There was a time when I became fascinated with the Arthurian legend. Part of that fascination grew from my high school’s drama department putting on a production of Camelot my sophomore year coupled with it being in vogue for English teachers to assign reading of the Mary Stewart Merlin series. I devoured the Merlin series and the summer between my sophomore and junior year I picked up The Once and Future King.
I also attended my high school’s production of Camelot, for which I got extra credit in English. I probably would have attended anyway. See, the runner up to play Lancelot didn’t take the casting news well and a couple of weeks before the scheduled opening date, he decided to throw a monkey wrench into the works. He did this by burning some of the sets. The good news is the fire was contained quickly with no one hurt. But it meant having to postpone the show and we had to use our rival high school’s auditorium for the production a few weeks later.
When I matriculated to the University of Tennessee, I got involved with the Wesley Foundation. The year before I got there, they had put on a production of Camelot, directed by my best friend* and featuring a lot of the people I got to know and love during my time at UT. I helped out as stage manager for a couple of other productions, but I still wish I’d been able to see some of my friends in the Arthurian roles.
*And if you’re in the Knoxville area or just want to hear some great interviews about local theater, you really should check out his podcast, Sounds of Knoxville Theater.
A lot of these memories came back to me yesterday when I saw Camelot again, this time at the Canon County Arts Center.** The music, the songs, the story, the sets, it all just brought back good memories. My only complaint was the song “Fie on Goodness” was skipped in the performance, but otherwise it was nearly perfect.
**A great venue for some excellent community theater. I love theater in the round and this one is three-quarters in the round. I love how the directors use the space and the intimacy you feel with the production. There’s not really a bad seat in the entire place, though I do have my preferred section.
And yet as I watched it unfold, I couldn’t help but recalling who I knew from the Wesley Foundation and the high school production in their various roles. I had forgotten some of the details and it’s always a treat to see different choices made by other artists on the same material. I was also struck by how the play creates many visual moments through song and the actors’ reaction to things happening off stage (the big jousting tournament that Lancelot wins that begins the unraveling of Arthur’s dream, for example).
The show made me want to go back and revisit the Arthur legends I read in high school.
I may just have to add those to my already huge pile of books to read. Of course, I also found another book to re-read while there. In a couple of weeks, there will be a production of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, one of my and my wife’s favorite books growing up. We’ve already got our tickets to go see it and now I’m tempted to re-visit yet another old friend.