Monday, March 14, 2016
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I realize that it is his manic, higher voiced, crazed and almost cartoonish--yet with flesh and bone--characterization that has influenced so many of my own theatre and radio interpretations. Oh, my!
In 1971, my second theatrical involvement in Santa Barbara, following the anti-war City College production of BURY THE DEAD, was DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY. Put together by the husband & wife team of Chuck Wilson and Marcelle Nadeau, under their Zodiac Associates Production company, AKA ZAP, the show was presented at the Cabaret Theatre in the Timbers Restaurant, located north of Santa Barbara off Highway 101. Directed by a lovely man, H. Gordon Chaves.
Somehow, I found myself with the role of Igor--really the character Renfield as portrayed by Dwight Frye in this pre-Mel Brooks YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN musical spoof.
It was a truly fun show. A great comic part for me to relish. The best comedy part I had done since leaving Southern California theatre groups and moving to Santa Barbara. In those days, I did George S. Kaufman type shows like YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (playing the Russian ballet instructor), THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC, SLICE IT THIN and the forerunner to LOVE RIDES THE RAILS, another melodrama HE AIN'T DONE RIGHT BY NELL. The wonderful Santa Barbara City College Theatre Drama Department Head, Director and Instructor Max Whittaker had helped the production in some way and he had previously cast me in the serious show, BURY THE DEAD. I'm convinced that after seeing DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY, he gave me my second most favourite comedy role in the aforementioned LOVE RIDES THE RAILS.
(Mr. Whittaker also cast me in the serious production THE NIGHT THOREAU SPENT IN JAIL prior to RAILS. I mention this only to point out my schizophrenic idea that I was both a SERIOUS and COMIC actor. I still vainly thought at times I was David Hemmings, David McCallum or Terence Stamp sometimes; Peter Cushing or a shorter Christopher Lee other times; or Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness, Terry-Thomas or a British satiric character actor out of a Tom Stoppard play the rest of the time. If I didn't stop affecting English and U.K. actor and pop star theatrics in my daily appearance and attitude, I would on occasion, revert back to my Orange County childhood roots and become Ernie Kovacs, Stan Freberg, Steve Allen and every character from MAD MAGAZINE. Only in my *AHEM* 'mature' years would I attempt to master the Arcane Art of blending the Serious into the Comic. Often with musical accompaniment.) :)
Speaking of music, the show was called DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY. Now, egotistical as many think I am, I have NEVER claimed to be a musician, Much Less...a SINGER! Yet, that was what was asked of me to do in this production. How is this possible? It has often been said, that Fear of Speaking In Public is GREATER (!) than Fear of Death. DEATH scares the fecal bits out of me, but I have never had Stage Fright. Never. Don't know why. However the concept of singing a straight song in public does. Can't do it. For the most part, I really hate musicals. I used to loudly criticize Santa Barbara Theatre Groups for endless productions of OKLAHOMA, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, CAMELOT, CAROUSEL, MY FAIR LADY and so forth. There was a thing called Youth Theatre that all the acting students did in the Summer. They knew it would maybe, probably lead to a professional career in film and television, as many alumni had. I was a snob. I wouldn't have any part of it. Where was the adventure? Where was the innovation? There was a world of exciting new theatre out there. Stoppard. Osborne. Pinter. Bennett. Miller, Jonathan from England, even Arthur from the U.S. If you are doing chestnuts, how about Shakespeare? Or Moliere? Or Marlowe? But Cover My Anus, Annie, not another F*#&^%G production of LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE!!!
But I digress... I'm in a musical. I hate singing. I will be the recipient of an award for Best Male Singer for this thing. How is this possible? Simply by being in a character. If I had to be Guy Guden thinking he was Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis, or worst of all, thinking he/I was Guy Guden, well, new horizons in loss of bladder control. But singing, if you can even remotely call it that, as Renfield, fly eating lunatic of Count Dracula? A love song, no less. And to pretty young girls in the Cabaret Theatre audience? Yeah, that doable.
This leads me to another slightly egocentric aside regarding performance. I always hate it when actors say they NEVER watch their work. "Oh no," sez big film star. "I never watch my films." Well, then why in the Hell should we? If you think your work is crap, or flawed to the point of repulsion, why should I pay twenty bucks for it?
Here it comes: "I really like my work." In fact, I LOVE it. Now let me attempt a veil of mock humility here, by saying: I always do things to make me laugh first. I am the audience I want to please, the critic I want to impress. This is probably pompous and most possibly arrogant, but it is the absolute truth. It has to make me happy first. Then I can believe it is my best. And I always like to try new things. Take the levels higher. Explore more than the Double Entendre. The Triple Entendre. I'm currently embarked on the Octo Entendre. If it works for others, I'm terribly pleased; thankful. If not...I won't water it down. Polish it up, yes. Make it predictable? Never. This is most likely why I linger more on the shores, than being in the mainstream.
I do understand the discomfort actors have with watching themselves. It's not liking what you see as the real you, as opposed to the characters you play. I admit I enjoy listening to recordings of my show SPACE PIRATE RADIO. And I admit that my least favourite part of the program is the beginning. Being me, telling the listeners what's coming up on this morning's show. But once after the Dracula opening: "Listen to them! Children of the Night! What music they make!" (English or Spanish), and a dozen or so characters emerge in the musical mix...I am the show's number one fan.
Anyway, DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY was great fun, with a great cast, crew and director. Tom Zeiher was the Count, and he was super. A handsome lead going silly. In many ways better than a Cary Grant and perhaps better than George Hamilton in his Dracula spoof, LOVE AT FIRST BITE. His wife Barbara Zeiher was also in the cast, a Carol Burnett type comedienne, also top notch. Two professionals I had the pleasure of working with a number of times in those Golden Santa Barbara Theatre years. They both were involved in my TV comedy CRACKERS AT EIGHT in 1979. And they were kind enough to offer me a directing job of NUNSENSE, which I had to turn down because the play wasn't the kind of comedy I felt I should do. I was saddened to hear of Barbara's passing in 2007 and Tom's last May, 2015.
Lovely people and wonderful theatre memories.
Doing stage plays can be such magic. The moment is such an event. But unlike film, that can capture an image, a moment frozen outside the event, it's ethereal. Gone. A memory, lasting hopefully. But gone nonetheless. How glorious it is to savor that moment.
"Look at his eyes. Why the man's gone crazy!"
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
White Russian? No. More a Dirty Grey. Tsarist? No. I've never been Tsar Struck. Childish, maybe. A Cereal Bowlshevik. If the Proletariat never graduate, aren't we really the Amletariat? Well, these are questions only the Great Thinkers can debate. As Tolstoy once said, "Tell them, I'm not at home." And no truer words were spoken. Well maybe once before. When Dostoevsky pondered, "Why must they always put starch in these collars?" Only the Chinese Zen Launderers have the answer to this. And we're not going there.
But then again, it does come back to shirts. Observe the ones in the photo. The one on the Left, always the Left, the original flag bearer for that hotbed of radical thought, SPACE PIRATE RADIO. Those subversive broadcasts, attempting to block the signals of RADIO FREE AMERICA. The sounds of anarchy. CAN rather than the Mike Curb Congregation. AMON DUUL II instead of Barry Sadler. Disgraceful. A blow to the Free Market. And that shirt came out in the Seventies! Wearing it in public was a risk to the listener's safety! Way before Soviet was Chic. And Safe. After the Wall came down. But Walls will be built again. Mark my words. Something to look forward to. Who REALLY likes Mexican food?
And the second shirt? A commemorative Anniversary for a decade of the Godless Program, tied in with the Corporate Overlord broadcaster. A poorly shielded attempt to make the Secret Socialist Agenda appear as a playful product. WE WEREN'T FOOLED. We have Think Tanks for this. Even a Chancellor for Hell's Dale College.
But all this has changed, sort of. The Oligarchs are on both sides now. It is no longer a difference in ideologies. It's just good old competition in the Free Market. Really, it has always been this way. Business as usual, nothing personal. Empire is he who controls the commodities and all governments are basically wired this way. Climate change may cause deadly global warming, but the Cold War will always have the air conditioning on. Bush One headed the CIA. Putin headed the KGB. No difference We are all brothers under the skin. "Spook softly, and carry a big stick."
Dig the culture, man! Mother Russia. Step-Father Amerika. We have Stoli. You have Jack Daniels. We make trade, yes? And we share the arts. The muzik. We rock out to the sounds of '80s band The Polizei with Stingski. "Roxanne! You don't have to call out the Red Brigade! Roxanne!" Ah, they don't write tunes like that anymore.
And if we must point out that electronic muzik played on SPACE PIRATE RADIO, should we not mention Comrade Leon Theremin? The inventor of that really cool antenna sound machine, heard in such films as THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and on those great lounge LPs of the '50s. Progressive, forward thinking and truly, out of this world.
He also invented bugging devices. Perhaps with persuasion. But still. Tiny little things. Tiny little things that LOVE to hear what YOU have to say. That shows real caring: Someone is listening.
DOS vidaniya. :)X.