Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Life In The Theater

Having finished his morning meditation and coffee, JB sits in front of his computer, reading intently what is on the screen.

JB’s Blog is on one side.  JB’s resume is on the other side.
                                                                                                                                                                DISSOLVE TO:
…me, sitting here, deciding how to move forward with the blog.

When I kickstarted this blog a few months back, I pointed out that chronology had become a problem, so I wasn’t going to worry about it.  That’s not entirely true.  I find it at least somewhat important to give some sense of context.

So, here is my jump off point.  I looked through all the theater pieces I was involved with from the time I left Allentown, and none of them deserved their own blog.  Therefore, in order to get back to the film work, I thought I would do a two-part blog entry that covered most of the better moments I had in theater after that, and the important changes in my life that led me into a full-time career in film.   Some of these bleed into the time I was doing film, and even into my married years.  As I said, topic is more important here than a solid timeline.  Does that work for you?  Great! (You were nodding your head, right?)

When last we visited this blog, I was leaving Allentown after directing an evening of three one-act plays.
I got back to New York, looking to continue directing theater, and joined with some other theater friends to form a short-lived company called Catharsis Theater Company.  We had a small space on Theatre Row, but only got off one evening of one-acts.

It would be years before I did any serious directing in theater again, although I did spend one season as teaching artist and director for Theater for New Audiences, which brought Shakespeare to public schools in New York.  It was a great experience, and what I took from that was that working in poor neighborhoods was more fun than working in rich neighborhoods.  The kids in the poor schools appreciated the work and opportunity more than the kids in rich neighborhoods.  If that sounds clichéd, sorry, but it’s true.

I also spend some time directing opera singers for a company called Republic Artists that had a relationship with Lincoln Center.  It was truly fun to work with talented singers who wanted to learn more about acting.
For the most part, I returned to making a living as a stage manager, dabbling in set and lighting design.  

I also stage managed a forgettable production of Suddenly Last Summer that was notable only for this funny lesson I learned from an older actress.

The production was mounted by an actress who had inherited a nice sum of money from a deceased aunt.  She cast herself as Catherine, the young girl played by Elizabeth Taylor in the film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams classic play.  She hired her acting teacher to direct, and they cast a talented and feisty older actress to play the role of Mrs. Venable, done to perfection by Katherine Hepburn in the same movie.
Hepburn’s take on the role was so good that the actress in our production decided to pretty much mimic Hepburn, right down to her unique version of a New England accent.  No matter, the actress in question became our den mother on the production, keeping things focused when need be, comforting actors who needed it, and kicking butt when that was called for, as it was on this night.

There is a scene where a rebellious Catherine puts a cigarette out in the hand of a nun who tries to take it away from her.  The spoiled-brat of an actress who mounted the play had an annoying habit of playing most scenes with the Venable character as if she were chewing gum, even though she wasn’t.  On this night, the actress had influential friends in the audience, and decided she would get a more “method” response by actually putting out a lit cigarette in the hand of the actress playing the nun.

I was livid when I heard this in the booth, and at intermission, I stormed toward the green room, determined to tear this idiot a new one.  I was met outside the green room by the older actress, who looked at me with a smirk and said, “let me handle this.”  Something told me to that was the way to go.

The second act began with a scene between Venable and Catherine, and, as usual, the actress playing Catherine faked chewing gum.  Venable, completely in character with the no-nonsense Venable, put out her hand and said “Catherine, give me the gum.”  This was a complete ad lib, and the younger actress wasn’t sure what to do, but she mimed putting the gum in Venable’s hand.  Not good enough.  Venable looks in her hand, and shows Catherine (and the audience) that there is no gum there.  “Catherine, there is no gum here.  I told you to give me the gum.”  The older actress proceeds to figuratively undress the younger actress on stage, until she almost finished the scene in tears, and the audience was laughing out loud at her.   It was a much more public and embarrassing come-uppance than I ever could have achieved.

In the next entry, I will transition to love, marriage, and my last directing gigs for some time, which introduced me to another actor I would later cast in a film that I wrote. 

No comments: