Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Fair Maid of the West

That's my head!

Well, sort of. That's a prop from the Thomas Heywood play The Fair Maid of the West. The Boot & Buskin theatre company at Le Moyne College produced it as their fall play back in 1991, and I was the star. A star. Okay, I played two minor characters and had a handful of lines. But it was still awesome!

I played a pirate and I played a bandit lord. My pirate role involved sitting around in a tavern and my signature line ended in a loud, "...NOT!" which was all the rage back in 1991 as you may recall. Then we shifted scenes to a wickedly-cool pirate ship, and in the dimmed lights of the Firehouse Theater we lowered a mast down through the ceiling (from the hole that had once housed the fireman's pole when it was an active firehouse) and used ropes and pulleys to raise an elaborate set of ratlines on both sides of the stage. When the lights came up, the stage manager sounded a bosun's whistle and my pirate-mate, Dave, and I swung in from offstage to land in a heroic pirate pose on the deck. It was awesome!

A storm drove the ship to wreckage - the mast was tilted, the ratlines dropped, and I think I may have gone over the side. Never fear, however, for on the desolate shores of... wherever we'd landed (I don't think I ever did read the entire script - just my scenes) lurked a group of hard-bitten bandits, lead by... me, again!

This is where the head in that picture comes into the, um, picture. You see, I captured the titular fair maid (played by the lovely Moira Brown, if I recall correctly) and threatened to, "Radish her! Er, um, ravish her!" Then her buddies showed up and chased me offstage. They returned moments later and threw down the severed head you see above. Oh, I had been slain and didn't even get to act out my death scene!

Probably just as well - it turns out I'm not a terribly gifted actor. But I'm really good at sitting still with straws up my nose for several hours while somebody applies plaster of Paris to my face! That's how the head was made - they made a bust of my face, glued it to a Styrofoam head, then added hair, glued on a beard (apparently with rubber cement that's yellowed with age), eyebrows, eyelashes, and painted on lips and blood. And they let me keep it when the play's run was complete!

Recently, my daughter had an assignment to interview a parent about something interesting or exciting they'd done in their life. I drew a blank, but somehow this old play came to mind. So she wrote up my story and turned it in. Well, yesterday, the teacher selected a few students to read theirs out loud, and my daughter was one of them. Evidently it was a huge hit, and the class was especially fascinated with the head. So I had to dig it out of storage (it took me an hour or so to remember where I'd put it) and snap a picture of it. Evidently her teacher was a bit wary of having the actual head brought into class, but I sent the picture to her so she can display it.

I had a blast being in that play. It was my only performance as an adult, but it was a load of fun. It was, at that time, the largest cast the Firehouse had ever had in a single play, and I got to hang out with an awesome group of actors. The second Highlander movie premiered while we were rehearsing, and naturally we had no way of knowing how terrible it was. But one of my fondest memories was of singing the Highlander theme while standing on a pirate ship blocking a scene with the other cast members. We even went to see the movie together (and had fun, though it was an awful movie).

I did as much as possible on that play, too. I helped to build the set. I helped to rig the lights. Before every performance, I mopped the stage as part of my routine. It was very relaxing. And the whole time, I was attending Aikido classes sometimes three hours a day. It was also the same semester I met my wife, so it's safe to say that the fall of 1991 was one of the best seasons in my entire life.

The Firehouse is gone - there's now a lavish Performing Arts Center at Le Moyne where the school's actors strut and fret their hour upon the stage. I mean, the old building was still there the last time I drove past, but it's no longer a theater. Things were never quite the same after, either. Once we were no longer a cast, we were just a bunch of college kids again, and the ties that bound us together were severed. I doubt more than a handful of people at the school even remember Fair Maid - I'm sure Bill Morris, Karel Blakely, and Kristi McKay do, but that's probably about it. But it was awesome. And I've got the head to prove it.

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