Don Wellen

 


1. How did you first get interested in theatre?
My family moved to Frankfort the summer before my junior year in high school. A shy adolescent - just ask my mother - I tried to meet people by working at Mann’s Farm de-tasseling corn. However, my timidity prevailed – no new friends but an appreciation for why the male crews de-tasseled in those fields seven or eight acres away from the girl crews. Those Frankfort girls could mean trouble. Also, lunch in the dusty Mann hay barn caused sneezing fits – an ultra-instance of hay fever. Barns meant dust, wet scratchy eyes, sneezing and coughing.

 

In Clackamas, Oregon, I had a try-out, an athletic audition of sorts, at my old high school for freshman football. But I was at a dis-advantage. At a scrappy 5 foot 4 and 110 pounds I had the drive; however, I did not have the body mass. And the coaches ignored me. Why waste their time on a wimpling? I did not receive the even the most meager remnants of instruction. I was not taught. Just put in the mill to be a tackling dummy for the graduates of the Pop Warner League and the bigger guys. I gave the effort but I did not succeed. Bone weary, I remember the day I made the team. That was the day I quit.

 

Waiting in the hall for my hour long, rural school bus journey home, a door opened to the auditorium. Looking through, I happened to glimpse and then stay and see a Clackamas High rehearsal for, “My Fair Lady.” I didn’t know what a musical was but something seemed familiar. My mother had three record albums. There was a compendium of popular choral songs – “Ta Rah Rah Boom De A!,” “Sweet Rosie O Grady – The Sidewalks of New York and others. The second was an album with “Ave Maria” on one side and on other side was cigar chompin’, boogie- woogie fare with a spirited song titled, “I Want a Big Fat Mama – With Meat Shakin’ on the Bone.” The third was “My Fair Lady.” Watching this rehearsal, I was mesmerized. That’s what this album is about!

 

1971 Fall football tryouts for Frankfort High (FHS) were happening. Took my bicycle, went down Melody Lane, North on Maish Road, past the root beer burger place on the east end of the “strip”, and on to FHS. I was a little bigger now (I did not reach 6 foot height until I was a senior at Wabash College), but not big enough. Looking at those lined outside the door I swallowed hard because I was scared. I chickened out and went home. People I later knew as Herb Collins and Sam Grove were soooo big. No way.

 

I finally made a friend when school started. Well several, but my first was Jim Terpstra. He told me, no insisted that I try-out for the musical “Finian’s Rainbow.” “My Fair Lady” at the back of my mind and egged-on by Jim, I made my way to the Band hall and try-outs. I was second to last. Brian Mc Kinsey was behind me.

 

I walked in and this skinny gap toothed teacher with coffee and tobacco breath, like my father, had me sing “Happy Birthday.” I think I sang something else, read from, and …. Anyway, I did what he and a piano player wanted and exited. As I left, the hall was empty and Brian went in.

 

Terpstra dragged me to the cast list and playing the part of Og the Leprechan was Don Wellen, listed just below Brian McKinsey as Finian. Rehearsals began. Like football practice I tried real hard. But this time I had a coach that helped me and took the time to explain the play(s). Martin Henderson was wonderful. He showed me this prancing, spiderlike leprechaun walk and got me to speak out with this Irish-like accent.

 

The show was well received. People stood up. My effort was rewarded. And the laughter and applause – my oh my. I wasn’t a football star, but I had an identity beyond meek Donny. People liked what I did. I made new friends, far too many to list. Incidentally, Brian was to be my roommate through College, and Jim was with me, cast as a fellow artist in the next FHS musical CAN CAN! And I have been making new and theatre friends ever since.

 

What 1st interested me in Theatre? Hearing it from my mother’s MY FAIR LADY album, Seeing it in Oregon, a teacher who cared, new friends, self- esteem, effort rewarded, laughter and applause.

 


2. What was the first play you appeared in or worked on?
FINIAN’S RAINBOW

 


3. When did you work at the Red Barn?
Secure that there was no hay in the barn and no chance of hay fever, my first season at the Barn began the summer of 1974. All told, I worked at the Barn for 9 seasons. This includes the summers of: 1974, 75, 76, 77; 1986, 87, 88, 89 and 1990.

 


4. What shows do you most remember?
Acting: TOBACCO ROAD, NO SEX PLEASE WE’RE BRITISH, TWO BY TWO, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, CABARET, THE RAINMAKER, LITTLE ME, DAMN YANKEES, WHO KILLED SANTA CLAUS?, NOISES OFF!, BUS STOP, ARTICHOKE, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’S, OKLAHOMA!, Tech: PICNIC, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, THE HUNGRY HEART, MR 80 PERCENT Directing: HARVEY, TRIBUTE, THE NERD, NIGHT MUST FALL, CAROUSEL I know I forgot a bunch …..

 


5. Where do you live now?
San Angelo, Texas

 


6. What are you doing now career-wise?
I remodel homes – paint, drywall, tile, floors, and structural alterations, add rooms, garages, pergolas and other design and building repairs and improvements. Need something? Need advice? Call me.

 


7. Let us know a bit about your family?
I am married to Brenda, a beautiful and wonderful East Texas gal who hails from the little town of Dayton. (population 7200) Brenda teaches deaf children and has a wonderful singing voice with a stylistic parameter that starts with Janis Joplin blues and bounces through bluegrass, rock, country, operetta, and musical comedy romance á la Anna in THE KING AND I. Her five octave range is impressive.

 

My family is spread throughout the US. Mom, sister Mary and her horticultural husband Ron live in New Hampshire. Dianna married Red Barn & FHS alum Steve (Box 2) Traylor and they reside in Asheville, North Carolina. George and his wife took almost 2 months to recover from a Mardi Gras induced bout with the Corona virus. They are now fine. He married the lovely Ann Singleton from Hoopston, Illinois. The Hoopston High mascot is almost as famous as the Frankfort High daschund. When they married my father, who passed away in 2001, toasted, “To the unification of the Hot Dogs and the Corn Jerkers.“

 


8. Anything else you’d like to share about your life or life at the Red Barn?

After graduating from Wabash College in 1977, I received an MFA in Theatre Arts from Minnesota State University. I was involved with professional, educational and community theatre for over 25 years. I directed 70 productions and acted in over 60 roles. I was Managing Director of Angelo Civic Theatre in San Angelo, Texas from 1991 to 2002 and was Executive Director of Theatre Bristol in Bristol, Tennessee from 2002 until 2003.

As far as the Barn goes, after Mark Genda brought to the euchre table 3 cases of Chivas Regal from his tea-toddling distant relative in the Summer of 1986, I have taken a vow of silence never to reveal the truth. I have taken a vow never to reveal the lies. I stand mute … unless prompted.