Last Saturday we held our anual apprentice welcoming fire pite behind the theatre. It was a joy to see the Flat Rock Family welcoming 20 new members (14 apprentices this summer and 6 new interns.) As I took in all the new faces it struck me that this tradition, or at least traditions like it, have been happening for almost 50 years. Its hard to imagine what it might have been like ten, twenty, or even thirty years before I was born.
Dennis Maulden was an Apprentice in ’67 and ’68 at the playhouse. He has had the opportunity to witness hundreds of young performers, technicians, and dancers grow up through the Flat Rock Playhouse apprentice program, after he had some life affirming moments as a young apprentice. Here’s what he has to say:
Apprenticeships are full of adventure. Some adventures should be predictors of ones success (or lack of it) in the professional world. I’m glad the “powers that be” as my father would call them could see past some of my particular gaffes. In 1967, there was no rehearsal hall. The floorplans were taped or chalked out on the cement floor of the small lobby space in the back of the theatre. Also, there were no convenient coffee makers. I didn’t even drink coffee. I had never made it. But as a Production Assistant (my duty for a particular show), one of my duties was to make coffee in a large coffee urn backstage and then carry it through the theatre to a table in the lobby in time for the Equity break. Proud of myself for having met the challenge, I (tiny kid that I was) carried the large urn across the stage, down the steps to the aisle and proceeded to the lobby, electrical cord still plugged into the urn and trailing behind me. Somehow, as I maneuvered up the aisle, the cord got caught in the arm of a seat, yanking against the pot as I moved forward. The urn slipped from my grasp, the lid flew off, and coffee grounds and coffee flew into the air, soaking the floor with what might otherwise have been a soothing, warm beverage. Mortified, I froze in my tracks, not knowing whether to start cleaning, interrupt the rehearsal, or start making more coffee. Nobody made me feel bad. They laughed, but in the usual Flat Rock manner, they got me through it. When you bring kids (especially the ones who think of themselves as adults) onto the lot for an apprenticeship, you have to view them with a sense of humor, with a lot of humanity, and certainly with a strong sense of perspective. As an apprentice director, I never forget moments like that. They can be turning points in someone’s life.
Even in the old days, when the apprentices arrived, the lot assumed a youthful air. In the days of my apprenticeship, not only did we park cars but also we ushered, served free coffee at intermission, and cleaned the lot of coffee cups and cigarette butts after every show. It was a hard life! But we loved being here and experiencing the “real world” of professional theatre. I don’t think I knew much about the real world at that point in time – much less about professional theatre. I was just a little kid from a small town in North Carolina. My first night here, we apprentices were having dinner when one of the second-years asked another about her year in Spain. My heart sank. I had never lived outside North Carolina; I certainly had not been out of the country. Certain I would never fit in, I felt myself shrinking in my seat. But that was a great thing about this theatre. With each day, I grew more confident of my place in the apprentice ensemble. People liked me and cared about what I had to say. I’m not sure I had felt that so much before. There were lots of pivotal points in my life that summer, but sometimes the simplest of things spoke most of my feeling of acceptance – things like walking under an umbrella with fellow apprentice Carol Ann MacKenzie singing “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” from the then-popular musical, The Fantasticks.