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Brashear alumni got his start in show business in South Side

Series: Brashear Memories | Story 5

Eric Hafen in MaryAnn Irwin's dance class at Brashear

Another opening, another show...I have been in show business for almost 40 years. I have been on the stage, on the small and large screens, in print, and in front of classrooms.

My love for this career started with Saturday afternoon movies at the Arcade movie theatre on Carson Street. If there was a new movie coming out, I was there to be one of the first. If there was a double feature following 21 cartoons, I had my buttered popcorn in hand, never any chocolates, just real buttered popcorn. Sometimes two.

Then of course, on my way back home, the containers would inevitably lose their bottoms and become gauntlets around my forearms to ward off the enemies that might attack me on the walk back to 13th Street. I went to the movies as long as we could afford them. The frequency of my attending these movies increased in the summer, especially on the Saturdays after we got home from camp. Brashear Camp. More about camp later...

I can honestly attribute the seeds of my life in and love for show business that were planted at the Brashear Association. Whether it was at the center on 20th and Sarah streets or a bit north of Zelienople, I learned how to appreciate and cultivate what talents I had been given. I didn't know them yet, but it didn't take long for them to surface.

We had no money. The Brashear Center was the perfect answer. I started at the center at a young age of 6 Saturdays with Mary Ann Irwin's tap and ballet classes. My cousins also took classes. They were much better at it than I was, and I was the only boy in the classes at first. I learned how to stand still, shuffle my feet, move left and right, down stage and upstage, stretch every muscle in my young body, and count...usually to "5, 6, 7, 8 and..." I studied dance both tap and ballet for seven years. I seldom had solos, but was always noticeable in my crew cut, all black leotard and tights.

My mother, Mary Lou, worked at the center throughout the week and on Saturdays registered the students of the dance classes. Because of her involvement, it was hard for me to skip a class. Though, I can honestly say, I didn't really want to miss a class. I enjoyed being in front of people. I loved making an audience smile. I loved hearing the sounds of slapping hands that would fill my head with visions of fame. I sang in my church choir at St. John the Evangelist and in grade school Christmas pageants. As my voice got stronger, I weaned off ballet and tap dancing unfortunately. But I did get to sing Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Something Stupid" with Cheryl Sacco during one of Mary Ann's year-ending recitals.

The center also helped to shape other flairs for the artistic in my life. I tested my arts and crafts talents with drawing classes but loved ceramics. I made vases, ashtrays, statues, every holiday I made something for my always grateful grandmother. I opened my first animal in Junior Science, as we studied the anatomy of a cat or frog or whatever creature it was. I took sewing classes from Mrs. Roach, although I'm not very good at that any more.

I learned how to socialize and appreciate the public forum by attending Friday and Saturday dances, helping with pre-school classes and special bazaars at the center, and, of course, Pirate baseball games with the Knot Hole Club on a warm Saturday afternoon, sitting in right field behind the one and only Roberto Clemente.

When summer came along, I went to camp, Brashear Camp. I started going there with my mother and brother, Greg, two week sessions. I don't remember much of those early years with the exception of the "theatrical" campfires, "Nunway" and the mysterious Bob Furuno in full Indian headdress. When the campfires started on their own, I was amazed and enchanted. When I started to go there without my mother, I went for two two-week sessions each summer. I began to realize my desire and infatuation with things showy. I learned interesting stories; sang funny new songs; learned folk dances; learned how to further my arts and craft abilities; learned teamwork; wrote comic sketches; rehearsed and acted in them. As I moved from camper to CIT (counselor in training), I learned discipline, an invaluable tool in show business; I learned responsibility for others...but most importantly, responsibility for myself. I learned to cook and how to survive on macaroni and cheese, or sassafras roots and berries if we went overnight camping. Little did I realize at the time, that survival food like macaroni and cheese would become a staple of my diet as I entered the "acting" profession? I learned to swim and to excel at it; I learned water ballet. I learned to trust in my abilities. I learned the meaning of friendship. I learned never to burn bridges that I did not deliberately want to burn.

When I became a full counselor, I learned and led morning activities in archery, riflery, horsemanship, campfire building, and campfire cooking. More importantly, I learned how to sell each of those activities to the new campers. I told jokes; I sang; I danced a bit; I sensationalized and glorified each activity that I led; I even squeezed a banana making a huge mess just for the theatrical effect. I learned how to sell myself, an invaluable tool when entering the acting and directing professions. You are your own business and therefore your own sales rep.

Of course, formal training in the theatre rounded out my learning and formative process. Years of professional study at undergrad and grad schools. Then as we all say, "on the job training" or in my case, "on the stage training."

I spent formative years at the Brashear Center and many summers at Brashear Camp. I met many, many people with whom I still stay in touch. Friendships were born and ran deep. I was thinking about the ties that have bound many of us because of Brashear. Some of these bonds were formed in only two weeks in one summer; while others were formed in 12 weeks over multiple summers. However, they had been formed, they are strong, lifelong and irreversible.

I owe a great deal to the Brashear Association. I know my mom and my brother did, too. I will always remember Brashear until the curtain comes down and the stage lights go out. However, there will always be a ghost light to keep the good spirits alive and to remember.

Contributed by Eric Hafen


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