I hope that everyone had a teacher in high school like Mr. Scott.
I may have written about him before once, but he was the first person who popped into my mind, well actually the first who sank in as my brain grew stiller and my thoughts stopped swirling around and settled down to the bottom of my mind where they seem to be first in line on the path to my fingers who are typing this.
Stirling Scott was a giant bear of a man – he looked like a former star athlete whose body had gone a bit to seed -the body anyway- he was a former All-American basketball player (or so rumor had it) from Tulane. He and his wife, who I never met, lived in a log cabin at the end of a long gravel drive a few miles from school. We used to drive by it on a regular way on our way to Chicago Heights, the home town of Fred Willard and Dave Broder, former Washington Post columnist and father of former Irondale actor Josh Broder, who was a member of the company for eight years back when being a company member meant showing up at the theatre, sometimes to rehearse and sometimes just to hang out, seven days a week from September to June. Then times and the people changed, and Josh, like the original Not Ready for Primetime Players, decided when others of his generation left if was time for him to move on too. And so he did.
The first person I remember talking about changes was Mr. Scott, who one day in his 12th Grade Modern Problems class, asked us what changes had we noticed over the course of our own individual lives. We were all around seventeen. Now a lot had happened from the time when all of us had become aware of a world larger than ourselves – the Civil Rights Movement, the end of the Korean War, Brown vs the Board, the Salk Vaccine, the arrival of the Pill, Astronauts circling the planet in those little Mercury space capsules, the election and assassination of JFK, the NFL replacing baseball not as our “national pastime” but as our national “Sport” – remember that old George Carlin routine about the difference between baseball and football?
“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”
“In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”
And this is my answer to Mr. Scott’s question: “I really can’t think of anything except television, and we got that when I was three. Oh, and we didn’t have The Beverly Hillbillies (my favorite tv show in 1963). That was where I was coming from. Mr. Scott, who I felt always respected my opinions, didn’t blanch or even wince as he had done two years earlier when I asked him, “What’s so bad about the John Birch Society? They’re against Communism, and John Birch was a war hero.”
Well, lately I’m seeing a lot of changes – in the world, in politics, in the role of government, in the very core meanings and of words like, “race,” “class,” “justice”, “equality,” and “equity.” And in the world that I have occupied with the obsession at times of a mad person – the theatre.
It seems that right now on an almost daily basis, the ground is shaking, the rug is being pulled out from under, and I have no idea where it’s going, for good or bad. Bombarded is a good word to describe the sensations I’m experiencing as even the most basic notion that the word itself, what it is and how it is created, and how it is performed, is nearing obsolescence?
Like a lot of us, depending on the day you ask me, I am a big proponent of change. Stay up to date. If nothing else, change keeps you young and open to new information that once digested can improve your work and even your life, I wish I had been more familiar with I am the Walrus twelve years ago. It would have been a much better ending to our production of Alice in Wonderland than Die Gedanken sind Frei the song I chose. And there’s a lot of moments in my life which, as they say, “I could have handled better.” But some of these regrets are brought about by changes that have altered the world and how I think about earlier times. It can be painful looking back at old decisions made before I and the world encountered changes. I think I could make every play I’ve ever directed better. if I got a do-over. What a 1599 I could do now. I was so stupid just five years ago about so many things. Are there friends who have slipped away, opportunities…?
Mark Twain said something like, “When I was seventeen I thought my father was a stupid man. By the time I turned twenty-one, I was amazed how much he had learned in three years.” Did Twain change? Or his Dad? I guess we all know the answer to that.
But if we accept changes, or at least play the Game of 5 Why’s. Why do you want to do that? The answer to the question follows. Then a new question is asked, coming out of the answer to the first. Repeat the process four more times. If the answers hold up to the last one…well then there could be some cool stuff ahead. Don’t you think?
And this is the song that has been running through my mind all day since I sat down to write. It’s a Harry Chapin song, covered here by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie.