An Old Passion (Well, Several, Actually)

Though it seems a strange thing for a person who spent a career as an engineer, I had a large interest in acting, once. In my high school, I was the first person (perhaps only?) to achieve the Honor grade, the top rank in the Thespian Society. In college I spent my free time in a number of ways new and exciting to me, but still left room for participating in acting. While inevitably the drama majors got the good parts, I at least had a chance to keep my hand in, to be around a theater and enjoy the excitement of meeting an audience. I even took a course in Theater Lighting - it turned out that they had a class quota of exactly one engineer!

As a cooperative work student, alternating semesters in industry and school, I joined a community theater in New York, where my job was. At first I crewed - I've found that at each post in the drama world, you have to 'pay your dues' and become known to the local stalwarts before you're thought reliable enough to entrust with a stage role of any size - but eventually I won the lead role of Donnie Dark in "Butterflies Are Free"... which was never performed, as the theater ran out of money!

At my first job after college, in northern Ohio, I joined a troupe at the Fine Arts Center in Willoughby. We did a lot of fun shows, like "Man of La Mancha," "Camelot," and "Oliver!."  

My bachelor apartment had a spare bedroom. It shouldn't be surprising that I used that room for my game table. The walk-in closet held my new darkroom. I had taken up photography during college and took a darkroom course in New York during one of my semesters there. (I even spent a year as a photographer for our daily newspaper, The Purdue Exponent.) 

I recently uncovered some old negatives from those days, including shots I'd taken during a dress rehearsal of "Oliver!" The passage of time has not been good to them; perhaps I didn't leave the film long enough in the fixing solution. But, no matter. PhotoShop can clean up a lot of problems. So here is one of the latest of my series of hand colorizations of B&W photos - the scene where Mr. Bumble shops Oliver around on the street because he eats too much. "Boy For Sale"

Postscript -
Working on this photo got me wondering about my old haunts. A little Google work turns up that the Fine Arts Center is still knocking audiences dead, and my friends, Jim & Louise Savage, the founders, are still around.

Sadly, I also discovered that my college co-op company, Nepera Chemical in Harriman, NY, closed down in 2005. Its parent company purchased its chief competitor in pyridine chemicals and decided it only needed to run one of them. I and my family stopped by Nepera in 2004 while on a trip to evaluate colleges for my daughter, and it was still humming then. Now, it's just an abandoned and overgrown industrial site.

Post-postscript -
My theater career ended when I transferred within my company (Diamond Shamrock Corp.) from Ohio to New Jersey. At my new position as an engineer in a pilot plant, I was expected to be available for 2nd & 3rd shift work when our production plans included ultraviolet-curing esters. We usually ran them for a continuous week, instead of shutting down each night, as normal. Without being able to guarantee evenings for rehearsals and performances, I bid an unhappy goodbye to community theater. I never took it up again.


  1. Hi, just tracked you down to say how much I loved your Librivox recording of Huckleberry Finn. I never read it as a kid and now I wish I had. Your performance was perfect and I loved every second of it.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. I appreciate the bon mots, Andrew!