Monday, June 29, 2009

All It Took Was Cinderella - Reason #2 Why I do theater

I used to dream that I was in the audience of some sort of performance, a play. The light was dim and the edges of the picture were fuzzy like I was looking through a dirty window that had been wiped clean to allow me to look in, only the image in the center was clear. The dream was in color. A red figure danced on a raised stage. Rudimentary lights illuminated him as he danced a clumsy dance with his pitchfork. It was silent. No music, no dialogue, not even the crowd noise. Silent.

Several years ago I was directing the revival of the local "Pastorela" and I had invited my dad and my mom to attend. It was then that he told me.
"You know that your grandfather used to play a devil in the "Pastorela" that they would do in Elgin, Texas. But he couldn't read. So your Grandmother would read his lines to him and he would memorize them that way."
Then I realized that my dream had not been a dream at all but a memory. Both my mom and my dad had roots in Elgin. My family attended many functions in Elgin when I was growing up, all of them having to do with the local Catholic Church. We would go to the "jamaicas" or church festivals. And during the holy days, Masses were held in Elgin since they had the bigger church. (I remember the midnight Masses at Christmas even though I was usually asleep within minutes.) So theater was more in my blood than I realized. Perhaps I am merely continuing the Reyes tradition.
But this is not the moment that I can pinpoint that made me want to do theater. That moment came when I was in elementary school. I will share with you what I remember.
We boarded buses in Manor one morning for a field trip to Austin. I don't even remember being told what it was but it didn't matter. We could be taking a friend to a dairy to watch cows being milked and I would have been excited. We were taken to the Municipal Auditorium, later named the Palmer Auditorium, and now the newly remodeled Long Center on Lady Bird Lake. We were ushered in and then the curtains opened.
It was beautiful. There was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen. The set for the children's play, Cinderella stood before me, but again, the only details that I can remember, and the one that has made the most impact was the grand staircase.
Now let me digress a little but quickly. We were one of the first groups in the Rollins Theater at the new Long Center when it opened. The Austin Lyric Opera was performing "Cinderella". If you haven't been to the Long Center, they have monitors all over, showing what is going on in each of the theaters. As I walked past one, I froze. There was the staircase, on the same stage, and it was almost identical to the one I remembered as a child. It sent chills down my spine. Okay, back to my story.
When the clock begins to strike midnight, Cinderella made her dash down the stairs. The prince followed and stood in down stage center. Where oh where had she gone? Then, from stage left, a glass slipper comes sliding in. The house shook from all the laughter. And the actor played it perfectly. Yes it was corny but it worked for all the kids in the audience. It is here that my mind took a snapshot. This image, taken almost 50 years ago, still remains sharp and fresh. That laughter is what I try to create, the images people see when they come to a Teatro Vivo show, I hope is imprinted forever in the minds of my audiences. And I hope that the laughter that I heard one day, coming from a child in our audience, will create just as much theater as I have tried to since Cinderella lost her shoe when I was a child.

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