Saturday, April 28, 2007

Moral Dilemma: Kellogg High School 1972

A few days ago, Pinehurst in my Dreams and I were reminiscing about our high school days at Kellogg High. We have our thirty-fifth reunion coming up, that includes the classes of 1970-73, and we seem to be warming up for the big days on July 20 and 21.

P-Dreams asked my if I had had a role in the KHS production of "Brigadoon" in the spring of 1972. I told her I did and that I would blog a story about it. It's a story I'll never forget and that helped me a lot to understand the adult world.

I had a very small role as a stage actor in "Brigadoon". I was a village guy named Stuart Dalrymple and had a very brief solo singing moment.

More important, I was also the production's stage manager. Students, under the direction of our art teacher, Mrs. Gunther, had done a lot of work painting flats that were mobile and were to be brought in and out at key times in the production to provide different backgrounds when the play's location changed.

I was given charge over a small group of guys. We worked on moving the flats as gracefully and noiselessly as possible and on being sure we knew which flats came in and out and what point in the play.

I was told I had a lot of responsibility.

A problem surfaced. I had qualified to compete at the Idaho state level in declamation in Radio Speaking. I had scored superiors at both district and regional. But, the state competition occurred on the same Saturday that we performed "Brigadoon".

The declamation advisor's name was Miss Lucille Parsons. Speech and declamation occupied her whole life. She frequently voiced her view that debate and declamation were regarded as inferior enterprises by the high school. She complained loudly about athletics. She felt drama and music were given more priority. This angered her and she was jealous.

At the time that I realized that I was committed to two things I couldn't do at the same time, Miss Parsons was not at school. Her mother was ill in southern Idaho. She was helping her mother. The state competition was being held in southern Idaho, so she was going to meet the state qualifiers at the meet.

When I realized that I was in a dilemma, when I realized that no matter what I decided to do, it was going to cause a combination of inconvenience and disappointment, I began to consult with adults at the college. I talked with Mrs. Faraca, who was the drama teacher. I talked with our music teacher, Mr. Lange. I talked with the Mr. Dutton, the vice-principal. I might even have talked to the principal himself, Mr. Triplett.

They all told me the same thing. I had to decide.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had to stay in Kellogg and fulfill my obligations as stage manager and play my small role of Stuart Dalrymple. I knew that my role as Stuart Dalrymple could have been easily replaced, but I thought I owed my allegiance to the company of the musical to carry out the responsibility I had been assigned as stage manager.

My way of looking at it was that to go to state in Radio Speaking would be the pursuit of something that affected me individually, but didn't really affect anyone else.

To bail on Brigadoon would mean someone else would have to learn the ins and outs of moving the flats, the guys would have to learn to work with someone else, and someone would have to learn, in a short period of time, my role, albeit a small role.

So I stayed.

Not long after the Brigadoon weekend, my mother went to southern Idaho on Idaho Education Association business. Miss Parsons was also a delegate. She cornered my mom and yelled at her, angry that I hadn't come to the state competition. None of my mother's explanations worked. Miss Parson's wouldn't be comforted.

I was in Miss Parson's speech class. It met the last period of the day. The first day she was back, she told me to stay after class. In my naivete, I thought the state declamation tournament was water under the bridge.

Not so. For twenty minutes, Miss Parsons, purple in the face, yelled at me, accusing me of having broken a promise, of lying to her, and of caring more about music and drama then I did about declamation.

I tried to tell her I hadn't broken a promise, but she repeated again and again that I had PROMISED her I would go to the state competition.

My friend Tom Arnhold (who I wish would come to our reunion) had waited for me in the hall. When Miss Parsons was done with me, I left the room and he was visibly shaken, pale.

"You O.K,?"

"I guess."

"Jesus. She ripped you."

"I know. But I was right."

I still think I was right. Ever since this happened, I've tried to put the group, whether my family, a class of students, a company of actors, or any other group I feel allegiance to ahead of my individual desires.

To me, this is what it means to be moral.

Miss Parsons never brought up this matter again. She treated and evaluated me fairly for the remainder of the speech class.

Moreover, when high school graduation came, she mailed me a graduation card. I don't have it any more, but it had a poem on it about the value of having the courage of your convictions and standing by what you think is right.

Today I went to an area of Kellogg High School's website and found out there is a Lucille Parson's Memorial Scholarship available. There ought to be.

By sending me that card, Miss Parsons showed me that she, too, understood that I, too, suffered in my deliberations in deciding not to go to the state competition and that sometimes principles larger than our own desires, including hers, were at work in the world.

I didn't feel vindicated when I received that card. I was deeply touched. It was a generous gesture beyond my undersanding at the time. Looking back, I now know it had to have cost Miss Parsons to send me that card. She had had to humble herself, put aside her enormous pride. Through the card's poem, she told me she respected what I'd done. I'll never forget her for that.

I learned today that graduates of Kellogg High School who pursue higher education can earn a Lucille Parsons Memorial scholarship. I hope recipients learn something about her when they earn this aid.


Carol Woolum Roberts said...

Funny, Brigadoon just came up the other night as we were preparing for the 50th anniversary concert. Jimmy Lewis and I were talking about it, and remembering your small role. You wore a plaid shirt didn't you?

Student of Life said...

You're always an inspirational writer, but when you're writing about events that have touched your life, your writing is even better. I think Miss Parsons would be touched by it as well.

Christy Woolum said...

I'm glad you stayed and did Brigadoon. One memory that has stayed with me is how the choir was hidden behind the set at the beginning and they sang that beautiful chorus of "Brigadoon". What a feat that music was for everyone involved

Christy Woolum said...

oops, I meant musical.. lol

Anonymous said...

I had a bit part in Brigadoon, as Harry. My big line was: "Here, Mr. McLaren, I've brought 'yer waistcoat." 'Took me years to figure out what a waistcoat was. It was my single acting experience--although I got involved in theater later on as a musician. Brigadoon is still one of my favorites.
Also looking forward to the reunion!

Anonymous said...

I remember Brigadoon, RP, but it took your account of it to remember your part. I was in the band that year, but the next two years, when we did My Fair Lady and The Music Man, I had a larger roll, including stage manager.

Those were great years for the music department at KHS. Not only did we score big at the Jazz Festival in '73 (with Nick Thorp and Jeff Flolo's brilliance) but we produced three great plays. My musical highlight was that I got to solo on the tenor sax at Expo '74 in the brand new Opera House. Later that month, I had a similar experience to yours when I qualified for the State Track meet the same weekend as the Spring Concert (where I had the same solo). They knew I couldn't pass on the track meet, so they actually postponed the Concert. Boy, was I full of myself!

Anyway, thanks for reminding me of Brigadoon!

John Austin