Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hanging at the bottom of the food chain.

I’m going to gloat, so here is thy alert.
I jumped into a summer musical, “Return To The Forbidden Planet.” The role of the mad scientist, a combination of Shakespeare, Star Trek and Spaceballs was started by a local celebrity, an entertainer, one time national spokesman for Chevrolet, and a writer of a staple Cajun Christmas song that sells every year. He wasn’t ready with a week before opening. He was sorry. Most were, but understood. It was a tough part and I was asked to fill in.
I did a telethon with this gentleman years ago and he kept calling me Larry Wyatt. I said after the third time, “It’s Larry Hyatt buddy, but at least we now know who is a bigger star.”
The best way to get me to do something is to compliment me first. That’s what the director did, possibly since we don’t do this for the money and it being community theatre it’s about entertaining you. I know the mission. It’s what I live for, being an overweight starving artist. I pulled it off and now the gloating is over.
What troubles me is a couple of the younger cast members.
In our town, as in plenty of community theatre’s summer shows, the cast is made up of theatre and music students who have gone to New York or L.A. to study, come back to perform, not remembering this is community theater, the idiots, and when the show doesn’t go exactly as planned, they meltdown.
My thought, “Boy I hope they become stars, because one day they’re going to kill themselves.” This backstage drama was going on for weeks, and understandably upsetting the cast members, creating an atmosphere that shoots the shit out of the whole reason to do this.
At first I thought this frustration was because of the embarrassment of appearing with amateurs, who do this for the love of theater, the chance for community, and the excitement of appearing on stage. Then I thought maybe, they’re getting their ass kicked in New York and they realize up there they have to hang with the cannibals, now doubting their ability.
Life’s a bitch and hanging at the bottom of the food chain should be rewarding.
I was once an entertainment director and performer in a club called Illusions. I was basically an impersonator. Not a female or Elvis impersonator, there I drew the line.
I would white my hair and sing Frank Sinatra, put on glitz and be Elton John, black my skin and become James Brown, or invent characters, all to entertain the crowd. I called it theatre in bar. It’s so original. It was once called vaudeville.
I surrounded myself with actors and actresses, dancers and comedians. I called up everyone I worked with to put on a show, the show, and my show.
I met with a few I worked with from the theatre department at Nicholls State, the local college. Most of them snubbed me. They were the elite theater people who didn’t think my stupid little barroom act was anything they wanted to get involved in. I was second rate until they realized performing is learning and not every theatre dream happens when you reach twenty-two years of age and graduate from college with a (say it through your teeth) theatre degree.
When those ass hole students did speak to me and realized that at least I had a gig, they asked to join. You know what I told them? I told them, the elite “theatre people,” I would be honored to have you join us. I can certainly use someone with your talent.” I’m not crazy. The show must go on.
I didn’t say to them that humility is a bitch but I hoped they got it. Young people don’t realize that many before them had the dream and that many before them were going to set the world on fire.
One of my favorite quotes is, “I’m not gonna stay here. I’m going to make a name for myself, I’m going to be somebody.” I hoped they did, knowing their drive. Three years later they put an ad in the paper for theatre lessons. I hope she instills humility in her students.


  1. Frankly, Larry, I think this post is a crude generalization of young theatre students. Just because someone who is trained strives to put out the best product he or she can in whatever setting he or she happens to be performing in does not make him or her a snob. In my eyes these types of performers are the ones who really care about the audience since that is who the performance is for. If they are upset about something that doesn't go completely right in a performance, it is probably because they want everyone on that stage to look good and for the audience, especially the community of a small town, to get the best theatre experience possible. Of course in community theatre, a huge goal is for the cast to have fun. I'm sure these young cast members have a great time on stage. I've seen the show multiple times, loved all of the performances (including yours) and been impressed by the commitment a show like this requires. I don't think I would have been as impressed or joyful during the show if those on stage hadn't been pushing through the rehearsal process to get the best product out there. Also, I'm not sure what backstage drama you are referring to. Most of the cast is onstage for the majority of the show as I recall. I did read in the paper that several people dropped out, but I heard through the grapevine that this had to do with job commitments and illness. I don't think that you or anyone should refer to young people/dreamers as "idiots" when they turn out such a great product. In fact you as a seasoned performer should be encouraging and sharing your knowledge with them. I'm positive they would appreciate it. Everyone has bad moments or days, and not everyone is as gregarious as you are. Maybe they are serious or by themselves, maybe they have to blow off steam, but shouldn't you make the attempt to include them or perk them up? That's what makes a good cast atmosphere in my experience: making the effort to put out a great show and supporting your fellow artist in their times of self doubt or frustration.

  2. Well said and you are correct, it’s a generalization of theatre students, which I once was. Without the training and exceptional teachers I wouldn’t have been inspired or continue to have the undying passion to entertain the audience, who should walk out feeling better than the actor.
    This piece was thought of many years ago when I was told, by my mother, The Jefferson Performing Arts brings back theatre and music students to perform in the summer shows. I combined that with the few who declined to help at Illusions, young performers who don’t realize the dream is had by many, the “I’m better than this town” comment, this show, and a chance to gloat. I should have stopped there.
    “Idiots” was a strong word. They’re not idiots to get involved, one-man shows in community theatre only help the box office. I should have used, “Young, and so untender.”
    As far as encouraging younger actors, I have 65,000 words called, “How To Reach For The American Dream (and not get it,) wanting my mediocrity to be inspirational to those who do feel that passion so consuming they want to make it their life, which was the point of the post.
    Youth is not wasted on the young, if they are in the arts.