Most families have heirlooms, and they are not always expensive yet still treasured, like great-grandma’s pickle dish or Uncle Charlie’s walking stick. Theater companies also have these treasures. A sword carried on stage by Caruso or a fan used by Sarah Bernhardt are priceless good luck tokens to succeeding generations of performers.
Freedom Plaza has its own theatrical heirloom – a pair of shoes. For the recent Freedom Frolics production they were handed down from one veteran performer to a newer one to be worn in the current show.
The history of these shoes began some 15 years ago when resident Emery Brown, who has been in 21 Freedom Frolics shows, was first cast as a female character. He needed high-heeled shoes to go with his costume, so a trip to the Goodwill store was in order. There was just one problem. At well over 6 feet tall, Emery wore size 13 shoes. Should you ever have need for high-heeled shoes in men’s size 13, don’t bother looking. There are none.
This shoe dilemma was presented to the always ingenious Freedom Plaza Woodworkers club and they devised a plan. Brown donated a pair of his own white shoes, and they were fitted with beautifully carved wooden high heels, glued in place, and then painted to match the shoes.
Those shoes were worn by Brown in every succeeding Freedom Frolics show, for he made a perfect “female.” With his height, a plastic-like face that registers every emotion and his becoming ever more adapt at wobbling in his shoes, he drew laughter by simply clomping on stage.
Emery appeared in last year’s Freedom Frolics “Best Little Horse Town in Texas” as Brunhilda, the bartender of the Poison Pit Saloon. Because of health problems he regretfully declined a role in Freedom Frolics XXII. He was missed.
However, the shoes, which somewhere along the way acquired red sequined bows, were handed down as befits any heirloom to a worthy successor. Resident Joe Birnbaum wore them in his role of Cinderella in this year’s Freedom Frolics, “Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.” Birnbaum, with his excellent comic showmanship, “did them up proud” as Minnie Pearle would have said.
Whether or not these white, size 13 shoes possess the magic of Dorothy’s somewhat smaller red pumps worn in “The Wizard of Oz,” they have created stage magic for Freedom Plaza audiences for the past 16 years. They will undoubtedly continue to do so for many years to come.
Peggy Burgess is an associate of Freedom Plaza and a columnist for The Sun.