They will dim the lights on Broadway in honor of the passing of Hal Prince. Mr. Prince’s many achievements and his collection of honors will be well documented in many publications, and there will be tributes of all kinds in all media, to which I add my own small and oblique one here.
I never met Mr. Prince, but I knew him to be an extraordinary man of theatre, outstanding in his courtesy. I’ll tell you why.
Because he wrote back to me.
No fewer than three times.
Each time by return of post.
When I arrived in New York in 1999, I put up a one-man show in an off-off-Broadway space in the upper 50s on 8th Avenue.
Naturally I sent mailing pieces to as many industry professionals as I could find addresses for, while developing a monologue with which I hustled the discount seekers in Times Square in the manner of one of the too-many performers at the Edinburgh Festival. An excerpt would be:
“Nicole Kidman naked live onstage! – Not in this show, but it’s a matter of global importance that you see it tonight!”
Among the many postage stamps in which I invested, one was fixed to a postcard addressed to Mr. Prince whom I knew by reputation of course. He knew me not at all, not enough to distinguish me from a bar of soap.
Hal Prince wrote a personal card back.By return of post. Let me say that again.
By return of post.
He regretted not being able to see the show and he wished me well with it. This exercise was repeated three times. Each time, I confidently expected that he would file my postcards in the bin and ignore them. But no, each time a personal hand-written message came back with a polite regret and an explanation of his other commitments.
It’s difficult to convey how extraordinary this is. And what an outstanding example of good manners way beyond usual practice in theatre circles. For example:
When I graduated from the Central School in Britain some time back in the last millennium I wrote to each of the 120 repertory theatres in the country (of which about 30 remain). I filed their word-processed rote-replies under F.O.A.D.
I wrote to the head of casting at the RSC once a week for two years, eventually I was granted a general interview (not an audition, that never came), where the opening gambit was, “Now, have you written to me?”
How to describe this astonishing attention to detail from a man well known to be a workaholic and one of the giants of the business? And which, by the way was hugely encouraging to a struggling actor trying to come to notice.
Ink by James Graham, directed by Rupert Goold, has been an extraordinary experience. Not only because of the quality of the show itself, but also because of the unusually harmonious conditions backstage. I take the view that theatre people are good to live amongst and work with. We are mostly adaptable, flexible, responsive. The hunter-gatherer mode which any freelancer must come to terms with tends to dispose us that way.
When the Maharishi turned the Beatles on to transcendental meditation in 1967 (two years before Ink is set), he told the world that if 2% of the population practiced meditation, the crime rate would decline.
Our micro-society backstage at the Friedman Theatre, including the actors and technicians, comprises about 30 people. Of whom at least 6 are practitioners. The company also includes a couple of astrologers, a human-design aficionado, several martial artists, a few who espouse clean diet to a high degree, and, being New York, one can safely assume that many people have ventured into the nether world of psychotherapy.
In the micro-society that is the immediate performing company front of house, on, and backstage, we number approximately a 20% quota of woo-woo adjacent practitioners — in the wider context, including the creative team from London, and the hosting Manhattan Theatre Club, that percentage is perhaps somewhere between 4% and 8%.
My question then is; is this significant percentage of growth-path and metaphysical-awareness activity, in some way connected to the atmospheres in which we’ve been working? And my answer would be a tentative “Yes, I think so…”
I say tentative, because in these times when scientism demands empirical proof over common sense, a rush to certainty in what can be loosely termed questions of the woo-woo, is a mistake.
But say then… speculate with me… let us suppose that inner practice of the kind that has demonstrated outer benefits, has in this case at least helped to create conditions that facilitate agreeably civilized behavior and high quality creative work… all very well, but there is another necessary ingredient in the mix without which even the finest influences can dissipate.
That quality is leadership.
And here I begin a fan letter. Barclay Siff, our stage manager, has helmed the running of the show with an extra-dry-late-nite-radio-show confidence that puts his calls over the p.a. system into a deliciously unique category; his assistants, Kelly Levy and Kyle Birdsall, have been consistently cheerfully supportive and beautifully competent. One has felt at all times in expert hands.
And what can I say of my mates in dressing room X? We are 6 in number, between us we run the range of, at one end, coming young star-to-be, to seasoned old theatre-salt. there has been lively debate among us, and we have, I frankly admit, flirted with the behaviors and dialogues of a mens’-only smoking room, or do I mean tree-hugging drum-circle? We are fortunate in that we energetically intersect like the bricks of a Jenga stack, to the extent that I believe if castaway on a dessert island, most of us, perhaps all, (certainly so if we could replicate the ephemeral liquor cabinet to which we all contributed), would survive. Gentlemen, it’s been an honor to serve with you.
I could name each person in each department but then this post would become a book. To summarize: From the originating creatives of the project, Rupert Goold the director, and James Graham the writer, I’ve no idea if these guys are neo-Buddhists or some such, but they led in the most relaxed fashion while achieving detailed results; to the good cheer in the wig room, the detailed expertise of the dressers, the humor in the props hand-off, the friendly muscle of the crew and the welcome at the stage door. All this and more…
And special praise to our two co-stars, Bertie Carvel, and Jonny Lee Miller.
These boys have exemplified co-operation and camaraderie in a way that has unified the company – it’s no small thing to say that. When ego, red-in-tooth-and-claw takes centre stage, as can sometimes happen in theatrical companies (what a surprise?!?), then it’s every man or woman for themselves and good luck if you happen to well downstage searching for light. But when a couple of mature and disciplined performers can negotiate the demands of the job it sure makes a difference.
In summary: when there’s an emotional texture of possibility, then each person’s individuality can flourish. As I perceive it, each of us in this company in whatever job, has had the opportunity to occupy their particular niche in very agreeable conditions.
Which is a long way of saying: as we witness the moves to tyranny out there and all over the place. I suggest that regular practice of meditation, kung-fu, contemplative baking, introspective water-coloring, or any genuine right-brain method; is as valuable a political act as voting.
Oh, and the other thing that happened was that we had a singular visitor backstage one night, initials; R. M.