For Eddie and Those Working Behind The Scenes
I Really Have to Be Honest
with you about this introduction not being words that angels say. No. But the words you are reading is honest and they originate from me. I had to say that because I do not want (or need) anyone thinking that there may be some impropriety found in this hub.
This piece has been in my memories of the days of 1993 through 2000 in Hamilton, Ala., my hometown where I have lived, worked, and now retired for the past 63 years. Now in those years, June 1993, to be exact, the highlight of my life has to be the meeting that I had with my good friends, Exie Williford, Clinton Padgett, and the now-late Tommy Roby, all of Hamilton.
These two men and one woman (with me) made up the Kudzu Playhouse, a non-profit community theater company that was founded for one reason: to entertain the public and to help raise monies for such established charities as St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital; American Cancer Society; American Heart Association and the Hannah House, a great safe place where teens could stay and get the needed help in growing up without being in volatile living conditions.
These Three Friends
that I have told you about certainly have backgrounds that I want to share with you. I think that if you are forming a community theater, you cannot afford to be too picky about what an interested person can or cannot do--it takes a lot of patience and acceptance to be a member of such things.
Our first president was Bro. Clinton Padgett, who was a church pastor at Hamilton's only Alliance Church and he pastored that one church for over 15 years. Padgett, I have to say, was so patient that I secretly-believed that he was related to the Biblical man, Job, who took everything that Satan threw at him and just endured.
I should have put our one lady Kudzu member first, but Exie, I am sure would understand, because she was our first vice president. She was in charge of Quality Control at our local hospital. And she knew her job inside and out. Roby, (rest his soul), was a talking history book. He had been married twice, been to Vietnam, got shot down, and lived to tell about it. And when it came to theater, Roby could have written a book about the right formula's and equations about Community Theater.
That leaves me. I did the recruiting along with some of the script-writing such as "The Beverly Hillbillies: The Spring Tonic Shyster," "I Love Lucy," and "Andy Griffith Show: Seige on Mayberry," and I loved it. We, the four members of Kudzu, loved to get the public into auditioning for roles that we had open and we even had auditions for stage hands--we thought we were "up town" when Bro. Jeff Fleming, (another church pastor), "Steady" Eddie Norris, and Nick Ray showed up one night as one of our plays was taking shape to be volunteers to help move sets and just do anything that needed doing.
Again, I Have to Be Honest
with you about another aspect of community theater: what to do when burn-out and stress start to take their toll on you. The simple things like the people who were in our first meetings and even auditioned for roles started to miss rehearsals and this got underneath my skin. I spent more time "working the phones" after my job at the newspaper calling the people who agreed to do parts only to find out that they had to move, be on vacation, etc., to name two obstacles.
We began asking in the first meetings about the future of each person and their schedule, but somehow, those who only had a few lines got to thinking about why show-up in the rehearsals when they could show-up on the night of our play and try to give the production a go.
Bro. Padgett, a well-versed speaker, gave one of the best motivational speeches (from the cuff of his shift) that I had ever heard. The one thing that stood out in his speech was this: "if you say that you will be here, you are to be here, plain and simple. When you agree to be in one of our productions, you become a part of the Kudzu Playhouse for eventually, you will be able to audition when bigger roles are going to come up and you will want that needed-experience--and besides, when you are out, someone who is here will have to read your lines and that causes the rest of the group to be out of sync and the possibility of the play not doing well is great."
Padgett's fiery speech worked. He only had to use that speech once. I am not kidding you.
But I won't candy-coat the future speeches that Padgett made. Truth be told, he had to force himself to approach the trouble and make sure that their skin and characters were left intact.
As for Exie Williford, for someone who didn't know that much about the theater, she knew how to crack the whip and spare no lip when she was going to direct the actors. Sure she hurt a few feelings, but her credo was: suffer now, shine on the night of the play's opening. I can recall the many times that after each show (that many times took six weeks) was over, Williford made it her business to address the actors, stage hands, and those rowdy guys from the Kudzu Trucker's Union.
She gave each actor an embrace and a kiss, both were genuine and each came away with a feeling higher than Mt. Everest for hearing (a) "nice work there," when the sets were packed up and the lights were all turned off.
Tommy Roby, like I said, was the "walking history book," and took each opportunity to share his experiences while he was in the Air Force and helping to form a make-shift theater company to keep up the morale while he was in Saigon. I miss Roby too much sometimes. And like the other two, I manage to keep in touch with them and each email that I get from Exie or Bro. Padgett, I know that we were all a part of something that was bigger than we were.
Then at Curtain's
end, I will stop "my" this and "I" that, because there was the one person who somehow found out about our theater company and came to every rehearsal and every called meeting. Without being harassed to show-up and contribute. He did his job and even more.
We never had to worry about where "this" person was at any given time of each production. He was the coat rack that we all clinged to when we were at our mind's limit. His words were few, but those hands of his spoke volumes of fine work when he was finished with whatever task that needed doing--and many was the times that we would just jot down a list of the things that needed doing and let him have the list and didn't wait for us to thank him.
I confess. I was never the worker he was. He could produce a masterpiece from the air and not wipe away the sweat from his forehead. He would look up and smile. That warm, caring smile, that always made us feel like working another hour all without saying one word.
I will tell you our hero's name: Eddie Norris. He was everything about community theater and a whole lot more. If a set needed to be built or changed, he did it from a flimsy memory. And there were those times when we would see him working behind the scenes (sorry for the pun) and never stop to take in a work that he helped to produce.
Norris did appear in three plays and each one was a hit. At the risk of being corny, (I don't care), Eddie had "that" something about him that the "giants" of early theater, the Fairbanks, Cowhan's, and more helped to start American Theater, would have killed to have. Just for the asking.
You see. Eddie and his sister had been involved with a near-death car crash several years before we became friends with Eddie. The doctors, specialists and even his family said that he would never walk out of the University of Alabama in Birmingham Hospital, but he did. After three agonizing months of rehab and virtually rebuilding himself, he walked out wearing "that" special smile.
Eddie. I've not seen him in years due to my health issues and not owing an automobile to be able to drive around town to where I might see him. I can sit here and think of him and the help that he gave me and the many who came to help our fledgling theater company . ..but none so dedicated and giving as Eddie.