On the Importance of Not Deserting Your Post, or Why I Did Not Become An Actor

Richard Franklin Bishop   

© Copyright 2013 by Richard Franklin  Bishop 


Two students working on a float.

In the Autumn of the year 1947, I enrolled as a Freshman in college. After the whirlwind of registration for the required Freshman classes and then actually locating the classrooms, I settled down to the grind of study and memorization. As I was living at home enjoying a nice, comfortable family life (and not living in a Dormitory), the idea of joining a Fraternity didn't particularly appeal to me. And, so the time spent between classes "hanging-out" in the Health & Personnel Building student lounge playing Ping-Pong or shooting Pool, socializing in the Coffee Shop and rubbing elbows in the Cafeteria didn't satisfy me much. After a while, I asked: "This college life I'm living so far -- is that all there is to it?"

So I decided to liven up my life a little bit by joining a drama group called "The Actors." This was not too foreign to me since I had successfully performed in two High School plays. It was de rigueur to participate in a "casting tryout" in order to be accepted into this organization.

In two weeks the "Homecoming" Football game was to be played. Part of that celebration was a scheduled Parade complete with "Floats" with different "themes" from the various organizations on Campus. The Actors group was no exception and they duly scheduled a 4-wheeled wagon to be decorated with a small stage and stocked with painted figurines and flowers. The "regular" members (upper-classmen and women) of The Actors were supposed to participate right along side of the "Newbies" in the creation of the float and they did this (just for about the first week).

These "Volunteers" would have needed organizing. No scheduling system was in place; consisting of a roster listing the name of each member and their actual time spent providing the many hours of assistance necessary. Otherwise, they drifted off or "goofed off." And the "old hands" said to themselves: "Give me another Beer and let the 'Newbies' do the float." In other words: "Let somebody else do it."

As the deadline day drew near, one-by-one the "help" continued to drop off --- until the last day where, after about 40 hours of work apiece, I and one other Freshman found ourselves left all alone to finish off the float. I wondered: "Is this the American way?"

I had of late observed that this organization had a "snooty" bunch for members; i.e., they evidently felt that their artistic "calling" had positioned them just a bit above the great "unwashed" masses. They would hardly talk to we "Newbies" and recruiting or explaining what The Actors stood for seemed to be beneath them. In addition, they probably felt that work with your hands on the float was for "Stage-Hands," a full notch lower on the "pecking order." I have seen a lot of this treatment around in life. Maybe it is the American "College" way --- I would have preferred that whoever was in charge would have identified this attitude in the young people of their membership and eradicated it, on-the-spot. After all, college is supposed to shape your character. But, their aloofness turned out to be a facade - probably covering up a gnawing insecurity - for when it became time to show some real character and promote The Actors in a positive way, they became the "great invisibles," permanently out-to-lunch.

We also could have dropped out and left at any time. But, we remembered the old saying: “You can’t quit the Wagon Train when it's under attack by the Indians. So, in spite of our miniscule talent with the arts and crafts, we stayed with it even during the "dog-days" and did the best we could without supervision in the last hours. As the tractor hauled the float away, we both said "never again."

If my memory serves me correctly, not before we gave them "The Statue of Liberty 'salute' with the middle finger," saying: "You can jam it;" not exactly representing "a class act" of the upper ten thousand !

Is that what you are supposed to learn from your experiences in college?

So what did we learn from all this travail?

1. Never trust a group of Artists and Actors to do their duty over time without an iron hand to guide them. They conduct themselves like a loose-knit band of Volunteers - even when hired for pay. The motto: "The show must go on" applies only to tonight’s' performance.

2. If you are seeking an "entertainment to posterity," then go to a movie. An Actor's Guild or a Playhouse is not there for your entertainment --- it's hard work they want --- not passive observation. Your "calling" here requires a supreme effort; not just talent. . . and there may be no reward for your services ... at all. Not even applause ... or a quiet "Thank You."

3. There are times when an organization needs you more than you need them!

4. And so, realizing the truth in 1. and 2. above, we followed 3. and "cut out" permanently towards any other small joys (or beer drinking like the upper classmen) we could find in college life on the rest of the Campus. Neither one of us darkened The Actors doorway again. And we never "missed" any of their winsome ways. After all, beer drinking was probably a couple of cuts in respectability above their collective conduct.


Now I know you're going to say: "Why didn't you both go back and complain to the Department Director ."The answer to this question is not obvious but still compelling.

I had graduated from High School at the age of 16. My birthday is the 9th of November and shortly after the Homecoming game I would be 17. We were both the worst kind of "Newbies" (young and "green") in such a situation as this. We talked it over and, in our innocence, came to the conclusion that this would be fruitless since the "old hands” of The Actors would lie about it to the Director and blow us away describing us rather as: "a couple of kids" telling wild tales.

The Parade was over (and they would pooh-pooh all this saying: "who cares now anyway" since the float actually put in it's appearance ?) And there were no records of who showed up for the Volunteer work. There were no witnesses in the big warehouse building where the 20 or so floats were put together. All the Volunteers there were concentrating on their own floats and ignoring all others (i.e., they were minding their own business, and rightly so). There was no way our story could be corroborated.

The Director, instead of believing in "Human Nature," would believe their story and we would be "drummed-out" of The Actors in disgrace. Our college records could be so annotated and we would have this "black-mark" haunting us for the whole four years of matriculation.

We said "Uh, uh. None of that for us." We could just walk away from it and leave them to their machinations --- without us. This we did !

Did we estimate the situation like "greenhorns" or did we do it "right on"?

My later 25 years in the Military did teach me that the personnel in the "Chain of Command" were good students of "Human Nature" and our story would probably would have been believed "hands down;" no corroboration necessary. Why? Because we did not abandon our post under stressful circumstances. We would have been given laudatory credit for our actions and that would have been sufficient to overcome the words of any detractors.

I'm happy to say, in my experience, the Military were immune to thoughts of what "breeding" this person here before me possesses, and questions like: were there any Endowments from his family that might be jeopardized, and estimating what, if any, was the potential Talent loss, and was this a small "ruckus" or a "massive attack on the status quo."

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the Military life more than college life and I have attended four colleges on the way to a Master's Degree: two of them "in-residence."

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