It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Burnin’ Down the House – Part I

Dave Sikula, setting stuff on fire.

No, not this:

No real topic this week, but, rather a story. A tale from my misspent youth. If you want to see a larger moral in it, such is your right. None is intended.

On Facebook the other day (and don’t too many stories start that way?), someone in one of the groups of which I’m a member posted photos of her trip to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. It was apparently her first trip to the theatre, so I gave her a brief summary of its recent history (mainly the renovations it’s received). I concluded by saying “Remind me to tell you about the time I almost burned the joint down.” She hasn’t, but I figured this would be a good a time as any to immortalize that evening.

As I may have mentioned on more than one occasion, I grew up in Southern California, and while (once I was able to drive) a trip to Hollywood became an, at least, weekly occurrence, in the mid- and late ’60s, it was a rare treat.

When I was a kid, there were any number of movie theatres in Hollywood, most of which were first-run and reasonably glamorous, and (for the bigger houses like the Chinese, the Egyptian, the Cinerama Dome, or the Pantages) featured reserved seating for road-show presentations. You cut a coupon out of the paper (remember newspapers?), fill it out specifying a number of dates, and mail it in (remember mail?). After a couple of weeks, you’d get your tickets in the mail, and on the appointed night, turn up at the theatre, where the friendly uniformed usher (remember uniformed ushers? No … ?) would escort you to your seats.

I have five early moviegoing memories. The earliest would be in the late 50s on Long Island, seeing 101 Dalmatians at a theatre that combined a drive-in and a walk-in the same location. I remember spending most of the evening running inside and outside, comparing what part of the movie was playing on which screen. (These were, of course, the days when parents could let their kids run wild in outdoor public places and reasonably expect they’d be safe and back when it was time to head home.

You wonder why I turned out the way I did?

You wonder why I turned out the way I did?

The second was a 1961 screening of Snow White and the Three Stooges. I was only five or so, but remember thinking it wasn’t very funny. (I love the Stooges, but this was not one of their finer efforts.)

Yeah, pretty much what you'd expect.

Yeah, pretty much what you’d expect.

The third was later in ’61, not long before we moved to California. My parents took my sister and me into Manhattan so they could see Andy Griffith and Debbie Reynolds in The Second Time Around. It was at the Paramount Theatre in Times Square, a theatre that seated nearly 3,700 people and had (in memory) about 20 balconies. As with the Disney movie, though, I spent most of the evening running around and looking out at Times Square. I remember the billboards for Camel cigarettes (which featured a man blowing actual smoke rings) and Kleenex (with Little Lulu shilling for facial tissues) far better than I remember the movie itself. (Which, despite my love of old movies, I haven’t seen since.)

Times Square, circa 1960:

Is it any wonder I didn’t care about the movie?

The scene shifts to California. One of my favorite movies to this day is It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which was (and is) an epic comedy that featured virtually every comic actor working in Hollywood in the early ‘60s. Many people I know love this movie. Many people I know hate this movie. There seems to be no middle ground. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to open just about two weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated, and the country really wasn’t in a mood to watch a four-hour comedy about greedy schlemiels. My most vivid memories about the evening were that it was the first time I went to the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (which came to be a theatre I’d know very well) and that, when my father took us to dinner across the street before the movie, I managed to spill an entire glass of milk on my sister. That’s great stuff when you’re seven.

The Dome.

The Dome.

Okay, so finally moving on to the Chinese. I’m not entirely sure if the first movie I saw there was Mary Poppins or Thunderball, but I assume it was the former. Regardless, it began another long relationship with the theatre that has continued until, well, this year.

I’ve just realized that to continue this story will need more space to finish than is practical, so I’m going to leave it here – giving me both the necessary time and a topic for next time. So, until then, let me leave you with this cryptic preview: If you have a cold, don’t let your sister drive – unless you bring a flashlight.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Art May Not Be a Democracy – But It’s Not a Dictatorship, Either

Dave Sikula waves the flag of theater revolution.

As I’ve mentioned, one of my favorite pastimes is watching old movies and TV shows. In my case, “old” means shows of the 1950s and ‘60s. (As I write this, I’m watching episodes of What’s My Line? and I’ve Got a Secret.)

"Do you deal in a service or a product?"

“Do you deal in a service or a product?”

With old television in mind, I had another one of those coincidences today that makes writing these posts so interesting.

The first part of it was an episode of Naked City, which was an early cop show. Based on the movie of the same name, one of the things the show (like the movie) was notable for was being shot on location in New York. In fact, the narration of the film (and the first season of the show) mentioned how all the locations were real and that there were no sets. (As the show went on, this “rule” was broken regularly, and obvious sets were used. In fact, there’s one set of a duplex apartment that gets used so much in the second season to represent different locations, that they must have thought the audience had the attention span of a gnat.)

"Look out! He's got an axe!"

“Look out! He’s got an axe!”

The main reason I watch the show, now, though, is that it features early appearances by “New York” actors who have gone on to greater things. (Nowadays, of course, the only way to see New York actors is to see Equity shows in the Bay Area … ) It’s interesting (for me, anyway) to see Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Maureen Stapleton, Sandy Dennis, Christopher Walken, and (my favorite so far) William Shatner as a Burmese sailor with a German accent. This week’s episode featured George C. Scott as a sculptor who had been commissioned to create a statue of a revolutionary leader. In an obvious analogy to Fidel Castro, the revolutionary became a dictator, and Scott’s character came under incredible pressure to stop sculpting and destroy the statue. Despite a cash offer of $20,000, pickets at his apartment house, and even a sniper killing his pregnant wife, Scott refuses to give up on the project because Art is more important than anything else …

Or something.

Now, I’ve long advocated for art that gets people agitated and causes controversy, but this was taking it too far for even me – especially when the sniper shot the statue itself. (Spoiler: Scott keeps sculpting it, plugging the bullet holes with clay.)

(By the way, after searching for images from Naked City, I just want to warn you: don’t do Google Images searches for “Naked City.” Just sayin’.)

The second part of the coincidence actually came earlier in the day when I read this story. In Manchester, England, there’s an artist named Douglas Gordon. He’s won the Turner Prize, but his work seems to consist of adapting and mashing the work of other, better artists and taking credit for the results. (See also “Lichtenstein, Roy”) As far as I can tell, Mr. Douglas has neither a theatrical background nor training, but was nonetheless engaged to direct a show in a relatively new $40 million theatre. (I’ll pause here while my brother and sister artists wonder A) why and how Manchester spent $40 million on a theatre building while our own governmental agencies provide next-to-no support for theatre companies, and B) how and why an artist was hired to direct a play when so many qualified directors can’t get work. Must be an English thing … )

The answer to the latter question may be found on the theatre’s website: Manchester International Festival “ has invited Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait) and celebrated pianist Hélène Grimaud to create Neck of the Woods, a portrait of the wolf brought to life in a startling collision of visual art, music and theatre.” I guess because they don’t have enough wolf theatre in northern England. (Who does, really?)

Despite the presence of actress Charlotte Rampling, the BBC reported the general media reaction:

The Daily Telegraph said Neck of the Woods had “the unmistakable whiff of a vanity project,” with a script that “simply isn’t very good,” while “Rampling looks terribly uncomfortable most of the time.”

The Guardian, meanwhile, described it as a “humorless and sedate Red Riding Hood retelling” that “takes itself very seriously” and is “so old-fashioned you wonder if Gordon has any familiarity at all with contemporary theatre.”

Well, Mr. Gordon took exception to the notices and decided to take matters into his own hands – literally. The BBC notes that “the show begins with the sound of an axe, and the stage has a number of axes screwed to it.” Mr. Gordon took one of those axes and tried to chop a hole in the theatre’s concrete walls. After knocking out a few chunks, he drew a demonic hand around the holes, then signed and dated the resulting “artwork.”

This guy...

This guy…


...did this.

…did this.

As might be expected, the facility’s management didn’t take kindly to the act and will be allowing Mr. Turner to pay for repairing the damage. (Apparently, management doesn’t feel the benefits of having this uncommissioned sculpture outweigh the chance to get rid of it.)

If you haven’t guessed by now what these two have in common, it’s not that sculptors are stubborn boobs; it’s that there are times you really need to let go and not take your work so goddamn seriously. I’ve never quit a show (I may have once, but I’m not 100% sure), but if someone offered me the equivalent of $150,000 to stop working on one, I admit I’d to consider it. And in the second case, who the hell takes reviews that seriously? Well, Mr. Gordon does, but what anger management issues does a guy have that he reads his reviews, gets mad, tries to figure out what to do, makes up his mind, puts on his shoes, gets a jacket, finds his keys, gets in his car, drives to the theatre, goes in, says hello to the staff and crew, heads into the house, finds a way to remove one of the axes he’s attached to the stage, then attacks the concrete wall of a new theatre because some reviewer thought you were humorless – which is something you’ve just, ironically, proven.

We’ve all gotten bad reviews (and if you say you haven’t, you’re a liar – or an amnesiac), but we’ve all laughed them off or called the reviewer “an asshole who just didn’t get it” and moved on. But this guy? I don’t want to see anything by this guy.

There was actually a third story I also heard about this week, but it’s one that will go unmentioned because there are things I just can’t – or shouldn’t – talk about. Suffice it to say that, when I saw a quote on Facebook (and I hate quotes on Facebook) that said something to the effect of “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right,” I took it to heart – and that comes from an opinionated hothead.

To bring my headline into this, no, Art isn’t a democracy. If you solicit opinion before making a movie or pander in an attempt to make everything appeal to the lowest common denominator, you’re just going to end up with a bunch of bland crap. (Although I have to admit this formula has been working for Disney for decades.) You’ve got to be bold and individual, even at the risk of offending people. I know I’ve seen a lot of stuff I didn’t like, but (in most cases) it was because I didn’t agree with the choices the director made. I’d rather watch an evening of bold, stupid choices than a bunch of stupid non-choices. At least the first one makes me think of how I’d do things differently.

On the other hand, if you’re so bloody-minded and determined to make art that, if you’re criticized or corrected, your only recourse is to hit a building with an axe or let your wife get shot, well, that’s another stupid choice.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Starting Over

Dave Sikula would never fall asleep at your show.

I’ll be honest with you. I just abandoned another post when I realized, 500+ words in, that it just wasn’t working. If nothing else, I was in danger of saying some things that could easily be misunderstood and give too many wrong impressions.

So I decided to deal with something less controversial: namely, what the hell is wrong with audiences these days?

As an actor, I’m used to working with audiences that are up close and personal. My high school’s theatre was in the round, and the seats were thisclose to the stage, so I had early training in being aware of the audience while ignoring them. I mean, I’m always aware of them and their reactions, but I’m not concentrating on them. This has especially helpful in the last few shows I’ve done, that have either been on thrust stages or in interactive spaces. Believe me, we see everything, but learn to ignore it.

The musical I’ve been doing has been extremely (and rightfully) popular, and we’ve had only a few empty seats the entire run. One of my favorite parts of this show is my big number in the second act. I get to sing right to the audience and get in their faces in a positive way. And every night, I’m able to take inventory of who’s still with us, who’s checked out, and who’s asleep. (Literally.) One of the good things about the show is that we’ve gotten a wide variety of types of people. Having a number of different types in the audience pretty much guarantees that there’ll be plenty of varying reactions. Everyone is going to react to the show differently. I’ve found that I don’t like playing before large groups that have come to the show together (benefits are particularly bad in this regard). They’re all of the same mind, so if one of them finds something entertaining or funny, they all will, and will all react in the same way. That’s fine when they like a show, but when they don’t, it’s deadly. You can be doing everything right and well, and they just sit there like an oil painting. Take our last performance. We had a group of college students who couldn’t have been less interested in watching the show. They were dutiful, they applauded, took notes, and stayed until the end, but they were there only because they were supposed to be. Now, please note: I don’t fault them for being uninterested. Not everyone likes every show. (Goodness knows I’ve seen plenty I didn’t like.)

Not quite this bad - but almost.

Not quite this bad – but almost.

What I can’t understand is why someone would either go to a show they really had no interest in seeing or why they’d stay. Well, I know in one sense; it’s something that my wife and I have dubbed “Obligation Theatre.” In most cases, I want to see something or I won’t make the effort to buy a ticket and leave the house. But, every so often, someone I know is doing a show, and despite my worst fears and expectations (“They’re/he/she doing that? ), I go and endure a couple hours of pain because I want to support a friend, even in the most perfunctory sense.

But, that aside, every actor has stories about audience members who misbehaved. Just tonight, in addition to the dullards at my own show, I heard reports from another show about audience members who used the set as a place to set their bags, who went into the lobby during the show to complain to the cast about the temperature in the theatre, then stood in their way when they were trying to make their entrances and a couple that argued in the parking lot at intermission because the husband had fallen asleep during the first act. (They left.) During our production, we’ve had a number of sleepers, and at least one woman who thought the emotional 11 o’clock number was the perfect time to check her phone, and another who was in such a rush to leave, she ran smack into one of the actors trying to make her curtain call. (And don’t even get me started on the audience members who use the curtain call as the perfect opportunity to rush out of the theatre as though the joint was on fire. Are they really going to save that much time?)

We’ve probably all dealt with cell phones going off or talkers or singers-along or eaters or texters or latecomers or the deathly ill, but I can’t imagine how these people have been so sheltered that they don’t comprehend that they can be heard or seen or smelled or detected; that they’ve developed some kind of force field of invisibility that prevents anyone else in the audience or cast from detecting them.

An actor I once worked with had worked with another actor in the West End who had a unique way of dealing with latecomers, especially those who were down front. He’d stop the show, welcome them, make sure that they had programs and knew who everyone on stage was and what had happened thus far. Once he was sure they were well-informed, he’d ask for permission to start again. One can be pretty sure that these folks were never late for the theatre again. Similarly, in the days when people had to use cameras, rather than phones, to take photos at shows, when Katharine Hepburn would spot one of them, she’d stop the show, walk downstage, demand that the photographer stand and take all the photos he or she wanted because their needs were more important than those of anyone else in the theatre. When she was satisfied that the person had had their fill, she resumed the show. Laurence Fishburne once stopped a performance of The Lion in Winter when a phone went off. He stopped, looked at the audience with a lethal stare, and intoned “Tell them we’re busy.” I once saw Christopher Walken halt a cross from stage left to right when another phone went off. He stared at the audience in a Walkenesque way, with a look on his face that indicated his character couldn’t tell if he was hearing things or something was actually happening. When the phone stopped, he kind of shrugged and resumed the cross. Dennis O’Hare, in Take Me Out, was in the middle of a monologue when someone in the audience sneezed. Without missing a beat, he said “Bless you” and continued the speech. And we all know how Patti LuPone reacted to a photographer.

Don’t screw with Patti.

While all of those responses are admirable to me, anyway), in almost every case when I’ve had to deal with a moment like these, I’ve made the choice to just ignore the interruption or sleeper or noise or smell, and I have to wonder why. We all know it’s happening, it’s disruptive and annoying, but we all suspend our disbelief and pretend it’s not happening or it’ll stop eventually.

I guess it’s just the easy way out or that we want to avoid confrontation or that it’s not worth the effort to break the illusion.

As I said at the beginning, this was a substitute for another post, so I’m not sure what my ultimate point is other than to complain and urge all of us – myself included – to stay awake, alert, and involved when we go see a show. Even the worst of shows has some value, even if only as an example of how bad something can be. If I could make it through The Lily’s Revenge without throttling someone, there’s nothing that can’t be endured.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Shoulda Taken That Left Turn at Albuquerque

Dave Sikula outlines his own job description.

I'd like to see Bugs's Falstaff.

I’d like to see Bugs’s Falstaff.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice on these pages, I’m a director. In that role, I feel like I have two jobs. The first is to watch the actors, see what they’re doing, and tailor the action to their strengths (within the context of the script, of course). I’ve long found that if I try to get an actor to do something that isn’t organic to them, whatever it is isn’t going to work. If I can match the action to the actor, though, I find they can do anything.

My other job is to get the hell out of the writer’s way. When I read a script, I have to figure out both what it’s about (both on the surface and underneath) and the best way to get that message/story/metaphor/whatever across. Sometimes it’s by being big and bold, sometimes it’s getting tiny and intimate.

Now, this is not to say that there’s only one way to do any play. My Hamlet or Odd Couple or Sweeney Todd is going to be different from any other director’s, since we see different things in those plays that we’ll want to bring out. Even if I do something a second time, I’m going to do it differently from the way I did it the first time; different actors will bring out different values and moments and I’m an older and different person. The Long Day’s Journey I’d do now would be different from the one I did in 1997. (Though it would still be uncut.)

Even saying that, there may certainly be times where I’d want to deconstruct something or deliberately go against what’s on the page in order to make a statement about its values needing to be questioned or criticized. I have ideas about Chekhov that go against the way his plays are usually performed (though, ironically for this example, completely in line with what I think he intended), and in grad school, I devised a Brechtian deconstruction of You Can’t Take It with You (a play I really like) that highlighted and commented on its theatricality, artificiality, and place in the development of situation comedy.

So while there are obvious exceptions, most scripts intended for the commercial theatre—especially from a certain period—are pretty obvious as to what they’re about, and any attempts to screw around with them are foolhardy, pigheaded, and probably doomed to failure.

My own most notable experience here is when I directed The Fantasticks. I originally wanted to shake some of the rust and dust off of it; to lose some of its fussiness and make it more “relevant” to a modern audience. There was, I thought, a stodginess to it that needed to be lost. Anyone who’s directed the show knows that the licensor includes what is virtually an instruction manual the size of a phone book* on how to (more or less) recreate Word Baker’s 1960 production, right down to where to hang prop and costume pieces in the trunk.

Jerry Orbach is not included in the instructions. Dammit.

Jerry Orbach is not included in the instructions. Dammit.

(*Note to younger readers: a “phone book**” was a thick volume that contained addresses and phone numbers for every person and business in a designated are.)

(**Note to even younger readers: a “book” was a bound collection of paper upon which was printed a made-up story or accounting of factual events.)

When I got this manual, my first reaction was to sniff “Well, I’m not going to do it that way! My production will be my own!” But the more I looked at the script in conjunction with the manual, the more I realized that to make massive changes just for the sake of making changes was an exercise in hubris. There’s a reason the show has played so well for more than half a century. There probably really is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and I opted for the “right” way. It told the story in the way the authors intended. (This isn’t to say we didn’t tweak things or fit it to the actors; but we didn’t stray far from what was on the page.) The results were one of my proudest productions and fondest theatrical memories. It was a beautiful and touching production (if I say so myself), and I never regretted not having deconstructed it just because I could.

What brings this up? Well, we recently saw a production at one of the major houses in town of a show that could be considered a modern classic of sorts. (The production shall go nameless to protect the innocent.) From the moment it started, though, I knew we were in trouble. In the apparent name of shaking things up, the director (with a number of impressive credits nationally) had decided to put his or her stamp on it, despite anything intended by the creators. The changes weren’t done in the name of deconstruction or postmodernism or commenting on the text; they seemed done just because this director either knew better how to tell the story than the people who created it or was just tired of the “old” ways of doing it.

Let me hasten to add here (in case I haven’t made it clear) that I don’t expect directors, designers, or actors to do exactly what was done in the original production of something (if it’s, as in this case, a revival). Each company and production should be unique and bring a flavor or their own to the mix, while (as I mentioned last time) “coloring inside the lines.”

But this production was just a series of wrong-headed moves that kept denying or contradicting the script and its plot points, both major and minor; not for the purpose of commenting on them, but seemingly just for the hell of it. That the poor thinking extended to a good portion of the casting, as well, will go mostly uncommented on. (And, of course, that almost the entire cast was imported from out of town was inexcusable. There are literally dozens of local actors who could have played any of the roles with equal, if not greater, dexterity.)

One actor reminded me of no one so much as Jerry Colonna (seen in the video below). (To again offer clarification to younger readers, Colonna was a comedian in the 1940s known mainly for his big eyes and bigger moustache. Subtlety was not his calling card.) This isn’t necessarily a problem. I’m a fan of Colonna and his brand of overplaying, but for this role, it was like casting Elmer Fudd as Cyrano. It was almost as though the director, when faced with a choice of what to do in any moment, opted for the wrong one, just to see what would happen, then didn’t explore the alternative.

Certain of my friends will no doubt comment that “Well, you don’t like anything.” I’ll (as always) deny that, but some of the very friends who would say that shared these opinions of the production, so it wasn’t just me.

But, of course, at the end of the evening, the audience leapt to its feet to provide a seemingly sincere and hearty standing ovation, so what do I know? Ya pays yer money, and ya takes her cherce. Although in cases like this, I’m reminded of the late humorist Robert Benchley’s assessment of the utterly inexplicable popularity of the execrable Abie’s Irish Rose in the ‘20s: “This is why democracy can never be a success.”

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Performance Anxiety

Dave Sikula… is nervous?

Last Saturday, I went to the San Francisco Silent Movie Festival to see The Donovan Affair, a 1929 movie that was both silent and not. “How is this possible?,” I hear you not asking. The answer is simple. The Donovan Affair was the first talking picture directed by Frank Capra (he of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life fame). While the film itself is intact (unlike so many movies from that period), the problem is that, in the 75 years since it was made, the soundtrack has vanished.

Considering it’s a movie about a murder investigation with an incredibly complicated plot (a ne’er-do-well is murdered when the lights are turned out during a birthday party – a stunt that is repeated twice, leading to both a second murder and the apprehension of the murderer), without dialogue, any viewer of the film is going to be stymied. Being that sound was recent to the movies in 1929, Capra and company packed it to the gills with talk, especially during the scenes where the lights are turned out and all the viewer sees is a black screen.

The Donovan Affair

The Donovan Affair

Bruce Goldstein, the legendary programmer at New York’s Film Forum, wanted to show The Donovan Affair as part of a Capra retrospective and hit upon the idea of taking the script and having a cast live-dub the movie in real time. The problem was that, not only has the screenplay also been lost to the mists of time, so has the script to the stage play the movie was based on.

While some of the dialogue could be intuited though lip reading, there are plenty of scenes with off-stage characters, actors with their backs to the camera, and the aforementioned blacked-out scenes. After a long, long search, Goldstein located a transcript in the by-then-defunct New York State Film Censorship Board’s archives that, while incomplete and obviously wrong in some places, was complete enough to allow him to proceed. The film was presented to great acclaim, and Goldstein had repeated the stunt a few times (I saw it at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2013), the most recent being the screening at the Castro, where, once again, a cast of live actors, a sound-effects man, and a pianist did the work.

The whole experience is great fun. The actors are skilled enough to tread the fine line of playing things deadpan while simultaneously being just over the top enough to acknowledge both the absurdity of the plot and the peculiarities of early sound film acting. (There are few things on the planet with less animation to them than Wheeler Oakman in The Lights of New York, the first all-talking feature. Coincidentally, Oakman appears in Donovan.)

That's not a still. That's Oakman's actual performance.

That’s not a still. That’s Oakman’s actual performance.

And that, at long last, brings me to this week’s topic: the ways in which we’re influenced by the performances of actors who have preceded us. Now, as good as Donovan’s modern-day cast was (and they were very good, indeed), they had to approximate – if not outright duplicate — the rhythms, cadences, and acting styles of their 1929 equivalents. If they did anything else – commenting on the performances, mocking them, sending them up – the whole thing would fall apart. The joke would be good for about 15 minutes before it stopped being funny. It’s the commitment of the voice actors to emulating the originals that makes it work at all.

All that said, it can’t help but be a little frustrating for those voice actors. Rather than having the freedom to pause a little here or emphasize or downplay something a little more, if they’re going to be faithful to the lip movements and actions of the original cast, they have to color within the lines, so to speak. There’s a certain creativity that is sparked for me (maybe even a freedom) when being restricted as to what I can do in a case like that. I don’t want to say I like directing with a small budget (because having an impressive physical production is nice), but when I’m forced to come up with a theatrical equivalent for something we just can’t afford, that’s when the creativity really starts.

I’m also reminded of this because of my current show, Grey Gardens, which I’ll mention again that you really should see (and that tickets are almost gone – even for our recently-announced extension). Anyone who is a fan of musical theatre has collected more than a few cast albums and listened to them over and over until the songs – and, more importantly, the performances of those songs – get locked into our brains. While this provides entertainment, it also provides a template that’s hard to break out of. Not that there’s only “one way” to perform a number (any more than there’s only “one way” to perform Hamlet or Hedda Gabler or Oscar Madison), but we get those voices and rhythms in our heads and it’s sometimes tough to break away. That said, anyone doing The Music Man, My Fair Lady, or Sweeney Todd is going to labor in the shadows of Robert Preston, Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, and Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou or George Hearn.

No, I don't have my lines written on my hand.

No, I don’t have my lines written on my hand.

I should note here that this is really a condition that’s more applicable to musicals than plays; the number of original casts of non-musical plays that have been immortalized on record (or even film) and listened to repeated times is miniscule. And the nature of musical theatre, with numbers written to be performed at certain tempos in more or less the same timespan as the originals kind of limits the options for later performers. I’m currently singing more or less the same notes John McMartin did in more or less the same tempos and times. I’m not duplicating what he did, but I’m working in a pretty tight structure.

Yes, we all want– and need – to bring our own unique qualities to the roles we play, but the originals are always lurking in the backs of our heads somewhere. Even if we specifically decide to not do what was done of the original cast album, that very reaction is a response. “I’m not going to sing ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair’ like Mary Martin; I’m just not.” That very denial of the template is an acknowledgment of it. Am I saying it’s impossible to bring fresh takes to old roles? Of course not. If that were the case, all you’d need to do is put a CD player on stage and save the expense of hiring actors. There are scores of brilliant Evitas and Roses and John Adamses every year doing things Patti LuPone and Ethel Merman and William Daniels never thought of. But, even if we’re working on original material, we’re either working within the frameworks that our predecessors have established or from the people and things we’re observed in our lives, and it’s that unique synthesis that brings new life to even the most tired and familiar material.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Sitting in Limbo

Dave Sikula, hanging in space.

An acquaintance of mine (I can’t call her a friend, even if we are Facebook friends) has a CD by this title, featuring the tune of the same name by Jimmy Cliff. The title and the song refer (as might seem pretty obvious) to the gap between the known, the expected, and what’s to come.

Waiting.

Waiting.

I feel particularly “in limbo” right now for a couple of reasons. The more immediate one is the one referred to in our last meeting: David Letterman’s retirement, which not only has now actually occurred, but (as I write this) is airing on the east coast. All day long, I’ve been in communication with my friends who were at the theatre during the taping. (They weren’t in the theatre, but actually stuck in Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli around the corner while security kept them from leaving while the show was being taped. Alec Baldwin’s and Jerry Seinfeld’s trailers were just outside the deli and many, many limos were parked on 53 rd St. while they waited.) From all reports, it’s quite a show, running 20 minutes longer than usual, and is likely to make me as much of an emotional mess as I expected (all day long, I’ve felt as though someone I know died), but I’m in limbo to see the actual results until the show airs here.

More specifically to this page’s usual mission, though, is my other feeling of limbo – and that one is actually a double one. As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the Custom Made Theatre Company production of the musical Grey Gardens. From what I can tell, it’s going to be a superb show. (I almost used the word “amazing,” but that’s a word that’s so overused that it’s really become meaningless.) I pretty much exempt myself from this assessment, in that it refers mainly to the women who play the various incarnations of the Beale women in the story. They are truly phenomenal performances, and not only am I astonished by what these women do every night, I’m honored to be part of a company with them. (And let me hasten to add that the men and girls in the company aren’t too shabby, either.)

Trust me; it's brilliant.

Trust me; it’s brilliant.

All that said, because of the vagaries of the space we’re working in, we’re off tonight (Wednesday), two nights before our first preview. Taking a break at a time like this (tech week) is always odd, in that we’ve added tech and costumes, and are gaining momentum when we suddenly have to hit the pause button and put ourselves in the limbo of taking a hiatus from the work we’ve been doing. I’m delighted for a night off and the chance to rest both mentally and vocally, but feel suspended between the past of the what we’ve done and the future of playing to actual audiences.

Which brings me to my last state of limbo: the gap between the impressions of the past and the present of the rehearsal process and the anticipation of and curiosity about not just the way audiences will receive the show, but the ways in which that reception will make the show grow.

I don’t think there’s ever been a show that I’ve done where there wasn’t at least one sure fire laugh or bit that failed to work and died a horrible death or something that, completely unexpectedly, played like a house on fire. (By the way, if you’re ever doing a show with me and think I’m doing something well, please don’t tell me that until the show’s over; otherwise, I’ll become totally self-conscious about it and it’ll never work that way again.)

The last couple of days of rehearsal for me are always bittersweet. There’s a sense of not being able to wait for an audience to see it – and to play off of – and at the same time, there’s a sense of loss; that it’s not “ours” or “mine” anymore; that something that’s been private until opening night is suddenly in the public domain and open to discussion, critique, and criticism (because I know, as good as this show is, there are going to be people who just plain won’t like it, or – worse – be meh about it).

But it’s all limbo; that state of knowing that not only have we done all we can, but we still have more to do, even if we don’t know what that is.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Hashtag Goodbye Dave

No, Dave Sikula is not leaving, but he’s a little torn up about another Dave who is.

One thing about writing these blog posts is the regular schedule. I know that, no matter what else I do, every two weeks, I’ll be turning out an article bloviating about something or other.

But even as I write this, I know that, when my next deadline rolls around in a fortnight, I’ll be as depressed as I’ve been in a long time.

“Why?,” you may ask. “Because,” I would answer, “I’ll be writing in the absence of David Letterman.” Dave and I have a long history together. It’s not like I’ve ever met the man, though I have seen his show live (I think) seven times, but he’s been a big part of my life for, damn, nearly 40 years.

david-letterman-retirement

I’ve long admitted I didn’t like his standup when he was beginning. There was something about it – and him – that I found kinda smarmy, so it took me a while to watch his morning show that aired in 1980. But once I discovered that show, I became a fan for life, and I realized the other day that his humor and comedy have been major influences on me for more than half of my life, and certainly almost all of my adult life. (And when you consider that I’ve missed only a handful of David Letterman Shows, Late Shows with David Letterman, and no Late Nights with David Letterman, it’s in the neighborhood of 6,000 hours – nearly eight solid months – I’ve spent watching the guy.)

I’m not alone in this, well, obsession. Since 1993, I’ve been part of an online group that tracks, discusses, and dissects the show – and Dave – and those people have become some of my dearest friends, even if I’ve actually met most of them only a few times.

(You’ll have to excuse me. Tina Fey just stripped down to her underwear on Dave’s show.)

Where was I?

Ah, yes; the AFLers. Back in the early days of the Internet, there was a thing called Usenet, which allowed people with similar interests to gather and post about them. (Usenet still exists in a vastly altered form. Most of the content was overwhelmed by spammers and trolls, and the remainder was more or less absorbed by Google.) Most of these groups had names that were prefaced with the prefix “alt” or “rec,” and alt.fan.letterman was one of those many thousands of groups. The people of AFL are some of the finest I know, and knowledgeable about many, many things outside of late night talk shows. We have doctors, educators, editors, musicians – including a musicologist who’s become the unofficial official archivist of the show. (Seriously, his New York apartment is apparently filled to capacity with VHS tapes of virtually every broadcast Dave has ever done.) Not to mention, we even have current and past writers for the show as members. (The Usenet group has long since migrated to Facebook.)

The AFLers; I'd rather be with them than with the finest people. You can just see my head peeping up there in the middle.

The AFLers; I’d rather be with them than with the finest people. You can just see my head peeping up there in the middle.

Every year, the AFLers gather in New York for “Davecon” to see the show live and in person, have dinner, crack wise, and (for the newbies) get a tour of the Ed Sullivan Theatre – yes, I’ve stood on the spot where the Beatles performed and sat behind Dave’s desk – and just gather. Over the years, we’ve come to know staffers, writers, and producers from the show – even the security guy. (And Rupert Jee, who owns the Hello Deli next door to Dave’s theatre? Nicest and most modest guy in the world.) This year will (obviously) be the last assemblage (and I have to miss it, dammit; it’s during our preview week for Grey Gardens – which you should see, since it’s going to be a remarkable show, even with me. But I know where my heart will be Monday the 18 th at 3:30 pm PT), but the memories of Davecons past will linger.

What was really happening behind that desk.

What was really happening behind that desk.

Now, in spite of all of that, I was sure that, given how, in recent years, the show isn’t what it once was (Dave’s lost a lot of interest in doing the show, it feels like), that when it was over, I’d be sad, but not too much so, But now that the number of remaining shows is in the single digits, I’m starting to feel the loss already, and know I’m going to be a mess when Paul Shaffer and the band hit that final final note to end the show.
The thing that got me thinking about all of this tonight was that, as we were leaving rehearsal tonight, I mentioned that I had no idea what I was going to write about this week (is it that obvious?), and one of my fellow cast members, who is determined to turn my name into a hashtag, said I should write about that. I begged off, thinking it as uninteresting as I am, the idea of becoming any kind of a meme is even moreso. But it did remind me of how, not only are the AFLers responsible for a couple of my favorite nicknames, but turned me into an acronym that also doubles as a hashtag I’m happy to use. (Seriously; it’s in the Urban Dictionary on the prestigious Internet.)

At this point in an article, I usually try to bring a couple of seemingly unrelated points together in an effort to make a larger point, but I have to admit I got nothin’ in that regard this time. Being in rehearsal, I haven’t had time to see anything to comment on, really. (Other than Stupid Fucking Bird at SF Playhouse, which is a really interesting production and has been sticking in my head, not for the least reason that it’s making me rethink my approach to translating Chekhov; that and Sister Play at the Magic, which was really good and criminally underlooked.) What’s been at the forefront of my mind in terms of “entertainment” and art has been Dave Letterman.

So, while this hasn’t been the most incisive, analytical, or insightful of articles, it is the smallest of explanations for why I’m both so thankful for a man who’s played a major part in shaping American comedy for the last 40 years and a warning that in two weeks, I won’t be in much of a mood to write.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Put Your Head on My Chest, and I’m Mr. Success

Dave Sikula on how to succeed- and feel like you’ve actually succeeded.

Frank has the definition – as you’d expect.

I have a feeling the seams are gonna show on this one, but go with me.

I arrived at rehearsal last Tuesday night just in time to hear part of a discussion about “success” in the theatre, and just what that word might mean. (I also heard my name being bruited about as a hashtag standing in for “not liking things,” but that couldn’t be more false. Why, just last week, I caught Sister Play at the Magic, and loved it. But I digress … )

I believe I’ve mentioned more than once that, at this point in my career, I have a pretty good sense of whether a show I’ve directed or am acting in is any good. (And let me qualify that; once we open and the finished product is in place, I have an idea. Many is the time I’ve come home from rehearsal and said that I have no idea of how it was going to go over – or been sure on the final Monday or Tuesday that we were as doomed as doomed can be, only to have the ship right itself yet again.) I can tell if I’m good or if the show is good, but is it a “success?” Boy, is that a can of worms.

There are just too many definitions for success. Is it financial? Is it a (sincere) standing ovation from the audience? Is it (appropriate) laughter or tears? Is it good reviews? Is it personal satisfaction? Is it knowing you got the most out of all the actors and characters? All of the above? Some of them?

I don’t know. I can be satisfied and delighted with something, but does that equal “success?”

This is the part where it’s going to get sticky. In my last couple of offerings, I’ve talked about the plan by Actor’s Equity to kill Los Angeles’s 99-seat plan. For those who came in late*, in brief, there was a waiver that allowed theatres with 99 seats or fewer to pay union actors less than scale (like, as little as $7 a performance) in order for them to do material that was more challenging or interesting or larger-scale or experimental than work for television or movies. (I also expressed a wish that we had something similar in the Bay Area – not because I think actors shouldn’t be paid, but because I think they should be able to work on whatever they want wherever they want.)

Equity members down there voted on whether they wanted to keep the waiver plan in place (with changes) or scrap it all together. By a 2-to-1 margin, they voted in favor of keeping the plan. It was strictly an advisory vote, so Equity’s New York offices announced Tuesday (as expected) that they’d be scrapping the plan and, basically, putting dozens of successful companies out of business and preventing the very actors they were claiming to protect from working. At least one company, the Long Beach Playhouse (worked there; did two good shows, two okay shows, and one that was one of the worst theatrical experiences of my life), announced immediately that they were going strictly non-Equity, and I heard of at least three cases where actors were literally physically prevented from auditioning for shows.

The Long Beach Playhouse = in business since 1929.

The Long Beach Playhouse = in business since 1929.

Okay, what does all this have to do with “success?” A lot, I think. Consider the sides. The theatres in question? Mostly “successful” both artistically and financially. The way the vote went? “Successfully” for the actors. Equity’s take on what they’ve done? A “success” for themselves and their members. And yet, all three of them can be seen in just the opposite way. Those theatres? Well, not everything they did worked. (I mean, no theatre hits it out of the park every time. If they did, they’d have a formula that every other theatre would copy.) The vote? Well, about half of the 6,000 (yes, six thousand) Equity members in Los Angeles didn’t even vote, and Equity “lost” the vote. Where’s the success there? And Equity’s plan to kill the theatres is seen as a strong loss by the dissenters (my Facebook feed has been afire with outrage all day). Three events. Three successes. Three failures.

Getting back to the inciting incident (remember my walking into rehearsal way back up at the top of the page?), I was reminded of another conversation I’d walked in on, discussing a recent production some of us had seen. Some (like me) had liked it, others didn’t, though each side could understand the logic of the other. Was the production a “success?” It certainly was for me in that it succeeded (that word!) in illuminating the story and text it was trying to convey in an entertaining way. For others, it was a failure because the very nature of its story and text were fatally flawed. One production. One success. One failure.

To bring all of this up to the present, the rehearsal I was at was for Grey Gardens. It’s a musical. A very good one. (One might even call it “successful,” if one were so inclined.) It ran on Broadway for “only” seven months, so one could term it either a success or not. (And, no; I’m not being paid each time I use the word “success” … ) I think this production will be a very good one. The cast is marvelous (I exempt myself from this assessment) and we’re having a great time even though we’ve barely started. There are two things to discuss here, though. The first – and more germane – is whether it’ll be a success. I believe it will work artistically and will sell very well (get your tickets now!), so from those standpoints, it was be a success. Though for all of that, I have no doubt that there will be people who see it and think it’s putrid and the worst thing they’ve ever seen. They’ll storm out at intermission, angry at having that hour of their life eradicated. No success there – unless there’s a perverse success in not succeeding …

But on a personal level, I’ll be dealing with not just my usual struggle with lines (though these are – knock wood – coming reasonably easily), but I’ll need to add music, lyrics, and choreography to the mix, and other assessments will come into play. Will I move (I won’t say dance) as directed? Will I get those damn harmonies? Will I get the lyrics right? For my purposes, doing those will constitute success. Will I be good while doing it? I’ll do as well as I can and then judge whether I think the results are good. As with the rest of the production, I know there will be people who will roll their eyes and shake their heads at how inept I am.

So, what’s the upshot? That there’s no such thing as artistic success. It’s too objective and personal. I can be satisfied or happy (or neither) about whether I think I’ve met my personal goals for the role and my place in the show. Whether that’s a success or a failure will be in the eye of the beholder.

(*Completely, and literally, parenthetically, in the late ‘90s, I directed a production of The Night Boat. It was an okay production of a not-very-good 1920 musical. About 20 minutes into the show, three women called the “Plot Demonstrators” came out and did a number titled “For Those Who Came in Late,” which recapped the plot to that moment. About 20 minutes before the end of the show, they came out again to tell how it all ended, so that people who had to catch trains would know how things turned out [spoiler alert: happily]. It was that kind of show … )

"The Night Boat's" original production. That kind of show.

“The Night Boat’s” original production. That kind of show.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Like

Dave Sikula, returning to his regular schedule.

I just got back from a week in Hollywood at the TCM Classic Film Festival. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s three and a half days of (mostly) old movies shown by the good people at Turner Classic Movies. From 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 or 2:00 the next morning, literally tens of thousands of people congregate in movie theatres on Hollywood Boulevard and fill them to see classic films on the big screen. (You wouldn’t believe how exhausting it is to do that, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that in a Facebook group for people who go to the Festival (and is there anything there isn’t a Facebook group for?), someone mentioned that his 82-year-old father couldn’t understand why people came from all over the world to watch movies they could just watch on TV, or if they did it at all, why it wasn’t free, since everything is so old (and, parenthetically, I’ll add that the movies ranged in vintage from 1902 to 1996, so there was really something for everyone).

Why do those thousands turn out and pay an arm and a leg to watch something they could watch for free on their televisions or phones or tablets or computers? It’s not like Cary Grant is suddenly going to do something different in The Philadelphia Story after 75 years. There’s comfort in that. In a sense, it’s like spending time with old friends, even if you know exactly what those friends will say and do every single time. (And this is not to say that every movie is familiar. Of the 18 movies I saw, I’d never seen 10 of them before – and hadn’t even heard of a couple of them.

"You want me to do what?"

“You want me to do what?”

In the Facebook group I mentioned, there was a great deal of complaining when the schedule was announced. “Too many new movies!” was the cry. Not enough “classic” films! (Whatever “classic” means; to most, it can’t include anything that was made or done while you were aware of it.) It seemed like these people didn’t want anything in color – or even with sound.

When you can get more than 900 people to show up for "The Sound of Music," you're doing something right.

When you can get more than 900 people to show up for “The Sound of Music,” you’re doing something right.

Regardless of the reaction to the age of the films, the biggest takeaway for me is that people, under this circumstance, want something comfortable and familiar. We know the rules of movies made under the studio system and prefer not to be surprised. (I think this is the same reason we see so many remakes and franchises in Hollywood. People want to see just what they’ve seen before, just slightly different this time.)
As much as I enjoy old movies in general, and the TCM Festival in particular, I have the opposite reaction to live theatre. It’s understandable, though. Even if you could give the same director the same script, the same actors, and the same set, it would be different, even from night after night. And even if it were somehow possible to offer the exact same experience, why in the world would you want to do it?

Part of the excitement of being in the theatre is not just doing new scripts but also new productions of old scripts with different people. I’ve just started rehearsals for a new show, and have never worked with any of the other actors before. Given the caliber of the talent, I’m going to have to step up my game, though, and that’s as exciting as it is daunting.

Not to make this LA-centric, but, as I mentioned last time, in Los Angeles, Equity members are currently voting on whether to change the current 99-seat waiver plan. (In short, theatres with 99 seats or fewer can get waivers from the union to allow Equity actors to work in them at pay rates that are lower than standard – usually unpaid for rehearsal and anywhere from $7 to $25 per performance. You know; what we get here.) Equity, understandably, wants to get rid of the waiver and ensure that all union actors make at least scale.

The Matrix on Melrose. Your basic waiver theatre.

The Matrix on Melrose. Your basic waiver theatre.

As I also mentioned last time, I’m in favor of keeping the basics of the plan; in the thirty years the plan’s been in place, scores of companies have sprung up, doing all kinds of interesting work, with casts that can be huge – which is something that would be financially impossible if everyone were making even minimum wage, unless ticket prices went sky high, and, realistically, no one is going to pay that much. (We all love theatre, but it is can be pretty damn expensive to see it.) Even at the currently reasonable prices, it’s tough for theatres to always draw enough ticket-buyers to stay comfortably afloat.

And yet, the TCM Festival charges crazy amounts of money and turns people away from screenings.

What am I saying here? That theatres should jack up their prices unreasonably in order to become more financially stable and generously compensate actors for their work? That TCM should lower its prices? (Well, yes to that latter, but that’s not my point …)

No, I’m saying that the Festival is able to charge that much because they offer their patrons something different and unique and exciting. Something they can’t get anywhere else. Something that will have people coming from Australia and Sweden to see it. And that’s a lesson I think we all could learn. That while it seems that people want the familiar and the routine and what they’ve seen before, I think what they want is just the opposite: the chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and, as I said, every performance is completely different from every other) that is exciting, entertaining, and enlightening. Something that will make them delighted to pay for dinner and a sitter and parking next time.

Take my recently-closed production of The Imaginary Invalid, for example. I’m not saying it was a great show; I’m not saying it was even a good show (though it was both). What I am saying is that my cast knocked themselves out every performance, getting on a freight train and doing whatever it took to make the material work and entertain their audience. Our first few performances were sparsely attended, and nothing kills comedy like small houses. But, somehow, word of mouth spread and we were packed the last few weeks.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something original or a war horse or a revival of something no one but you has ever heard of. If you’re doing it with passion and panache – and if you’re not, what the hell’s the point, really? – if you build it, they’ll come. Good work will find an audience. Even if you’re charging thousands of dollars for a ticket. (As the old joke has it, “I only need to sell one …”)

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: What? And Quit Show Business?

Dave Sikula, having switched places, last week, with Barbara.

The thing that’s foremost on my mind this week is the 99-seat kerfuffle in Los Angeles. I’m sure many of my constant readers are aware of the situation, but for those who aren’t, here’s a precis (as best I understand it). Back in the ‘80s, a plan was implemented in Los Angeles theatres to allow members of Actor’s Equity to act in theatres with 99 seats or fewer at pay rates below Equity minimum. This usually amounted to token payments (in the low single or double figures) for rehearsals and performances. The most contentious part of this was that Equity had to be forced into the plan because of a court order.

Now, I’ll stipulate that, in a perfect world, anyone involved with a theatrical production – actors, designers, directors, technicians, stage managers, running crew, front-of-house staff – would be paid a living wage, but anyone in this business knows that we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? If we get paid at all, it’s a token amount that pays for gas or BART or Muni fare. And that’s fine. There’s an old saying that you can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living; none of us does this to get rich. It’s all about – or should be about – the creative process and the chance to do interesting work.

When I started auditioning for shows in Los Angeles in the late ‘70s, it was (for the most part) not good. The scene was filled with shows that were intended mainly as showcases for people to get agents to do film and television. There was some quality work – at The Odyssey, The Matrix, South Coast Rep; some other places – but most was middling or bad or featured TV and movie stars who wanted to tread the boards, to mixed results. (The Charlton Heston/Deborah Kerr Long Day’s Journey was particularly gruesome, but Dana Elcar, Donald Moffat, Ralph Waite, and Bruce French did an unforgettable Godot; the second-best I’ve ever seen).

Didi, Gogo, Pozzo

Didi, Gogo, Pozzo

Chuck as Tyrone. Not for the faint of heart.

Chuck as Tyrone. Not for the faint of heart.

After the waiver was implemented, LA theatre bloomed and entered, if not a golden age, then an explosion of creativity. Companies sprang up and thrived as actors, both known and unknown were able (to use a phrase I hate) to “practice their craft,” be creative, take artistic risks, and find their own level of success, unhampered by undue financial concerns.

For the last twenty-some years, this system must have stuck in Equity’s craw, and in recent months, they’ve announced plans to get rid of the waiver and ensure union actors are paid, at the very least, minimum wage. Now in theory, who could object to that? Actors should be able to make at least as much as the kid at McDonald’s who runs the drive-thru (a job that actually requires him or her to act being friendly for at least part of a shift), but doing that will drive up production costs to ruinous levels (I’ve read between 5,000% and 9,000%) that will drive a lot of companies out of business – ironically depriving the very actors whom the union wants to be paid for working. It seems Equity’s position is that actual work at small compensation is preferable to no work at minimum wage.

I was stunned to hear that there are 8,000 Equity members in the Los Angeles area. I don’t think there are 8,000 actors in the Bay Area, let along Equity members. (Of course, it seems like a good portion of the Equity actors working here live in New York … ) Now, obviously, not all of those union actors are working on stage, either fully paid or underpaid, but even if half of them were/are doing waiver shows, that half will soon be deprived of work, because the companies that have allowed them to do something with substance (or even something frivolous) won’t be there anymore.

As might be guessed, this proposal is causing large rifts in the LA theatre community, with plenty of actors – and plenty of them famous, if that makes any difference – pitted against their own union. (And let it be notes, the new plan has plenty of supporters.) While both sides are pretty adamant in their stances, Equity isn’t really playing fair, using phone banks to spread, if not misinformation, then incomplete information and deleting opposing comments from their Facebook and other web pages. And, on top of that, even though Equity members will be voting on whether to institute a new plan, it’s strictly advisory, and the union’s board will be free to dump the old plan and put in a new one. (And let me hasten to add, many of the people against the new plan acknowledge that the current one could stand some changes – just not the proposed one.)

Even Hal Holbrook is in favor of the waiver (hey, that rhymes).

Even Hal Holbrook is in favor of the waiver (hey, that rhymes).

Now, even though I’m a member of two unions (which will go unnamed) myself, not only am I in favor of keeping the waiver in Los Angeles, I wish we here had something similar; not because I don’t want actors to be paid, but because the talent pool available to a lot of directors and theatre companies in the Bay Area would rise dramatically (no pun intended). I haven’t been a member of the LA theatre community for over 20 years, but from what I read and hear about it, it’s vibrant, experimental, bold, and, most important, open. Even though theatre space has always been at a premium in the Bay Area – now (when it seems like any building in mid-Market is being replaced by skyscraping condo projects) more than ever – I’d have to think that a move that allowed actors to work in so many venues and with so any company that met the criteria would be a shot in the arm and kick start the golden age of theatre that San Francisco’s been on the verge of for the last 20 years. #pro99