Theatre Family

October 4th, 2010 § 0 comments

My friend Cassandra Kubinski stopped by the Wing office the other day. I was very surprised to find, as we chatted, that I hadn’t seen her in well over a year. It turns out she’d spent much of that time living in Nashville pursuing her singing and songwriting career, opening a music venue there with a friend for a short time. Cassie and I aren’t close friends, but I’m very fond of her. She has been very good about staying in touch overall, so this gap was anomalous. We first met about 13 years ago when she was in two productions at Goodspeed Musicals, while I was general manager there. I calculate that Cassie is about 27 or so now. Do the math. Or let me help you: she played the title role in Annie.

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Theatre is a transitory field, albeit less so for those of us in administration, or on a resident theatre’s permanent staff. But for actors, directors, designers, authors and so many others, theatre is, among many other things, a constant go-round of meeting, bonding, working together, then breaking apart, only to start all over again with yet another group. As a result, friendships can operate somewhat differently than what you might be used to. Because everyone is constantly moving on to another project, it’s hardly unusual to go for a long period of time without seeing someone you consider a friend, then picking up right where you left off. One benefit of the proliferation of cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like is that they actually allow theatre folk to stay in touch much more easily than when I entered the field. If you really want to find someone, you don’t end up in endless phone tag with a home answering machine, or, to date myself, their service.

At the same time, I have found theatre to be remarkably constant, perhaps because I spent much of my career in institutional theatre, which affords more continuity. The people I met when I worked at Hartford Stage are still an important part of my life, and rarely a day goes by one when I’m not in communication with at least one person who I know from my tenure there. But as a result, we have grown up together, aged together, shared losses and successes together.

Yet on some level, I will always be the impetuous, abrasive boy press agent. Pete Gurney will always be my adoptive W.A.S.P. uncle, who was so proud of me when I got the job at the Wing, and told me so; Richard Thomas will always be my energetic, mischievous older theatre brother who egged me on to my first (and only) shot of tequila; Kate Burton remains my warm-hearted, “everybody’s favorite” older sister, who once laced into me for not sharing a secret with her; David Hawkanson and Mark Lamos will always be my thrilling, aggravating, wisdom-imparting older cousins who teased me, taunted me, and taught me the ways of the world.

Because these relationships remained in place, and still do, for more than half my life, for a long time I never had any sense of growing up. Just as with my blood relatives, or with my high school friends, the interactions between me and members of my theatre family revert to old patterns the moment I see them – often shocking outsiders when I lapse into the casual profanity that was the lingua franca of Hartford Stage in the mid-80s.

So it is only recently that I have begun to understand that I may now be the uncle, the cousin, to young people who entered my circle at one point or another during my career. As Cassie sat in my office, I looked at this extraordinarily self-possessed, determined young woman (which she has been since I first met her) and felt proud of her as she talked of her career, her changing perspectives, and her achievements. I sensed there were some disappointments along the way too, but hey, who tells their uncle or older cousin about those?

I realize there is a younger generation to my theatrical family, and though I cannot claim to have mentored them in the ways that Hawkanson and Lamos, and Michael Price of Goodspeed (another uncle), mentored me, I am extraordinarily happy each time I see them, and so thrilled with their successes. Howard Fishman, once a high school intern at Hartford Stage, is a successful recording artist with numerous albums and a flourishing concert and club performing career; Kate MacCluggage, who would answer phones on weekends at The O’Neill Center and is now the leading lady of The 39 Steps here in New York; John Barlow, once an intern at the American Shakespeare Theatre in CT, who used to do errands for me in NYC while I remained in CT, established one of Broadway’s top p.r. firms, and now contemplates his next career move; Lex Leifheit, who did p.r. at The O’Neill Center, now runs SOMArts in San Francisco; Chris Jahnke, who came to Goodspeed fresh out of college, is now a top-flight orchestrator and music director.

Though their successes and increasing authority are reminders that I am indeed aging, since they are all now adults and have become my peers, I harbor great pride in their achievements. Just as Kate Burton is fond of saying about her and me, “The kids have grown up, and are in charge.”

A week or so ago, I noticed that I was being followed on Twitter by a young man named Christopher Kauffmann. With a few quick clicks, I determined that he was the same Chris who, along with his younger sister, had appeared at Goodspeed in Finian’s Rainbow. I didn’t know him as well as I knew Cassie, and I haven’t seen him once in the ensuing years. He’s living in New York, acting. We’re going to meet for coffee soon. And I’m going to be very proud of him, too.

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A final thought: there a countless young people who I’ve encountered over the years, and regret that I don’t know better. Every year at the Wing, some three dozen kids spend two weeks in our SpringboardNYC program, while several hundred participate in our Theatre Intern Group. I wish I had more time to mentor them, to become their theatre family, and I feel the same way about the six classes of the National Theatre Institute that were at The O’Neill during my tenure (one kid I remember a bit from those years, because he was so tall, was named John Krasinski, and he’s done pretty well with no help from me). Someday, I hope we all meet again, as peers.


This post originally appeared on the American Theatre Wing website

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