Once upon a time, a 4-year-old girl sat in a tiny rocking chair holding a doll, singing "All Things Bright and Beautiful." The "performance" took place in the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa., and the child thought, "Oh, I like this."
I was that child. Today, I sit on stage at the Source Theatre performing in "Beyond Therapy," holding another doll -- Snoopy -- and still saying to myself, "I like this."
Between the two scenes stretches a career commonly referred to as checkered: dancer, photographer, writer, producer-director of a community/university theater and expert at pushing a Victorian wicker baby buggy.
Smoking, drinking, movies on Sunday and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were viewed as street signs on the road to ruin as I was growing up. It followed that pledging my life to theater, kneeling dramatically by my bedroom window at age 11, did not prompt my parents to throw confetti in celebration. As a freshman at Ohio Wesleyan University, I felt like an untouchable in the college caste system of the 1950s because I did not receive a bid to join a sorority. To hide my pinless bosom, I wore my double-breasted gray gabardine storm coat the entire first semester.
Then I auditioned for the school's production of Gershwin's "Girl Crazy." A tiny woman with enormous teeth was awarded a solo dance number. I was relegated to the dance chorus. Shortly after rehearsals began, the tiny woman lost her balance repeatedly while trying to execute a simple turn. I made a timid suggestion. Rehearsal stopped. "Can you do that?" an In-charge Person asked. I nodded modestly. "Will you do that?" I did. "How would you like to be Delilah in the 'Samson and Delilah' number?" I would.
The number was very well received. As a result, men began to call. And five sororities presented me with bids. But I had shed the storm coat for good, and I never pledged.
Suddenly, I was too busy dancing -- as Laurie, complete with gold-sprayed hair, in the dream sequence of "Oklahoma!"; as an Indian princess, complete with brown-sprayed body, in "Annie Get Your Gun"; as Maggie Anderson, complete with bagpipe accompaniment, in "Brigadoon."
I played everything anyone would allow, in keeping with the common wisdom that there are no small roles, only small actors. Wrong. There are small roles. But a maid's role garnered me a compliment from the head of the drama department: "That girl will go far. She's not afraid to look ugly."
Larger roles often required pounds of padding -- as Queen Margaret and as Mistress Quickly, I was a Renaissance blimp. When I choreographed a show, however, I wore diaphanous creations resembling dining room curtains. And I choreographed everything that didn't stand still -- from a Martha Graham-esque interpretation of a Cotton Mather sermon that particularly offended me, to a tooth fairy approach to "The Tempest."
Dress rehearsal of "The Tempest" was more theatrical than intended. My partner dropped me through the roof of Prospero's cave (nothing personal) and I broke my left arm. Exit, stage right, to the local hospital, where I was costumed in 15 pounds of plaster for the next six weeks. I had already signed a contract to choreograph at Bowling Green State University's summer stock theater in Huron, Ohio. So I helped a novice nurse chop me out of my cast and merrily jete'd my way to Huron, where I danced my little heart out all summer.
Resplendent in gobs of white net, my Titania could have doubled as a giant water lily. My stunning Oberon out-peacocked me in sleek black, a silver sequined belt and glitter on his eyelids. He was the best dance partner I've ever known, and we were a modified smash on the Kiwanis-Rotary-Lions Club lunch circuit with our exhibitional tango routine.
But after I began graduate study in modern dance at the University of Wisconsin, the condition that actors refer to as Real Life intervened. This was the mid-'50s, when one dealt with one's love life in the back seat of a car or one got married. I got married.
During the period when my children were 5, 4, 2 and infant, I ran a theater out of my basement in Delaware, Ohio. My theater was an artistic success (opinion) and a financial failure (fact). All the plays but one were well received. "Life With Mother" was our biggest hit. But "The Moon Is Blue" caused a furor because someone who had not read the script told the world that it was "a dirty play."
In the '60s, we moved to Hurricane, W.Va., where I often opened the refrigerator door to watch the light come on. I became the information specialist for the West Virginia State Department of Agriculture. I toured the state giving puppet shows on poultry, produce, livestock and dairying wherever three or more people were gathered. I was also very big at 6 a.m. on television farm shows.
Eventually, the children and I found ourselves here in Washington and I was pushed, at their urging, back on stage. Once I gave myself to "the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd" again, I knew I was home for the rest of my life. The best part is that I have enjoyed a full life (you should only know) and all of it is available to me as a acting resource.
So as I throw myself onto the Source Theatre stage five nights a week as the wild and wacky psychotherapist in "Beyond Therapy," I am thrilled and content to be there. Should anyone ask my children, "Do you know where your mother is tonight?", they have a ready answer. I'm not hard to find.