Whether as a director, actor, or designer, there is no moment to compare with walking into an empty theater with an empty stage, just one “work light” glowing, the ghosts of past performances and the overwhelming excitement of the performances yet to be created.
That excitement filled me when I walked into a dark theater at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London as the first student in the history of RADA to be allowed to study directing as well as acting, or years later in the Teatru Manoel in Valetta, Malta, off the coast of North Africa, the oldest theater in the British Commonwealth ablaze with gilt boxes in three tiers coming clear onto the stage, where I would play the most difficult role of my career as Thomas Mendip in Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning. When directing and teaching at the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theater Arts it didn’t matter whether the space was a tiny Balcony Theater or the Mainstage, the excitement was the same. The thrill standing on the back lawn of George Bernard Shaw’s home in Ayot-St.-Lawrence knowing that in a few hours that lawn and garden would be the setting for my “Tarleton” in Shaw’s Misalliance. Directing the inaugural production for White Oak Theater in Carmel, or Actor’s Alley Equity Workshop in Hollywood, or creating the Pasadena Theater Company… each is the excitement of unknown things to come.
In An Ideal Husband (playing at the FAC Oct. 8-24), I play the butler “Mason.” From the script I get an idea for a “Mason,” a butler in that place and time who can truthfully speak the playwright’s words. From there, any success of my character will be largely due to the skill of the Director in blending the creative talent of all the actors and staff. The Set Designer gives Mason a place to come to life; the Costume Designer an outfit which tells of Mason’s movements; the Lighting Designer light and shadow to communicate mood and moment; the Sound Designer adds the birds and bells which complete the setting; the Stage Manager smoothly coordinates every activity; and the House Manager provides a venue without distraction, preparing an audience to step into a new time and place, to believe in, to share in, and to delight in An Ideal Husband.
As I watch the brilliantly talented fellow actors rehearse, I know the production will be outstanding. And I hope my “Mason” will also be to your liking.