“Never mistake activity for achievement.” ~John Wooden
Boy, have I been busy! A lot has happened since my last blog. As a matter of fact, I am two days late with this blog.
I want to begin by writing about three outstanding shows I've seen the last two weeks, a show I did yesterday, and some exciting news I have to report.
As I've written before, I consider myself lucky that I have a wealth of LIVE shows to choose from every day here in NY.
I wish I had the ways and means to see more, but I've seen some very impressive shows lately.
As most of you know, I have been very involved with promoting The Dr. Carol Channing-Harry Kullijian Foundation For The Arts over the past several years. The goal is that EVERY KID in America be exposed to the arts in our schools. When budget cuts are made, the arts is ALWAYS the first to go.
Winston Churchill once said, "If we're not fighting for the arts, what are we fighting for?". I was reminded of this twice this past week.
(Pictured: Samantha Rehr as Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT at Weston High School)The first was a production of "AS YOU LIKE IT" at Weston High School in Weston, Ct. I know that some of you would rather have bamboo shoots placed under your finger nails than go to a high school to see a high school production of Shakespeare. But trust me, this production was superb! I have been following these kids, most particularly a young actress named Samantha Rehr (remember that name, she's going to be a STAR!), for two years. I first became familiar with this high school when I read on line that they were seeking out costume pieces for a production of "HELLO, DOLLY!" I contacted Helen Story who was in charge of costumes. I explained who I was and that I had a few pieces (including the Dolly headdress) that I would donate to the production. We arranged for me to go to the school to donate the costume pieces and for me to speak to the cast. I had a blast! I spoke about the show itself, Carol Channing, the historical time frame of the show, and the importance of arts in education. I went on to get Samantha and Damion Long, the director, on AT THE RITZ, Jeffrey C. Williams radio show in Connecticut. Patty Gay, from The Connecticut Times, did a fabulous article on me. I said to Patty at the time that if I could return the favor in any way, to let me know.
She said she would like to interview Carol Channing. I called Carol and got her the interview! Carol even wrote a nice note to the school for the program. I am happy to report that the show was a SMASH. I LOVED IT! I even had Samantha sing at The Iguana. Debbie, Samantha's mom, has thank God, kept me in the loop. So last Spring, I went to see Samantha as Heddy LaRue in "HOW TO SUCCEED..."
Incredible acting and direction from ALL involved. And that brings me to AS YOU LIKE IT which I saw last week. Samantha played Rosalind and again, I was blown out of the water by her performance. Their Spring show next spring is ANYONE CAN WHISTLE. I'm rooting for Samantha to play the Angela Lansbury role. Samantha is now submitting herself to colleges for a great drama education and ALL of us will be better for it. Kudos to all the kids involved both on and off stage and from the support of the community. A classic example of the importance of arts in our schools!
This past Friday night, I went to see The Laramie Project at Nyack High School here in Rockland. I had been reading a lot about this particular production because of the impending protest from Phelps' church in Topeka, Kansas. (They didn't protest in the end). Because I had a friend coming in Friday night for dinner, and because I was seeing Liza Minnelli Saturday night (more about that later), and because of my appearance yesterday, The Laramie Project was not on my radar. Then I got a call from my friend Katherine McKenna.
Her daughter was appearing in the show and she would love for me to see her. I called my friend that was coming over for dinner (who was now bringing a friend) and asked if they would like to go. I stressed that it was a high school production and that I could not vouch for the quality of the production. Since none of us had ever seen The Laramie Project, we decided to go. We ALL were glad that we went. What a cast! What a show! And boy, did I cry. How important is this show right now with all of the recent reports on teen bullying and gay related hate crimes and suicides. My hat is off to the Nyack Drama Club and Joseph J. Egan for having the courage and conviction to present this very important piece of theatre. The Laramie Project is a play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project (specifically, Leigh Fondakowski, Stephen Belber, Greg Pierotti, Barbara Pitts, Stephen Wangh, Amanda Gronich, Sara Lambert, John McAdams, Maude Mitchell, Andy Paris, and Kelli Simpkins) about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The students of Nyack High School gave an incredible performance wise beyond their years in The Laramie Project, held at Nyack High School's auditorium Friday and Saturday night.
The play tells the story of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was kidnapped, beaten, robbed, tied to a fence and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The play consists of over 200 interviews conducted over a nearly two year period by playwright Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, and examines Laramie residents' reactions to being in the hot zone of a political, religious and legislative debate.
The murder of Shepard—a gay man—by Laramie residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson sparked shock and outrage nationwide and called for increased hate crime awareness and legislation throughout.
It was the goal of Kaufman and company to portray Laramie as a place not made up solely of hate, and to take some of the stigma associated with others towns marred by tragedy and ripped apart by the media—such as Waco, Texas—and give them a human name and face.
The interviews vary immensely and feature everyone from local Laramie business owners, fellow University of Wyoming students and religious officials in the area to the police officers who investigated the case and those who last saw Shepard alive. One walks away from the show not knowing what to believe and truly in awe of the many sides to the story.
Each character speaks from a distinct point of view from an unseen and often unheard part of the country, and addresses the many distinct, uninformed and harsh perceptions people have toward those who are not like them. The show also put a direct spotlight on the hidden pockets of gay society in small towns, and gave a chilling profile of the accused Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.
The play consisted of an ensemble cast of over 100 characters played simultaneously by 19 actors and actresses. Each actor in the production played a multitude of roles, whose interchange from scene to scene, often from minute to minute, went seamlessly. Every one of the talented young men and women on the stage played their characters convincingly, from their accent to their attire.
From its subject matter alone, The Laramie Project transcends criticism. Each player in the Nyack production handled their roles with grace and maturity, giving justice to Shepard the person and victim and giving a gut wrenching, not always sympathetic voice to the people who were left to cope with the tragedy.
"This is a special group of students and a very special performance," said Joseph Spero, principal of Nyack High School, before the curtain went up. "[The audience] was in for a real treat with this play."
Principal Spero also addressed the controversy of a play such as this being performed in a high school setting.
"If we can't do this play here in Nyack, then where can we?" he asked.
The most resonant themes anyone can walk away with—especially after a performance such as this—is pity and regret at the magnitude of hate in some human beings' hearts, and awe that a group of young performers are able to get that message across so successfully. This was surely a remarkable and once in a lifetime performance to see, and while educating its audience and creating awareness, it reminded the gay community and heterosexuals alike that in the march toward equality, there is still much work to be done; it is difficult to see The Laramie Project in 2010 without perceiving it as a chilling prequel to the recent wave of much younger gay men who have committed suicide across the country. If anything, history will see The Laramie Project as an important historical document and tool for social change.
"[In the light of recent events] it's good [with this play] to bring focus back to acceptance and understanding--a focus that comes back to the center of the play," said Joseph Egan, the show's director and scenic designer. "It's good for the community to hear this message come out of the mouths of students, it's good for both their and the communities education."
Like most high school productions of The Laramie Project, this one was no stranger to controversy. Earlier this month, Reverend Fred Phelps--leader of the Westobro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas--stated his intentions to arrive with his followers to protest the production. Phelps, who ironically appears briefly as himself in The Laramie Project, has made numerous headlines in recent years for staging protests against homosexuality, among other ethnicities and religions, at various locales including the funeral services for fallen soldiers of the Iraq War.
Fortunately, Phelps' threats of showing up to picket the production never came to fruition, and the show proceeded normally and undisturbed.
"I wasn't disinterested or interested at the thought of the WBC showing up," Egan said. "When I found out that they weren't going to come that was fine. The publicity from [Phelps' threat] brought an audience out who may not have come otherwise, and for that I'm grateful." (SOURCE: Shane Fallon, New City Patch)The Laramie project [Book] by Moïsès Kaufman, Tectonic Theater Project in Books : http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=The+Laramie+Project&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&hl=en&cid=9825798760030118584&ei=bJXqTM3IOoT2wQX0_enTCw&sa=title&ved=0CAoQ8wIwADgA#p
Saturday Afternoon, I took a class at Primary Stages on Viewpoints. The Viewpoints technique was borne of the desire to heighten performance and create a vocabulary to define the way an actor exists in relation to space and time. The workshop was conducted by Kim Weild. Through technical and organic exercises, we examined and specified various elements of performance, in hopes of making me the most vibrant, focused, inquisitive and precise actor I can be. With a group of 12, it was a dynamic and exciting way to spend a Saturday morning. Thank you, Kim Weild AND Primary Stages. I then auditioned for Primary Stages' playwrighting department. Will keep you posted!
I left there and went to the Sheet Music Society. I thought it was going to be a celebration of Will Friedwald's new book on Jazz. Somehow, Elliot Ames took the afternoon in a different direction with incredible singers. I had the pleasure of seeing Quinn Lemley, Pamela Luss, Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, Seth Weinstein, among others! Great show...but I can't help thinking how Will felt about all this.
Left there and joined Michael Broad, Glen Charlow, and my partner, Danny for dinner. Everything was fine till I discovered Danny had forgotten to pick up my costumes for my show yesterday from the dry cleaners. Again, it all worked out in the end. I pulled something from the attic that I had not worn in some time. It worked out fine.
After dinner we took the train and the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island to see the one and only LIZA MINNELLI!
Just as we were rushing to the theatre, we ran into Jim Caruso, Liza's co-star and friend, from LIZA'S AT THE PALACE which I also saw. We ran into Matt Berman, Liza's lighting designer. There was a great energy in the house. I thought the roof would blow off when Liza's 6 piece ORCHESTRA started playing NEW YORK, NEW YORK led by the always incredible Billy Stritch. Billy even got a chance to join Liza on I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE. Great/ Liza did NOT disappoint. All of the Liza with a Z Pizazz was intact. I have lost track to how many times I have seen Liza perform over the years. I am one of the lucky ones. I have NEVER been disappointed. I was also happy to hear a few selections from her latest cd (also with Billy), CONFESSIONS.
Liza, THANK YOU!
For more about Liza, please visit the official LIZA MINNELLI website: http://www.officiallizaminnelli.com
Liza Minnelli - Confessions [Audio CD] by Liza Minnelli: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=Liza+Minnelli&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&hl=en&cid=2947107128607374080&ei=Pp_qTKqOMInWwwXcl4TZCw&sa=title&ved=0CAcQ8wIwADgA#p
Yesterday, thanks to my friend , Jean Barlow, I appeared at The Nyack Center with HARMONY ON THE HUDSON's "Harmony Hit Parade"
Harmony On the Hudson, Rockland's own close-harmony women's chorus, as part of their annual Fall Concert, "Harmony Hit Parade' under the direction of Bob Harris. In addition to Harmony's songs through the years in barbershop styling, their other special guests included Just4, the award-winning Sweet Adelines female quartet. Such fun! I performed for an audience that crossed ALL demographics and hit a home run! And now, we hurl toward the holidays! Tomorrow night, I am going to a producers networking event at Sardi's. My goal is to add a few more people to team Richard as we move towards my off Broadway run! And then to David Friedman's class after a LONG absence! It's OFFICIAL! I'm opening off-Broadway! Richard
Skipper in "CAROL CHANNING" in Concert! My first preview is December
22nd! Mark your calendars now! Tickets go on sale next week! I will write on Thanksgiving Day before I shuffle off to Buffalo to spend Thanksgiving with Danny's family to let you know how tomorrow night went.
THE FOLLOWING ARE COMMENTS FROM
Congratulations on your great success Tuesday night (7/27/10). Your performance was a lovely example of true showmanship - funny, warm and completely Carol!
Richard: Just wanted to say that David Star and I thought your performance at St. Luke's last night was just PHENOMENAL! What a joy it was to watch you. Richard, you are just great! Plus it was so wonderful to see your packed house! To quote a performer friend of mine: You are impeccable!
Frank Torren, New York, NY
7/28 Last night's show was absolutely fabulous..Carol
would have loved it and we certainly did too..one of
the very best shows we've seen in a long,long
time..and MarTina Vidmar was a perfect opening act..
the two of you worked so well together.
BARB & ED KIRK, Donna,TX & Chicago, IL
Richard's class, wit and resourcefulness shines through, whether as "Carol" on stage at St. Luke's or as himself when he interviewed the "real, Carol at Barnes & Nobel last week. Always a joy to encounter Richard.
Bart Greenberg, Special Events, BARNES & NOBLE LINCOLN SQUARE NYC
SEE FOR YOURSELF DECEMBER 22nd at ST. LUKE'S THEATRE, 46th Street, NYC
. . . the first time ever I have been shown with such love, respect and polish. Richard Skipper is a true musical comedy star! He is fabulous as me!"~ Carol Channing
Follow me on Twitter www.Twitter.com/RichardSkipper
Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING & HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS: http://www.carolchanning.org/foundation.htm
TILL NEXT WEEK...HERE'S TO A MUSICAL WEEK!
With grateful XOXOXs for your support!
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com