A tough act to follow


By Jeff Gates - Life Happens



Generations of stage experience converged this summer in upstate New York as columnist Jeff Gates and his son Aaron met with nationally-recognized theatrical educator Bob Sagan, center, the older Gates’ high school drama/musical director/mentor.


Jeff Gates | For The Madison Press

London’s Aaron Gates, right, made his collegiate stage debut Dec. 2-3 as Reverend Harper in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Ohio University.


Jeff Gates | For The Madison Press

The longest first act in theatre history.

And that is a good thing.

This past weekend, my wife and I ventured to see our oldest in his collegiate theatrical debut.

While he was up there on his new home — an Ohio University stage — many years of memories that led him there raced through my mind.

Last fall, it was decision-making time for Aaron as to where he would like to pursue his advanced education in his chosen field of Theatre Performance.

During that time, he was in rehearsals with the cast of the murder-mystery “And Then There Were None” at London High School.

As the show’s culprit, his character was methodically eliminating individuals throughout the drama.

While we were visiting various college campuses, a similar weeding-out process was taking place. The first few stops did not elicit much response.

Then came Ohio University.

Having the opportunity to sit in on an Improvisational Theatre class on “Experience the Arts Day” at Ohio University was the turning point. On the way back to London, he announced that we could cancel the rest of his scheduled campus visits.

He had found his new home.

The next few months was a whirlwind. The turning point was when he had to find/prepare contrasting monologues in order to audition at the school. Various people helped him select, practice, critique and refine those two new pieces of dialogue. It was a proud day when we found he had earned one of only 10 talent-based scholarships the Ohio University Theatre Department awards annually.

This summer, as he was preparing to begin to enter a whole new realm of theatre, Aaron was fortunate enough to meet with nationally-recognized theatrical educator Bob Sagan. We got to meet with him during a family trip to New York State.

A couple of years ago, Sagan was the inaugural recipient of the Outstanding Achievement in Education and Engagement Award from The Broadway League, based in New York City. Sagan was also my high school theatre director, mentor, and go-to person for expert advise throughout the years. He has forgotten more about theatre than I will ever know.

Waiting excitedly for pearls of wisdom from the theatrical legend, Sagan told Aaron he only had to remember three words when entering the highly competitive world of the stage/film/television.

Rejection, rejection, rejection.

Sagan told Aaron he will be turned down for many more parts than he will receive — and then he gave him three other words to know.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Drawing from 50 years of working with actors on the high school, community and professional levels, Sagan said in theatre — like most other professions — don’t let others be more ready than you are.

He went on to explain that in standard auditions, you present your monologue, and from that, the director decides who he/she wants to hear again in what he called the all-important callback phase. This, he said, gives the director the opportunity to not only hear an actor reading for certain roles, but affords the ability to match people in the process to see how they look/sound together before making final casting decisions.

Fast forward to early this fall semester. Aaron auditioned for two student-directed shows (freshmen can’t be on main stage shows at Ohio University), receiving callbacks in each.

While, as Sagan warned, he was ‘rejected’ from one show, his overall ‘preparation’ at callbacks earned him the role of Reverend Harper in the classic “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Ironically, “Arsenic” has been a hallmark show for our family throughout the years. As a sophomore in high school, it was the show in which I had my first lines in a Sagan-led drama. As a junior at London High School, Aaron played the role of serial killer Jonathan Brewster.

While Jonathan was menacing and intense, his recent role of Harper was more subdued and supportive.

Obviously, Aaron will always have a welcoming home with his family.

Now, after seeing him on the collegiate stage, we feel happy about his new home as well.

Generations of stage experience converged this summer in upstate New York as columnist Jeff Gates and his son Aaron met with nationally-recognized theatrical educator Bob Sagan, center, the older Gates’ high school drama/musical director/mentor.
http://www.madison-press.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2017/12/web1_sagan.jpgGenerations of stage experience converged this summer in upstate New York as columnist Jeff Gates and his son Aaron met with nationally-recognized theatrical educator Bob Sagan, center, the older Gates’ high school drama/musical director/mentor. Jeff Gates | For The Madison Press

London’s Aaron Gates, right, made his collegiate stage debut Dec. 2-3 as Reverend Harper in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Ohio University.
http://www.madison-press.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2017/12/web1_aol-2.jpgLondon’s Aaron Gates, right, made his collegiate stage debut Dec. 2-3 as Reverend Harper in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Ohio University. Jeff Gates | For The Madison Press

By Jeff Gates

Life Happens

Jeff Gates has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. Future column suggestions and/or comments? Contact: lifehappenscolumn@gmail.com.

Jeff Gates has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. Future column suggestions and/or comments? Contact: lifehappenscolumn@gmail.com.