Realized that, in my last theatre-related post, I was perhaps a bit hard on Des Moines-area audiences.
Or not. But that’s a nice enough way to begin this.
Now, it occurs to me that perhaps every decent-sized city has a somebody. I mean a Somebody. That Somebody that, simply put, sees everything. Every show, no matter how large or small, there this person sits, drinking it all in as if it were the very Elixir of Happiness.
In Chicago, there was a silver-haired woman who regaled all of us, her fellow ushers (that’s how you got to see shows for free), with the stories of the shows she’d seen, and the people in show business whom she’d dated (including David Mamet’s father). At Indiana University in Bloomington, there was a young man who seemed always to find a way to drop a note about having seen this or that show and how much he enjoyed it; and if that wasn’t possible, he’d remember the show, months later, if he happened to see you in the local pizza joint, say, and he’d tell you then.
Des Moines has Dwayne. And I don’t know if that’s how his name is spelled. For that matter, I don’t know his last name at all, though that hardly seems necessary. That’s how well-known he is.
He’s just “Dwayne.”
The first time I encountered him was some years ago. I was newly re-arrived from points east and west and, being momentarily stalled while working on a film project, my then-producing partner and I decided to keep our hand in by producing a play. My introduction to Dwayne was overhearing him kvetch loudly about the price of a beer in the bar/theatre in which we were working. As I recall, he was right to do so – but I digress.
Since then, Dwayne has made a point of seeing virtually every show I’ve done here – and most of my colleagues report the same experience. He’s certainly not shy – he hollered my name from the audience as I took a curtain call at a recent production – and while his hallmark is indeed such loud and effusive praise, he can also be found paying some performer a Very Nice Compliment, quietly, not much fuss, seasoned with a courtly little bow as he makes his way to the exit.
Everyone working in theatre in Des Moines should feel a little glimmer of pride and no little comfort that we’ve got him. He’s not young – but you’d swear he looks much younger than however old he is when he turns his face to the lighted stage; he beams – if you can forgive the hopelessly cliche saying – like the proverbial Kid at Christmas. There can be no audience member anywhere in town more ready to love a show, more ready to lead the charge forward toward excellence. It doesn’t matter what kind of day you had before you got to the theatre; if you’re lucky enough, as you stand backstage, to hear Dwayne holding forth Out Front, you breathe just a little more easily. It’ll all be okay.
Here, then, Dwayne, is a little of your own in return. It is offered with humility and great fondness for you and what you bring to Des Moines’ theatrical table. We in the Business of it don’t always do everything right, not by any means; but come that Hell or High Water, it’s nice to know there’s you, out there bearing witness.
If anyone sees Dwayne before I do, feel free to pass along this, my personal thanks for his enthusiasm. I know I speak for a lot of theatre people here when I say that.