The Stage Struck Adolescent 

Introduction:

In this memoir I reflect on an imagining which has always been a dominant thought in the back of my mind - the thought that I had some dramatic talent and/or insight about the theater. This fantasy crystallized when I recently wrote the following note to a friend:   

As I may have said before, I have spent much effort in coming up with music-oriented DVDs for Bernice's entertainment.  We have always shared a great deal of interest in all kinds of musical theater - certainly Gilbert and Sullivan but much, much more.  As I have previous noted, most of the time, Bernice seems to be engaged in watching or at least listening to the fruits of my searches for suitable DVDs.  In some ways this has become a labor of love or exercise in reminiscence for me.  When I was in high school I was very interested in theater.  I put together several pretty good shows in which I freely stole music from then current Broadway musicals.  Believe it or not, I was good enough that several teacher banded together to get me a scholarship in theater at a small private liberal arts college in Stockton which is now called the University of the Pacific.  Although obviously I didn't do the theater thing I did continue to direct a couple of shows at my old high school during my first two years at Berkeley.  In searching for entertainment for Bernice, I have been drawn back to, mainly, musicals of the forties and fifties.  The internet has allowed me to become a minor scholar on the subject.  Bernice really does seem to enjoy it all so I hope I am not just forcing my obsession on her.  In fact, she really does try to sing along with many of the tunes and enjoys watching the dances.


In a way this note and another note on my Gilbert and Sullivan addiction says it all, but for completeness I expand here a bit.

The Origins of the Stage Struckness

 I think it all goes back to my mother.  In the Welsh tradition the Eisteddfod and Gymanfa Ganu are festivals of great significance.  The Gymanfa Ganu is celebration  devoted  to hymn singing and is not germane to  this remembrance.  The Eisteddfod however is quite relevant since it is an event involving competitive performances of poetry and music.  In my childhood the Welsh communities of Oakland and  San Francisco competed fiercely in an annual  all-day event.  There were competitions in poetry recitation, solo singing, ensemble singing and finally, most important, choral singing.  The judges were drawn from the local gray beards and all ages were "encouraged" to compete in their age cohort.  My sister, Iris, was often a winner in solo singing and many years later competed singing in Welsh at the Welsh National Eisteddfod.   My mother, a rich contralto, was a stalwart of all the singing groups and an accompanist for many solo singers.  At around five I first competed with a poem now lost memory and I didn't do very well.  My quietly aggressive mother resolved that the next year I would win.  Since it was drilled into my head, I certainly remember the following year's poem.  It was an ode to a squirrel which began "O' squirrel, squirrel in the park..."  My mother worked out a whole dramatic presentation which culminated with me leaning forward to offer the squirrel the nutrition of a fresh nut.  We rehearsed it over and over again until my presentation was near to perfection.  On Eisteddfod day my mother outfitted me in a pair of Victorian knickers with matching jacket.1  My performance was received well, but, alas, I was awarded only second prize; the first prize went to a cute little San Francisco girl.  My mother was enraged  She felt that the judge was bedazzled by the little girl's cutesy Shirley Temple-like presentation and dress.2

In spite of this crushing defeat, I for some reason seem to do a lot dramatic stuff throughout elementary school. In the fourth or fifth grade I sang "I am the Captain of the Pinafore" for a saving stamp rally.   During the fifth and sixth grades I did a lot of children's hour radio dramas.  In particular, I did a series of Winnie the Pooh stories and, later, a series on the life of Franz Schubert.  I always remember the last line of my famous final episode, "Ah Anselm, I am dying."3





  1. I also had to wear this same retched outfit for my first day at kindergarten which prompted my soon to become best friend, Eddy Miller, to utter the famous words "Look at the goon Mother."

  2. As far as I was concern, the  best part of the  day was the wonderful trips back forth to SF on the old ferry.  Trips on the ferry always fed my fantasies of a seafaring life.  On sunny days it was just beautiful to stand on the deck and look around.  On dark, foggy nights it was romantic and a bit scary to listen to the many fog horns around the bay and to watch the vigilant captain in the dimly-lit wheelhouse.

  3. The name used was that of his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner who was at least known to be present at the death of Beethoven.  



This page was prepared and is maintained by R. Victor Jones
Comments to: jones@seas.harvard.edu.

Last updated March 10, 2013