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.