Becoming a Billionaire – Part 1
In the last few weeks, the transformation of my life from a relatively normal one to one of a 1920s industrial tycoon began.
Unfortunately, the transformation is merely for the stage, so the bank account is distinctly not that of a wealthy industrialist. The house is still the modest three bedroom rancher in Brunswick, not the big New York City Fifth Avenue mansion, either.
The changeover includes a head-shaving, line memorization, and dance instruction, too.
In a few weeks, I'll be able to say that I've added Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks to the list of characters I've been able to play on a local stage. It's the process of becoming Daddy Warbucks that I thought I'd talk a little about.
Several years ago, at the request of a very talented young lady – now married and living in Europe, I assisted in a production of Annie, Jr. at Brunswick Middle School. The cast was comprised of students, with the exception of three roles. Daddy Warbucks, Ms. Hannigan, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The show is much shorter than the full Broadway production, but those children were fantastic.
The best part of playing the role of Warbucks in Annie, Jr. was that there was no expectation that the actor had to shave their head. I wore a skin cap, a thin flesh-colored rubber appliance that covered my hair and was held in place by spirit gum. I suppose I should say almost held in place, because several times the cap shifted, causing odd wrinkles that made it look as though Daddy Warbucks was suffering from some serious medical condition.
So, when I heard last year that a local community theater group, the FrederickTowne Players (FTP), had added Annie to their annual roster as the big summer musical production, I was immediately interested.
I had worked with FTP before, once in 2005 and again in 2008. Both were very enjoyable experiences for the cast, crew, and audience alike.
FTP uses a competitive selection process to choose the directors for all of their productions. Directors submit a proposal, covering their vision for the show, as well as a budget and timeline. Interviews are conducted, and each of the four shows is given to a director.
For Annie, the chosen director was Samn Huffer. Mr. Huffer has an impressive history in high school and community theater productions, as he was the drama teacher for many years at both Brunswick and Walkersville High.
In addition to his many years as a teacher, mentor, and coach, Samn also has a criminal record. He pled guilty to purchase and possession of child pornography as a result of U.S. Postal Service sting operation.
I see no reason to regurgitate the history; suffice it to say that the record is out there, along with the sentence and probation. In addition to the historical record, Mr. Huffer remains in a database of convicted sex offenders, at least for the next year.
Samn had already directed a show for FTP, the musical Gypsy, a few years ago. At the time, Samn was still serving on supervised probation, so FTP took the precaution of notifying all cast members and parents of children who auditioned for the show about his past.
Since Gypsy was an almost perfect experience, with no issues, concerns, or negative feedback from anyone involved in the production, FTP saw no reason not to invite Mr. Huffer back to direct Annie. Both shows have children in the cast; both shows involve a relatively large adult cast; and with the positive experience, additional outreach must have seemed redundant and unnecessary.
In retrospect, not a good decision at all. A local radio host "discovered" the fact that Mr. Huffer was involved in the production and blew the whistle over the air. Legions of listeners flooded the telephone with outrage, mostly directed at the theater group for supposedly hiding the facts surrounding Mr. Huffer's past. Baltimore and DC area television news crews rushed to Frederick, sensing a juicy story and exposé. Remember, Samn's directing of Gypsy in 2005 was well covered in the local media. Annie has just begun rehearsal, so no press releases had gone out yet. Nothing was hidden, but neither was it adequately disclosed.
Without a forensic re-examination, suffice it say that there seems to be more to the story of Mr. Huffer's conviction and plea agreement than is obvious from a strict reading of the charging documents. None of that matters to many, especially not those who believe that there is simply no redemption from this type of behavior.
Dozens of people, many local, many not, have emailed me to urge my withdrawal from the production. One sweet little soul has even been urging me to walk away with weeks left before opening night, unconcerned with the cancellation of the show. She thinks I'm only hanging with the production to get my name in a playbill.
Sad, but telling. The emotion this subject generates burns with a heat not unlike the sun. For my own take on it, I wish FTP had followed the exact same course of action for Annie that they did for Gypsy. They didn't, and many have paid a dear price, especially Samn Huffer. None of the accusations, recriminations, and personal attacks were evidenced before, during, or after Gypsy.
In retrospect, walking away would have been the easy route. Avoiding the personal attacks, threats of political recrimination (an empty threat in light of self-imposed term limits), mandatory head-shaving, and hours of vocal and dance instruction seem preferable to hanging in there. Not disappointing all of the cast members, especially the young ladies who are working so hard, helping FTP avoid the severe financial repercussions of a cancelled production, and using what little influence my name affords to help make this a memorable, enriching and rewarding experience for all concerned seems the best course of action.
More next week on choosing to go bald and the rigors of teaching a pig to sing and dance!