dorm room in Founders (B-2, if you want to know), across the practice fields and into the BSC. I likely wandered around the theater, trying to figure out which door I should go in. I may have encountered people I already knew (Kris, Jay and Viv). I’m pretty sure I passed people who I had never met but who would become important parts of my life.

The Cast
The Cast

Dramatis Personae

Regardless, we all ended up sitting on chairs and auditioning for A Midsummer Night’s Dream that night and the next. We did cold readings from the script for Dr. Kiser (henceforth known as Doc to all of us). I have only one clear memory of the auditions now. Kris and Jay (who’ve I’ve known since elementary school and high school) and I, along with some other guy I’d never met, did a scene as the four lovers. I have this very clear image in my head of Jay holding Kris back on one side of the space and the other guy holding me back on the other side as Kris and I shouted Shakespearean insults at each other. Turns out the other guy was named Rich, and we went on to become the best of friends.

I don’t remember anything else from the auditions. Not much from the rehearsals or performances. At least anything of theatrical substance. I remember the entire cast subtly circling underneath the stage while Doc led us in warm-up exercises. He didn’t catch on until the cast burst out in laughter because Karla stuck an American flag up through a hole in the stage. I remember those of us in the audience during the play-within-a-play shouting “Die!” as Pyramus (or was it Thisbe,) milked the death scene.

Backstage in Doc's office
Backstage in Doc’s office

What I remember more is how incredibly close most of the cast became. I ended up with a minor role in the play and spent most of my time backstage in Doc’s office with Rich and the other actors as they cycled in and out of the subplots of the play. I remember the fairies putting their makeup on and wondering how Oberon ended up with a Paul-Stanley star on his face. To this day, when I find a stray bit of glitter where it shouldn’t belong (which I did today at work, by the way), I remember how the rest of the semester seemed to be filled with glitter in places not associated with the theater.

Fairies skipping hence
Fairies skipping hence

By the time we’d hit the performances, a small group of us was spending a lot of our free time together. We gathered in dorm rooms to watch Highlander, Lost Boys and Young Guns. The guys ended up claiming a part in Young Guns for themselves, leading to Jay’s bewilderment as he entered the green room the next night and was told “Jay, you’re Dick!” For the record, Tim was Billy, Rich was Doc, Opie was Dirty Steve, Orv was Chavez (because of the knives) and Marty was Charley. The original Pals. Doc, as the most important authority figure in our lives at the moment (“authority” used loosely), became Murphy. To celebrate the Young Guns era, Tim grabbed a can of what he thought was black spray paint and sprayed “Reap it” on a black flat backstage. The message didn’t disappear like he thought it would; turns out the paint was safety orange.

Marty and me - the 1st party
Marty and me – the 1st party

Somewhere in all of this, I had a party for the cast and ended up getting drunk for the first time. The parties continued as official cast parties after each night’s performance, and we spent most other weekends in Jay’s room drinking the beer Jody bought for us and playing epic games of “I Never.” I think the only thing we’d never done (as a collective) was engage in sexual relations with a midget in the Dell.

In between, we explored City Island in Harrisburg and spent one night in the quarry behind campus determined to see the sun come up. We failed to realize that we wouldn’t be able to see the sun until several hours after sunrise because we were at the bottom of the quarry, which was ringed by trees. We lasted until the sky lightened though, roasting Zoinks (Turkey Hill’s version of a Twinkie) over the fire.

Somewhere in there, Rich invited us all to his introduction to theater class. We were props for his discussion of how a cast bonds. Because we had all become so very close. I’ve had that experience a couple times since, but more because it grew out of the Midsummer core than anything else. Community theater production didn’t produce the same bond, that feeling that any of us would drive hundreds of miles if one of us needed it, no questions asked.

Tim makes the shot
Tim makes the shot

When the semester ended, Carolyn invited us all down to her house in Sea Isle City. Somewhere there are pictures that tell the story quite well. A breakfast table laid out with coffee, juice, food and maybe one or two alcohol items at the beginning of week. The end of the week picture with almost all of that replaced with alcohol and cigarettes. What do I remember from that week? The striptease to Samantha Fox the girls did for the guys. Kerri’s fish eye stare. Tim telling me swimming in the ocean at night was not a good idea. Karla’s amazingly wonderful daiquiris. Shouts of “Grail!” Late-night talks.

The closeness lasted through the rest of my time at college, expanding to include new theater people as the years progressed. The initial Midsummer enthusiasm led us to reform Sock and Buskin and Alpha Psi Omega. I’d end up directing Tim and Marty in a one-act play. The three of us plus Carolyn and Kerianne (and some of the new kids) would perform as a shadow cast for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The ties continued long after graduation, Carolyn, Rich and I ended up sharing a townhouse (no, our towels were not monogrammed “hers and hers and his”) with Kerri as a frequent visitor. Kris moved in shortly after. Carolyn and Jay got married. I was at their wedding. Carolyn and I were in Kris’ wedding.

Through Rich, I met a bunch of people in New Jersey, which gave me a support system and the wherewithal to move there for a writing job, which led to another writing job, which led to the job I have now. Having lost touch with some of the Midsummer cast, they were never far from my thoughts. I have now known the Midsummer cast for at least half of my life.

When Tim was a key organizer of a theater reunion last spring, we all picked up where we had left off. This time, our talks were about marriages, children, career paths and, of course, absent friends. Not all of us made it to the reunion. Those not present were missed, Marty most of all.

Another reunion is scheduled for this year. It starts April 24. None of us should be surprised that the original Midsummer production closed on April 23, 1989.

 

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6 thoughts on “A Midwinter’s Introduction to Midsummer

  1. […] A few feet away I found Chaucer and Shakespeare. Tennyson’s Light Brigade made me smile. And then it was off to modern poetry with its memories of falling in love with John Ashbery and William Stafford in college and the chronologically related memories of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. […]

  2. Wow. Just wow. I look at those picture of those cocky, beautiful kids (and we were; it’s just that most of us didn’t realize it at the time, because we were too busy growing up) and it really does seem like only yesterday. I now peddle in cliched expressions that used to make my eyes glaze over, but I finally understand why people default to them. It’s because there really are no adequate words.

    Thank you guys for showing me that ordinary life is not enough. And thanks, Tammy, for reminding us that an extraordinary life is achieved by giving love.

  3. I can’t help but agree with Carolyn, Tam. You guys became the most important part of my developmental years, helping to clarify not only my interpersonal reactions, but my spirituality. You, Car, Kris and Kerri even helped me through one of the troubling moments in my family’s history. I marvel at the fact I was only at Etown for one year and in that time, I learned everything I ever would need to know about love, life and famiily. I may not see much of folks, but I think and speak of you all often and have never stopped loving each of you. I hope to see you all this year at the reunion!

    Rich

  4. Happy Anniversary!

    Tammy this was great, what a wonderful memory. Thanks for sharing!

    I feel the same way about the bond. I met some amazing people who have, over the years, gone out of their way to love me. We’ve shared a lot of happiness and tears together and I have not experienced this kind of friendship anywhere else.

    Thank you! You guys are the best!

    Carolyn

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