if i wasn’t sentimental enough when i was young, it’s coming in waves as i age. the pipers. my, my, my. i’m a delinquent papa; the pipers are an inheritance i’ve neglected for far too long. and like an absent dad, do i get to go home?
i was first introduced to the pied pipers as a freshman at freed hardeman college in 1973. they were the ‘flaky’ kids on campus; a children’s theatre troop who used no props,or sets; no costumes really, just brightly colored jump suits. that was before jump suits for men were cool.
freed hardeman college. i didn’t always have a good attitude back then. as my father often says, you can’t put an old man’s head on a young man’s shoulders. i didn’t really appreciate all that i had and those days were often riotous and misspent.
1420 students. that was the biggest enrollment the school had ever had up until that time. slightly larger than the population of the little town it sat square in the middle of, henderson, tennessee; freed hardeman was an expensive, private school where everybody knew everybody… twice. at least. and everyone was always happy:
i should have been happy. life was easy. but i had no idea the real joy that would enter my life when this dude came back from finishing his masters and took over the theater department:
hank was in the first pied piper troop as an undergrad student, i think fsu. his mentor was the originator of pipers and hank was one of two performers who made up the original pied pipers company 1. when he came to freed, before my time, he started company ll, which ran, again i’m thinking, almost 20 years.
one of the most illustrious of his students was a piper with me. dottie frye, and her husband steve, are head and assistant head of theatre at harding university in searcy, arkansas. dottie is one of the gang who’s also kept pipers alive for all these years.
i started a troop in boston in 1980. hank came and did a workshop with my kids. we also went to a spinner’s concert and had, as he was often fond of saying, a ‘hoot!’ terri knight and i found colorful overalls and neckerchiefs at a thrift store in peabody. doug arthur was the big bad wolf. life was simple.
in 1983 lisa and i moved to nyc and in 1984 i started pipers there. in time, it would be taken over by usurpers like anne albert, now anne gregory:
i couldn’t find a ‘piper anne’ pic quickly, so i grabbed this one. believe me, she looks the same. always knew she had a secret.
i’m reminded by all this today as i wait on a friend and have my water line repaired. michael strauss stopczynski put this video up some time ago and i stumbled upon it looking for something else, of course. it’s the pipers new york company doing a song i wrote with the first group in boston. sherwin orchestrated it for this piper show we filmed sometime in the early 90s. alan henry recorded it, i bet.https://www.facebook.com/stevenlesliejohnson
we did something hank said to never do. henry said one of the rules about children’s theater was to never try to keep a child’s attention for more than 30 minutes. we had about 250 children, nearly 70 of them on stage with the performers, under hot lights, for 90 minutes! the kids were great, the children were, too. we made 3, 30 minute video tapes from that show.
but these early rainy mornings in portland give me plenty of opportunity to reflect. i miss my kids. pipers is one of the most coolest neatest things on the planet. i’ve never had a chance to see dottie’s group, and i know there’s been many others. but my groups that i lost tyrannical control of too early in life and without the weeping it all deserved; oh i miss those guys. and how the kids responded to them. i think it’s time we have a pied piper portland company.