Sunday, December 14, 2014

I Love the Theatre...But Without Snarks!

Click HERE to see rare footage from the famous play Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand. Year 1965.
The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see
Excellence: Marge Champion and Debbie Reynolds
the truth about life and the social situation.

Stella Adler

 “I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.”

― Marilyn Monroe

Snarky:  of a person, words, or a mood) sharply critical; cutting; snide.
"the kid who makes snarky remarks in class"

This is an open letter to all that go to the theatre, all that cannot afford to go to the theatre, and especially to all Broadway and theatre press agents (and also those press agents who cover the cabaret scene). I LOVE THE THEATRE...and  other forms of LIVE Entertainment.
There has been a certain brouhaha over the last
Rudy Vallee, Virginia Martin and Robert Morse on stage, 1961.
weeks within the theatre community in which a certain journalist who works for the Wall Street Journal writes with glee about how many shows she has bolted from that she has been given "FREE: tickets to to hopefully write about.
As a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, she has been given an opportunity that many would love to have, especially me!
Read Ken Davenport's brilliant blog HERE that includes the original offending email AND Ken's response to it all.

Jim Romensko even weighed in. It found its way on to

I first became enamored with show business as a small child.

Those of you who read my blogs may find a lot of redundancy in this one but I'd like to reiterate the path that led to where I am now.
I am a product of sixties and seventies television.
Those were the days before DVRs, VCRs, DVDs, cable, etc. There were only three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Those networks were on the air from approximately 6AM till 1AM and then the National Anthem would play before signing off till the next day's programming. In those days of variety shows and television specials, the old traditions of vaudeville were still very much intact.
Therefore, the networks vied for the largest demographics across the board. That meant that I would see shows with artists of my generation sharing stages with those artists from my parents generation AND my grandparents! As a result, I grew up with a healthy appreciation of those that went before me.
That love for previous generations continued when I started taking acting and elocution lessons with Miss Florence Theodora Epps in my hometown of Conway, South Carolina. I've written about her in the past. Read my blog on her HERE.

She started the theatre in 1969, when I was eight years old, with their first big show, Finian's Rainbow.
It would not be for another four years before I would find my way into that world and onto that stage. I did a full blog about my disastrous audition for Mame sometime ago. As I wrote previously,  they somehow gave me a chance with two lines and a part in the chorus.
A few years later, I ended up getting a more substantial part when director Linda Simmonds cast me as Roberts, the Butler, in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. When I asked her how/why I got the part, Linda told me she saw how much it meant to me.
She said she observed me during rehearsals and performances of Mame and felt that I was now ready and she KNEW how hard I would work at it. 
AND, I did.
 On opening night, Miss Epps came backstage with an apple for me in honor of the Barrymores. She told me that she thought I had the makings of a great actor, but if I didn't get rid of my thick southern accent, I would be doing Tobacco Road the rest of my life.

She suggested elocution lessons. Please note that my parents did not support this "folly" of mine on ANY level. If I had told my parents that I wanted these lessons, I would have been laughed right out of our house. I explained my predicament to Miss Epps. She assured me that it would be taken care of.
 True to her word, she called me three days later.
She said she could use some help around the house, chores and odd ends in exchange for lessons!
Miss Epps had a little playhouse complete with stage in her back yard. After school, every Wednesday and Thursday, I would come over to help in the garden and whatever else needed to be done around the house.
 We would work for an hour, have iced tea, and then get down to work.
We would read from biographies, the classics, great plays.
Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Ethel Merman at the Harwyn Club (1957)...a day when stars were STARS
Miss Epps had a very interesting way of working which was beneficial to me in the long run and set the standard with which I still work today. I would read out loud. Anytime I would come across a proper name, place, or historical event, she would stop me and ask about it to see if I had taken the time to research it.
If I didn't know, she would close her notebook and say, "Our lesson is over today.. When you come back, we will pick up where we left off. KNOW who these people, places, and events are." I would leave her house and go immediately to the Conway library and check out EVERY book where I could find things in the index about them! There was no such thing as Google and Search engines!
Miss Epps taught me that every time I walk out on stage, I am carrying on my shoulders the mantle of every great entertainer that has gone before me! I never forgot that and I still think of that today almost forty years later!
When I came to New York in 1979, I came with a healthy knowledge of a rich theatrical history that went before me. I also arrived at a transitional period in the history of entertainment.
The internet age had not yet begun, we didn't have cable television, VCRs were not part of our world, no cell phones...the list goes on and on. Times Square was dangerous AND exciting! There were many revival houses in New York. There was no TMC.
I used to go every Sunday night to a double feature!
Two years later, the world as we knew it would change. On Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time, MTV launched with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," spoken by John Lack, and played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia, which took place earlier that year, and of the launch of Apollo 11.
I personally believe that it was the greatest disservice to happen to the entertainment industry. Everything was geared to a very specific demographic. If you didn't fit into that demographic, you were not seen or heard. Therefore, an entire generation of people grew up not knowing what came before OR what their other options were.
It also changed the way people "listened" to music.
It amazes me how many young people today have no idea who the greats of Broadway were IF they did not appear in the entertainment industry within the past twenty five years.

Recently, I called a cabaret room in New York to inquire about a particular show. I was informed by the person answering the phone that Judy Garland was appearing there! The show  that WAS going to be there was actually a celebration of songs from her illustrious career. Not only was I told that Judy would be appearing there, I was told that she had been there several times! The person answering the phone went on to tell me that she was a "jazz singer", but perhaps I would like the later show more! He had no clue as to what he was saying or who he was saying it to!
I posted the exchange on Facebook as it transpired. I was overwhelmed by the response, lots of likes, comments, and shares. Almost everyone got the absurdity of the situation. One misguided fixture of cabaret took it upon herself to privately chastise me in an email that I don't think she would have had the courage to say to my face.

I was accused of being jealous that I was not in the show that I was asking about. I was accused of trying to ruin a club, a "producer", and the person answering the phone by posting something on Facebook. I was told that I would be the last person she would hire for promotions because I was now a laughing stock in the community.
She went on to say she was compelled to tell me these things because she was a "friend".
Number one, my goal is always to elevate instead of denigrate. I think we ALL have a responsibility to try and raise the bar. I have noticed that the bar gets lowered more and more every year. We all go about our business celebrating the status quo and no one wants to rock the boat, so we allow these things to continue.
If it had been any number of people in the media, you can rest assured this would have been a bigger news item than a mere posting on my Facebook page.
If it had been another club or even another person posting this, it would not have raised an eyebrow. She sent the email, rather than picking up and calling me to discuss it rationally, because she felt she could. This is a prevalent issue that is facing the arts and theatre now. People feel they can get away with a lot just behind email and on line rather than discussing things rationally.
When the internet age began, before Facebook, many sites had chat boards which gave rise to a lot of snarky behavior on the web. I stayed away from those sites.
From time to time, I was alerted to the fact that therewas a thread running on me. This was in the days when I was performing as Carol Channing. Although there were compliments and accolades regarding my work, most of the time, the posts were vitriolic. Most of those, interestingly enough, were from those who had never seen my show!
Last year, when Sound of Music was presented LIVE on television, most that tuned in decided to make it a "snark fest" thanks to Twitter and Facebook. For three hours, many viewers stayed with the broadcast knocking it at every turn. It happened again this year with Peter Pan Live. The sad statistic is MOST of the comments are coming from people who are "in the industry", or rather, those that THINK they are in the industry. What is it in our nature to knock those that are trying to create. I have learned the hard way over the past five years that there are those that create and those that destroy.
Some day, when the time is right, I will be able to elborate on that. Listen to what Judy Garland says about embarking upon the new year. She spoke those words 51 years ago and the message holds true.
As I move towards closing the curtain on this year, and opening the door on the next one, my hope is that we ALL try to support each other instead of tearing each other down. My hope for 2015 is a snark free year.
Now, Go see a LIVE show!

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

IF you like this blog, please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Richard Skipper,

1 comment:

  1. BRAVO for this blog post, Richard! I agree with you wholeheartedly about the Snarks. I remember reading all of the comments on Facebook about The Sound of Music Live while traveling across the country on an Amtrak train last year from Seattle to New York, unable to tune in. They were appalling. Everything was being attacked, from the children's acting ability to the singing to the costumes. I also recall the one Voice of Reason in the middle of the Snark Onslaught was YOU, saying that here we had a live special musical show, for the first time in decades, and people should have been a lot more appreciative of the fact that it was produced at all, rather than tear it to shreds. The other night I finally saw a re-broadcast of the show. It was great! I kept wondering where the problems were that so many people had been carrying on about. I saw but one minor glitch in the production - the costume they had put on one character, which wasn't age-appropriate - and that was it. Everything else was fine! Snarks...get a new hobby!