February 16, 2018: Theatre Yesterday and Today, by Ron Fassler
When I began writing these “Theatre Yesterday and Today” columns back in June 2016, I wasn’t sure I could sustain the commitment, or for that matter, find enough theatre stuff to write about. But today with my 300th post over these past nineteen months, not only does the process continue to get me started every morning (aided and abetted by strong coffee), but it has educated me in ways I never thought possible, sometimes on subjects that have nothing to do with the theatre — a definite plus.
I’ve now written 300 essays of at least a 1,000 words each over the past 635 days, which translates to about one every other day. It’s been a lot of work, but all of it’s made me a better writer. When I read some of my earliest entries, I cringe a little, and that’s a good thing. If you don’t keep improving, you stagnate.
I really don’t plan in advance what I’m going to write about on any given day, though there are certain dates of importance I earmark; for example, the 60th anniversary of the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire. But the routine is always the same. I wake up, make the coffee, then sit in front of the blank page until I discover something that has a meaning for me and that is connected to the theatre. When I find what it is I’m excited to write about, I become impassioned — or else why write? On some occasions, I have found myself two or three paragraphs in, only to head off in a different direction than I first intended. At that point, I retitle the column and move wherever the muse is taking me, usually with surprising results.
Many times I will get to 1,000 words and realize I’ve barely covered a certain show’s history or enough of someone’s life, resulting in some two and three- part columns that have been among my favorites. It’s a luxury to give the stories that sort of breathing room. It shouldn’t have been a shock that Edward Albee’s death at age eighty-eight would prompt three separate postings in order to tell so many of the stories connected with his game-changing career, both on and off-Broadway. Diving into the history of how On the Town came to be was thoroughly enjoyable — its historic significance easily filling three separate columns.
From time to time my research reveals either something I never knew (always fun), or something I knew — but had gotten wrong (never fun). That’s why fact checking is super important, even if you think you know your facts. For often, in the world of the theatre, stories become fact based on their retelling, and not on what actually happened. It’s also good to hear from readers too, many of whom have been helpful pointing things out. Getting a fact wrong is nothing to be ashamed of, but when improper grammar is brought to my attention, I immediately regress to the 7th grader I once was, when I was handed back a paper with a “C.”
It’s also been an unexpected delight to hear from people when something has moved them in a certain way. When I wrote an appreciation of the actor Jerry Orbach, I heard from his son (who I don’t know). He went out of his way to tell that I had gotten his dad “just right,” which was the best possible praise I could have received. Recently, I heard from a high schooler in Toronto, who is theatre obsessed. She wrote, “A while ago, I was having a conversation about theatre with a friend in theatre school when they mentioned that someone was ‘one of the greats.’ I realized I didn’t really know who ‘the greats’ were. Up In the Cheap Seats and your blog gave me a taste and was the gateway to learning more about them.”
Up in the Cheap Seats was published a year ago this month. That it has brought pleasure to so many has been a boon to me. It will be available in a new paperback edition via Amazon.com on March 1st, and it will include a bonus chapter that was cut from the first edition for length. Since one of the common things mentioned in reviews was that the book could have been longer, I’m happy to accommodate. And as long as people continue to respond by way of this blog, I’ll keep writing. Being able to share my passion for the theatre with like-minded souls is a joy. So thank you all for that.
If you enjoy these columns, check out Up in the Cheap Seats: a Historical Memoir of Broadway, now at Amazon.com in both hard cover and e-book. Email me with comments or questions at Ron@ronfassler.org.