Boston Repertory Theatre: Part Two

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


entire contents copyright 1998 by David Zucker


1971 - 1978

by David Zucker

Part Two

July 25, 1971
Performed The Romantics for the third time this evening (Sunday). Last Sunday it opened and played Monday as well. It is easily the best and most exciting show we are doing.

(author's note: The three shows we did that summer were, The Beautiful People by William Saroyan, The Knights of the Round Table by Jean Cocteau, and The Romantics by Edmund Rostand ((the play upon which The Fantastiks was based).

I wish someone would book us for a tour. Audiences love the show. Tonight we took in $130.00 in donations, the largest amount yet. Perhaps this is because we changed donation boxes. The first one was too inconspicuous, so we took a kettle drum, removed the drum head and replaced it with a plywood top that had holes cut in it for people to drop money into. We put the drum right outside the auditorium doors with a sign hanging from the ceiling, which read, "Our survival depends on your generosity." There was a big arrow pointing downward to the drum. Previous amounts were something like an average of $45.00 per night. Tomorrow's take is going to the actors sinc we made enough to make this week's payment on our debts. Yes, it looks as if we will make it to the projected date for the season's end, Sept. 6th.

September 17, 1971
We got through the summer and are opening in Cambridge on October 1st with The Romantics at the George Washington Ballroom in the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Harvard Square. I got permission from Brandeis University to not audition for the first two shows so that I could help our theatre start out.
The big thing now for me is that I am working on an adaptation of The Little Prince for the BRT. The script is pretty much finished and I am trying to visualize the staging. There is a lot of mime. The set will be simple and the performance will be simple. I will direct as well as play the narrator. I am preserving much of the narration and hope to keep St. Exupery's touch intact. There will be much in the way of asides to the audience from all characters except for the Little Prince. He isn't really there, is in the narrator's mind; the whole story is in his mind. An ensemble feeling is absolutely necessary to this show. We must all play off each other to get true feelings. Actors not playing off each other are then playing against each other. There is no middle ground.

November 3, 1971
A lot has happened since Sept 17th. The BRT did not open Oct 1st as planned. A week before the opening the shifty bastards at the hotel pulled out of it! There was nothing we could do. VERY DISAPPONTING. I am now trying to get The Little Prince done at school.

April 29, 1971
Well, time to dust off the pages and write a bit. Obviously a lot has happened in the four months interim between entries.
1) My extrmely successful production of The Little Prince made Theatre Two (the theatre where it was produced) history. It was the biggest seller and biggest money maker, with people sitting on the floor, crowding the stage and filling the aisles. We absolutely packed in as many people as could possibly fit in the room (more than the fire marshal would have been comfortable with), and still the waiting lists were long.
(note: I didn't play the narrator in the original production at Brandeis; that role was done by Bart McCarthy.)
2) The BRT is starting again. This time we hope it is lasting. Four shows in repertory. Must get rights to Little Prince.
3) Mime is paying off. I am touring elementary schools in Newton for $25.00 a show.

October 14, 1972 1:30am
Almost six months since my last entry. Father forgive me for I have sinned!
Although many things of importance have happened to me it seems like a very short time. Thhe BRT made it through its first summer season in Boston and is into its first fall season. The key was The Little Prince. It is still running and playing to packed houses. The critics loved it (important to the financial state of the theatre and to general peace of mind) and the audiences seem wild about it, many coming back three or four times. I took over the role of narrator and only Virginia is from the original cast. The show is very different now and it changes, or evolves, from week to week. David Morse is incredible as the fox; as incredible in his own way as Korshed Dubash was in hers at Brandeis; two entirely different interpretations of the role that both work wonderfully.
I never get tired of people coming up to me at the end of the show to tell me how much it affected them. One of the nicest compliments I have ever gotten was last week when a girl said that Exupery would have been proud of our production.
It's all very fine for us on nights when we do Little Prince (we have, alas, had to change our admission policy and now we charge for tickets. We kept it donations only all summer, but there were too many freeloaders and too too few overly generous people); but other nights so far have been, if artistically successful, financially disastrous. We are having trouble with the Boston Center for the Arts as to the continuance of our leasing the theatre after Feb of 1973. We want to, but it seems that the BCA had given a verbal committment to the Marlboro Theatre Co. (VT) before we let them know that we wanted it. That's all we need right now; we are having a difficult time enough as it is without these continuing worries as to where we can perform our plays.
I have my own apartment for the first time ever. It's a small (tiny) studio apt. on the fenway; only had it a month, but so far I like it. I am teaching mime and body movement at various places to supplement a very meagre income from the theatre ($50.00 a week)
A Hatful of Rain (by Michael Gazzo) is dynamite. Started out as a turkey with all the stuffings showing but has really developed into an incredible production. Very very fine. We didn't have a lot of time to rehearse it before opening so most of the real indepth work has taken place during the performances. This is a very powerful play and George and Pierre are incredible in it (if only George wouldn't invent his own lines so often, must drive Pierre crazy... I know I'd be more than a little jumpy if I had to worry that my acting partner was liable to throw something completely different into a scene right in front of a live audience, especially in a scripted play).

October 17, 1972 - 12:08am
One wish of mine has come true and I wish now to put it in writing whilst 'tis still fresh in memory. Yesterday I impersonated Charlie Chaplin for the very first time; complete with baggy pants, cut-away coat, big shoes, cane, hat, moustache, eye makeup, and pale pancake on the face. I distributed flyers for the "Festival of Silents" being held at the Orson Welles cinema. Wow! I can really look like him even though I look nothing like him (I'm 6'2" tall) ( I received a few remarks about the height difference but those were the only unfavorable comments except for one woman who must have been in her late 50's or early 60's who said, "No true American would have anything to do with Charlie Chaplin." The height didn't seem to bother most people. I think it was because they were so glad to have Charlie back amongst them. Two policemen in Harvard Square were having the greatest itme pretending to run me in; playing Keystone Kops to the hilt. I signed two autographs, was propositioned once, got two free cups of coffee, a kiss on the cheek, and a free cup of much appreciated hot apple cider (it was cold outside).
But the most amazing thing was the reaction of the people on the street. I got the incredibly strong feeling that people wanted desperately for me to BE Charlie. I was only doing half the work, they did the other half, making me into Charlie Chaplin. The feeling was very intense. I started feeling the same way. These people were happy. I didn't want to go back to being David Zucker. What an Ego trip! I was especially affected by old people; people around 70 or 80 who would shuffle by me, heads and bodies bent to the ground, just sort of trudging through the last turn in life. Then all of a sudden someone (me) sticks something in front of their faces, interrupting whatever reverie was taking place in their minds. They would look up to say, "No," to me and just stop. Then the change would take place. They remembered. It was like going back fifty years, and indeed, in their faces I could see fifty years falling away. Their eyes sparkled, their faces beamed. I have rarely been so moved in my life. They would either continue smiling as they walked away with my flyer in their hand, or they would say something to me like, "How like him you are," or "I know who you are," or just, "Hello Charlie."

May 6, 1973 - Sunday - 2:20am
My God, already six months since the last entry. Let me see. We moved out of the BCA - big hassle- moved into the First and Second Church on the corner of Berkeley and Marlborough streets; have been there since January 11th. Prince is still going strong and is approaching its 100th performance (we only do it twice a week in repertory with our other shows).
The BRT is living on the hope of receiving considerable grant money from various foundations. We may be moving again! We hope to. This time for good! (I hope) we are in the process of renting, with an option to buy, the Convention Ballroom on St. Botolph street behind the Colonnade Hotel ($18,000 a year).
I am thinking of doing an original adaptation of Animal farm next fall. I have changed a bit; have been studying T'ai Chi Chuan since December of '72 and am really into the philosophy of slow, controled, steady, ever-changing, balanced movement. It is helping me in my acting too. My energy is getting much more focused. It helps in the same way with mime. I am starting to develop a much more concrete theory of mime: One person, no props, no scenery (this may change, but it will always be one person for me, no matter how many props or set pieces may creep in), white face, and the idea of being alone.

October 7, 1973 - 1:00am
I look at my last entry and see that I have mentioned nothing about Uncle Vanya. We did the show, opening March 15 or 16, a long time ago at the date of this present entry! However, a few words about it. I really meant to fill this time with talk of Animal Farm which opened three days ago for previews.
First Vanya.
All in all could be considered a turkey as far as overall success goes.
Financially it bombed. By the way, we opened before the New York production with George C Scott, Nicol Williamson and Julie Christie. We got incredible pans from the so-called top reviewers in Boston (the college critics and our audiences seemed to enjoy the show very much). Before it got reviewed it was on its way to being a very well done show. with good work developing from most people in the cast. The bad reviews killed it. First it killed our audiences and then sapped our belief in ourselves. No matter how strongly we fought against that happening, it is hard to maintain confidence in front of empty houses. The minute I read the reviews, and I held off for a good while, my performance quality began to suffer (I played Dr. Astrov), and I began to push, to try too hard. We only played it for about 12 performances. Speaking of George C. Scott, I believe it was he who said that every actor secretly believes everything bad that is ever written about him.
Animal Farm played to its first audience three days ago. It opens officially on October 19th
I worked on the basic concept for the show off and on all during the summer between debauches on the Cape (if one wishes to call it that). The library has become a very familiar place to me. My basic handbook for this beginning work was Peter Brook's The Empty Space. From him I got the name of Meyerhold and spread out to Vahtanghov, Artaud, Chinese and Japanese Noh theatre, and even Brecht. Again, Like Little Prince, the work is more presentational in style than naturalistic. I enjoy using the medium of theatre as a character in my plays; using tit's unique strength as a story-telling medium rather than trying to disguise it as if what people were seeing was real life.
Wish I had more time for T'ai Chi. We work sometimes 80 hours a week, and very often at least 60, especially during rehearsals for Animal Farm. Mime is still going strong. Performed LP and my mine show at Wolftrap festival in Virginia. I got $350 for the mime and the BRT got $1200.00 for LP. Phew; LP, that intimate show designed for audiences of 200 or so, was done in a theatre with a 100' wide proscenium arch and 3500 seats in the house. We needed a microphone. Only one was working so Virginia, who is in every scene as the Prince, had to carry the mic around with her and shar it with the other actors on stage. Since most scenes are between her and one other person, it looked like she was doing interviews for a TV station. We have renamed the show, "The Little Reporter."
Still looking for a home. The Charles St. office space is going in two months. Ace Recording studio is in and out of the picture like the seesaw scene in Animal Farm. Berkeley building in South end is a possibility. We have a fund raiser working for us now; but no money yet from his efforts. I'm tired; will write more some other night.

1971 - 1978 - Part 4

1997 - 1978 - Part 3

1971 - 1978 - Part 2

1971 - 1978 - Part 1


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide