AUSTIN, TEXAS 1992
|A Tuna Christmas at the Paramount Theatre, Austin, Texas|
I dressed in my theatre finery--I had not yet learned about Austin's reputation for casual chic--and took my nose-bleed seat at a December Sunday matinee (the above photo is from a later year.) I'd like to tell you that I was as delighted as publicity had assured me I would be, but that would be a lie. Certainly, my fellow audience members, all twelve hundred of them, were helpless with laughter, tears streaming. And it was a sight to behold, with its bright, colorful set, and those two remarkable actors, playing more than ten characters apiece, male and female. I was in awe of their speedy costume changes and incredible transformations. Wow, if I could ever be as good as they, wouldn't that be something! Unfortunately, and this is extremely important, bearing in mind that the show had a real plot, I could not catch a single word either of them was saying. Whole sentences, indeed, whole paragraphs, were spoken without my understanding a thing. They were loud enough; that wasn't the problem. It was the broad Texas accents.
At the intermission, the lady sitting next to me leaned over and said, in an accent almost as thick as Sears and Williams, "How're yew enjoyin' it?" We'd introduced ourselves at the start of the show and she was over the moon to discover that I was English, telling me all about her English ancestors who'd been in Texas for generations. I think she was anxious that I should appreciate a bit of her culture. "I'm sorry," I admitted, "but I'm unable to grasp what's going on. I know they're talking English but I can't make sense of a word." She laughed long and hearty. "Yep, that'll be them accents! It's like that in small town Texas. Wait 'til you meet folks in the Panhandle. You'll never git a thang!"
I didn't have time to ask her what she meant by "the Panhandle" before the lights went down for the second act. About half-way through, I miraculously caught the rhythm of their speech, and I began to "feel" the language. By the end, I was understanding everything. "What a shame," I thought, "I never really found out what it was all about." The next day, I purchased a ticket to the following Thursday evening's show: a seat in the stalls, close to the front, and I saw these brilliant actors strut their stuff a second time. Now I followed each word (it helped to be a bit closer) and appreciated every nuance.
In 1994, I started work at the Paramount Theatre, and received complimentary seats for subsequent runs of A TUNA CHRISTMAS. I've never stopped loving the show; it brings back such memories of my early time in Austin. How I'd love to watch the masters at work again! Oh, and to bring the anecdote full circle, I spent a week performing in the Panhandle last August so I now know what my fellow TUNA companion meant.