Friday, June 18, 2010

A Glimpse Into My Recurring Fantasy...

Back on the boards tonight.  I'm told its a good house.  Nearly sold out now and probably completely sold out by the time it starts tonight.  I'll spend most of the day getting the lines back in my head.  Not sure what kind of press we'll have there tonight or this weekend.  Hopefully the Times or the Weekly will be there.

We'll all meet a tad early and do a quick line thru.  If it were up to me we'd do this before every performance.  But then again, not everyone else is carrying so many lines in this thing so that wouldn't be fair.

For this kind of show we're very dependent on the 'word of mouth' response.  We can't market directly to the substance abuse community because it's, well, frowned upon.  But what we can do is get the right people in to see it, hope they like it, and let them drum up support on their own.  As our publicist, David Elser, told me a few weeks ago, if one were going simply by the title it would seem to be a Christian play.  And a Christian play is the hardest sell of all because, generally speaking, theatre goers tend to be a liberal lot and most have the same low opinion of Christianity as I do.  So why would they want to see a play about it?  They wouldn't.

Having said that, however, I will write my Christian play someday.  I have no idea what or when it will be but be sure it will be a full-frontal attack on the hypocrisy therein.  Probably a play about The Salvation Army and their evil exploits, but we'll see.  Having worked for that nefarious organization for a few years I am sure there's a play in it.  And someone definitely needs to tell that story.  It falls under the category of 'truth is stranger than fiction.'  I think its fairly safe to say America in general has no idea what this group of greedy and faithless people do every single day and the inestimable harm they cause.

As I pointed out in a marketing meeting a while back at NoHo, theatre is like a restaurant.  If somebody goes and has a good meal, they'll tell maybe three or four people.  But if they go and have a terrible meal with terrible service all the while being overpriced, they'll tell at least a dozen people, probably more.  That's why when we do things like Sanity 2, the feckless production of one-acts we recently closed, it is devastating to our plight as a professional theatre.  The bottom line is this: theatre cannot, in this day and age of economic uncertainty, afford to EVER produce anything that is not extraordinary.  Every single time at bat we have to hit a home run.  There is simply no margin for error these days.

Let me tell you my recurring fantasy over the years.  Let's assume I somehow stumbled across about fifty million dollars.  With me so far?  Most people have that fantasy.  The 'what would I do with a ton of money' fantasy.  Well, my fantasy, unlike others I suppose, is carefully planned out, to the last detail.  I've even taken the time to write it all out, a business plan as it were, detailing the first five years or so.

In 1989 I was hired to do a little play at a theatre on Sanibel Island called, ahem, Pirate Playhouse.  Possibly the worst name for a professional theatre ever conjured up.  But the plant itself, the theatre, the physical house itself, is a dream.  It's a beautiful, state-of-the-art, 200 seat theatre in the heart of Sanibel Island (a paradise if you've never been there) which is on the gulf coast of Florida, off Ft. Myers.  Over the years I did some 14 or 15 plays with this company.  Good plays, too, like Wait Until Dark, Two by Two, The Rainmaker, Boys Next Door, Born Yesterday, Lend Me a Tenor, Run For Your Wife, The Foreigner, Prelude to a Kiss and so on.  The theatre is set far back from the main drag on Sanibel called Periwinkle Way.  There is a bunch of land all around it.  From the road, the theatre looks sort of like a mini-Tara from Gone With The Wind.  Inside it has a beautiful lobby, a great three quarter theatre and dressing rooms.

I've found a picture of the theatre online and included it above.  I think you'll agree that it's an amazing house.

So my fantasy would be to purchase that theatre and the land around it, build studio housing for the actors and designers and technicians brought in for the season from LA, NYC and Chicago.  Build a rehearsal hall, a costume shop, administration offices, a tech shop, maybe even a small, second stage.  There is plenty of parking space there, too.

The audience for that theatre is built in.  Sanibel is swarming with tourists from September to June every year. And Sanibel ain't cheap.  So there are plenty of entertainment dollars floating around.  When I worked there, regardless of the play we were doing, the place sold out nightly. I used to go there, not for the credit or prestige, but because it was a beautiful 'busman's holiday' for me every year.  A chance to get out of NYC during January, February and March.

So Angie and I would purchase that theatre and do some real work there.  Introduce the island to some Shakespeare, perhaps.  Some great and immediate drama.  Introduce them to Mamet and Kushner and McNally.  Do Sondheim.  They'd come because it's professional theatre on Sanibel Island.  The only one, in fact.  It's a monopoly.  Angie has her masters in theatre management, so she'd be general manager.  I would be the producing artistic director.  We'd bring in talented friends that are wonderful actors and directors.  We'd establish a core company of incredible artists.  And we'd have this amazing space in which to do all of this.

That's my fantasy.  I have even gone so far as to map out our first five years of plays, who would direct them and star in them.  Such shows as Sweeney Todd with James Barbour, Angels in America with Brad Greenquist and John Bader, Death of a Salesman with me as Willy and Jeff Wood directing, Inherit the Wind with Michael Moriarty and John Goodman.  Hamlet with an all male cast.  Oh, yes, it's all planned out.  It's quite a fantasy.

Unbelievably, the place has been dreadfully mismanaged over the years.  When I was working there and the name was still the silly Pirate Playhouse, there was a raging tyrant named Bob Cacioppo in charge.  After some years, however, the board of directors simply got fed up with Bob's outsized ego and canned him.  Since then the place has deteriorated into a showcase for glittery musical reviews with a piano and a snare drum and a bunch of rejects from the Lawrence Welk Show.  The kind of fare that gives live theatre a bad and smelly name.

Naturally, Angie and I would change all that and make it a highly sought-after place to work.  Maybe even a prestigious New Works Festival every year.  I even have the new name picked out - "Sanibel Stage."  Sounds much better than Pirate Playhouse, don't you think?  I wouldn't be embarrassed to put "Sanibel Stage" on my resume.


Back to reality.  Lost myself there for a bit.  I love that fantasy.  When I'm really stressed sometimes I return to it.  Or late at night when I'm plagued with insomnia.  Or sitting in my backyard sipping iced tea.  It's a great place to go in my head.  Never disappoints.

Now, as I see it, all I have to do is figure out the fifty million dollars part.

See you tomorrow.

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