Sunday, November 6, 2016

How Do You Get to Philadelphia? Practice!

When people ask Steve and I how we ended up in Philadelphia, Steve’s stock reply is: “We ran out of gas here.” Which sounds, on reflection, like we just settled for Philly, when the reality is a bit different. We may not have explicitly chosen the City of Brotherly Love, but it chose us.

You have to understand, as a native New Yorker I had never been to Philadelphia. It is easy to bypass the region entirely en route to the Jersey shore, which for years was my solitary “southern” destination. Oh, I had heard about the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin in history class, but that was about the size of it. And after our family began our years of nomadic wandering (read: wherever the sales jobs were for my dad), we just seemed to move farther and farther away from the Land of the Cheesesteak.

But suddenly it all changed. In early 1979, we got a (to us) fabulous theatre gig—touring the Northeast doing children’s theatre in schools. We’d been hired after unified auditions in Atlanta, where directors from all over came to scout talent. I had scored well with a comedy piece I wrote (the premise? I was accepting an award for my fictitious one woman show, “Calvin Coolidge Tonight!”) Our new boss, a Philadelphia based company called Antrim Bureau, promised us the oh-so-tempting carrot of $15 per performance, out of which would come all our travel expenses. Yippee!!

Tin Man and Dorothy! Why do we look exactly the same?

And so for the next 18 months we toured schools in six states, armed with only a trunk of props and costumes, and foolish optimism. We premiered in frigid Ticonderoga, NY in late January and it was downhill from there…car troubles, nightmare motels, desperate searches for AM coffee on the road. By May of 1980 we had, truly, had it.

We happened to be performing in the Philly suburbs, and one weekend we explored the city that I had always heard painted only in the most negative colors. Our cruise down Kelly Drive was a revelation. It was gorgeous, like a European boulevard! Schuylkill River scullers! Majestic bridges! Maybe we could settle down here! Temporarily, of course. We would use Philly as a jumping off place for regular train trips into Manhattan, where Broadway fame was thisclose.

That was 36 years ago. Our forays into NYC were few and unsuccessful. We decided to birth our own children’s theatre company, and gradually built it into a living (enough to support five children). Now, thanks 100% to my wonderful husband (I jumped ship years ago) Family Stages remains a real player on the Philadelphia theatre scene, with many of our “alums” going on to significant careers. 

Proud of you Dave! Do you remember touring with me in "Columbus Day Sail" circa  1992??

There are days when I still wake up and wonder what the heck I am doing here. But I am a believer in God, and fate, and think both of those were in play way back in spring of 1980, when a young couple took a detour that changed the course of (their) history.

PS Thanks for the idea for today’s post, Ruth Weisberg!

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