Partner With Us!
What brought you or your family to Fullerton or Orange County?
When I graduated high-school In 1984 I packed up my diesel Chevette and headed for California. I moved to Riverside and lived with my Gran-Gran while I established residency. In the fall of 85 I started commuting to Cal Sate La. That lasted about a week, I missed my first 2 classes due to traffic. A friend had found a job in Fullerton so I moved in with him to the Nutwood apartments, began working at Bob’s Big Boy, around this time I started going to Fullerton College. Work and a live in girlfriend caused me to drop out. I would register, become involved with my life and work and stop attending classes. One of the first classes I took was acting A, I don’t recall the teacher, but I remember the “open scene.” Two of the students, who had just met, brought a sheet stripped to underwear, and were brilliant. They were so talented and I so afraid; I dropped the class and didn’t go back.
Explain why you chose to study/work at Fullerton College.
In the late 80’s my live in girlfriend broke up for the final time. Crushed I moved into a bed-sit off of East St, and fell to sleep every night listening to the sounds of the Christian Rock band playing in the garage. Around this time I started attending classes at Fullerton College again. I never decided to go to Fullerton, it just sort of happened that I was a lost crushed soul and thought I would try to get things together again.
At first I fell into a pattern of failure, except for my creative writing class. I was also working two full time jobs and one part time. (Togg Ent., a slum lord with weekly hotels; (Pitcairn, Golden Forest, Fire Station, all since torn down.) which opened me up to the struggle of life, The Crocodile Café where I waited and did bookkeeping, and the Muckenthaler where I was night security.) Somehow I pulled up my grades again and enrolled again in Acting A. And moved to Newport Beach.
In what areas of college life were/are you engaged?
I had already been accepted to start in the Film dept. at Cal State Long Beach, in the winter, when I took Acting A at Fullerton. Gary Krinke cast me in Three Musketeers, which didn’t perform until the following spring. So instantly was I at home and ready for what was being offered that I never went back to film or Cal State again. Theatre became my life, I auditioned, wrote directed and grew a big ego all at the same time.
Describe what the college was like and your principal interests during your year(s) at the college.
At first I was not interested in much accept the classes. I was writing a lot of poetry and painting, but never pursued those avenues at the school. That was something for me. I don’t think I ever shared a poem until my creative writing class and by then I had written literally hundreds. The encouragement for my creativity was always hampered by my basic inability to master grammar. It slowed down the writing process. Then I found theatre and attacked just about all classes. I loved tech, painting, acting, directing, but most importantly I wrote my first plays at Fullerton College, and met the people that would invite me to be a founding member of Stages Theatre.
During your time at Fullerton College, who were people you had friendships with, were inspired by, or in some way made a difference in your time here, and why?
While I was at Fullerton my best friend was Jim Freek, son of the former power boat racer and owner of Freek’s Garage. We spent all our time going to concerts and clubs, haunting record stores, publishing our own fanzine, and we would sometimes take classes together, (History of Rock, where our friend Rick got drunk on the free Ny-quil the bookstore used to give out, having drunk 7 of them, and danced around the class.) We also celebrated my birthday there and Jim made a cake. “Who got chocolate all over my Ramones albums?” For some reason we knew more about the alternative scene, and caused havoc for our teacher. A direct quote in my mind is; “In my 27 years of teaching no one ever rolled a giant can of peaches down the rows at me.” We also took photography, sneaking pictures of our girlfriends into the dark room to develop in private, and bowling. Jim spilled a coke on the lanes during the championship and a member of the other team complained that her ball was “all sticky.” Both of us dropped from about a 160 average to 120 averages after taking the class. Some things should never be analyzed.
As bizarre as it seems, Jim helped found the person I became. A person that wasn’t afraid to run into the street screaming when approached by scientologists. He tore the Midwest away form me and opened me up to the California music scene. Every Johnny Thunder gig I caught, Jim was there too. Sometimes we would be at a Billy Joel concert and follow it off slam dancing to Celebrity Skin in a Hollywood dive bar. Without him I would have never written So Alone, my punk rock musical. Eventually he became a record producer and manager for girl surf bands and I was too wrapped up in the theatre scene to keep track of him. I always think of Oscy, from Summer of 42 when I think of Jim.
Other friends I made that shaped the person and writer I was going to become at Fullerton include Patrick G’waltney, who directed the first play I had produced, Led Through the Haze. Patrick and I challenged everything, eager to learn and learn why about theatre. We were also both becoming friends slowly. Amanda DeMaio, a talented actor and writer and fellow founding member of Stages theatre. Adam Clark, who later acted in several of my scripts, was my room-mate when I went off to UCLA and wrote a one act play with me, whose title escapes me. He was a great friend, and is now a proud father, as well. Brian Kojac, who I met in Three Musketeers but wouldn’t really become a friend until my time with him at Stages.
Mary Thorton, an actor, who besides being very talented was one of the most interesting people I knew at Fullerton. I saw her in 2011 in a play with another Fullerton Alum, Mathew Lilard. Mary’s talent and stage presence is beyond measure. Susana Garcia, who later acted in several of my scripts and her brother, Eddie. Eddie was interested in Tech and hung out with several of us, including Oanh Nguyen, founder of chance theatre. We would go out to eat every Week and called ourselves the Monday Night Breakfast club. It is amazing how important our lives were to each other, how we helped and created and loved and laughed and fought and broke apart. All of these people helped shape who I was going to become. Live moves on, people drift, I haven’t seen most of these people in years, but when I do it is a shared history. Thinking of them opens a flood of memories, and each person leads to another.
What were some of the biggest changes or most significant events that took place during your time at the college?
The most significant event was meeting Gary Gardner. Gary was an adjunct professor who taught playwriting at FC, and also a Full time instructor at UCLA. I walked into Gary’s class still unsure what my roll in theatre would be and left a fledgling playwright. He likes to tell the story of showing up on Saturday, “And this hairy barbarian was welding in the shop, looked up at me and grunted. Imagine my surprise when he later came into my class and sat down at the table covered in grease.” By the time I left Gary’s class I had written 2 full length and 4 one act plays. I owe Gary everything I became, and have no idea who I would be without him. A friend and instructor. My favorite Gary moment is after he had come to see Ticklepants at Stages, about the time I dropped out of UCLA, and we met up in the bar after. Aglow in my success I put to him; “Admit it, I could have written dialogue for the Marx Brothers.” And he replied, after the perfect pause, “Yeah, Harpo.” I am thankful I was able to finish my degrees at UCLA later in life while he was still teaching.
Please tell us one story that gives us insight into your experiences at Fullerton College.
The story I want to relate is the story of Snow Angels. Bronwyn Dodson passed away while I was a student. At some point Mary Thorton came to me and said she wanted to do a benefit for Bronwyn and had heard I was a writer. I told her I had no stories, but would think about it. I had an Idea I had been working on called Mother’s Daughter. We agreed to do it. As I started working on rewrites I happened to read a story in the Pessimist’s Guide to History. The line that stood out was simply a statement that in 1942 the blizzard was so bad in North Dakota two girls were killed on the train tracks unaware they were on the tracks, and the engineer did not know he hit them until his train was back in the yard and they found their frozen bodies on the engine.
The more I thought about it, I wondered what they were doing there. I started a play about an abused woman who gets drunk. No pages from that draft exist. Then I put it aside and went back to Mother’s Daughter. But I kept wondering about the two girls. And at work in the weekly motel I wrote the play over 3 nights. This time it was about two girls who fall in love and are separated by the church, meeting again on the fateful night of the blizzard. I gave both to Mary; she liked the idea of Mother’s Daughter but after reading Snow Angels switched plays. Mother’s Daughter went to stages and was directed by Amanda DeMaio. It turned out to be the worst play I ever wrote. Meanwhile, Cynthia Ryan joined the cast and we started rehearsing. I directed. Bob Jensen was our champion and worked behind the scenes to make sure it happened. We had one day to rehearse in the Dodson Theatre (not yet named). The show almost never happened. We programmed lights, with the help of Steve Craig, who came by and assisted with the dry ice as well. But in the middle of the 2nd run-thru nerves and tension erupted over moving a bench or blocking and Mary stormed out of the theatre and we got in a shouting match telling each other basically to F- off. Only we were a lot nastier.
There was no one to turn to and we were on our own. I wish I could remember who was helping us with tech, but they turned to me and said – make it work. And I did. I don’t remember what I said, but after that moment the four of us knew we would succeed or fail together.
The night was magical, everything a play should be. And when the light overpowers the actors and the train deafens the theatre … the silence and quiet tears were cathartic. The play, if it had ended here would have been a disaster, to close to the truth of the person we were celebrating. Mary and I had figured that out only days before, and I wrote a scene we were both unsure of. But the moment the “God light” turned on and the actors walked into the light anticipating an afterlife, still arguing about salvation… Was the most amazing thing I have ever felt. No audience has ever given me so much. I ducked out in the blackout and only looked in to wave after a sustained call for “author author.” I went back to the makeup room and cried. For everything.
This is how the Bronwyn Dodson scholarship started it’s funding. I relate this story because of the trust that was placed in us as students. The uncertainty of who we were before this moment and the realization of who we were going to be after. I was now a writer. Without Fullerton College that would have never happened. The faculty cared, pushed and trusted us, and we gave back everything we had. Later Gary Gardner directed the play, at UCLA, it was this script that got me there most likely and we were brought full circle.
Any other comments, funny stories, and/or recollections of what was happening to you/on campus during major events?
Like most students I was wrapped up in my own loves and art. The Challenger exploded on lift off, hurting me one morning as I stayed home watching it over and over; much like the horror of 9-11 years later for students. The stories of me growing from a peach can rolling moop to a playwright are the same for all students, that journey of discovery everyone makes when in an environment that facilitates growth.
What advice do you have for our current students?
Don’t be afraid to fail, you will. But if you want something keep reaching for it, never settle, and never let the failure define you. As far as I know you get one life that you remember, you will then die. Spend that life doing what you want. Leave no regrets behind, and when you have success reach further… There are two lines from David Bowie; “Don’t believe in yourself. Don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release.” And; “I never did good things. I never did bad things. I never did anything out of the blue.” Both those lines sum up my philosophy about how to live life.
What impact did your experiences at Fullerton College have on the rest of your life/career and how?
Fullerton College’s Theatre Dept. changed my entire life. I became an adult, a writer, and a person here. The trust teachers had in me, the truth and honesty, the ability to disagree and argue like equals. My fellow students, most of my friends here have done theatre the rest of their lives, and how many working relations ships do I have that trace back to Fullerton. As a teacher I try to channel those who taught me, to shape who I am in front of others by who I was when changed forever by my instructors at Fullerton. I became an Artist at Fullerton, and I take pride when playwrights leave me the same.
“Don’t be afraid to fail, you will. But if you want something keep reaching for it, never settle, and never let the failure define you.”