While it’s often said that the Randolph Academy started with a kiss – Kiss of the Spider Woman, to be exact – my own personal first foray in the arts started with a King, or rather, a production of The King and I.
I was reminded of this last weekend when I returned to my hometown of Red Bank, NJ, for my 40-year high school reunion. Even though I was part of the planning committee – on account of being class president four years running –I was still surprised when I saw, in and among the various memorabilia on display, production photos from the show that started it all for me: The King and I.
I had never done any theatre before but it was my senior year and I thought, “Why not?” I was cast as Lun Tha, the secret love of Tuptim. I look back at that experience and realize it was a real turning point for me. I had never considered a career in the arts. My parents’ plans for me involved a military career. One high school production set the groundwork for a change that was further cemented by taking a dance class and seeing a performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, both while I was in university.
At the reunion, I saw my high school drama teacher, Renee Maxwell, now approaching 80 and still as feisty as ever. Ms. Maxwell said, “You know, in high school, you couldn’t sing well; did you ever learn?” to which I responded, “No, and I still can’t sing well, but I did learn to dance a little.” We chatted some more and I told her about my life since high school, and she responded, “George, you’ve done everything I wish I could have done.” (Back then, like today, mindsets and budgets limited the progress of arts education in high schools.)
The experience was a reminder of so many things. Particularly how one seemingly inconsequential event can change your whole life. And how a single person, a teacher, can point you in a direction that you never anticipated going. But once you’re there, you find there is no turning back, no looking back, and no regrets.
Renee Maxwell and George Randolph
The King and I program