While watching old movies, I often wonder if the actors who appear in them ever watch themselves on TCM. As they stroll down memory lane, what do they see in the flickering gray light of their former theatrical glory? Do they chuckle at their pratfalls, draw a deep breath remembering an uncomfortable costume, or wipe sweat due to a dropped line? Do they plunge deep into their memory, conjuring up the smell of the set’s fresh paint and sawdust on the floor, the twinkle in an actor’s eyes, or the sweaty warmth of his or her body? But most of all, do they enjoy what they see? Or is it like watching bittersweet phantoms from times long passed?
On dark, rainy nights, I, too, wander down memory lane. I recently watched a DVD of KNS’s 1990 production of Showboat directed by Kinard Fite at Biloxi’s lovely old Saenger Theater. It had been remastered from an eight-track tape; the results were, at best, a water-color memory. The mid-70’s to the mid-90’s were the salad days of my “theatrical glory.” I tread the boards many, many times in those years, the bulk of which—alas—is lost to memory. However, Showboat is one show that I didn’t have to dig too deeply to remember.
Sometimes watching one’s self on film can be a somewhat jolting experience. Speech patterns, mannerisms, body language, and the like can bring on the shivers. Why is your worst performance always the night that the show’s videoed? The night the most staging snafus occur? The night you have to check your program to reassure yourself that you’re performing in the right show? The Theater Muse’s do enjoy playing their little games…
Watching Showboat for the first time in almost 30 years was jolting, but delightfully so! Watching dear friends—much younger in those years—prance around the stage, flawlessly delivering every punch line, and dancing with ease brought smiles to my face and chuckles and giggles from my mouth! Seeing the lush, final product washed away all memories of the often-tedious dance and blocking rehearsals. But such is the world of theater. As I often say, it’s the attention to detail that sets one above mediocrity.
The grainy DVD was also filled with its own bittersweet phantoms. I’ve now lived long enough to see dear, old friends pass away. Keith Ballard, Ben Wimberly Jr., James Henry LeBatard, and Skip Wasnack have all been called Home. Keith and Ben were in the show. Skip videoed it, using then state-of-the-art technology. And dear James Henry can be heard laughing in the audience. Tears welled up in my eyes, remembering all the happy times we spent together.
Even though the Showboat DVD had its limitations, it did not limit my viewing enjoyment. I’m thankful that I have it because anytime I want to take a sentimental journey into days long gone, remember old friends both here and those gone Home, it’s there for my viewing pleasure. And for that, I’m thankful! Big hug.