ALMOST TO DUNKIRK

 

The old cliche, ‘he missed the boat’ certainly applied to Michael Langham, and the next five years changed the direction of his life.

dunkirk

The movie DUNKIRK is an unexpected blockbuster this summer. It depicts the heroic evacuation of British and some of their Allied troops that were trapped between the German Army and the Channel. In the eight day period, while the RAF kept the German Luftwaffe busy elsewhere, and other divisions like the a flotilla of both British naval ships and private vessels manage to get almost 350,000 fighting men to safety in Dover, England.

This evacuation was made possible in part because the German Luftwaffe was kept busy elsewhere by the RAF, and because of the rear action Battle of St. Valery further down the coast in Normandy. The 51st Highland Division, of which the Gordon Highlanders were a part of, were trapped and had to surrender to General Rommel before they could reach the beach at Dunkirk.

Michael Langham

MICHAEL LANGHAM

Michael Langham was a newly commissioned officer in the Gordon Highlanders. He was sent with the Highlanders to be a part of the British Expeditionary Force fighting in France. The BEF’s objective was to link with the French Forces and drive the German invaders out of France. This effort was as futile as the Maginot Line was in stopping Rommel and his tanks. The BEF’s first attempt to defeat Hitler ended at Saint-Valery-en-Caux and Dunkirk. And Michael Langham, two months short of his 21st birthday, and with only a few months of WWII under his belt spent the next five year as a Prisoner of War.

Like the majority of combat vets, Langham avoided talking about the actual fighting. He did say that he had been trained to fight like they did in the WWI, trench warfare etc., instead of combating the likes of German tanks, bombers, and the weapons of WWII. He also avoided telling what occurred after the actual capture. Some of the prisoners underwent forced marches and horrible conditions in various stalags. He was transferred to several stalags in those five years.

Michael said he was in the stalag where the Great Escape took place. That would be Stalag Luft III in Poland. He said the stalag was so big he not only didn’t know the Escape was being planned, he never knew it happened until the escapees were recaptured. He said, with that twinkle in his eye, he had to wait for the movie to finally find out what happened. Likewise also the earlier escape in that stalag that was detailed in the book and movie, The Wooden Horse.

He spent the first two years working on escaping, making civilian clothes, forging civilian papers, and of course, digging tunnels. None of his work ever resulted in anyone escaping. The last three he spent pursuing a hobby he had enjoyed during his school days, theater.

Stalag Luft III stressed that the prisoners take up and work at hobbies. The idea was if they kept busy at their hobbies, they would be less likely to try to escape and it would cut down on the suicide attempts. This stalag was under the jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe and was less severe than stalags under the control of the German Infantry or the S.S.. But it still was a stalag and had a sense of cruelty under the surface, as exemplified by the executions of most of the recaptured escapees in the Great Escape.

The theater department of this stalag was the best of all the stalags. The prisoners built an actual theater, a large scenic shop, a large costume shop. The productions could compete with many in the free world. They were very popular among the prisoners and the German cadre. They provided a common link between the two groups, perhaps even softening the attitude of the guards towards the inmates.

Of course, Michael explained, you had to get around the fact that the ‘women’ in the cast often had five-o’clock shadows, giggly falsetto deliveries, and exaggerated ways of trying to walk like women. And be broadminded enough not to make a face or groan when Romeo and Juliet kissed.

The actors took themselves very serious, Michael said. They would lie on their bunks the day of the shows and file their nails. They wanted to be stars.

Michael acted in some, but his true talent was in directing. His choice of plays ranged in time from Shakespeare to Clifford Odets. He said he wanted the plays to portray a world of hope to his fellow POW’s, and to himself.

Michael took great pride, and rightly so, that two POW’s told him that watching a performance of his plays gave them hope and prevented them from committing suicide.

Michael’s father had died when Michael was a baby. Growing up, his role model was the historical Duke of Wellington. He read every book he could find on the Duke. He wanted to be like the Wellington, a career soldier. That dream quickly vanished in France.

Liberation came, the war ended, and Michael was back in England. He had the law degree that his family had forced him to obtain before the war. It wasn’t the life that he wanted. He thought a great deal about his hobbies before the war. He knew he couldn’t play cricket good enough to play pro, and his other great hobby, theater, had been frowned upon by his family. And while he was thinking over his future a letter arrived.

A famous stage actress wanted to talk to him. She had heard of his stalag productions from POWs who saw them. She was about to start a theater troupe in the Midlands and wanted to know if he was interested in joining her. Michael reasoned that even if the meeting didn’t work out, at least he would get to meet her.

‘I was star struck,’ he laughingly confessed.

It worked out. His acting and directing in Coventry and Birmingham made him realize that the talent he showed in the stalag transferred to the free world of professional theater. Not only was his new career acceptable to his family, it was noticed in the major theaters of England. He acted and directed at Stratford-On-The Avon, and the Old Vic. He found himself in great demand. He was also noticed by Tyrone Guthrie.

Guthrie was one of the foremost stage directors of the time. He was also the key mover in replacing the proscenium stage with the thrust stage. He took Langham under his wing. Guthrie replaced the long ago Duke of Wellington as Michael’s model. And this association brought Langham into the top tier of England’s theatrical directors.

While Michael directed in England and far off places like Australia, main land Europe, and Broadway, Guthrie went to Canada. There, in 1953, he founded the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. Even though it was housed in a concrete amphitheater covered by a tent, it was a success, not only a major attraction in Canada but brought visitors from Europe and the United States.

Two years after starting the Festival, Guthrie invited Langham to direct JULIUS CAESAR, and to groom him to take over as Artistic Director.

The first season under Langham, 1956, was the last for the tent. The Festival moved into a newly construction theater. The Festival was there to stay.

The thrust stage of the tent was fine-tuned in the new theater by Michael and the great designer, Tanya Moisewitch, who worked with Guthrie on the original. It was at Stratford where Langham became known as ‘the master of the thrust stage’.

Guthrie had been beseeched for several years with pleas to establish a like theater in the United States. He felt now that his Stratford Festival was established and in good hands he would answer that request. Feelers were sent out and seven cities replied, presenting their credentials in the competition.. Minneapolis was the winner.

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THE GUTHRIE THEATER

In 1963 the Guthrie Theater opened with George Gizzard playing the lead in the Tyrone Guthrie directed HAMLET. The audience was on its feet before the curtain-call lights came up. They were not content to stop until Sir Tyrone himself came on stage. The very tall, thin, genius finally came up the steps to center stage. He had on a tuxedo and his customary tennis shoes. The audience loved it.

The Guthrie Theater was established and continued in fine shape during the years when Dr. G., as he was fondly called at the Theater, was the Artistic Director. In 1966, he left the theater in the capable hands, so he thought, of another protege, actor/director Douglas Campbell.

Almost immediately the theater started to go in a downward spiral, due to the infighting of the artistic side versus the management side. In 1969, there was no one left of the original artistic and management at the theater. The original Managing Director had taken a sabbatical to Hawaii, a power-play, figuring he would be begged to return by offering more money and control.

The board appointed Don Schoenbaum, who only a few years before came to the Guthrie under a Ford Foundation Grant to learn the business of theater, as a stop-gap Management/Artistic Director.

Tyrone Guthrie asked Michael to rescue the theater and take over the Artistic Directorship. Michael said he was content at Stratford. But, argued Sir Tyrone, that theater has my name on it. Michael reconsidered.

The end of the Guthrie’s season in 1970 was A PLAY by the great Russian novelist, who that very year won the Noble Prize for Literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. A great coup for the Guthrie and an attraction for Micheal Langham. The gulags of Solzhenitsyn were political unlike the POW stalags familiar to Michael; but they were still prison camps and Langham was a logical man to direct the play. And it was an excellent chance for Michael and the Guthrie to size each other up. Until the Board met and talked with Langham, they were going to forgo the 1971 season in the hope that something could be worked out to save the theater.

A PLAY was my first encounter with Michael Langham. The next year he came back as Artistic Director, and wow, talk about a turn around. He took a theater torn apart and reassembled it as a ‘Family’ overnight, petty squabbling stopped, people were smiling, and enthusiatic. Michael recognized the talent, artistic, managerial, and technical, that he inherited and augmented them with people who knew Langham and wanted to work under him.

When the original Managing Director announced he was coming back, he was told the only way he could come back to the theater was if he bought a ticket. Michael rewarded Don Schoenbaum for his excellent work to help keep the theater going by keeping him on as Managing Director. Don kept this position until he retired in 1986.

It was hard picturing the soft- spoken Michael Langham as a combat officer; but witnessing his leadership ability, his ability to recognize the value of everyone involved in the Theater and making them feel that they were an integral part of the end product, removed all doubt that he would have been a fine officer. The Military’s loss was the Theater’s gain.

In his first season, 1971, he hit the ground running. He took on a Herculean task of directing two gigantic plays, CYRANO de BERGERAC, adapted by the British novelist Anthony Burgess, and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, to start the season and his term as Artistic Director.

Opening two plays at once, with future of the Theater riding on them, was hell on us that were involved in both productions. I have no idea how Michael could have endured the task, and more so, how he could have turned out these two production masterpieces. Reviewers came from all over. All praised both works. There wasn’t an empty seat for any of the performances of these two plays that season and the other plays in the season fared almost as well. The Guthrie Theater was saved.

No one had a better bird’s-eye view of Michael Langham the Director, than I did. Seated in the lighting booth behind the balcony, I was privileged to watch every rehearsal on main stage, as well as every performance of every play Michael directed at the Guthrie, before and during his tenure as Artistic Director.

Watching Michael direct a play was akin to looking over the shoulder of Renoir as he painted. Delicate brush strokes creating a work of art. Michael’s blocking on the thrust stage, his respect for the words of the playwright, the inspiration he gave the actors, his knowledge of the technical, his attention of details, his talent, all combined to make a Michael Langham directed play something special.

His praise has been sung by so many actors. from acting-award winners the likes of Peter O’Toole, Christopher Plummer, Len Cariou, all credit Michael with giving them their big chance, to young interns who experienced their first professional theater acting jobs under his tutelage. And his praise has been sung by so many others in all aspects of the world of theater, from world class critics to the stage electrician who worked his shows at the Guthrie.

He always referred to himself as a classical director but he was much more. For instance consider his direction of the ‘least’ of Shakespeare plays, TIMON OF ATHENS, a play very few over the centurys have ever tried to direct. He set it in the Jazz Age and had the great Duke Ellington compose a score for it. Hardly something a hard-core classical director would dare to do.

Those of us who were present in his Guthrie years often refer to his production of another minor Shakespeare plays, LOVE’S LABOUR LOST, as the one that shows off the genius of Michael Langham the best all. So simple. So poetic. So memorable. The ‘classical director’, the ‘master of the thrust stage’ at his finest.

And to have been able to sit down, as a friend and coworker, and talk to this humble man of such great talent and knowledge is something I will always cherish in my memory.

He left the Guthrie at the end of the 1977 and continued his shaping classical theater in so many places, like the Julliard School of Drama and the National Actors’ Theater founded by Tony Randall, where he was nominated for a Tony for his direction of TIMON OF ATHENS on Broadway.

I stayed at the Guthrie another season after Michael left, but it wasn’t the same. I helped mount and designed the lights for the Guthrie production of Leonard Nimoy’s one-man play, VINCENT, and took it out on tour. I walked into the theater on what was my first work day of the second season after Michael left, I started to hang lights; but at coffee break, I went and talked to the Technical Director and then called the Union to replace me. The Guthrie just wasn’t the same to me as it was during the Langham years. I spent the rest of my stagehand years working off the Union Hiring Hall.

Over the years I worked with a great many fine directors, but it would not be fair to compare any of them to Michael; he was, in my eyes, special. Michael Langham worked almost up to 11th of January 2011 the day of his death, happy in the career he carved out because he never made it to a possible rescue on the beach at Dunkirk.

 

 

 

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MARCEAU / HAMILTON BOOED

After the first performance of his sold- out week at the Minneapolis Pantages, the great mime, Marcel Marceau stepped to the apron of the stage, and breaking out of his character, Bip the Clown, SPOKE.

And the Audience BOOED!

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hamilton

Shortly after the election VP-To-Be Pence attended a performance of the hit musical HAMILTON on Broadway, and as he walked down the aisle to his seat, the audience booed! The ­­audience, not the cast, booed.

I can’t believe Pence attended a hip hop/rap musical/opera, based on the life of an immigrant bastard, whose mother was reported to have been part Black, for his own entertainment. More of an ego trip, a test of his newly granted status to be able to jump in line ahead of others.

Mr. Pence was a good choice to ride shotgun on Mr. Trump’s Hatemobile. He has a record of attacking Human Rights and the laws that protect them, first as a right wing radio talk show host, and later in his political career. Unlike Trump’s Twitter approach, Pence uses the evangelical-tunnel-vision-Tea Party-judgmental method. Thump the Bible, or what you think should be in the Bible, to support your stance against fellow human, and be sure to avoid any reference to the second part of what Christ said was the most important commandment: To love your neighbor as yourself.

As Pence was walking out after curtain call, Brandon Dixon, who played Aaron Burr, stepped foreword from the cast and spoke to Pence, who turned and listened. The words were courteous, well thought out, short and to the point. It was a thank you for attending, followed by an expression of fear that the new regime will not defend the planet, the children, their parents and uphold the inalienable rights of every American. The closing was, ‘We thank you for sharing this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation.’

Pence was silent about the affair but not the Head Hater, Mr. Trump. Trump got on Twitter, declaring Pence was harassed by the cast of HAMILTON. He demanded an apology from the cast and producers of the show, which Trump said he heard was very overrated. Trump also said the theater should be a ‘safe’ place.

To say the theater should be a ‘safe’ place is proof he knows about as much about theater as he does about Human Rights and the Constitution. From the time of the ancients Greeks the theater has been a place to shake up the audience and their hard fast ideals, whether the performance is tragedy, comedy, or a musical.

Nothing is more topical in our current atmosphere of hate than the play that premiered in London during the worse persecution of English Jews. The popular actor, director, theater owner and playwright, William Shakespeare, risked his career, his theater, his life, alone with the specter of causing riots with his new ‘comic’ offering, The Merchant of Venice. Going along with the hatred of Jews, he created a villain, Shylock, in the stereotypical role as a Jewish money lender. And then addresses the hatred and prejudice against the Jews  by giving Shylock one of the most poignant speech in literature against prejudice and hatred. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’.

            As Mr. Dixon argued against an apology, he pointed out, ‘Art is meant to bring people together; it’s meant to raise conscientiousness.’

To say that it was not the time or place to issue such a statement goes against the history of theater. To step forward and speak to the audience directly, to break the 4th wall, is a time honored tradition. No playwright was more adept at it than Shakespeare, in the play itself, like Hamlet’s many monologues: at the end of the play, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which starts: ‘If we shadows have offended…’  While the type of breaking the 4th wall as Mr. Dixon did, is not that common in America, it is quite common in other countries.

Personally I have seen this speaking directly to the audience used many times.

From the serious: On 9/11, we were setting up for a run of RIVERDANCE. Prior to the performance that evening, the multi national cast assembled in full on the stage. A spokesman spoke of the sorrow and offered condolences and prayers. At the end of the curtain call a dancer stepped forward and requested the audience join the cast in silent prayer.

To the silliest: During a performance of a play by the Stratford Theater at the Guthrie, Bill Hutt, a veteran Canadian actor made his entrance in a scene; but before he spoke his lines, he informed the American audience that the Canadian National Hockey Team had just beaten the Russians.

Trump’s Tweets accomplished what he wanted, keeping his Cesspool of Hate aboiling, giving his Brown Shirts something to rail against.

They called for a boycott against HAMILTON, a record breaking Broadway show with tickets sold out for months and waiting lists for more tickets both in NY and other cities where the touring companies are or will be playing. Frankly, I don’t think many Trump hard core supporters would go to HAMILTON with or without a boycott.

Of course there is a good possibility that the new regime will declare the musical to be VERBOTTEN and shut it down. But even then it will continue to be played around the globe as a symbol of American art and a remembrance of American freedom.

The Brown Shirts also called for a boycott of a small theater which has nothing to do with HAMILTON the musical. It has had the name Hamilton for decades because it is located in – wait for it – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada!

Then there was incident during a performance of the road company in Chicago, where upon hearing the word ‘immigrant’, a drunken Follower went ape. Screaming, swearing, threatening to kill the ‘Democratic assholes’and women and Blacks. threw wine on his own son. His wife was in tears pleading for him to stop. And even as he was being expelled from the theater by three security guards, he kept screaming, ‘We won! Get over it. This is Trump’s America now!’ PS: He is the CEO of a national company.

(That kind of behavior hits close to home for me. My nephew, Rick Dalglish, is Head Props for that touring company of HAMILTON.)

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marcel  

          The Marcel Marceau incident took place at the first performance of his farewell to America run at the Pantages in Minneapolis. And in spite of the boos, this brave man repeated his breaking the fourth wall after every performance.

            It was that terrible time in our history. Using the never proven pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Bush the Younger was about to loosen the dogs of war against Saddam Hussein. It was a time of bad intel, half truths, and outright lies.

            Unlike the 1st Gulf War, where Bush the Elder had a large coalition of nations and U.N. approval, the only backing Bush the Younger had was Tony Blair of the U.K., who later admitted he had been wrong in his backing of Bush.  Neither Bush nor Blair had approval of the majority of their advisors. And even though the terrorists of 9/11 were Egyptians and Saudis, and had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, much of the backing for this invasion of Iraq was wanting revenge for 9/11.

            France, who backed the 1st Gulf War, was outspoken in its disapproval of invading Iraq this time. France was hated by the American hawks. A Congressman sensing a chance to pick up future votes, actually submitted a bill to change the term French Fries to Freedom Fries.

            It was in this time of rupture in America and in the Western World, that Marcel Marceau spoke to the audience and was booed. This French Jewish gentle man of peace did not preach, did not take sides. This man who had known the horror of war first hand, simply asked the audience to pray the whole affair could be worked out without violence, without war.

            I doubt if many in the audience feaared they would have to fight in Iraq. Let the kids in the service take the risks. I doubt if many in the audience had ever served in the military, let along fought in a war. Yet these chickenhawks booed Marceau’s request for prayers for a peaceful resolve.

            Marceau was just a teenager when Germany breached the Maginot Line, the ‘Wall’ that France had built to stop any German invasion and took over France.  The Nazis took his father to Auschwitz where he was ‘exterminated’. Marcel and his brother joined the French Resistance.

            (This also strikes home to me. My wife’s birth father, a French Jew, left his Mexican wife and new baby girl, my wife, and to back to his homeland and fight in the Resistance. He was never heard of again.)

            Marcel was personally responsible for smuggling 500 or so children to Switzerland. It was during this time, he got into mime, silent entertainment to keep the children quiet.

            With the Liberation of France he joined the Free French and was a translator for General George Patton.

            He knew the horrors of war.

            I was standing in the wing with a flashlight waiting to help him offstage. I clapped as loud as I could after his prayer for peace, but the boos won out. As I led him off I commented, ‘Dumb, damn, chickenhawk S.O.B.s!’

            He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘C’est La Vie, Don. So many fought and died so people can speak their mind, or even boo. This great freedom  is not allowed in a Fascist government . Let us hope it will always be that way in America and France and all over the world. ’

            When Marcel Marceau went to leave the Pantages for the last time, he paused and hugged me. ‘Merci, Don, for joining me in the hope for peace. And, when things happen that you disagree with, just remember, C’est La Vie. That’s Life, mon ami.’ When his farewell tour was over he went back to his home in France where he died a few years later.

            To Mime aficionados Bip the Clown will always be the King of Mime. And we who knew him also as Marcel Marceau, we  are twice blest. We admired his deft artistry of silence and also the deep humanity in his speech. To us he was both an artist and a hero.

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This was written in the time between Trump was elected by the outdated procedure  of the Electoral College, 

which overruled the fact that he did not win the Popular Vote, 

and the time he took the Oath of Office.       

Sorry, Mr. Trump, if you can’t stand the booing you chose the wrong road to travel down. I suggest you have the First Amendment of our Constitution explained to you. And maybe even go to a performance of HAMILTON. Learn how that immigrant from Nevis and the other Founding Fathers created the foundation that makes America great.

Soon Mr. Trump, barring a successful revolt by the Electorial College voters, you will have to take an oath to protect and obey this Constitution for ‘the diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation’ that make up our great country, America.

Oh! Oh! Little did we know or even imagine!

And now we must do what we can do

Vote!  Wear a mask! Abolish the hate!

C’EST LA VIE

 

 

LANCED!

Old G stage

In my years at the Guthrie, one question was always asked me, ‘Doesn’t it get boring watching the same play over and over’?

It probably would if it was the same play over and over; but, while the script and blocking may be the same, it is not the same play each performance. Every performance brings something different, something that only is noticed by watching it over and over. There is always the interaction between the audience and the actors, sometimes a laugh line brings snickers, sometimes roars. An audience member with a loud unforgettable laugh can influence the audience, the actors.

Some times a scene ends in just a blackout. Sometimes it endS with the audience in tears. Often the play ends with a polite applause, sometimes with a standing ovation. And there was the three times at the end of OEDIPUS, directed by Michael Langham from a translation by Anthony Burgess, author of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the play ended, the audience sat frozen. The stage lights brightened and the curtain call began, the audience sat frozen. Even when Oedipus, who blinded himself, walks back on the promontory, stares at the audience, bows his head and walks back off stage, the audience sat frozen. And not until the last actor had left the stage, and I had dimmed the stage lights and turned the house lights full did the audience finally break out of their trance, rise in unison and applaud like mad. Strong performance of a strong classic, and a chilling experience.

And performances are often influenced by outside events. The only time I remember the Guthrie not started a play on time was the night the audience sat in silence while the voice of Richard M. Nixon was broadcasted live over the house speakers. When he started he was President Nixon. When he finished, he was ex-President Nixon. And at the end you could hear a collective sigh from the audience. The national soap opera was over at last. I did my cues on autopilot that performance, and I am sure the cast and audience felt the same numbness.

And the unexpected. A flubbed line. A technical miscue. An elderly patron actually walking on stage during a performance and asking the actors to help him find his seat. Sometimes only the cast and crew realized what happened, the audience accepts it as part of the play. Just about anything can happen in a Shakespeare play and the audience accepts it.

For instance there was a very late entrance in WINTER’S TALE leaving an actor to adlib with such dialogue as: ‘The Duke is lateth.’ ‘I am certain the Duke will cometh.” Me thinks I hear the Duke – but he still ist far away.’ ‘Hey, I seeth the Duke.’ The Duke came on and the sweating actor ran off stage. It cracked up the three of us in the booth, but the audience just accepted it.

In a performance of KING LEAR the audience actually accepted the impossible. Edgar and Edmund have a duel that results in Edmund being mortally wounded; but he doesn’t die until he delivers a very important speech to let the audience know of events that happened off stage important to the story.

This time though prior to the fatal thrust Edgar lost the handle on his sword and it went flying into the audience. Edgar, thinking on his feet, grabbed Edmund by the neck; and since he couldn’t stab Edmund to cause his death, he throttled him. Edmund fell to the stage, death by strangulation.

But Edmund, thinking on his back, knowing he still had to deliver his important speech, rose up into a sitting position. He delivered his speech and fell back into his corpse position. Death by strangulation. The audience accepted it without a so much as a snicker; but the three of us in the booth were laughing so hard, we had a hard time doing our cues to get into the next scene.

The other day in a Facebook thread, Lance Davis mentioned that the actors often said it looked like the crew in the booth was having more fun than the cast on the stage, and often it was true. The sound tech, the stage manager, and yours truly, the lighting tech, worked behind glass in a very dimly lit booth beyond the back row of the balcony. The cast could see us but it was hard for the audience to see us. And the glass prevented the sound our cues being called, our talking back and forth, and our laughter.

Back in the day, Lance was a favorite of the Guthrie audiences and the Guthrie family. Eventually he left to spread his wings, tried New York, tried film and TV, and finally decided to go back to his love of acting on stage in classic theater. But times had changed, there was no more getting hired by the season, just being hired by the run of a play. Even the Guthrie dropped it’s repertoire concept of presenting plays and went along with doing a play for a run and then another play for a run. Such a shame.

So Lance and his wife, Mary, founded their own theater, The Parson’s Nose, in Pasadena. It’s motto: ‘Introducing Classic Theater’. Season after season, it receives rave reviews.

Lance was also responsible for one of the greatest adlibs I ever heard.

Lance LANCE BACK IN THE DAY

            It was during a performance of Peter Nichols play, THE NATIONAL HEALTH, directed by Michael Langham and with the playwright, Peter Nichols, coming from England to assist Michael. The play is credited with waking up the English government to the fact that if they wanted their new national health system to succeed, they couldn’t do it unless they were willing to spend the necessary money, and not do it on the cheap. They did and today their national health care system is one of the best.

It is a dark comedy about the crowded and inferior conditions in a national hospital. There is also a play within the play, a soap opera set in a hospital. It used a lot of old music hall schtick to get laughs.

Lance wore many hats, an evil orderly in the realistic scenes, a doctor/emcee in the soap opera scenes. As the emcee he carried on a battle with Keane, the cantankerous spot operator who kept the light moving off Lance when Lance tried to talk. An old routine that never failed to get laughs.

The play used music to introduce the scenes. Loud martial music would introduce the realistic scenes. Soft soapy music introduced the soap opera scenes.

Now during this time, Scott the sound tech was having women problems, which for Scott was nothing unusual. But this time it was serious. The current love of Scott’s life, Judith, had left him a note saying she was leaving him to join the hippie commune, the Hog Farm, out in California. It broke Scott up and caused him to screw up badly. Over several performances of NATIONAL HEALTH he played the wrong scene lead in music at times. Sometimes the soapy music would introduce a realistic scene. Sometimes vice versa.

This time, as Lance was going downstage to emcee a soap opera scene, the military music blasted out and Lance stopped and looked up to the booth. Scott realized what he had done and tried to rectify it by playing the soft music on top of the wrong music. A real mess.

When the noise was over, Lance pointed up to the booth and yelled, ‘Alice! You wouldn’t make a sound man for Theater of the Deaf.’

The audience laughed. They thought it was another bit like the wandering spot light. But the cast and the crew knew better.

Two of us in the booth howled. The third person, Scott, didn’t think it was funny at all.

The next morning he thought it even less funny when he got a phone call from Guthrie management. They informed him that in light of his many mistakes recently, they had decided that the next time Scott ever attended a play at the Guthrie, he would need a ticket to get in.

He was devastated. He went to Kaplan’s, bought himself a pair of work gloves and a straw hat. Then he contacted Judith to tell her he was on his way to join her at the Hog Farm. Judith asked him just what part of her leaving him didn’t he understand.

In answer to the question about being bored, no, I never got bored working live entertainment of any genre. Now working on a movie, that was real boredom – well, some of the time. But of all the various jobs I had in my life, being a stage hand those 45 years was the best I could ever have hoped for.

And that’s a wrap.

the ghost light

Well just a couple things:

If you want to know more about THE PARSON’S NOSE, the web page is www.parsonsnose.com. You can follow it on Facebook also. Lance makes certain that he not only informs, he entertains in both.  And if you get a chance to see a play there, be sure and do it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed in Lance & Company, and the sound cues will be perfect.

Also if you want to know more about the elderly man asking the actors to help him find his seat, the story is in my blog post:ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE