Seven years would go by before we’d cross paths again. I was holding auditions for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which required 13 men. It was a steep hill to climb, but actors flocked to the depot to acquire one of these coveted roles.
Bob was one of them. Long story short, he got the part of Scanlon, a patient who was admitted to the asylum because he wanted to blow things up. Bob had few lines, but he was on stage nearly every scene, and his facial expressions and grumbling were what the part needed.
However, Bob and I began to disagree about what he was doing and when. My first impression was right. It became difficult for us to work together. He was openly vocal and stubborn, trying to bully me into having his way. When the show wrapped, we were both relieved. I felt certain that we wouldn’t be doing another play together.
Much to my surprise (or dread), Bob came to auditions again for another of my shows. I once again needed men for Of Mice and Men. I gave him a small part, worried that we’d end up having the same problem. We did. Bob was distant and resigned to my direction, and the performances came and went with a strain between us.
Fast forward to a year later. I acted in Dixie Swim Club, and I was in the receiving line trying to avoid him, but he left without saying a word. I thought he was rude.
Our next interaction was when I was casting Drop Dead. I wasn’t going to give him a part! He auditioned and waited patiently for auditions to end. As he approached, I started to walk away when he stopped me. He said he’d been writing scripts, and he’d like to drop a couple off for me to read. As shocking as it was to me, I agreed.
As I read, I got insight into who Bob Bryan really was. He was a lonely soul. No spouse, no children. He lived alone in front of an old typewriter with a dream of writing a play worthy of the Ole stage. He’d spent years as a reporter for the Peru Tribune. When he left when they downsized, he spent his time writing at home. His scripts were witty and dark in their content, much like Bob himself. But in his mind and the body of those stories, plays did exist.
We began to email to talk about the show I was working on, or the latest script he was writing. We communicated better in writing than we had in person, and we both acknowledged that there were creative differences we would have to agree to disagree about when it came to our visions of directing.
Fast forward to last fall. Bob went to the Ole Board of Directors and submitted a play he’d written, The Ballad of Granny Siler. The board approved it as the last show of the season. Bob also put on two extra shows under the umbrella of the group he’d formed "No Frills Theater."
Bob asked me to help with his show The End. He’d cast my granddaughter and his assistant had health concerns. I agreed. A couple of weeks in Bob had health concerns of his own. He was weak, forgetful, grumpy, and tired easily. Evening rehearsals made it hard for him to stay the full two hours and he’d leave early. Finally, he stopped coming at all. After encouragement from me and friends, he went to the doctor, but didn’t get a diagnosis.
He began to feel better and was at all the performances. He thanked me for helping and asked me to help him cast The Ballad of Granny Siler a month later. The turnout wasn’t what we hoped for. Ole Olsen no longer has a pool of actors to choose from. And he wanted me to help him direct this play, and because my husband had been cast, I again agreed.
Jumping ahead to today. I’m now directing the show without its writer/director, Bob Bryan. He went in the hospital for several days before rehearsals began, and he finally got a diagnosis. Congestive heart failure. It wasn’t what any of us hoped for. It was then that Bob turned the show completely over to me. I’ve continued to communicate with him about casting changes I’ve made and rewrites I’ve added. Like always, he voiced his opinion. He doesn’t agree with all of them. He wouldn’t be Bob if he did!
Bob was moved to Blair Ridge for therapy after he left the hospital. He’ll move into assisted living there soon. He’s on oxygen, but getting stronger. So is his Ballad. We open the show tomorrow night, and we are excited that Bob gets to be there opening night!
A man I didn’t like working with and obviously didn’t know has become a man I think of and worry about daily. Now I feel like his dream is in my hands. At 83, he still hasn’t abandoned the idea that he may direct another of his plays. He’s also inspired me to begin writing a script of my own.
The moral of this story is two-fold. Your first impression doesn’t have to be your last. And you can turn someone you dislike and despise into someone you love and learn to accept for who they are.
Please put Bob in your prayers. Lift up my cast to put on a show he can say fulfilled his dream and brought his Ballad to life.
In her spare time she directs plays for Ole Olsen Memorial Theater. She is a member of the Indiana Thespians judging high school theater competitions. Debby’s favorite pastime of all is spending time with her five grandchildren.
Her books are all available now on Amazon or get a signed copy directly from her by contacting her on her Facebook page “The Vee Trilogy.”