Our theater seated 40 people when the place was full. That meant adding an extra row right on the edge of the stage. You could enter the stage from the hallway where the green room/dressing room was – and we also shared the hallway with the Chinese laundry back door. The other entrance onto the stage was from a small bathroom (not used) at the rear of the stage. We’d cross in the dark before the play started if you needed to make an entrance from there. Once there, you had no escape . . . so if you entered late in the first act, you spent many nights sitting on the toilet seat waiting . . . .
Sometimes, the director would stage an entrance from the lobby through the audience onto the stage. For that you had to take the elevator or stairs from backstage – out a door onto the street – and then turn the corner to the theater and walk through. Since we did playwrights like Moliere, Ibsen, Shaw, Chekhov, etc. we were usually in ornate costumes so walking through the street would frequently mean a caseload of giggles as well as many many stares.
Because we were a small theater, we really couldn’t afford royalties for plays. So we did plays from the “public domain”. Back in those days it meant the life of the author plus 50 years. That’s changed a bit now. Of course, it also meant that I got to play some of the greatest parts ever . . . Hedda Gabler, Nora, Mary Stuart, The Country Wife, Miss Julie.
One of the lead actors was my darling dearest friend, Carlos. Carlos was also a Cuban refuge. He was an upcoming actor in Cuba before he left. He came here with nothing, spoke no English, and made a life for himself. He passed away a while ago – but he is such a huge part of my life that he is always whispering in my ear. Carlos and I acted together in so many plays. Our directors felt everyone should be able to do the classics, with no emphasis on race, ethnicity, etc. So we had Cuban accents, Brooklyn accents, Southern accents, English accents. We had blacks and whites playing brother and sister. It was a great idea that worked most of the time – and sometimes not at all.
Carlos and I had the same taste in men. We stood in line together the first night that the movie Turning Point opened just so we could see Baryshnikov in his first acting role. We went to the ballet together and when Baryshnikov finally showed up one night in a bar we hung out at, Carlos was on the phone to call me and say in his wonderful accent “Nanjeanne . . . he’s here.” Boy you should have seen me fly out of the house and race all the 10 blocks to the bar. It was late and a couple of waiters who knew us from the bar were leaving work. They saw me running up Broadway and told me I could slow down . . . he was still there! *And that’s another story for another blog*
When MrConclayve-Nan came to the theater to audition for a role, Carlos and I looked at each other and said . . .may the best person win. I did!!!
We were doing an Oscar Wilde play together called Lady Windermere’s Fan. Carlos played Lord Darlington, the best friend of Lord Windermere and in love with Lady Windermere. Now, Carlos’s accent receded a bit over the years . . .but he still had one and when he got excited, it would get worse. In one scene, Lord Darlington takes Lady Windermere by the shoulders and implores her “Choose my love, choose.”
Well, we did that play for a number of weeks, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On the last night, we’re sitting in the bar toasting ourselves . . . . and the guy who did the lights turned to me and said. “You know, this has been one of my favorite shows. I really love your relationship with Carlos in this play. There’s just one thing I have never understood. Why does he mention your shoes?” “What?” I sputtered. “My shoes? What are you talking about?” “You know, that moment when Lord Darlington takes you by the shoulders and says ‘Shoes, my love, shoes’. All these years -- and it’s been more than 25 -- whenever I’m with my friends from those days back in our little theater and we need a good laugh -- all we have to do is look at each other and say “shoes, my love, shoes”.
So, in honor of Community and Small Theater everywhere - here's a bit of Clay Aiken and his Hometown Connection. I know it's a little early for Christmas - but I just adore Santa Clay.
And because you can never have too much Clay Aiken - here's Clay's encore of Solitaire at the 2004 Charlotte NaT (courtesy of SLC).
This Blog's Quote is: The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster. Oscar Wilde
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