On June 12th, 2016, I sat down to write an essay officially launching "Theatre Yesterday and Today." This entry marks more than five hundred posts, making for an average of about two a week over that five year period, if I'm doing my math right. Although when I look at the first one (about the career of the actress Uta Hagen, whose birthday is June 12th), I'm struck by what a first-time attempt it was. I rewrote it two years later in hopes of improving it, which I did, but now three years beyond that, owing to time and practice, I find myself an even stronger writer. As Malcolm Gladwell has said, it's all about putting in the hours in order help things become second nature and thereby producing better results.
My intention (at first) was to lay the groundwork for building interest in my book Up in the Cheap Seats: An Historical Memoir of Broadway, which was going to be published six months later. Then, after a year or so, instead of easing off, I felt compelled to continue on, and now these essays are my main passion. I enjoy digging into the weeds, especially when I find a column can go two or even three parts. They have also made new friendships possible as, for example, when Alfred Drake's daughter and Jerry Orbach's son wrote and told me I got their dad's careers just right, which was beyond satisfying.
Indulging in writing about favorite shows, favorite actors or favorite theatrical tales that need passing down is a joy and privilege. And when I get a fact or two wrong, there's usually someone not shy about contacting me to let me know, for which I'm grateful. Often these are facts I've taken for granted without looking them up, thinking that because I have it in my head that way it's pointless to double-check. For the record, double-checking is never pointless, even when you're sure a show opened at the Broadway and not the Broadhurst.
In coming up with ideas for columns, I turn to birthdates or anniversaries of opening (or closing) nights, or even significant events that link to my own personal theatrical stories, such as the night New York was plunged into darkness by a blackout in the summer of 1977, or a Vietnam moratorium day in 1969, both of which I bared witness. And sometimes I will start by researching one subject, only to find that another catches my attention, forcing me to write about that instead. It's like driving a car with a planned itinerary and allowing for the scenery to set the mood to determine which roads to take. For instance, I went to the library to do some research and found that writing about how much I love going to the library would make for an interesting column (which it did).
I've gone deep on actors as famous as Jason Robards, the actor with more Tony nominations that any other, or as obscure as Helen Raymond, who in addition to having played Mrs. Shinn in the original production of The Music Man, bears the distinction of having appeared in seven flops that closed en route to Broadway in Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit. If she were still alive to be interviewed, you can be sure that I'd be asking about those seven shows in addition to all she could tell me about Music Man. All theatre stores that connect the past with the present are worthy subjects to me, no matter their degrees of success.
I've written on everything from the first musical (The Black Crook) to the last musical (Six, which was to have had its opening night on March 12th, 2020, the date all theatre was suspended due to the pandemic). I've analyzed Tony Award winners and losers, essayed directors and producers, composers and lyricists, playwrights and play doctors, always with an aim to enlighten and entertain. So, a special thank you is in order to all who've taken the time to read what I write. It's greatly appreciated.
I picked June 12th as the date to begin "Theatre Yesterday and Today" because it's the birthdate of my daughter Charlotte, which means it's a date I'll never forget. And this particular June 12th is her 30th birthday, a special one (if I can remember all the way back thirty-four years to my own 30th).
Of course, a part of me is always on the look-out for inspiration and it just so happens that on the date of Charlotte's birth, the New York Times reported on how The Roundabout Theatre Company was planing a “Move to Broadway," as the headline put it. The article stated that "Future Roundabout productions at the theater will be eligible for Tony Awards." Well, THAT out pretty well with Roundabout productions winning thirty-six Tonys for various productions over the last thirty years.
Hey... maybe that's a good launching point for my next column?
If you enjoy these columns, check out Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, available at Amazon.com in hardcover, softcover and e-book. Also, please follow me here on Scrollstack and feel free to email me with comments or questions at Ron@ronfassler.org.