They say history is what we remember of it. Of course, memories are fallible and oftentimes painted over with pastels of pleasantry that cover some of the harsh reality lingering there. Impressions of the past are both subjective and selective. They summon up what we want it to be as well as what it really was. So it was for the Sixties and me. I’ve tried to capture that sense of an era in one of my latest play entitled PTV.
Like some old hard rock miner, I went digging a while back to unearth recollections and reflections of my first job in the real world. And what a gold mine it turned out to be! I unearthed rough-cut gems of wisdom and insight into a world long since gone. It was a work world laced with honesty and deception, tough love and forbidden love, betrayal and self-direction all collected in that wonderful time capsule from roughly 1967 through 1972. It turned out my first real career steps occurred during a historic and dramatic transitional period for educational television in the Twin Cities and nationwide.
I started working at KTCA television in the winter of 1967 after living in Europe for a while. I had a used VW bug, a bachelor pad (translated: a hovel on University Avenue) and a hunger for more. I had secured a full-time job as a writer at the Minnesota Department of Health but I needed something else to fill my evenings.
The ten year old educational television station had no writing positions available but they offered to let me work for free as a crew member. The offer was to learn the many different aspects of television production and perhaps something might open up in the future. I took the gig and never looked back.
My education began literally from the ground up, learning to string cable, set lighting, assemble audio equipment and handle the studio cameras. More importantly, I learned the many different skills entailed in producing a television program. They were the same techniques, routines and procedures that follow most video, film, cable and television productions. I still use many of them today in producing plays.
In retrospect, it was a very pivotal time period for the entire instructional television industry. There were storm clouds on the horizon hinting of major changes in programming and content philosophy that many in authority never saw coming. The ancient axiom of teaching principles were being challenged by new and sometimes radical ideas of learning.
Young Turks saw major opportunities in television entertainment and program distribution. Those who grabbed the opportunity rode an ever growing wave of exciting and sometimes radical new programming ideas and concepts. Woven into that earthquake of change were seismic events like the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, the drug culture and a youthful challenge of parental and governmental authority. It was the best of times for some. It was the worst of times for others. That is the genesis for ‘PTV.’ Trust me; there was a plethora of material to work with.
That period of my life was a modern day soap opera lived through in a fog of growing up among creatives and crazies. The television station proved the perfect cauldron to observe emotions and angst, fear of the future and drug-induced raptures of imagination. Surrounded by the radical changes of the mid-Sixties, the station morphed organically into a mirror of youthful culture run amok.
The station had it all. There were marital dalliances, infidelity, and drugged out crew members scheming against wannabe Hollywood-minded directors. Rigid ivory tower professors railed against the subtle yet very real changes coming in education. Crafty entrepreneurs pushed their latest batch of Mary Jane. Those early educational TV defenders of the status quo shored up their academic defenses against the changes on the horizon. Off campus parties grew to legendary status.
It was a moment in time when the swirling currents of cultural, social, sexual and political events came together and made our television station a melting pot of change. For a playwright, that was a hell of a lot of wonderful material to work into a play.
‘PTV’ was a veritable trip down memory lane for me. The events, people and ever-changing political and cultural changes were based on some of my own experiences at KTCA over that critical period in my life. It included folks I knew well back then, others I was aware of, and still others who were there but never intermingled with me or the other crew members. Most of us were young, single, rambunctious, adventurous and always searching.
After volunteering on the crew for six months, I was offered a position as Producer/Director. Since it didn’t start for three months I returned to Europe for three months to wander and wonder. Then I began my real career in television and video production.
In retrospect, that turned out to be my wannabe hippie phase; a long stretch of soul searching with friends, especially Susan and ultimately a clearer focus on where I wanted to go with my life. That stretch ended with a simple “Got change for a quarter?” asked of the night receptionist and ultimately solidifying my future life with her forever.
Writing ‘PTV’ proved to be a cathartic romp back to a period of eternal, sometimes misguided, youth, romantic conquests, stumbles in time and falling forward. It was dancing with Mary Jane and sober analysis of future pathways. It hinted of writing and real estate, exotic travel and a place in that warm winter sun. It was a brief time capsule of radical change that fed me so many great memories. It predated Camelot out East but proved its own worthy mind bender.
Now my goal is to see if I can get the Minnesota History Theater to consider it for inclusion in their future play performance schedule. My proposal has just been sent in.