Returning to the Playhouse
July 16, 2014 —
As I drove through Eldred on my way to the Forestburgh Playhouse, I wondered if I would remember how to get there. It’s a drive I have done close to a hundred times, but not in many years. In high school, I spent three summers working in the kitchen and acting in bit parts at the playhouse, but I’ve been back only a handful of times since.
Tonight I was returning to see “Mame” and to say hello to Norman Duttweiler, my old boss, who is stepping down this season, and Franklin Trapp, a company member when I worked in the kitchen, who is taking over. It was great to catch up with both of them as the playhouse buzzed to life around us.
Memories flooded back to me: the way I used to mop the floor and empty the Hobart industrial dishwasher, making Munich bread, large tubs of peanut butter, learning how to cut fruit, and listening to music in the kitchen. Summer romance.
I have such fond memories of the time I spent here—the friends made and the confidence that it gave me as I prepared to leave the Upper Delaware for New York University.
There were a dozen or so resident company members, musical theater majors who had come from nearby colleges, a technical crew mostly from New York and a staff of locals and veteran theatre professionals. We all hung out together. Most of them were a few years older than I, and I remember looking up to them. They seemed to have everything figured out. Some of them had even gone to NYU.
They worked hard, rehearsing one show during the day and performing another at night. After the performance, half would do a cabaret and wait tables in the tavern, the other half would do children’s shows during the day.
I spent most of my time in the kitchen, preparing food and washing dishes. It was tough work but totally worth it for the few weeks I got to spend acting in the shows. I remember a piece of masking tape with my name on it in the dressing room and a particular area where my costume would be set out. I recall someone setting out my costume for me and my own space to get ready. To me this felt like hitting the big time.
I wore a powdered wig as Joseph Hewes, a senator from North Carolina, in “1776,” a headband as a cut dancer in “A Chorus Line.” I even played the saxophone in the pit band for “42nd Street.”
After the shows I would dash back over to the kitchen prep for the cabaret and do the dishes. It wasn’t easy work, and it was anything but glamorous. But I never really minded. Even when I wasn’t in one of the shows, I loved the late-night lifestyle and enjoyed the four-to-12 shift.