Remembering the Days of Our Innocence: Eating from the Party Table

Hover over the table with your friends. Everyone is commenting about how pretty the layout is. Stab an olive with a twice-used toothpick. It’s about saving the forests after all. Or glance furtively around the table. No one is looking. Grab one between thumb and index finger. Double dip the cheese melt with a cold green bean. No one noticed that first bite. Dip the other end. Hands are clean and dry. Now reach across the table and shake hands with a friend you haven’t seen in at least a week or two. On the return from that greeting, swoop down and land a chunk of sweet pineapple.

Moving on to the new year.

The crowd is still forming. Scotch eggs, maple-iced doughnuts, French roast coffee, artichoke dip, veggies, nuts, wassail. Before the morning passes, sixty or so friends will crowd in around the table, serve a plate, exchange greetings, and tell tales of the year gone by, hopes for the year ahead and mostly true stories from all the walks of community life.

Our love is manifest in food and words.

How will we greet 2021? There is virtually no safe and healthy way to do it the way we have been doing it. But January is so far in the future. We can hope.

Things We Took for Granted: Big Summer Musicals

The Music Man cast raises The Center roof during a performance in July, 2018.

How spoiled we are in the Brazosport area to have Brazosport Center Stages performing in the Center for the Arts and Sciences. The summer musicals are a tradition our community looks forward to each year. Families make their plans around them. In fact, sometimes entire families are involved in shows, on stage and backstage. Each show involves large numbers of volunteers, cast members of all ages, and an adoring community filling the house for most performances.

The Music Man, Shrek, Mary Poppins, Fiddler on the Roof, Bye Bye Birdie, Les Misėrables, Annie, 1776, Oliver and many more have been staged and many memories given to the community and the cast. If you have seen one of those shows, you have seen young people who went on to careers in performing arts.

Sadly, there will be no summer musical in 2020. Evidence is accumulating that there is nothing quite like a group of energetic singers in a closed space to spread coronavirus. Center Stages generates a large portion of its income budget from the summer musical each year. And they, in turn, pass on a sizeable share to support Center operation and maintenance.

Peter Pan was the show planned for 2020. Maybe it will happen some other time but not this year. Another lesson in the things we take for granted.

Showing Now at Brazosport Center Stages: “The Miracle Worker”

Brazosport Center Stages opened “The Miracle Worker” last weekend in the Freeport LNG Theater at the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences. As often happens with community theater productions, the cast took this one down to final rehearsals making bystanders like myself think there was no way this offering could gel, And, yet, as often happens in community theater, it did. 

“The Miracle Worker” presents the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. Helen became blind and deaf due to an illness during her infancy. Her mother remembered only one word that Helen attempted to say before she was stricken — water, or as her mother Katie Keller reported it in the play’s script, waawa.

With only primitive ability to communicate, Helen was an angry and often violent child. Her loving family did not know how to deal with her except to indulge her demands. Her behavior became an onerous burden to the lives of the Kellers, so much so, that they hired a governess to work with her when Helen was seven. 

Annie Sullivan and Helen discuss the proper use of the spoon as a dinner utensil.

The governess was Anne Sullivan. Their story is well known, especially since the 1962 film with Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke. You can still see the local production this weekend (September 20-21). 

Over to the right, at this time, you will see some photos from the invited dress rehearsal. I saw the play opening night and I can tell you that you will be rewarded with performances by some impressive new young talent and also by some of your favorite BCS veterans. More photos follow below. 

Make your reservations at: Center Ticket Box Office.

Happy Birthday Brazosport Center Stages. We are 75.

Tonight is the 75th annual meeting of the membership of the community theater group now known as Brazosport Center Stages, located in Clute, TX. It began as the Little Theatre in Freeport and moved, along with a sister organization, Brazosport Music Theater, into the new Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences facility in 1976. Twenty years later, the two theater groups merged to form Brazosport Center Stages in 1996. 

Interior of the Freeport LNG Theater in the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences

Brazosport Center Stages and I were both born in 1943. We only got to know each other after our family moved to Lake Jackson from Houston in 1982. Gradually over the years we became integral parts of each other’s lives.

I have an album of old proof sheets of film photos going back to the late 1980s when I first asked DeDe Dunn if she would allow me to take some rehearsal shots of “The Nerd.” She opened the door to me and the theater folks have always since welcomed me with my camera and I have been able to store up a lot of memories over the years of our relationship.

I love theater photography. Other people take care of lighting, posing, hair, makeup, costuming, movement and all I have to do is hit the shutter button. And – surprise! – actors almost never mind standing in the light and having their picture taken. After years of having subjects turn their backs to my camera and never apologizing (mostly my children), I now had a source of interesting and enthusiastic subjects. In all the years of photographing actors at BCS I have had exactly one get angry and tell me to get the camera out of her face. She was older then than I am now. She was entitled.

You can spend as much time as you would like viewing some of the later digital files on my Flickr site. There are thousands of theater shots. I am an amateur photographer and I have learned a few things over those years. I have also spent a little on cameras, lenses and software. I hope there is some improvement in the photos as a result of my learning and investment.

But BCS has meant so much more than a place to practice my photography avocation. I have even ventured onto the stage in a few roles over the years.  I had the privilege of presenting the role of FDR, I hope with some dignity, in this Republican bastion in Annie, 2001. Then I was the somewhat shy racist, Karl Lindner, in Raisin in the Sun somewhere in the 2000s. Then I had the experience as a septuagenarian of taking a role with a large number of lines in Camping with Henry and Tom, 2013.  I felt absolute terror at every performance knowing that so many of my friends were watching. I had never even heard of flop sweat before and suddenly I was producing it in buckets. The difficulty of trying to remember and say all of Thomas Edison’s many lines in that play cured me of further attempts at acting. 

Here is Thomas Edison in “Camping with Henry and Tom” trying to rest at a camp site in the woods after Henry Ford wrecked one of his Model Ts on the way to our site. You can’t see it, but my mind is racked with misery trying to remember the list of choice hardwoods for a making a good campfire. Harding and Ford, the dolts, didn’t know much about nature and the outdoors. This photo is by Katie LeFave, a real photographer.

Yet, for all the joy I have taken from Brazosport Center Stages, I really value it most for what it contributes to our community. I have watched generations of young people move through their own activities and then out into our nation and the world to apply the things they learned about planning, communication, teamwork and how to respect themselves and others. At an early age, they were able to have friends who were adults and share peer responsibilities with them. I have seen it in my own kids and I have seen what a valuable experience theater was in their lives.

So, happy birthday Brazosport Center Stages and many happy returns. What you add to the education of our young people – and old people for that matter – makes all of us a little more civilized, reasonable and loving. I am looking forward to celebrating with you tonight and some of the friends we have shared over the last 35 years. You are a treasure in all our lives.

At Brazosport Center Stages: Shrek, the Musical

If you have dropped in here since last Tuesday (July 9) you have been seeing photos of a Brazosport Center Stages rehearsal of the summer show, Shrek, the Musical in the righthand column. (Note: The photos still appear at this writing but will move on as I post more photos on my Flickr site. To see tham any time, click this link and to go to the album.)

I am am pretty much one of the leaders on the pop culture illiterati so I did not look forward to the show and I had not intended to take archive photos. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I would attend a performance. Cartoon characters put to the stage never appealed to me. All I knew about Shrek was what I learned from doing crossword puzzles. I knew he as an ogre and that is really about all I knew.

Donkey, the Three Blind Mice, Shrek and Princess Fiona (all grown up)

Seeing the show on its opening night this Friday, however, reminded me again how much talent we have in this community and how much is required for a production of this kind. The people on the stage were simply amazing. And there were so many behind the scenes: artists who took care of makeup, props, lighting, sound, choreography, set designers and builders, painters, costumes, stage management (a major challenge with such a large cast in our venue), making music in the pit, and dozens others who did everything from serving coffee at intermission to corralling the many children in the cast and to keep order in the green room. Congratulations to Craig Fritz and Cindy Gernand who team-directed this very big show.

They were rewarded with a full house and an energetic, attentive audience. The attention of kids and families was riveted by the superb performances they were seeing. The theater boiled with excitement the entire evening.

Tickets are disappearing fast. When I checked about an hour ago, there were four scattered seats left for next Sunday’s final performance. There are more for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances but very few of them are in the center section. To see what is available and nail down a reservation go to the link provided here.

Lord Farquaaad and the Duloc singers. The prince was not short on vocal talent.

And the last photo shows an incredible dancer, singer and choreographer at work. Lyssa Rumsey is a very special talent. She was everywhere in this show.

Lyssa treads the boards with more than the usual energy. She sings, she dances, she acts, she choreographs. You will keep seeing her among the shows many characters.

And did I mention the sound effects? Well, buy a ticket, go and listen for yourself. Allow your inner teenager to have a laugh or two.

Good show, friends. You make this theater a special place.