6 AM, Manhattan.
I’m on the last leg of four weeks of travel before arriving in Salt Lake City to begin rehearsals next week at Pioneer Theatre Company for “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” which will open on December 3. The coffee’s on (why do hotels so often have auto-drip coffee makers whose auto drip seem to automatically drip onto the floor when poised in the “pour” position?), and I’m resisting the urge to turn on the television. It’s Election Day morning, and I, for one, have had enough of the negative campaign advertising that’s endemic no matter what part of the country in which I’m waking up (Springfield, MO, may have taken the prize this year). Plus, I’m about to hurtle headlong into auditions for the remaining roles I’ve yet to cast in the production of “Macbeth” that I’ll direct at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in January and my first assignment for 2011, so it’s a good time to not get distracted with a lot of other “noise.”
People often ask if I tire of the travel. Sure; you bet. I’ve been home to Oregon for all of two weeks since I left to come to Winona last May, and it’ll be December 5 before I set eyes on the beautiful Rogue River Valley of Southern Oregon where my home town of Ashland nestles up against the Siskiyou Mountain range. But the travel has its benefits as well. I visited yesterday with two college friends with whom I sailed around the world on the Semester-at-Sea program, one of whom lives here in New York City and teaches ESL to refugees from war-torn countries, the other, a retired school counselor, travels to New York as frequently as possible and maintains a schedule while she’s here that puts my own peregrinations to shame. In honor of our past adventures, we shared Thai food on West 95th and Amsterdam…not bad. And if I didn’t travel as much as I do, these reunions wouldn’t happen at all.
And if I didn’t travel as much as I do, I wouldn’t be able to see so many GRSF friends who are professionally employed in theatres across the country. Here in New York alone, Kern McFadden is currently acting in the Irish Repertory Theatre production of a brand new play alongside Broadway stalwart Malcolm Gets; Heidi Armbruster is understudying Laura Linney in “Time Stands Still” on Broaadway; Kim Martin-Cotton is now in preview performances of “The Merchant of Venice,” in which she’s understudying the role of Portia to Al Pacino’s Shylock; David Graham Jones is a little further uptown, standing by for Paul Dano and other actors in the new John Guare play, “A Free Man of Color” directed by George C. Wolfe at Lincoln Center.
Michael Fitzpatrick, a NYC resident, is on the road himself, currently in rehearsal for “A Christmas Carol” at the Denver Center Theatre Company (did Charles Dickens have any idea how many actors, directors, and designers for whom he would provide seasonal employment when he ceated his serial novella about Ebeneezer Scrooge??) with musical direction by GRSF composer Gregg Coffin (who has also composed music for a brand new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” for Rochester, New York’s, Geva Theatre Center, where I recently directed “Amadeus,” Peter Shaffer’s play about Mozart and Salieri with the aforementioned Messrs Fitzpatrick and Jones in the cast); Shanara Gabrielle has just returned home to St. Louis after an extended run in a new play at Kansas City’s Heartland Theatre Company; Jonathan Gillard Daly and Stephanie Lambourn recently closed an attendance record-breaking production of “Cabaret” at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre; Evan Fuller is currently appearing in a new Pet Shop Boys musical in Dallas, Texas; the list is lengthy.
Plus, New York City is now home to Christopher Gerson and Tarah Flanagan, who have recently relocated from Los Angeles (where Aya Cash – 2004, 2005 – has been shooting a new Fox television show) and are quickly re-immersing themselves in the New York theatre pool. Other GRSF newlyweds, Kate Mazzola and Ryan Fonville are just down I-95 in Philadelphia, where they’re within striking distance of New York and the very active Philadelphia-Washington DC theatre scene. At the opposite end of Pennsylvania, GRSF Associate Producing Director Doug Scholz-Carlson is assisting with “Lucia di Lammamoor” at Pittsburgh Opera.
And our Apprentice Actor Training Program graduates are keeping busy as well.
Nick Abeel (2008) is currently acting at Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis; I got to see Chris Sheard (last season’s Titus Andronicus) play the title role in “Macbeth” at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; Sarah Naughton (2009, and one of our four “Hamlets”), is in rehearsal for Jonathan Larson’s “Tick, Tick, Boom” at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she is a senior.
On Thursday morning, I’ll have breakfast here with Nick Minas, who headed GRSF’s education programs in 2009, and who just assisted David Esbjornson with the newly-opened Broadway production of “Driving Miss Daisy,” featuring James Earl Jones, Vanessa Redgrave, and Boyd Gaines.
I could take up a lot of space listing the whereabouts and accomplishments of past and current GRSF company members. Now that we’re nearing our 8th season in Winona, it’s an extensive roster of very busy people. But the larger message to glean from all of this speaks to a consistent point of confusion about the Festival, and that’s that we’re a professional theatre company (albeit one with a mission to train young people with a passion for acting, directing, design, stage management, or stagecraft), not a college summer stock program.
But the college vs. professional theatre company confusion is just one of several misconceptions about GRSF that are always interesting to encounter, as I did when I was in Winona recently for planning meetings and our off-season Festival Morning at the Acoustic Café. People are still unaware that we offer programs for young people (Shakespeare for Young Actors; Chill With Will nights at the theatre), that we provide occasional casting opportunities for young actors from the area in our productions (next summer, “Henry IV, Part 1” and, possibly, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), that we supplement our onstage work with a host of education and community outreach programs including concerts, grilling on the Winona State University green, Festival Mornings, Company and Front Porch Conversations, and, yes, that we’re a company that is led by a corps of men and women who make their living in the American theatre.
We’ll keep chipping away at the false impressions as best we can by continuing to bring work of the highest professional standards to Winona each summer, and by continuing to engage with this very generous community that has been so supportive of our endeavor so that we all become better acquainted. One thing that’s become abundantly clear to me as I travel from one end of America to another is how completely the world outside Winona “gets” what’s happening here each summer. The world of professional theatre is a small one, after all; one in which word travels fast, and one in which it seems the wider and more interconnected your professional acquaintances and contacts become, the smaller the world seems to be.
I’ve always thought of the American theatre as one big bank with many different branch offices: the Broadway branch, the off-Broadway branch, the Guthrie branch, the Goodman branch, the Seattle Repertory branch, and on and on. I’m very proud to be a traveling ambassador on behalf of one of the American theatre’s newest branch offices: the one in Winona, Minnesota. And in spite of the time spent trying to pour the coffee without making a mess, happy to be out here, encountering Winona’s hometown team of working professionals as they
continue to do what they so ably do each summer at GRSF in so many other parts of the country.