I live in a large gated community of five thousand homes, where eighty clubs cater to every interest. After my husband and I moved in, I became involved in two activities. I wanted to join a writers club, but there not being one, I started it myself.
As a former amateur actress, I joined the Performing Arts Club and had a part in one of their plays. Two years later, I was voted Vice President of Plays and suggested we produce the famous play THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.
Unfortunately, the president of the club didn’t like it and--as I discovered later--he and his wife, who were professional actors, wanted the leading roles in a different play that year. They passed out copies of that script to all board members and encouraged them to vote for it instead of the one my committee chose. Friends insisted I’d been unfairly treated.
I then decided that, since the couple had had the play they wanted, mine could be suggested the following year. It was, and the president protested again. During the day of voting--while I was in another state attending a family wedding--he suggested a different play and mine lost again. I had no reason to believe a third try would succeed, so the project seemed impossible.
Meanwhile, however, new residents moved into our community and two very talented actors became my friends. Karen (who I wanted to play the female lead), and Marty (a perfect male lead), were behind me and offered to help get the play performed. Together we approached another retirement complex nearby which had a performing arts club, and their board agreed to put on the play, the president of the club signing the Agreement.
A week later, he told me they’d changed their mind. I learned a member of their board was a good friend of our club president and he had probably sabotaged our deal.
Once more the project seemed doomed, but the idea that the play should be presented refused to go away. I was reminded of a little theatre in town which put on several plays a year, and spoke with their director. She was willing to rent the theatre to me and we set a date. Because the theatre was small, and I wanted to keep the ticket price reasonable, I realized the production might sustain a financial loss. However, I planned to use my personal savings if necessary.
Other problems arose. I had to become an "entity" which would "hire" the theatre for the play, which meant paying a county fee and publishing my fictitious business name in the local newspaper. Then I had to buy liability insurance for that entity. Two weeks later the theatre closed down altogether.
By now, even my husband, who had supported me, told me to forget the idea. However, in spite of now having been rejected four times, I continued to feel it was the right thing to do.
Karen reminded me that some of the writers in my writers club wanted to write plays, and suggested I go to their board and ask if they’d sponsor the play. Three days later, the association gave permission and we could do the play on our own stage.
The only dates we could get the theatre were June 10-13, and many residents leave the desert during the summer, but ten actors from the Performing Arts Club (hereinafter PAC) signed on. To complete the cast, I took a small part in addition to directing, and we included actors who didn’t live in our community.
And then more problems arose. The actor playing the butler resigned and I had to replace him. A month later one of the two main actresses backed out. Again I was told to forget the project: after all, tickets were not on sale yet. But Karen and Marty were still there and we had made four large posters and paid for advertising, so I kept on. Two weeks later, a friend from my writing club agreed to take the part.
Finally, twelve days before opening, one of the outside actors, who had a very important part, failed to come to rehearsal and we heard he had simply "disappeared." He didn’t answer his phone or e-mails. No one knew where he was.
I called every male actor I knew but none was available. Suddenly it was Wednesday, and the play was due to open eight days later, on Thursday night. I spent the entire day on the phone. I called the acting coach at the local college and phoned every man between the ages of twenty and sixty who was listed as a member of the desert actors network, but I spoke mainly to answering machines.
One man said he might do it if I paid him (no other actors were being paid) and, desperate, I agreed. He asked me to leave a copy of the script at the gate to our complex, but when I took it there, I discovered they were not allowed to hold things for people. I took it to the front desk of the clubhouse and told the actor to pick it up there. At five p.m. he phoned to say he had been to the clubhouse but the desk had closed at 4:30. He was no longer interested. I was home alone. I felt physically sick and couldn’t swallow. Tears ran down my face. Then, as if it were a voice, I heard the words, "Go forward."
Yes, we had a rehearsal at six, so I went to the theatre. In the middle of rehearsing act one, my cell phone rang, and it was one of the actors I’d phoned that day, returning my call. He said he might be interested and came over right away. He had acted in and directed many plays in the valley, and not only looked the part, he played it perfectly and knew all his lines by the next day. The cast called him a "miracle."
The show was a huge success. People leaving the theatre said it was the best play ever done here, and four people left their e-mail addresses and asked to be notified for our next one. The Writers Club, which paid all expenses, made a small profit.
What impresses me most is how every seeming setback along the way turned out to be a blessing. Had we done the play with PAC instead of my own theatre company, we could not have used the four experienced outside actors. Had we done it in the neighboring complex, it would have required traveling and working with a smaller stage. Had we done it at the little theatre, there would have been even more traveling, plus fewer people could have seen the play, to say nothing of the huge cost to me.
As for the actors who quit during rehearsals, the butler we used turned out to be far better than the original one cast. The actress who stepped in was far better than the first would have been; and the "miracle" actor at the end was not only better than our original choice, but better than anyone else I could ever have chosen for the part.
As proprietor of my acting troupe, Summer Repertory Players, I had joined the Desert Theatre League which is like the Broadway Tonys but for plays and musicals in this valley and, in October, they issued nominations for the 110 productions they judged that year. THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER received eight! On November 14th at the 23rd annual Desert Theatre League Stars Awards dinner, we won four! Not only was I not expecting to win any, we almost swept the Comedy awards. Marty won for Best Lead Actor, Karen for Best Lead Actress, John (our British non-resident) won Best Supporting Actor, and I won for Best Director of a comedy.
My dream of producing the play I loved came true in ways I could never have imagined. Once again, persistence pays.