My Mennonite parents laughed very little, except when relatives and friends tickled their funny bones. They took the business of parenting very seriously. Other relatives lit up with a sense of humor: I carry an image of my Grandma Fannie and Aunt Ruthie once slapping their thighs in laughter as they ate supper.
And I have memories of my Metzler uncles acting goofy:
My Uncles, a Memoir Snippet
All my aunts were shaped like pears, and my uncles like apples except for lean Uncle Clyde. My uncles had mirth to match their girth. Each of my mother’s brothers could do something funny or strange. Uncle Landis could click his false teeth up and down on his gums clickety-clack, Uncle Leroy could wiggle his ears, both at the same time, Uncle Clyde’s hand-shake included a tickle with his index finger on the palm of my hand, and Uncle Abe could play his harmonica strapped around his neck with no hands. Both Abe and Pastor Clyde could do handstands, and all the brothers talked “pig Latin” between themselves, a play with words that kept their talk conversation secret. The idea was to add extra syllables to a word, something like this: Happy day, Lucky Duck could be spoken as “appyhay day, luckday duckday. When my cousin Janet and I heard their crazy talk like gibberish, we didn’t try to figure it out—we just walked away. They were letting loose on a Sunday afternoon.
Mennonite Actor Ted Swartz and Humor
In seminary, Ted Swartz got a 37% in Greek. That’s the visible evidence that this man was not cut out to be a pulpit preacher. Ironically, he felt “called” to be an actor in a culture that he admits is not exactly a hotbed of theater opportunity. To many, the phrase Mennonite actor is oxymoronic, sort of like a admitting to identifying as a Catholic-monk-clown. The subtitle The Not-So-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actore echoes this oddity in his memoir Laughter is Sacred Space.
Like a hybrid Shakespearean play, Swartz combines both comedy and tragedy in a memoir of three acts, including rising action, climax, falling action with a reprise of each. Laughter is Sacred Space offers “a backstage tour of an artist’s life and mind.”
As one reviewer commented, Ted “opens the curtain on his own life.” And the forward promises, “ . . . if you’ve got some unhealed wounds, un-grieved losses, or even uncounted blessings” you feel as though you’ve had a good night at the theatre when you close the pages of this memoir.
Swartz finds humor in biblical texts: Jeremiah portrayed as a hillbilly, the disciples Peter and Andrew come alive in the comedy “Fish Eyes” and DoveTale, a Christmas show. Here is the brief promo vimeo for Laughter is Sacred Space.
His memoir is a mix of memoir, snippets of dialogue from shows, and photos and artwork from a life on & off the road. Expect side splitting guffaws and soul-rending pain.
Why I Read the Book
- Ted and I share a Mennonite heritage. Our mothers and grandmothers both wore prayer coverings. He attended Christopher Dock High School years after my stint as a teaching intern at this Mennonite school in southeastern Pennsylvania.
- He is an actor/author. I am a writer, the wife of a performing artist with inside knowledge of the grueling days “on the road.” He’s written a memoir. Mine is baking “in the oven” as we speak.
Life on the Road, in Ted’s Rear-view Mirror
The romance of being a traveling company lasted about two weeks. Life on the road can be tedious. Long drives, many hours simply watching the scenery go by. When people asked us what we did, we would say, “We travel for a living—that’ s our job. But when we reach our destination, then we get to play.”
Often I would want to scream at an audience.“Do you people have any idea how hard this is?!! I’ve been up since four o-clock in the morning: have driven eleven hours; gotten lost twice: I forgot a crucial prop; thried to be grateful, kind, and gracious; worked with your semi[inept sound person on the sound cues—most of which are crucial to the timing necessary for comedy—and now I get to try and be funny!!!”
Ted’s Tricks as a Professional Actor/Artist
Success in performing requires “naïve persistence.”
“. . . the trick for writers is to craft that fun idea sprouting up spontaneously into a coherent script that recaptures the elusive mystical element that made us laugh in the first place.”
“’The fact that you make each other laugh’—yes, that was the glue that ultimately held us [his partner and him] together.’”
“When you do theatre, you cannot hide: the audience is another character, and if they are not doing their part, or you haven’t invited them skillfully enough to join you, it’s painful.”
“The best God moments—when we are not aware of what we are doing.”
Two-minute Video of Ted’s book trailer
Connect to Ted’s website
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Do you have relatives who can tickle your funny bone? Here’s where you can share a tall [or short] tale.
Do you know Ted? Have you seen him perform?
How important is a sense of humor in your list of honorable personality traits?