“And all the men and women merely players,” says Jacques in his monologue to Duke Senior in Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy As You Like It, Act ll, Scene Vll. The inference here is that one can look at life as a drama acted out on a stage in a theatre. Who can argue with this? While it is a fact that the “script” for our lives as a drama is constantly being revised or in some cases completely re-written, we all “perform” in our own way on a rather large communal stage. For many of us, this will be the only stage we perform on, while others will have the opportunity to occupy a different stage from the one that their lives are playing out on. I have always had nothing but the utmost respect for those that are able to put on a costume, memorize lines, and then walk out onto a stage and be someone else for the sole purpose of entertaining others. It is not something that I ever imagined myself doing, but like I said above, one’s life script is always being revised!
It was the spring of 1987 and I’d been living in Vancouver, B.C. for four years. I had gone back to school after about a 17-year hiatus to get my B.A. and was just finishing up my 2nd full year of study when a friend of mine from one of my English classes asked me what my plans were for the summer. I didn’t really have any, other than knowing I needed to make some money, which is when she asked me if I wanted to work at a bakery in a small town (Tofino) on Vancouver Island. I said: “Sure.” Just in case you want to keep track, that’s revision #1! My friend made all the arrangements with the owner (her friend), vouched for me, and just like that I was hired to work for June, July, and August. At the time my only transportation was a motorcycle and a mountain bike, so I decided a little adventure was in order. I packed the bicycle paniers, loaded the bike with my tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear, etc., and I was on my way. Three days and 175 miles later (actually 132 miles riding and 43 miles on a ferry) I walked into the bakery and introduced myself to the owner!
For the first few days I learned how to bake bread and assorted other bakery items and learned that I would be spelling off the full-time bread baker two nights a week, working solo from midnight to 6 AM, and then two-day shifts with the rest of the staff making all the rest a bakery has to offer. On my first day shift, a guy walked into the shop, came right up to me, and said: “Hi, I’m Gary. You’re the new guy, right?” Before I could answer, although I had a sneaking suspicion that he already knew the answer, he said: “How would you like to be in a play?” I said: “Sure.” Revision #2! Gary, as it turns out, started the small Tofino community theatre in 1984 and pretty much did everything that needed to be done to run a theatre, including being on stage and directing. And this being a very small town (around 1,500 souls at the time), he was always looking for new talent to stage his productions. Well, it’s one way to end up on that other stage!
The play in question was titled “Knucklebones,” a screwball, romantic comedy and I had a small but pivotal part as a semi-retired magician. The play was to run for six weeks with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. The total cast was four: Mary, Gary, Lynn, and me. Rehearsals started and everything was going well, except for the fact that I was supposed to be playing the part of someone in their late sixties, and at 36 years-old, at least in my mind, I did not sound old! I mentioned this to Gary, and he just shrugged it off and told me not to worry. I worried! A week before opening night, I mentioned to Gary again that I was not feeling this. He took me aside and asked me if I could talk like one of my grandfathers. The only grandfather I knew growing up was my Dad’s father, who immigrated from the Ukraine to Montreal in the early 1900s and had a rather heavy Russian/Yiddish accent. I smiled and said to Gary: “Of course I can talk like him” (in that very accent), and he said: “Problem solved.”
I found being on “stage” the most humbling thing I have ever done. I did the entire run of six weeks and 18 performances, channeling my grandfather who had recently passed away. The full beard I had at the time was colored gray and I walked around the stage slightly hunched over and shuffling my feet – I had become my grandfather! The tradition in this town after a final performance was for a huge party at someone’s house with the entire cast and many of the locals who always came to the first and final performances of any play staged. I made a quick run home to change and decided that I’d had enough of the beard, especially in its gray state, so I shaved it off before going to the party. I was there for at least an hour before someone said: “Where’s Irwin?” Nobody recognized me without the beard!
Los Angeles 2022