On Stage At The Overland Theater


Dad and I were walking home from the Overland Theater.


“Was I good?” I asked.


“You were gawking up and down, everywhere but front, facing the crowd,” he said.


Crushed, I replied in a tiny voice, “I’ll do better tomorrow night.  I’ll wave my stick better.”


He shook his head.


“But,” I cried, “They give the kids their red balloons to keep tomorrow night.”


It was no use.   I had flubbed my performance in the chorus of the grade school production of “Meet Me in Bubble Land.”


At five years of age, I was awestruck by the majesty of our town’s Overland Theater.  This legitimate play house had opened in 1897 and many famous actors had appeared on its stage.  Theater companies playing in Kansas City and Omaha would use our town as a “break” and thus give locals a stellar performance.  Thousands of dollars had been used to build this beautiful, ornate building.  However, its crowning glory was the drop curtain that was a painting of an Indian attack on an Overland stagecoach.  One could stare at the thrilling action on that piece of asbestos for hours.  I was certain that only the truly gifted would display their talents in that theater.


One magic year, when some of us turned fourteen years old the town advertised an “Amateur Contest” that was open to any citizen, of any age and would be held on the magical stage of the Overland Theater.  There would be dozens of contestants vying for the prizes being given out by the City Fathers.


Throwing caution to the wind, Mig, Scoot, my little sister, Patty, and I entered or names as “A Marx Brother’s Skit.”  Mig had a curly mop to wear as Harpo; Scoot wore a pointed hat as Chico, and I painted on a black moustache as Groucho.  Patty wore a long dress and acted as the “society woman.”  At that age, we knew no shame.  We worked so hard and go so many laughs we were certain we had won first place.


What we didn’t count on was a blond girl who sang and later went on to be Miss Nebraska in the Miss America Contest.


I guess the other entrants were crestfallen, losing like that, but as for me I felt all warm and fuzzy.  I had “trod the boards” of the Overland Theater, not once but twice!


Mary Elizabeth Mruzik

Pacific, Missouri