Thomas' First Law: Life is a funny old dog.
The pathways of any person's life go through numerous byways and tunnels so that it's impossible to understand all of it while actually traveling the road. A Polish director meets the daughter of his old Warsaw neighbor in Iowa City. Two people who I didn't know pause to have a smoke together, and I wind up going to Russia. What can one say but the First Law – Life's a funny old dog.
I recently had the opportunity to begin the process of organizing the archives of a company so that the materials may be available through a library to any number of interested scholars, writers, historians, and the curious. The web created by the pathways of people include actors going back to the 1950s with a completely different group of people in the 21st century. The web includes stories that are both happy and sad, but all of them interesting.
The company in question is Repertory Theater of America. In the 1950s the company started work as the Bishop's Company – a company dedicated to bringing theatre into churches across America. Although not officially affiliated with any particular church, the company had loose ties and support from a Methodist bishop, thus the name. Throughout the late 50s and early 1960s, the Bishop's Company provided valuable jobs to numerous young actors (including a young Sam Shepard) and valuable performances of serious plays to local congregations throughout America. The company's repertory included a staging of the novel "Cry, the Beloved Country" and a famous staging of Shaw's Saint Joan with only three actors. In 1967, the company changed to the Alpha-Omega Players, made several moves to various "home" locations, and started the evolution into an entertainment provider. Over its nearly 50-year history, 100s of actors, a score of directors and designers and technicians found work under its auspices. The body-blow of the 9/11 attacks hurt the enterprise, and the "trickle-down" recovery never made it to this company. Although never a major entry in Brockett's history books, the loss of this company will be felt in that there will be less early jobs for young actors.
Of course there are still touring companies out there. The life of the touring actor demands youthful vigor (if not outright youth). The touring life is not for old farts. The successful trouper can move into an insanely crazy space, perform, and strike all in one day and move on to another city the next day. The actor who can perform under such conditions learns lessons unavailable in any other way. Many a young actor's life changes on the road.
Sometimes the touring show isn't brilliant. But it doesn't need to be brilliant. The actors need great spirit and great energy. The mise en scene reflects the need to adjust every night. Usually any small fault of production is more than compensated for by the great verve and dash of being young and having the greatest job in the world.
The young actor won't always think so. When it gets to be late February and the weather is awful (nowhere has great weather in late February) and there's car trouble in some out of the way place and the hotel is a hole-in-the-wall dive; these people won't be thinking, "My goodness, but I have a wonderful job." But it is.
These people have full-time jobs as actors. They're getting the paid opportunity to travel when they're young. They have jobs with very little supervision – as long as they show up at the right place at the right time, no one cares what they do with the rest of their time. And, if they're wise, they are learning experience about performing that can't be taught in a classroom. They'll learn how to perform to amazingly different audiences from day to day and night to night and maintain performance energy regardless of conditions. That lesson alone is worth the whole tour.
Oh, to be a stow-away . . . . . . .