Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wild Winds of Fortune

The autobiographical element of this blog waddles on.

As a youngster, I had a stutter. A bad stutter that left me speechless, so to speak, as I could NOT recite in class without causing great giggles and mirth from my classmates. It IS a funny affliction and one that I made fun of myself all the time. What an idiot I felt like. I had great answers prepared in my mind for when teachers would call on me. But lo, when the time came I stumbled into chaos.

This went on through most of junior high (what's called middle school these days). Until one day, in English class, a teacher came in to ask who might want to try out for the school play. It was a melodrama of some kind. A couple of hands tentatively went up, and then my hand went up. The class broke up into gales of laughter. Yet my hand stayed up.

The following week in tryouts, I stood on a brightly lit stage in a dark auditorium and reading from the script, my diction and projection were perfect, and I walked away with the part of the villain, surprising no one more than myself.

By the time the play was performed and succeeded, my stutter subsided to next to nothing. And the theater bug had bit.

My first year of high school was terrible as I was stricken with an ulcer that made me miss a lot of classes, falling way behind, until I considered dropping out. It was only when I went on to participate in all the plays throughout the rest of high school that I was able to give it my all, proudest for having won 1st place as Director for one-act plays, mine being Saroyan's Hello Out There. After graduation I went on to be hired as a repertoire player at a downtown theater, run by two thespians retired from Broadway, learning so much from them. Some other time I'll tell you of the disastrous tryout I had for a musical in another theatre.

During high school I went to a number of 'Speech Meets' where regional thespians and debaters competed for trophies, much like athletic meets, rising from local to state venues. I had two pieces memorized and prepared to perform with only moments notice. One monologue was as King Henry II from Becket, the movie, based on TS Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral. My memory now only recalls a few lines from that memorized piece.

The other piece that I memorized and was my favorite was a cobbled together monologue from Man of La Mancha where Miguel de Cervantes introduces and then transforms into Don Quixote and then segues into his death scene. My performance was well-received, taking me to 2nd place at State. This piece I have memorized to this day, running it through my head every couple of months and even out loud when I'm on long car trips (by myself of course).

I thought theatre was going to be my career, even though I also had years of experience as a local boy cartoonist and illustrator. Despicably, the Draft Board, interrupted my quest for Broadway and sent me to basic training where my dreams were beaten out of me as my personality was stripped to it's basic core (I'm still a little dramatic, don't you think?) and then reinvented me into an army illustrator and photographer.

The point of all this is that 'art', in its broadest sense, at an early time in my education, rescued my life, giving me a sense of connection to so many threads of the vast tapestry of our world.

Famous, I'm not. I've not really tried. Satisfied, I am. That, I've worked hard for. The journey set into motion by art led me to my wife and daughter, the joys of my life.

Below are a few images from the Don Quixote legend, of course giving rise to the concept of Quixotic quests, something I guess that resonates with me and that I'm guilty of. The captions below each image are strictly from my memory, so I apologize if I've misrepresented the original text from the Broadway musical.

artist: Gustave Doré

Then with your kind permission, I shall impersonate a man.
Come, enter into my imagination and see him . . .
His name is Alonso Quijano . . . a country squire, no longer young.
Bony, hollow faced, eyes that burn with the fire of inner vision.
Being retired, he has much time for books.
He studies them from morn til night
and often through the night as well.
And all he reads . . . oppresses him!
Fills him with indignation
at man's murderous ways toward man.
He broods . . . and . . . broods . . . and broods.
And finally from so . . . much . . . brooding . . .
his brain dries up!
He lays down the melancholy burden of sanity
to conceive the strangest project ever imagined —
to become a knight errant,
and sally forth into the world to right all wrongs.
No longer shall he be plain Alonso Quijano,
but a dauntless knight,
known as Don Quixote—
Man of La Mancha!!!

artist: Oswald Achenbach

There! There in the distance! A castle!
Rockbound amidst the crags.
And the banners! Oh the brave banners,
flaunting in the wind . . .

Artist: Donn P. Crane

'tis a monstrous giant of infamous repute . . .
'tis that dark and dreaded ogre, by the name of Matagogah,
You can tell him by the four great arms awhirling from his back!
Ho, feckless giant! Avast! Avaunt! En guarde! Beware!

Artist: W. Heath Robinson

And the wild winds of fortune shall carry me onward,
wither so ever they blow . . .


Annie said...

Wow, Thom! I often comment to people, and I'm sure I've addressed it in the past in my blog, how drama "saved" me when I was in high school. It gave me the expression for all of my emotions, and a social outlet. I won best actress in my senior year of high school, and I was a drama major for my first few years of college. In high school, I also participated in Forensics Competitions in Oral Interpretation, and in Reader's Theatre, both as an actor and as a student director of The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear. Some of my favorite Oral Interpretation performance pieces from literature and plays were from the work of John Steinbeck, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, and William Saroyan.

Sorry to go on, but it was such an important part of my life, and you've brought back that feeling. It was catharasis and it was expression- It was connection. I also remember bits and pieces from so long ago, and perform them at times when I am alone when it just feels good to feel the vocal rhythm and vibration.

I wondered about you and the military- as it did not seem to fit. Thank you for sharing about your life.

This statement of yours is so true: "The point of all this is that 'art', in its broadest sense, at an early time in my education, rescued my life, giving me a sense of connection to so many threads of the vast tapestry of our world."

I think that all art is the ability to feel that connection within ourselves to all of humanity, and the ability to comprehend multiple angles and points of view; an intelligence that is inclusive, complex and dynamic, and encompasses and acknowledges the full range of emotions- an intelligence that recognizes pain and embraces love.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Wow, back to you Annie! Your parallel experience and your words are inspiring.

Those are experiences that we can draw on throughout our lives. The Arts are such an important element of early education, even if we go on in totally different directions later in life.

M. D. Jackson said...

My liberal arts education included a lot of theater. Aside from art and writing I acted from high school through university, even getting paid for it once by the CBC. Art, literature and theater (and film) are all intertwined with who I am.

And Don Quixote? That's my wife's favourite book and because of her it has become one of mine.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Yes! Wonderful to hear, MD.

I think you will enjoy where all this thread is going!

Kid said...

Thom, great as it was to gaze upon your purely pictorial posts, it's better yet to see you begin to realize your blog's full potential by letting us see 'inside' the man behind the blog. To see the person and not just the artist, as it were. I hope you're going to keep up this new dimension to your posts.

Incidentally, sorry about the inconvenience of the comments moderation feature on my blog. If I don't have it on, all sorts of rude and sweary comments would be on view for all to see, and I don't want to run the risk of someone being offended by the foul remarks of others.

It won't be much consolation, but I also have the same difficulty with the feature on other people's blogs. I find it easier to read if I use the zoom feature (in the bottom right-hand corner of the pop-up box I'm typing in) to enlarge the text-size to 150%. It only takes a click to change it and another one to revert back to the original size.

Keep on truckin'.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Thanks, Kid. This is where I've wanted to go along since the beginning of the blog, but I'm only now able to take the time to focus a bit more.

Tororo said...

How lucky we are if we can answer positively the question "did I try hard enough to be satisfied with myself?". No matter how hard we worked for other things. Thanks for reminding us: we all need to ask ourselves once in a while.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Thank you Tororo, some people might think that 'satisfaction' is a matter of lowering the bar, but it's more knowing how high you WANT to jump. I'm starting to want to raise the bar a bit more—not to have more, but accomplish more.