The Play Was Over, But The Plot Kept Going.

By: Chris Warren.

We who have been out of high school longer than high schoolers have been alive don’t often consciously associate the experiences of our younger years to how we think today. Other than an occasional nice (or not) thought and attending (or not) a reunion, high school is a time long past blurred by the advancing calendar. But for some of us, certain aspects of that four year block of time has a very strong connection to the here and now.

I was barely a week into my freshman year at Naperville North when the morning announcements included an invite for anyone who wanted to be on the theater lights & sound crew to attend a meeting after school. It sounded pretty cool even though I wasn’t exactly sure what it involved. I was shy; I walked past the room twice trying to get a read on who might be there. I almost blew it off before taking a breath and pushing myself through the door where I found the sponsoring teacher and five or six offbeat looking students. I was the only new guy. There were no lengthy introductions or chatter. Within minutes we were in the auditorium organizing equipment and getting ready for the fall play. I was officially on the lights & sound crew.

My parents seemed genuinely pleased that on my own I had found an extracurricular activity that I was good at and really liked. It fit well with my interest in electronics and was a good alternative to athletics. Rehearsals started after school and would sometimes run until after 10:00pm. It was kind of funny how the jocks would make fun of us “theater geeks,” yet we were there long after the lights went out in the gym. We were as dedicated and serious as any athlete. We all wanted to stay until we got it right, and it showed when the curtain went up. For the first time in my young life I was part of a team. Theater companies inherently tend to have a very high proportion of prima donnas, but everyone seemed to understand they were involved with something that was bigger than the sum of its parts. There was a sincere group cohesion.

One night during a rehearsal break, an actor who was also a piano wizard sat down at the house piano and started playing Billy Joel tunes. A crowd slowly gathered around him. About 15 or 20 kids –performers, technical staff, even the makeup artists– formed an         ad hoc sing-along. We were all smiling and hanging on each other. It was a terrific feeling. I had friends. I was wanted. I can’t remember a single detail of what else happened that night but the sense of belonging still makes me smile.

There was a custom that the seniors were supposed to write a farewell letter and tape it to the backstage door on the closing night of our very last production. We gathered again like we did at the sing along but this time the girls were crying and the boys were bummed. After being on the lights & sound crew all four years and absolutely loving every moment of it, the reality of finality was right in front of me. I taped my letter to the door, hugged a few people, and the curtain went down on my run. I never set foot in that theater again. The meeting I attended on a lark and almost skipped as a freshman led to an amazing experience that to this day is one of my life’s brightest lights.

4 thoughts on “The Play Was Over, But The Plot Kept Going.

  1. Unlike you, I was a team joiner from the earliest years. I remember my early but brief foray into the 5th grade band as a french horn player. Mom and Dad supported most of my extra-curricular desires. Also unlike you, there isn’t a one of them that I saw all the way through. My academic life was mostly full of unrealized potential. Mom and Dad, like any dutiful (modern parents take note of this……you are not our friends, you are our parents) parent I was removed from whatever I was currently involved in when grades were not up to snuff. I did not see the end of a single season of anything. Not a one. The burden of not finishing things carries with you as well. At 17 I was terrified that my life would be a series of days sitting on a bar stool at White’s Tavern after toiling at some barely minimum wage misery. I enlisted in the Army. It was my first real team. It completely changed my life. Like you, the heartbreak of hanging up my boots to attend college after my tour was heavy. I wonder if I’d ditched college to make a career of it how different my life would be. I can’t think about that now……’s way past reveille and I’ve got a life to live.

  2. Wow, Chris, what a great story.

    I was recently asked to choose a word that I would act on for 2015 and I choose “do it”. I know, it’s two words, but the author allowed me to keep it. Your story just goes to show that we should “do it” when the feeling is right and to have a go. Just look what happened to you those years ago when you did something new. Had you not gone through that door, one of those bright lights of your life would not be shinning.

    1. Although I did not directly state it, one of the themes of this article is “what if?”

      I sometimes wonder how much different my life would have been had I skipped that meeting. There were not many school activities that excited me, so I’m guessing I would have spent most of the next four years alone in my room tinkering with my electronic stuff. So many positive things came out of my time on the lights & sound crew. I’m so glad I pushed myself.

      Thanks for your ongoing support and nice comments.

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