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A Lovely Night by Sharon Crane   

If anyone had told me that some day Bridget Hanley and Henry Beckman would be sitting in my classroom watching my students perform and discussing theatre with us afterwards I would never have believed them, but that is exactly what happened on the evening of January 20, 2000.

Bridget, Henry and Henry’s son, Stuart, arrived at Simi Valley High School at 7:00 p.m. just before our show began. My husband and son came up to me to tell me they’d arrived. I know I would have passed out on the floor right then and there from sheer excitement if there hadn’t been so many people around asking me questions.

My students had reserved three seats for our guests front and center. I said hello to Bridget, whom I had met in November, and introduced myself to Henry and Stuart as they came through the door. I took my place in the opposite corner of the room to film the performance and the show began.

Our show was the 1920’s comedy/drama, "The Front Page". The kids had performed before an audience twice before that night and were very comfortable with their characters and their lines. To my great relief the cast gave their very best performance that night. I believe it was because this particular audience was so responsive. Our studio theatre is a converted classroom that seats 75. Often in small theatres people are reluctant to laugh aloud. That was NOT the case that evening. I was across the room and behind a stage door so I couldn’t see our special guests but I sure could hear them! Bridget, Henry and Stuart were laughing in all the right places. It wasn’t long before their laughter became contagious and the whole audience joined in. You should have seen my students pick up on the energy that flowed from the crowd. Those moments are the ones a teacher cherishes for a very long time.

       

After the performance, I made an announcement to the parents that our guests would be sharing with the students who were able to stay. Several parents stuck around to share this great time with us. Many of them told me later that they had remembered Bridget and Henry in "Here Come the Brides". Only a few of my students had to leave after the show. The majority of them grabbed a seat on the stage to listen to these wonderful people who so graciously answered every one of their questions.

My students had never been so quiet or attentive as when Bridget was explaining to them that there were no real shortcuts to fame. If they wanted to succeed as a performer they needed to study and apply themselves to their craft. Most of these kids had seen Bridget’s performance in "A Christmas Carol" and knew she was someone who practiced what she preached. They asked her one question after another and then hung on her every word. Stuart shared his experiences as a former USC film student and Henry, true gentleman that he is, complimented Bridget more than once on her talent as an actress.

Before the evening was over, my students presented Henry with a Simi High letterman’s jacket and Bridget with a Pioneer Sweatshirt. Stuart received a SV pin and a mug, which he said would sit proudly on his shelf to remind him of us.

It took quite a while to get the kids out of the room that night. They milled around sharing with our guests as I stood on the sidelines basking in the magic of the night. When they were all gone and my own two children had left for home with my husband, I walked our guests out to Bridget’s car and we jabbered away in the parking lot like "old friends who’d just met" to steal a line from Kermit’s song the "Rainbow Connection".

Back in the sixties, I watched "Here Come the Brides" every week without fail. I cherished Candy Pruitt and Captain Clancey in my heart the way only impressionable fourteen-year-olds can cherish fictional characters. Now, thirty-two years later, Bridget Hanley and Henry Beckman had entered into a part of my world. They were laughing at something I had had a part in producing and sharing a little of themselves with those I cherish today, my family, my students and my friends.

I’m so grateful to Bridget and Henry for the happiness I felt that January night and for the happiness their characters gave me so long ago on "Here Come the Brides". I’m even more grateful to them for being the type of human beings I always knew in my heart they would be – warm, generous, talented individuals who find an honest joy in giving of themselves to others.

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