In high school, Frank Hughes Jr. was admittedly shy. It is why he decided to leave the comfort of home – he grew up in Brockton – and attend college as far away as possible. “By going away it allowed me to reintroduce myself to the world,” he said. “It allowed me to figure out who I was. I went from an introverted kid to an extrovert.”
It was at Flagler College in St. Augustine where Hughes not only discovered who he was, but where he discovered his passion for acting.
His first play was Romeo and Juliet. “I was guard number three,” he said proudly. “I was actually helping out backstage when the director said, ‘How about you be in it?’ I said, ‘It’s not my thing.’ She said, ‘It’s not your thing because you never did it.’”
From that experience, he was hooked. “When I was on stage, I wasn’t Frank anymore. I was the character,” he said. “When I’m on stage and saying something, I become the center of attention. Theater taught me that I could handle that.”
Hughes, who graduated with a degree in theater, said the craft has instilled in him a confidence, one that was on full display at CapeSpace in the beginning of March, even when he was dressed in a stormtrooper costume for a fun photo shoot.
Fans of local theater may know Hughes from his recent performances which have included “Arsenic and Old Lace” at the Cotuit Center for the Arts this past winter as well as “The 1940s Radio Hour” at The Barnstable Comedy Club, “Play It Again, Sam” at the Falmouth Theatre Guild, and “Christmas Shorts” at Cotuit.
A Childhood Obsession
As for the stormtrooper getup? It dates back to his childhood. “I grew up watching Star Wars. I think I was six or seven when the first film came out. I remember seeing it at the drive-in,” he said. “Star Wars has a real message of hope. You can be the change the galaxy needs and you don’t need to be a huge figure. Two days before Star Wars, Luke was living on a farm. That kind of sat with me.”
Like many kids his age, Hughes also collected the toys. He had the Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca action figures. And “I had one stormtrooper,” he said. “Growing up, that one stormtrooper was every bit as important as Luke and Darth and everyone else.”
His fascination with the Star Wars canon – and stormtroopers – has continued into adulthood.
On his first date with his future wife Julie, he opened up about one of his lifelong goals – he wanted to own a stormtrooper uniform.
Slowly he saved up until he pulled the trigger on May 4, 2017 – Star Wars Day – on a custom molded costume that he had to put together himself. It consisted of 128 pieces that “I had to cut, sand, glue and re-glue,” he said, laughing that “I can never gain any weight. If my size ever changes I won’t be able to fit into this anymore. It would break my heart.”
He has dubbed himself FH-1024 in reference to his initials and his birthday.
In September 2019, when the costume was finished, Hughes took it for a walk around Mashpee Commons. “I had cooks running out of restaurants wanting to get a picture of me,” he said.
He has since worn it to Massasoit Community College, where he works as the IT Director, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of Cape Cod in Mashpee. And he’s returned to Mashpee Commons several times to the delight of patrons, business owners, and staff at local shops.
“When I’m walking somewhere, I try to hold myself in the mannerisms of the stormtrooper. If you watch the Star Wars movies and video games, there’s a way they stand,” he said. “As bad as they are at being part of an army, there is an intent to be intimidating. I try to carry that, but I also flash the peace sign and try to tell jokes in the helmet.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Hughes has brought FH-1024 online, recently recording a video of the stormtrooper reading Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Like many, he cannot wait until the quarantine is lifted and life can return to normal. “I have plans to wear it at the beach with a variation for the summer,” he said. “I don’t do this for any money. I do it to bring a smile to people’s face which is funny because stormtroopers are kind of terrible people.”
Click here to learn more about Stormtrooper FH-1024 in our CapeSpace member spotlight.