“Nick George is an Acting Classes Coach at The Playground. Here’s His Story…”
I’m excited to be beginning a blog series in conjunction with The Playground Los Angeles, Gary Spatz’s fantastic Young Actors Conservatory. I am a professional actor, a member of the senior teaching staff at The Playground and also an AmSAT certified teacher of the Alexander Technique.
In the blog entries to come I hope to share some of my thoughts, feelings, stories, and experiences as an actor, teacher and creative person living life in Los Angeles. Hopefully some of these insights from my journey will be useful to you the reader and if nothing else perhaps they’ll be a little entertaining.
Since it is my intention to be adding to this blog for some time to come, I thought, as Julie Andrews said in the “Sound of Music,” that I would “start at the very beginning” since it is in fact a “very good place to start.” This is the story of how my acting adventure began. How a small town kid from Missoula Montana came to be an actor and teacher working in the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.
Like so many young people before me, after completing my high school education I moved from a small town to a bigger one in search of “my dreams.” This kind of move for young people I believe is partly biological in nature and partly rooted in the healthy sense of adventure and boldness that many young people possess towards the end of their adolescence.
I see so many of these vivacious young faces filled with passion at the acting school where I teach here in Los Angeles They come for all sorts of reasons and motivations, but in my case the move came out of the wreckage of a near tragic event. It became clear to me that acting and the arts were things I wanted in my life.
Two weeks before my 16th birthday my father Steve and I were in a traumatic lifealtering car accident near our home on the Oregon Coast. On this rainy and windy late November evening in 1996, we were driving home from an end of season high school football banquet along the high coastal cliffs of highway 1.
That fall and winter of 1996- 97 was an “El Nino” storm year and the Pacific Northwest was battered by historic storms. As we drove side by side, windshield wipers working overtime and wind pelting the side of our Honda Civic, it seemed like a dark and stormy night like any other on the Central Oregon Coast. About a mile from our home, as we came around a sharp bend, my father behind the wheel sat forward quickly with eyes wide and with just enough time said “What the?…Oh No, Oh God!” Those words and that moment’s feeling are seared into my emotional memory forever.
The next thing that happened took only a few moments but it seemed to last much longer and certainly the experience would stay with both of us for the rest of our lives. I can only describe the sensation as a type of suspended animation that occurs during moments of personal peril. “Suspended animation” is probably the perfect analogy, because that’s exactly what we were, Suspended…for just a sliver of a moment before we plunged into a huge, dark, yawning chasm.
My Dad and I didn’t know this at the moment of course (because nothing including gravity made any sense to either of us) but we had just driven off of what was up to about an hour ago high-coastal, two- lane road, but what would now be best described as “a cliff.” The combination of the torrential rains that had been pouring down the side of the mountain for a number of weeks and some drainage problems caused by a recent logging operations clear-cut of the surrounding mountains, the underground spring that flowed under the highway had flooded, inundating the side of the mountain and road with water.
Oregonians are no strangers to water and this slow hydro-geologic erosion had gone unnoticed. The excess water had risen to a point where it had quite quickly (in about 45 minutes) caused approximately 100 yards of old Highway 1 to wash away into the icy Pacific Ocean, 200 ft below. Just as good luck has its fame, bad luck has it’s infamy. My mortified pops and I were the first people to come around that bend to make the discovery that Highway 1, one of the longest highways in the world, had just been severed like a major artery at this very point. We flew. We fell. We smashed, we rolled end-over-end at least twice and for those few moments the inside of our Honda felt like what it must feel like to be inside a tumbling dryer (minus the heat).
Very luckily, I was wearing my seatbelt but my father was not restrained. After the cacophony of the crash came the moments of shock and confusion, wherein one has the realization that “I am still Alive” then comes a breath…then comes a question…”What happened?” The most traumatic moment of the experience for me was thinking that my father had been killed and thrown from the vehicle. All of the windows had been smashed out, much of the roof torn away and he was no longer sitting next to me in the driver’s seat.
I had a terrifying moment of aloneness believing that he was gone. Looking at the glass smashed in my lap and feeling the rain pouring in on my lap through the missing windshield, the first words I spoke were “Dad?” and then… I heard his voice and suddenly things were better. He was alive too, and sitting right behind me. “Nick?” also a word and a moment I won’t ever forget. Due to not wearing his seatbelt during the tumbling and turning my father had come to rest in the backseat of the car spread out like he was lounging on a couch. It was nothing less than an insane miracle that he wasn’t ejected from the vehicle.
We took a moment to assess our injuries which were fairly minor though my fathers face was badly lacerated and I had some glass sticking out of my hands. We sat in silence for a moment then began to piece together a rational explanation for what had just happened. The road had washed out and we’d driving/flew off of the side of a mountain. The continued realization was that we were both in fact alive…but “would we remain so?” was the next question.
Our car had come to rest on a muddy out-crop on the edge a precipice that was another 100 foot drop straight down to the sea. We were surrounded by running water, whole uprooted trees and boulders that had been uprooted and come crashing down the side of the mountain. Equally disconcerting were the downed live power lines that had fallen with the rest of the hillside, which were lying across the muddy wall just ahead of us.
My father and I had some panicky moments in the first minutes after the crash…would another car come around the bend and fall on top of us?…would we slide of the edge in the running water and fall into blackness and drown? Not long after talking these things through, we heard a voice from far above in a bull horn asking us if we were ok. We both waved out of the missing windows. The voice told us that we should remain in the vehicle and wait to be rescued.
We sat in silence then both laughed out loud for what seemed like a minute…were we dreaming. Laughter seemed the only possible response to such an unbelievable scenario. While we sat in the car we talked. About what had happened, how they might get us out and then when we ran out of things to say….so we talked about the day. My dad about his work and I about my time at school. We waited and were starting to get very cold.
Approximately 25 minutes later, a coastguard rescue helicopter appeared and we could see up on the mountain that a huge rescue effort was underway. We thought we might be pulled out by the chopper’s “drop basket” but the downdraft of the rotors was causing us to slide down in the direction we didn’t want to go. This was quite disturbing. The rescue crew on the hillside waved off the chopper and the deafening sound and lights faded. Again, we were told to wait in the car untill we would be rescued. We had no other options so we sat…and sat.
After nearly 50 minutes of waiting in the car nothing had happened. Apparently the local authorities were trying to cut the electricity in the lines on the ground and then send someone down the cliff in a climbing harness…but after running different possible rescue scenarios they had determined sending a man into the wash was too dangerous and were discussing their other options.
My father and I had been in the car for an hour at this point, bloody, drenched, cold, and muddy. As the car slid a few more feet to the edge we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer. We felt that if we did, we might very well be waiting to die. In leaving the car we might very well meet a horrible death in the black ocean below but it seemed so much a better option than what was being done.
After a moments discussion we climbed out of the mangled shell of the car and jumped into mud up to our hips. We were shouted at by the man on the bullhorn to return to the car but we just trudged to the side of the embankment and shouted for them to throw us a line, which they did. After nearly and hour and fifteen minutes of waiting and slogging, first me and then my father were pulled to safety up the side of the cliff. We were quickly ushered into an ambulance and rushed to a local hospital.
After a night in the ER and an early morning in our beds we awoke the next day achy, sore and with the realization that what we had experienced was not a dream. We had survived a horrible car crash and we must come to terms with processing the event. That morning while we slept, much to the horror of our friends and neighbors, the local radio station had reported that the crash involving the father and son had been fatal. For a brief moment in time to some, we had died. Needles to say the experience was a life changer on a multitude of levels for both my Dad and me.
We had always been close…but now we were much closer. We had some post traumatic stress to work through but we did that in our own ways. For my father he shared with me that it was a huge lesson in the loss of control and for me at 16, it was the biggest wake up call I’d ever received. The change didn’t happen overnight, but by the Spring of that year I had decided that I was not happy with my life and where I was living. I told my parents I wanted to “start my life,” and that I was prepared to leave home that Summer.
Many parents might shudder at such a declaration by a teen but my family didn’t. My father in particular said that he thought I was right to make a bold move and that my life was my own to live and to make great. Having come so very close to an early end to our lives we both had an incredible sense of just how fragile, fleeting and precious our time on earth is. “Go for it,” my dad said….and so that’s exactly what I did.
At that moment, I didn’t really know that I was heading towards a life in the arts and a career as an actor and a teacher, but the wheels had been set in motion and I was on my way. Please join me in in the next entry and we’ll pick up the story right here, where we’ve left off. Thanks for reading!