Thursday, May 10, 2012

Oran "Doc" Teague (Always Acadia)

In a previous post I took you back to 1955 when I enjoyed a brief stint with WBRZ-TV just after it took to the air.

With this post we will go back even further, another 200 years to 1755. Well, not really. I was cast in a leading role in an original play commissioned by the state to commemorate the Acadian Bicentennial. Written by LSU’s Dr Clinton Bradford, the play was entitled ALWAYS ACADIA, dealing with the origin of Louisiana’s Acadian (Cajun) culture. The play depicted fictional characters who were part of the Great Acadian expulsion from Canada during the French and Indian War (a span of 8 years from 1755 through 1763).

My character was named Peter LeBlanc around whom the plot was structured. Sadly I no longer have that script, but this post is not about the script as much as it is about the logistics of producing and presenting this 3+ hour stage epic.

Many may remember the name, Oran Teague.  A member of the LSU Theater faculty “Doc” Teague was an extremely talented director and was one of the most likable and delightful theater people I had ever had the privilege of knowing and working with. Sadly Doc left us several years ago.  He had been a mentor to my long ago friend, Liz Cole (Elizabeth Ashley), a Baton Rougeon who bounded off to New York in 1957 and became an award-winning Broadway headliner. She even made the cover of Life Magazine as “Broadway’s Brightest and Newest”, but sadly that issue came out on November 22, 1963, the date of JFK’s assassination. Her big LIFE moment was upstaged by the assassination.

Anyhow, getting back to ALWAYS ACADIA, the state had budgeted $125,000 for construction of an amphitheater at the Evangeline State Park in St. Martinville. While the theater was under construction, we were in rehearsal at LSU … many hours of arduous, grueling and painstaking blocking, dancing, singing with a cast of probably more than 200, reminiscent of Jamie Wax’s and Paul Taranto’s EVANGELINE and PASSAGES productions of nearly 2 decades ago.   It was planned that the ALWAYS ACADIA production would run Fridays through Sundays for 4 weeks. Saturdays and Sundays would each include a matinee and a night performance. 

We opened in St. Martinville at the park's new ampitheater on a very cold, but sunny, early Saturday afternoon. We had a fairly attentive audience, though many “escaped” before the 3 hour production ended. The outdoor stage faced an audience that had no seating. People either had to provide their own seats or just sit on the ground. It was bitterly cold.

That first night as the play was approaching Intermission (about 2 hours in) I was on stage pouring out my soliloquy. Man was I into it.! It is now about 10 pm and grotesquely cold. As I was concluding the soliloquy, my eyes focused on an audience that, except for one SLEEPING couple, was no longer there. NO AUDIENCE. I was the only one on stage.  I stopped, peered out to an EMPTY “house”, then looked over into the right wing, saw Doc motioning “what’s the matter?” while I motioned for him to come out on stage.  He timidly peeked out, then, after surveying the situation, announced in his megaphone voice “THAT’S IT! WE’RE OUTTA HERE. LET’S LOAD UP AND GET THE HELL BACK TO BATON ROUGE.”

And that was it. We opened. We closed.

Doc had long been apprehensive about doing an outdoor production in mid-winter, but the rule-makers wanted an exact period match, which meant performing at that time.  Didn’t work. Too cold. Didn’t even get a review. But that night we all really enjoyed a raucous good time on the Greyhound buses as we returned to Baton Rouge …. never to utter another line of ALWAYS ACADIA.

The amphitheater is still there, but all the expenses borne by the production-- a waste except for some props and costumes that went into the LSU Theater inventory. But AA (ALWAYS ACADIA) was no more ….. nevermore, nowhere, no how, no stadia for ALWAYS ACADIA.

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