A merry old soul

When I was 22, I was an assistant director for the children’s play Old King Cole. After a rehearsal one night, the director asked me a personal question.

“Have you ever been in love, Connie?”

“Oh yes,” I lied. “I’ve been in love very much!”

He knew I was lying.

The reason Alfred asked had nothing to do with his concern for my love life. He was trying to figure out how to fix a silly scene between the king and queen.

“It lacks heart and emotion,” he said. “The kind you have from being in love! These actors don’t love anyone except the themselves!”

He shouted this as if from a mountaintop.

“Actors don’t know how to fight for anything other than their next role!”

As was his custom, he referenced a Shakespearean tragedy to further emphasize his point.

“They don’t know how to kill Caesar because they don’t know what it’s like to want to kill!”

He circled back.

“Connie, listen to me. Having a baby is like being in love!”

He explained to me that because he was a dad, a father, he knew he could kill if he had to protect his baby.

His “baby” was in her thirties. And the stakes weren’t that high in Old King Cole, but:

“That’s what I need to see in this scene!”

Alfred was erratic and hot-tempered but also gobs of fun to work with. He would laugh uproariously at every joke and innuendo, and weep and sigh with every dramatic turn. And at the end of every show, he would applaud and shout “Bravo!” and mean it because he meant everything.

But after a couple years of “paying my dues,” I started to look into into directing high school and community theatre, and stage managing professional theatre. The $200 stipends for three months of work just weren’t cutting it. One show he “forgot” to pay me so he gave me his used blue reclining chair instead.

“It’s worth a lot more than $200,” he said.

It wasn’t.

I was tired of being broke. He thought I was snobby and missing the whole point about theatre and life.

“You’ll regret it, Connie.”

I said goodbye. It was easy.

Ten years later, I was walking my dog and saw Alfred and his longtime partner Keith on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. I was elated to see them; so happy to introduce my dog Woody to them and share with them the good news that I was getting married in a few months.

“You finally fell in love.”

“Yeah, finally.”

We hugged goodbye. Later on, I told Jesse all about my days with Alfred and Keith. Jesse thought Alfred sounded like a jerk.

“Did you tell him you were a playwright?”

“No, it would have made him mad.”

It’s hard to understand, and I swear I don’t have Stockholm Syndrome, but Alfred was — and is — a source of inspiration to me. I didn’t always agree with his tactics (he once shouted at a child actor, “Play the scene like your daddy is dead!”), but also he taught me to respect the craft, trust the process and convincingly convey emotion.

In 2005, Jesse and I had our first baby and I learned that Alfred was correct: Having a baby is like falling in love.

Alfred died ten years ago. Even though it’s been a long time, it’s still not easy to say goodbye.

3 thoughts on “A merry old soul”

  1. This was an excellent variation on the usual inspirational subjects and very personal. Loved it and having been an amateur actor for some years I can totally relate to the type of director.

    Liked by 1 person

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