One of the things that I have always been proud about my past were the two years that I attended Eureka College, a small, Christian (Disciples of Christ) Liberal Arts College located in Eureka, Illinois (about an hour west of Peoria, Illinois) from 1985-1987.
There is a lot to be said about attending a small college versus a much larger school. I am happy that I had the chance to experience both—the three semesters I attended Southern Illinois University (as well as two years of graduate school at Western Illinois University) and the two years I spent at Eureka. Inasmuch as there are numerous advantages of attending a larger school—from academics to career opportunities—the same advantages exist at a smaller school, but the difference, at least what I found out when I attended Eureka is that at a smaller college the education is more personal and intimate. Likewise, this intimacy also presents plenty of opportunities to get involve in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, and theatre that might not be available to most students at a larger school.
Such was the case when I got involved in a number of theatrical productions when I was at Eureka including the Bard’s most famous tragedy, “That Scottish Tragedy” (oh yes, I still believe in the superstitions surrounding this play even—mentioning its name here).
I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in theatre had it not been for my very good friend and teacher Kevin McQuade. It was Kevin, who upon seeing me—decked out in a leather jacket, faded jeans, Black Converse High Tops and looking too much like the “ Fifth Ramone”—one brisk autumn day standing outside Burgess Hall, later told some of his students (including a girl a sort of dated) that he wanted to get me involved in theatre. Eureka was quite conservative and I was everything but conservative back then (and still today, but a little more rounded on that liberal edge I have carried through life). I might not be your “rebel without a cause” but I was definitely known for my rebellious, “freewheelin’ Sparks” attitude.
Kevin’s brother Luke was also attending Eureka at the same time and as fate would have it, ended up as my roommate. And come every Sunday, Kevin and his wife Linda invited Luke and I over for Sunday dinner not to mention watch those Monsters of the Midway, Da Bears. 1985, remember?
I have always been very close to Kevin and Luke. As for Kevin we both have shared our joy and dismay with the Cubs and the Bears over the years as well as our tastes in music, literature, movies, and whiskey (Jamesons, please). And it was Kevin who inspired me to write more as well as get involved in theatre the two years that I was there. I owe a lot to Kevin for helping me to develop my artistic sensitivity and opening my eyes to the world around me. I would not be the person I am today had it not been for Kevin and other teachers and friends I got to know at Eureka.
Putting on “That Scottish Tragedy” was a lot of fun and it taught me, not only a lot about theatre and being a part of a theatrical tradition, but it also made me more sensitive and aware of the arts—both performing and visual arts as well as literature. Kevin, who had taken part in a modern adaptation production of Hamlet at the Wisdom Street Bridge in Chicago (a production that incidentally featured a rising new star—Aidan Quinn) wanted to do the same thing with Eureka’s production of “That Scottish Tragedy.”
Eureka’s Theatre Department production of that play turned out to be an exciting post apocalyptic punk rock interpretation that featured among other things Macbeth (brilliantly played by Dave Steele) and Banquo as members of a street gang and the three witches as bag ladies. And when the Banquo’s ghost appeared later in the play to haunt Macbeth, the ghost appeared on video monitors, part of a close circuit television network that Macbeth had installed in his fortress to appease his paranoia after the deaths of Duncan and Banquo.
There’s no question that it was an ambitious project and nothing like it had been staged at Eureka before. The show opened on October 6, 1986 and ran for six nights including a Wednesday afternoon matinee. The success of the play had a lot had to do with Kevin’s vision and passion as well as the support and guidance of the head of the Theatre Department, Bill Davis.
I always have believed that everything we are today, everything that has touched and shaped our lives is part of this collective, cosmic critical mass consciousness that exists through academia and the arts and that has been passed along to us. It is up to us to make the most of this knowledge, artistic sensitivity and awareness that has been passed along to us and to share it. You know, to make this world a better place and when we finally to leave it one day, to leave it better than it was when we entered it.
I might not have thought about this when I took part in “That Scottish Tragedy” back in October 1986, but since then I can see how important being in that play was—especially as a writer. It was all about developing this artistic sensitivity that becomes more and more important to me as I write more these days, making up for a lot of lost time.
I am proud that I went to Eureka College. It just took me awhile to truly appreciate just how important it was for me to attend a small liberal arts college and to take advantage of the opportunities that I did—like playing Banquo in “That Scottish Tragedy” and getting to know some very special people like Kevin, Luke, Dave, Bill Davis and others.