Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Ville: The Final Curtain- Requiem


Since the show dominated the proceedings, the time for more carousing and partying in general ran short that night. Since the powers that be had dictated that the bar close at the regular 2 AM deadline, a bunch of us found ourselves on the deck of the boat with no back up plan in place. This didn’t sit that well with one Joel Warren.


“I’ve been associated with this theater for over thirty years and I have never been asked to leave this early before.”

“Joel, you are positively indignant,” I told him.

“What’d you call me?” he demanded, then exploded with that Joel laugh of his that I’ve missed all these years.

Perhaps if we had a bit of foresight, we could have met up back at the Holiday Inn and met the morning hours as in days of old, provided of course that we had beverages to consume to help the time pass that much smoother. Alas, we did not, but through no real fault of our own. How did we know we wouldn’t be able to stay at the theater and watch the sun appear at the bottom of the back door like the old days? Ay. There’s the rub. It just wasn’t the old days anymore, was it? Still, the need for further celebration remained unfulfilled and a wee bit frustrating. Unsown wild oats and all that rot.

More importantly it was the desire to bond more with these folks. Goddamn it, I’ve missed them. If there’s been a void in my life, it has been the lack of friends like these. I’ve never underestimated the power of friendship, especially in the years at the Ville.

It’s Showtime, Folks!, the last vaudeville I created from scratch, was based on this truth. In fact, the finale was originally a combination of “With a Little Help From My Friends” and the Bette Midler song “Friends”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it work and instead ended up with two songs from The Wiz for some inexplicable reason that featured monotonous choreography and the worst costumes ever, as though there were inspired by some all male revue in Reno called It’s Raining Men. Regardless, I think the rest of the production came off rather successfully, if Murphy’s Melodrama, featured in the reunion show, was any indication. My point is that It’s Showtime, Folks! was something I wanted to give back to the theater and those that I still consider to be the best people I’ve ever known in my life.
Shawn B. O'Neal. me and John Himle

Sunday, a virtual “Murderer’s Row” of Pollardvillians gathered together again to join in a panel discussion about our final thoughts about the Ville. Just as he had the night before, Bill Humphreys shot the panel on video for a commemorative reunion DVD he was producing. He brought his equipment and crew all the way from the East Coast just for this purpose. Bill also conducted the interview. Again the stories flowed like wine and we all added our two cents to the conversation. We even learned a few things, like the fact that the theater had its roots in the USO where some of the founders had their start.

Sometimes I felt the panel was way too polite, but I suppose the goodwill of the night before pretty much dictated it all, still “Remembering the Best…Forgiving the Rest”. There were some moments of revisionist history and maybe just a bit of sugar coating for good measure. I guess I’m just lamenting the fact that I wasn’t a bit more coherent, still rather shell-shocked by the whole affair in general and a feeling that I held back when I shouldn’t have. Cry me a river, whiny boy. You had your chance to speak up. There never would have been enough to say everything that we wanted to say anyway. Look how verbose this thing is turning out to be.
2/3 of the cast of SONG OF THE LONE PRAIRIE

We did talk about the extended family aspect of the theater. With one show by itself running no less than six months at a time along with two months of rehearsals, we spent a lot of time together. Pollardville became a second home, especially for those of us who performed in show after show. Sometimes it was the only home that ever meant anything to us. Though we didn’t bring up the dysfunctional aspects of our brethren, I would venture to say that when it came right down to it, we were functionally dysfunctional.

Then there was the obvious fact of how much the Ville spoiled us as, dare I say, artists. The freedom we had at that place has been unsurpassed. We were able to develop, nurture and extend our talents in an environment that provided us that freedom. As I’ve said many times now that I’ve become my own broken record, I was able to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do in show business at the Ville-act, write, direct, sing, dance and even stand-up comedy. It made it difficult to leave and easy to return. No other place has been able to match that independent spirit. That may be what set us apart from the pack, causing the local theater community to look down their noses at us because, in their squinty eyes, the Palace Showboat was not a “real” theater. Well, they can kiss my “real” ass, now and forever.

The group also brought up the closing of the Ville for good. Most of us agreed that we
needed-and frankly, deserved-closure. Letting go of anything or anyone you hold so close in your heart is always difficult, yet, it was obviously time to do so. We had no choice in the matter. It was a done deal. Besides, since the Showboat closed in ‘92, the place just seemed like an empty shell sitting there on Highway 99, country bar or not. The Ghost Town had been forced to close off so many of its buildings due to building restrictions in the last few years that soon there would be no place left to go. I’m actually relieved that the Ville is going away for good rather than deteriorate any further into a condemned property or just another fire waiting to happen. There is something to be said for the Quality of Life. This way we could all move on with our heads held high with pride and the dignity of the Ville intact.

On Monday morning, Max and Tom Amo joined me on my last walk through the Ghost Town. Naturally, there was a story for every step we took, many involving our wicked, wicked ways way back when we were testosterone fuelled cowboys full of piss and vinegar, a lust for life and a thirst for adventure, ready to take on anything and everything that came our way. (see also: The Arrogance of Youth) The three of us speculated about the bawdy nature of the Ville in general. What the hell was it about that place that made us so damn horny? Was there something in the water? Or was it my theory that the place was built on an old Indian fucking ground? Whatever the truth may be, those who will occupy this land after we’re gone are going to have a big surprise in store for themselves.

As Max and Tom moseyed down Main Street, I found myself on the porch of the saloon and something told me to peek into the window for one last look inside.

“Goodbye, old friend,” I said aloud.

Suddenly, I heard in my mind’s ear a pair of faraway voices echoing from within my very being. They were reciting lines from the gunfight we called Saddle Drop.

"King of hearts!" some mangy cowpoke, probably Fast Fester, proclaimed.

“Ace of spades!” Sheriff John’s gravelly voice bellowed.

“Ace of spades?” Fester demanded. “I saw you pull that ace of spades right out of your sleeve!”

“Are you callin’ me a cheat?”

“Yeah I’m callin’ you a cheat!”

The sounds of chair legs scraping across the floor and boots stomping toward the front doors meant that some varmint was about to be tossed out on his ear out of the saloon and into the dirt. Only…

It didn’t occur.

The realization hit me right there and then that Pollardville had just become what it always aspired to be…an honest to goodness authentic ghost town. For me, I knew that this indeed the end.

That’s when the tears began to flow. I cried out of grief for the Ville’s passing. I cried for all the joy this wondrous place brought to me in my life. I cried for all of us that had been fortunate enough to a part of its history. I cried so much, I seemed to be crying just for the sake of crying. It became uncontrollable after awhile, coming in waves like irrepressible laughter. Just when I thought I had finished, I started sobbing all over again. Some unresolved issues must have been washed out of my system in the process.

Photo taken by Grant-Lee Phillips

Finally I was done. A sense of relief restored me back to normal again. I could leave now.

Saying hail and farewell to the Ville was cathartic in more ways than one, an emotional and spiritual release that, though it wasn’t easy, was necessary. The place literally meant the world to me. This was my world, one that I gratefully shared with some incredible people that I’ll cherish forever. As much as I loved my years there, this grand finale made me appreciate who I was then and what I am now. I feel proud to have been a part of it and validated for what I’d been able to accomplish-and will continue to-because of my time there.

Making my goodbyes to my comrades in arms, I left the Ville behind to head back to Oregon. As I drove down the frontage road, the image of the Pollardville tower reflected in my rearview mirror. I watched the big chicken in the sky disappear for the very last time as I pulled onto Highway 99, heading away from what will always be deep in my heart as the place I call home.

The Ville is dead.

Long live the Ville.
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