Tag Archives: Jeff Sherr

Montana Joe & Weird Willie

“I am sure, as many as have good beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.”

Rosalind said it prettily and clearly and thus endeth our final run-through before technical and dress rehearsals and then opening night.

I was in the wings, muttering; “I’ll bid you farewell. There won’t be a half-dozen people a night that’ll understand that line.”

It was 2007 and the play was Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

My head-shaking over the prospects of decipherability of this closing line was not a singular bobble. I was doubtful about many such moments in the play. Moments? How ‘bout whole ten-minute segments of brilliant verbiage swirling over, around, and through a 21st century audience like Casper the Friendly Ghost, leaving them feeling like something remarkable had happened, but who knows what it was…and I guess it’s okay…it sounded impressive.

And most of those bewildering lines were mine.

I don’t like As You Like It, but I admire it.

The speech; “All the world’s a stage…” is worth the price of admission by itself.

I have seen the play four times and now performed it once.

‘At’s enuf fer me.

Bitterest Fool

I was playing one of the fools and was well on my way to crafting the bitterest fool in the history of theatre. I was too old to be flopping about in voluminous motley, toting elfin ingénues and scolding the audience in iambic pentameter.

But I did it.

Why?

Well…

…it was Shakespeare…

…it was a fine cast…

…and it was being directed by Montana Joe and he asked me to do it.

As I said, the run-though was now completed, and I could go home, flip though the script, and look for a bit of brightness that I was sure I was neglecting.

But no-o-o-o-o.

Montana Joe assembled the cast for a few notes.

Joe sat in the front row.

The cast sprawled on the apron of the stage.

Rapt and waiting.

Else, why would you show up for the first read-through, except to hear Montana Joe’s musings for the run of the journey?

Joe slouched and stared a hole in the carpet about three feet in front of his feet. He slow-tugged at the end of his not-quite-Fu-Manchu mustache. His eyebrows lifted to allow room for his pupils to beseech the firmament for le mot juste.

“There is a moment…when we are working on a play…probing and exploring…and playing…and stumbling…and discovering.”

Joe sank a little in his chair, his shoulders and arms and head folded in. We leaned in to hear.

Inherently, we are lost and looking. A director is pointing and guessing…we find things. Some finds are rejected. Some finds are clung to.”

Joe sank further in his sucking pit of a seat.

“Then…there is this moment…when the play takes on a life…when that life is taken on by the cast…and no longer belongs to the director.”

Seat A12

At this point, Joe’s seat (seat number A12, I believe) became a full-fledged black hole and began to whisk him away. His chin was curled to his knees and he plunged away butt-first, muttering…growling…crooning;

“What…a…joy!”

After the guffaws from the cast, we called the local fire department. They came promptly and managed to retrieve Montana Joe and we quickly established call times for the remaining tech rehearsals and headed home.

What a spellsinger.

Missing Sidney on This Sunny Day

It’s strange what can trigger a memory.

I have heard my friend and adopted faux-daughter Karyn Czar asking the first reporter’s question at the governor’s press conferences. I’m always proud.

I first met Karyn on stage in a play. Recalling that play, and feeling today’s sun, and the end of the baseball lockout, triggered another happy flashback.

Today now looks to be the opening day for this year’s baseball spring training…at last. It was beginning to look like there would be no spring training and perhaps no season at all thanks to the oligarchs of baseball (the owners AND the players). My friend Sidney Shaw loved to go to the Lexington Legends’ games. He would not have been pleased with the waste of a fine sunny day with no baseball.

I first met Sidney in the same play as I met Karyn.

It was the summer of 1994. It was a production of Measure for Measure in the Lexington Shakespeare Festival when it was still in Woodland Park…and still doing Shakespeare.

I remember admiring Sidney’s ease with the language and the wisdom with which he infused the character he played. I remember being delighted the first night in rehearsal when his character cast aside that wisdom for outraged passion. It made the dramatic moment mean something more…more human. Working with Shakespeare’s foreign-to-us cadences and vocabulary can make an actor forget the humanity of the situations being depicted.

Sidney didn’t forget.

This was a nice production with a bunch of new (to me) actors, most of whom I’ve had the good fortune to work with multiple times over the ensuing years. This group of actors has gone on to mean much to Lexington’s theatre audiences; Karyn Czar, Jeff Sherr, Donna Ison, Eric Johnson, Laurie Genet Preston, Joe Gatton, Glenn Thompson, Spencer Christiansen, Holly Hazelwood, and others.

Ave Lawyer directed. It was my first time to work with Ave and certainly not my last. I’ve moved furniture and learned lines for her in a number of shows since then. It’s always a real nice clambake.

Thus it was with Sidney. He and I shared the stage in four or five productions. He was always good company and I learned something from him in every show.

However, my favorite theatre experience with Sidney was as an audience member for his performance in Death of a Salesman. I watched my friend Sidney disappear into Willie Loman. The growing desperation and evaporating control of Willie Loman was so alien to the Sidney Shaw I knew. It was a remarkable stretch for an actor and Sidney handled it adroitly and broke my heart.

I miss Sidney.

Atticus vs the Sound Effects

Mockingbird 01

Summer outdoor theater is a miraculous thing.

The miracle happens about six months after the summer theater season, in the depths of winter. There is a moment when snow is on the ground and the wind’s a’howlin’. There is a moment on the ninth straight day of no sun at all, a moment when the clothing layers reach seven, when soup sounds real good once too often. At that less-than-golden moment, that summer night you spent on stage the previous year becomes pure gold.

That memory is purged of the heat. The roasted rehearsal on that concrete slab on that Saharan Saturday morning in full costume evaporates from your recall.

Those multitudinous bugs (many of which unsuccessfully screen-tested for the classic film Them and still harbored virulent stage revenge dreams) that you ducked, swatted, and too often swallowed during performances were forgotten.

The memory of the “dead characters’ cocktail lounge” where the actors gathered (after their character in the show was dispatched) to swap lies and hoist a brew or two, that grew in unholy influence during the run of the show until the curtain calls became wobbly bows from which returning to a fully upright position was un-guaranteed…yes, that memory became quaint instead of alarming.

Rain? Lightning? Make-up that melted faster in the heat than it could be applied?

Hecklers?

All vanished…

…erased…

…never happened.

It’s a miracle.

All that remains are memories and tales of;

– Riding a bike home from rehearsal through the reluctantly cooling blanket of dark.
– Humidity and iambic pentameter – a surprisingly compatible combo.
– Bright, pretty, scantily-clad actresses.
– Loud voices and ringing swordplay.
– Large, well-lubricated audiences.
– Stars (thousands) and moons (one per night) and a pool of artificial light in which to speak beautiful words.

That’s all that’s left.

It’s a miracle.

However, some of the non-miraculous is worth remembering as well.

In the summer of 1999, I was lucky enough to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. My luck expanded to include the fact that I was working with many of my favorite people in the world; Jeff Sherr, Eric Johnson, Anitra Brumagen, Sidney Shaw, Walter May, Glenn Thompson, Michael Thompson… It was a real good time.

Most of the time.

The first act of the show ends with Atticus’ closing statement to the jury. It’s about a ten-minute summation – inspirational and dramatic as hell – an actor’s dream.

On one night’s performance I arose to give the speech to a crowd of 1,000+ people (yes, most likely well-lubricated). As I walked downstage I heard the medivac helicopter approaching and I knew from previous festival experience that the flight path would be directly over our stage and loud…certainly louder than me. I took a dramatic pause before commencing the speech that exactly matched the flight time of the copter.

Mrs. Leasor didn’t raise any fools.

Then I plunged into the speech and was just achieving some momentum when, about five minutes in, I heard the sirens of the ambulance go ripping through the night.

At about minute eight of the soliloquy, the low-flying private plane rattled over and as I was winding up for the socko finish, you could hear the freight train moanin’ lonesome through the night.

Mercifully, the speech and the act ended, the lights went dark, and the cast trooped offstage. As I walked off the stage, Eric Johnson was exiting directly behind me and I heard him mumble; “Well, that was certainly a tribute to the combustible engine.”

I wept.

Just Act the Hell Out of It

In the theatre, I have been blessed to work with inspiring directors. Many of them seemed to enter and re-enter my life at times when they could fulfill dual roles; stage director and off-stage mentor. Just as I could not have become the on-stage kings, fools, lawyers, doctors, and errant knights required, so I could not have become the geezer I am today (for better or worse) without their genuine care and, at times, curious advice.

Prof. Charles Dickens lurking on the right

Perhaps preeminent among them, if for no other reason than my bewildered youth at the time, was Charles Dickens.

Yes, that was his real name.

Charles was my adviser at UK. On the Tuesday before my first year at UK, during the “advising” session required before classes began on Monday, Charles filled out my roster of classes (my input was restricted to an awed and tiny “ok”), and informed me that my part-time job at the public library wouldn’t impede my freshman theatre activities since they didn’t cast freshmen anyway…but that I should attend and participate in the Sunday auditions of the season’s opening show (which he was directing) for the experience.

I responded with another tiny; “ok”.

Monday morning, at 9:00, I attended my first college class (Physics: 101 – we learned to bend water with a comb) and was cast in my first show (“Playboy of the Western World”). I was slack-jawed that September at my Physics classmates (“Is that real water?”), and dazzled by my sometimes shabby but always quick cast mates in rehearsal. My path was clear.

That was in the fall of 1969.

In the spring, Charles cast me in his elaborate production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”. By then, I was a complete “gym rat” in the theatre. Every day began and ended in the Fine Arts Building; the Guignol Theatre, the Laboratory Theatre (now the Briggs), the Green Room, the Scene Shop, the Costume Shop…even an occasional classroom. I lurked in every rehearsal I could find.

Angelo, on the right, acting the hell out of it

During “Measure”, Charles was deep into his Peter-Brook-THE-EMPTY-SPACE period. I may have learned half of what I know about the theatre listening to him coach actors in these rehearsals. One night, Bill Hayes, a nice actor and UK alumnus brought in by Charles to play “Angelo”, paused rehearsal to question the meaning of the line; “Let’s write ‘good angel’ on the Devil’s horn, tis not the Devil’s crest.” Charles sprang to the stage and took Bill’s script and they pondered…and pondered… Finally Charles handed the script back to Bill with the profound instruction; “Just act the hell out of it.”

Just act the hell out of it?

I had fallen in love with Shakespeare with “Measure for Measure”.

I knew what that line meant!

I could say that line!!

I could change people’s lives with that line!!!

Trump would never be elected if I said that line!!!!

I swore if I ever got the chance…

Well, of course, having sworn, I did, 23 years later.

Me acting the hell out of it in 1993

In 1993, the uber-smart Ave Lawyer cast me as “Angelo” in her production of “Measure”. This production featured a remarkable cast; Eric Johnson, Sidney Shaw, Holly Hazelwood Brady, Laurie Genet Preston, Jeff Sherr, Joe Gatton, Glenn Thompson, Donna Ison, Karen Czarnecki, Spencer Christiansen… WOW!

I had my chance.

I said my line.

I acted the hell out of it.

I changed people’s lives.

I saved the planet…from something.

And dammit, Trump was still elected.

I got up the next day and went to my day job.