Monday, January 28, 2013

All This Time

In the Fall of 1990 I was a fresh-faced freshman attending my first quarter at Auburn University Montgomery.  Like most 18 year-olds straight out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and certainly had no major picked out.  Film school was not even on my radar at the time, and even if it was I never could have afforded it anyway  But I always liked getting in front of people and making a fool of myself, so on a lark I decided to take a film acting class.  I figured it would be an easy A for my first quarter and I might even get to meet girls.  Well, I didn't meet any in that class, but I did find out about auditions for "The Night of the Iguana" being held by Theatre AUM.  Encouraged by the professor to try out, I decided to show up and give it a shot.  Dr. Gaines, the head of the Theatre Department and director of the show, for reasons only known to him cast me as Pancho, one of the Mexican houseboys.  It was my first role in a real play with real lines (all in Spanish), and even though I had to dye my hair black and cover my body with brown make-up every night, I embraced the role and my life at Theatre AUM had officially begun.  And one of the first people I met at Theatre AUM was Jim Burbey.  He had been cast as Jake Latta in the show and since neither of us had very big parts, we wound up spending a lot of time backstage just hanging out.  Jim was a lovable lunk, a term I use with the utmost respect and affection.  He was a big guy, with long, floppy hair, piercing eyes, and a wide grin that was always a welcome sight.  And I think even he would agree he was just a few degrees off normal, which is a requirement for anyone who has a passion for performing, and one of the reasons we bonded so quickly.  During our conversations backstage, Jim and I would swap stories about music we liked, movies we loved, and I am lucky to say that after that show, we had become friends.  We would often hang out in his dorm with other theatre misfits and play role-playing games, watch movies, and just be the goofy oddballs that made us members of Theatre AUM.  After that first show, Jim and I spent a lot of time together working after hours at the theatre helping Mike Winkelman build sets, collect props, and do whatever necessary to get the next show off the ground.  One of my fondest memories of those late nights was Jim bringing in CDs to listen to while we worked.  We would often load up the disc player in the booth and let the music ring out across the theatre as we helped Mike bring his magnificent sets to life.  But after my first full year at AUM I decided to drop out, still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.  But Theatre AUM always called me back, and eventually I made theatre my major, and my life has been ever richer for it.  And it was because of people like Jim.  Jim was like all the other theatre people I have known: eccentric, hilarious, emotional, and wonderful.  He had problems and demons just like we all do, but in the warm embrace of the theatre and the people who filled it, he, like me, found a refuge from the real world and knew that inside those walls, no matter what, he was accepted.  We were a part of a community, part of an amazing world where no one judged you, no one looked down on you, and no one believed you weren't worth including.  Over the years, Jim and I worked on a few more shows together, but real life takes you in strange directions and eventually we lost touch, save for a random encounter here and there.  But thanks to Facebook we did reconnect a couple years ago and it was nice to see that he was still that same lovable lunk I knew way back in the day.  Like a lot of people you meet in life, you take for granted that they will always be there, and to hear of Jim's passing this week broke my heart.  But the memories I have of he and I killing time backstage, telling jokes and swapping stories are some of my fondest memories of my time at Theatre AUM.  Because Jim was a guy who was just fun to be around.   I will never forget one night at the theatre in early 1991, Jim brought in a copy of Sting's album "The Soul Cages" which had just come out.  He couldn't stop raving about it, so we put it on the CD player and let it loop while we painted the set for "The Memorandum."  And from that night on, any time I hear that album, I always think of Jim and the fun we had just being oddballs in the theatre.  Thank you, Jim, for showing me there was a place for guys like us in this world.  For that I will be forever grateful.  See you in the next life, my friend.