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Acting

Since the World Changed…

They closed the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street on Thursday 12th March, most of Broadway and off-Broadway following within a few hours. On Friday March 20th Hangmen was closed officially.

All that seems like a whole different long-time-ago time now. But then that’s what two weeks (today) of self-isolation can do for you.

Actors are no strangers to being chucked out of work and sometimes suddenly too. But even the most seasoned of us has never been through this. Well that’s not quite true. As I mentioned in my previous post they closed the theatres down at the end of the 16th and in the early 17th centuries due to outbreaks of plague. And stories abound of touring companies being abandoned in far-flung parts because the manager absconded with the takings. That was in the bad old days before there was Equity, the actors’ union.

That’s me and Pete Bradbury up there in the top right. Below is a picture of me ready to step in to the role of Harry Wade, one of the Hangmen of the title. Posted here by kind permission of the production ‘cos sadly, although the chances were slim of you actually seeing me in the part, now the chances are zero.

We were getting into top gear, both working on Broadway shows, my wife Trish in the acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird – which had recently played to 18,000 high school kids in a sensational free performance at Madison Square Garden – and me in one that on paper at least had all the hit ingredients. This virus thing is more than inconvenient. Just saying.

That’s Patricia Conolly with a dressing room selfie of Mrs Dubose.

So what’s to be done in this in-between moment? Well you can always read a great novel (or write one). The only Tolstoy novel I’ve read is Resurrection, so yes, maybe I will have a go at War and Peace… Or Moby Dick… or one of the longer Dickens…  The watercolors, the jig-saws, that coverlet you’ve always meant to crochet…

Talking of literature, P G Wodehouse can always be relied on for an amusing turn of phrase. Earlier today I came across this for example, “He uttered a sharp exclamation and gave a bound which, had he been a Russian dancer, would probably have caused the management to raise his salary.”

It may not look like much out of context and perhaps you had to be there, but it caused a lot of mirth in the Conolly/McPhillamy household to the extent that tense shoulders began to loosen and worry lines gave way to the creases of laughing smiles.

It does seem though that whatever you do, it really, really, REALLY is better not to go outside (except when deploying the newly minted social distancing for those essential journeys). So much so that this amusing little ballad – stop me if you’ve heard it before – seems now to be the summation of all wisdom currently available. (some vulgar language; viewer discretion advised).

I expect by now you’ve heard this one. But I’ll tell you again anyway…

Tweet: When Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague he wrote King Lear.

Answering Tweet: I don’t need that kind of pressure.

Tweet: And he did it without toilet paper.

Talking of Nostradamus. It seems unlikely that I’ll be doing any acting anytime soon, so now’s the time to focus on my side hustle – yes, that right ASTROLOGY. You can see my astrological two cents worth here, or check out the rest of the site at www.GalacticFragment.com, and if you’re interested, and I fully acknowledge that astro is not to everyone’s liking – sidebar here: at one time I was on a quest to have a sensible conversation with a scientist about why astrology works. I didn’t pursue this very far because the few scientists I met would start edging towards the door as soon as I mentioned the art of celestial interpretation. I never even got as far as asking them about the implications of the recently discovered sub-atomic particle, the neutrino.

Be that as it might, for the duration of the lock-down I’m offering a chart reading at the deeply discounted price of… pay-what-you-wish. If you’re interested email me at Colin@galacticfragment.com. Something different perhaps? After all, there’s only so much Netflix you can watch…

I hope you’re ok and that you have good supplies of rice, beans, and tinned fish – oh and loo roll!

Even this shall pass away!

Categories
Acting

In 1593…

In the 1590s they closed the theatres in London because there were outbreaks of plague. The longest period of closure was from February 1593 for about a year when Philip Henslowe (you saw his character in Shakespeare in Love, played by Geoffrey Rush) was made to close the Rose Theatre.

Theatre people are not strangers to sudden changes in the continuity of work, and yesterday as I’m sure everyone knows by now, all Broadway theatres were ordered closed on the authority of the New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo.

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Me on hearing the news

The Broadway community of actors, musicians and other performers, technicians, stage mangers, front-of-house staff, box office, stage door, cleaners; as well as agents, lawyers, designers, directors, choreographers, general managers, producers, publicists, critics, and others; as well as all the local auxiliary businesses – bars, restaurants – physical therapists … it amounts to several hundred thousand people in our immediate community, and of course the ripples will go far beyond that.

And what about the patrons from far and wide and all the $$$ they bring?

So; the usual personal question when a gig comes to a scheduled end, “Will I ever work again?”, when the hiatus – (no one has said it’s the end yet), comes as a shock, although somewhat expected, the question now becomes one for the global collective, “WTF IS GOING ON?!?”

Having said that: Hangmen was in previews, and performances of this truly fascinating play were going brilliantly. Let’s hope we can bounce back. Watch this space for updates.

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Acting

Learning the Ropes

Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known entertainment universe.

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In these “interesting times” where we live, now and then I get an intuitive confirmation of the impressive prescience of certain twentieth century novelists; my latest was olfactory. Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World – he sure was right about genetic engineering – but do you remember the scene in the book where there is a public protest? The authorities rock up and instead of laying about the populus with strong arms as in cruder locales, they merely pump “soma”, the happy gas, into the vicinity. And while they are doing it they play a soothing voice-over.

“Friends… friends… friends” croons the voice in a tone at once loving and mildly, fraternally, disappointed by the disharmony. The public is soon quieted. Today in real-world Manhattan the streets of midtown are filled with the sickly-sweet skunk-imitator scent of cannabis leaves burning quietly, and undoubtedly to some of us it brings a welcome oblivion.

Orwell was another one. He had it right too, the Big Brothers who presently rule territories East and West are watching you, and some are more equal than others, while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all (when a society seeks the Good above the True – it’s over) and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.

By the way, George Orwell wrote an at-close-quarters account of a hanging that happened in Burma (Myanmar) when he was a civil servant there. He was struck by how the condemned man side-stepped a puddle on the way to the gallows.

Along the side streets of midtown there are theatres. They cling to Broadway like barnacles on a submarine cable and claim its name. From them you may purchase entertainment.

Is there a difference between entertainment and art?

“Our job,” says a senior advertising executive to a colleague in the 1980s TV dramady Thirtysomething, “is to give people faith in their leaders, comfort in the purchase of consumer durables and security in the belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong.”

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Last week I joined the company of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. I stand by for Mark Addy, an actor of extraordinary calibre and absolutely outstanding in the role of Harry. The show previews Feb 28th, opens March 19th.

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And if you do see it, will it give you any somatic relief from the chafing-on-the-nerves challenge of being alive in these “interesting times”?

I doubt it.

The author, Martin McDonagh, is on record as saying he had no intention for a play-of-message as he wrote it. Even so, the show is confronting. It’s very funny. State-sanctioned murderous use of hempen weave – what could be funnier? But if you laugh, soon after you are likely to think “What kind of person laughs at this?!?

I’ll call that art.

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Acting

Nicely Busy

That young actress Patricia Conolly is back on Broadway, she gave her first performance as Mrs Debose yesterday in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with the new cast at the Shubert Theatre with Ed Harris now playing Atticus Finch. Tickets are available at mind-numbing Broadway rates.

I haven’t seen the show yet, but judging by the audience response as I heard the last few lines of the play from the stage door, it sounds as if the price of admission might be justified. Understand that I say this as one whose first theatre-going set me back about 30 pence (50 cents), not the mortgage it takes today.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, or as we say here in NYC, Off-Broadway, I am rehearsing LONDON ASSURANCE at The Irish Rep. I’m playing Sir Harcourt Courtly a character descended from a long line of fops. There’s a puff piece here where you’ll also see a picture of the wonderful Rachel Pickup playing the unforgettably-named, Lady Gay Spanker.

That’s Simon Russell Beale in the 2010 National Theatre production.

Sir Harcourt Courtly has been personated by such giants of the stage as Donald Sinden in the legendary 1970, West End and Broadway production, and Brian Bedford 1997, Broadway and Stratford Ontario 2006.

I worked with Brian Bedford twice. He was a master at light comedy. One time I backed him into a corner and asked him to tell me his secrets, “Brian!” I said, “How do you do it!?! I have to know!” Brian gave it a little thought in that slightly puzzled quizzical manner which was one of his comic modes and finally said, modestly, “Well I don’t really know.” He did know of course, but in common with others of unusual ability, he knew it wasn’t a thing to be discussed. Why? Because that’s not what it’s for. And nothing lets the steam out of the bottle before the soufflé rises so surely as casual talk – so I had to be satisfied by just watching him. Which I did. But if Brian wishes to whisper any tips to me now that he’s playing the great stages in the sky, he’s more than welcome.

Tix at the Rep will set you back a manageable amount and they are available here. It’s a holiday show. We open December and play through January and I hear there’s a nice advance, so please book soon if you plan to come.

A big shout out to two colleagues of Irish Rep fame, Mick Mellamphy and Tim Ruddy, two of the lads who were also in THE SEAFARER with me, Andy Murray and Matthew Broderick at The Rep a couple of years back.

Matthew Broderick and Andy Murray in The Seafarer at the Irish Rep 2017

Mick performs and Tim directs THE CURE, tix here, and for the price of a couple of pints. It’s bare bones, storytelling magic at its best. Mick turns in a virtuoso performance with nothing much behind him in terms of set. Doesn’t matter, not needed.

He takes you to Cork and back.

Categories
Acting

A Prince Among Men

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.

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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.

I think the phrase I want is: noblesse oblige