|Keene Public School's 1964 Production of "Over the Garden Wall"|
It was 1964 and I was about to make my first appearance as an actor in a musical. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades were staging Keene Public School's musical production of "Over the Garden Wall", a play based loosely on Mother Goose stories and rhymes.
This picture takes me back. I can't identify everybody, but I do know a few of them.
The farmer types on the far left are Barney McClure (my cousin) and Elaine Ferguson as "Jack and Jill". Famous future Dentist, John Barroso is sitting on a ladder behind them starring as "The Sun". The first butterfly on the left is Amma Sue Johnson. Behind her to the right are the Washington brothers, Manuel and Phillip. Continuing right are Patsy Marshall and Wanda Davis (the first girl I ever had a date - it was a disaster, don't ask). The bluebird was, I think, David Carver. And last but not least in this rogues gallery is the white-beared dude dressed all in black - Tom King my own self, as Mother Goose's hit troll. My character abruptly enters stage right and threatens to abduct Jack and Jill and take them to a dark cave. I think they needed to end the play and couldn't figure out how since it didn't have much in the way of a plot. So the writer apparently decide, "I know. Let's send in a troll!"
And to make matters even more weird, I was a singing troll. I sang my threats to the children - ominously, as I had been told by Mrs. Webb, the fifth and sixth grade teacher and director of the play.
You'd never get a character like that troll in a children's play these days. Too creepy! I was like this really short pervert troll enforcer for Mother Goose. What's weirder, if you can believe it is that I can still sing the stupid song to this day.
I missed most of the play myself because I was hiding backstage in utter terror and praying to God for strength to go out there and sing in front of all those people (I was in 3rd grade and terribly shy).
But I did it:
Naughty, naughty children
Go home and go do bed,
Or I will quickly take you
To caverns dark and dread.
Mother Goose is looking
For you every where.
See, I told you I still remembered the stupid song. I ought to. I sat in an oak tree for two days memorizing that song because I was so scared I'd forget the lines. I could do it better now, because I have a deeper voice. Sounded more like a Munchkin than a dangerous troll back in 3rd grade.
Later when I became a teacher, I remembered that moment of stage fright when doing school productions with my own students and tried to remember how traumatizing that first acting job was.
Two years later I played Pinocchio in our 6th grade play - star of the show I was being Mrs. Webb's favorite actor. It gave me a big head. Seriously, I have a head the size of a watermelon.
One of the miscellaneous children in the Pinocchio play was my childhood neighbor, Steve Wilhite, who had one big line - something about "Look there's a star!" He was supposed to point toward the back of the room as he said it. Steve argued with Mrs. Webb that we should hang a star back there because everyone would turn around and look for one.
She apparently didn't have a lot of faith in Steve's acting ability and told him dismissively, "No one's going to turn around and look for a star."
Steve's judgment was later vindicated during the actual production when he delivered his big line, pointed and EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE TURNED AROUND TO LOOK FOR THE STAR (including Mrs. Webb and Mr. Pauly, the principle, who later was overheard to say, "They should have put a star back there on the wall or something.")! I don't know about Steve, but I'd have felt pretty good about my acting skills right at that moment.
Later I went on to play Merlin in a community theater production of Camelot and nearly got blown up by a special effect. I said an unfortunate word, which the microphone I was wearing picked up and delivered clearly to the audience. That word was NOT in the original Lehrner and Lowe script. The Cleburne Times Review entertainment writer who was there that night was overheard to say, "Was that in the script?"
It is the moment my wife likes to remind me of whenever I get the acting bug and start talking about doing community theater again.
Ah, well. At my age, one must be content with past glories.
© 2014 by Tom King