1900. Cattlestop Theatre

Over the years, when this blog hits a round number, it deviates away from blood, gore, and murder, and plunges into an abyss of niceness and personal aspects of this and that. Today’s round story Number 1900 continues the tradition.

On the property where I currently live are three disused what we call “cattlestops”. Some countries call them cattle grids, and other countries don’t call them anything because they don’t have them. In New Zealand a cattlestop is a series of old railway lines set in concrete over a pit. The aim is to stop farm stock from crossing over from the field or house onto the road. It takes the place of a gate and saves getting in and out of the vehicle each time one needs to drive through. Of course, these days there are remote controlled automatic gates, but creating a cattlestop from old railway lines is possibly the more aesthetic option. The three on the property here are old, and gravel over time has partially filled them in.

Years (and years) ago I taught at an all-boys boarding high school (aged 13 to 18). There were about 450 boarding students and about 250 day scholars. The high school had an attached farm. There were reasons for the farm which, if I may deviate further, goes back into a history long forgotten. The high school was a Roman Catholic school. Years ago as a kid I remember seeing advertising signs:

JOB VACANCY
CATHOLICS NEED NOT APPLY

These days such a sign would be illegal and offensive to most. Back in the old days it was often difficult for Catholics to find jobs. So the Catholic school system concentrated on a “classic education” with Greek and Latin, with Agriculture thrown in for those less academic. It’s why (at least in New Zealand) there were a hugely disproportionate percentage of doctors, lawyers, judges, and farmers who were Roman Catholic. It was a way around not getting rejected for “Catholics need not apply” jobs. This was all in the dim, dark ages, and Latin and Greek have subsequently been thrown out the window in this more enlightened age; but it does account for the fact that this high school and a number of others were attached to large farms.

It also accounts for the fact that this school where I taught had a cattlestop!

One weekend, armed with help from a squad of students, I decided to convert an old army hut into a theatre. It was right next to the cattlestop. We hammered a stage into shape and hung lights. The theatre could seat about fifty. Sister Frances-Marie from a local convent arrived with rolls of black fabric and a sewing machine, and by the end of the weekend we had a brand new shining theatre, curtains and all!

Me (obviously pre-coloured photography) starting to build the theatre

We called it CATTLESTOP THEATRE! Its motto was “It might stop the cattle but it won’t stop the bull”. An enterprising student, considerably brighter than me, translated it into Latin and hung it on the theatre door. (I can’t remember the Latin).

The first performance in the theatre was a short play by Eugene Ionesco called Foursome. I had stumbled across a translation of it in a magazine and subsequently have lost all copies. (I have never found it published in a book, but if anyone knows where I can get a copy or what the name of the magazine was, please let me know! It had the repeated phrase in it throughout of “Mind the potted plants!” and the characters names were Martin, Durand, Dupont, and Pretty Lady). We charged 5 cents per entry on a Sunday afternoon, the students doing one performance after another.

A scene from Ionesco’s “Foursome”

The highlight of all theatrical occasions came the following year. Reverend Sister Mary Whoever of the local St. Mary’s High School for Girls thought it would be wonderful to have an evening of Classical theatre by the Ancient Greeks. The boys began with an abridge version of Sophocles’ Antigone. It was well received. The St. Mary’s girls followed with a scene from Aristophanes’ The Frogs. It too was well received.

Performances briefly came to a halt for a cup of coffee and a cookie. Reverend Sister Mary Whoever was ecstatic! Such a wonderful cultural collaboration! Quite the best thing since the invention of the popup toaster! Such…! Quite…!

The boys, old enough and educated enough to take things into their own hands, filled the second half of the evening with scenes from Aristophanes’ The Wasps. One need not dwell on the size and placement of the wasps’ stings in the boys’ costumes, nor of the adaptation of some of Aristophanes’ more pithy double entendres. Reverend Sister and the girls left in a great haste, and thus ended the evening of wonderful cultural collaboration. A number of these students of good farming stock have ended up as excellent Classical scholars; and a number of excellent Classical scholars have ended up as farmers.

Indeed! It might stop the cattle but it won’t stop the bull! Cattlestop Theatre had a long and flourishing life, until time and weather began to rot the old army hut into oblivion. The sad part of this past memory of halcyon times is this: today one wouldn’t be allowed to do it.

45 thoughts on “1900. Cattlestop Theatre

  1. Timothy Price

    Slightly off subject, when I was 15 I started working for an artisan woodworker. As I was learning so much more doing wood work and construction, I dropped out of high school and worked. I use the skills I learned from that job daily to this day. That was in 1975. Today, a 15 year old isn’t allowed to do that type of job, or any type of job for that matter, with all those dangerous tools. As a result, many people only 10 years younger than me are pathetic craftsmen.

    We call cattle stops “cattle guards”. I own an old cattle ramp, but we don’t have any cattle stops. Wonderful story. I had heard there were “no catholics need apply” back east in the old days, but I don’t know if that’s ever been the case out here. New Mexico is strongly catholic, protestants might have been discriminated against in the past. It’s good that discriminations is supposedly outlawed, but it’s sad that regulations have made other useful endeavors impossible, and left a lot of people inept.

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      1. Timothy Price

        I suppose. I had a big old dead printer in the office that would cost us $150 to recycle, because it weighed 500 pounds. Since some of our staff bring their kids to work, I asked the kids if they wanted to take apart the printer so we could recycle the plastic and metal in pieces. They gave up on it rather quickly. 1) None of them could handle a drill. 2) They didn’t have the patience to pick the right screwdriver or torx to fit the screws. 3) Since they couldn’t use the drill, they didn’t have the strength to loosen screws by hand. 4) They didn’t have the skill to use a ratcheted wrench to make up for their lack of strength. 5) They were not interested in learning to use any of the tools to do the job. The kids’ ages ranged from 10 to 16. I ended up taking the printer apart during lunch hours. I had a ball.

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    1. Bruce Post author

      Yes Timothy – something has definitely gone missing over the years. My father never went to High School and left school aged 12. He took a plumber’s apprenticeship – and could explain to me mathematics all the way up to university!
      These days – such are regulations – kids are all too young to learn to drive a truck and so there is a paucity of drivers.

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      1. Timothy Price

        I went on to get a master’s degree, one of the cool things about the education system in the US. I remember having a conversation with a staff member whos son was flunking geometry, but doing great in shop. I told her that’s the problem with school, they don’t have kids make the connection between math and things like shop and music and life. It’s sad. I started riding motorcycles when I was 9 years old, got my driver’s license for motorcycles when I was 13, and got my driver’s license for cars when I was 15. I’m one who believes for every law and regulation they put on the books, they need to remove 100 laws and regulations from the books. I seem to be of a minority oppinion on that. Regulations take oportunities away from so many people today.

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        1. Bruce Post author

          I agree with you. It doesn’t mean that one is irresponsible. I was steering farm tractors when I was a little kid – while my father was on the trailer feeding out to the cattle. I too got my drivers license at 15 as did all my brothers and sisters (and cousins!)

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  2. João-Maria

    This is indeed among your best. You’ve led a fervid life, I think. How one could distend these moments to the point of literature, I do not know, but that ought to be the trick. I also did theatre during my lyceum years, though I wasn’t particularly good at it. I remember that the teacher would repeatedly make that a point, and with as much force as he defined that I wasn’t good, he complimented my ability to shift movement in order to balance time beyond the proscenium. It was a rare talent, I think. It still lacks in many authors I’ve seen in professional stages, and I believe such talent has bled into writing, which seems to be precisely that: the leadening of time, the lightening of time.
    I’m unsure as to what people do these days; perhaps something so disfigured, it’s unrecognisable, but the pith remains the same. I find that more-and-more the social becomes the thespian, and more-and-more are we but a performance.

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    1. Bruce Post author

      Thanks for reading João-Maria. “All the world’s a stage” to coin a phrase! I laughed at your description of your theatre experience (or should I say “theatrical experience?) of balancing time beyond the proscenium. Perhaps Herberto Hélder’s poetic prose owes something (intended or not) to theatre dialogue?

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    1. Bruce Post author

      All of Ionesco (Romanian) sounds like Monty Python, or perhaps it should be the other way around! (“The mice have got lice but the lice haven’t got mice”).

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  3. Herb

    No Catholics need apply reminded me of the Irish in the U.S.A. during the 1800s. There was a strong anti-catholic sentiment and shops would post sign or say in their want ads, “No Ireish need apply.”

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  4. badfinger20 (Max)

    Bruce is this it? It looks to have three of his plays and Foursome is one of them. It said 27.50 for a used copy…I think all of them would be used…it was published in 1963.

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                1. Bruce Post author

                  The blog postings (mine) that I like the best get the least likes and comments. So I do what I like – but then I get disappointed. Although I must admit that I like my posting today very much and it’s getting reasonable likes and comments. For some reason for the last 4 or 5 days I’ve been getting 90-100 viewings from Spain. I think a classload of students must be copying them and translating them! Who knows… I once got over 5000 hits from Germany in one day. Usually I get 1 or 2 hits from about 10 countries.

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  5. arlingwoman

    I like this tale! Build a theatre, do plays. Yes, the Play has been anthologized now, so you should be able to find it. Another of his plays has the repeated line (he seemed to like those) “He’s wet his pants.” I think its the Bald Soprano…

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    1. Bruce Post author

      Thanks Lisa. I’ve directed “The Bald Soprano (Prima Donna)” 5 or 6 times and don’t recall He’s wet his pants” – but that might be the translation! It sounds very Ionesco!

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  6. noelleg44

    What a wonderful story Bruce! When I was a kid, the neighborhood kids used to put on plays on the upper story of our barn, which had a slightly raised stage. Parents would come for the performances,
    I was a character with one or two lines in The Bald Soprano in college. What a weird play! Interesting choice of Ionesco for the first presentation in your playhouse.
    Those nuns were pretty handy, no? I spent two years at a parochial school, The nuns here wore the black habit with the white starched cowl and forehead piece and semi-long black veil.

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    1. Bruce Post author

      Your nuns sound dressed like mine for two years of my primary school, I think I’ve directed “The Bald Soprano (Prima Donna)” six of seven times. We used to put on concerts at home but in the sitting room – especially when my oldest sister came come from Dental Nursing.

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