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By Hank Nuwer

Lately, I’ve no time to spare. That’s because yours truly, a senior citizen turning 78 in August, is once again acting like a young man.

I literally mean “acting.” I’ve hogged center stage in many theater productions and one movie filming. I rehearse or perform up to six days a week.

Here in Fairbanks’ community theater, I played Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet, and (next month) a small part in Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun.

At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF), I’m currently an assassin in the experimental play Something in the Living Room, and I play a quirky uncle in the film Love, Me.  This summer I’ll appear in a supporting role in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

It’s been nearly a half-century since I turned my back on acting to embrace a career as a writer and journalism professor. Simply put, back then I lacked the confidence to give professional acting a decent shot. I never auditioned for a part on Broadway or even for a summer stock role on the straw hat circuit. Therefore, I missed 100 percent of the shots (auditions) I never took, to paraphrase hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Hank Nuwer’s last performance in 1974, playing Eilert Lövborg in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.

 

“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you,” legendary basketball Coach John Wooden used to tell his players.

That’s great advice but awfully hard to heed in my early twenties with my confidence a quart low.

At the time, I lived in Brooklyn and then just north of New York. I attended about 15 professional plays on Broadway. I trained for the stage on a full fellowship to the University of Bridgeport’s Shakespeare Institute in 1969.

Leaving New York for graduate school out West, I played lead roles in three plays by Shakespeare, one by Ibsen, one by Arthur Miller, one by Peter Ustinov and one by Edward Albee. I was lucky enough to act in a successful American College Theater Festival play, where Joseph Campanella, a veteran TV and movie actor, coached me in a Dallas-Fort Worth studio.

“You think I might have made a career in theater?” I asked my wife Gosia last week.

Gosia is a pragmatist. Now a naturalized citizen excited to vote in her first USA election, she grew up in Communist Poland. Her whole family lived in a flat the size of a sardine can. She waited hours in long lines for bread. She risked imprisonment by reading samizdat manuscripts criticizing the Russian occupiers.

“Whether you could or couldn’t doesn’t matter—you didn’t,” Gosia said to me. “Be happy you’re doing it now.”

The young male star in the UAF film is an engineering student named Logan. He told me he tried out, never expecting to nail the lead role.

Now, he’s caught the acting bug, and I’ve encouraged him to follow his new-found dream of acting professionally. He’s got not only the necessary looks and voice, but an ease onstage that reminds me of someone I was a half-century ago.

Logan, too, is going to audition for a big part in King Lear.  Like last summer’s Romeo and Juliet, it will be produced onstage in a meadow tucked into the woods on the UAF campus.

What about you, Readers? Was there some dream you put in mothballs that you wish to unwrap?

Writing a memoir or novel perhaps? Running for the school board or a local government seat? Writing a weekly column for your local paper?

The title of Raisin in the Sun comes from the powerful poem “Harlem” by black poet Langston Hughes. He wrote this: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up. like a raisin in the sun?”

Take it from me. Even a dried-up raisin can come back to life if you want something bad enough.

This column first appeared in the Winchester News-Gazette