restricted access 10: Peregrinations

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
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1() / yeregn LT WAS EVJJ)ENT TO ME THAT AMEIZICAN AUDIENCES love talent, love performers, even make a fetish of some of them. There are no kings and no aristocrats in A1nerica; An1ericans find their royalty elsewhere -among the wealthy, the powerful, and the talented. Tycoons and others who walk the halls of power are essentially out of reach. Performers, on the other hand, are familiar faces on the stages and n1ovie screens and especially in living rooms. Radio was in1n1ensely important to almost every American, and TV was rapidly becoming inuch n1ore so. I entered the world of television very soon after my first job in the An1erican theatre had ended. There was a tension in television work that was not much different from the angst of working on the stage. No film, no tape. This was live TV, no retakes to correct mistakes, no editing to make the product look better or more coherent. If you fluffed your lines, too bad-whatever you did, mistakes and all, is what the audience of millions saw. And, unlike the theatre, there was no second night after the opening, no "Ah, well, it'll be better tomorrow ." The rehearsal process itself was very much like theatre; you spent some three weeks to get a ninety-minute show on its feet, you rehearsed in a ballroom, and hit the studio floor only days before the telecast. The difference was that, even in the ballroom, toward the end of the rehearsal period a bunch of technicians followed you around, weaving in and out, con1ing closer and retreating as the cameras would eventually do. You had to get used to that; there was no "fourth wall," the presumed line between stage performers and audience. I liked the challenge. The immediacy of performing right there and then before the audience created a sense of exciten1ent, even though you had to do it in a void, as it were, for an audience who did not laugh at your jokes, at least not so you could hear their laughter. Nor could you hear the collective intake of breath when they were moved. That aspect of it was possibly worse with movies: In live TV at least you knew the audience was there the night you did it. Make a film and you work for a laugh or a tear that may-or may not-come six months later. In the live TV days you still had the advantage of developing a play and your character in it because you started at the beginning and went through to the end. Later, after tape started to be used, it was not so much fun. You still had all the rehearsals to cope with, and you might get to tape an act at a time, but then they started to tape bits and pieces out of sequence, almost like film but under greater tin1e pressure. There was son1e interesting n1aterial for a perforn1er on TV, son1e not so interesting, and son1e downright garbage. The trick was to avoid the garbage and go for the classy material; that is, if you could afford to do that and still eat and pay the rent. It was then that I discovered the ultimate usefulness of money: It allows you to say no. By and large [ chose well in those "live" days. I did The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Dybbuk (directed by Sidney Lumet), George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (with Maurice Evans, Raymond Massey, and Genevieve Bujold, directed by George Schaefer), and Julius Caesar (directed by Daniel Petrie). It was in Caesar that the pitfalls of doing live television were especially in evidence for n1e. It was the n1iddle of sun1n1er, and we used a studio on Ninth Avenue that had no air conditioning. The crowd scenes were particularly uncomfortable; all these bodies emanating heat and sweat. I played Caesar. After being stabbed by all the daggers, I was lying dead on the ground while Brutus and Marc Antony delivered their orations. I had no way of knowing at what point the cameras would be on me, and I had to take care to pretend not to breathe at all. [ was able to control that part better than my perspiration glands. A sweating corpse would surely tax the audience's suspension of disbelief. But I hoped we would get away with it. However , the crowd had been directed by Dan Petrie to react to Brutus favorably and to Marc Antony with...