Yankees v. Red Sox v. Theater

I’ve heard the term “Theater Geek” many times but never attributed it to myself.  After all, I was a theater aficionado, a person versed in the performing arts, even a produced playwright.  But not a theater geek.  Last night I was at a New York Yankees game against the Boston Red Sox.  I enjoyed the game (the Yankees won) but my most memorable moment?  Twice during the game I saw on the “fan cam” billboard pictures of someone I swear was Oskar Eustis (artistic director of the Public Theater here in New York) and it was much of what I talked about.

I have never met Mr. Eustis, but am pretty sure I recognized him.  I am a big fan of his work at the Public and he is a prominent member of the NY theater community.  So even when I spend an evening in the audience of a sporting event I am focused on theater.  Sigh, geek I must be.

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The Fantasticks

I enjoyed another trip down The Fantasticks lane last night.  It is the perfect little musical.  I have always enjoyed this show.  I worried about long run fatigue and new actors just plugging along in a low audience backwaters.  No need to worry.  The cast last night was extraordinary, on their toes and giving 100%.  I was very impressed.

I first encountered The Fantasticks through the cast album as I started in the business.  I fell in love with the music.  The first production I saw was in a Tennessee summer stock that was doing both Carnival and The Fantasticks.  I was hired to provide the magic illusions and to teach them to the actors in Carnival.  I also provided some of the special effects for The Fantasticks.  Even though I was doing more work for Carnival I got more joy out of watching The Fantasticks.

When I moved here I made sure to see the show at the original Sullivan Street Theater before it was torn down.  I am delighted it has a home to keep performing in New York.  I hope more people come to see it (small crowd last night but it was Monday and the first presidential debate).  I love this script and music.

When I think about it, I was young enough to play the Boy when I first saw it but now only suitable for Mortimer!  How did I get so old and how did this show stay so young?

I greatly enjoyed the production last night.  Keep up the good work guys.

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A decade of writing

I keep a spreadsheet of all of the plays I have written and all the submissions made (of course I do).  Looking through it yesterday I realized that my first submission was made ten years ago and on August 31, 2006 I was told that I was one of three finalists, though another script was awarded the reading.

As I noted recently a reading of “The Zoo Story” by Edward Albee inspired me to explore theater as a career.  At about age 18 I decided that I could write a script and so tried two.  A one act was barely tolerable and a full length musical about teen age angst was terrible (Spring Awakening it definitely was not and my closing number was Mother by John Lennon.  I knew nothing about rights and that is a terrible way to close a show.)  I’d seen enough theater to know they were awful an put them in a drawer.

Ten years later I tried again with a play based on historical research I had done in West Virginia during a couple of gigs there as an actor.  Later it would develop into Coal Creek which has now Bloodletting in These Hills.  But the first draft featured a running debate between Mother Jones and John D. Rockefeller Jr. on the periphery of the story.  Maybe historically accurate but horrible theater.  Into the drawer.

Ten years later I tried again with what is now Daddy Will Be Buried Tonight (but was once The Willow Grove).  About the death of a southern sheriff and the family meeting just after.  A little better but dry and not up to snuff.  Drawer.

Finally, ten years after that, I had the thought to actually include the dead father into that script and try again.  I found a local group doing a competition which would offer a staged reading to the winner who’s deadline coincided with my finished draft.  They soon informed me that I was one of three finalists, though another script ultimately got the reading.  I was hooked.

Ten years later I find myself with 23 plays, 95 awards, readings or productions of those scripts and more in the works.  They have been featured in 24 states (and one finalist in the UK).  You can check them all out on http://www.walterthinnes.com (plug, plug, plug).  In those years I’ve made 465 submissions and more to come.  Doing the math, I have about a 20% positive response which is pretty good in this business.  Cannot come even close to supporting myself with this hobby, but I love the creative process and won’t stop now.  Let’s see what the next ten years brings.

Oddly enough I captured an image of me working on that play ten years ago.  Thought you might enjoy it…..

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Not fancy eats, but fun

Adding a topic to this blog.  Food.  My favorite topic.  Not only do I like to cook, but I certainly enjoy eating out.  There are innumerable options in this area and I’ll highlight some from time to time just to hear myself talk.

Today’s feature is notably low brow.  Accidentally ran across a New Jersey institution I just had to try.  While tooling along on Josephine I found White Manna Hamburgers in Hackensack, New Jersey.  A fun historic slider palace (though tiny – maybe a dozen seats).  The beef, onions and cheese were perfect on the potato roll bun and the pickles were perfect.  I was told by the local crowd there is often a line out the door but I got in no problem and hope to stop back sometime.  Highly recommended.  Griddle sliders that put White Castle to shame!  (I understand there is a differently spelled White Mana in Jersey City that was once related but now separately owned and managed.  Haven’t stumbled on that one yet.)  But do stop by in Hackensack and give them a try!

 

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Holiday Inn – the New Irving Berlin Musical

Escapism time tonight.  The glorious Irving Berlin songs from the original film. I never saw the movie but am told the script was pretty faithful to it.  I found the first part of the first act dragged with all the exposition, but hit it’s stride in the penultimate scene with “Slap the Blues Away” and kept rolling from there.  The performers were universally fabulous and the band was great.  Of course the music is astounding.  All in all it is a terrific evening and a way to certainly slap your blues away.

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Thoughts on two Manhattan Neighborhoods

Today 60,000 people flock to my little neighborhood to attend the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park.  It is always a fun day with lots of chain mail, damsels, and wizards walking through food stalls and craft merchants.  There are jousts, live chess games and many families trying to keep plastic swords sheathed.  I enjoy this day every year and hope everyone has a good time.  I am glad they get to discover our quiet gem of a park and our wonderful neighborhood.  I hope they get home safely and join us again next year.  Fortunately the people who run the event are respectful and leave the park as clean and beautiful as they found it.  Join us next year!

Meanwhile, last night in the neighborhood I travel to every day, Chelsea, where I work, was hit by one homemade bomb that injured 29 people and a second that failed to explode.  My office is just a few blocks from the explosion but no damage there, and as far as we know now, none of our employees were among the injured.  New York City is resilient and strong.  We will get through this.  I will be back at work bright and early Monday morning. So will most of the city.  I trust that the NYPD will track down this jackass.

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The Death of Edward Albee

I just got word of Edward Albee’s passing.  All Over.  It was discovering Edward Albee that propelled me to be part of the theater community, to focus my career in performing arts, a lifetime of passionate theater going and ultimately my interesting in writing new plays.

When I was in eighth grade our family moved to Wyoming, Ohio – just north of Cincinnati.  The high school there was nationally recognized and progressive.  They held an enrollment session as if it was college with different academic departments at separate tables in the gym where you went to sign up for classes and especially for electives.

In 1972 (I know, I’m old – do the math) I wanted to be either a broadcaster or politician.  I had it in my head I could speechify if I only had instruction.  So I was directed to a table for a class named “Speech and Drama.”  The teacher there, the great Karen K. Kramer, said unfortunately that there was only about 2 weeks of speech in the course and the rest was drama.  I considered moving on but she assured me that I would like it and learning theater would help my speech-ability.  I reluctantly signed up but assured her that I would only tolerate the theater part.

As I left the table she asked me to audition for the spring play because there was a part she thought I would be good in.  As a lark I agreed and was given the part of the “stuffed shirt” student politician in “Up the Down Staircase.”  I did OK and it was OK but didn’t change my life.

The start of my 9th grade year Ms. Kramer recommended that I sit in on a couple of seniors doing a “reading” (had never heard of such a concept) in a classroom.  There were two people wearing black turtlenecks on stools with music stands.  Very 70’s.  They did a reading of “Zoo Story” by Edward Albee.  My life changed in that half hour.  How in the world could two dudes sitting and reading so significantly impact me?  I was blown away.  That is the power of theater and a strong script (and two excellent actors).  From that moment I knew theater was for me.  I thanked Ms. Kramer for that and she just smiled.

I do not have a tenth of the talent of Mr. Albee, but his work changed my life.  I met him briefly twice at times when he was speaking, briefly said hello after and that was it.  I am deeply in debt to that man.  I love every play of his I have seen performed.  I am sorry he will write no more.  I am grateful for all of his life that has inspired me from the beginning.

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Your Turn to Watch Dad

I am delighted to report that my short play “Your Turn to Watch Dad” will be part of the 6th Annual Tri-State Theatre Festival by the South Street Players in Spring Lake, NJ.  There will be three performances: Friday, November 4 at 8:00 PM, Saturday, November 5 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, November 6 at 2:00 PM.

The South Street Players are a community theater that performs in a Methodist church.  “Your Turn to Watch Dad” is a ten minute play that has received a number of performance around the country and is certainly one of the most popular plays I have written.

The producers have asked me to attend to take part in their post-show discussions.  While I likely cannot be there for all three performances, I do plan to make one or perhaps two of the shows.

Always exciting to have one of my works selected.

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Matilda the Musical

Tonight I had the opportunity to see a performance of Matilda The Musical at the Shubert Theater.  It was special in very many ways.  I saw the return of Leslie Margherita to the show as it plays it’s last months.  It was Roald Dahl Day – what would have been his 100th birthday.  Plus it was simply a terrific show, still fresh, still vital.  They’ve posted a closing date of January 1, so see it before it closes.  You’ll be glad you did.matilda-the-musical

Marie and Rosetta; Small Mouth Sounds

Two off Broadway Plays today.

Marie and Rosetta is based on the real life partnership of Marie Knight and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Playwright George Brant has clearly done his research and brings together convincing interaction for the two woman cast.  Ultimately though the script becomes manipulative, explanatory and maudlin.  He did get me though, I was crying like a baby at the end.  The direction is effective and the two women band hidden behind a scrim does fine work.  Ultimately the piece is carried by extraordinary performances of Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis.  They and their voices carry the day.

Small Mouth Sounds at the Pershing Square Signature Center is astounding.  The performances, script and direction are amazing.  Six disparate people are on a weeklong retreat where silence is desired to find their true center.  It was an amazing experience and highly recommended before it closes October 9.  The staging is amazing and the performances are uniformly top rate.  Yes, there is dialogue and every line works, but the silent (or mostly silent) acting make the greatest impression.  Don’t miss this one