Back in the dark ages, and I’m talking ‘dark-dark’ ages when I was a struggling actor. I had begun writing screenplays and this morphed into writing articles that sold and talks that were well received. Shortly after my daughter, Marissa, was born I decided that I’m outta here. No more lies, bullshit, !$#!!XS, or worse. The thrill of acting was gone—long gone. I was going to earn my living as a writer, meaning all money would come from writing. I quit acting cold turkey, stopped paying union dues, and set about to make the switch. To repeat, all my acting friends said, “You’ll be back.” “No,” I said, “never!”
The writing world was two-fold: freelance and technical. My freelance writers questioned the technical. This was and has always been the easiest question I’ve ever answered: “Why walk away from a fast-paced cash cow that allows me to do whatever I want?” That has always been my feeling of the technical world, but there’s more there. The technical world is a whirlwind of change combined with god-awful deadlines. To survive you’ve got to think on your feet and hit the floor running. You are surrounded by bright people from all walks of life the world over (something I’ve always loved), and they are in it with you. Read: teamwork! And more, for this world has made me a better writer, a better researcher, and most importantly better in my interactions with other people no matter their race or background. Add the money ($$$$$$), and only a fool would walk away. I’m many things, but I’m not a fool.
A change … it was a comin’ but I didn’t know it (hell, I’m not too bright in certain areas … a woman has to hit me over the head with a club before I realize she has any interest in me). I’m wandering; back to the subject.
In 2000 I spoke about Lt. Charles Gatewood tracking Geronimo and the last of the free Apaches in Yuma, Arizona (other than the territorial prison, which must have been a hellhole, there isn’t much to say about Yuma). At the banquet a woman sat down next to me and said, “I don’t know what your background is, but it isn’t history.” “I beg your pardon?” “Your background. I want to know your background!” I looked at her, figuring I’d never see her again. What did it matter? Would there be damage control? I doubted it. Who cares? I told her the truth. “Theater.” “I knew it!!” she proclaimed.
Great. I began to feel uneasy. This wasn’t a conversation I wanted.
Ignoring, or perhaps not realizing my discomfort, she introduced me to her husband, who happened to then be an artistic director for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He asked me to write a play about Gatewood finding Geronimo in Mexico (I had given a lively talk about this—one of my favorite subjects). I thought for all of 15 seconds before replying. “No. Sorry, but I don’t do that anymore.” “I won’t accept ‘no’ as an answer,” he replied. “No’s the answer,” I said. “That’s it. I’m sorry, but it isn’t going to change.”
But, … there’s always that damned “But,” … but on the drive home I thought about a one-man show. I had outlined one on Custer years back. What about Gatewood, Wynkoop, or even Flynn?
The 1980s flashed before me. Actors floated in and out of my vision, reminding me of what I had sworn off—a return to acting. No, … never. My mind struggled with an imaginary line drawn in the sand and a battle long won and forgotten but now suddenly returned with a vengeance. It took a while to sink in, but my actor friends were right and I was wrong. I’ll never say “never” again.
A day or two later I called a friend, Leo Oliva (historian, writer, speaker, editor …), who had kindly brought me to Kansas to talk, and pitched him on a one-man show on Wynkoop. “Great!” Leo said. “How about next April?” “No,” I stated, shocked at his response. I told him I didn’t have an outline, a script, or even a director, that next year was impossible. Not wanting to lose the job I counter-pitched 2002. He agreed. I called a good friend, writer-actor-director Tom Eubanks and pitched him on directing the idea that wasn’t close to being a play. He accepted, and I was off and running.
An Evening With Ned Wynkoop premiered in Kansas in 2002, and later played in California. It has since evolved into Ned Wynkoop: A Matter of Conscience (Colorado) and Ned Wynkoop: Long Road to Washita (Oklahoma), and would eventually evolve into a two-act play that would run for five weeks in California …
It takes a lot of work to create a play and take it on the road. Write it, learn it, rehearse it, perform it, … and that’s only half of the project. Talented director Tom Eubanks must analyze and break it down, design a set, lights, sound effects, and struggle with trying to get a performance out of me. After arriving in the targeted city, he must then pull everything together while all I’ve got to deal with is not falling on my face.
Will it happen again? Don’t know. Hope so, but I never hold my breath for the cost isn’t cheap. If interested, contact me.