Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year I Was Grateful for the Homeless

The Blanket

The first interaction I ever had with someone living with homelessness happened when I was ten years old. My grandparents and I were walking through downtown Salt Lake City after seeing a touring production of The Secret Garden. (Musical Theatre Nerds, feel free to do the math...)

As we strolled back to the parking garage, I noticed a man in rags parked on the sidewalk looking around as if he were lost. To my young self, it was like seeing a tattered old blanket. Not your blanket, of course. Not the one from childhood that smells the way it did when it brought you unfathomable security. He was like someone else's blanket. One you don't have a connection to and wonder how on earth it got so dirty.

I had never seen anyone like this man before, so I stared, thinking perhaps the longer I looked the more I'd understand. Suddenly, the man jutted his arm toward me and mumbled something in an injured tone. I jumped! Did he know me? Was he trying to take me? Did he need help?

My grandparents stepped in and anonymously shook their heads at him. I was grateful. They could see I was afraid, and they took control of the situation. As we continued walking, my grandma leaned over and said in a gentle tone, "Just keep your head down. If you don't look at them, they won't talk to you."

That singular experience was essentially my philosophy on homelessness for almost 15 years. Don't get me wrong, I still volunteered at food banks; I organized food and clothing drives; I gave money to panhandlers. But even though I worked to treat my fellow beings with compassion, there was still a separation defined by the discomfort of that first encounter. "We're all human, but sometimes it's less scary to keep your head down."

The Bridge

I finally recognized that quietly hidden pathology the moment I left it behind. In my 20's, I was cast in a production of the musical Rent. Guess what I played? A homeless person.

As an actor, it's not effective to judge your character, so I didn't even think twice about playing the role. On the contrary, I was excited for the challenge. It never even occurred to me that doing so would have real life implications.

Then one day I was walking around Los Angeles and saw a woman on the streets. Immediately I thought "Oh, that's me." And that's when I realized my reaction hadn't been "Poor lady." Gone was the separation. As make believe as my acting in a musical was, it had built a bridge that connected me to this woman's experience. We were the same. From that day on, I started looking at everyone suffering from homelessness in the eye...and smiling.

9 out of 10

Fast forward to 2014, at which point I was preparing the next update for my charity website Some of you might know that besides bringing awareness to different causes and charitable organizations, we encourage the idea that everyone deserves to feel "at home" in their lives.

Well obviously with a mission statement like that, I knew at some point we'd have to tackle homelessness, but figuring out how to approach the issue on a public platform had always been intimidating.

Having no real answers as to how to proceed, this year I started talking to other people. As often as I could, I brought up homelessness in conversations to hear what others had to say. And in this very unscientific social experiment, I found that 9 out of 10 people I spoke with began their side of the conversation with doubt.

They told me about dishonest panhandlers they'd met or heard of, addicts that just want money for drugs, homeless people wearing nice watches, individuals who basically want to be homeless anyway, and so on...

Despite my empathy toward the discomfort of this issue, I was still very surprised by these findings. 9 out of 10 means the public roughly perceives 90% of the homeless population to be either completely hopeless or simply outside their social responsibilities. 90%?! That's impossible, and quite frankly, a little bit silly.

This caused me to once again look at my own views on homelessness and wonder, "How did we become so skewed?

Un-Skew You

I'm going to be brutally honest here. In our philanthropic efforts, it's a lot easier to surround ourselves with causes that lend themselves to beauty: the smile of a sick child, the beautification of a city park, the education of our youth.

But there's very little beauty in homelessness. It's one of the few nightmares in life that actually looks as bad as it feels.

And that's when it hit me. We're not all skewed, horrible people. We just want to feel better about a very ugly problem! That's why many of us convince ourselves homeless people somehow deserve their circumstances. That's why many of us selflessly give money to people on the side of the freeway exit. Unfortunately, neither of these things do anything to solve the real problem.

That's why I started the #whatishomecampaign. It was time to take a different look at how we define "home," and subsequently "homeless"

If I could sum up the incredible experience I had during this year's #whatishomecampaign, I'd break it down into three main points:

  1. Homeless people are on Facebook.  Think you don't know somebody that's dealt with homelessness? Think again. How about somebody that's moved in with family members because it was their only choice? Transitional Homelessness makes up the biggest percentage of the homeless population, while "skid row" or Chronic Homelessness makes up the smallest.
  2. We can end Homelessness.  There are fantastic organizations thinking outside the box to not only stop the growing Homeless crisis, but eradicate it altogether. Check out my favorite: Community Solutions
  3. Homelessness is beautiful.  Sounds strange, I know, but we must find the beauty in things we truly want to change. Otherwise, the change we make is usually superficial, and only makes us feel better temporarily. The truth is Hope is found in Homelessness, therefore it's beautiful.
The New Year

This year I'm grateful for the homeless. It's a journey that started a long time ago, and I'm proud to say I'm leaving 2014 with more than just a new perspective.  In many ways I feel free. I'm at peace with the discomfort I've perpetually tried to soothe since childhood. I welcome 2015 with a full tank of hope, compassion, and knowledge that with my help (and hopefully yours) things will change.

Check out the 2014 #whatishomecampaign on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Now!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  You may have heard of it; it's a song, kinda popular this time of year…

Anyway, I love it because it's a classic that's brave enough to be sad.  And by "sad" I mean in an honest, subtle way, not a "manipulate you with a children's chorus at the final key change type thing." Take a look for yourself:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.

This lyric, matched by that gorgeous melody, implies that the person being sung to isn't quite "there" yet.  The ideal Christmas merriment hasn't taken hold because their troubles are just too big to ignore.  And you know what?  It happens!  Especially when we all know what our "golden days of yore" are "supposed" to look like…

That nostalgic view of the past, however, presents a problem.  If time marches on with us changing right alongside it, then sometimes the expectation to recreate our Christmas joys can seem like "a bough" much too high to reach.

What's beautiful about "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," though, is that despite all its troubles and "muddling through somehow," it still manages to deliver a graceful message of hope.  And it does so through one word, it's final lyric: "now."

The wonder of the Holiday Season is we don't have to wait for things to get better to enjoy it.  The hope and light it's founded on are strong enough to help us see beyond what our eyes can behold.  Peace on earth may seem like a far away dream, but decorating that same earth with colored lights reminds us it's a glorious possibility. 

So let those troubles come.  Life can be life, and Christmas will still be Christmas.  All it takes is faith, hope, and maybe a ladder to reach that highest bough.  So, my wonderful friends, have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

With Love to You and Your Faithful Friends
(both dear and near if the fates allow)

Jeffrey Scott Parsons

Sunday, July 20, 2014

ROMANCE ROMANCE @ North Coast Repertory Theatre

Have you ever bought JELL-O Cook & Serve Butterscotch Pudding at a local grocery store in Los Angeles?

The answer is, "No, you haven't." Because it's nowhere to be found!

I don't know what Angelenos have against my beloved childhood dessert, but for some reason, you have to drive all the way to Ventura County to get it. And don't tell me just to buy the instant kind. It's NOT the same. It's either Cook & Serve or forget it!

This kind of frustration is how I imagine theatre companies feel about getting people to come see their shows. Finding an audience is sometimes like looking for JELL-O Cook & Serve Butterscotch Pudding in the middle of LA. It's not easy.

Interestingly enough, the same can't be said for Cook & Serve Chocolate and Vanilla Puddings. They're all over the place! Of course I'm sure it's a simple supply and demand issue. It's the same reason larger theatres have to produce Oklahoma, The Music Man, and Annie every few years or so to bring in the crowds.

That's why when I heard North Coast Repertory Theatre was doing a very "Butterscotch" production of the little known and even less seen musical Romance Romance, I was immediately interested.

There is something so satisfying to me about presenting a piece of musical theatre that audiences don't already know forwards and backwards.

In fact, it's a real test for modern day audiences to hear a musical for the first time in the theatre-- to truly listen to the melodies and lyrics, and allow themselves to go on a journey with the characters without the benefits of nostalgia and prior exposure. It's a test, I'm afraid to say, not all audiences are willing to take.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I admire and respect everyone that supports local theatre. They are the benefactors and cultivators of their own culture.

Romance Romance starring (l to r)
Melissa WolfKlain, Lance Arthur Smith,
Jill Townsend, and Jeffrey Scott Parsons
But while it may be risky for a theatre to produce a show that's not well known, it has grown ever apparent to me that it's even riskier for audiences to watch it. After all, isn't it a safer bet to go see a musical you've already seen or heard? Well that's why I want you to come see our little show.

The truth is Romance Romance might not be your favorite thing you've ever seen. But the greater truth is every show doesn't have to be "your favorite thing you've ever seen." Setting that kind of expectation prohibits us from taking art in for what it is, and instead, encourages us to only see what it's not. I can already tell you Romance Romance isn't going to be The Music Man simply because it's not The Music Man! What it is, however, is a show that might make you 'hum,' a show that might make you smile, and a show that might make you think. It's a proposition that forces you into new, unknown territory, and I'm really proud to be a part of it with three other actors I love dearly.

So regardless of whether or not you prefer Chocolate to Butterscotch, wouldn't you still rather have the choice? :)

Come see the frothy and fun
 Romance Romance at North Coast Rep

Monday, May 26, 2014

Leave Your Mark

A week or so ago, I packed up a rental car with some clothes, a fully loaded iPod, and a box of Claritin, and I drove to my motherland... also known as my mother's house in Utah.

It had been a few years since I'd visited the old Beehive State. It'd been even longer since I'd been there without snow- which is why I brought the Claritin. For the first time in at least five years, I toured our old farm property, side stepping cow pies and trying to remember how the irrigation system worked.

But while walking past one of my grandpa's old sheds, I suddenly got memory smacked. I knelt down and cleared away the dirt to see if my memory was accurate, and sure enough...

When I was little, my grandpa, cousin, brother, and I poured this cement that helped, among other things, to keep rodents from tunneling into the shed. As partial payment, and in keeping with tradition, Grandpa wrote our names in the cement before it dried. I always felt like such a celebrity when he did that. Seeing my name immortalized in a batch of quick dry satisfied some deep desire I had to be like the stars that kinda did the same thing in Hollywood.

It's funny, though, seeing the memories of your past through the eyes of an adult. Looking down at my name in that cement, I wasn't seeing a childhood thrill anymore. Instead, I was seeing an extension of everything around me. 

That farm! Its fences and sheds, the gate systems, everything down to its very foundation was planted by the hands of those that came before me. People who, alive and not, are still around when I see their handiwork. What surprised me, though, was when I saw my own name in the cement, I realized I'm still around there too.

Even though my grandpa is gone, he is still all over that farm. And as an adult now striving in my own way to leave something of worth to this world, I feel like we met that day. I finally realized what he was teaching me. With the precious time we have on Earth, together we can leave our mark. Surely every life is important enough to leave this place a little better than we found it.

As it turns out, I don't need to write my name in the cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. I'm a farm boy, so that's already been taken care of.

Thanks Gramps.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CATS at San Diego Musical Theatre

If you had asked me three months ago to vote for the musical most unlikely to appear on my resume, I would have said Cats. It's true. I would have pictured myself playing Effie White in Dreamgirls before wearing a kitty unitard.

It's not because I don't like Cats. I remember seeing it with my family when I was in the 5th grade. I don't recall a lot of details from that production, partially because I had failed to bring my new prescription eyewear, and I spent most of the evening stealing my Mom's off her head. I apparently enjoyed myself, though, because I convinced my dad to buy me a Cats t-shirt as well as the double cassette cast album.

I listened to those cassettes a lot in my basement, re-imagining the cat choreography. I learned very quickly, though, that a lot of theatre people didn't like the show. I didn't understand why. It was just about cats. Many criticized it for the lack of plot, but I always figured that had more to do with their expectations of what they thought the show should be, rather than what it was.

Ten years later, however, I too began rolling my eyes when Cats was still on Broadway, and some of my favorite shows couldn't stay open long enough for me to see them. Those eye rolls continued a few years later when I managed to see three different productions of Cats in the space of six months. (Thank you working theatre friends.) By that point, I had decided I probably would never do the show.

Was I developing a Cats allergy? No. Simply put, I had weighed the pros and cons, and the whole thing looked like too much work! The makeup, the wigs, the movement that makes your joints quiver with fear... It just didn't seem worth it!

So spoiler alert, I'm doing a production of Cats. How? Well, I went to an audition, and much to my surprise, I had a lot of fun.

There is a specificity to this show that is very addicting. At first it's daunting to look at yourself in a mirror and think, "So... I'm a cat? I guess I'm a cat." But then the music, the choreography, the ensemble nature of the show really begins to "cat-ivate" you, and before you know it, you're immersed. Believe me, no one is more surprised than this guy.

But that's not all. To me, Cats isn't just about cats anymore. And of course it's not! T.S. Eliot was a pretty intelligent man. When we look closely, his poems that make up the material for the musical carry a lot of themes.

In "The Naming of Cats," we learn that a cat must have three different names: one that the family uses, one that the cats call each other, and a third that nobody knows except for the cat that bears it.

"If you notice a cat in profound meditation, the answer I tell you is always the same. Their mind is caught up in the rapt contemplation of the thought of the thought of the thought of his name."

What better way to teach the sacred nature of honoring who you truly are than through this creature that is infamously both lovable and fiercely independent? Cats aren't needy because they don't like you, Eliot teaches us, rather they don't need your validation to know who they are.

I think it's this moment in the show that we can start learning from Cats. And if we can learn from the kitties, then we can start to see ourselves in them, too.

So come out and see Cats at San Diego Musical Theatre! Here's hoping it will be a "Memory" that will have at least nine lives...

CATS at San Diego Musical Theatre
March 22nd - April 6th

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Building Zion & Singing Sondheim

There are a few things I accomplished during my college years that to this day I'm really proud of:  #1- graduating.  #2- performing Eugene O'Neil.  #3- not killing anyone.  Another of those choice accomplishments was a paper I wrote for my Musical Theatre History class.

This required paper was to be turned in at the end of the semester.  I was to pick a relevant musical theatre topic and write about it for as long as I could.  In other words, it was a dream come true!

As a student at BYU, I decided to write academically about something that wouldn't and couldn't be written on any other campus in America.  I titled my paper, "You Can Build Zion and Still Sing Sondheim: 3 Musicals That Would Never Be Performed at BYU But Still Teach Gospel Principles."

Reading back through this paper, I think I was a little harsh on my alma mater. Nevertheless, it was true to how I was feeling at the time.

I was upset because I felt that, as a student at a religious university like BYU, I was constantly compelled to apologize for everything I did, beginning with wanting a career as a performer in the first place.  I sensed a degree of illegitimacy towards our field of study, as if musical theatre didn't deserve to be part of the academic institution.  And if that wasn't enough, the opportunities to prove otherwise, through performing the more complex literature of the art form, were often impossible due to codes and standards of the school and church.

Looking back now, I see that when I wrote my paper, I wasn't upset at BYU as much as I was just passionate about art, or more specifically, what I had learned about it.  I'd realized that when art is a reflection of reality, truth will always be found in the details, regardless of whether or not those reflections follow the commandments of God.  This principle is why I'm still proud of my paper from all those years ago.

It's a principle that I think we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints are reminded time and time again even if we choose not to notice.  Take The Book of Mormon, for example.  (The actual book, not the musical.)  The Fourth Book of Nephi, found in The Book of Mormon, is comprised of only one chapter. That chapter is broken down into 49 verses, and of those verses, the first 22 account the formation of a pure society of Zion in the ancient Americas following the Savior's visitation around 34 A.D. The final 28 record the destruction of that same society due to the choices of the people.

So, for those keeping track, that's 22 verses about everything being perfect, and 28 about it not, proving that perhaps we can find just as much truth and light in the representation of imperfect realities as we can in the more unrelatable ideals.  Maybe even a little more...

The Dark and Hungry God

Take Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as an example. With a score and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it's quite possibly the darkest story to ever be musicalized.  That is, of course, unless you can think of a story more upsetting than a vengeful barber slitting throats to avenge his past, and then grinding them up for meat pies.

Sondheim has always had a knack for stretching the musical theatre art form to new territory, but what sets him apart is that his musicals are often so experimental AND masterful.  It's no small feat.  It's also no stretch of the imagination to foresee the kind of reluctance a more conservative audience would have to warmly welcome this bloody masterpiece.  Why would anyone striving to live the Christ-like attributes of love and forgiveness subject themselves to witness the horror of Sweeney Todd?  The same could be asked of a more familiar character.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, we meet David, from "David and Goliath" fame.  This meek and faithful shepherd boy found himself admired by an entire nation, and soon, became ruler over it.  A life of such potential, however, was never fulfilled.  Before he knew it, King David fell "from his exaltation," loving power more than life, and committing both adultery and murder.  When we read how easily a man, like David, in all his righteousness was still capable of such acts, we, ourselves, become more wary of our own pitfalls.

Such is the case with Sweeney Todd.  The true terror of this musical does not lie in its gratuitous bloodshed, but in the question that if we were faced with Sweeney's unjust circumstances, would we lose ourselves in a similar demise?

This musical asks its audience, just like the scriptures of old, "What god are you serving?"  In Sweeney's case, Sondheim tells us it was "a dark and a vengeful god."  Likewise, if our answer is revenge or greed, then we, like Mr Todd, will find that it only grows more powerful through our own emulation.  "The more he bleeds, the more he lives.  He never forgets and he never forgives."

What Sweeney learned too late was the power he wanted to heal his wounds wasn't found in creating more of them.

Get a Gimmick, Not a Child

In 1995, LDS General Authorities released a single-paged proclamation that has since become a staple of Mormon doctrine.  Among other things, it declares the importance "to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."

So why this "Proclamation to the World?" I'll answer that in two words: Mama Rose.

Gypsy is a musical with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that tells the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous burlesque stripper from the 1920s and 30s.  While she is the show's namesake, it is her infamous stage mother, Rose, that has become one of the most formidable characters to ever grace the stage.

"I had a dream," Rose sings early in the show.  Right away, Sondheim lets us know that the dream to get her children into show business is her dream, and possibly, one that was born out of being abandoned by her mother as a child and left to an emotionally unattached father.

As the musical continues, Rose is abandoned yet again, this time by her own child, June, and Mama Rose rebounds by pushing the shy Louise into the spotlight.  Louise struggles to find her place in the loud, confrontational world of entertainment until one night, out of desperation, Rose forces the now older Louise into stripping at a dumpy burlesque house.  Louise becomes Gypsy Rose Lee, the "classy" stripper, and with new found confidence stands up to her overbearing mother once and for all.

I still remember my own mother's look of disappointment upon realizing the show that gave birth to "Everything's Comin' Up Roses" was about a mother who forces her daughter to take off her clothes.  I maintain, however, that Gypsy holds an essential message for all Latter day Saint families.

The ingenious title of this musical, "Gypsy," is not only Louise's future name-to-fame, but also makes an intriguing commentary on Rose's life.  She, like a nomadic gypsy, has no home.  Instead she weathers life's scars by relying on dreams to raise her children.  She assumes that her own insecurities about life will be best conquered if she can give her children all she ever wanted.  What she doesn't realize is her children don't want it.

Thus we see a vicious familial cycle in Gypsy.  Rose was left with a void as a child.  As an adult, she seeks to fill it with public attention, all the while withholding personal affection from her own daughters.  They, in turn, run away to the public to make up for it.  They're surprised to have followed their mother's and grandmother's footsteps, and Rose is surprised to end up alone.

In a culture that promotes family as the fundamental unit of society, Gypsy provides an important warning.  Family is not a gimmick.  Regardless of societal pressures, rearing a noble family should only proceed when the parents recognize the responsibility of creating new life.  If children are only meant to complete a portrait, fill a void, or be in show business, the consequences echo for generations to come.

Is This What You Call Love?

The house lights dim, the orchestra swells, and the curtain rises to reveal a bed filled by two lovers recovering from their latest round of love-making.  One of them is married, but not to the other.  The first five minutes of Stephen Sondheim's Passion are probably why I thought a BYU production was highly unlikely.

The script follows Georgio, a young, romantic soldier in love with the beautiful, but married, Clara.  When Georgio is reassigned to a smaller post, he meets his Captain's cousin, Fosca, an ugly woman depressed by her constant state of illness and pain.  Showing compassion, Georgio is kind to her, and Fosca is immediately smitten.

As Fosca's desire to gain Georgio's love turns to despair, Clara continues in her adulterous affair with him until she suddenly ends it.  Georgio is devastated and recognizes how shallow Clara's love has been.  He likewise recognizes the unbridled love that Fosca has, and it changes him forever.  This show doesn't have a traditionally happy ending, but it deals with love in a way never before explored in a musical, and led me to one of the great spiritual awakenings I've ever had.

The ancient prophet Isaiah said of Jesus Christ's initial coming, "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."  In the same way, Fosca, has no great aesthetic to her form.  Rather, her beauty lives in her vulnerability.

"Loving you is not a choice; it's who I am," she declares to Georgio.  "It gives me purpose, gives me voice to say to the world:  This is why I live.  You are why I live."  This woman's heart is wide open, and yet she confesses that standing in that terrifyingly exposed place is why she lives.  She, who spends the entire show struggling to find the will to live beyond her illness finds the motivation to do so through love.

This is what lead me to my great epiphany:  Love always leads to life!

The physical expression of making love, for example, creates life.  Emotionally speaking, feeling loved can bring us back to life when all seems lost.  Then think about the scripture, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..."

I've often struggled to comprehend how and why Jesus Christ could suffer so in the Garden of Gethsemane, and later, at Calvary, only to then resurrect three days later.  In the past, I've simply regarded it as some godly power I couldn't understand.  But if love really leads to life, then perfect love (like that of a deity) contains the power over life, that is, to lay it down and take it up again.

I believe the divine power held by Jesus Christ to conquer death stems directly from the perfect and infinite love he held for every living thing.  No wonder his mission has often been called "the passion."  Like Fosca's journey, it was selfless and, ultimately, transformative.


To be fair, I do understand.  From movies to music to musicals, our world seems to be full of "challenging material."  But that's because the world we live in is one ruled by contrast.  Our desire for peace is stronger during times of war.  Our need for love is more fervent in times of sorrow.  The lessons of humility are gained among consequences of selfishness.  Does it have to be that way?  No.  But since repentance is a divine principle, it's definitely expected.

The three musicals above are additional testaments to that principle of contrast.  In fact, they're a safer route to the same conclusion.  There's nothing that says wisdom can't be earned by witnessing someone else's choices.  So why not spend an evening with Sweeney Todd, or Momma Rose, or Georgio?  They can provide us with a greater understanding of the the complexities of reality, which in turn, make the faithful stronger, but only if Christ is their reality.

Now I'm not saying that all artistic expressions are made with the singular goal of helping me think about Jesus.  In fact, I'm sure Mr Sondheim might find it rather amusing that this is what I've taken from his works.  But the point, my friends, brothers, and sisters, is while we often put a lot of energy on deciding what to support, we also need to be careful of what we avoid.  If we don't take advantage of that which teaches, we are not using art as God intended.  We'll just be reading the first 22 verses of The Fourth Book of Nephi.

And as far as the argument that "it's just a musical," I'll remind you that Jesus Christ himself taught through theatre.  He told stories; he used props, and he had a lot of special effects.

So go ahead: sing Sondheim and build Zion!  And when that finally leads to the first stake production of A Little Night Music, be sure to invite me to audition.  I'd love to play Henrik.

"For Goooooooooooosh Sake."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

FOREVER PLAID at Cabrillo Music Theatre

Roger Befeler, Kurtis Simmons, Me, and Scott Dreier in Forever Plaid at Cabrillo Music Theatre.
It was towards the end of 2010 when I received my first phone call from Kevin Traxler.

I was already scheduled to spend the holidays that year performing in The 2010 Cabrillo Holiday Spectactular starring Shirley Jones, and who wouldn't be perfectly content spending their Christmas with Momma Partridge and Marian the Librarian?! Cue Kevin's phone call...

He told me he was putting together a mini tour of Plaid Tidings, the holiday version of the now classic Forever Plaid.  I had previously learned two of the four roles in that show, and he asked if I'd be willing to learn the role of Sparky this time around.

Since it's almost impossible for me to say "no" to work, I took the offer very seriously. I sat down with my calendar to see if I could somehow pull off Plaid AND The Holiday Spectacular at the same time. As it turned out, the few Plaid rehearsals would be done before the other show even started, and the mini tour dates were on Fridays, which just so happened to be my days off during The Holiday Spectacular rehearsals. It would be hectic, but it was absolutely possible.

I started learning as much of "Sparky" as I could by myself since the other three Plaids had all done their roles in previous productions of Plaid Tidings. I eventually felt prepared enough to show up to our first rehearsal at the director's house right before Thanksgiving. I knocked on the door and was immediately greeted by Kevin, who answered wearing an apron. The house smelled wonderful, filled with a sweet and spicy aroma of slow cooked meat. Kevin asked if I would like some wine. I politely declined. Then we started rehearsal.

David Humphrey, David Engle, Me, and Stan Chandler
in Plaid Tidings, with Kevin Traxler behind the scenes,
as always, taking the picture.
The three Plaids and I stood around the piano and sang through the score. Every once in a while I'd ask if we could do something again, and everyone would graciously oblige.

Every know and then we'd hear Kevin holler from the kitchen, "Sounds great!"

After about two hours of rehearsing, Kevin suddenly came into the living room and announced it was time to eat. We all went outside into a beautiful Southern California evening and took our seats at a table lit with candles and filled with gourmet worthy entrees. Along with Kevin and his wife, we ate and laughed hysterically at each others' stories from previous Plaid-encounters. I truly felt part of the family.

That night was pretty much the only rehearsal I ever got for Plaid Tidings. The day before our first performance, we reviewed, this time in front of a mirror, and though I felt safe, I was terrified I'd mess things up. Kevin wasn't.

The subsequent mini tour of Plaid Tidings turned out a lot of memories: The show in Palm Desert where two old ladies said we talk too much, despite the 20 something songs we had just sung. The time in New Mexico where our van got stopped at Immigration because our piano player had an English accent. The show in Arizona where the bass player and I had to drive to the airport in the middle of the night to get back to rehearse The Holiday Spectacular. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Last year, towards the end of 2013, I was happy enough to get another phone call from Kevin Traxler. This time it was to do Sparky in a production of Forever Plaid that he was producing, funny enough, at Cabrillo Music Theatre, where I had sashayed with Shirley Jones all those years before. The offer was a no brainer. I accepted immediately. I couldn't wait to have a family reunion.

Then, about a month before we were to begin rehearsals, I learned that Kevin passed away. As Sparky says in Forever Plaid, "Funny thing...death."

It's strange, preparing this delicious experience of a show without Kevin around to season it. It's even stranger to be doing a show about mortality while knowing the person who brought you there to do it isn't here anymore. But I love being a Plaid. And I'm proud to be a Plaid. And I know I wouldn't feel that way without having known and loved Kevin Traxler.

So this one's for him, and I sincerely hope you will all come and enjoy our show. That is, after all, exactly what Kevin would've wanted.

Forever Plaid at Cabrillo Music Theatre Jan 31-Feb 9