ADVENTURES OF AN ACTOR
THE CRUCIBLE-FROM THE BOARDS
PRELUDE TO A ROMANTIC COMEDY
CLIFFORD ODETS IS 100
1955 YOU ARE THERE' LETTER FROM MONKEY BLOCK
THE SIXTIES, NEVADA CITY, CALIFORNIA


ADVENTURES OF AN ACTOR
(Reprinted from the SF APWU News May-June 2005 issue. San Francisco Local American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO)

I stumbled upon stage acting about ten years ago when I took a class at SF City College called 'Labor Speaks, Labor Sings' in the Labor Studies department.  

We were to write and perform a day in the life at work.  I wrote of the P&DC and an old "Wobbly" (the IWW, an anarchist union formed at the turn of the last century) who I'd have coffee with after Tour 1, he spoke of the Great Depression. From that point on I was hooked. I think we actors share a simular story of finding the magic and inspiration that first grabs you and won't quit.

My father did the same thing. In addition to being in the public school teacher's union (NEA) he was also in the actor's union (Actor's Equity). It took me until my early forties to appreciate the same crazy life but now my father and I have at least something more to talk about.

Theatre is storytelling. Its cooperation, its a collective art form. The challenge isn't so much learning all those lines as presenting a situation, a performance fresh, new and alive after the thirtieth show.

I've played King Lear, Dr Faustus, Shylock in the 'Merchant of Venice', George in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', various roles in a Native American play called 'Black Elk Speaks', the homeless Vietnam Vet Lymon Fellars living in the redwoods in 'Redwood Curtain'. Sometimes you'll even see me as the Emperor Norton.

I'll never forget my father taking me up in the balcony of the Wharf Theater in Monterey where he performed in the early sixties. He said to me, "Bud" he said, "if you're on the stage you must be able to reach the person sitting in the back row of this balcony!" That was a huge theatre, 300 seats maybe (since torn down and rebuilt), especially to a seven year old. But for the audience in the balcony or standing within spitting distance, its something more than just to be heard. Its to present a new perspective, make sense of this complicated oddity called humankind. For the audience to truly hear, they need to laugh, they need to cry. Not always easy but one heck of a lot of fun.


THE CRUCIBLE-FROM THE BOARDS
(Reprinted from the APWU News September/October 2005)

1692. There are shames and shams in our soil. 19 people executed. 64 rounded up and imprisoned in the environs of their own community, Salem, Mass.  Call a crazy beggar a witch.  Crush a man until he admits he's a sorcerer. Try the slave from Barbados who's been caught practicing her Barbados magic ritual.

Witch trials and executions existed for hundreds of years before Salem in both America and Europe. Salem only stands out only because good people (judges, accusers), stood up and admitted to fraud. Sadly thousands of innocents lost their lives.

It is said that Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' is a depiction of the McCarthy era during the fifties when union leaders, screenwriters, scientists and others were tossed out of work for nearly a decade by one man and the U.S. Congress. The hysteria didn't concern 'devils' but 'communists'. The accused would "cry out" the practices, the possible influences, the "invisible crimes" of their friends or their colleagues or their enemies in order to save themselves.

We've opened 'The Crucible' at The Playhouse in San Francisco. Why resurrect this modern classic from 1952? 1692, under the Crown, landed gentry could scoop up another's land for non payment of taxes.  Between hard working farmers, some newer to Massachusetts, there were factions and divisions,accusers and the accused, divided at areas around Salem sort of like red states, blue states.

Theology poisoning good governance. Literature talks as fraud walks the pace of history, whether that be a
vacationing president or a president entertaining Iranian Mullahs, they keep their courts. Do our Vietnams really "fight the devil" (I mean every intervention since WWII) What about the Geneva Convention?

I play the Marshall,a poor soul required to arrest and execute his friends and neighbors. I'm a drunk and a shipwreck by the end. Come see! We're a fine cast with a transforming story, proud to employ three union actors (raises the quality of health and safety andthe quality of the production).



PRELUDE TO A ROMANTIC COMEDY

(Reprinted from the APWU News November/December 2005)

Comedy's not a norm for me. I see myself more tragic, exploring the dark and flawed sides of the human soul. Romantic comedy. My wife,Jeanie and I are once again on stage together. (Uncle Fred and Aunt Dorothy- we've never played husband and wife before).

Humor. An artist friend of mine in the neighborhood, 'momo', says humor is the "most subversive emotion".

In Stalin's day when one could be imprisoned or worse for critisizing the Soviet system or their fearless leader, the issue could be raised effectively by the telling of jokes. The verbal blasting of Joe Stalin could infect the entire Soviet Union because you just can't squash humor. But we're in a free country so, why comedy? Do we allow ourselves to be cordially chastised by a problematic situation challenging the normal state of things only to be an observor of our own kooky fishbowl? Laughter's an orgasmic elation.

Comedy restores our humaness. The word 'prelude' is also defined as an introduction to a musical composition. 'Prelude to a Kiss' is the name of our play. Its actually the prelude to a marriage when the unmistakeness of the other, the love that seems undying, the joy that two people can share makes for the proposal of marriage. An old man, riddled with lung cancer and psrosis of the liver wonders into a wedding reception, kisses the young bride and -zap- exchanges souls with her. Suddenly "puppy, puppy" as a pet name isn't so endearing to the groom. The politics are different, things have changed. "Nothing was wrong exactly", says the groom, "but nothing felt...nothing felt".

We're here to turn things on their head, us actors in a comedy.  If we're doing our jobs well you'll laugh and live theatre will pleasantly take you out of your routine, make you laugh at yourselves maybe. Here magic happens, a magic particular to the stage in my opinion and love wins this time and love lasts. "Nothing to lose. All you've got to do is want it. Bad enough..."

Come see us at the SF Playhouse, a union shop once again with two excellent Actor's Equity actors.


CLIFFORD ODETS IS 100
(Reprinted from APWU News May/June 2006)

The playwright Clifford Odets would be 100 this year. This means there are revivals of his plays across the country, Broadway and Washington DC in particular. A dramaturgy is presented with the problem of relevancy. Depression era, post-WWI plays, part of the ‘Group Theatre’ were deemed to present socially significant contemporary plays and to create an artistic theatre. “Propaganda” for lefties in the thirties? These were desperate times. At performances of Odets ‘Waiting for Lefty’ audience members would jump out of their seats and return to performances over and over just to shout “Strike” in unison with players playing cabdrivers at the end of the play. ‘Waiting for Lefty’ was in fact used for solidarity material at some factory gates.

So along with a bunch of other innocents Odets gets drawn before HUAC, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the fifties. Get the Reds out. Odets was a Communist Party member for less than a year. Quit because he couldn’t devise his scripts for ideological purposes. “I am against war. I am against Facism. I am for a third party.” he told the witch trials. They let him off.

Odets enamored us with that part of the American dream of rising above adversity. We see Frank of ‘Golden Boy’ climbing to the top of the boxing ladder to fame and fortune using his own wits, might and determination, ruining his hands and his father’s dream of his son becoming a concert violinist. Odets also clawed at the middle class. In ‘Rocket to the Moon’ a dentist caught out on the edge with his assistant returns to his old life where wife is business manager and “everyday is Monday”. Let’s hope the husband finds something on the weekends or pokes around in the ashes for some kind of spark with his wife.

“ Say it in the movies, Joe-they pay Clark Gable big money for it.” Act 1.1 ‘Waiting for Lefty’. Odets was said to take pokes at Hollywood movies which at the time were jam packed with escapism for desperate times. People were known to buy tickets for the movies during the Depression moreover food for the family. If Odets were writing today he might be referring to video games and the vast playland of the Internet, or the fact that the vast majority in line at the Post Office have neither a book or newspaper.

Clifford Odets was part of a movement during the thirties which went about making art and theatre more relevant and politically astute. Harold Clurman, founder of the Group Theater of which Odets was involved, wrote of these artists as “representatives of something astir in the country, something bigger than the art world- life in America itself.” American theatre since has placed itself squarely in topics of controversy and relevance. ‘Hair’ brought the nudity and the hippie revolution to the stage, ‘Equis’ the nature of violence, and ‘Angels in America’ the AIDS epidemic. What is theatre or art for that matter here for? Stir up the emotion obviously, make us think, make us question, possibly take action. Odets lives.

1955 YOU ARE THERE' LETTER FROM MONKEY BLOCK
(Reprinted from North Beach Aquarium September 2006)

Tex knew how to sling those records. His music'd make us happy or sad. All kinds of music, all day long. Hank Williams, Bill Haley and his Comets, Billy Vaughn, Bessie Smith, from gospel to Mexican mariachi music. Music to work by. The day has a mood and he'd play to the mood, he'd sort of dig the tempo of the people waiting in line and play maybe Frank Sinatra for some beautiful secretary or patriotic songs, Christmas songs or "jazz" or "bebop". Most people loved it and he had a stack of records. Some days business would be slow and the Italian would get out his mandolin and I'd get out my guitar and Tex would play country and we'd try and play along. Well, one day, we're slow and we're playing and then we get this line of people but we're playing this country or trying to play this country and this square in a bowler starts rapping his cane, rapping his cane says, "I want to speak to your Supervisor!" Tex rips off the record and me and the Italian stop playing and Tex says "Supervisor ain't here!" Glares at the cat in the bowler ands slowly puts that record on at the beginning. That darn line of 15 people had to wait until me and the Italian were done trying to play along with the Carter Family while Tex stands there with his arms crossed staring eye to eye with this cat in a bowler and a damn cane. I sure can't play the guitar very well but the Italian is good on the mandolin everyone in line at the Post Office line clapped when we was done. Well, that old buzzard wrote the Postmaster. I was already in a heap of trouble for setting fire to a trash can with a cigar. Boss Henderson appears with the PO police and the nurse. Tex swears to high heaven. Boss Henderson says, "Tex, you can talk all you want but that profanity's gonna get you in trouble." he says this while he's lighting a big fat cigar and they'd just finished putting up the NO SMOKING sign. We're  packing up musical instruments. But before Tex packs up his harmless record player he plugs it in elsewhere in the Post Office. Blasts out with ' Sing, Sing, Sing ' by Benny Goodman. Blackie the lefty poet comes in the next day, he works around there. "Where's all the music man?" "Man, like..." and we told him the story. Blackie says, "Man, you got to ORGANIZE!" he says. I like blackie. He's crazy in a good way but he's crazy. " This is the US Post Office, blackie" He wants me to call my country people and my gospel people and Tex call his jazz people and get them to play you-know-where. I left the square there when I got the second job swamping the theater. Its quiet now down at the monkey block, I mean its quiet with no music. The Italian is still learning English, mostly from the secretaries they send to the Post Office, says stuff like "Signorina, ha gli occhi da fata!" (Miss, you have fairy princess eyes), laughs at everything because he's so darn happy to be in America I guess. Tex is simmering but his mood gets better as it gets closer to Friday. I'm not telling any of my friends from the square up there to 'bring back the music' to monkey block, no way. Me, I've got my science books, my guitar and Jesus.

- Sax.

THE SIXTIES, NEVADA CITY, CALIFORNIA
(Reprinted from North Beach Aquarium May 2007)

Mom and I would put the Chronicles in the Wagoneer and drive up the road to Bev and Dick's.

Even as a kid I wondered how one read a week of newspapers late. But then again how could one live 5 miles out of town without a car? Bev and Dick Hackett did. She was wood blocks and wood block prints. Beverly's were accurate animals with spirits d'vivre. He was oil paintings, Nevada City whores of the fifties, vibrant landscapes. He and Mom and friends would go out painting and he'd sometime describe the odd absurdity of watching landscapes through a Wagoneer window. Noontime. Small two story red house on a steep hillside. Hundred year old bottles, packed into the hillside would keep that red dirt hillside up. Hackett greets us in his oversize Levis never washed so they had that crisp new 501 Levi look but covered in oil paint and dirt. The back porch and part of the living room a smell I'll never forget of permeated oil paint and linseed. Whiskey mid day, cigarettes, he'd always had stories for Mom and I, and photographs. Here was San Francisco during the thirties. Chestnut Street. A brochure of the Art Institute from the thirties. Dick and Bev, living in Sausalito. Sunday picnics. Stealing fruit from the fruit markets at what is now Jackson Square, Depression times. The parades down Market Street in Rube Goldberg type contraptions, drinking and drinking and carrying these huge floats. Figure drawing took place in the upstairs windows of the Institute seen from Chestnut. He'd describe this model who would take breaks out on the little Italianate balcony with not much on. She knew she was something to look at and she'd take these long breaks. One day they locked her out, fog rolling in. Har, har. And what about the manican they'd place next to a tool kit with high heels and stockings on? In those days if you lost your bearings in low gear going up Chestnut Street you'd be rolling back down hill, steering backwards and and trying to break. Har, har.

The last time I visited Hackett when he was in good health was back in the eighties when I was photographing his paintings for record. We'd go to his "office" afterwards, a bar on Broad Street, Nevada City. He introduced me to Dan O'Neill creator of 'Odd Bodkins' there. We whiled away the afternoon.