Whirlwind Bard

By Randy Robbins, Pilot staff writer April 12, 2013 09:27 pm

Caleb Howlett poses for a scene from “Hamlet.” Randy Robbins
Caleb Howlett poses for a scene from “Hamlet.” Randy Robbins
When 18-year-old Gold Beach High School senior Caleb Howlett was deciding on what to present for his required senior seminar project, he had to take into consideration his tight schedule. 

The 6-foot-something was a lineman on the Panther football squad, plays percussion for the high school band, and works part time at Port Hole Cafe. He was finding the assignment to be a bit of a quagmire.

Then it came to him

“I  have this passion for theater and drama.” Howlett said. “I like acting. So I thought, I would do something ambitious — something big.” He chose to perform the complete works of William Shakespeare — all 36 plays.

The idea came one evening after watching the movie, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” — a comedy written by Adam Long, Reed Martin, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. 

Caleb and his parents, Mark and Becky Howlett of Gold Beach — who are active in theater themselves, working behind the special effects and lighting for Ellensburg Theater Company (ETC) at Rogue Playhouse — sat around after the film’s conclusion discussing the merits of the rapidfire comedy. 

The Howletts were intrigued by the three actors who succeeded in covering, in some shape or form, all the plays that the legendary playwright had written, crammed into two hours.

Caleb told his dad, “That’s really something.” 

His father challenged him. “You ought to do it!”

Howlett agreed. 

Caleb would direct and act in the production for his senior project.

In the beginning

Caleb got his start in acting in 4-H plays and soon after became involved in ETC he played the hero in “Thumbelina.” He remembers his first director, Tracy Ellenbecker, admonishing the 11 year old to “project” his quiet voice. That’s theater talk for “speak up.” 

Later, after taking part in several more productions, Howlett landed what he described as his “favorite role to date”: Hunk-the Scarecrow in “Wizard of Oz.”

“It might sound goofy, but I enjoyed relaxing and flowing myself into the body of a brainless scarecrow,” Howlett said.

He became known for his role and was used against him during  football practice.

“I fell down during a blocking assignment, and (Coach Kevin) Swift was half yelling, half laughing at me saying ‘C’mon Scarecrow. Get up! Stay on your feet.’”

Scarecrow became a  nickname that stuck for awhile around the halls of GBHS.

But the budding director/actor persevered. 

Enlisting help

For his Shakespearean project, he enlisted the acting talents of seasoned ETC veterans Carrie Crook and Rob Brown who rounded out the cast. 

Things were on track. The trio memorized their lines, learned to execute nonstop costume changes, and prepared to present 20 different roles. 

Then the unthinkable happened.

During one of the costume changes, Caleb tossed his wig onto the stage during a quick costume change. Brown was running across the stage in character. He stepped on the wig, slid across the stage and broke his leg in three places.

It was tragic adaptation to a phrase, “break a leg,” which normally means “good luck” in the acting profession. It is now and forever banned from being uttered in the Rogue Playhouse.

The show must go on

Fortunately another familiar ETC face, Michael Hall, came to the rescue.  Up until a week ago, Hall was helping out by prompting the actors with their lines. He volunteered to fill in with no time left in which to memorize a massive amount of lines. 

Caleb said the troupe will bridge the last-minute substitution with an explanation to the audience beforehand. 

“Mike will have a script in his hand but will deliver for the audience as the true pro he is,” Caleb said “Still, I think he’s a bit nervous about being thrust up there at the last minute.” 

So what’s it like to do a play like this? One so fast and frenetic? Laced with bawdy humor, audience participation, and so many costume changes?

Caleb smiles. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of like those crazy clown cars where they smash into each other and all these clowns come piling out. You never know what’s coming next!” 

Then he adds with a gleam of mischief in his eye. “I just want to get Coach Swift in the front row of the audience. Then my life will be complete.”

Scarecrow, eh?