The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

MUSINGS

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Off-Broadway Oral History Project
by: Casey Childs
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FROM THE STAGE

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

Working the Cino
by: Robert Patrick
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FROM THE HOUSE

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

Casting about Off-Broadway
by: Rosemarie Tichler
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FUTURE FORWARD

Casting about Off-Broadway

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017
by: Rosemarie Tichler

As a casting director for over 25 years, from 1967 to 1991, my night job was being an audience member. I saw lots and lots of plays, thousands of plays, over 5,000 plays, mostly Off-Broadway. My nights were spent in a theater, breathing the same air as actors and onlookers and sharing a unique event. As a casting director, my attention often focused on actors – actors whose work I knew, to see what else I could learn of their talent and their range; actors who were new to me, whose careers I could start or further. But I am and was a theatre lover, a drama major in graduate school, so the play was the thing. A new voice, a terrific play beautifully acted was my idea of heaven.

In the winter of 1963, at the Circle in the Square Theatre, Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and Rip Torn – not the Oscar and Tony winners and the future president of Equity, but three gifted and hot young actors – were doing DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, by Eugene O’Neill. The sexual power, tension, and danger of that threesome was thrilling.

I remember a night in 1971, at the Truck and Warehouse Theatre, now defunct. The play was THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, by John Guare, whose work I didn’t know, directed by someone I had worked with, Mel Shapiro. I remember Anne Meara making me scream with laughter as Bunny and minutes later laughing loudly at Banana’s monologue, performed by Katherine Helmond, while gasping at the sadness and emptiness underneath this hilarity. The play heralded a new voice: the same themes as Arthur Miller, but told with humor, dark, hilarious, and surreal. There were times that evening I felt uneasy, as often I was the only one laughing in this small house.

Another night, a very different one, in the Anspacher Theater at The Public, also in 1971, as the Vietnam War was still at the moral and political center of life in America: STICKS AND BONES, by David Rabe, in which a young man, played by David Selby, returns blind and changed from Vietnam to his Ozzie and Harriet-like home. His uncomprehending parents, played by Elizabeth Wilson and Tom Aldredge, and brother, Cliff de Young, assist him at the play’s end in a ritualistic suicide. The play ended; no one applauded. No one rose from their seat. I remember sitting in my seat, blindsided, for many, many minutes. The only other time I had that experience was years later, in the mid 80’s, in the midst of another national trauma: the AIDS Crisis. Opening night of THE NORMAL HEART, the playing space strewn with mess, spilled milk, and broken bottles, and Brad Davis playing a version of Larry Kramer leaves the stage, and the play ends. Again, no one moved. The lights came up, and the audience, who were on opposite sides of the playing space, looked at each other mournfully.

As I start remembering my nights at the theatre in those years, so many plays and actors, sets and tableaus, float across my mind: the bar in NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY; MACBIRD, a fabulous musical satire of Lyndon Johnson, New York City gone mad; LITTLE MURDERS,by Jules Feiffer, with Linda Lavin; Genet’s THE BLACKS, incredibly theatrical and exciting; and Sam Shepard, an original voice with LA TURISTA at American Place. I could go on. There truly was so much that was unforgettable. I haven’t even mentioned A CHORUS LINE in 1975. There were an astonishing number of writers, composers, actors, directors, and designers making their way, doing their work. It was an impossibly fertile and exciting period in American theatre. You didn’t know it then, as an audience member or theatre-maker. You didn’t know it would have a name, or that it would be deemed memorable. You just spent some pretty remarkable evenings, in a dark room with about 100-200 other people, where your life and the world you lived in were illuminated.

 

Watch our interview with Rosemarie Tichler!