I was cruising (is that the right word or should it be browsing, or searching rather?) the internet the other evening looking for off-Broadway theatre companies, of which there seem to be a hundred or more, as I have a new play I want to submit. It is a comedy, I call it my Neil Simon play and laugh uproariously at my own lines, (there’s conceit for you. Oscar had nothing on me) As it is set in America, America seems the obvious route to take but I don’t have an American agent who can push it for me. It was performed as a play reading last month by students at the University of Alabama and looking at the DVD, I am more than pleased with it. The play works really well and the reading has given me a chance to tweak it here and there where necessary – no major rewrites – and to bring it up to date. When I say a new play what I should have said was, it is a play, one of two, I wrote some time ago when working in the states. If anyone wants to read the first one, GENERATIONS, it’s available from Amazon. This one, THIRD DRAWER FROM THE TOP is its title, isn’t published yet but I am sure soon will be. In the meantime here I am in a preliminary search for the right company or companies to send it to. I not only looked at off-Broadway New York but went further afield to Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. It was quite an education reading about some of the various companies as they wrote about themselves and I have never read so much pretentious bullshit in my life. Well, Lor’ bless us, that might be exaggerating a little and I suppose they have to sell themselves in a precarious business but for goodness sake their theatres are not Holy of Holies, they are not a Shinto Shrine, the heart of the Vatican or a Tibetan monastery, a Southern Baptist revivalist meeting or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre– they are theatres and in theatres one produces plays. That’s it unless you definitely need to clarify exactly what plays you produce so that you are not landed with a hundred unwanted scripts totally out of your remit: You produce classical plays or Elizabethan plays or Restoration plays or already established modern plays, or new writing. On your website you could include a few pictures, possibly some reviews so we can maybe get some idea of your work, and examples of plays produced, and that should be quite enough without having to tell the world how you are a centre of excellence and that you encourage young actors etcetera etcetera etcetera as the king of Siam might have said. That sort of thing surely goes without saying. Do young actors need to know you encourage them even if they’re no bloody good but are living on dreams that will be unfulfilled? If they have enough conviction and feel they’re worth it they will fight for themselves. Sir Henry Irving started his theatrical life with everything against him. No contacts for a start, secondly a weak and spindly body, (Laurence Olivier hated his spindly legs and padded them out) thirdly a high pitched unattractive voice and fourthly a not too prepossessing face but he persevered to become the great Shakespearian, what the Japanese would call a national treasure, and the first knight of the British theatre.
There are some lovely (possibly apocryphal) stories about the trials and tribulations of young actors hoping to make it, unfortunately so many don’t but no amount of off-Broadway encouragement is going to make the slightest bit of difference. One of the stories is about a young actor many years ago auditioning at The Old Vic and he had hardly delivered more than half a dozen lines when a voice boomed out from the auditorium, ‘Call yourself a fucking actor? Get off my stage!’
That young actor was Sir Alex Guinness and, should anyone doubt he was every inch an actor, just watch some of his movies, “Bridge On The River Kwai,” “The Lady Killers,” “Kind Hearts And Coronets.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.