the Head of the Humanities Department suggested I
should join the school's theater group startled me.
There is a tenuous threshold between acting a part
and being that part. It was my first year at Bucks
County Community College and I was still groping with
identity, still trying on "styles" that
were not me and did not suit me. I imitated the movie
heroes of adventure and the book heroes of
intellection, yet in reality I shunned adventure and
was never the equal of the intellectuals I admired.
Besides, I was shy, always afraid of being found out.
Even today, thirty years later, when I sit across
from the loan officer at the bank and receive
approval, I feel as if I just suckered the bank again
- they actually take me for an adult! It is difficult
to act grown-up and responsible. If I am not being
me, I am not on steady ground.
The school's theater group was rehearsing in The
Orangery, one of the stone outbuildings of the
original Tyler estate that had been converted into a
school. The Orangery is a block-shaped structure with
three tall Romanesque arches filled with French doors
facing west, a fourth such arch in the south-facing
wall. I had wangled an invitation to a rehearsal and
I arrived toting cameras. Thus began my short-lived
career as the college's theater photographer,
although I hardly appreciated it at the time. The
play was Euripides' The Bacchae.
It was a wonderful production, almost a ballet,
performed inside an intense spotlight and with no
set. The Orangery is a small and cramped space. Since
I was shooting without a flash, I had to push the
film. I was happy with the resulting black &
white images that came out of my darkroom.
In those days, my darkroom was the second bathroom in
my parents' home. I had to stuff towels in the window
to block out the streetlight, another towel running
along the gap under the door. Even then my parents
had to give me warning before turning on the hall
light, or using the adjacent master bathroom because
light seeped under the medicine cabinet. In that
unventilated cell I would work the entire night long,
giving up only when light leaked past my towels. I
was still a budding photographer in the early
seventies, but never an actor.
I brought my work back for the actors to see and my
prints were very much appreciated, but then it might
have had something more to do with an actor's vanity
than with my ability to compose the shots. Indeed,
the play's director basically composed the shots and
I merely documented them. Still, I wanted to grow the
work, taking more pictures to complete the essay, a
recording of the play's highlights from beginning to
end. Now that I knew the play and knew what would be
happening next, I was better prepared to capture many
of the shots I missed during the rehearsal. The
director agreed only if I could remain silent and
So I was there on the first night without having to
buy a ticket. The doorway in the east wall protruded
into the interior and I climbed atop it. From this
vantage point I could see over the heads of the
audience and had an excellent angle for shots. One of
the cameras I worked with that night was my friend's
Leica M3 rangefinder. It was a masterful little
camera with a silent shutter that allowed me to work
with complete liberty and without disrupting the
The outcome so impressed the actors, they purchased a
complete set of my photographic essay to present to
their director as a surprise gift. They favored me
with friendships and invited me to the party and
presentation. I never did get paid. Actors can be
surprisingly dismissive when you try to collect money
from them. Suddenly they couldn't even remember my
Fortunately, the Head of the Humanities Department
was at the party and was also taken with my
photographic essay. He ordered a second set for the
college's archives and for this I was paid, covering
my costs. But then he hired me to continue
photographing all the school's future plays.
I shot pictures of the next two - A Midsummer
Night's Dream, then Ionesco's The
Bald-Headed Soprano, and I was again the
"friend" of actors.
It was never the same. That is to say, I was never
able to duplicate the success I had with that first
play. The fault wasn't with the productions. The fact
is, I don't remember ever seeing A Midsummer
Night's Dream done better. There were a few
shots, but nothing I was willing to sell to the
school, or maybe I just don't remember those sales
anymore. It was a long time ago. The crushing blow
was when my friend had his Leica M3 stolen. I didn't
feel I could continue without having it to borrow.
Still, by this time I was in solid with the actors,
well, for a little while longer. I was invited to yet
another cast party. It was hosted by someone with a
house in the country. The night was warm as I rode
out to the rural address on my Honda DOHC 450
Roadster. When I arrived to the house, I found the
party out back, out of sight from the road. There was
a glowing swimming pool, a glittering island of light
in a dark night, and it was filled with naked actors.
They beckoned me to join.
Much of who I am is the result of first deciding who
I want to be, then trying to live up to that ideal. I
am always falling short of the mark. Still, it is an
inseparable blend, who I am and who I intend to be.
The two parts influence each other and run together,
and I cannot affect a change in one without affecting
a change in the other. To be caught acting would be a
I am in awe of the great actors who imbue their roles
with reality. Do they not become the characters they
play? Then how do they later separate themselves from
their characters? Will they not always be falling in
love with the playwright's assigned love interest?
Of course what you want to know is if I joined the
party in the pool. I did not. I was too shy then and
I am too shy now. I cannot be at ease with my body
the way actors are. Today I could decline honestly.
It would be easier because I have learned to live
authentically, which is to say more comfortable
living with who I am. But I was younger then and
invented a stupid excuse, an unconvincing lie about
not being able to take off my leather gloves because
of some injury done to the skin of my hand - some
nonsense like that. It was better than undressing and
risking rejection. Still, the hormones were raging
through my plumbing in those days. I rode the
motorcycle all night long sublimating desire.