Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Dear Connie, part 1

Dear Connie, you asked me to send you some details of my life up to now. All right, a bit scary, but every day I do not get started, the bigger it gets to be. So, here is a needle in the balloon and (pop) we begin.

It's all Mr. Carsten's fault. I had auditioned for a play in High School on a lark. I was neither good nor memorable. I read from the script and simply giggled at being up on a stage. What a funny thing this acting business was. The next day, I saw the theatre director in the hall and thought I would confuse him by addressing him. He would certainly not remember who this dumpy Sophomore was. "Hello, Mr. Carstens" I called out. It was met with an instantaneous "Hi, Greg".
He remembered me. As much as any shy, pear-shaped, sex-hungry and what would I do with it if I got it mid pubescent boy could be, I fell in love with the man and, had he been a Chemistry teacher, I would be working for Dow right now.
But, he being the Drama Director, had me in his classes, as many as I could, for the rest of my High School tenure.
I was not great shakes as an actor. I was very interested in the culture of the Theatre, the people, the work, how it changed the people in it and the people who watched it. It was a magic, and I wanted to understand the mystery of it.
I was still in music (Band and Choir) and enjoyed that, but it was the Theatre that amazed me.
I wrote some silly things (a hippie version of the Mechanical scene from Midsummer's Night's Dream for one) and bounced around doing tech, chorus and a few larger roles. When graduation came, Mr. Carstens gave me an award as "Best All Around in Theatre". It could have been an Oscar and it would not have meant more. I think he might have created the award for me, since I certainly did not merit Best Actor, or Best of anything in particular. But "All Around" suited me just fine.
I spent the summer at my Brother's farm in South Dakota. I broke my hand falling from a Motorcycle (I was not very coordinated, then or now... I just learned a few more tricks in later years to try and keep my feet.) I was in a summer stock play, had a real girl-friend (my brother gave me much good advice for this, as I was a complete geek at it). I came back home and started college at LBCC in the Fall of 1973.
In November, my Father died.
Since I was born, I had never been without him. He changed his piano teaching schedule so he would be home when I was home. He took me with him to his lessons. I had him, I had his music, always. Pauline (my Mom) worked outside the home, my Brother David was in High School and my Sister Susan was off in Monmoth at College... then the Marines, then married and moved to Maine. David went into the Air Force and Viet Nam (just in time for the Tet Offensive). My family (what was left in Albany) was very close. David came home but moved to South Dakota to farm with his Wife's family. So now, it was Mom and I. We were always close anyway, but of course more so now. Later on the night Harry died, Pauline and I were talking about who we should tell. Harry, many years before, told me that he and Pauline had talked about it and had decided that i should know that he had been married previously. It had not lasted long, but I should know. "Cool, Dad. Thanks". We never mentioned it again. So, I mentioned it to Pauline, that we should tell his former Wife. Mom's eyes grew large. "How did you find out about that?" They had never talked about it. Mom and both laughed. How perfect. Dad's romanticism at its best. It just sounded better that they had talked about it, I guess. So much for presentation as reality.
So, I am in college, in Theatre and Music. Only I don't have any more music being played hours a day. I took up guitar and put all my frustration and hurt into it. I played for hours every day. My fingers literally bled, but I got very good very fast. It helped. I got better as an actor, had more lead or major parts. Went for the summer to Emporia Kansas to be in a rapid-fire summer stock company (I think we did 6 shows in 7 weeks). Reality hit in that I did not get very good parts. I mostly did tech. Back for another year. More plays, more performing. Then, I had to decide on the real College. I was accepted at Eastern Washington and at the University of Utah. Mr. Carstens recommended EWU, my LBCC Director liked UoU. I chose EWU. If I had gone to UoU, the Internet was being developed there (it was one of the major Arpanet Hubs) and there was great involvement in info. technology, as well as the arts. I headed to Cheney, WA instead. Great Tech Department. I did OK (BA, cum laude). I married, moved to Seattle, and struggled to establish myself as a performer in Seattle. Little Fish, BIG pond. I worked in Community Theatre, street performing and, with my wife, got along OK. Although, I had no plan for really supporting myself or really developing my skills. I was an artist and didn't need practical things like health insurance and savings accounts. "Youth is wasted on the young" sayeth GB Shaw. George, how right you are.

At EWU, I had gotten involved in Dance. My body shape changed from that of a Pear to that of a small dancer. In Seattle, I helped start a small dance company, a children's theatre company and a regular theatre company. I also found an historical re-enactment group I fell in love with. I toured with the Missoula Children's Theatre with my wife for a season (Fall of 81-Spring of 82) 90,000 miles, something like 40 different productions of "Snow White" teaching the parts to the kids of the towns we went to. Children's Theatre is an essential element of an actor's training, although the UW disagreed. When we returned, the UW discontinued that program, although we were there to protest the decision.
While on the tour, teaching classes on Theatre, rehearsing the play, the teachers found out I had a passing interest in the Middle Ages and asked if I could teach a class on it. I told them I had very little information, almost no props, and they assured me that whatEVER I had was more than they did. I did some, they loved it, the students loved it and I, a hungry soon-to-be-out-of-work actor saw a way to make some part of a living.

Upon returning to Seattle, I worked with many Seattle theatrical groups: Brass Ring, The Seattle Children's Theatre, Civic Light Opera... some small parts, some tech. The historical group was taking more of my interest, and they did educational demonstrations. I, having no real job, soon was assigned the responsibility of handling the school demonstrations. I reorganized them, gave them outlines, bought props, advertised and charged money for them. The company grew so large (going from 5 or so demonstrations a year to 30 and more) the parent non-profit asked us to become separate to save on their paperwork. "A Knight's Tour" was born (www.InteractiveHistory.net). Pauline passed away in 1994. I, an orphan now (technically) became even closer to my remaining family.

This is what I have been working on since 1981, developing the programs, establishing the reputation of this resource. I also got some real jobs. The UW hired me (not as an acting assistant, but as a bus driver) in 1989. I am still there with enough seniority to get time off to do the demonstrations. Another long time (on and off) employer is Hardwick & Sons, Inc. the coolest hardware store in the world. This latest stint with them they agreed to sponsor me in a new idea: "Benjamin Franklin - Innovative American".
I got interested in Chautauqua presentations from seeing Clay Jenkinson do Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis and other people. The style of acting/historical presentation fascinated me. A Knight's Tour, now run by my new wife (since 1995) Cym (pronounced 'kim') became The Interactive History Company and did programs from Ancient Mediterranean, Medieval, Renaissance England, Colonial and Civil War America. I asked Mr. Jenkinson once why no one was doing Benjamin Franklin. He looked at me and said "You should. You should do him". Ah, he remembered my name it seems. Mr. Carstens came back to me in the form of this new teacher. Mr. Jenkinson, this is all your fault.
Benjamin Franklin now allowed me to act, do research, learn a vast amount about an important time and be able to bring the wisdom of this very current influence to the masses. It seems I have found a career in the Arts.

At the time, my life was still out of order (debts were mounting, my career as an artist flagging). I wanted to see if, by applying the life lessons of Dr. Franklin to my self, if they would improve my life. Through various contacts, i set a date for a performance at a school. It came off, and my new career was born. That was three years ago. Things are still less than what I would like, but we own a home now (no longer renting) and I was recently selected as the Keynote speaker (as Dr. Franklin) at an educator's conference and have performances scheduled around the Puget Sound (see Weblog for performances below). Also, a recent fund drive for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, my connections bring in over $3,000.00 for the cause. And that is where we are. Ben, the UW, Hardwick's, fundraising, community improvement, poetry, working on writing a fw stories, books, plays and working with my Wife on the development of her Interactive History Co. I also have a step-daughter, Emily (in College at Central Washington University). Cym and I sing together, as well. We won a 1 CD production and promotion contract with Arwen Dell Records in Portland. We are coming down to record it in late April.

The future looks brighter. I may yet pull off something like success.

More anon, hugs, GregRobin.
Help fight Leukemia, see my Big Climb web site.

"Benjamin Franklin - Innovative American"
Providing performances benefiting non-profits.
For upcoming performances, browse
Sponsored by Hardwick & Sons, Inc.

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