Stripping My Identity

It started with a girl.  It always starts with a girl.

Amazed

Julia and Max in Amazed

In the summer between my 8th grade and freshman year of high school, my then girlfriend was in a community theater production of Gypsy. She asked if I wanted to help move the sets. Of course. This was prime opportunity to spend multiple evenings in a row with my girlfriend. Score. For whatever reason, the director asked me to say a line during a set change:  “Take it all off!”

That was my debut. My first appearance on stage was in the dark, moving a table, asking a beautiful woman to take her cloths off. Of course I was hooked. Little did I know what that actually meant.

Over the next four years, four very important, very patient individuals created a monster. John, Sue, Dave, and Maria took a leap. By high school graduation I was infected: theater had to be part of my life. But I went to college with a realistic attitude: theater was for fun, I was there to get a job. So I did nothing for a year. It was miserable. That summer, Dave and Maria took me back, gave me wings, and sent me away from the comfort of my home. I was performing up to 9 shows a day two and a half hours away and loving every single second of it.

Pajama Game

Pajama Game

Community theater was reintroduced to me in college, and it was there I met my savior: Carma. A costumer/college academic advisor, she found me, recruited me, changed me. She found a way to link all I loved into one pretty package. Reading, writing, theater, helping people. All these combined to create me, a high school drama teacher. I officially made the switch: finding my home in Ball State’s AC building, dividing my time between the theaters and the fourth floor.

Cam and Whitney in The Curious Savage

Cam and Whitney in The Curious Savage

I was not successful in college theater. I didn’t try very hard because I was too insecure, too scared. I had convinced myself that I could never measure up to these people I secretly idolized. I crossed the stage occasionally: never significant, never memorable. I eventually found comfort in the fringes of tech, where obsessive compulsive and perfectionist tendencies equal respect (but not notoriety). Though I existed next to my heroes, I never really felt at home. For the majority of the time I think my identity was Ric’s friend, not me.

Upon graduation, in a spontaneous conversation with my stage manager, Meggan, she suggested I ask her high school if I could take over the program. I knew this wasn’t the way you get a teaching job, but after roughly 15 interviews in Indiana, Ohio, California and Texas, I ended up right there, in her high school. It was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Laura in Exit the Body

Laura in Exit the Body

Marie was my partner in crime for the first 9 years.
As I sift through photographs, I am at a loss for words. Together we created magic out of masking tape, Goodwill treasures,  latex paint and late nights. We mounted production after production, choreographed dance after dance, and reused the same tired platforms and flats to build alternate worlds, transporting our audiences out of a cafeteria and into far off places. I continued for another 4 years without her, and though both Billy and TJ have been fantastic,  it just hasn’t quite been the same since she left.

So it is with a heavy, sentimental heart that I have decided to hang up my director hat at the end of this year.  After 13 years of working 60 hour weeks, and mounting 40 productions, I can officially say that the time has come.

Pippin

Jordan and Cameron in Pippin

There are things I will never forget:  Cool Ranch Doritos and Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper Jelly Beans, forgetting the time change and taking Dan home at 1:30 in the morning after hanging lights, a decorated tent and cast serenade after our 5 year anniversary remarriage ceremony, the dimmers catching fire, Senior circle and the breaking of the glass, wrestling mats on the stage, my daughter’s first steps, the lobster, locking up the Harry Potter books so people would stop reading, Game Time, and opening nights spent sitting on the filing cabinet in the back of the auditeria discussing with Marie the next one. I could list these all night.

But what I will never ever forget are the hundreds of students who changed my life. You gave my life worth. You made me feel like I was good at something. Often you were the only friends I had. You were, and still are, a huge part of my life.

That is what I fear most. Losing that.

Drew and Devi in Seussical

Drew and Devi in Seussical

I’m scared. I feel like I am stripping my identity. In this school, in this town, this is what I am known for. I can’t even go to the grocery store without running into a student or parent of the program. I’m afraid without that I will become forgettable. Or ineffective. But I have to do what is right.  That part is not much of an art for me anymore; it’s a job.  That is why I know it is time to go.  If you live in the world of theater, that completely makes sense to you.

So thank you. Thank you for being you, bringing your talents, your passion, your baggage with you ever single day. So many of you have so kindly told me about how much I changed your life. I want you all to know how much you changed mine too.

Once on This Island

Once on This Island

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A mid-thirties teacher-husband-father-director from Ohio... attempting to finally commit to writing.

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Posted in life reflections, teaching
4 comments on “Stripping My Identity
  1. Carma says:

    Thank you for the kind words. It was always a pleasure to “advise” my speech/theatre ed students. I continue to be in awe of what you guys do every day. You impact young lives in a positive way. Thank you!

  2. Dave Girton says:

    Thank you for your kind and generous words !

    Thank you for your kind and generous words !
    However , I believe all good gifts are given to us by God !!!! Our (Maria and I ) enabling you was simply giving you the opportunity to perform or hone your gift ! God has been so good to give us these gifts and allowing us to touch others lives ! Congratulations on touching so many ! It is a grand and glorious
    blessing !!!! The Bible says : when much is
    given , much is required ! ” You have done it well !!!!!

    You passed with flying colors ! I’m proud of YOU !

  3. overextended says:

    You two have taught me more than maybe any other people when it comes to work and work ethic: to be persistently positive, have a critical eye for detail, and to never settle for anything but the absolute best from the people working around you.

    There were hundreds of times you told us to do it again because it simply wasn’t good enough. Even though we thought it was you two were able to pull more out of us than even we thought we could do.

    I find myself striving for the same expectations, whether on the stage or in my classroom. And that is something about me that will never change.

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