This is a pretty long post so maybe you should go to the bathroom, now!
Many years ago, Bobby Lewis, one of the greatest acting teachers and theatre Directors ever, began teaching a sort of Master Class for actors, here in Los Angeles. One could audit the class, and I really wanted to experience the genius of Mr. Lewis, not only because I was an actress, but more because I am a writer and an occasional Director, too.
Bobby had known Betty Garrett from her early New York-Broadway days, and through the connection to her, he chose to rent Theatre West on the mornings that he was going to hold his many acting classes. (Theatre West had begun, basically, as an Actors Workshop, though it grew to encompass Writer’s, Directors and Designers as time went on, and Betty G. had been one of the founding members, along with about 12 or 13 other professional actors. I came into the group about the 8th month of its existence….and, have remained a member ever since, (as has Betty G.)….I have done just about everything one can do in the theatre, Act, Compose, Direct, Produce, Sing, Stagemanager, Write, and anything else I may have forgotten…
Theatre West is one of the oldest Acting Workshops in L.A. that also Produces plays, and over the years has had some very illustrious people as members---quite a number of these people joined TW at the very beginning of their careers, like Richard Dreyfuss. He remained a member until only a few years ago when he moved his residence to England. Many many of the original people kept up their memberships up even after great success came there way, not just out of sentimental reasons, but as Carroll O’Connor said in “The History Of Theatre West-Part 1” (a Video that I created back in 1982 to commemorate the Twentieth Anniversary of Theatre West)…..but for "...professional reasons, as well,….you never know when I might want to come back and do a play….", said Carroll. He spoke of the community of theatre people and said that we spoke a different language than other people and said that he found it comforting and stimulating to "be with your own kind"…his words, exactly. I do agree that theatre people, or show people, in general, do seem like a different breed….and there is definitely a comfort in the short hand that comes with the shared experience that ‘civilians’ cannot understand, not having had those experiences or even , I'm sorry to say, sometimes not understanding why anyone would go through those experiences....
Gettting back to Bobby….because of TW's history, it was the perfect theatre for him to be holding his extraordinary classes. This man was an icon in the theatre community….everyone wanted to study with him, young beginning actors and seasoned pro's. So, his ‘Master Class’ was for working actors of a certain reputation and stature, who’s experience and many years of working in the theatre, films and television, uniquely qualified them for a ‘master class’ as apposed to a ‘beginning actors class. All of the people in this ‘master class’ felt the need to, once again, hone their skills with a great teacher and director such as Bobby.…and Bobby had a particular way of approaching a play that had come from years of experience, starting with the famed Group Theatre, and the directing of many many Broadway plays. He was one of the founding members of the Actors Studio, and like Stella Adler, another great great acting teacher, split from the Studio and began teaching his own ‘Method’.
Three wonderfully interesting books that many consider the bibles of acting, "Method Or Madness?"; “Advice To The Players” and "Slings And Arrows: Theatre In My Life" were written by Bobby and are treasured by anyone who knew him, worked with him and by all those who had an awareness of the stature of this complete theatre professional. He was treasured also, because of the esteem in which he was held by his peers and by the theatre community, in general. He was a giant of a man, and it was indeed an awesome privilege to be allowed to audit his classes. Over a period of two years, I audited 2 different classes; One running for 9 weeks for two mornings each week, and the other one running for almost 3 months, once a week on Saturdays. Incredibly talented actors worked on scenes chosen specifically by Bobby for each person and including partnering each person with an appropriate partner in these scenes from plays that were classics….weather Shakespeare, or Ibsen or Tennessee Williams, or Arthur Miller or Pinter….Often these actors worked on material that they were never ever hired to do, though they were extremely qualified and capable of doing these plays to stunningly exciting results--the material Bobby chose for each person was chosen to stretch their ciew of themselves as stretching their skills which were rarely if ever used 'for hire', most all actors being pretty much typecast but the so called powers that be.....Betty Garrett who took the class, was in her early sixties at the time, and she had had and was continuing to have, a very successful career in the theatre, films and television---and I tell you, I saw her do work in that class of Bobby’s that was extraordinary beyond words, and unbelievably thrilling, too. One of the scenes that Betty did was from Robinson Jeffers’ ”Medea”. And, for those unfamiliar with this frightening woman--she kills her two children, among other atrocities…though that alone would qualify her as a Major Monster, for sure! As an actress, we got to see Betty reach inside herself and touch things that none of us had ever seen her do before, nor thought her capable of doing if we were to be honest, including Bobby! Well, were we all wrong about that, and what a thrill it was to be that wrong! The wonderfully talented actor Karl Malden, who many people only remember from those American Express commercials or “The Streets Of San Francisco” TV show--forgetting that he won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in “Streetcar Named Desire” having been in the Original Broadway cast of that play, and was later nominated in the same category again, for “On The Waterfront”---(breath here…)…played, Medea’s husband Jason, in that same scene from “Medea”, and he too, was extraordinary! These are not easy roles to do; the language of the play alone was difficult and it goes without saying that the very terrifying subject matter was deeply challenging, to put it mildly. But you see, that’s what made this class so bloody exciting!
In that first 9 week session, Anne Bancroft was in the class. And I remember the first day she got up, Bobby asked her why she was there….and she said, (and I am paraphrasing slightly here...),
“Oh Bobby, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just feel lost and I’m not sure I can act anymore…..I haven’t worked in a such a long time…so I just don’t know what I’m doing anymore!” She was very serious. I remember sitting there and thinking …’Lord, if this truly great great actress can feel this way, than it’s no wonder we all feel so damn insecure….!’. She was very humble and very anxious to get to work on something, and couldn’t wait for Bobby to assign a scene and partner for her. As it turned out, Anne Bancroft was unable to complete the classes because she got a movie that took her on location and whatever those feelings were for her of not being sure she could act anymore, disappeared, at least it did for us in the class; I have no idea if they disappeared for her. I hope so because the body of work that she created after that time continued to be top notch and unique in every way, (Rent: “Garbo Talks”---she is wonderful in that, so touching, and vulnerable---she has a monologue that is a film-treasure---it is one of those rare brilliant pieces of acting that is memorable in every way. Art—The Arts—Books, Music, Paintings, Acting, Films, Theatre, Photography, etc. truly can illuminate our lives and transform our lives---it can move us, it can change how we feel about something---how we think about something—touch us in ways that stay with us for all of our lives in the deepest most effecting manner---it can give us hope and it can dash our hopes, too by the truthful illumination of life as it was, is and may be again. This is an amazing thing to me. And I hope that I will always approach everything I am exposed to in the creative world like a child seeing something for the first time. To be excited, stimulated, and thrilled by an artistic experience can be truly life-transforming. As an artist myself I have had some small measure of success…(that was never why I did any if the things I did, but a bit of success has come my way, I’m happy to say.) No, I am not a household name and never have been, and further, I have never been able to actually “earn a living” with anything that I have created----oh yes, I’ve been paid for my work, weather it was my paintings, photography, plays, songs writing, acting, etc…..but “earn a living”? No. But the need to create; the need to express oneself in some form of artistic communication has been a part of my life since I was a child. Along the way, I know I have touched people because they took the time to communicate that to me, I’m grateful to say; or, they put their money where their mouth is, so to speak…and, in the case of my art work, bought a painting or two, even when they couldn’t afford it and had to pay it off—month after month—for years, sometimes, (that’s needing something as desperately as needing breath for life---I know, cause I’ve done it myself---buying other people’s paintings)….
Why am I even talking about this? Well, I think I’m evaluating my life with this blog, in some strange way, and at this point in my life I'm attempting to see if in truth, my life has any meaning; I mean that ‘means’ something to me. I’m just beginning here so I don’t have any answers and quite frankly, I’m not even sure I have the right, or I should say, correct or appropriate questions…there may be 10 questions or 100 questions or even more? I don’t know yet. But I do know that in going over just a tiny bit of my history here, on this blog that is very new—I do know that that in itself has made me value it more, at this point in time. (Gee, I hope that many of you younger people are not turned off by someone evaluating their life…the name I chose does say that I am the OldLady Of The Hills, as you have discovered, if you are here on this blog right now…lol)….
So far, this has been a very good life for me---the creative life, I mean. There may be a lot of things that I regret about my life, but the years and years and years that I have spent ‘creating’---- I don’t regret one millisecond of that time. In retrospect nothing I have ever done as an expression of my creativity do I regret----even playing the bongo drums on a very bad album a singing-friend recorded umpteen years ago, I do not regret---And I approached that non-paying job with all the professionalism and care that I have always given to every creative project I have ever been a part of, paying and non-paying….anyway, hopefully more will be revealed to me as they say, as I go along here….
Right now, that shoulder of mine is hurting again from the ‘one-finger-typing’ method that is mine….So….