You never know how you’re going to influence someone. Oftentimes, it happens when you don’t even know about it.
Saturday night, I went to see Pickerington Community Theatre’s production of 1776. If you’re not familiar with the show, it tells the story of the Continental Congress in 1776 and the writing and adoption of The Declaration of Independence. As you might imagine, it was very popular in the 1970’s, particularly in 1976, when America was celebrating its bicentennial.
It’s not performed as often now. It was never one of those blockbuster shows that everyone knows and loves like The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, or Wicked.
And despite the fact that much of the action takes place in a single room with the actors sitting in chairs, it’s a difficult show to stage for community theatres. Virtually all of the parts are played by men. There is a small, but significant role for John Adams’s wife, Abigail, and Martha Jefferson has what amounts to a cameo.
Otherwise, it’s all men, all the time, and theatre participation runs on a ratio of roughly two women to every one man. Thus, trying to find enough men to get up on stage wearing wigs and frilled collars is hard. Trying to find enough who can also sing and act is a monumental undertaking.
The musical retelling of the birth of our nation is therefore not in heavy rotation with amateur theatre companies.
I was at the show for two reasons. First, I’m directing PCT’s production of A Little Princess, a stage adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, this fall, and since this is my first time working with the company, I wanted to attend a current show to see how they work. I’ve been to a board meeting and met their principals, so I wanted to see them in action.
Secondly, I was in 1776 as a junior in high school. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school with a strong arts program, so it was not only possible but easy to put enough males onstage as the Founding Fathers. I was cast as Robert Livingston of New York — a minor role in the overall plot, but with a nice solo in the charming and amusing song, “But, Mr. Adams.” I thought it would be fun to see a show I had not seen in the 30 years since I’d been a part of it.
I contemplated auditioning for PCT’s production for both nostalgia’s sake and to make some new friends, but I was just too busy this summer to make it work.
After seeing the show on Saturday night, I wish I’d found a way.
If you’ve never been to a community theatre performance, most of them have a pre-show speech. The director or an executive from the organization comes out and gives you the rundown about no photography and the cast being available for meeting afterward. Often, they mention a fundraising effort, since they are universally nonprofit businesses.
PCT was no exception, and the director mentioned in his speech that he had loved 1776 since he first saw it as a little boy in 1985. I thought, Wow! That’s the same year I was in it in high school! What a coincidence.
Then he went on to say that the production he saw was in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His uncle played John Adams.
My heart stopped. Remember: 1776 is not performed very often. And, though my memory of everything that was happening while I was in high school is a little hazy, I am dead certain there were no other productions of 1776 running in my hometown in ’85.
I turned to my wife with my mouth hanging open. I told her who the director’s uncle was.
At intermission, I found the director, whom I’d met at the PCT board meeting and friended on Facebook shortly thereafter. I asked him his uncle’s name. When he told me what it was, I nodded.
“Dude, I was in that production of 1776 you saw,” I said.
We stood there speechless. Neither of us knew how to express our amazement. This trip down Memory Lane was suddenly very different.
How fun would it have been to actually have been in this production? What if I’d been cast as Livingston again? What if I’d been good enough to get Adams, especially since his uncle traveled to Ohio to see the show on opening night?
The what-ifs are almost more incredible than the actual circumstances. Almost.
I enjoyed 1776 a lot. It is a better show than I remembered. I delighted listening to “But, Mr. Adams.” I could still see my schoolmates up there onstage. It was a nice evening out.
But it was made more amazing by the revelation that we do live in a small world. Fate and circumstance brought two people who had never met back together.
You just don’t know how or where you’ll influence people. But if you’re lucky, you get to find out every now and then.