Community Perspective: The Cicadas are Coming!

A contributed perspectives piece by Tom Arthur

According to CBS News and other sources, “trillions of cicadas are about to emerge after 17 years underground,” in Harrisonburg as well as everywhere else.  The insects have two pairs of wings, prominent eyes, (usually three of them), and can be up to 2 inches in size.

Cicadas are noisy as well as unattractive. Males have three sounds, a song regulated by weather, noises produced by other males and a squawk when they’re captured.  They’re not looking for you but for each other because it’s time to mate.

Four cicada cycles ago in a Northwestern University outdoor summer theatre, I was cast in a classical Roman comedy, Plautus’ The Twin Menaechmi. The Northwestern theatre took itself extremely seriously in those days. The film world’s Charlton Heston and Patricia Neal had attended in the past. Jerry Orbach, subsequently of television’s “Law and Order,” was among current students. 

The cicadas arrived on a late June night, settling on props, costumes, the stage, and spectators. At the climax of an Act 1 speech, I stumbled and then slid stage-right on my belly, crushing the insects as I went. Facing an out-of-Rome moment, I made up a line about losing my lines because I was covered in insects that got a laugh.

However, I was greeted with a different kind of response behind the set. The director and stage manager were furious that I had “fractured” theatre etiquette. But I could hear the audience out front chuckling while dealing with cicada problems of their own. The actors may have been in Rome while the theatergoers were sitting in an outdoor theatre, but we had the insects in common. I apologized, though I thought I was right. Happily, performance practice has loosened up since then.

There are lessons to be learned here, even now. Whether at the Rockingham Garden Show, the National Truck event or the County Fair, Harrisonburg citizens needn’t be concerned about the insects. Cicadas may be crawling on your clothes and making awful noises but they’re not looking for you. 

Love makes the world go around, especially with cicadas.

Tom Arthur is a retired JMU teacher of acting. He has eight grandchildren.

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