I have found my grail…

Justin with fellow sound board operator, Amanda Hines.

Guest blog by J.S. Lee

I have found my grail.

My earliest introduction to any form of onstage entertainment was through Phantom of the Opera. I was being driven by a neighbor to Vacation Bible School and he had just been to see it in New York. He had the music on … wait for it … a cassette tape. We listened to it every day for a week. I subsequently became the only kid in a small school to have fallen in love with this form of entertainment. Consider for a moment, being the kid where you’re already made fun of for the glasses and braces you just got (at the same time BTW), your outspoken love of Star Trek, a lack of understanding of ‘social norms’, and a myriad of other things. Then show up one day and talk about your love for something called Phantom of the Opera without the ability to articulate why you love it and see what happens. I was already a sensitive kid and cried about most things. Then one day a teacher said something to me that more or less informed who I’ve become. To paraphrase (because the original version was a little harsh), “Those people just want to upset you and you’re giving them what they want. Stop letting them and they’ll move on.”

Twenty years later I still find myself learning and growing from that one profoundly simple idea. I found myself, over time, embracing things that the ‘cool’ kids didn’t like. I unabashedly admitted to being weird and generally embraced that other people’s version of weird was my version of normal. Then something amazing happened. I found other people who shared these concepts. It was like a small slice of heaven to find out that I could be me and people would genuinely like being around me. Through this process, I forged friendships with people that would change my life even more. I started acting in plays in high school. I started a small theatre group with a good friend from high school. We produced our own plays, many of which were written by us. It was during this time that I started seeing video tapes of myself on stage and realized that I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing up there and recognized that acting was most definitely not my forte. Then our company got invited to be a group of people running a haunted house. From there, they allowed us to basically take over with concepts, story, design, acting, etc. Suddenly I was thrust into the technical side of things and recognized my love of being behind the scenes and my ability to handle the very specific stress of what that entails. Now, pair all that up with my side project of running lights and sound for a great friend of mine in a local band (my music/sound mentor) and blamo, here I am.

I worked a few shows here and there, but it was Harbison Theatre that gave me a chance to be the sound guy full time. I worked that road house for about 2 ½ years. I got to work with everyone from local theatres and organizations, various church groups, stand-up comics, and even a few international folks. I kept learning my craft (something I’ll never stop doing) and kept meeting more and more amazing people from all walks of life. All with different skill sets, talents, and ideas about life. Each of these people have had some impact on my life. After I left Harbison, something else amazing happened. And if you want to know what it is, you’ll have to read the next paragraph. Let’s all be honest, I get a little wordy and you may have given up by now, but I’ve basically been setting you up for the next part, so don’t crap out on me now.

One day, I get a phone call from a friend telling me that Danny Harrington is looking for a sound guy to do a show. I thought, “Sure, I’ve worked with Danny before, should be fun”. What I didn’t know was the whirlwind of crazy was about to occur. Town Theatre has a long and rich history. Walking into my first show I had the feeling of excitement, with a side of trepidation. I know enough theatre people to know that there’s a family element with Town and I didn’t know what to expect being the new guy. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to work more than one show. In fact, the only show I technically committed to was Spamalot. I told Danny that I would do what I could, but I’d do Spamalot even if my arm was off. The next thing I know, I’m rearranging my schedule to do every show Town could throw at me. Even the rentals. What I found since I’ve been there is exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for when I was a kid. The ability to come in and do what I love, be myself, work with incredibly talented people, and have some of the most fun I’ve had since my haunted house years. That trepidation I felt? It melted away immediately after working one show. That family I spoke of? I learned quickly that it’s a family with arms wide open. (You’re welcome for getting Creed stuck in your head now.)

The long and short of it is; I love what I do. I’m there early, I stay late. I love the challenge of not knowing what will happen from night to night with live theatre. I love basking in the crazy, different, wonderful group of people who I’ve come to love and respect. Instead of saying “I have to go to work”, I say “I get to go to work”. And I’ve come to very much love working through it with the people of Town Theatre. Every cast and crew I’ve worked with has been amazing. Working on this show has reminded me of why I love theatre so much. It really is a family. We bind together and bolster each other up no matter what happens. I’m honored to be a small cog in a giant wheel.

Thank you Town Theatre for reminding me of what my grail is.