Larry & His Very Busy Community Theater

Contributor: Micah Granderson

Larry and His Very Busy Community Theater By Micah Granderson There was a large parking lot on South Post in Yongsan. It served as a…

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Larry and His Very Busy Community Theater
By Micah Granderson

There was a large parking lot on South Post in Yongsan. It served as a general purpose
space for a number of surrounding facilities. Toy-Land, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, and
an odd little fried chicken take out counter. On a drizzly day a platoon of soldiers would
be using the lot as an assembling area for going out to the field. Large Deuce and a Half
trucks gurgled in their deep bass rhythms. Soldiers threw in packs and climbed up to the
bench seating.

Along the north end of the parking lot stretched a very long, brown quonset hut. The old
military structure matched the overall scene in every way except for a back lit sign over
double doors. Its letters had been arranged to read “PERFORMANCE ARTS CENTER”
“THE MUSIC MAN” “7PM THUR, FRI & SAT”.

This old military quonset hut hid a little menagerie of dreams. Stage lights, makeup
mirrors, and twelve suits of roman armor amongst other things. It might seem a little
incongruous to the military mission, but actually, a number of posts around the world had
active community theater groups. The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office was
tasked with providing various activities around the post with an eye towards relaxation
and creative expression. The working theory of the office was something like this: if a
young serviceman was going to come into the military at the age of eighteen and be
assigned to an overseas military base for three of his most precious, self-defining years of
his life, he might stay a little more mentally stimulated, positive, and likely to re-enlist if
he rounded out his character with a few non-military electives. So MWR setup block
parties, constructed soundproof rooms stocked with electric guitars, bought pottery
wheels, ran woodworking shops, photo development labs, model aircraft clubs, and
whatever else might stimulate the mind of a newly minted adult. On Yongsan Military
Garrison this eclectic list included a fully equipped community theater.

A few hard-nosed military types sometimes sneered at these activities and suggested that
the MWR budget would be better spent on pool tables and a good cigar lounge. But
inevitably sometime in the calendar year a random young soldier would put a brick
through a windshield or get arrested by the local authorities for diving off a bridge to
impress his friends. Then talk and the budget would be return to anything that was likely
to keep hands out of the devil’s workshop.

The people running these programs were mostly local Korean employees and US
civilians, both groups were likely former military and able to identify with the young
soldiers. It was paid employment, but it really seemed to be a very heartfelt assignment
that many committed to for decades, even when they probably could have earned more
elsewhere. A lot of people coming overseas to Yongsan expected to sort of hold their
breath and do the time. The MWR employees got to connect with those people and
convince them to relax, explore Korea, pick up a hobby, and do some personal growth in
that season of their life instead.

One of the key heart-feeling souls behind the Performance Arts Center was a man named
Larry Chandler.

Larry’s story, as best I can gather, is that he majored in the Performance
Arts in college, enlisted in the military upon finishing, and thus wound up in Korea
stationed at Yongsan. In the late 60’s he left the military to pursue his dream of stage
directing with a short-term job in Las Cruces, New Mexico but then caught wind of a
new position being opened up at his old haunt of the Yongsan military garrison. They
needed someone to act as an official liaison for performance and music entertainment.
Military dignitaries, singers, and movie stars would tour military bases and they needed
Larry to coordinate these special events … making sure the star received adequate
hospitality, a stage was setup, a couple thousand uniformed men had somewhere to sit,
and a public address system was working. The position also included some leeway to
create some related morale building programs for the community between those events.
For Larry, that last bit was where the community theater came in.

The layout of the Performance Arts Center was very linear and narrow since the military
structure was truly one long half tube. To reach any section you had to walk through the
others or exit and walk around to a handful of side doors. Stomping up some very steep
concrete steps, you reached the front double doors then stepped into a small foyer.
Directly across was the box office window. If a play wasn’t in progress, then the desk
phone was usually stuffed through the small cash window. It was before cell phones and
everyone always asked for it anyways, so Larry just left it there in self-defense. The
inside of the box office was also his office, a bit cluttered with band itineraries, stacks of
play posters, and rehearsal scripts. Stepping back to the right, there were the two double
doors leading into the theater. Risers with rows of brown plastic chairs loomed out of the
darkness as you stepped through. Strolling alongside the risers, the arch of the stage came
into view. Ducking into a narrow door on either side of the arch would bring you into the
wings of the backstage. On your one side was the curving wall of the quonset hut and on
the other, rows of very steep steps that led up onto the stage platform. I recall that coming
off the stage in the dark during a performance was a bit of a trick. You had to step down
abruptly while also ducking the AC vent that ran around the wall of the building.

Ambling back through the darkness, around the edge of the stage, you would finally spy
the slit of a curtain with fluorescent light shining through. Pushing through, you arrived
in the main backstage area with large stage flats stacked along the walls, the smell of
paint thinner, and the younger Mr. Pak, brush in hand, crafting the dazzling set pieces of
the next show. Just outside the open doors, the elder Mr. Pak (always in his boonie hat)
and Mr. Son, applied primer to a new flat on sawhorses. Along the wall to the left were
two partitioned rooms: the men’s and women’s dressing rooms. Inside there were
counters and mirrors ringed with lights. Finally, there was a long flight of metal steps that
led up to the costume loft. Larry kept that door locked at all times. The few times I made
it inside revealed an astounding number of costumes accumulated over decades of shows
from every era and fantasy. Apparently, the temptation for cast members to play dress-up
and make a general mess of things was just a bit too much.

There was one more room in the Performance Arts Center. It was the space below that
costume loft. But this room opened only to the outside of the building. It was where Larry
and Mr. Son stored all the public address gear. For all the decades that Larry worked on
Yongsan, he never shed his duties as the PA guy. Every time there was a large event, he
piled massive speaker cabinets into the back of a very small Kia truck and headed down
the road.

I personally became aware of the PAC almost as soon as we got to Korea when I was
only six years old. Larry ran a small one-hour production every year for each grade of the
neighboring elementary school. So, I filed through the foyer in a line of first graders to
see a rendition of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” There was a beautiful set with a
forest and castle room. Soldiers and civilians played the characters. The woman playing
the evil queen was especially effective with her heavy eyebrow makeup, cape, and
booming voice. “Oh man, she scares me,” I said to the boy next to me. “That’s my mom”
he replied. She was in fact.

I looked all around and soaked up the magic of the theater. The makeup, costumes, set
pieces, stage lights, and a strange little window near the ceiling where I could see just the
eyebrows of someone wearing a microphone headset. He glared down at the stage and
reached around to adjust knobs and levers that were out of sight.
So, I ran home and said to my mother, “I want to act in a theater.” My mother loved us all
dearly and was a fan of our interests and pursuits, even to a fault. She loved the arts in a
non-specific “arts for the masses” way from the Kennedy-era. When I was four years old,
I took over the family stereo system and played our four classical records until everyone
got tired of it and moved the stereo into my room. My mother decided that was a habit to
be encouraged and scoured yard sales and secondhand stores for every music record of
Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven she could find and bring home to me. I still have that
massive pile of LPs. But stage acting was a little outside of her scope. She didn’t say,
“how about junior summer stock in the Catskills?” She said, “how about we find some
books on acting next time we are at the library?” So, the two of us did. That night as the
family left the library, all the siblings had to choose just one book to check out. Except
myself; I was allowed three. I was on a mission, after all.

My engineer Father took a job outside of Seoul and my first-grader thespian aspirations
faded a tad. But about a year later, we transferred back to Yongsan and got an apartment
off base. There was one other American family living there and pretty soon we were
introduced to Edward Kanciruk, Jane Evans, and their three children. Mr. Ed was an
engineer like my father; he liked to cook huge pans of Ukrainian bread, had reportedly
crashed an airplane at one point in his life, and sported a mustache so wide and
aerodynamic that he looked as if he might take flight again at any moment. Ms. Jane was
from California and had a cadence of candor and gentle snark that was altogether
different from my parents. Their family in general had a whole different vibe, and I was
at the age where I found that difference curious and interesting. A bit sharper and edgier
in their speech, interesting books on the shelves about the creative arts, and a fully
functional spinning wheel in one corner for no apparent reason. Pretty cool in my thirdgrade
mind.
Then one afternoon Ms. Jane was chatting with my mother about years past and
happened to drop the phrase “so at that point in my life I was living in Hollywood with
my boyfriend on Gramercy street, right under the Hollywood sign.” I jumped into the
conversation and started spluttering, “Hollywood? That Hollywood? MGM, Parramount,
Warner Hollywood?” Yes, it was that Hollywood. Ms. Jane was a bit dismissive, talking
about it as a phase in her life. But the whole showbiz dream was revived in my mind.
The overseas crowd attached to the military is really something quite special. You have
people of all walks of life and backgrounds snatched from all over the US and thrown
together in a community for a few years. I didn’t really know or really even have the
knowledge to appreciate it, but if I was looking for someone with knowledge of acting, I
had hit the jackpot. Yes, Ms. Jane had spent time living under the Hollywood sign, but it
wasn’t by whim and a VW that got her there. She had studied acting for years at Santa
Monica College and Monterey Peninsula. I went from having no one to talk to about this
theater infatuation, to someone that had more knowledge than I could even relate to. I
would beg her,
“Hey, don’t you think we could get everyone together and perform the musical Oliver?”
“Oh, I don’t know dear heart. That’s a very big show- you would need an orchestra and at
least forty cast.”
“How about if we all played two characters?”
“How about a show that’s actually written for your age? There is this amazing one act
where all the actors pretend to be part of the audience, and then when the play begins,
they just stand up and start speaking. The audience suddenly realizes that they are the
stage.”
I wasn’t so sure.
“Can we just do one scene from Oliver?”
Ms. Jane eventually connected with the Performance Arts Center and became a regular in
their programs, usually as the stage manager.

Most of the plays performed were modern dramas with adult casts. I was young and
never had the nerve to just show up for an audition. But I did find an outlet to experiment
with. Video cameras were a luxury item back in the 80’s costing thousands of dollars, but
just in the early 90s, a few models started being sold in the low hundreds. My brother and
I pooled our money and bought one. We immediately set about trying to make our own
movies. We eventually became old enough to work summer hire jobs and kept buying
various mixers and editing gear. Now a short film can be completely shot and edited on a
cell phone, but back then our arsenal of video gear was quite rare and unique. We became
“those boys that made the movies” on Yongsan and attracted a small gang of nerdy kids
who thought that was cool. We were also making Korean friends off base. One was a very
good buddy named Eric who became a lifelong friend. He was actually a good deal older
and a college art major, so suddenly our little productions had amazingly good title cards
and props. Pierce Brosnan had just taken over as a very popular James Bond, and disaster
movies were all the rage. So that was what we loved best … guns, stunts, explosions, and
volcanoes were the main subjects. We found that we could get a laugh- eventually, we
settled mostly into making parodies of those sorts of movies. Watching the tapes now, it
is fun to see how our sense of entertainment grew by degrees with each film. We would
show our complete film to absolutely everyone we came in contact with. We carried the
tapes in our backpacks and looked around at any gathering that had a VCR present.
Going to eat dinner with the neighbors, the church Sunday School room, a tour bus that
had a screen mounted over the aisle …the moment we spotted a VHS deck, we would
pull the tape from our backpacks and say, “Can we put this on for five minutes?” We
carefully noted where people laughed and where they didn’t, and slowly our variety of
gags, comic timing, and staging got a little better. I worked up the courage to call Larry
Chandler and ask if I could borrow some costumes. He generously unlocked his precious
costume loft and let me have a few.


Mother and father loved our little productions and proudly introduced their boys with,
“they have a VHS they want to show you.” My father did take us aside once and asked if
we could try to make films without gun violence. We took this as “less gun violence.”
Our mother asked us to stop having our female friends slinky dance even if they were
supposed to be bond girls. We reshot the scene with the house cat playing the role
instead. It got a laugh.

The parents had a passion for travel and meeting new cultures. They had an easygoing,
genuine nature about them. Being one of the older couples in the military chapel, they
easily attracted the attention of the younger soldiers that needed a substitute mom and
dad. Young servicemen would come running to our living room in tears, emotionally
destroyed, sometimes having been just served divorce papers, needing a good shoulder to
cry on. Young Korean college students became friends and strolled in without knocking.
The parents always had a heart for the needy. My Mr. Showbiz streak wasn’t entirely
along these lines, but they found our silly films broke the ice at gatherings and got
everyone talking.

Once a family from the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo started attending our
church. Suddenly the husband of the family was scooped up by Immigration authorities
while the mother was left abandoned and destitute. My parents invited them into our
house.

So, we had a tall, willowy woman from Congo in our house, gliding into the kitchen to
prepare breakfast for her two little ones and then retreating to her room. I never saw her
cry even once, but one look at her drooping shoulders hovering over the stove and you
knew she never really stopped. Their plight became something of a family project; every
twist and turn of the court case becoming dinner table conversation. My mother worked
the phone at all hours. The rest of us, mostly in our teenage years, scattered out around
the city to deliver papers to court offices and sit in the waiting room of the Embassy of
Zambia. “Ambassador Sir, this is your next appointment. Young master Granderson has a
paper to deliver in person.” I stood in my sweaty gym pants remembering my mother had
told me to change to slacks before leaving.

In the midst of all this work connected to harsher aspects of society, I was still a kid with
my own carefully collected bag of dreams and ideas. I was having immense fun with our
video projects but wanted to do some project where I could really define myself.
Something big and bold that would make everyone sit up and take notice. The plan I
settled on was to take everything I loved from our home-brewed movies, the comedies I
liked- everything- and write a big, hilarious stage show and invite all my friends to play
all the parts. We would rent out one of the stages on the base, put up posters, and just see
what happened. I labored on the plan for weeks, scribbling down bits of dialog and
carefully drafted stage diagrams.

I was at the lunch table and felt the conversation had drifted in a direction where I could
introduce the master plan to my mother. I started breathlessly laying it all out in minute
detail. About halfway through, I could tell I was losing her, so I started to talk faster.
Then I realized I hadn’t changed out of my running clothes that morning. She was
judging the lack of clothing change and not the idea, I knew it. I talked faster. Mother was
looking confused. The whole thing was imploding. I became a sweaty mess of teenage
frustrations. It wasn’t the plan she wasn’t getting, she didn’t get any of it, she didn’t get
me. Finally, she spoke with confusion and a measure of sincere care. “Well, that sounds
really creative and fun, but why rent out a theater? Can’t you just do it here in the living
room? Invite some friends over?” There was the full script I had tapped out on the
keyboard for weeks. A stage diagram that was exactly fifty feet wide, same as the stage I
had measured toe to heel. “Let’s perform it in the living room?” I could have slowed
down and tried to explain my feelings, but the hurt and hormones shot past reason like a
runaway locomotive. “Because it would be stupid! No one would get it! Nobody ever
gets it, and it’s so stupid!” I took my eyes away from her. That was a mistake. I was at the
table completely surrounded by angry siblings with none of the paternal care and a
measure of liquid rage at possibly being called stupid. So, my eyes slid around the table
and finally landed at the only place they could. The eyes of the refugee woman, she
returned my gaze with the sad commiseration and understanding of pain in a way of
someone whose spouse was incarcerated and future was far from certain.

I did the lunch dishes for possibly calling everyone stupid and dinner’s as well. Mother
started to say something a few times, but she wasn’t quite sure what to do. She wanted to
help this eager, energetic son to find success but had a hard time trying to figure out what
success really looked liked. She only hoped it wasn’t me dancing under the Hollywood
sign high on cocaine. Finally, she talked to me that night as I slumped on my pillow.
“Listen, I only asked if you wanted to perform it in the living room because you have
never done anything like this before. Wouldn’t you need to rehearse it and try it out on
some people first? But why do it right away? Why not ask Larry if you can volunteer at
the PAC as his assistant and try to study theater?” I sniffed. My feelings were still very
bruised, but I had to admit that this was brave and uncharted territory for my mother.
Associating with the theater crowd for hours on end was a half step closer to cocaine, so
she was actually showing a whole new level of trust in me.

A while later Ms. Jane asked if I would like to sit in the back of the PAC auditorium and
watch a rehearsal of “Little Mary Sunshine.” Larry was in command. He stood at the
corner of the stage in front a folding table with all of his show materials arranged on it.
He was fairly short, wore a large sweater, had a small peppery gray beard, and a pair of
reading glasses on straps. He spoke loudly but with a casual tone, “So everyone go back
to your first position, and lets pick it up from ‘And We Shan’t Do This and We Shan’t Do
That.’” Actors shuffled into position, the pianist thumped away on an old upright missing
half its varnish, and everyone on the stage burst into song. Larry dropped his reading
glasses down onto his chest, put a hand to his chin, and lightly tapped the rhythm of the
song with a heel. A moment later he called a halt to the action and bounded up the steps.
He suggested a slight change to the waltz step. Larry was remarkably quick and agile
with his dance steps in way that belied his very casual and frumpy appearance.

I didn’t go to rehearsal expecting very much. Being at the PAC was always a treat. I
saved my money to buy tickets to Gramercy Ghost and You’re a Good Man Charlie
Brown. But my previous experience with rehearsals was with church or school plays
where hoarse and frantic teachers mud raked young actors into different standing
configurations and pleaded with everyone to use their big voice. Sitting behind Larry, I
had a similar vantage point as him and could just begin to see how he worked. It wasn’t
entirely dissimilar to the process that my brother and I had come up with, organically, to
improve our little movie projects. But Larry exercised it as a formal process, and very
quickly. He would suggest changes. The women were carrying croquet mallets and Larry
thought it might fun if they twisted the handles of the mallets as they swayed through the
song. They ran the stanza of the song again. The mallets were random and distracting
from the choreography. Larry thought they might have to drop the idea, but first he
bounded up the steps again and borrowed a mallet from the nearest singer. Maybe if the
handle of the mallet rested in the left hand while the right hand twisted the shaft, one
stroke of the thumb and index finger for every beat of the song. The stanza was run again,
and eleven mallets spun in unison. Perfect.

I got the occasional odd job around the PAC, usually at Ms. Jane’s suggestion. I ran the
lights for one show. At long last I was that pair of eyebrows frowning down from the
small window up near the ceiling! Ms. Jane was stage manager and methodically called
the cues from her hiding place just off the left of the stage. “House light down, house
curtain, dancers are coming on stage right, and lights up down stage.” I flicked all the
lights into the first configuration and then slowly pressed up on the sliders, watching the
stage like a hawk to be sure it was coming up correctly.

My mother had been right. It might have been fun to stage my own production- I
certainly would have gotten a more central role- but I hadn’t really admitted to myself
what was at the center of my plan: a safety net. If I did my own project, there would be
zero expectations. Anyone who bothered to show up would say it was fun and very
creative. Much like the home movies, there would have been something to learn along the
way, but with no one providing instruction, it would mostly just have been us goofing
around and having fun. But now, even with a small responsibility in this PAC show, I was
sweating bullets and trying incredibly hard not to screw up. If my pinky slipped on a
slider, I would wreck the show. Not my show, everyone’s show. The show that hundreds
of people had come to see. With expectations. With money spent on tickets for those
expectations! So, I had roosted up there in the booth through every tech rehearsal
carefully jotting down all my cues in a huge legal pad as the director called for lighting
changes.

The shows naturally still catered to roles suitable for soldier participation, but Ms. Jane
organized some productions specifically for the younger crowd in what became “The
Yongsan Youth Drama Club.” She selected material that was quite varied: comedies,
dramas, and dramatic poetry recitations. Kids from all over the post and many of my
siblings joined in. One show was a short piece about students in a classroom as the nation
had been conquered by Communists in World War Three. It was age appropriate but
affecting stuff, not chants and songs in candy cane costumes. She actually wanted us to
experience theater and what it was like to develop on a character.

There was one spontaneous incident that has stayed with me over all these years as quite
telling and remarkable about that little youth drama club. Ms. Jane had created a show
with acts taken from Shakespeare. I was in a portion from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The plot was about a motley crew of untalented peasants that decide to enter a
competition to present a play before the royal court of the land. They try to practice a
melodrama, but absolutely everything goes hilariously wrong from the start. It is a
touchstone of comedy in the history of western drama, and Ms. Jane wanted us, a pack of
kids, to give it a try. She carefully explained the motivation for each of our characters and
taught us about comedic timing, setting gags up and paying them off. We were very deep
in rehearsal one day, standing at our various marks around the stage when I saw some
movement at the back entrance of the theater. A couple of boys, middle schoolers, had
wandered in off the street and were standing there watching. We had been working on the
show for a very long time but weren’t in costumes yet, just practicing in street clothes,
blowing our lines, and all a bit tired after a long day of practice. The two of them just
stood there, leering at us, and making me self conscious. They put their heads together
and then one blew a very loud raspberry, laughed, and ran out the door. Ms. Jane told us
to continue and walked out of the room after them. I thought she had just gone to lock the
door, but sometime later she came back in with both the boys and sat them down on the
front row. I was a bit taken aback and felt Ms. Jane wasn’t doing us any favors bringing
these two back into the room. But ten minutes later we were back into another rehearsal
run and had forgotten they were there. Everything was plodding along when we reached
the climactic scene where the townspeople’s effort begins turning into a disaster.
Suddenly we heard large howls of laughter from the front row. Not snickering, but hearty
bellows of glee. The action continued, and they continued howling at every punchline. It
just kept coming. One of them even flopped over on the chairs he was laughing so hard.
We had been working at it so long, doggedly, we had almost forgotten the material was
supposed to be funny. Suddenly each punchline, pregnant pause, carefully rehearsed
sideways look was paying off in peals of laughter … and from a very tough audience! All
in one unexpected moment we could see the work paying off. When we reached the end
of that run, the boys came up to the edge of the stage and told us it was great and kept
yelling support over their shoulder as they finally left for good out the back of the theater.
The whole odd little incident was so telling to me. I wish somehow there was a way to
take a moment like that, frame it, and put it on the wall.

Naturally, not everyone that participates community theater goes on to an acting career or
necessarily any theater-specific vocation. Of course, there are lots of related skills that
come into play in everyday life. Public speaking, presentation, teamwork, confidence,
and the rest. Really, I feel there was something far more profound to be learned from
someone like Larry or Ms. Jane. The word that springs to mind is “craft.” Not the more
modern notion of a casual hobby craft, but an older sense of the word, a lifelong pursuit
of a skill. There are things you might try to learn in life by taking a class, or many classes
like a four-year degree, or even make a decade-long haul to get a doctorate. But that isn’t
the same as when you dedicate your life to the passionate pursuit of skill. There is no
certificate, and the goalpost gets pushed back so many times, it disappears, and you really
forget about it all together. All you know is that you want to go to your grave trying every
day to improve slightly at this skill from the day before. To communicate with your
fellow human on a slightly more meaningful level, to scratch just a bit below the surface
and find the truth of it all. For so many of us that had that golden opportunity to be
around the PAC, that’s what we really came away with. The chance as young people, to
be around genuine souls that taught and exemplified how to find that gentle way of
becoming a sold-out student of life.

Suddenly the Youth Drama Club, the PAC, and Larry’s near three decades of service
came to an anticlimactic end. Space for new facilities on Yongsan was always desperately
short. Every commander that took over the post wanted to know why some of that
precious space was occupied by the massive old quonset hut, and every time the
community rallied to keep the beloved old barn around. But one day the community
services building burned to the ground, displacing hundreds of office workers. The
command informed Larry that he had days to clear the building and make it available.
It was a sad and soggy day when the contents of Larry’s precious costume loft sat piled in
cardboard boxes in the parking lot waiting for the disposal truck to come. He decided to
pull out enough costumes and props to mount one last production- “Scrooge,” one of his
favorite shows that “always put him in the Christmas spirit.” We performed it in the
Moyer Rec auditorium on main post. That space was constructed as the old enlisted
movie theater and wasn’t designed for stage plays. Practically no back stage and a very
shallow performance area, it was like trying to put on a show in a hallway. I got a last
chance to be assistant stage manager to Ms. Jane, making sure everyone on the opposite
side of the stage was queued up, props in hand. Larry sat where he always did during the
shows, on a little riser at the very back of the auditorium, his arm around a tripodmounted
video camera. Their silhouette back there made for an odd couple. Larry had
been looking at retirement for some time and decided that day had come at last. We tried
to organize a farewell event, but he refused. He was humble and intensely uncomfortable,
even to the point of being combative when confronted with effusive praise. We asked him
if he would at least come to the stage and let us give him a gift on the last night curtain
call. He agreed to that, received it graciously, and thanked everyone. Then a few days
later, he boarded a flight and left Korea, never to return.

Our family moved away a year later.
Ms. Jane and her family moved back to the US to the community of Enterprise, Alabama.
She promptly became involved with dramas for her church and later a community theater.
Helping and educating another crop of theater enthusiasts. Our families have visited and
stayed in touch over the years.

The refugee family living in our house had a very tough road ahead of them, but years
later were at last reunited and happily settled in Europe.

The little club of movie makers that my brother and I organized was oddly very effective,
by inspiration or chance I’m not sure. Two of its participants went on to success in
Hollywood. One directed a short film that received an Academy Award nomination. Eric,
our art school friend, is now a very hardworking art director for over a decade on big
projects for the likes of Fox, Warner, and Disney. I had the pleasure of visiting him
recently. We stood on a massive sound stage at Fox Studios, as carpenters ran about
assembling the setting of a county morgue, complete with freezers and gurneys. What an
amazing and funny place to be talking over old times with a friend. I’ve mostly stayed
out of Hollywood but have a remained a lifelong participant and patron of the arts
wherever life has taken me.

Over the years I kept wanting to talk to Larry and tell him just how much his community
theater meant to us. I saw through various online announcements that he and his wife
lived in Las Cruses, New Mexico, and he was directing community theater again. That
made me happy. I tried a few times to write him but never got a reply. Maybe he wasn’t
adept at modern communication platforms, or maybe it was his more general discomfort
with praise and rehashing the past.

Then I one day after remembering the PAC to a friend, I looked him up once more and
came face to face with his obituary. I was a rather stunned, even to an extent that it
surprised me. I was sad and felt for his family whom I had never met, but there was
something even more specific clawing at my mind that I couldn’t come to terms with.
Some clarity came to me after a while. Larry was a bit of an enigma. I never once heard
him dwell on life, the past, other hobbies, or really anything outside of the theater. He
was always his pleasant self and worked relentlessly on his shows. The merry band at the
Performance Arts Center staged between five and seven shows a year, which is a
breakneck pace for a community theater. Looking up to him as a kid, I thought, “Man, if
anyone deserves to leave Yongsan and be a raging success on Broadway, it’s that guy!” It
wasn’t the whole story, but from my limited perspective, it just seemed like it went
straight from that adulation of this person I respected, to seeing him in that parking lot
with all of his work piled in cardboard boxes, to now, decades later, reading his obituary.
Now, here I was, a middle-aged guy looking back at it all and wondering, “Larry worked
so hard. In the end, did he get what he wanted?”
John Nowell is one of a handful of people that go back decades in continuous life and
work at Yongsan. He was very good friend of Larry and was kind and generous in sharing
with me some of his stories of time spent at the PAC. He even sent a photo of himself as a
young man standing in front of the quonset hut under construction. That photo was a relic
I never expected to encounter! He also sent a video of Larry from his later years working
in community theater in Las Cruces. He’s sitting for an interview and proudly sharing
about his latest production. At one point the interviewer asks, “How many shows have
you directed?” Larry shoots back, “over three hundred, almost four hundred.”
I felt like that one statement carried the missing piece of the puzzle. The guy had one
more lesson for me from beyond the grave. Larry was indeed a talented enough guy to try
most anything, he assuredly could have had some measure of success in Hollywood or
Broadway. But Larry found something else in life. He loved to direct, and he found a
strange little space on this planet that let him do that almost 400 times, an unprecedented
body of work for a director, that and a group of people it was meaningful to. So he did
what he loved in an environment of his own creation, for as long as it was available to
him.

I spoke with Ms. Jane by phone after seeing the obituary. She must have caught a bit of
the extra emotion in my voice when I said I would have liked to thank him before he
passed. “Don’t dwell on it Micah,” she said. “He thought the world of all you kids in the
youth drama club.” I thanked her profusely for all of her hard work in theater and
blessing so many with it. She replied, “Well, some people sing, some people cook, some
people teach. I know theater; it’s the what I have to share with the world.”