Just back from Clearwater, FL -- a wealthy suburb of Tampa/St. Pete -- where the Eckerd Theatre Company was workshopping my civil war drummer boy musical.
Eckerd Hall is a performing arts center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was leased over the past weekend by Scientologists -- (Clearwater is their east coast headquarters) -- celebrating the Birthday of L. Ron Hubbard! What a thrilling coincidence! While we're toiling away in the conference room over scripts and designs, John Travolta was appearing on the mainstage; there was a humongous party tent in the parking lot.
Scientologii snipers were posted of the rooftops; Scientologii bomb-sniffing dogs prowled the halls; Scientologii bodyguards (ineffectual looking guys in black with earpieces) eyeballed the entrances and exits. A very unusual space to be workshopping a new musical for three days! On Saturday morning, the festivities had ended -- and laborers were dismantling the party tent. Scientologii laborers had constructed it and you could tell they were scientologists because they were lean, clean-shaven, close-cropped and dressed like postal workers. Normal laborers were tearing it down and you could tell they weren't Scientologists because they had mullets and beer bellies.
When the coast was clear, we braved trekking across the astroturf carpet to ogle the remains of L. Ron Hubbard's birthday cake -- a triple-tiered affair with yellow frosting and gold roses (ick!) -- it appeared to be vanilla with lemon filling but we didn't take a taste -- it was going stale in the sun -- and it didn't appear to have been a huge favorite at the party. It was pretty well mangled but you could still read "Happy Birthday Ron" on top of the cake -- and someone had swiped a finger through a couple of the gold roses. On the ground next to the cake was a huge and rather tacky photo portrait of L. Ron himself -- long since dead now, of course, but apparently frozen in state somewhere waiting for the Scientologist Judgment Day -- and he was smiling and standing next to a birthday cake that looked exactly like the mangled cake on the table. Like it's somehow the traditional L. Ron birthday cake on Scientology Christmas.