Endgame Head Shots and First Days

With the promise of the acting assignment in “Endgame” coming up, we pondered the inclusion of Jimmie’s 30-year-old headshot in the program and cringed. There is nothing sadder than seeing someone’s program pic looking a generation younger than they currently look, right?

And yet, to actually embark on having head shots taken at 89 is daunting. If the truth be told, I had considered it important when Jimmie was 75 or so- just goes to show you what an excellent procrastinator I am. Henny Youngman’s lines came unwittingly to my head when I considered the task and I quickly banished the thought of organizing it:

She is so old she won’t even buy green bananas. And…

He is so old when he orders a three-minute egg they ask for the money upfront.

Henny Youngman

Confess – you are thinking a lot less of me as I trample my way through various protected catagories with the abandon of a small child tromping through puddles. And yet, you are saying to yourself, I can see why she/they postponed the task.

And yet, here we were, with rehearsals looming, and requests from the press office at CTG for bios and head shots, sorting through the candids that I have taken over the years of my darling husband, and here, with the most current headshot being one that I think he had taken back in the late 80s or early 90s, hardly suitable for a man of his stature.

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James Greene’s Mid-Career Head Shot

So a few weeks ago, when another of my creative friends invited me to like-button-2015-06 their promotional page, I found myself perusing some new photos of a USC colleagues taken by recent USC MFA Alumna, Elmira Rahim, and found that I liked her style. I hit the button to endorse her page, then messaged her about the likelihood of getting her to shoot Jimmie’s head shots. She agreed, and we set the date for last Saturday, an impossibly busy day for me, what with a donut run, and two techs, but it seemed vital to get these head shots taken sooner rather than later.

Saturday came, and we were to meet at a studio downtown in the arts district. I had the address as well as very detailed directions about parking and getting buzzed into the building, using the right door, etc. Part of me wondered whether she gave everyone those detailed directions, or if at my age, I’ve dropped into some rabbit hole where it is perceived I need them more than I would at 25. But let’s just say I appreciated the specificity of them, both as a stage manager and a boomer navigating a nearby but unknown segment of downtown Los Angeles.

Parking was tricky, so, as I frequently do, let Jimmie off, then went to park the car. I ended up parking pretty far away, after telling him to meet me at the corner. When I came back, I didn’t see him waiting for me by the door, so buzzed up and went up to the third floor, where Elmira was waiting for me in the hall.

Is he here with you?

No.

Oops. Let me go find him….

And back down I went to the street, turning to the left of the entrance door, where he was sitting on his walker right where I had told him to be. He wasn’t alone. Standing in front of him were two young men, both with old fashioned cameras, one sporting an old fashioned handlebar waxed mustache; they were both snapping away at him with their box cameras like he was royalty. Granted, he was looking pretty spiffy in the new pink checked polo shirt I had bought him for Easter.

I approached laughing.

Jimmie, we are here to take pictures, but not here, here.

They told me how surprised they had been to see him sitting there on the corner in his hat, and pink shirt, and how they had asked if they could shoot his picture because he looked so great and distinguished (and abandoned, I thought). I completely get it – I frequently want to take Jimmie’s picture. He’s adorable.

We parted company, after receiving my business card, they said they would send me the pictures. We went back to the actual studio to meet Elmira, and I left Jimmie there, having arranged a ride home (not included in the head shot service), and went on my way to tech bearing 8 dozen donuts.

Rehearsals have begun for Endgame, and I wish I could be folded like a playing card and tucked into Jimmie’s pocket to listen in on the process, but I must be contented to hear about rehearsals from him instead. Yesterday he had a wonderful exchange with his Ethiopian USC Alumnus Uber driver; they talked the whole ride about their passion for marathon running, comparing times, and the cities they had run. It’s a wonderful adventure. And meanwhile, we have the Endgame head shots, ready for the work ahead. Try out Elmira Photographythumb_IMG_7065_1024

 

A Little More Night Music

Life has a funny way of rolling by, faster and faster.Recently, when the offer to do Endgame again presented itself to my husband after 31 years, we were stunned that the time had passed so quickly. It happened again this week as I sat at the edge of the orchestra pit at the Bing Theatre, listening to the first orchestra read of the score for USC School of Dramatic Arts’ production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s “A Little Night Music,” (opening March 31, 2016, and running through Sunday, April 10, 2016.)

In April of 1991, a mere (gulp) 25 years ago, I had the privilege of Assistant Stage Managing on the Center Theatre production of “A Little Night Music”, presented at the James A. Doolittle Theatre during the second of four years when The Ahmanson housed “The Phantom of the Opera.” I was the 2nd Assistant Stage Manager to James T. McDermott (SM) and Mark Wright (PSM). The show was directed by Gordon Davidson, with Choreography by Onna White, and Vocal Staging by David Craig.

Lois Nettleton and John McMartin

Lois Nettleton and John McMartin, 1991 Photo by Craig Schwartz

The play’s rehearsals were thrilling – from the first day’s meet and greet in the Taper Annex Rehearsal Room A, where the illustrious cast assembled; Glynis Johns as Madame Armfeldt, Lois Nettleton as her daughter Desiree, John McMartin as the lawyer Frederik Egerman. There were a number of people in the cast with whom I had worked (again, the theatre’s incestuous cross-pollination at work): Michelle Nicastro, a soprano who I’d had the privilege of stage managing for in “Blame It On The Movies” at the Coast Playhouse, Teri Ralston and Robert Yacko, friends from my work on the S.T.A.G.E. Benefits. I had worked with Glynis Johns before, also on the second S.T.A.G.E. benefit exclusively dedicated to the work of Stephen Sondheim.

That particular cross-pollination was not my most shining moment as a neophyte stage manager. Recently having moved to Los Angeles, I met Susan Obrow, a local director and co-producer of the S.T.A.G.E. Benefits, by answering a Backstage West ad for a stage manager for a new comedy called “High Hopes.” From there, Susan had introduced me to director David Galligan, who asked me to ASM for the third annual S.T.A.G.E. Benefit, celebrating the songs of Stephen Sondheim (1987),  at the Variety Arts Center on 9th St. and Figueroa, in downtown L.A.. About a month before the actual performances, the PSM of the benefit withdrew and I was “promoted” to PSM. I was completely unprepared and unqualified for such a promotion, but my youthful folly engendered a conviction that I could easily learn-by-doing how to manage a show with 50 performers, including Glynis Johns and many other theatrical illuminati.

My most ignominious training moment happened the night of the sound checks, where, in my ignorance, I had scheduled everyone’s check in chronological order, rather than in order of theatrical gravitas. In addition, the sound checks started late and ran long, so we ended with Miss Johns’ mic check happening at 11:00PM and her leaving after the mic check at midnight;  on her way to the freeway, she drove the wrong way on 9th St. and ended up beaching her Mercedes on a median divider. This was before cell phones were in use, and well before the gentrification of South Park, so one can only imagine how unpleasant this episode was.

Stage managers earn their stripes of ignominy with blood, sweat and tears, and these are some of my hardest earned. The next day, first came the call from Glynis’ agent (who was also my husband’s agent); this was followed by an irate call from Glynis herself blaming me for poor directions away from the theatre (again, this was pre-GPS, so poor directions from a stage manager could be lethal). The director and I received both calls in the booth in the back of the Variety Arts Theatre;  by the end of the calls, we looked at each other and burst into tears. That’s when I learned the danger as a woman in a position of leadership of crying under duress. Hasn’t happened again, except maybe privately, like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News.  David and I were able to laugh about it years later, but that day it was mortifying. It’s still mortifying, but the distance and time have allowed us to recover.

I have many vivid memories of the 1991 production of A Little Night Music. The first day of rehearsal, Susan Obrow, (then an assistant to Gordon Davidson) and I talked in Rehearsal Room A about how we would greet Glynis. Glynis entered the room (this was 4 years after the infamous sound check night); as she approached us, looking first at me,  brow furrowing, turned toward Susan, we simultaneously made the decision to gaslight her.

Oh, Miss Johns, it is such a pleasure to meet you! I have been such a big fan of yours for years, we both gushed.

She had a befuddled look, caught between her brain’s associating us with some disastrous and pain-soaked midnight Mercedes memory and the visual of our two earnest, smiling faces selling that we were meeting her for the first time and were delighted about it. We never mentioned it again, and continued for the next 13 weeks through rehearsals and performances to maintain our fiction.

Glynis Johns as Madame Armfeldt

Polly Heard (Frederika) and Glynis Johns (Mme Armfeldt) in her Angel encrusted wheelchair. Photo by Craig Schwartz

Other moments rekindle my fondness for the experience – the moment when Glynis stopped a tech rehearsals to present Gordon Davidson, the director, with a gift of an angel (she was mildly and charmingly obsessed with them – the back of her wicker wheelchair was graced with them). She had originated the role of Desiree in 1973 in the original Broadway production to Hermione Gingold’s Mme Armfeldt, and was now playing the role at the Doolittle Theatre. I can’t remember why it was so important to give him the angel then, but I do remember the impact it had on our rehearsal timing that day.

Jimmie McDermott and I ran the deck. I was the Stage left ASM; that was the stage door and dressing room side; my position afforded me many opportunities to see human dynamics and foibles paralleled by those  Wheeler and Sondheim so deftly depict in the musical’s book and lyrics. There was at least one offstage affair; restraint prevents me from sharing the lurid details, but suffice it to say, my regular 15-minute call and collection of valuables should have cued these individuals to better time their assignation. It was heady stuff for a young stage manager, and I was so fortunate to learn from two masters of the stage management profession; Jimmie McDermott and Mark Wright demonstrated how to deal with a variety of situations.

One evening, at places, I stood by my music stand adjacent to the stairwell, awaiting the arrival of the cast for the prologue and waltz. The off-stage area was incredibly crowded with props – the full sized bed, the rolling hedges, and the I.A.T.S.E. stage hands standing by for the carefully choreographed opening and closing of the doors to the salon in Act I.

Robert Israel was the Scenic Designer; the Act I scenic design depicted a formal drawing room with symmetrical double doors and a metaphoric portrait foreshadowing the blue sky of the Act II country hovering over the mantlepiece in the center of the stage. At The end of Act I, the upstage drawing room walls flew out as the side walls pivoted out, revealing the blue sky of the upstage drop, during “A Weekend In The Country.” We affectionately called the painting over the mantle “the blue blob” and someone in made opening night t-shirts sporting the blue blob prominently on the back. (Was it me? I can’t remember). All other props were stashed in the wings, except the two roadsters, which were parked out back behind the Doolittle and brought in during Intermission, causing the house curtain to billow out into the house due to the air pressure from the front doors in the lobby being open.

But I digress. This one night at the places call, I stood at my music stand. Glynis entered the stage from her dressing room, and looking around left and right, she dramatically swooned, her body crumpling cautiously to the stage. I looked across the dark expanse at Les and Harold the crew members DS  and US of the door, stifled a giggle, then quickly alerted Jimmie and Mark  over the headset that Glynis had fallen, hurried to her side, taking her hand in mine. Mark was there in less than a minute, and grasping her hand, patted it rapidly, cooing reassuringly. Out of one side of his mouth –

Glynis, Glynis, are you all right?

while out of the other side,

Els, get Pat ready.

Pat was Glynis’ understudy and she was ready within about 5 minutes, rolling out onto the stage through the double doors in the angel-encrusted wheelchair for the opening scene between Grandmother and the young Fredrika.

These were all of the memories that rushed through my brain yesterday as I listened to the orchestra at USC playing through the charts under the excellent stewardship of Parmer Fuller, our musical director. The actors available to be at the theatre (not in class) were scattered;when their numbers came up in the rehearsal, they gravitated to the stage and sang through their numbers with the orchestra. Kelly Ward, our director and choreographer, jumped to the stage to the sides of the working actors, giving them notes about beats in the songs, and working out his own choreography over the lush charts.

At one point, stepping from the stage, he appeared at my side and said with an impish grin,

This is when it gets fun. The stakes are raised when the orchestra arrives!

Agreed. Now, twenty five years later, I am working as the Production Manager for this production, watching the fierce team of BFA Stage Managers figuring out the logistics of all the scene changes. Philip G. Allen, an up and coming sound engineer in 1991, learning at the elbow of Sound Designer, Jon Gottlieb; this time around, his sound design students are designing. So much history behind us, and so much history in front of them! They will have stories of their own to tell.

It’s an exciting time. Won’t you buy some tickets and come see their work?

The Perils of Grandparenting

There are so few places where you can get a good candid shot of your family, but Los Angeles County’s Natural History Museum afforded us the perfect opportunity to show our fortitude in the face of a T-Rex and other threats.

This week has marked the first visit to Los Angeles of our beautiful granddaughter Skylar, and her professionally qualified parents, Whitney and Chris. We’ve had a great time, fending off Dinos and Cheetahs while we got to know each other a little better. Talk about bonding exercises! Here are a few tips I’ve learned about the perils of grand parenting this week:

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How is it that we kept laughing while being chased by a cheetah?

  1. Don’t offer to babysit the first night when your grandchild is exhausted from an all night road trip the night before. It usually ends in tears. And not just the baby’s. Have you ever felt more inadequate than when your grand baby is screaming in your left ear?
  2. When in doubt, check the diaper. There are usually only three reasons that we are no longer having fun: Wet or poopy diaper, hungry, need a nap. Or see 1.
  3. Do not send video tapes of the melt down moments (see 1.) to the parents with the entreaty “Can you come home now?” This is irresponsible and subpar grand parenting. You can do better than that. My friend Hannah has told me I’m allowed to send them to her instead. That’s a good friend. And have you ever tried to soothe a squalling baby and take a video at the same time? I’m not adept enough to pull it off.
  4. Always have a burp cloth near by. This is just the euphemistic name for a better place for your baby to throw up on than on your new shirt.
  5. If you are out at the restaurant and the baby is lying serenely in your daughter-in-law’s lap after the meal, don’t offer to hold her. It will usually end up in tears.
  6. Binky = Success.
  7. Don’t try to conduct business when you are babysitting. Had to put the phone down with the company manager from the Kirk Douglas yesterday to rescue Grandpa, who had dropped the Binky. See 6.
  8. It’s okay to go to sleep when you’re babysitting and the baby has gone to bed and is quiet. It only took me two hours of waiting for the pros to come home to realize –

    DOH! Chris and Whitney go to sleep at night while she is sleeping. I can go to bed, too.

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    Always take a photo if you are surrounded by giant butterflies and ladybugs. It will be a classic. 

Life in the City

 

Yesterday’s carnage at the bus bench is gone.

The half-gallon jug of milk on its side,

Bilging its contents at the feet of a dozen excited pigeons –

Removed.

 

The plastic grocery bag five stumbled steps away, its mouth agape

Reveals the Lucky Charms of a life in disarray and

Shouts at passersby who strive to make sense of the chaos.

 

Today the gentle mist of the morning rain cleans the sidewalk.

After the purple shirts and the sidewalk Zamboni have passed,

The bench holds only the unsuspecting commuters awaiting the bus.

 

Last month’s offering at the bench on the corner of Life and Hope was a shopping cart, comforter-draped, that remained in place at least a week

Every day more disheveled, the covers turned down to reveal a suitcase

And another life in disarray.

 

Anticipating Endgame

Wednesday marked the beginning of an important journey for four yeoman actors. In My Nagg, I shared with you the past journey of both my husband in his role as Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, and our journey together as man and wife from our marriage 32 years ago beginning with our imprompt work/honeymoon to Israel where he performed Nagg with Alvin Epstein, Peter Evans and Alice Drummond.

But now, it’s time to look forward, to the start of rehearsals for the upcoming production at The Kirk Douglas Theatre, directed by and starring Alan Mandell. It is an important production; not only are three of the actors (Alan, Charlotte Rae and Barry McGovern) one degree of separation from the playwright Samuel Beckett, but three of the performers are also over the age of 88.

The combined 266 years of these three thespians has not been squandered. All three have had vital careers in theatre, film and television.  I will let you peruse the interweb for the details of their artistic endeavors. They have crossed paths in their dramatic peregrinations.  But what interests me most is not looking back at their illustrious careers, but looking forward at the challenge before them; I realize that if we are lucky, and it comes unencumbered with serious illness or dementia, age does not diminish the passion one feels for creative work. Many of you know this already. Forgive me if it is already obvious.

Old age is a shipwreck.

Charles DeGaulle

Jimmie frequently invokes DeGaulle’s immortal words, usually in the morning when he stumbles out to the kitchen, one eye closed, pirate-like, with a request  for me to turn on the coffee pot, or in the evening when removing his knee brace, or climbing into bed. But what I see is that the work is rejuvenating; the act of studying and memorizing lines peels away the years like no other activity.

Alan called me on Monday. That’s the other refreshing thing about our elders. With a few exceptions, they prefer to communicate by speaking human to human through a telephone. I frequently bemoan that this generation of stage managers misses that human connection when emailing rehearsal schedules to their actors rather than calling them on the phone to leave the first day’s details with them.  I relish the first conversation with a new colleague, because it’s when you learn some detail about his/her connection with the director, or the piece, or in the case of Alan Mandell, the playwright, Beckett, about whom you only have ever had text book familiarity. In this case, for me, it is like touching noses with the gods.

Alan wanted to set up a coffee meeting with Charlotte, Jimmie and himself in advance of the first rehearsal. Two phone calls arranged a meeting first at Alan’s home and then a trip to Charlotte’s… Continue reading