On Being a Dad Who Appreciates Applause

King from FB
Courtesy of Facebook

Guest blog by Clayton King

I’m relatively new to Columbia theatre, but not new to Columbia – at least not anymore. Having called our state capitol home for almost seven years now, I’ve seen productions at pretty much every theatre in town. You might say I’m a rabid theatre goer, or more specifically, I was until I once again found my roots and got back on the stage a year ago.

As a child growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast on a little island called Galveston, I enjoyed performing. I was blessed to have grown up in a musical family and blessed with a musical prodigy for a mother. A love of music and theatre was instilled in me, literally from birth. In elementary school I was a ham; in high school, I decided I wanted to perform for a living. In college I pursued that objective. Then life took me in a different direction and I was absent from the stage for over three decades. While I made it a habit to see live theatre as often as possible, I realized the spotlight wasn’t what I missed. It was the people…

I don’t have children of my own, but having been past the 50-year mile stone for a few years, I look back and realize the role of Gomez is not my first stint at being a dad on stage. I had a couple of stints in college and one or two paid gigs where I explored the idea of fatherhood. But it is the first time I’ve understood being the head of the family-in this case, The Addams Family. What I’ve come to understand, though, is that only now do I have the years under my belt to better understand what that means.

I’ve joked about reading in the Town Theatre Newsletter, The Intermission, the write up about the show, and seeing the words “at the helm is Clayton King.” When I expressed my shock at reading those words, I received a message from the theatre apologizing if I was offended. My quick assurances were that, quite to the contrary, I was humbled. Humbled and a little bit afraid, actually. I’m the father – the head of the household and my brain generally doesn’t work that way. I think in terms of the group – the people, the show, the whole effort.

So why does any of this matter?

Well, anyone who performs in any capacity will tell you applause is gratifying. Those same performers would be lying if they said applause doesn’t matter – it does. But the applause is affirmation of a production, and productions require hard work from everyone involved – the production family.

As a business owner and active church singer, I’ve been asked during the last year how (or why) I devote so much time and energy to theatre. On the assumption my outgoing personality seeks attention, most believe it is because I seek the limelight. While that is partially correct, it doesn’t begin to cover it all.

Theatre is a collaboration of an amazing order. Yes, performers must memorize lines and learn songs, and find ways to naturally bridge the two. But there are many people who work together to make the magic of theatre happen.

Gomez and Morticia tango. Photo credit: Helen Hood Porth.

There are those people in black – the crew – who make scenery appear and disappear. Generally speaking, there are far fewer of them than cast members, so their work is exponentially harder! There are musicians and musical directors who must learn the entire score and work with individual cast members and the entire company to learn and fine tune the work. Costumers are tasked with creating the very clothes we wear, and helping performers bring their characters to life. There are scenic designers who construct sets, and sometimes rebuild sets, to accommodate specific needs in the show. Lighting designers develop and enhance a production look by (literally) casting it in a certain light. And, ultimately, the director of a show leads everyone in a single direction to accomplish the goal of a successful show. This poor soul actually has to be the bridge between actors, producers, administrators, and more to bring forth a specific vision. Harmony is the best word I can think of to describe that goal.

So yes, I’m currently the father, at the helm of The Addams family. I am privileged to share the stage with some amazingly talented people. I walk on sets and under lights that compliment what I’m doing. To be honest, I’m surrounded by people who make me look good. And hopefully, I am able to respond in kind. But ultimately, for me at least, it’s the collaboration and the sense of accomplishment where my satisfaction is derived. It’s the discipline of rehearsing for months. It’s the joy of having struggled with a line or a lyric and then getting a high-five from a cast mate when you conquer the challenge.  And most of all, it’s the sense of family. Let’s be real for a moment; when you spend two or three months with a group of people, you’re family. You fight, you laugh, you hug, you cry, then, usually, you laugh again and bask in the satisfaction of knowing you all made it through to opening night.

The Addams Family has been this kind of experience for me. I am thankful my Town Theatre debut was one where I got to be the dad. And if audiences are moved to applaud, that’s all the better.