In 1981 my dad pulled our sky blue K car wagon into the Corrine gate at the naval base in Orlando, Florida. This would be our home. He served his final post here and then retired from the Navy and like that, we were done with moving.
I went to high school, joining the theater department to learn from local legend, Anne Derflinger. The first thing she said in her Intro To Theater Class was, “You don’t want to make this your career.” Instantly, I knew. I would make it my career.
I didn’t want to move anymore, so I stayed in Orlando for college, majoring in theater. During my four years at Rollins College I visited New York regularly to see how I would like it. It was the only option for a theater professional — I certainly could not stay in Orlando and have a career in the arts.
There wasn’t a professional theater. There weren’t acting jobs. If you sang and high-kicked you could audition for one of Disney World’s three musical shows or a maybe a Carnival cruise ship. I would need to find a city I could live in and make a living in.
Or, I could do what I ended up doing — devoting my entire to career to creating culture in my city, Orlando. It wasn’t noble, I just didn’t want to move. Somehow it seemed easier to build something than to find something.
I was part of every launch of every theater that might one day pay their actors . Orlando Theater Project, SAK Theater Comedy Lab, Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando Rep, the Orlando Fringe Festival. It sounds fancy but what it meant was scraping gum off donated chairs and scrubbing toilets in abandoned buildings (a funeral home, an office, a mall, a bar, three churches.)
In the early 90s two new theme parks opened with shows for comic actors. Lots of shows. Actors moved in to town and needed something to do artistically that wasn’t clock-in theater. After our shifts we created theater companies and made art for free, just to have somewhere to do it.
Here we are in 2020. An inconceivable number to this teenager in 1981. This month, I met a young man from a local high school who gave a presentation about the opportunities the five-year old performing arts center in Orlando offered him. He wants to be a professional stage manger and he’s being mentored by professionals at the Dr. Phillips Center. In Orlando. He spoke and I cried. I didn’t stop crying. All the stories floated in between me and his presentation. The Big Bang Bar on Orange Ave. where we put on a three-person apocalyptic drama. The rehearsals in my living room. The now defunct Navy Base that brought me here, turned into an arts-loving neighborhood. My own son, now performing in the many theaters in our town.
Looking too far ahead doesn’t help you do the task in front of you, especially when that task is sitting on the floor scraping gum. The only way to leave a legacy is to do the work of now. The work that you must do, you need to do for your own survival. For your own fulfillment.
Is it too dramatic to say that I cried realizing my life’s work was fulfilled in this young man? Probably, but then, I’m in the arts.
This piece appeared originally on my own blog Henryandhismom.com