Sing for Their Supper
The Press Release said it all.
Children of the street. Homeless adults. As you walk by them, have you thought about why they're there? Have you wondered about their hopes and dreams? Has it occurred to you that most want to escape living on the streets and make a better life for themselves?
Nine homeless teens and adults are doing exactly that at Tuck Williams' new Vale Lake Theater. Nine singers, dancers, and musicians, ranging in age from sixteen to fifty, have combined their talents to bring the musical Oliver! to the stage.
The musical is a reflection of their own lives on the street, as it follows one young boy from his miserable existence on the streets of Victorian London while he searches for someone who will love him. Along the way, he forges friendships with others facing the same plight--just as the cast of Oliver! at Vale Lake Theater is doing.
"Back off and leave him alone," Tuck said to the two punks, both of whom were wearing jeans tucked into heavy boots and too-tight T-shirts.
"You gonna make us?" one of the punks replied.
"No. But they will." Tuck pointed to the pair of police officers who were walking toward them.
The punks took one look and ran. Tuck went over to the kid, who was cowering against the building wall, asking with concern, "Are you okay?"
One of the officers asked him the same question and got the same reply. Then he told the kid to get off the streets and find a shelter.
"Yes, sir," the kid said sardonically. "I will, as soon I can find a cab."
Given that it was almost two thirty in the morning, Tuck knew that he had a point. Busses didn't run at that hour, not in a city of this size. If it were New York or Los Angeles, things would be different.
"I'll give you a lift," Tuck said.
The kid snorted as he gathered up his backpack and the battered guitar case sitting beside it. "After I suck your dick to pay for the ride?"
The officer started to say something, shook his head instead, then went back to the squad car parked at the edge of the lot behind the building.
Tuck waited until the police had driven away before saying, "I was serious. I'll give you a lift, no strings attached."
"Why? And who are you, anyway? Some do-gooder outreach guy?" the kid asked, his brown eyes flashing with distrust verging on anger.
"My name's Tucker Williams. I'm an actor and part owner of the Vale Lake Theater."
The kid's expression lit up momentarily then went back to being wary. "Like in plays and musical theater? Or movies?"
"Real theater," Tuck replied. "Get up on stage and perform."
"Like I do when I'm busking. Performing, I mean." The kid nodded his head.
Tuck smiled. "I knew what you meant. You play that?" He pointed to the guitar case. He already knew the kid played the older guitar it held. He'd seen him around the downtown area several times in the last two weeks.
"Yeah. And sing, too. People sorta like it, I guess."
Tuck nodded. "Do you mind if I ask your name?"
For a moment it seemed as if the kid wasn't going to reply. Then he said, "Sam."
"Nice to meet you, Sam."
Sam ducked his head, muttering, "Thanks for chasing off those punks."
"Actually, it was the cops who chased them away. I just got here first. But you're welcome." Tuck gave it a minute, then said, "I was serious. I'll give you a ride to one of the shelters, if you want."
"Yeah. Sure. Not that they'll have room by now but..." Sam shrugged.
"Just tell me where to go." For a second, a smile flashed across Sam's face. Tuck rolled his eyes. "Not that way."
"I know." Sam followed Tuck around the side of the abandoned building to the street. "I really should just crash here and save you the time."
"Was that what you were going to do, before those guys showed up?"
"Yeah. It's usually safe enough if I'm careful." Sam grimaced. "Tonight, I wasn't."
When they got to Tuck's car, parked half a block from the building, Sam hesitated.
"I promise. I'm not going to do anything more than give you a ride," Tuck told him.
"How come you were down here, anyway?"
"I was on my way home. I saw those guys and it seemed like they were looking for trouble, so I decided to check it out."
"Like you could have taken them on."
"It would have been dicey, but I would have tried."
Sam eyed him. "You hiding a gun under your coat?"
"Nope. I was an army brat in my last life and my dad taught me self-defense."
"Bet he's not too happy you're an actor, now."
"I don't think he'd have minded."
Tuck nodded. "He didn't make it home from his last deployment."
"Yeah. Anyway, are you going to get in"--Tuck tapped the car--"or go back and take your chances in that building?"
Sam answered by opening the door and sliding into the passenger seat after putting his guitar case in the back seat. Tuck got in, turned the key in the ignition, then asked, "Where to?" When Sam told him, he pulled the car onto the dark street and headed north to the shelter.
"How old are you?" Tuck asked as they drove.
"Old enough," Sam replied.
"Meaning what? Over sixteen but not twenty-one yet?" Tuck figured Sam had to be at least eighteen.
"Yeah." Sam stayed quiet for a couple of blocks, then obviously relented. "I turned nineteen a month ago. Before you ask, I've been on my own for the last three years, since my folks died."
"Don't be. I'm used to it."
"No other family you could have stayed with?" Tuck asked.
"Yes to family. No to staying with them. They didn't want me. I didn't want them. They don't approve of my life choices."
"Your interest in music, or, and I'm guessing here, the fact you're gay."
"Good guess. What gave it away?"
"Nothing, from looking at you," Tuck said. "It's just one of the main reasons a family doesn't want a son around. Did your parents feel the same way?"
"Yeah, but they tolerated me. Made it real clear that's what they were doing--tolerating me until I graduated high school. Then they..." Sam stared out the car window. "Remember that tornado that hit Oklahoma City three years ago? My folks were there, visiting my aunt. My aunt survived. My folks didn't."
"Hell of a way to go," Tuck said.
"And they didn't end up in Oz," Sam replied with a weak smile. "Sorry. If I don't joke about it..."
"I understand. It still hurts."
"Yeah, it does sometimes. Anyway, now you know why I'm out here, not living at home."
"Have you tried getting a job?"
"Tried? Sure. First I was too young. Then... Well, look at me. I'm not exactly dressed for success. I can't even get a job as a dishwasher."
Tuck had to admit he had a point. The well-worn jeans with holes in the knees and ragged cuffs, the tired-looking sweatshirt, the dark hair--which was in definite need of cutting--would not impress any prospective employer. He would have said as much if Sam hadn't already beaten him to it. "You don't have anything else you can... Never mind. If you did, you'd have worn it."
"No shit. That's it." Sam pointed to a building in the middle of the block ahead of them.
Tuck pulled up in front to let him out, asking, "Do you want me to wait? In case they don't have a spot for you?"
"Why? You gonna drive me all over town to try other places?" Sam immediately apologized. "I'm good. If they don't, I know a couple of spots around here where I'll be okay. Thanks for the ride. I mean it."
Sam got out, grabbed his backpack and guitar case, then hurried inside. Tuck was tempted to wait, anyway, before deciding against it. He had the feeling that if Sam couldn't get a bed, the kid would check to be certain he wasn't there before leaving.