Blog #10

Salutations! This marks my final blog entry and end of my summer internship here at The Odyssey. Monday brings me back to Cal State Northridge for my final semester!

blog 10

At first glance, The Odyssey feels (and looks) like a humble, intimate theatre; but diving into behind the scenes proves that it is much more than that. The overpowering drive to create excellent productions, support for striving artists, wisdom and kindness of the staff and rich history proves that this theatre is truly special.  I’ve loved interacting with and listening to the stories from patrons who have been dedicated subscribers since the theatre’s inception.  I’ve met new friends, established connections and had a great time overall.

Working here for the past ten weeks has shown me how important it is to have a staff that bonds and works together well.  Many people often spend more time at their jobs than home so it is important that the work environment is welcoming and supportive. It is easy to see that people feel at home here.  I hope that one day I will be able to join a company that is as warm and inviting as the Odyssey is.

I can’t thank the LA County Arts Commission enough for providing me this opportunity. My advice to all the future LA County interns that will go through this diverse program: Ask questions, don’t be afraid of sounding stupid when you have an idea, soak in as much information as you can and be prepared to have anything thrown at you. Side note: These people really love their cupcakes over here. Like really love them. They bring lots of sweets. Be prepared to gain weight.

Blog #9

Welcome back to my blog! This blog is coming to a close next week, and I wanted to make sure that I provide a bit more insight into the philosophy behind the Odyssey, rather than my usual ramblings about what I learned this week. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Beth Hogan, the Odyssey’s Associate Artistic Director, and one of the staples that holds this theatre company together.

20140816_122624

The start of any generic interview usually begins with the question, “What is the hardest thing about your job/keeping this theatre afloat?” If you are not aware, the Odyssey is celebrating its 45th year, reigning as the oldest 99-seat theatre in Los Angeles. Mind you, Ron (Sossi) has been here the entire time as the main driving force behind this company, with Beth (Hogan) joining in the mid-70’s… very impressive.  One thing that is unique about this company is the fact that they operate three 99-seat theaters in one venue. Keeping those theaters filled with shows at all times can be quite a challenge, considering the fact that each production, cast, designer, director, performer, all have some kind of special need.

Beth informed me that there has been a huge shift in the theatre world from the time the Odyssey first broke onto the scene. During the early years, artists were flocking in from the east coast in hopes of making a bigger splash in the LA pond, rather than the over-saturated hot bed in New York. These artists were theatregoers who turned to the Odyssey seeking live theatre to escape from the frantic pace of television and film. During that time, the Odyssey was, and still is, a company that focuses on providing interesting, thought-provoking content rather than commercial successes. Nowadays, people are moving to LA in pursuit of film & TV careers… and theatre just isn’t as important to the new generation. Traffic, parking, erratic schedules and the fact that most people don’t work a 9-5 job are just a few of the abundance of obstacles that make it difficult to set aside the time to see a show.

My next question led to Beth’s final response, “Do you ever choose to do a show based on the fact that you think it will be a hit?” Beth’s response: “Absolutely not. That has never been our goal.”  In fact, Broadway Bound is a show the Odyssey wouldn’t usually do, not because of some elitist mentality, but because there is a certain expectation that accompanies a Neil Simon play. The Odyssey’s goal with each production, is to create a community of talented actors, directors and designers. When they heard that Jason (Alexander) would be on board along with longtime friend of the Odyssey, Alan Miller, the show came to life.  It goes without saying that having Jason at the helm has certainly helped with ticket sales, considering he is a well known actor & comedian – but that wasn’t the decision behind deciding to work with him. Alexander was in the original cast, has a sincere love for the script, is friends with several cast members and is a talented director. From an outside perspective, using a “name” could easily be perceived as a marketing gimmick, but this is clearly not the case.

The rest of our conversation was beyond insightful – ranging from the current state of LA theatre to the process of picking plays for an upcoming season. If you ever have an opportunity to converse with Beth, be prepared for a poignant, exposing discussion.

A Conversation with Allan Miller

Welcome back to the Odyssey. You are a regular around here.

It works out that I either act in a play or direct a play at the Odyssey every two years. Ron Sossi [Odyssey Artistic Director] and I have known each other, personally and professionally, since at least 1980. My wife and I used to run a small theater so we all knew each other in a circle of small- theater advocates.

You were onstage at the Odyssey a few years ago in another Neil Simon play.

Yes, The Sunshine Boys with Hal Linden.

How many of Neil Simon’s plays have you done in your long, storied career?

These are the only two I’ve done in production. I’ve done scenes in classes, of course. But only these two. I love Neil Simon’s plays. Broadway Bound is one of his most wondrous plays. It’s so personal, and yet it’s universal and poignant and pertinent. There’s something about his genre and something about the milieu that just stirs in me right away. I feel like I know these people. I fall into his rhythms so comfortably.

But in all of your years working alongside so many of theatre’s luminaries, you must have crossed paths with him.
When I saw Neil—I think it was at a gathering during Sunshine Boys—I reminded him that he and his brother used my family gatherings in the Bronx to try out their jokes. I was a little kid then. That’s where I first knew Neil. His family and my aunt and uncle were friends, and Danny [Simon, Neil’s brother] and Doc would show up and practice their jokes.

Jason Alexander has said that he believes that Neil Simon is often left out of discussions about our great playwrights, that he is underappreciated. Do you agree?
Absolutely. I don’t understand why three or four of his plays aren’t done every year. They are so catching, so funny and moving.

Simon is thought of as a comedy writer, but he does not shy away from his “sad moments.”

He may call his plays sad—and I do share a lot of his grief over the state of most people’s lives— but his writing is so full of curiosity. It’s not packaged or formulaic. He presents wonderfully written but spoken thoughts that people have had for centuries. This is about a family where the two younger sons are about to leave the nest. That’s something that any parent anywhere in the world faces.

You have a lengthy, tortuous history with Broadway Bound.
I do. In 2009 I was hired to do the Broadway production. It was supposed to run in rep with Brighton Beach Memoirs, which, of course, is about the same family. But they ran out of money. Not enough people came to see Brighton Beach Memoirs to help support Broadway Bound. We were in tech, and it was, ”Sorry, it’s all over.” New York was a great time except it never opened. Then La Mirada was doing it last year. I auditioned for that and got the part. I knew Ron [Sossi] was interested so I invited him to see the show, and he was very excited about it.

How did Jason Alexander become involved?

Jason is one of the best friends of Gina Hecht, who was in Broadway Bound at La Mirada. He came down to see us, and he was completely congratulatory towards us about our work. Quietly on the side he told us that, if the play went any further, he’d love to take a crack at directing it. He had some terrific ideas about it. So I mentioned to Ron about the possibility of Jason directing it. They talked together about what kind of a production it would be and worked out a schedule.

Jason, of course, has his own history with Broadway Bound.
He was in the original Broadway production [in 1986]. Jason loves this play and the people in it.

What does he bring to the show as a director who is an actor and specifically as an actor with such affection for this play?
The third day of rehearsal, I went up to Jason and said, “In my entire career of acting, I’ve had maybe eight really good directors. Today I’m adding a ninth.” Line by line, scene by scene, we’re discovering so many layers and levels in the writing that the relationships have grown into far more than what we started with. Most actors and most directors that I’ve worked with don’t know how to rehearse. But Jason is superb. We all adapted to his process, and he re-adapted to ours. He says there is no conversation in this play. Every character wants something and is trying to do something. He said, “I’m asking you on your own to figure out what your character wants to do or needs to do.” To be put that way that bluntly made everyone work. Sometimes we’ll say, “I’m a little cloudy about what you’re trying to do here.” He’ll open it up, and sometimes there’ll be an answer, and sometimes he and the actor will say they don’t know so someone will make a suggestion. It’s a great way to rehearse.

As universal as Broadway Bound is, it tells the story of young men in New York in a certain era striving for work in show business. Do you relate personally to this?
Jason has a family history like mine. Our parents all struggled with being responsible, yet still trying to have a life. Fathers who had terrible jobs that were demeaning and repetitive. The lack of financial resources—his family lived through it, my family lived through it. We weren’t the lowest poverty level, and yet the struggles were large. We all went to the movies and thought about the lives that we could lead. There are some wonderful scenes in Broadway Bound where Blanche has to address her wealth with a father like me who says he can’t enjoy the benefits of a society that makes my daughter rich and starves half the people in the country.

And yet your character gets a lot of the laughs here.

He doesn’t mean to be funny, but he’s funny. His timing, his thoughts about things. I identify with him. I can’t say anything my character does is something I actively do. But the pieces of it that are deep inside me in my heart and in my brain, where the convictions are, have to do exactly with what he’s talking about.

You’ve worked with a good deal of preeminent talent in your career. How do you feel about this company of actors?
This cast is terrific. It’s hard to make comparisons, but Jason has gotten such rich and full work from them with so many shadings of character. This group of actors is wonderful for me in its curiosity about what could this be.

As an accomplished actor and teacher and director, do you ever find yourself giving pointers or advice to the younger members of the cast?
If they ask me, I am forthcoming with suggestions. I don’t put it out there, but if someone is struggling with something, I have not been too timid. We exchange stories backstage about our careers, and some are about things that the young people are too uptight about. Sometimes an anecdote about a time I went through something like that might be helpful.

What do they ask you most often?

They want to get jobs. “What do I have to do to get a job?”

And what do you tell them?

Walter Brennan once said in an interview, “For a long shot, you do it big. For a medium shot, you do it medium. And for a close-up, you do it intense. But you always do it.”

Do you believe, like some, that a lot of LA theater actors are just hanging out, waiting for that great film role?
When I came out to California in 1975, the actors wanting classes were completely different than in New York. In New York they were interested in how you act a part and bring it pulsatingly to life. Most of the people out here were just hungry to get a job. I fell in with some actors who had been doing a lot of TV and were thrilled to be back on the stage again. There’s a saying: “On any given night on stage, you’re the boss. There’s no one holding you back. You’re the boss.”

You’ve played so many wonderful roles on stage, on television, in film. Which is most dear or most memorable to you?
The one that mattered most to me was playing Abe Burrows in Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been . . . ? It just felt so movlngly clear to me what this guy was going through, and how he was trying to survive this onslaught of malevolence got me. That was memorable and gratifying in so many ways.

What do you tell people who may not know Neil Simon’s work–and who have so many entertainment options–to get them out to the Odyssey for this play?
Broadway Bound is a moving, funny piece of material in which people’s desires to live good, full lives get all mixed up—just like us. What is it you really believe in? What is it you think you want? What makes a relationship work over the years? It is very touching and funny, and I never think of the characters’ lives as sad. I think of them as full, rich lives, bursting into new places their curiosities and adventures can take them. It’s an absolutely marvelous play for anybody anywhere because it is so universal.

Interview with Michael Herring – July 14, 2014

Blog #8: Publicity

Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

blog8

The reviews for Broadway Bound came in this week… and while some of them are raving that the show is a hit, others are a bit more lukewarm. As I have mentioned in previous weeks, in my opinion, the show is fantastic. This is a great example of how subjective art truly is. While I take away examples of altruism and life lessons embedded in the script, others might see generic sitcom material. Marketing for a theatre company is no easy task. A poor review from a local newspaper that is in high circulation can sometimes make or break a show. For example, look at “Bridges Of Madison County”. The show was brilliant, full of gorgeous music, Broadway stars and a decent book to back it – yet it closed before it even had a chance to reach the Tony Awards (Same thing happened with “Sideshow”.) My point being that press certainly helps sell tickets, but it does not define a show’s degree of excellence. With all that said, tickets ARE selling (our first two weekends are completely sold out) and patrons are loving the show. I have had the great fortune of learning how to put together a direct-mail campaign and market through social media, which in the future will help me spread the word about my own productions. Not only has this been an invaluable educational experience, but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by talented artists.

Speaking of being surrounded by talent… I helped with the Broadway Bound opening night gala – snapping photographs, escorting VIP guests and setting up tables of food (By the way, Beth Hogan starts cooking hours in advance to make sure everyone is fed. She does not get enough credit for the amount of work she does.) Jason (Alexander) also taught me a lesson behind the camera. Bottom line: Don’t count to three when taking a picture, just take it. The frantic rush of pulling in all the tables, wine and food when rain foiled our plans of an after-party on the patio was enough to get my blood pumping. I don’t know if I was prepared for all of the challenges that go into working a “simple” box office job, but I certainly have a good sense now of what it takes. Not to sound like a broken record, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with this amazing theatre company.

Blog #7: Dedication

Howdy folks!

meeee

This week has been crazy busy as we prepare for the opening of Broadway Bound tonight. I was fortunate enough to watch a preview on Wednesday night and I have gotta say that from a totally unbiased opinion, the show is fantastic. Even my Grandpa, who has seen numerous Broadway shows and theatre over the years, admitted that it was one of the best plays he has ever seen. While watching the performance, I noted the extreme dedication and commitment that all great productions possess. For example: the amount of work that the designers and carpenters put into building the aesthetics of the play clearly shows – it is gorgeous. The actors brought the energy hard from the second they popped onto the stage. The assistant directors put in countless hours, just for a chance to be a part of all this. I know that I’m forgetting some people but let’s face it – everyone who works in theatre is highly underpaid, but we are doing this for the pure love and magic that we all crave to see in a good performance.

So onto what I’ve done this week… I helped coordinate promo videos in the form of ‘meet the cast’ videos, which were published via social media and YouTube. Ran the box office by myself part of the time, which was completely frustrating at times, but in the end made me realize I could handle the onslaught of unique patron requests and accommodations. I have a newfound respect for every person who works in any role in this industry. It takes a special breed to get these various task accomplished, and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people here that want to make that magic happen. Until next week!