The Charleston Women’s Drama Study Club

For those who have known me for a long time, and for those who most likely have drawn logical conclusions about me by reading this blog, feel free to laugh now.  As I readily admit, normally my walk in life is not the personality that when entering a room fills it with howling laughter.  I can be crazy-funny in the moment, but on a regular basis, I am not generally described as the comic relief personality. 

I am not sure why I think this part of my life is funny – perhaps because it is so out of character for me – perhaps because I am – as I see it – in this part, a weak link in a very strong chain –  perhaps it is because it is something I never dreamt that I would be doing.

 But, I am.

So keep in mind that what I am about to tell you is true – and I am not changing the names to protect the innocent (see Dragnet 1951-1959)! 

I am proud to say that I am friends with 34 very talented women.  That number doesn’t include the five talented women who have reached emeritus status. (They are still my friends and they are still talented; however, they are just more or less retired).   Considering the entire group, the composition is amazing.  These women come from all walks of life, represent numerous generations, have very diverse interests, lifestyles, and opinions, and again, are all my friends. 

By default, I have been to most of their homes, always on the second Thursday of the month, always on time.  Actually, the rules state that if I can’t be there, I must contact the host prior to 7:45pm.  Failure to do so twice in a row means that I will be asked to exit the group. 

And in some configuration or another, these women have been together for the past 93 years.  Yes, 93 years!

Me?   I am merely a youngster as I have only been with them for the past six years.  I know several ladies who have marked their 50th year.  Let me say that again, 50th year.   It is amazing to me that sometime in 1909, 35 women joined together and came up with a brilliant idea that has managed to make it through numerous wars, natural disasters, depressions, recessions, and just the every day, usual, routine stuff that can set up all kinds of challenges and barriers no matter how strong the women are.

We have an ironclad constitution that guides us, and we follow it – every last word of it.  Every five years (no exceptions), we invite spouses and significant others.  The dues is $6.00.  Cash is preferred, checks are accepted.  But it must be paid, and the sooner, the better.  In fact, at the start of this season, it was announced that all dues had been collected during the first month.  And we applauded.    

All members must participate once each year during one of the eight months of the season.  Every five years, each member must agree to be a host.  No exceptions.  Every time we meet, we take roll, read the minutes, present the treasurer’s report, consider old business, and discuss new business.

And then the fun starts.

For the group I am describing is the Charleston Women’s Drama Study Club, currently in its 93rd season.

From October to May . . . for the past 93 years . . . a portion of our group becomes the cast – reading and acting out a play –  and the remainder of the group comprises the audience.   This season’s docket includes: The Best Man, Mrs. Mannerly, The Last Romance, Ghost Writer, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, The Other Place, The Naked Eye, and Theatrical Haiku.  In all, I have seen 48 different plays during my membership and have looked forward to the previously mentioned eight.

In early evening, on the second Thursday of the month, we fill a house, create a set, find a place for the audience to sit, listen to the director provide a brief description of the play, the playwright, the time period, and any unusual stage directions that might be happening, and . . . off we go into the world of drama. 

I have seen the ladies of the Charleston Women’s Drama Study Club transform themselves into all kinds of characters; we have no boundaries on who we might be and what we might do to convey what we believe the writer and director intended. 

I have witnessed a woman – who is in her mid to late seventies (and who has been a member of the club for decades) play a character whose profanity would make pigs squeal.  It was so out-of-character for the actor – and truly unexpected while in the moment.  So, every time she spoke, we roared.  Every time we roared, she laughed.  And every time she laughed, we laughed more. It was crazy-funny at its best. 

Again, we laugh, laugh, laugh at the comedies and cry, cry, cry at the tragedies.  At times the audience is noisy-loud, and at other times, the drama is so dramatic we can hear a pin drop.  We always end the evening by gathering around the cast and seriously discussing exactly what we might have learned from the production, followed by a cast photo taken by our resident historian.  And this has been happening for 93 years. 

Most amazing to me is what I have learned – being a member of the Charleston Women’s Drama Study Club.  In all honesty, I haven’t learned to be a better actor – my talent is still on the lean side in that area.  I am still not one who dazzles much, if at all.   

But, the moral of this story is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. 

Even with my minuscule acting ability, if I am a cast member, my theater buddies lavish words of praise and accolades upon me.  And there is nothing better than trying something new and different, persevering and clunking through it, and having the ladies of the Charleston Women’s Drama Study Club tell me that I was superb!  For me, that is how this star was born!

Acting in the annual Christmas Play . . . Even the best actors can’t always hide their feelings!

Okay Ordinary

My life is generally . . . often . . . usually . . . quite ordinary. And I have come to the realization that ordinary is . . . okay.

I have a typical home with typical trimmings – front door, back door, kitchen, garage, deck, bedrooms, bathrooms. I own no pets, grow no plants, have no secret passage ways, and no moat. I organize my closet according to color first, then season. I keep all my super secret stuff in a folder marked super secret – because it is so much easier to find super secret stuff that is filed properly. I steer clear of food that comes with expiration dates; and, am an avid collector of nothing other than dust. I make my bed everyday before leaving the house, and my late night snack is cheap, easy air popped popcorn. A most ordinary life.

On work days, I have an ordinary commute – a 14.2 mile / 17 minute one way cruise that includes three stop lights and one stop sign – total. (I could pare those stops down if I took the back roads.) The ordinary commute comes with a routine. Every morning, I eventually meet up with the same car-driving coffee klatch crowd. There is the Dodge Caravan man who gives me the head nod and the lift-the-fingertips off the steering wheel wave . . . the blue Buick lady with the gracious, soulful arm gesture who occasionally touts the horn. And, of course, the crazy-funny college kid in the beater mobile with blaring music, who just turns and smiles. He’s cool – and the coffee klatch knows it. Me? I practice the Queen Elizabeth raise my left arm at the elbow, thump pointing towards my shoulder with a slight motioning of the hand and a randomly added left eye wink. Really, all the second stop light group has to do is to add a little Sister Sledge, and suddenly we would be one big ordinary family.

And the landscape along the way? It’s ordinary with . . . admittedly . . . a chaser of interesting.

First, I live in farm country where there are acres and acres and acres, miles and miles and miles of corn and soybeans everywhere. One month it’s green and growing. A couple of months later, it’s brown and dry. Planting to harvesting, it’s the same each year. Has been for hundreds of years. In the spring, it’s called the green wave – a term of endearment characterizing its ordinary beauty.

However, in terms of ordinary / not-so-ordinary, that doesn’t explain why there is a random, twenty-foot, replica of an authentic Native American tee-pee peeking out on the edge of one of those nearby farms; nor does it explain the meticulously maintained, privately owned – but publicly used – deluxe cement-finished roadside tables, complete with a paved turn-about near mile four. Their use is sporadic, but the folklore factor they add to the commute is all worth it.

Again, it’s ordinary in an unusual way.

Which can also describe the local theater. Near the commute’s five-mile mark, in a large open farm field sits an AMC Showplace 10 movieplex. Surrounded by corn and soybeans, it’s a busy, hometown place with pleasant, hospitable employees, complete with a giant, highly visible SHOWPLACE marquis, an ample parking lot, and a great free refill policy on all popcorn and drinks. A typical, ordinary theater . . . sorta.

Because lately, commuting past the theater at night at the end of an ordinary workday has been a comedic highlight. Whether caused by a short in the system or by a big time Scrabble game on the part of some very humorous employees, the movieplex’s marquis illumination changes daily. Sometimes it says SHOWPLACE and sometimes it says SOWPLACE, or HOWPLACE or OWPLACE or SHOW ACE or my favorite SHOW LACE. An ordinary theater with a crazy-funny attitude.

The Mattoon AMC Showplace Ten

My Local Ordinary Movie Marquis!

Finally, the commute route passes by the local airport – most ordinary at first glance . . . and probably second glance, too. It has hangers, runways, a ten foot protective fence to keep the deer either in or out depending on which way they are jumping, and manicured grounds. Big jumbo jets are a rarity there, with private and charter planes commonplace. The on-site restaurant attracts its fair share of daily guests and serves the famous tenderloin as big as an elephant ear. It’s an ordinary local airport . . . until, that is, July 4th rolls around.

For on July 4th, the airport shuts down . . . completely . . . to prepare for one of the most deluxe fireworks celebrations found anywhere this side of the Mississippi. Town folks use a free shuttle bus system to haul out family, friends, buckets of fried chicken, coolers of drinks, lawn chairs, blankets, and bug spray. Everyone sets up camp on the east runway tarmac hoping for a glorious view of the fireworks exploding on the west runway tarmac. All planes for the day are simply re-routed to other nearby airports, I suppose. I am not really sure. I am also not sure of what happens to potentially stranded passengers. Perhaps they are sent via train to the next nearest airport not hosting a fireworks display. All I know is that planes don’t arrive or depart on July 4th. The airport is on holiday.

And for good reason. It really is the perfect place for thousands of people to gather for late evening festivities. After all, airports are nothing more than giant parking lots with lights. And here in Central Illinois, it is just an ordinary solution for a traditional American celebration.

Living in a house with no secret passageways and no moat, with a commute through corn and soybeans surrounded by tee-pees and cement roadside picnic tables, seeing the movie theater that has entered some type of marquis spelling bee, and passing the airport where I have been part of the runway loungers watching fireworks on the fourth may seem odd and unusual to some, but to me, it’s just a part of my average, run-of-the-mill, humdrum, typical ordinary life. And as I stated earlier . . . it’s okay, really okay!