So, where were we?
Before beginning, a couple of housekeeping notes. First of all, “The Speakeasy” went quite well tonight, thank you very much. The Act One audience was very responsive (they even chuckled at the ventriloquist) and laughed at everything they were intended to, and even though it was a wee bit crowded in the bar, it wasn’t too terrible. There was some oddness as a few of the actors are in the midst of some illness, which is affecting them in individual ways, from hoarse-and-weak to kinda-tired-but-better to I-wish-I-were-dead. The actor in the last category had to be replaced in one of the scenes, but his substitute was quite good in what must have been a challenging situation. He later kinda blew off the compliments I paid him in the dressing room, but I did feel he did remarkably under the circumstances.
I felt pretty good about what I did, even if there was a woman who wanted to engage me in (reasonably-period-appropriate) conversation (no matter how hard they try, I’m not gonna go there – though I did help the woman who was trying to buy chips for the casino) and the guy I directed my final monologue at just did not want to be talked to, and even got up and left toward the end of the scene – before I was done! I ended up standing on the foot rails of my barstool, haranguing him and continuing to try to get his attention.
Secondly, I just wanted to remark on the nuts-and-bolts of writing these posts. Yesterday’s was going in an entirely different direction when the whole subject of Claude File came up. I started to give some background on his nickname, which was requiring a whole series of footnotes, parentheses, and diversions when I realized the whole topic would be best served by a full and compleat history of SCCT – or, at least, a more organized rundown. (I mentioned to a friend last night that I ought to do an oral history book or film on the noble experiment of SCCT. It might make an interesting subject. Who wouldn’t be interested in a college summer theatre that folded after five seasons thirtysome years ago?)
But (as always) I digress …
So, where were we?
It was 1980, and in the run-up to the company’s fourth season, Fred Fate (whom I realized I should have described; think of a gymnastic, energetic, and blond Moe Howard) was giving interviews and sending out press releases. One of his selling points was the previously-mentioned Claude File. Fred said something about the company having brilliant directors, fascinating shows, great designers, and a talented company, including “the actor Claude File.” From that moment, poor Claude was marked. To this day, he is known among our circle as “The Actor Claude File.” Claude himself seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth, more or less. He’s been pretty impervious to my own web searching. He was teaching at a number of places, but left his posts. Today, as far as I can tell, he’s living in Arizona or Michigan or both. The last time I saw him personally was in 1993. I was at a theatre conference in Oregon, and he was there, representing his department – somewhere in Washington, as I recall. He was a little greyer, but instantly recognizable, and we had a great afternoon. (This was also the theatre conference where I discovered the Russian-American Theatre Company – aptly acronymed “RAT” – which led to my trip to Russia that turned out to be an absolute boondoggle. But that’s a story for another time.)
Okay, so Claude was on board, as were many others from previous seasons (SCCT was good at that; many people worked there multiple seasons. The people were – for the most part – nice, the shows were good, and the atmosphere allowed for equal amounts of work and play). I realized this morning that a lot of the 1979 and 1980 groups have become Facebook friends.
As usual, we were all going to be in two shows, either “Man of La Mancha” or “Charley’s Aunt,” with everyone joining back up for “Paint Your Wagon.” We all auditioned, hoping for one show or the other (I think it was almost inevitable in this system that, whichever show you really wanted to be in, you’d end up in the other). I really wanted to do “Charley’s.” It was a show I’d done in 1976 (I’d spent the evening of July 4, 1976 performing in the show under a tent at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, CA, watching Disneyland’s fireworks some three miles away. The show also featured fireworks of its own on opening night. In those days, if I wanted to appear older, I’d add white to my hair – usually shoe polish. Opening night, I took off my top hat, and the powdered shoe polish exploded in a cloud of dust. Suffice it to say, I no longer need help for my hair to be white – or to look older …)
One of the reasons I wanted to do “Charley’s” is that I really like it (I think it’s one of the few sure-fire, can’t-miss comedies) and I’m not crazy about “La Mancha.” It’s a good show, but not one I’m really aching to do.
Well, we all auditioned, and astonishingly, I was cast as Brassett the butler in “Charley’s” and Raymond Janney, a gambler, in “Wagon.” I was delighted at the former and had no idea of what was to come in the latter.
Things being as they were, the company broke in two almost immediately, and we’d run into people from the other show only at lunch or after we broke in the evenings, so no one had a real good handle on what was going on in the other rehearsal rooms. Our own rehearsals went quite well. We had a good company, and our director, Bill Glover (whom Los Angeles readers of a certain age will recall as the British guy in the commercials for C&R Clothiers in the 70s) really knew the show, the style, and how to direct comedy.
After about three or four weeks, “La Mancha” was ready to open and the “Charley’s” company trooped over to La Mirada to see it, and I was astonished at how good it was. The actor playing Cervantes/Don Quixote (Bill Odien) was as good in his role as The Actor Claude File had been as Tevye; exactly the dynamic performer you want in that role, with a beautiful singing voice, and the rest of the company wasn’t far behind. It was just a great evening in the theatre, which we now had to match.
Fortunately, we did. As I said, the script was – is – pretty foolproof, but we really nailed it, led by the redoubtable Mark Myers in the title role. Mark was the nephew of Barbara Billingsley, best known as Mrs. Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver” and the jive-talking woman in “Airplane!” She came to see the show one night and came backstage afterwards. She was as charming and nice as you’d hope – and she was, indeed, wearing the string of pearls we all hoped she would.
Both shows had runs of three or four weeks, but in the middle of those runs, we began rehearsals for “Wagon.”
Well, lookit here. I’m 1200 words in, and haven’t even started to mention rehearsal, performances, or even Garbage Theatre, and to do so would push this post to its limit. So, despite my promise and best intentions, I’m going to have to make this a three-parter.
Will a cast of undisciplined animals be able to control themselves? Will a hopelessly inept script and score survive the barbarians? Will Ralph Eastman have an aneurysm? Will Dave break on stage? And will those saloon girls be able to jump that rope?
Tune in tomorrow for the answers and the exciting conclusion.