Saturday, April 11, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge -- J is for John Knowles

Some days it's good to have a plan, and other days it's good to remain open to whatever shows up unannounced.

To wrap up Week 2 of the A to Z Challenge, I couldn't ask for a better windfall than my friend arriving in town from Australia.

On Day 10, J is for John Knowles.

That's John, second from left, top row. I'm second from right, front row.

We met in high school when we both sang in the Prince Andrew Chorus. We were fortunate to have a thriving arts community within our working-class high school. To me, it felt like we were in a Fame-style school, where our choir basically arranged our own end-of-the-year variety shows as well as performed in the Kiwanis Music Festival under the direction of our choir director, Jim Farmer.

We also took part in one large-scale musical production every year, which were separate from the plays produced by the drama department. Somewhere in there we also managed to squeeze in some schoolwork.

So, getting back to John.

If you look up the phrase "stole the show", well, that's John Knowles in a nutshell.

He and I were cast several times as the secondary comedy-relief couple. That started after our first foray into musical theatre, when John's tiny part in the sprawling Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat -- starring Not John -- quickly became whispered warnings to "Watch Knowles!" and "Here comes Knowles!" 

By our second year and our second musical, The Pajama Game, John was stealing the audience's attention away from center stage during Hernando's Hideaway just by making his 'extra business' the funniest material we'd ever seen.

By our graduating year, when I was sharing choreographer duties with Heather shown at right (that's me at left) John and I were the B-story couple of cowboy Will Parker and Ado Annie in Oklahoma!

John and I were good friends and we had great chemistry onstage. However, there was one aspect where John's performance style and mine did not line up.

I preferred to learn all of my lines, rehearse our scenes and know what to expect once we stepped out of the wings.

John knew the lines. He knew the scenes. He remembered what we rehearsed. He simply preferred to improvise, because that's where his light shines brightest. It's what made those "Here comes Knowles" whispers ripple through the audience.

As much as it personally freaked me out back in the day to be onstage dealing with improv when I'm not an improv person, when John moved from eastern Canada to his mom's original home country of Australia I wasn't too surprised when he proceeded to forge out a career doing theatre sports and improv theatre.

Fast forward to his latest trip to Canada.

Another friend from high school is involved with a live-performance theatre in the Annapolis Valley. He says to John, "Well, you have to do your show while you're here. I'll set it all up." 

My husband and I hop in the car and make a two-hour drive to the Evergreen Theatre in Margaretsville, close to Kingston and Canadian Forces Base Greenwood.

John proceeds to do his one-man show, pulling a rabbit out of a hat for a full house.

John settles in and begins regaling us with stories running the gamut from laugh-till-I-cry to tears of emotion. Some of the stories I know because of my friendship with John, but most of them I don't know and experience like any audience member.

He touches on childhood stories, on how he managed to survive some rather wild teenaged exploits and moves into rather touching manhood stories. He jumps through time back and forth with the story thread driving the evening, making it all seem like he's not in front of an audience at all but just sharing moments of his life with us over a coffee or a beer. Yet that's classic Knowles. His talent for drawing us in seems so natural that we forget he's actually constructing a verbal autobiography with the clarity of mature perspective.

I especially enjoyed the montage sequence at the end, quickly recapping the highly-charged bits like a movie trailer.

For those of you in the Sydney, Australia area on Apr. 28th and 30th / May 2nd all at 7:00 pm, and May 3rd at 6:00 pm -- John 's Storytiller one-man show is part of the Sydney Comedy Festival at The Factory Theatre