Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What's That You Said? Or - Acting with Accents

I went to Performing Arts HS (remember Fame?) and then was a theater major in college. When I came back to NY I continued to study at Carnegie Hall and I had an instructor who was a Cuban refuge. He had been a fairly famous director in Cuba but left with nothing to come here. He was wonderful and when he stopped teaching at Carnegie Hall he opened up a school and a tiny theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His wife, a terrific actress, joined him to teach and direct. I think about those times with such fondness. Like Clay Aiken and his Hometown Connection roots, I bet that sometimes he stops and remembers -- and just has to smile too.

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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Vox Vixen said...

Sadly I'm old enough to remember Fame. *g*

Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you had a pretty exciting young adulthood...no working 9-5 or 8-6 and watching the telly at night like so many of us.

Love Oscar Wilde. Did you see the biopic with Stephen Frye and Jude Law. Good movie. Rent it if you have not seen it.


Chardonnay said...

I loved your story! And I'm trying to calculate where I was when "A Turning Point" was released. Around the mid seventies, right? Right about the time that I moved to New York straight from High School.

I think we were probably both doing about the same thing at the same time... in the same place. However, I never went to such prestigious a school. But we should connect.

Meanwhile, I loved how you meshed all of your memories together in such a sweet way. I especially loved the ones about Carlos! I had one or two similar great friendships like that as well. Great job!

Pink Armchair said...

Ahhh, this brought back so many memories -- not only of my theatre days but of all the good friends I lost to AIDS. Such wonderful people and we had so much fun. I went to a theatre conservatory, and met most of them there. Did a ton of shows, many of them in odd small theatre spaces such as you describe. I too remember sprinting through an alley and into the back of a theatre in an Elizabethan costume. Somebody would have to run with me holding an umbrella when it rained. Good times, good times.

Really enjoyed reliving this!

beauzzartz said...

I did FAME! Gotta love those one set shows. Seriously, you had me in a fit a giggles with the "shoes, my love, shoes" hee.

I have a actor/dirctor/choreographer (sometimes you have to do it all!)friend I saw in an off-broadway production recently and he reminds me of your Carlos...passionate, sensitive, and very very funny.

Isn't it true that some of our best creative work emerges under adverse conditions? Little budget, no wing space, atrocious sight lines,lights that turn ON and OFF and little else. We are forced to dig deep, focus, and bring more of ourselves to the project. I wouldn't trade those moments for the world. One of the best chairs I ever procured (when you can't afford a props mistriss) was out of a trash bin. I might have ignored that gem otherwise.

*sniff* Nan is making me verklempt.

beauzzartz said...

Forgot to ask this. In both the FAME movie and stage version, the students dance on the cafeteria tables at lunchtime. Did you do that? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

*pictures Nan slipping and sliding on sloppy joes*

The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

When I went to Performing Arts HS - it was still on West 46th St. in an old building that used to be a public school. Our first year, the banisters were still at knee level. We acting majors had our dance class in the cafeteria. The dance majors had their dance classes in real studios on the 3rd floor. We didn't dance on the tables - but hardly anyone ate lunch inside. We did have a disc jockey play music during the lunch hour though.

newlie said...

Just popping in to say how much I love your theater stories, Nan!
Vicarious living and all that...

newlie said...

Always love your theater stories, Nan!

The Road Not Taken. ::sigh::