Sunday, January 3, 2021

Peps Point and the Hi-Hat Club


by Alec Clayton

The first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning was that in 1955 when I was in the ninth grade at Beeson Junior High my twin brother and a friend and I were suspended for the day for wearing Bermuda shorts to school. Wearing shorts was against the rule, but we decided that if enough of us agreed to come to school wearing shorts on the same day they couldn’t suspend us all. Word was spread, and it was agreed among almost half the boys in the ninth grade. And how many actually showed up the next morning? We three. That’s all.

So we were suspended, and we decided that if we couldn’t be in school we should to Pep’s point, a popular recreation area on a lake with swimming and a water slide and, best of all, giant innertubes we could get inside and our buddies would give up a push, and we’d roll downhill and into the lake. I thought about sharing that memory with the Facebook group “Good time remembered in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.” And then it dawned on me that among people in the group who are around my age, almost half of them have no memories of Peps Point because they are black, and blacks were not allowed at Pep’s Point in those days.

The saddest thing about that for me, a white boy who grew up enjoying privileges that were denied to almost half the people in town, is that I did not even know I was privileged. Black kids could not go to Peps Point and could not go to the dances we went to at the Community Center on Front Street, not even when Little Richard came to play for one of the dances, and they could not eat at any of the restaurants where we ate or even at the lunch counter at Woolworths, and if they wanted to see a movie at the Saenger Theater they had to enter through a side door and sit in the balcony. I guess they had no access to the concession either. I guess I was vaguely aware of some of that, but I never gave it a second thought.

Oh, they were also not allowed in the country club where I played drums in a band. Unless they were janitors or waiters or cooks. I can’t remember the name of the band, but I remember that the band leader played the accordion and we played pop music and a little country and a little rock, and there was one old white dude who came out every Saturday night and always requested “Mack the Knife” (but he called it “Jack the Knife”) and when we played it he tipped the band $100.

Thinking back on it now, I think the only really good thing we white kids were denied were the marvelous musicians that played at the Hi-Hat Club in Palmers Crossing. Some of the best blues musicians in the world played there.

Segregation hurt blacks and whites alike but not to the same extent. We white kids never gave it a second thought, but I suspect black kids thought about it a lot.

I sympathized with those who put their lives and their livelihood and their bodies on the line for civil rights in the 1960s, but I did not take part in the movement, nor did I speak out among my white friends.

The University of Southern Mississippi was racially segregated when I started my freshman year there in 1961. After dropping out to spend two years on active duty in the navy reserve and then resuming my studies at USM, the school was integrated for the first time, and I was happy to make friends with one of the few black students and, later, when I was working at the downtown Sears, I made a point of sitting at the same table in the employees lounge with the first black woman who was hired as a salesclerk—my miniscule and only civil rights action.

 The only other significant action I took was in 1967 or ’68 when I was part of the U.S. Teacher Corps, a federal program in which teachers were trained to work in poverty areas and then lent to public school districts to use as they saw fit. In Hattiesburg we were used for federally mandated integration. There were about fifty of us in the program, approximately half black and half white. They sent all the black teachers to work in previously all-white schools and all the white teachers to black schools. I was the art teacher rotating between Mary Bethune, Lilly Burney and Rowan elementary schools. I don’t think I accomplished much as a teacher, but I was proud to have been part of the effort and proud of the work done by other teachers in the Teacher Corps.

I left Hattiesburg for good in 1988, but I’m still in contact with some of my old friends. I understand that Peps Point is still a popular recreation area, and I hope it is fully and comfortably integrated. I also know that some of my white friends started going to the Hi-Hat, and I envy their having had that experience.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Memorable moments


A friend posted on Facebook, “What is something you've done that you're pretty confident you're the only person on my friends list to have ever done?” The responses flooded in with many amazing things such as:

“I once told Steven Spielberg, to his face, that I didn’t like ET as a kid.”

“Tara Reid once threw a LIT cigarette at me.”

“I waited on Adam Arkin.”

“Shook hands with Pope John Paul II.”

“Attended a callback for Cirque du Soleil as a ventriloquist.”

And “Dressed up as an electric fence for Halloween. (Wrapped myself in silver ribbon and carried a stun gun).”

I posted that I once hugged Tipper Gore and ate dinner in the same restaurant and at the same time as the Chicago Bulls—at least a group of their players including Scotty Pippin and Luc Longley. I’ll elaborate on that and at least one other memorable moment.

When I was in junior high school, I was voted Homecoming King. It was clearly a sympathy vote because I had been injured playing football and was confined to a wheelchair. But at halftime of the game against our rival, Laurel, I was pushed out to the center of the field in a wheelchair—fifty yard line, pushed by my identical twin brother who was in uniform (he was on the team) and accompanied by my queen, Kay Beard, with whom almost every boy in the school had a mad crush. Including me. After we were crowned, Kay leaned over and kissed me. Oh boy!

Three years later, another homecoming game against the same rival, but this time in high school. I was not Homecoming King, nor was I on the team. My knee injury never healed sufficiently for me to play again. But my twin brother was on the team. He was the smallest boy on the team. Laughably small for football. Probably the smallest boy ever to play for the Hattiesburg High Tigers. Normally he was a backup running back, but in this game, for reasons I can’t recall, he was put in as a defensive back forced to cover, at five-foot-three, a six-foot-tall wide receiver. And late in the fourth quarter he made a miraculous leap to intercept a pass and run it back sixty yards for the winning touchdown. It was my moment of glory as well as his, because back then my twin and I thought and acted and felt as one person.

Fast forward to 1996. We were at a PFLAG gathering in Seattle on the same night that the World Champion Chicago Bulls were playing the Seattle Sonics. After our meeting and after the game we went to a hotel restaurant for a late dinner. The Bulls’ team bus pulled up as we were parking, and the players unloaded and went into the hotel. I remember seeing Luc Longley, center, seven-feet tall, duck to go through the door. A group of the players came into the restaurant while we were eating. The great Michael Jordan was not with them. The restaurant was full, and they had to wait for a table. I overheard Scotty Pippin say to one of his teammates, “If Michael was with us we wouldn’t have to wait.”

I’ll bet he was right.

Four years later we went to Washington D.C. for a PFLAG conference and the Millennium March on Washington, a march for LGBTQ rights. Naturally, we didn’t know anyone else on the airplane except for one other person from Olympia. When the airplane got to D.C. and the pilot announced we were preparing to land, he said, “If you’re going to the Millennium March, have a great time,” and the entire plane erupted in cheers. Everyone on the plane was going to the march, and suddenly it was as if we were all old friends. And in the city it was as if all the people in D.C. were old friends. I had never in my life seen so many rainbow flags.

I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but there was a dinner and a keynote speaker, and entertainment by our friend Steve Schalchlin, who sang for the first time in front of an audience “Gabi’s Song,” a song he wrote about our son Bill who committed suicide after a gay bashing. It was such a wonderfully sad moment, and Gabi and I were smothered with support.
I can’t remember if this came before or after the dinner and Steve’s performance. There was a keynote speech by Tipper Gore, Second Lady of the United States, and after her speech there was a receiving line. Tipper stood behind a rope guarded by Secret Servicemen. One of the Secret Servicemen said “Do not touch the Second Lady. Do not try to shake her hand.”
The line filed past her, and everyone in their turn said hello and thank you, and Gabi whispered to me, “When it’s our turn, I’m going to tell her about Bill.” And she did. And when she did Tipper Gore reached across the line and gave each of us a big hug. You know, I knew hardly anything about her except she was married to the vice president and had headed up some silly campaign against profanity in music. But that moment—Wow! I felt like I imagine that person who said they shook the pope’s hand must have felt.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s filmed production of Assisted Living; The Musical


Cast of Assisted Living from left: Lissa Valentine, Frank Kohel, Sharry O'Hare, Micheal O'Hara

Assisted Living: The Musical
is a comedic romp through an assisted living home where, as director Jon Douglas Rake puts it, “70-something is the new 20-something, only with looser skin.”

The cast includes Frank Kohel, Sharry O’Hare, Micheal O’Hara and Lissa Valentine. O'Hara and Kohel have appeared opposite one another in three shows in the past five years, including The Story of My Life at Olympia Little Theatre, Hairspray at Auburn Community Players and Man of La Mancha at 2nd Story Rep-Redmond. Valentine played Sherlock Holmes’ mother in Tacoma Little Theatre’s Holmes for the Holidays. O’Hare is practically a South Sound theater institution all on her own, having appeared often in many area theaters over the years, many times playing opposite her husband, O’Hara—don’t you just love the pairing of the names, and is the “chemistry” between these two any wonder? Recently she was seen in Forbidden Broadway at Lakewood Playhouse, The Full Monty at TMP and Calendar Girls at TLT. 

Music, lyrics and book were written by Rick Compton and Betsy Bennet, set by Bruce Haasl, costumes by Julles Mills, and filming and editing by Dennis Kurtz.

Assisted Living is a vaudeville-style show of silly skits, bad jokes, and silly songs—many of which are parodies of pop music and showtunes, all set in the Pelican Roost retirement home, and all poking fun at senior citizens.

O’Hara falls to the floor from his motorized cart and sings “Help, I’ve fallen for you and I can’t get up.”

Valentine sings a song about her ageing body with the refrain “saggy, saggy, sagging.”

Pushing a food cart, Kohel sings “Sunday night is steak night and my teeth have gone away.”

O’Hare sings a sweet and sad lament about internet acronyms and online dating and a sweetheart who writes BYB (be right back) but never comes back.

In a wild and crazy windup to the evening’s entertainment, the duo of O’Hare and O’Hara perform a tribute to Viagra as a medley of pop songs such as “Up, up and away with his beautiful blue pills” and “Viagra, I just took a pill called Viagra” (you know the tunes).

O’Hare writes about the rehearsals, staging and filming process:

When Jon brought us all together via Zoom, he let us know that this was going to be a collaborative effort and that we would do some rehearsals (via) Zoom and then a few times in person for marking our staging. He sent the music we would be using over the computer and guided us through our characters, truly allowing us generous liberties in creating them. We had three Zoom rehearsals; each of us had individual rehearsals at the theatre, and then we all met to put the opening and closing on stage. In addition to the normal concerns when directing, Jon now had to ensure that we were all social distanced and masked until we actually sang. None of us faced each other in the foursome during the numbers. We all decided the final week that we wanted in-person rehearsals and kept to the protocols in place. That final week was such a treat—got to see all the other skits and songs in the show.

“The filming was a new experience for all of us. It took a little over six hours. Some of the numbers went quickly and in one take. The most difficult solo I had went so well to my surprise. But I attribute that I had my personal conductor, Jeffrey Strvrtecky down at the edge of the stage guiding me through with the tricky rhythms. Micheal and I had a very challenging duet that we performed to perfection the first time and we all cheered at how well it went only to discover that the sound wasn't on! It was a struggle to get back on track, but with the magic of film they can splice our best work and piece it all together. Dennis Kurtz, who is a phenomenal photographer, did the tapings. Again, so strange to be distanced and masked throughout, except when we were actually performing. When we were finished, we all cheered and gave ourselves and the crew, Jon and Jeff, jubilant applause. It had been a long day, but one that lifted us from the troubles outside and brought us back on stage with a set, lights, props, costumes, makeup, and each other. Because, after all, isn't that what theatre does for us—both the performer and the audience regardless of what is going on in reality?”


ASSISTED LIVING: THE MUSICAL plays virtually filmed from the Tacoma Musical Playhouse stage. 


Show Times 

Friday, November 20 | 7:00 PM 

Saturday, November 21 | 2:00 PM 

Sunday, November 22 | 2:00 PM 

Ticket Prices

General Ticket Price $27.00 


Run Time

1 hour 15 minutes




Tickets are on sale and can be purchased online at only. 


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need)


Reviewed by Alec Clayton


LaNita Hudson Walters, Sharon Armstrong

Andrea Benson

Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need)
at Centerstage is a group of eight one-acts written by eight different playwrights, with four different directors (Trista Duval, Angela Bayler, Alyson Soma and Tori Dewar) and performed over a period of about an hour and a half by a hard-working and talented ensemble cast comprised of Sharon Armstrong, Andrea Benson, Cassie Fastabend, Jacob Tice, Tom Livingston, Tim Takechi, and LaNita Hudson Walters.

Centerstage Artistic Director Trista Duval said, “The stories depicted in this evening of scenes cover a range of eras, life experiences, locations, and emotions. I think they say something a little different to everyone, depending on where you are mentally and emotionally in this moment. It is my sincere hope that you experience moments of joy and fun during these performances, and that you experience moments where you feel understood and seen in your darker and tougher times.”

Some of the scenes are funny, some touching, and most involve a big of magic realism. And, as is to be expected with different writers and directors, the quality varies.

The first scene, “Our Ten,” by Mark Harvey Levine, is one of the weaker of the eight—or maybe I was caught off balance because I wasn’t expecting the magic element. It seemed to start out as a radio broadcast with the cast performing as DJs, announcers, and a call-in listener. And then it switches to a live scene of events taking place on a freeway: a woman giving birth and a person threatening suicide by jumping off an overpass; and all the people who were in the radio station moments before are witnesses to what happens on the freeway. It is inventive and, to me, a sometimes hard-to-understand story.

“You Can Thank Me Later” by Ruben Carbajal features Takechi as a man flying over a city and into restricted air space over an airport in a lawn chair lifted into the air by 45 weather balloons, and Livingston as a man on a phone trying to talk him down. This one is hilarious and thought provoking.

“Poof,” written by Lynn Nottage, is one of the most brilliant and entertaining scenes of the evening, and also one that comments importantly on domestic violence. In this scene, Loureen (Armstrong) accidentally kills her abusive husband in a magical way which I will not give away here. (Or she thinks she has killed him.) And she calls her neighbor Florence (Walters) to help her figure out what to do next.

In “Ghost Story,” written by Rachel Luann Strayer, Natalie (Fastabend) obsessively reads a ghost story on Christmas Eve while her husband, Doug (Tice) tries to get her to help him trim the Christmas tree. It is realistic with a bit of nostalgia, and beautifully acted by Tice and Fastabend.

“Spam Symphony” by Alex Broun is a surrealistic modern dance or poem with the entire cast performing as spam emails sent to Takechi.

In “Ghost of a Character,” written by Mranalini Kamath, Tice as Sir Conan Doyle talks to Sherlock Holmes (Livingston) about an actual case involving a racist murder. In the process of solving the murder, Doyle and his most famous character reveal much about the minds of writers—of this writer in particular. At one point in the story Holmes says to his creator, “Why do you not leave me alone?” which might be the central question about the relationship of any writer to his or her characters.

Finally, one of the deepest stories of the bunch, is “Real Art,” written by Louise Wigglesworth. In it, a woman named Loretta (Andrea Benson) wants to buy a piece of “real art” by Abby (Fastabend), but Abby doesn’t want to sell it because it’s her first and only “Best in Show.” Somewhat like the writer-character exchange in “Ghost of a Character,” this one becomes a philosophical discussion on art between the artist and her patron. Stellar acting by Fastabend and Benson.

Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need) was filmed at Dukesbay Theatre and can be watched online. Virtual tickets give access to the show for 24 hours, anytime from now to Nov. 15.

Go to to buy your tickets for the date and time you want to “go to” a performance. After purchasing your ticket, you will receive a separate email 24 hours later with a link to your scheduled stream.


For more information, call (253) 661-1444 or email



Thursday, October 29, 2020



Tacoma, WA- Tacoma Little Theatre is holding auditions for two Page to Screen virtual readings, Buenas Noches Mamá, by Emily Cohen, and Skin, by Anamaria Guerzon.  TLT’s Page to Screen welcomes local playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts performed in a virtual staged reading.  Pieces will range in length from scenes, one acts, or full length plays and musicals


Auditions for Skin will be held on Sunday, November 8th virtually via Zoom.  Audition appointments will be set starting at 7:00pm in five-minute increments.  Skin braids together two stories: one true story as a retelling from the past; and one fictionalized story in the present. Skin investigates and explores the colonization of tattoo as an art form.  Specific roles for actors who are Filipino, Filipinx, Black, Filipina, and White and represent all gender identities.  For a full breakdown please visit (



Auditions for Buenas Noches Mamá will be held Monday, November 9th virtually via Zoom.  Audition appointments will be set starting at 7:00pm in five-minute increments. Buenas Noches Mamá focuses on the impacts of the Dirty War in Argentina and centers on Pablo, a person who discovers that he was illegally adopted by his military family. Throughout the play we learn about his real mother, Sofía, the circumstances that lead to her disappearance, and the history that followed afterwards.   Specific roles for actors who are Latinx and represent all gender identities.  For a full breakdown please visit (


Auditioners are asked to prepare a short, one-minute contemporary monologue.  There will also be cold reads that will be emailed out the day prior to auditions.   


To reserve an audition time, follow this link (, or call our Box Office for assistance at (253) 272-2281.


Once cast, both shows will hold up to two virtual rehearsals for a virtual reading in the latter part of November or beginning of December (based upon actor schedule conflicts). 



Tacoma Little Theatre’s Page to Screen welcomes local playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts performed in a virtual staged reading.  Pieces will range in length from scenes, one acts, or full length plays and musicals.  To submit your script for consideration, please visit


Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Driftwood Bridge streaming free online

Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma and David Mielke

Courtesy Photo

Not even a worldwide pandemic can stop theater people from doing their thing, as demonstrated by such events as Harlequin Productions’ ongoing radio web series of theatrical shows and Pug Bujeaud’s Zoom performance of her drama The Culling. And now comes The Driftwood Bridge - An Offering of Story and Song by David Mielke and his husband Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma.

This cabaret-style musical can now be seen free of charge online.

The show started as something the couple wrote and performed for their wedding guests in 2018 at Open Space for Arts and Community on Vashon Island. It quickly evolved into a full professional theatrical production that was staged in November of 2019 in the Kay White Hall at the Vashon Center for the Arts. At the time it was called Gaybaret.

It was scheduled for a five week-run in Seattle at the 12th Avenue Arts Studio Theater but had to be rescheduled because of the pandemic.

“Due to heartfelt requests from previous audience members who want to share the show with their friends, we've decided to make The Driftwood Bridge available to theatre audiences free on-demand online by streaming the production we filmed in November,” Mielke says. “Since it touches on themes that have become even more relevant in these challenging times, we wanted to make it available in people’s homes.”

Mielke explains: “The Driftwood Bridge is a two-person theatrical and musical memoir about taking experiences that wash up on the existential beaches of our lives and using them to build a bridge to carry us forward. The show explores life after loss, intergenerational forgiveness, and the ways mentors and friends help us feel ready to say yes to love—gay, straight, or otherwise.”

With Pruiksma on piano, each performer alternately tells their own story and sings songs—about letting go of old shame, learning to trust, and acknowledging the mystery of life. As with many rituals honoring what is known but unseen, the show bows to the joyful play of what seems to be serendipity.

“There’s a thread running through the show about openness to wonder, to the poetry of lived life,” Pruiksma says. “Our experiences may appear to be chaotic and random, but often there is some more mysterious pattern we can see or help to create that leads to unexpected gifts.”

The show continues until December 31, on, where Mielke and Pruiksma are also showcasing another Covid-coping endeavor, a video series they've produced called Broadway in the Yurt, recently featured in the "Modern Love" column of the New York Times.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Tacoma Little Theatre’s ‘Page to Screen’ Presents the Final Assignment

Tacoma Little Theatre's Page to Screen program presents an exciting virtual drama: James A. Gilletti’s, The Final Assignment, directed by pug Bujeaud, stage managed by Nena Curley and featuring some of the Pacific Northwest’s finer actors. It is a one-night-only staged reading, and it is free and online.

This is Gilletti's first off-the-shelf production with TLT. When he isn't busy writing, Gilletti can be found baking, infusing booze, or selling real estate. “But not simultaneously, thank goodness,” he quips. He lives with his wife, two dogs, and tortoise in Lakewood.

The Final Assignment follows a young college graduate on the last day of his internship with a radio station. On a fateful day, Nov. 22, 1963, when a fellow reporter no-shows at the last minute, the intern gets tapped for a mobile news unit post at the corner of Elm and Houston Street just as President Kennedy's motorcade passes the Texas Schoolbook Depository. What follows is a sequence of events that will push this young man's capabilities to their limits, force him to confront his greatest fear, and change his life irreversibly. 

Gilletti describes The Final Assignment as an historical drama that tells the story of Sam Patterson, a young man who dreams of working in radio and finally gets his big break just as . . . well, you read the previous paragraph.

The Final Assignment features the talents of: Joel Thomas, Mason Quinn, W. Scott Pinkston, Randy Clark, Steve Tarry, Ronnie Allen, Gretchen Boyt, Frank Roberts, Paul Richter, Jess Allan,

Tacoma Little Theatre’s Page to Screen welcomes local playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts performed in a virtual staged reading.  Pieces range in length from scenes, one acts, or full length plays and musicals. To submit your script for consideration, please visit

The Final Assignment is free, Oct. 3, 2020 at 7 p.m. with donations gladly accepted.  To watch the performance you may join by visiting, or by following the link to YouTube (  For questions or more information, call (253) 272-2281.