I hate it when people age a whole lot better than I do. It sure seemed that way today. Had I been vain enough to care, I would not have had such a good time.
Today was a little lunch time reunion, impromptu, mostly for the small group of sketch actors and writers who worked together to start a little theatre company at a new church in Naperville, Illinois over 25 years ago. The group started with three of us as the nucleus — Mary Kay (writer/director, occasional actor), Bonnie, and yours truly. A lot of people credit us for helping to grow a group that spawned a large creative arts group that is flourishing in a church that now boasts over 5000 people in attendance each weekend. We were just having fun.. and we gave a lot of blood, sweat and tears while having that fun.
When we started our theater group, we performed sketches for every weekend service. Until our group grew in size, Bonnie and I were on stage almost every weekend. That is a lot of memorized lines, a ton of rehearsal time, and a lot of time spent at church. I was like a brother to Mary Kay and Bonnie, we did a lot together. Bonnie and I were constantly teasing each other.. like siblings do. She even took me to family get togethers, her family like my own. We shared a lot together. And seeing her today was real special to me. We picked up right where we left off some 10 years ago or more. As you might be able to tell from the picture, we were inseparable today. It was so much fun!
And it was great to see everyone. Lives had changed but everyone, honestly, really was the same. That made it so good. No pretentiousness. No one competing.. something that made our group so special 20 some years ago. There were a lot of people missing from our group, cogs who added something more when they joined. There was Thom, an advertising exec from New York who wrote some of the funniest scripts I have ever read or performed. Eric, a professional theatre producer who eventually joined staff at the church and who is an incredible talent. Anne Marie, who brought backstage experience and enthusiasm to our team. Vince, a fun geek with a gift for comedy. Gary, a humble savant who became one of my favorite actors to share the stage with — so much that scripts were written specifically for the both of us. The list of people could go on simply because we had a good thing going that made people want to be a part of it.
I could still feel that today as I shared with some of those friends. One of my favorite moments was when Mary Kay told about her favorite sketch, one she wrote for Gary and I — running characters that we performed many times after that first sketch. We were Vern and Elmer, two retired factory workers who hung out on the front porch and talked about the neighbors as they walked by. For the first sketch, Gary (Vern) learned to play the harmonica and played it as my gruff Elmer complained in patriotic snobbery as the young mini skirt clad school teacher who drove a ‘fer-in’ car walked by our porch. In later sketches, Bonnie and Mary Kay played our big butted wives, Vernetta and Clara. Honestly, it felt great to hear the appreciation for those characters that I enjoyed playing during what really was a magical time of my life.
Bonnie lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband now. Mary Kay is in Indiana, although she produces for a theatre company in Chicago, asked me if I would consider a role in a production (yes). Wayne and Regina live close by, as does Sara and Kristi. I am the only one still going to the church where we we started.
Reunions can be fun. I loved this one. I am going back to the first church I served after I graduated from college. That visit will be next Sunday. It has been thirty years since I have been there!