Friday, June 28, 2013

20th Anniversary Memories - Eddie Goes to Poetry City

An additional memory. Jenny Mercein was in a number of UTC61 shows in the late 1990's... Here are her memories of the first, Eddie Goes to Poetry City. George McGrath, pictured left, a veteran of many UTC61 productions, recently passed away.
George McGrath and Stephen Waldrup in Eddie Goes to Poetry City
There's a Picasso quote that goes something along the lines of, "I spent my childhood trying to paint like an adult and my adulthood trying to paint like a child." Or something like that... In any case, when I think back to doing Eddie Goes to Poetry City with Edward Einhorn and UTC61, that quote comes to mind. Oh my goodness, we were so young and SO FEARLESS! I had worked with Edward on one small ten minute play when he asked me to do this Richard Foreman play at NADA. I studied Foreman in one of my theater studies classes in college, so I jumped at the chance.When I learned of his concept that I would play both Marie and Estelle, I didn't bat an eye. Sure, I would have to get in a fight with myself and slap myself on stage. Sure I'd have to simulate sexual acts in a tiny basement theater with my parents in the audience. Why not!

Julia Martin and Jenny Mercein in another
UTC61 production, Sweeney Agonistes
Edward (and Ian Hill and so many other of those wonderful collaborators from the early days on the Lower East Side back when Ludlow Street and the surrounding areas were filled with theaters and not fancy restaurants) asked me to do all sorts of crazy things and I just did it. We all did. Maybe we were too young and inexperienced to question whether or not we "could" or "should" make such wild choices. We just went for the ride. Edward cast some wonderfully fearless actors, especially the late, great George McGrath, who taught me lessons that continue to resonate today. Now, when I get scared confronting a role, or I find myself in my head judging myself, I try to think back to those days in the (yes, rat-infested) basement at NADA with Edward and the crew and just go for it! Marie and Estelle would expect nothing less.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

20th Anniversary Memories - more Fairy Tales of the Absurd and a treat...

This is the final memory in the series. You can also read about this show in the blog post by Uma Incrocci. Please join us at the 20th anniversary party on Sunday! 

Ian Hill, Peter Bean, John Blaylock, Celia Montgomery, and Uma Incrocci
In 2004, I brought Fairy Tales of the Absurd Off-Broadway. The show consisted of three one-acts: To Prepare a Hard Boiled Egg, a monologue by Ionesco, translated by me, and performed by Peter Brown. Tales for Children, based on short stories by Ionesco, adapted by me, translated by Karen Ott, and performed by Celia Montgomery, John Blaylock, and Uma Incrocci. And finally One Head Too Many, written by me, and performed by all of the above plus Ian W. Hill. It was a children's play, with actors and puppets and an absurdist sensibility that appealed equally to adults. It originated in the Ionesco Festival, played the Fringe, and then moved Off-Broadway.

Every time I told theater veterans that UTC61 was going Off-Broadway, they had one piece of advice:

Uma Incrocci, John Blaylock, and "Josette"

The budget you have is unrealistic, they told me. I had raised over $60,000, but they told me it would take $200,000 at least. For a four week run, with five actors, in a 160 seat theater, with an Equity agreement. Not possible.

I would probably give someone the same advice myself, now. But at the time, I ignored it. The Pearl Theater was giving us a good deal on the theater. Since we had done the show in the Fringe, and before that we had done pieces in the Ionesco Festival, rehearsal time would be at a minimum. I had an almost free rehearsal space in my brother's building. My talented assistant, Glory, had found me a crack team of interns that would handle all the little stuff. I was going to ask every friend I knew to volunteer to help. And I myself was planning to take on as many jobs as possible: director of the whole evening, writer of one play, translator of a second, adapter for the third, producer, general manager, company manger, production manager, chief marketer, chief worrier.

John Blaylock. Uma Incrocci, and Celia Montgomery
When it was done, we had put up a full production that felt like Off-Broadway. We had done it on budget. We had received a rave from the Times (twice, actually, including the children's section review from Laurel Graeber), and nothing but good reviews all round.

We also often played to houses that were only a quarter full. And many publications waited till the last week to reserve, then realized there wasn't time to go to print. We lost a lot of money. I worked nonstop for months, and felt so exhausted I couldn't move.

I saw my show on the board of TKTS. I got some of my actors into Equity. I brought the people who I had been working with for years through the Off-Broadway process.

And it was a damn good show.

It was worth it.

Post script, of sorts: A special treat. When we were doing The Ionesco Festival, Peter Brown (he was Brown then, since he wasn't in Equity yet), traveled from theater to theater doing the monologue I translated, To Prepare a Hard Boiled Egg. It had never before been translated into English, and it remains one of my favorite little Ionesco bits. You can hear him here, in this audio recording: