Professionalism, Personality, Talent – and Me
After the Sunday matinee closing performance, I had a hangover Monday morning, not from the incredible fun cast party, but withdrawal symptoms from the intensity of total immersion in a theater experience. I can’t tell you how many people connected to the RTC came up to me saying with such glee, “You are hooked. You’ll never escape.” And so it goes. Early Monday morning I joined the de-construction crew taking down the set that had become home to the almost 40 cast members. By Tuesday, noon, the basic set for “Moon Over Buffalo” was in place.
And how sad to see the empty backstage dressing room that had pulsed with such life over the past three months – people constantly coming and going onstage and off, changing costumes on the fly, moving the not inconsiderable sized sets during the show, often in wet and windy weather.
Watching the always amazing stage manager, Nora Meyers coral this bunch was a wonder. Until I appeared in these two plays I never knew that the stage manager is almost as important as the director – she is the person the actors come into contact with constantly once the play opens. Nora’s husband Patrick is not only a very talented performer (Curly in “Oklahoma”) but does anything asked behind scenes, including one of the most important jobs, operating the curtain when Suzanne Riggs was not available. If you haven’t heard of Suzanne, a local teacher, she is a major behind the scenes player at RTC, doing anything that is needed to keep the theater going.
On to the amazingly diverse cast. Many RTC vets played key roles. I’ve mentioned many of them in my previous columns and want to make sure to note the work of Roger Gonzalez (Twimble) who knocks it out with “Company Way” and keeps everyone laughing back stage. Roger runs a website (localtheatreny.com) - INDEPENDENT, LOCAL, GRASSROOTS NEW YORK THEATRE FROM THE COMMUNITY STAGE TO BROADWAY – where you can find out about auditions, performances, etc. I’ve watched 12-year RTC vet Najat Arkadan (Smitty) belt it out for years. How did she get involved? She was Susan Jaspar’s student at Goldstein HS. Jose Velez (Wally Whomper) was one of my card-playing pals in “The Odd Couple” and has been a powerful voice not only in RTC productions but in the Far Rockaway community. I met Joseph Lopez (known as JoLo) in Frank Ciaiti’s acting class and did my first scene with him. Janet Miserandino and Cathy Murfitt, who have been RTC mainstays, played the scrubwomen – small roles they brought verve and vigor to. And what a delight to meet first time performer Danielle Rose Fisher who was my dance partner (for 15 seconds at each performance) at the World Wide Wickett office party. Danielle, whose enthusiasm and cheer brought a smile to my face every time I saw her, has been involved backstage at the RTC for a decade since she was a 15-year old. In the show she sang and tapped her way into future performances.
The high school kids were fabulous to work with and I got such a kick out of their enthusiasm, knowledge of the theater, and ease on stage (due to the training of the RTC youth program run by Peggy Page). Midwood HS senior Casey Stabiner, already with an impressive resume as a performer at RTC since she was 9, never seemed to stop moving - when she wasn’t back stage reading “Hamlet.”
I was delighted to listen in as Casey and Leon Goldstein teacher Steve Ryan (Bratt) discussed the plot. Other RTC youth program vets Kayla Ann Healy (15, student at Professional Performing Arts School), Antonio Oliveri (senior at Xaverian), James Dalid(studying music at CCNY) and Dante Rei (19) – the only cast member with facial hair – a perfect mustache - made being backstage so much fun. I couldn’t stop smiling as Casey and Keyla danced up a storm during the overture right before the curtain opened and then went into freeze pose seconds before it did open. Dante is assisting Nora as stage manager for the next production. RTC is more than a production company. It offers the full theater education experience, from sound to lighting, to all age groups.
I’ve run out of words before getting to the great influx of newcomers to this production (I’ll cover this amazing crew in a future column) who trekked out to Fort Tilden from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan almost daily, often by public transportation. They all say they are coming back, just showing the power and draw of Rockaway’s local theater group.
And the fab cast party where the guys did the gals’ tap and the gals did the guys’ “Brotherhood of Man.” And people gathering around the piano to sing just about anything – what a Les Mis they did. I’ll always remember the backstage banter, spontaneous bouts of breaking into song, people practicing lines, dance steps - a once in a lifetime treat for a non-theater person of a certain age.