Life as a Poor Player

Dear Vicki Spaling:Piglet2

Thank you for your encouraging note. Maybe I was funny because I was SO NERVOUS! Glad you laughed all the same. Yeah, Kanga pulled me around A LOT!

Much love and delicious, crispy bacon, your friend, Piglet

My Casco Point buddy Dan Rogers had left town for airline pilot training in Seattle.

So I wrote to him on June 21, 1983: “I hate my job. I abhor every aspect of Mound, its prayer-perfect attitudes, its sports-minded parents, its make-a-buck mentality, its goody-two-shoes mothers and daughters … I think the problem is not with them, but with me: I’ve been here too long, learning too little; the end result becoming another hypocrite with a lot of words for everything and no real experience.”

Nearly a year after the British trip, things felt stale—again. “When will I get the new spark back into life?” the letter continues, “I had it last year just before and while I was in Britain. I thought, Life isn’t so bad, it really is kind of an adventure—and new faces became fresh and interesting, not drab and featureless. I really miss that.”

That June I confessed to Dan about life on the farm: “My mom’s in the hospital for tests, both physical and psychiatric, and she comes home tomorrow. I’ve been cooking for my Dad and Brian’s been working a lot lately.”

Bored working at the print shop, I auditioned for a community theater play. I needed to get out of the Family Project farmhouse—and away from Mom’s dark descent into We-Didn’t-Know-Where.

I’d acted once before, in Winnie the Pooh, back in junior high school. So here I was messing around with theater again.

It was a rough time. We didn’t know what was happening to us.


Player1“I joined up with the Indianhead Players,” begins a letter to Terry Hollingsworth on Oct. 21, 1983, “and was cast as Dr. Sanderson in the upcoming production of Harvey—you remember the film with Jimmy Stewart, about Elwood P. Dowd and his imaginary rabbit? That’s it!”

The Indianhead Players were the ad hoc acting troupe assembled under the auspices of the Westonka Community Theater board. Not sure how I first heard about them, but it was likely through The Laker, our town newspaper. Since there’s no journal for 1983, I’ve no record of Harvey outside of letters to friends, photos from the show (above left, below right), and a copy of the feature article in The Laker.

“I’m not sure of my acting ability,” the letter continues, “but it’s great to work at something with a group of people and enjoy it, too. There is something beautiful, magical, about the stage. There, everything is possible.”

Harvey would run for two weekends in November. That October we were in rehearsal, so I was probably leaving work early for dinner at home, then rushing to the community center, playscript in hand.

A month before, on Sept. 10, I wrote to Lindsay Clarke: “…my parents aren’t getting along well and my mother is going through that so-called ‘change of life’ that sends many husbands climbing the walls. She has turned into a bit of a manic depressive—sleeping all day, mumbling negative, pessimistic comments about everything, eating like a horse…it’s awful to see her growing old this way.”

Mom was only 48. Seven years younger than I am now.


Probably the most remarkable person I met in the Indianhead Players was an attorney named Tom LaCrosse.Player2

Mercurial and wickedly funny, he became a mentor and friend, and was an amazing actor to watch (pictured at right behind me in a skit we did months after Harvey). Tom never talked law. I think the man was an artist.

After rehearsal, late at night, we’d all huddle over a table in the back of the local American Legion Club, just down the street from the print shop. Karin Davis, who played “Veta Louise Simmons” in Harvey, an older, heavy-set woman who loved to laugh, often joined us, with others maybe tagging along. We’d close the place down most nights, drinking, laughing, telling stories and, well, feeling part of a new theater family. Between home and work angst, they saved my sanity.

At home, mumbling lines while cooking dinner for Dad and worrying about Mom, I wondered how I could leave a job and town I was starting to despise. I couldn’t wait for more post-rehearsal wit sessions at the Legion Hall.

And performance dates were looming.


PlayerFinalThen, it was showtime. And it was magical.

I still recall the behind-curtain glances, penlights clicked on and off before hearing cues and walking onstage. The hum of the audience behind the curtain—who was out there? Would they enjoy the play? What’s my next line again?

Harvey ran five performances: Friday, Nov. 11 (complete with opening night jitters), that Saturday evening, then the following Friday with two performances (a matinee and evening performance) that Saturday, Nov. 19. I’m sure we partied it up Saturday night at the Legion Hall.

To Lindsay Clarke, in a Dec. 12 letter:

“Actually the play was great fun and it kept me out of the house most nights of the week. After performances the players and sometimes friends in the audience met for snacks and drinks at a local restaurant and usually closed the place down. It was nice to get together with these new friends and their friends and chat and tell jokes. …Since the end of the play, I’ve been very bored and as soon as I’m on my feet again, I’ve got to get out of the house.

When you live with your parents as I do, getting out of the house at 24 years of age means a lot.”Piglet1



Hello Paul Nelson!

Great to hear from you! Thanks for your compliment on our show. It WAS a nice show, and the only show I’d been in—to date—but had a couple later shows that were nice, too—magical, even!

Yours truly, Piggly Wiggly Piglet

~ by completelyinthedark on March 6, 2015.

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