Fort Griffin Fandangle
The Texas Story Project.
One of the nation’s oldest and most successful People’s Theaters is in the small Texas town of Albany, population just over 2,000. Resident Robert (Bob) Nail, Jr., aspiring young playwright and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton, returned home and convinced his musician-artist friend Alice Reynolds – a graduate of Baylor University – to join him in staging a new form of theater. It would be presented out-of-doors on theTexas prairie and called “The Fort Griffin Fandangle.”
The year was 1938, and the show celebrated Texas's 19th century frontier history as told by the characters known as “Oldtimers.” It has been performed by over two hundred amateur actors of Albany of all ages for over seven decades. The story is told in narration with action, singing, dancing, real cowboys, and Texas Longhorns, all backed by organ music.
In addition to the regular performances in June, small road shows called “Samplers” spread the news of Nail and his band of amateurs. By the 1960s, the show was known across Texas and in other states. By 1967, I had joined the cast as a pioneer, chorus singer/dancer when the Fandangle packed up to perform a sampler at the LBJ Ranch near Fredericksburg for President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson at a barbecue luncheon entertaining a group of OAS Ambassadors from Central America. Replacing our usual narrators with Texas celebrity Cactus Pryor and actress Carol Channing, we sang and danced our story for the 200 guests outdoors along the Pedernales River. Clifton, my husband, came along, too, and took many black and white photographs for The Albany News, but not one of his wife as a member of the cast. So much for my chance at fame!
The guests appeared to love the show, and Mrs. Johnson later came to Albany for a full Fandangle performance. Six months after he received an honorary doctorate from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Dr. Robert E. Nail Jr., at only sixty years old, died of a sudden heart attack on November 11, 1968. His hometown was plunged into deep grief. Despite losing our brilliant creator, writer, and director, the Fandangle missed only one year.
Fandangle continues to be produced today. After visitors see the professional-level show, they often ask, “How in the world do you do it?” The simple answer is, “We want to.”
Shirley W. Caldwell served on the Texas Historical Commission for 12 years, is a former president of the Texas State Historical Association, and lives Albany.
Posted October 16, 2014