Clete Barret Smith reflects on...


The best part about being a child actor at The Bellingham Theater Guild?

Probably the profanity.

            Okay, that’s disingenuous. It was definitely the profanity.

I was in sixth grade for my first BTG production and I was cast as Billy in On Golden Pond. It was such a well-written play full of humor and pathos and I learned so much from the talented cast of local actors (especially Bob Concie in the “Henry Fonda” role), but the best part was definitely the fact that I got to say “bullshit” three times per performance. In public. With no apologizing or punishments afterward.

Actually, the more that I think about it . . . the profanity was not the best part.

The best part, of course, was the girls.

After a weekend of performances, two different middle school girls who had been taken to the performance by their parents looked up my number in the phone book and called me. This proved the power of theater to me in the most definitive way possible. I mean, come on: actually being cold-called by a pretty girl? That has never happened since. And when my middle school guy friends tried to tease me about being in a play? Telling them that story shut them up pretty quick. We all played sports together at Fairhaven Middle School and no girl had ever called any of us after watching us play a game. Clearly, theater was powerful.

So besides the profanity and girls, what did being a kid at BTG mean to me?

I was surrounded by creative people who were passionate about putting on a show. The adults were always so kind and encouraging, and the fact that they were at rehearsals, going over lines and blocking or building sets or manning the phones after a long day of work and taking care of their kids was inspiring.

But probably the most influential aspect of my time at the theater was a sense of audience. Being creative and using my imagination had always been fun . . . but on opening night the crowd’s response made all of the hard work worth it. The laughter and the applause. It felt so good to share something I had helped to create with appreciative people.

I still think about this as I am writing my kids’ books. Sitting in a writing room can be lonely, so it helps to envision that appreciative audience. And my theater experience definitely helps when I travel around to do author assemblies at elementary schools. I have done hundreds of these presentations, and the lessons that I learned at BTG have come in very handy. Confidence, enunciation, stage presence, movement, timing. I would not have been able to pull off these public performances for kids without my theater background.

            (However, I don’t get to use my profanity skills.)

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