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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Parlez Vous Salvation?

Last week I saw an excellent production of The Man of La Mancha performed by the Washington Shakespeare Theatre.  I can't seem to get it off my mind, not so much its stirring music and message as much as memories of how the musical once saved my life.

The Man of La Mancha was the first real theater production I ever saw when a broadway touring company came through Atlanta when I was a teenager.  I confess I don't remember much about it other than I saw it.  Its real impact came a few years later when I was in college.

I was a second quarter junior, English Literature, major on tract to become a high school teacher when my academic advisor said it was time I took a second course in French.  I had taken the first of two required courses as a freshman and had a miserable experience, making the first "D" ever in my life. I managed to avoid the second required course for two years, but time had caught up with me.  In additon to this, my life was in general lonely, listless, and without much direction.

The first day of French class was a nightmare.  The professor announced that English would not be allow in the classroom and then proceeded to interview each student with simple questions like "What is your name?" and  "Where are you from?"  I was terrified.

When it came my turn she asked, "Comment vous appelex-vous?"

I replied, "Andy (instead of Andre) Walton."

"En Francais, monsieur Walton."  She said.

I persisted, "Andy Walton."

"En Francais, monsieur Walton!"  This time sternly.

"Just go to the next person."  I said,  "I'll be dropping this class."

Then she broke into English herself, "Stay after class and talk with me, Mr. Walton."

Needless to say, I didn't.

As soon as the class ended I rushed out the door, fleeing French as fast as I could.  Desperately walking down the hallway, the first doorway I came to was the Department of Speech and Drama.  I walked in to find no one at the front desk.  But looking down the office hallway all the way at the end sat a man at a desk.  It was Dr. Clarence McCord, the departmant chair. I practically invited myself into his office and announced, "I need a major that doesn't require a second language."

Dr. McCord was kind, soft-spoken, and patient as he listened to my tale of woe.  Within a couple of hours he worked it out that I could become a Speech-Communication major with a minor in English Lit - without taking French!  Then he explained that this degree required I do practicum hours in addition to course work.  My choices were Radio and TV Broadcasting, Puppetry, Debate, or Theater,

I did a quick mental "rock, paper, scissors" and said arbitrarily, "Theater."

"Fine." He said.  "Go to McCroan Auditorium tonight and report to Dr. Robert West."

That night McCroan Auditorium was buzzing with excitement.  It was the first meeting/rehearsal of the cast and crew for the winter production of "The Man of La Mancha."

Dr. "Bob" West said I would work on the lighting crew and pointed me toward a guy I recognized from campus and always thought of a kind of strange.  It was Jim Goode, whose class project was "lighting designer" for the production.  As it turned out I ran the main lighting console for the production. The "strange" guy became a fast friend along with so many others in that production and all that followed in a successful theater career of 15 years.  I even met my wife and love of 40 years at an auditon!

Salvation comes to our lives in many ways.

I was reminded of this last week while listening to Don Quixote sing of impossible dreams and witnessing a lost Aldonza discover her "angel whispered name," Dulcinea.

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