There’s something magical about the 1950’s.
No, I don’t know this from experience--unless you count repeated viewings of Back to the Future. Much as I’d love to hop into that DeLorean and check things out first hand, I’m still waiting for Doc Brown to roll out his Flux Capacitor and get to business.
My dad’s family moved here in 1958, similarly building their own house—Grandpa Ferencie was the maintenance man at Dyment Company in Cleveland, and received a deferment from service in World War II due to his irreplaceable value to his company. They built on Liberty Road, a mile and a half from the Vanderneut homestead. Dad started at Solon High School as a junior and met Mom on the bus. Mom was in the Business program, Dad in College Prep, so they didn’t have any classes together…but nevertheless, they were soon sitting together on the bus every day. They attended both the junior and senior proms together, graduated in 1960, and were married in 1963. They built their home on Pettibone Road in 1968, and two years later, Yours Truly came along.
In the 1950 census, Solon’s population was pegged at 2,570. Still officially a village (city status didn’t happen until 1960), Solon was just beginning to attract the corporate presence which defines the city today. My dad remembers driving through the village on the way to Geauga Lake Park—no stop lights, mostly farmland. Solon Center for the Arts was the seat of village government, also housing the fire department and police station. Roger’s Tavern (Imperial Wok is there now) and Drexel’s (Penn Station) were two of the main restaurants. There was one pizzeria—impressive, as pizza was just starting to become a popular dish in the United States. Rexall Pharmacy (you know it as CVS today) had a soda fountain, where my mom tasted her first cherry Coke.
I asked my parents to describe the 50’s. Dad talked a lot about Solon—the few businesses, the farms, the dense foliage and undergrowth that took months to clear from their land before he and his dad could even begin to build their house. He mentioned the airport (now the Community Park and dual school), and remembered watching cows graze in the Craemer Farm fields outside the high school windows. Mom talked about frustrated dreams—specifically not being allowed to go to college, because her father believed “girls didn’t do that.” Of the decade, the most descriptive thing they could say was “it was quiet.”
The 50’s are almost like a placeholder, a spacer if you will, between the noble sacrifices of World War II and the tumultuous chaos of the 60’s. Surely, the U.S.A. had it share of challenges—the Cold War, the Korean Conflict, Senator McCarthy and the Red Scare. But there definitely was a quiet simplicity to the decade, and I hear that so clearly when my parents talk about those years. It was a time to breathe, to recover from the sacrifices and hardships of the 30’s and 40’s, to enjoy the freedoms and rights that the Greatest Generation fought for so fiercely during the war. And this, I think, is why we romanticize the period, in everything from Happy Days to Back the Future.
Which leads us, of course, to All Shook Up. 1955 Solon is amazingly similar to our fictional “square little town in a square state in the middle of the U.S.A.” The similarities provide an anchor for me, a jumping-off point as we create the look and feel of this town. It helps too as we develop the characters, most of whom are reaching for something they can’t quite describe—they can feel it’s out there, just over the hill, but just out of reach.
All Shook Up is a simple show about a simple time. Really, the script isn’t much more than a vehicle to get from one Elvis song to the next. But everything about this show has a resonance for me, even the Elvis stuff—after all, my parents’ song is “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”
There's more, of course. But as they say at the end of Back to the Future: To Be Continued...
Kristina J. Ferencie has directed the SHS Drama Club since 2001.