Our fate changes almost daily. New roads, new pathways open up to us, but sometimes selecting a path that could well be inconsequential makes the largest difference in your life. Your marriage partner, the friends you make, the city or even the neighborhood where you live, the organizations you join, the movements you support, or even just what you like to do in your spare time alter who you are and where you’re going.
One of my major fateful events was choosing acting as a class in my junior year at Clover Park High School in Lakewood. I had already taken a speech class by Virginia Heidbreder and I enjoyed the class and the teacher. Mrs. Heidbreder was the drama teacher and the director of the school plays. The die was cast.
I joined the drama club Thespians. At the first after school meeting our program was a teacher from Clover Park Vocational School. He spoke about the class: Studio Skills. I had wanted to go out for football, but my dad, a product of the Great Depression, said, “No.” He wanted me to help at our motel in Ponders Corner. He thought football was frivolous. He had no problem with education, however, so I signed up for Studio Skills which I attended every afternoon from three to five for the rest of my school year.
At Studio Skills I learned camera work, floor directing, switching (going from one camera to another), and various aspects of television production. I had a new friend, Dave, who had his own afternoon radio show; he and I would listen to records and sometimes I would be a special guest on his program.
I took beginning acting and then the advanced class. In the advanced class, there were only four boys: Ron Trimble, Ron Komp, Ken Armitage, and me. Mostly the students could choose various scenes to play for an exersize. In my mind I see us acting, but it was probably staged readings. There were possibly eighteen to twenty girls in class and only four boys, so the boys were constantly in demand. This is one of the reasons I hate the play, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. The scene was usually the one with mother and daughter and a gentleman caller. I don’t know how many times I played the gentleman caller.
In the club photo, there are three people that stand out in my high school memories. One is Candy Chetnik; I saved a seat on the school bus for her every single day when I was a sophomore. She was a grade above me and I was too shy to ask her on a date. Two is Sally Dennewith. I would guess that almost every boy at Clover Park lusted after Sally. We had a math class together and sat at the same table . . . embarrassingly close. When Sally’s friend, who sat at the table behind us, asked about the closeness, Sally said, “We’re getting married.” Sally was talented and later performed in Vegas singing and dancing. Her younger sister, Debbie, is one of our dearest friends. Three is Ken Armitage. Ken was a senior, as were the other two males in the class.
Beside introducing me to Bobby Dylan and blackberry wine Ken was always fun to be around. He played Horace Vandergelder in the senior class play, The Matchmaker. As part of curriculum in advanced acting we each had to write a one act play. Mine was too serious, Ken’s was a farce (that’s a good thing). Ken’s play was selected to be performed. I think the production was in the basement of the Lakewood Terrance where I had performed twice before for my piano recitals. The play went over well. The following year I played the Humphrey Bogart part in my senior class production of My Three Angels. I also wrote a skit for the Thespian Assembly, which my acting friends and I performed. Later we were asked to entertain two or three women’s groups after graduation.
Ken joined the U.S. Air Force after graduation and joined me the following year in a daily trek to Bremerton and Olympic College when my grades didn’t make the cut for admittance to Pacific Lutheran University. I had great letters of recommendation from Mrs. Heidbreder and Mr. Bayne, my concert band and orchestra teacher. My top grades in Studio Skills didn’t show. They were lost in a fire that burned most of the vocational school. With another friend we took turns driving the commute to Bremerton. At Olympic, although I was a business major, I took a class in Theatre Speech. I would rehearse my lines with Ken on the drive to and from Bremerton.
In August of 1965, I along two of my best friends from Clover Park, Rich Christensen and Larry Miki were sitting in the dunes at Ocean Shores. They were both attending the University of Puget Sound. They asked “Why don’t you join us at UPS?” I did. By the end of the first quarter they had both dropped out. Soon I switched from Business to Fine Art (painting and drawing) and at the last school dance in May of 1966 I met Peggy Harrington. Peggy and I talked about books, music, films, art, and theatre. Six months later we were married.
My cousin Lindy (now Lavinia Hart) abandoned her elementary school teaching career and concentrated on acting. She was an early member of The Empty Space Theatre in Seattle. Peg and I loved their productions and even took our kids to see School for Clowns (which they loved!). We took them to various productions like the quirky One Reel Vaudeville Show in Seattle, and Tacoma Actors Guild (Diamond Studs for one). Lindy landed some nice TV commercials and then moved to Detroit where she founded and ran The Attic Theatre as artistic director for over twenty years before taking a position at Wayne State University teaching drama and directing. Her daughter Jaime Moyer has been with Second City, on a ton of national sitcoms, does occasional stand-up and loves writing and voice-over work. Lindy has retired from Wayne State and is in the process of returning to the Tacoma area. We were always like brother and sister – our mothers were identical twins.
Peg and I were season ticket holders at Tacoma Little Theatre in the 1970s and then season ticket holders with the Tacoma Actors Guild along with two of Peg’s sisters and a long-time family friend and neighbor Bobby Rogers. After each production we would visit Bimbo’s for dinner and discussion of the latest play. I was a board member in a small theatre group at Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square and then TAG in the early 1990s. Peg and I have been writing play reviews from Seattle to Portland ever since. Some of our favorite theaters are ACT, Theater Shmeater, Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Seattle Rep, Seattle Children’s Theater (where we took our young grandchildren), CenterStage in Federal Way, Harlequin Productions in Olympia, Tacoma Little Theatre, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, and Lakewood Playhouse.
My friend Rich died in his early 40s. Ken ended up in Pensacola, Florida. He is the president-elect of the Panhandle Community Theatre and still acting. Peggy and I are still married and have a video production/marketing business. We have three children, twelve grandchildren, and one great granddaughter born just this month. We haven’t held or even seen her in person yet. We still take grandkids to local productions as often as we can.
It’s so nice to see local actors appearing at different regional theaters. The young actors’ workshops run by TLT, TMP, and Lakewood Institute of Theatre are amazing. They not only let young actors learn about acting, but also give them confidence to try out for a world of fun, both on the stage and off it. We love how live theater reaches out and connects with the spectators.
“There is a kind of invisible thread between the actor and the audience, and when it’s there it’s stunning, and there is nothing to match that.” – Maggie Smith