Sticks Author: Steve
Let me tell you about my friend Chris M. After that, I’ll tell you why his intro to our performance last Friday at Playhouse On Park in West Hartford mattered.
Chris is a bit older than most of us. Older enough than me that I can remember my impressions about him from when I was as young as 11 or 12 and he was just hitting his 20s. Chris was the artistic and intellectual center for most of us and honestly probably still is. I know that I looked up to him during some crucial youth theater years. He was a performer. A magician who even as a young kid worked the craft, a clown, an actor and a director. He would teach us prat falls and stage direction. He directed me in my first and most significant role as a 7th grader when I got to be a noir detective with a rubber chicken billy club. A funny role. One that I’m sure is still talked about amongst the crowd of parents who got to see it. Remember the kid with the rubber chicken?!!! HE USED IT LIKE NUNCHUKS!
All of us in The Sticks grew up like that, doing theater every summer for 4 weeks, 5 weeks, 10 weeks. I’d do shows with Chris, now on his staff, and I felt important. He was making a living directing, doing magic – he is still a name in the better magic circles. All because he honestly worked the craft, over and over, again and again, not because he needed to, but because he had to. “You don’t choose your art, it chooses you,” he’d say and I’d feel unartistic because even though I liked to write, it didn’t hold me down and force me to type or think or imagine. I didn’t do it at all hours of the day and night. I didn’t force myself to relearn it all after an accident set me back. He did.
Chris always did these things because it was in him and it would poke out of him until he worked it, shaved it down, smoothed it.
So when Chris started talking about improv, I listened. Improv was always my favorite part of the theater experience. I loved the games and had been playing them since his father taught them to me in sixth grade. We all did. Over and over. Change a scene, add a scene. When Whose Line Is It Anyway came out on the BBC, we felt nerdily superior because WE KNEW ALL OF IT!
But two years ago when he brought it up, Chris was talking about something called The Harold. I barely knew what it was. He went off to New York a few times and learned, I read a bunch of books.
So The Sticks, we are all Chris.
Which is why his introduction to our show in West Hartford was for us as much as anything. It wasn’t an apology about our origins, our amateurishness, our approach.
It was a YAWP!
A burly, barbaric yawp 30 years building in our gullet.
He talked about how audacious it was to imagine teaching this thing to ourselves, but indicated that we had no choice! There are 12 people in The Sticks and 14 children spread among us. There are 4 married couples in The Sticks, 2 people dating and two people with husbands/wives not in the group. We can barely get enough babysitting from the town we live in to cover us to rehearse! And when we do get out, we bring lots of booze because it’s a night out no matter what is happening.
But we did it and it’s hard and The Harold makes us all its bitches, but we did it. My favorite part about it is working it over and over, turning each moment around, overanalyzing, trying again. He’s got us all in the mode of working it to be better.
I’ve known him now a long, long time and had so so so much fun and gin with him. I wasn’t sure where he was going with that intro, but I got it by the end. Yawp to you Chris!