Friday, October 19, 2012

20th Anniversary Memories: Cat's Cradle and Tom Berger


Guest blogger Tom Berger writes about his memories of UTC61/Cat's Cradle.  Do you have fond memories/scathing exposés that you can write about on the occasion of our 20th anniversary?  Please, write them!
Tom Berger choreography in action, as Timothy McCown Reynolds, Darius Stone, Horace Vincent Rogers and cast get ready to perform the boka-maru
 It’s hard to condense my feelings about UTC61 into one document; it’s hard even to take a step back and think of my experience as a separate section of my life. The incredible artists I encountered, the brilliant texts and music I worked with and the overall experience was wonderful. But I think my main love of the company stems from the broader push for new ideas and inspiring debate that is the crux of its existence, and the heart of why it’s important to me.
                  I worked with Edward and Henry for many years and in many capacities but I suppose I have to pick one project, so it might as well be my first. An interesting ad popped up on Playbill; a company was looking for someone able to assistant direct, assistant music direct and possibly choreograph a musical adaptation of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. A strange combination of skills, to be sure, but I always say that what I lack in talent I make up for in versatility (in other words, why do one or two things really well when you can do nine or ten things mediocrely?) [EDITOR'S NOTE: Tom's contributions are far from mediocre]. I submitted, scheduled a phone interview with the aforementioned Messrs. Einhorn and Akona, and picked up the book. It was nice to return to Vonnegut after a long absence and, of all his work, I feel that Cat’s Cradle makes the most sense to musicalize, as so little of his work was linear in a theatrical sense.
                  I got the gig, and was plunged into a room with some of the most terrifyingly intelligent people I’ve ever met. It was an eye-opening experience for me; as much as I’d done some scrappy Indie theatre (and ran a not-too-shabby company myself for five years) and liked to think of myself as a fellow of intelligence and broad interests, I was in a room of brilliant and passionate artists, who truly knew from where they spoke (I personally just fake it most of the time and amp up the charisma). But even with the ridiculous IQ points around the table, they were always open to new ideas and made sure that everyone’s input was carefully considered. As I dove into contributing what little I could to Edward’s wonderful libretto and Henry’s scintillating music, I began to realize something shocking – I was not only being listened to when I feebly popped in my two cents, I was being actively solicited for my opinion by pretty much everyone in the room. I had been under the impression that they needed a musical theatre hack to fill in the blanks and I was there just to make with the dance-y / musical instrument-y stuff.
                  And the rest was history, as they say (or will be, I’m sure, when the annals of theatre history will be written and we’ll all be fondly remembered as pinnacles of the age; right? Right?). By what is most likely my wildly inaccurate ballpark, I worked with the company on something like eight or nine shows over the next couple of years, as well as helping to run the International Jewish Theater Festival of Ideas and joining the Board. The running joke in the company was “If Henry and Edward had a love child…” I can think of no greater compliment.
                  Your success as an artist is only the sum of what you’ve absorbed from the artists who have touched you. With UTC61, I found an artistic home away from home, brilliant collaborators who challenged me every day, pieces that juuuuust stretched me beyond my comfort level (in a positive way) and friends for the rest of my life. I hope that, via quantity if not quality, I was able to give something back to this amazing group of artists in breathless gratitude for everything they have given me. Happy Anniversary, Untitled Theater Company #61.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Many thanks, Tom Berger.  Hopefully more to come about Cat's Cradle soon, where we make a full length calypso musical with a cast of 20+ actors/singers/musicians!]

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