In the Capitol of the Confederacy, I was part of an outdoor activity celebrating the Civil War centennial. The play called “Richmond Under Two Flags” was presented at an outdoor arena sculptured into the ground in semi-round layers using a clamshell background to reflect the sound. There were no tickets or seats, so city residents sat on the grassy plans spreading blankets or lawn chairs.
I forgot how I got conned into participating, since I had not been trained as a thespian but remember hours spent at Pine Camp (a recreational facility on north side behind John Marshall High School) listening to scripts read over and over again. Night after night the cast with speaking rolls would go over their lines until they were memorized including all those in the room.
The casting call seemed to have parts for all the adults who wanted to perform to an audience of their neighbors and families while the others of us filled voids. My role was to be a “Young Man of Richmond”. That meant I was to run around on stage in one scene as a confederate soldier then change into fake blood splattered rags to return as a wounded warrior only to change again to a collarless shirt and wool coat to portray the evacuation of the city as it burnt.
After weeks of listening to the same lines every night, we were moved to the site for dry run rehearsals. Lighting and sound and our entire running around were directed and redirected until each step became routine.
Finally it was dress rehearsal time. Behind the clamshell were two rooms (one for men and one for women) to prepare their costumes and make up if needed. We ran through our paces in the mosquito filled summer air blinded by spotlights with no music or sound except the small group at the front of the stage prompting the moves of the sweating mass. In the mist on the rustic stage it seemed like utter confusion but I guess it looked different in the audience.
Being a teenage boy, I found a couple of girls about my age and began to flirt. The girls were typical of their age whispering to each other and giggling while fluttering their doe eyes. This was an excellent way to pass the time between scenes. I would take my guitar to rehearsals and play folk songs to impress the girls. To keep with the theme of the night I even played spirituals.
After the last performance, the lights were dimmed, the stage crew took down the settings, and the cast hung up their costumes and gathered one last time for the curtain call.
This presentation was the last event of fours years celebrating my hometown being the Capitol of states who tried and failed to separate from the rest of the republic for a variety of reasons. There were stars and bars Confederate flags flying all over town, parades with the last of the gray soldiers being driven around in convertibles, and marching bands playing “Dixie”. Even a dome building was constructed for displays and exhibits showing how it was really a lost cause.
I never figured out why we celebrated losing a war, but was told it was just the time of un-pleasantries and the South would rise again.
But that was 50 years ago.
I don’t remember the girls’ names. I remember they were going to go to a different high school so we lost track of each other quickly.
Without a monetary gain or fame, the experience is favorability etched in my mind.