It’s 1978. I have the good fortune to be among the 23 college students selected to attend the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Center. It’s a semester long intensive training program in acting, design (costume and scenic) with a taste of playwriting, puppetry, dance and voice thrown in for good measure. Our day begins at 730 in the morning with movement class before breakfast. It ends at 9 PM with a two hour break in the afternoon.
The O’Neill is located at the very end of a long tree-lined road in New England Connecticut on the Connecticut sound. The property (which holds a large barn, a stable and a mansion) was designated to be burnt down as an exercise for the local fire department before George White swooped in and purchased it, turning it into an incubator for students during the school year and playwrights in the summertime. His vision is to bring in theatre students from around the country to train with active professionals. The days are very long. We spent pretty much every waking moment together. It’s heaven on earth! It is so intense, that you very rarely leave campus because of the workload. Besides, there is really nowhere to go…
The stress him is getting to me so I call my boyfriend, from the payphone one night. He has been through the program.
“I really miss you!”
“Gee, that sounds kind of needy to me hon…” He said.
“Really? (WTF!) Ok. Maybe we should break up. I’m not needy. I am worn out. But if you think I’m needy, then clearly you don’t know me very well. So let’s just call it a day!”
End of story! Well, that one anyway…
I hang up the phone and make a collect call home. Dad answers the phone.
“Hi dad.” I say, a little weepy.
“Hi honey. What’s the matter? How’s school?
“Then why are you crying??”
“I just broke up with Jeff.” I say, wailing into the phone.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?’ he asks gratuitously.
“I told him how much I miss him because I’m exhausted. He said I sounded needy.”
Dad is laughing now.
“Honey, this guy is a MOPE! Your mother and I didn’t like him.”
“You’re kidding! But you were so nice to him. I thought you liked him.”
“Are you kidding? What’s with the 12 foot long red scarf that he wears everywhere? Of course we didn’t tell you. That probably would’ve driven you further into his arms.”
They were right about the red scarf. He have even worn it during sex once! He put that thing on first thing in the morning and wore it most of the day. He has a very stentorian voice (dad’s word, not mine) and is a classical actor who is a little OCD about his throat. No. He isn’t gay.
In spite of this being the longest relationship I’d ever been in,(about nine months) I feel better now.
“The guy is a goof, honey! You sound tired. Get some rest. Your mom and I are looking forward to seeing the show in New York. As mom would say, “This too shall pass”.
He was right. It did.
At NTI, the mansion is home base for us. It houses the office, the library, guest bedrooms and the dining room. The stable acts as a dormitory. We sleep in rooms that were once horse stalls. The barn is a performance space with the upstairs devoted to dance and a makeshift television studio. The downstairs contains a classroom and a small theatre in the round .
Aside from an occasional flirtation, there is very little time for romance. In addition to which, we are together aaaaaallllllll the time. It’s hard to make a move without somebody knowing about it.Connecticut College is nearby and occasionally a student from there will finds him or herself on our tiny little campus for one reason or another.
I meet Craig (from Conn College) in the library. He’s a breath of fresh air! We flirt with one another and he comes back fairly frequently. Occasionally I sneak off to meet him at a secluded spot on the grounds. We decide that in order to do more than just play ‘Kissie face”, I have to be off-campus. He arranges to get a car and will pick me up the tomorrow night when everyone is working on their scene design projects.
I’m sitting in the dining room trying to figure out how I can complete my scene design project in time and still and see Craig, when the announcement is made that we will have a new guest instructor coming in that evening.
“Who is it?” We ask in anticipation of it being a celebrity.
“You’ll find out tonight. He will arrive around 730. ”.
“Come on! You can’t tell us?” We all plead.
“Nope. If you want to know, be at the mansion around 730 tonight.”
NOOOO! Rumors begin to fly as to who it is. Everyone is filled with anticipation…myself included. (Although my anticipation was of a different nature.)
Immediately after dinner, I race back to my room to brush my teeth and check my makeup. I hurry back to the library on the third floor of the mansion. 730 rolls around and there is a mass exodus of my mates to the first floor.
“Aren’t you coming?” Sally asks.
“No. I have some stuff to finish up.”
“But aren’t you curious?”
“Sure. But he’ll still be here tomorrow morning. I need to work on my project.” Well, it’s half true.
Unbeknownst to me, our guest is late and doesn’t arrive until shortly before eight. My date is at eight.
As I make my way down the staircase, someone calls out.
“Broulliard! Where are you going?” (Uh oh…) “Come here!”
I can’t help but notice my 22 classmates gathered around a four poster bed in a beautifully appointed, guest bedroom. Crap! I better stop. Luckily the school director is not in attendance.
“Come say ‘Hello’.”
At this point, I’m thinking with my vagina, which is a powerful distraction for me.
The sea of students parts in the doorway, when I spy Henry Winkler, aka “the Fonz” sitting on the bed with a beautiful redhead who has the thickest, most beautiful hair I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s Henry Winkler in jeans sitting on a bed in front of me! You could knock me over with a feather. “Happy Days” is wildly popular. My youngest brother is one of Henry’s biggest fans.
“Blossom meet Henry and his girlfriend, Stacy”
“Hi!” I don’t know what to say.
“Hello! Nice to meet you.” Henry replies feigning formality.
“So… you’re going to be working with us?” (How can I get out of here fast?)
“Yes. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Cool.” I look at Stacy. “You have the most beautiful red hair I have ever seen!” (I am a redhead. I became redhead on a drunken dare and have remained so. My hair is pixie short. Fred, NTI’s costume designer, told me he loves my color, but there needs to be more of it.)
“Come in and visit” he says gesturing for me to take a seat on the bed.
“Thank you. But I can’t”
“Where are you off to?”
“I’m going to get laid tonight and I can’t wait! He’s waiting for me outside. I’m sorry.”
Henry roared with laughter.
“Ok! Well have fun and I’ll see you tomorrow”
“Thanks! We don’t get out much around here. Thanks for understanding. I really like this guy and well…nice meeting you! Great hair Stacy!”
Like I said, when the vagina does the thinking, anything is possible.
If you’re curious to know more about the O’Neill, here is link. It was an amazing experience. One that I will always cherish and which occasionally fuels me when my confidence sags.
Other grads, include Jennifer Garner, Michale Emerson (He directed me in “Exit the King”), Jim Krasinski (“The office”)