If you look to the left of my blog page, here on this website of mine, you’ll see the contacts page. That’s right, Gentle Reader, you can email me whenever you feel like! It’s there in the hope that casting directors will reach out to me (which I’m sure will be happening any second now), but anybody can message me through this website, for any reason.
Something rather touching happened recently – an actor I’d worked with in Minneapolis, whom I hadn’t heard from in over twenty years, happened upon this very website and used it to email me. I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye to him when I left the Twin Cities, and always regretted having lost touch with him (he’s not on Facebook). And after all this time, here he was, in my email inbox. It made my heart glad to catch up with him. And I was tickled to hear that he’d read, and enjoyed, my most recent blog post.
But this got me to thinking. In previous blog posts, I’d discussed both of the shows which I’d done with my friend Arnie (that’s his name) in Minneapolis. And looking back at the tone of what I’d previously written about those shows, I began to have the sinking feeling that a reader might think I’d regretted doing them. That Arnie might think that. And that isn’t true at all, and I feel guilty that I might have given that impression.
So let me revisit those two shows for a moment.
The first of the two shows was Bullshot Crummond, a very broad and veddy veddy British spy spoof, in which I played the title character and Arnie played my sinister German nemesis (accursed Hun!). As I mentioned when I first wrote about this show, that was a production in which Murphy’s Law reigned supreme, and every possible thing went wrong. (Hell, the name of the post about it is “When Things Go Wrong, As They Sometimes Will.”) But that’s in the nature of that show, where most of the comedy derives from taking the wild cinematic panoramas of a World War I espionage tale and staging it in as bare-bones a fashion as possible. In its way, Bullshot Crummond anticipates the stage adaptation of The 39 Steps, both in its humor and in its theatrical construction (i.e. taking a classic British film and putting it on stage with a tiny cast playing all the roles, and having the ingenuity of the adaptation be half the fun). We had far fewer resources to work with, so many of our shoestring effects turned into actual mishaps, but the comedic energy never flagged. And I do truly believe that show was a turning point for me as an actor – having so many things to deal with in the run of the show taught me how to live in the moment in a way no conservatory training ever could.
I didn’t have nearly as much to deal with in the next show I did with Arnie, which was a production of The Comedy of Errors which toured parks throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs. When I last wrote about it, here, I included it in an overall list of Shakespeare productions which I did in the 90s which, taken as a whole, I said, “sucked.” Well, that’s not remotely fair. I tend to like more adventurous classical fare, but as a traditional staging of the piece, it was perfectly fine. No, the reason I included Comedy of Errors in that disparaging list is because, at one point during the run, we all wound up living out a moment from This Is Spinal Tap. The venue where we were performing listed its events for the week chronologically on its marquee, and had had a puppet show there a few days before us. So as we all drove up, we all saw the sign, exactly as it appears in Spinal Tap. We all got out of our cars, stared bug-eyed at the sign, and then, all in unison, cried out in Jeanine Pettibone’s cockney accent: “If I told them once, I told them a thousand times, Shakespeare Company first, THEN the puppet show!”
Which is a great story, especially if you’re putting together a list of ignominious Shakespeare experiences, but really isn’t a reflection on the quality of the production.
That we all responded and joked as one, however, is a reflection on the quality of that cast. And that’s a point worth making about any theatrical war story; no matter how odd the script or how dire the production circumstances, you’re almost always working with a good, strong, supportive cast. There’s so many actors, after all, such fierce competition for even non-paying gigs. When a cast comes together, they’ve already gone jumped through unimaginable hurdles to get there in the first place. They’re going to be creative, they’re going to be smart, and they’re going to have each other’s backs.
This was certainly true of Arnie. He was there, keeping me safe, in our mostly improvised duels across a teeny tiny stage during Bullshot Crummond. He and I were the ones driving halfway from Minneapolis to Saint Paul and back, storing, packing and unpacking our portable Comedy of Errors set. He made both of those modest little shows a blast to work on. I’m glad he’s still doing this, still being a rock for theater companies out there.
Here’s to another twenty years, friend.