Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Carol

The Ghost of Christmas Past
Top: Ink
Bottom: Ink, Watercolor Pencils, Prismacolors
9" x 12"
They are showing "A Christmas Carol" a lot on television this Christmas season. I never cared for the story, until I managed to be in the play when there was still a dinner theatre in the Calvert Hotel. Now, I listen for the familiar lines, and watch for the treatment by the actors, special effects, and music in the various versions.
I was writing for several newspapers, and working part time at one in Cameron at the time. I was perfectly content to go to each performance at the dinner theatre, take pictures, and write about it. I marveled at the actors' ability to remember all those words, and to get up in front of other people to act. Unfortunately, there were a lot of times when there was hardly anyone there.
I thought it was such a great idea, and really enjoyed the play-acting, in a place where we play-acted most of the years as I was growing up, since my cousins' , Diana and Joan, who were the age of my sister and me, grandmother, Mrs. Dirr, owned the hotel, back then.
The basement made a great place to play school, where the older kids made the younger ones learn their ABCs, etc. An old trolly or peanut wagon (turned chicken house) in the back yard was sometimes a bomber or a train. The little apartment out back made a great place for a hideout for cowboys or a house for a family. "The Drummers Room" also made a nice house or just a private place to talk about our hopes and dreams. Upstairs, at the end of the hall, we were sure a witch lived in a tall wooden box that remained propped up against the wall for most of the War years. The box looked just like a coffin. It turned out to be a bathtub that was left in its case until Mrs. Dirr could get someone to install it! Even the laundry hamper in a little nook near some narrow stairs provided an opportunity to dress up and take pictures. A little red wagon became a covered wagon and, once it was made, the children went off exploring around the grounds. We had a mystery club that met, first, under a bush in the park, then retired to the hotel for some scarey moments in the dark recesses of the hotel.
We could color on butcher paper from the store, and put our murals up on the lobby walls. The granddaughters got to pick a room and ride the bus to Marlin to pick out wallpaper. I never will forget that my cousin did her room in Chinese Modern. After which, for my summer homemaking project, I had to do my own bedroom in Chinese Modern! I had one bright red wall, with the other three in chartreuse! I also made a bedspread and curtains out of chartreuse broadcloth and painted all my dainty furniture black.
So, you can see that the hotel, and most of the town, allowed a free reign for imagination and creativity, which, I thought, truly fitted the dinner theatre concept.
"Why don't you be in one of our plays?" I was asked by several people. "We need you to be in our Christmas production."
"Not me!" I thought. I didn't think I could remember lines, I would probably do something terribly dumb on stage, and I was shy. But, finally, I agreed, and hoped that something would happen to keep me from ever going on stage.
Sure, I had been in things onstage during my school years-programs, the band, choral club, choir at church, singing with my mother, performing with classmates and friends. But reciting things at school terrified me. I didn't feel that I remembered very well.
In my first education class in college, the teacher decided we would do a play about a teenager and go around to PTAs and perform. She insisted that everyone who didn't work would be in the play. Since I was the youngest person in school, she made me the teenager-the star. No one wanted to do it, especially me! So no one showed up to practice, and no one learned their lines. Toward the end of the semester, she told us we were going to do the play in Madisonville, even if we had to read it. (I actually did try to learn my part, but just couldn't remember more than the first few lines, which I still remember.) I was scared stiff, going on that unfamiliar stage, with unfamiliar people. The auditorium was packed with strangers. And I didn't really know the others in my class, either. Mrs. Andrews explained to the audience that we had all been so busy with our college work, that we had not had time to learn our lines, yet. So we would read it. And we did. My hands were sweating bullets as I pretended to answer the phone when the play opened. (We didn't have a telephone at home, so I was uncomfortable even trying to dial the prop. I think that we still had the telephone office with "Central" at that time. No dial phones, yet.)
We all read the play, moved around on the stage, and were so relieved to be finished with that class! I don't know that we learned a thing about teaching or education, but I remember having to be in that play. I couldn't tell you what it was about, though. Not even at the time.
As I drove back and forth to work, I practiced lines for "A Christmas Carol". I thought I had the first part down, but never was sure of the rest of it. If I could read it, that would be okay!
The time grew close and I consoled myself thinking that people would probably not come, as they often didn't for other really good productions with actors from Dallas. However, I didn't consider that, the most popular plays seemed to be the ones with local actors.
At one rehearsal, we got together in the dining room and made recordings with all of us making ghost noises, and, sound effects for the play.
I didn't have any money, so I couldn't invest in a costume. However, I did have some fabric that I had bought to use for draping behind still lifes, and I had some lace head coverings to wear to the Catholic Church. I had powder blue satin material and a powder blue lace head cover, and decided to drape myself with those, and "float" across the stage.
The night of the production, Larry, the director, who played Scrooge, dressed in some old baggy long handles, and made his hair gray, put on powder and drew lines on his face with my eyebrow pencil. I had a hard time, trying to keep from laughing at being onstage with a guy in longhandles. Larry was funny, anyway, with his bending his knees, wringing his hands, and almost dancing around the stage. I had to turn a lot to keep up with him.
Phil, who played Marley, had a nice Victorian suit that he wore. And the young man who played the ghost of Christmas future had an impressive black hooded robe to wear.
We started with a little skit with some local children, who had almost all the lines, gathered around a Christmas tree onstage. I played their Sunday School teacher. I wore a satin and velvet patchwork long skirt with a satin long sleeved blouse. I didn't have to do much, but just stand there and act like a school teacher, which I had been for a long time.
At rehearsal, I overheard the director say something to Phil, and I heard my name. I still wonder what they said! I was afraid it would be bad. "I can't hear her." "She looks terrible." "She can't act." "She will ruin our show!" My imagination always runs wild.
I was stunned when the dinner theatre was packed for the play, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. (I was a little disappointed that my own family didn't come. But, then, I tried to realize that they were not going to spend money on such things.)
What was I to do with all those people out there! Panic! Well, I finally hit on a couple of things that helped. Ignore the people and just look at what was going on around me. And, find one person that you know and want to say something to-and just talk to them. What lines would I forget? I was almost frozen, nauseated, etc., but, in deciding to just ignore the audience, I felt some better.
Larry didn't help in one way. He was a drama teacher/actor, and he was acting, and changing the lines! And I was just trying to remember what I was supposed to say! When he threw in other things, I thought I would be stumped. But, I managed, and got through my scene. I headed for the columns that divided the lobby from the old sitting room, which had become the theatre. They now had a velvet curtain, and some steps built to step down from the stage. I went through the curtains, down the steps, and someone caught my arm.
Why wasn't Larry exiting with me? Was I supposed to still be on stage?
Larry came to me, with a wad of blue satin in his hands. "Here. Part of your veil caught on a nail in the stage." He handed me one of my veils, then ran back to do the next scene. And I turned red. I was so embarrassed!
Apparently, as I walked around the stage, trying to keep up with Larry, one of my veils had caught on a nail, and just unwound. I left a trail of blue satin across the stage. I didn't even know it. I was really glad that I had decided to wear a caftan under all my veils. Wouldn't it have been terrible if I had lost all my costume and didn't even know it! Larry and I both might have been in our underwear onstage!
The play seemed to be a big hit, but the audiences still didn't pick up for most shows, and, eventually, Larry went back to teaching, I went back to teaching, the hotel was sold and Phil moved on.
The hotel went through several owners, was a hotel, B&B, empty for a while, and now is home to a large family. I hope that they have as much fun as we did, and great memories of the hotel, as we have after so many years.
Every time I see "A Christmas Carol" on tv, I remember the time that the play was done at the Calvert Hotel. And all the memories that go with it.
I hope that all your shopping and prepartations for Christmas are going well. Some stores here seem to be busy, despite the "downturn" in the economy. Some have put on extra help and others will close for the holidays, as usual. This university town used to almost empty out, and there were no cars on the streets, as soon as the students and teachers left for their homes or vacations. Now there are lots of cars, still, and some places are packed.
We made the mistake of going to WalMart last night to buy an ink cartrige for my printer. I should have paid a little more and bought it somewhere else. We spent 3 hours there, for one little ink cartrige. Two people were working the electronics counter, where there was a line. You have to get one of them to open the case where the ink, etc. is kept. When more people showed up, one person left, leaving one slow, young girl to wait on people. The line got really long. Several people left, saying they were going to Target. Finally, another girl showed up, and, when I told her I needed an ink cartrige and she left to get it, some people behind me didn't like it. I wasn't about to give up my spot after all that wait, though! They could just make their little remarks!
As we left, I noticed there were no customers at the jewelry counter or in the ladies clothing area. Looks like electronics are very popular this year. It will be interesting to go back, late, on New Years Eve, and see if the shelves are all almost empty as they usually are.
I was glad to see that the store where my grandson works had a steady stream of customers, and they brought in more workers from other stores. We hear of so many businesses closing, these days. And so many places laying off people, cutting hours, wages, and all those things that do not help American families.
A special Merry Christmas to our troops everywhere, their families, and to all those who serve, including the Border Agents Ramos and Compean, who are unjustly imprisoned. Write them, send them cards and letters, and write to your representatives, the White House, and everyone you can think of to try to free them. I wish them all justice, freedom, good health, much joy and prosperity. I just read the list of President Bush's pardons and, as Glenn Beck says, it would make blood shoot out of your eyes. Drug dealers, illegals, and other unsavory characters, and even one who was written about quite a bit, saying he was a hero in WWII. But the man is dead! That doesn't make sense to me, at all. It makes me wonder what kind of hold Mexico has over us, that our government just continues to let all this garbage from Mexico, and a couple of other places, go on in our country. And we are just supposed to look the other way and let it go on while it is destroying our country. This is one thing that President Bush could have done that would have left a much better feeling among the citizens. He doesn't have to depend on that poor excuse for a Congress that we have to get this done. I would think that Laura, the teacher, with all of her influence and sense of what is needed, could do something. Getting off my soap box now. But I know there are those who see it the same way that I do.
To sign up for Virginia Vaughan's Plein Aire Painting Workshop in Calvert Saturday Feb. 21, let me know. You might want to stay over Friday and Saturday nights, especially if you aren't local; so you might want to reserve your room in one of Calvert's lovely old homes, The Bird House or Pin Oak B&B. (Those two responded that they have rooms available.) Or bring along your camper or RV, and we can arrange for parking. We're going to have another great day!
I'll send out a list with accomodations, a supply list, and more information, when you let me know.
January 10th is just around the corner. That is the date for the big 21st World Wide Sketch Crawl. Go to their website for more information. http://www.sketchcrawl.com
Or let me know if you want to join us, locally. I'm hoping that people in the other communities will participate, and, here, we can Draw The Brazos Valley that day.
If you are in one of the cold areas, keep warm! But, remember, there are a lot of us who would like to experience a White Christmas. My grandson told me last night that he would like to move to a place where it snows for Christmas! I've been thinking that for about 70 years, myself.
Thank you for reading and sharing with others. If you see something of interest to you, let me know. Some of the art work on this blog is for sale. Photos are not for sale.

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