Tag Archives: The Dallas Theater Center

Randy Ford Author-the beginning of a new work: on the draft and deferment

      While we flew west across the Pacific and lost a day, I dozed off and on and listened to the “Erotica.”   Classical music had been an acquired taste.

      My wife looked over at me without joy.   She wasn’t sure about this.   It had been her idea to join the Peace Corps, but now that we were in the air, and it came down to leaving behind all she knew except me, she wasn’t sure.

      But I hadn’t paid her much attention.   Did she really want to turn back?   Was I worth it?

      She wasn’t sure.   She grew up being overwhelmed about many things.

      And this wasn’t what I was tuned into as I dozed off and on and listened to the “Erotica.”   I was more interested in looking at the clouds as we followed the sun.   It would be a long flight.   I wasn’t interested in the in-flight movie, a silly flick I had already seen.

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      We were being sent to Philippines instead of somewhere in Africa because my draft board had been in hot pursuit of me.   This was in 1969.   I had been deferred to allow me to complete graduate school.   I was working in a regional professional theater and going to school.   It had been a very busy time, and that was why I liked it.   My late nights meant my wife spent most of her nights alone in an apartment she never got use to, and she never felt safe there with all the comings and goings in the park in the neighborhood.   In a real way she was glad to get out of there.   There was never a better illustration of this than on the night she smelled cigarette smoke just outside our bedroom window.   She had to also commute to school.   This had been especially hard for her because she hadn’t been use to big-city traffic and had just learned to drive.   On her first day at a new university she took one wrong turn and it took her all day long to find her way home.   She never made it to school that day, and my first thought when she told me wasn’t that sympathetic.   This made her feel very stupid.   We knew we were different.   I didn’t say much.   I was too wrapped up in a production of one of my plays.   It was all about me and I had classes in the morning and rehearsals in the afternoon while she drove a hundred miles both ways; and my evenings were filled with shows, one beginning as soon as one ended; and after performances, there was always homework.

      That was how it was the first year of our marriage.   We hardly had time to speak to each other.   It’s hard to believe now; and that first year I don’t see how we made it as a couple.   The production of my play went very well and people seemed to like it, no doubt because of Paul Baker who directed it, an honor for me as his student because he was the Managing Director of the theater and only directed one or two plays a season.   That, believe me, was something else.  I have to tell you I appreciate it all more now than I did then.

      Now I want to go back to the plane ride.   You must believe I was excited.   But then how many times had I been out of the country?   None.   Or we may have walked across the border into Juarez on our hurried honeymoon.   Peg had never been on an airplane before stepping on the one in Dallas that took us on the first leg of this journey that would last five years and take us around the world.   There is a lot more about all this that I want to say, about the countries and the people, and the adventures we had, and the gifts from all of that we received.   It will be impossible to remember everything now, and some things I’ll get wrong.   Clearly I have my biases, good and bad, that a reader will have to put up with.   There are also things I’d rather forget that I may not write about.

Randy Ford

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Randy-Author on living with the choices we make

      Old times, memories, choices: they have more to do with the present than one might think.   My wife Peggy and I had just, after two years, left Manila when Lino Brocka first started making movies (because of her white skin, Peggy played the Virgin Mary in one of Lino’s dramas on live national television).   So if we had stayed in the Philippines, I could’ve…  STOP!

      Here I go again with the old “I could’ve-should’ve game,” which I don’t like.

      We were not from the Philippines and had we stayed we would’ve always been transplants.   But the notion of envy and regret has sometimes come to me when someone I had been associated with became very successful and I had moved on and missed out: Lino was one example, and Preston Jones, another (both are dead and I’m alive, as I’m still trying and they’re tragically finished).   I can easily be envious.   WAIT!

      I have to tell myself the truth: I chose to leave the Dallas Theater Center and Manila and each move led to incredible experiences.   Soon these experiences offered different opportunities.   And consequently, I’ve had a very full life, nothing that I regret.   It’s only during the downtime, the in-betweens, that the could’ves and should’ves emerge.

      I lesetstats1ft the Dallas Theater Center (Preston Jones) and a theater that produced my plays to teach and work in the theater in the Philippines.   For two years I taught drama during the day at the University of the Philippines and at night and on weekends worked in a theater in Fort Santiago under the auspicious The Philippine Educational Theater Association.   Lino Brocka also worked there and directed and produced weekly television dramas.   I always had more than drama and theater in mind; for I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity I had to see the world and decided the best way to do that was by bicycle. 

       And just as we had left Dallas, we flew out of Manila and then bought bicycles in Malacca Malaysia, and from there commenced a three-year trek.   (Except for the chance that Peggy might’ve been pregnant, we would’ve started from Singapore.)   There is just so much you can fit into a lifetime, back to old times, memories, and choices.   I was a writer (in search of material) with an urge to keep going, and without a clue where I would end up.   I wanted the experience, and now that I have it I have to remind myself that it was all worth it.

      Randy Ford

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Randy-Practice writing

      Practice is necessary.   Practice, in combination with lessons and study either formally or informally, is necessary for greatness.   This was true for Mozart (he started practicing at age eight and didn’t mature for ten years), for Joyce (he considered his early composition of STEPHEN worthless), and the early work of almost any artist, musician, and writer (Eugene McKinney used to say most playwrights don’t reach their prime until they reach their fifties.)   Ten years of practice seems absolutely necessary.

      And then, looking back, I know I didn’t practice enough.   I realize that I was never disciplined.   I never saw the need for practice.   I always wrote for a product.   It was always more important for me to see my work performed than simply practice my craft, and that incentive unfortunately rewarded me.   The incentive stopped when I left the theater (The Dallas Theater Center and the Philippine Theater at Fort Santiago).   The practicing…while traveling and working outside the theater… became meaningless and was to remain meaningless; now that the urge to write has returned, I wonder, after all of the years of not practicing, if it is not too late to catch up.

      I have known what it takes to be great (or succeed) in any endeavor: practice, practice, and practice.   I have been critical of other people for not making that sacrifice.   My own sacrifice has been far less than what is necessary for me to attain my ambitions.   Am I out of time?

Randy Ford

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Randy-What does it take for a writer to have vatality and relevance?

      It was as a Texan, growing up in a suburb of Dallas (Bonnie and Clyde and Lee Harvey Oswald country), that I emerged on the theater scene, having a play of mine occasionally produced.   A girlfriend I had from there who had a mother who was a fashion designer for some upscale place and a father who ran a nightclub for the carriage trade shaped my image of Dallas.   I literally lived across the river in a “bedroom” community; and only saw Dallas after dark and after I got off work, and what I mostly saw as I zoomed around in my Chevy convertible was a blur and was eschewed by what I could see through my rearview mirror.

      Even the assassination of a president, any more than a professional football team or a popular television program, didn’t pique my interest in Dallas.   It was fair to say, “I abandoned her.”   Just as my girlfriend abandoned me after I squeezed her so hard that her belt popped.   It’s fair to say that I had more interest in her than I did in Dallas.

      It must have been Paul Baker (artist director of the Dallas Theater Center) who depicted Dallas as a “medieval town.”   Was that really so?   True, each bank downtown owned a skyscraper.   And each skyscraper owned by a bank was like a small principality, and the banks ruled and competed with other banks or principalities.   Each bank had a logo or coat of arms.   Did that make the city medieval?   Paul Baker must have had more reasons than these for making his statement about Dallas. I grew up around there and still didn’t know enough about the town to either agree or disagree with him.

      More connected, I think, was the playwright John Logan who was a friend and a contemporary of mine.   He wrote the play Jack Ruby, All-American Boy in association with Paul Baker to bring “a certain perspective on the tragedies that occurred in Dallas in November of 1963. ”  A violent moment, and witnessed by millions of Americans on television, threw Jack Ruby into the spotlight. Suddenly Dallas was on trial; and I wouldn’t have had the feelings for the city that John Logan had to have had to write his play.   He used his knowledge of the city and the perspective of having lived there for a long time.   But he could look at it with the eye of an artist, and his ability to interpret what he saw brought relevance to his work.   He saw the events and how American and Dallas changed “painfully and quickly” after the “violent street tragedies that began in 1963.”   Good for him; if I had been more alert maybe I could’ve come up with something as significant.

      It only goes to show how writers need to be thinkers.   But first they need to have the pieces and, then with the pieces, they have to put them together; and that requires thought.   This is what Paul Baker and John Logan wrote about Jack Ruby, All-American Boy in a Dallas Theater Center publication called TWENTY DYNAMIC YEARS.   From it, I think you can see how the pieces came together for them.

      “For a theater to have vatality and relevance to the community it serves, it must attempt to interpret the significant events that take place in the lives of the people of that community.   Jack Ruby, All-American Boy represents an effort on the part of artists at the Dallas Theater Center to achieve through the dramatic form, a certain perspective on the tragedies that occurred in Dallas in November of 1963.

      “The product of a Chicago ghetto where violence, persecution, and neglect were routine, Jack Ruby set out to pursue the American Dream.   In his own inept and often comic way, he tried to achieve the success, the fame, the power, the wit, the compassion, and the class that President Kennedy had in full measure.   Programmed as he was, however, only the luck of an Horatio Alger hero could have made the dream come true to Ruby.   He attempted to escape his ghetto background and make his fortune in a new city, a new frontier.   He yearned to gain the respect of those around him, but almost nothing went right.   Then, suddenly, a grotesque perversion of the dream, an incredible, violent moment that was witnessed on television by millions of Americans that Sunday morning, catapulted Ruby into the spotlight.   He became in his fantasy the hero of a Hollywood success story.

      “America and Dallas have changed tremendously, painfully, and quickly since the violent street dramas began in 1963.   A decade of war and domestic revolution has ended with peace, however uneasy; and Americans are examining the old values, the old ideals, the old dreams.   The American Dream as a concept will endure, for it is universal among men.   But the distortion of the dream, the corruption of its positive energy, may be waning.   Perhaps we are approaching a New Frontier.”

       I’m not sure when John and Mr. Baker wrote the above.   However, thank you John.   And with the election of Obama, maybe we’ll get there yet.

       Good night, Randy Ford

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Randy-the nitty-gritty substance that is essential for a writer

      As a teenager my grandfather ran away from his boyhood home in Tennessee.   We never knew why, why he ran away and never went back.   He rode the rails to the Texas panhandle and married and died across the line in northwest Oklahoma.   There were many things about my grandfather that were never talked about.   There were many gaps that I filled in with my imagination.   Little by little those things came to light, that his drinking might’ve been a problem and that he gambled.

      I based my short story “Grandpa’s Wager” on him.   Yes, indeed, he bet the family farm on Truman during a presidential election that by the time people went to bed Dewey had been given the victory: I learned that from a cousin as my father lay on his death bed.   The event hadn’t made it into family lore.   Amazing.   Now I want to know more: not only the family I knew, but also their secrets, the human side that went to their graves with them.

      As an adult, while my Great Uncle Lem was still alive and lived there, I would drive through the small town of Gage.   I had to look around, see the old farm at the end of a dusty lane, see my great grandmother’s white framed two story house at the intersection of Main and the highway, and see the house in town where my grandparents lived out their last years.   In other words, I tried to get the lay of the land.   These places are still important to me now, as I assess the assets I have as a writer.

      My great grandfather Wright was an early pioneer.   He worked at many trades…I used his machine shop and his great skill as a machinist in a one-act play of mine call ONE DEAD INDIAN (produced by The Dallas Theater Center).   To give you some idea about this guy here’s a list of what my great grandfather did for a living starting with his family, who owned and operated a sawmill on the present site of the town of Gage.   He built east and west drift fences for large cattle companies to keep cattle from going too far south into Indian territory; he drove freight from Dodge City to Lipscomb County Texas; he raised cattle and engaged in farming; he built the first cotton gin and light plant in town; he converted the old gin into a grain elevator and feed mill; and he ran a hardware store, a gas station, a pool hall (“recreation room”) and an ice-cream parlor.   And he did a lot of that with a missing arm. But he didn’t do all of this alone: no secret here.   He was a married man.   I remember my great grandmother, but my great grandfather died of a heart attack shortly before I was born.   She got a big kick out of my exaggeration (it was her huge oak tree that I said I could cut down with a lawn mower I had in Texas.)   And as I write this blog it occurs to me that there is enough material here for me to write a saga.   But none of this gets into the nitty-gritty substance that is essential for a writer.  Detail, detail, and more detail.   Personal detail.  And that’s what I’m looking for.

Randy Ford

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Randy-on becoming a rich and famous writer

      To be a writer, I thought, was a way I could become rich and famous.   My wife had that conviction more than I did.   With the professional production of some of my plays at the Dallas Theater Center and a positive review appearing in THE SATURDAY REVIEW OF LITERTURE, she even announced that to her parents.   And when that prediction never came true, I don’t think I ever totally let go of the idea.   I always thought that some day my work would catch on.   And when, after years of trying and it still hadn’t happened, I had to forget the idea that I would ever become more than what I am, relatively poor and struggling.   Yet I’ve been very fortunate and successful in many ways.   I’ve also learned struggling can be counterproductive.

      So I’m a writer.   Simply that.   Ah, yes, a writer.   I don’t dare say I am any less of a writer because I haven’t made big money from my writing, as I keep writing for writing sake.   But I can’t say I would object to receiving a royalty check or two.   (In the past, I’ve gone on short tours to promote my work) However, even though the discipline involved with having to make money from my writing may have been good for me, the last thing I wanted was to attract a mental block by concentrating on that (Making money from writing, for many writers is a benchmark of success).   I never tell myself I’m writing to publish, for fear that that would overwhelm me.   (This is one reason I haven’t approached my friends in the publishing world about my writing.   Until I started blogging, I hadn’t talked much about it.   I’ve simply waited.  And waited.   And waited for recognition to come.   And gradually I realized my unassertiveness had also been counterproductive.   However I don’t buy into the claim that the additional time the money would’ve bought me would’ve made me a more productive writer.   No way, Jose!

      Just some thoughts I’m having today about fame and success.  Good morning, Randy Ford

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Randy-Finding the balls to write

      The time came for us to go into the Peace Corps.   We ended up in the Philippines instead of somewhere in Africa because the Peace Corp foiled an attempt by my draft board to get me by accelerating their selection process.   My wife and I lived the next two years of our lives in Manila, teaching, and, for me, also working in a theater in Fort Santiago, a national shrine.   To say the least, it was a very busy time in our lives; but no busier for me, as a self-professed workaholic, than I have been all of my life.   Then the question arises why in the world, after a very productive time as a writer at the Dallas Theater Center, I didn’t write at all during my stint in the Peace Corps (or for that matter while we traveled throughout South East Asia and around the world mainly by bicycle.)

      That has been my story, that creatively I have gone through stagnant periods when I lacked the confidence to write.   Yes, confidence, it takes confidence to write, and in my case, after losing contact with Mr. Eugene McKinney and Paul Baker at the Dallas Theater Center and the kick of an audience, I had to find the impetus to write within my self.   After many failed attempts at writing over an extended period of time (I don’t know how many years it was now), I became discouraged and honestly thought I couldn’t write.   I would go around telling people I was a writer, but basically I was lying, or was I?   Didn’t I keep trying to write?   Didn’t I put in the time?   It’s kind of a blur now, but it seems I as if did.

      Every time I responded to the urge to write by sitting at a typewriter, with pen and paper, or at a computer and actively commenced work…let me repeat “and actively commenced work”…something creative came out of it.   Every time?   I think so.   Not finding the motivation to start seems to have been my biggest hang up.   (I wouldn’t call it a writer’s block, because at all cost I try to avoid them (blocks), by not thinking in that way.)

      Mr. McKinney, what was happening here?   Why have so many of your students stop writing?   What happened?   Maybe all of those people are still writing, are closet writers, but no longer have the desire or whatever else it takes to put their work out there.   Perhaps they have been told they’re not any good.   Or they’ve told themselves that.   This can all be true.

      All of this was true for me.   But now I’m writing.   To me, I’m a writer, and that makes me happy. Though I may not be any good…published, produced or not and with all the complex baggage of writing without recognition brings…I have to think I can write before I can: here I have to not listen to myself when I tell myself I can’t.   And if I don’t do that, or not pay attention to other resistance out there, then I’m open for a joyous ride, which sometimes when I think about it makes me sad because I ain’t getting any younger.   And on that said note…

Good day, Randy Ford

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