Ruby Griffith 2004 Award Ceremony
Lady Manning, wife of the British Ambassador, with Michael
Kharfen (Director of "Wit" Silver Spring Stage) and
A Message From The Ruby Griffith Administrator
My thanks to all the groups who participated this season. With the exceptionally high quality of the shows, we had a first, the award for the best musical was a tie between Vienna's production of "Evita" and 2nd Star's "Mame." The points were all so close this year, especially between the musicals, it would have been great to have given everyone an award.
My thanks to Mike Baker whose speech had us all laughing. My thanks also to Lady Manning and the British Embassy staff who made the security checks a not too unpleasant experience, and to all those unseen hands that go to making the Ruby Griffith Award Ceremony something we look forward to every year, win or lose. Also, thanks to Pat Rohrer (pianist) who gave up her birthday celebration with her family to celebrate with us. Pat and I have been a team for longer than we care to remember,
On a personal note, it has been a pleasure to serve as both Gary Beaver's assistant for two seasons and as the administrator for this past season. It was a great way to end my working association with the British Embassy Players after 24 years. I plan to stay in touch with many of you. Gene and I will "pop up" from North Carolina to see a show, or just get together with theatre friends.
We will miss you all.
Barbara A. Morrison
Keynote Speech presented by Mike Baker, Jr.
Lady Manning, Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. When Barbara approached me about speaking at the Ruby Griffith Awards, I was flattered. I asked if she wanted me to reminisce about my experiences in New York, or about some of the actors I had had the pleasure of interviewing, or maybe even expound on Broadway’s future.
Believe it or not, Barbara said that the guests would probably enjoy hearing about my experiences in community theatre. Again, I was flattered. Community theatre came late for me, because I was avidly pursuing a television career, but I do remember that fateful day when I was first cast in a community theatre production. At first, I thought the stage manager1 was pulling my leg, not asking me to break it, which would come later. I will never forget his first utterance,
“ I know most of you have never acted before, so let me give it to you fast and furious. This is the stage -
So, “Break a leg,” but not really.”
He then introduced the director who unabashedly said, “Just remember it’s only amateur theatre until it offends someone, then it’s art.” Look Homeward Angel went on to win a Ruby Griffith Award that year.
As I launched into my first dramatic role, I remembered what I had heard Marlin Brando say about acting. “Nobody becomes an actor. You can’t act unless you are who you are.” I took that to mean that by knowing oneself, I could fine an entree into the acting world. I also remember discussing this quote with four-time Tony winner, Julie Harris, in my fist of three interviews with her. She reminisced about the raw acting style of Brando and even James Dean. She told me the story of her first glimpse of Dean on a movie set, and how this young, roguishly handsome man had offered her a ride in his red sports car. Her theory about acting was that God comes to us in theatre in the way we communicate, whether its the symphony, a painting, or a play. “Art is a way of expressing humanity,” she said.
Ms. Harris, more than any actor I ever interviewed, had a profound affect on me. With Dean, “Less was best,” she said. He had this remarkable charisma. Her words reminded me of another quote about acting. “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say much.” No it isn’t Brad Pitt on his performance in the movie “Troy,” though the technique might be the same. It was John Wayne.
It wasn’t long after that, that I began doing promos and shooting for American’s for the Arts, a national arts association that represents 5,000 arts agencies around the country. I was asked to interview mayors, governors, and prominent Americans about the value of the arts in America. It was Jane Alexander who told me that approximately 47% of all professional actors started in community Theatre. Just a year or so before my work in Look Homeward Angel at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, Academy Award winner Marsha Gay Harden won the “LTA Actor of the Year Award.” Small world!
Another eye opening comment came from the Mayor of Boston, who said that the arts in Boston raise more than all the city’s sports franchises combined. I really began to feel that my involvement in the arts was contributing to what John Kennedy called the “Essence of Civilization.” But more notably, my moments in community theatre were contributing to the education of the theatre public. As Stephen Sondheim has said. Theatre should not be a Disney family picnic. It should be healthy exposure to all kinds of theatre.
How ironic, that its community theatre all across the nation, which exposes millions of families to affordable and stimulating drama. In fact, The American Association of Community Theatres represents over 7,000 theatres across the US, while The International Amateur Theatre Association has members in eighty countries and on five continents. And what is even more remarkable, is that community theatres are not just an affordable window to American drama, they are the embodiment of cooperation, teamwork and group trust. In community theatres doers seem to do the following: act, direct, choreograph, accompany, design, build, find, sew, sell, or usher. Leaders can also be managers and/or doers, but in their leadership capacity their activities include these: dreaming, pushing, causing to grow, problem solving, and inspiring. The world’s 1. greatest governments don’t work with such fluidity!!
We work in community theatre, too, for those memorable moments on stage when time seems to suspend itself. In fact, some psychologists proffer that acting is a form of self-hypnosis, during which the aging process is slowed. The latest Alzheimer's studies show that older citizens who dance, act, or even do crosswords, can ward off Alzheimer’s symptoms. So, if dialogue is health-enhancing, then what should we make of the pauses.
Ralph Richardson says, “The most precious things in speeches are pauses.” (PAUSE) Jeremy Irons claims, “When you act, you think, you just don’t speak. The lines come off the thoughts.”
New thoughts, new experiences, new horizons. Acting can improve your health!
And, what of the miscues. They are the fertile playground of the engaged actor. The character devours them with insatiability. In an interview with Stacy Keach, he talked about playing “Wild Bill” in Indians at Arena Stage. The play later went on to New York and Keach’s career was launched. Stacy remembers opening night at Arena when “Wild Bill” rides a rather sizable prop horse on stage and the head drops off. Keach dismounts, takes the horse head in his hands and eulogizes the dismembered soul. Weeks later, Keach is stopped outside Arena stage and a woman who was so moved by Keach’s performance opening night returned for more and queried, “Why did they cut the wonderful eulogy of your horse?” These are the stories actors remember.
We all have a few and we will regale family and friends with them for years to come. In fact, I have always wondered why I can remember the names of all 31 characters I have played with regularity, and yet sometimes have trouble remembering one of my ten grand nieces’ or nephews’ names.
And, we all remember with great relish our first moments on stage. For me, it was forgetting to close the door of the cottage in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Guess which dwarf I played?
You got it - “Dopey”.
For Jerry Lewis, it was the “Devil, Mr. Applegate” in Damn Yankees. As a boy, Jerry’s father had told him "When you do Broadway kid, you have made it." Imagine, with everything Jerry has accomplished, finally feeling that he had made it at 69. But for me, as for many, we have a visual scrapbook of absolutely exhilarating moments on stage. My moments include the song “Reviewing the Situation” in Oliver, “The Impossible Dream” in Man of La Mancha, and “I’m Glad I Am Not Young Anymore” in Gigi, and of course, “Lonely Room” in Oklahoma and “Chris’ “ revelation in All My Sons that his father’s cost-cutting measures at the plant have contributed to his son’s death.
When I polled my current cast of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I asked them why they do community theatre.
I do believe nearly half of them would give up their existing lives and take a Broadway part tomorrow if it were offered to them.
I do it for those single moments, those hushes that are more powerful than anything I have ever experienced. As the late Theodore Bikel shared with me, “Mike it’s the hushes you listen for. If they are there, then the audience is with you.”
In an interview with Tommy Tune, I once commented, “Tommy, nine Tony’s, what an amazing accomplishment.” Tommy’s response, “You know when Mom and Dad were alive those awards seemed to mean something, but now, they are like someone just patting you on the back and saying, good job Tommy.”
We must not forget that even the great ones look to loved ones for positive reinforcement. It is like any other gift. When you can’t share it with those you love, some of it’s magic is gone. In those cases, you have to look for new magic. For me, just being able to do “Pseudolus” at my age is a major accomplishment. It keeps me young. And, the adulation of the younger actors is a tremendous boost.
There are of course signs you have been doing theatre too long. Some of you may recognize them.
Community theatre all across this nation is thriving and is a key element in our society’s enrichment at a time when arts programs are being cut and corporate donations are languishing. Keep up your wonderful work, and thank you British Embassy for recognizing the great work we do. And, thank you all for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts about the arts and community theatre.
Footnotes: 1. Twink Lynch
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