Archive for the tag 'English Alternative Theatre'

30 November 2015: Spawns of Ron Willis…

November 30th, 2015

There’s a wonderful profile piece in the Lawrence Journal-World this morning about the indefatigable Ric Averill, founder of the pioneering local theater group called the Seem-To-Be-Players from the 1970s, and current director of performing arts at the Lawrence Arts Center.

In the article, Mary Doveton says this about Ric:  “He’s like any of us that are working in the creative arts.  You get an idea and you run with it.  It’s exciting and exhilarating, and you gather people around you that are like-minded, and everybody feeds off everybody.  Rick’s a really creative guy, and he’s always got a positive attitude, and he makes people feel good about themselves.”

Mary Doveton is, of course, herself “The Force” who founded the Lawrence Community Theatre, also in the 1970s, an organization which, in its early days, nurtured original scripts and produced three of my plays:  Hatchet Club, Chambers, and Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  Mary encouraged me to direct the first two, but undertook to direct the third one herself.  And now, 35 years later, I am myself directing a staged reading of Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  We are presently in rehearsal for just one performance at 7 PM on Thursday, December 3rd at the Lawrence Public Library.  I have 14 very fine actors in the cast.  When they ask me for notes, all I can think of is Mary back in 1980 telling the original cast they must “SPARKLE! SPARKLE! SPARKLE!”  I don’t know how to top that, so I’m just telling my actors to “twinkle… twinkle… twinkle…” like the little stars that they are.

Today’s article about Ric Averill reminds me of another piece in the Lawrence Journal-World from (I think) the late 1990s, in which Prof. Ronald A. Willis was being interviewed about the theatre scene in Lawrence.  By then, besides Ric Averill’s Seem-To-Be-Players and Mary Doveton’s Lawrence Community Theatre, there was also Jackie Davis at the helm of the new Lied Center; my own English Alternative Theatre (EAT), which I founded primarily to produce the original scripts being written by my students; and Andy Stowers’ EMU Theatre was also waiting in the wings.  We had all studied at one time or another with Ron. In that article, Ron in his characteristic way laughed and said that attendance at theatrical events being presented at Murphy Hall was dwindling because the K.U. Theatre Department had “spawned its own competition.”  He named the organizations, but not the names of the students he had spawned.

Ronald A. Willis died at home at age 79 on March 6, 2015, of congestive heart failure.  A wonderfully celebratory memorial service was held at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall on Saturday, March 14, at 3 PM.  I could not be there because I was not in Lawrence at the time, but I have now watched the entire 79-minute tribute several times on YouTube.  Two of his three sons spoke, two of his granddaughters spoke, a sprinkling of colleagues and former students spoke.  Among the latter, lots of other spawns, but none of them from the local theatre scene.


Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…

September 14th, 2011

Through the years, I’ve had a strange love/hate relationship with Mary Doveton, the Founding Mother and Executive Director of Theatre Lawrence, formerly the Lawrence Community Theatre.  Mary directed the world premiere of my play Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris (1984); and encouraged me to direct three others of my own at LCT—Hatchet Club (1983), Chambers (1985), Lee and the Boys in the Back Room (1987).

Additionally, through the years, I’ve directed many other plays at LCT, frequently as co-productions with English Alternative Theatre (EAT), my own theatre-producing organization within the English Department at the University of Kansas.  Among these productions are Master Class by David Pownall (1986), Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard (1989), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (1998), A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (2000).

Many stories can be told about each one of these productions, some funny, some not so funny, but nothing to seriously damage my friendship and working relationship with Mary Doveton.  And then something happened during the production of Whiteout, a new play by my student Alan Newton which Piet Knetsch was directing for EAT in the LCT space in October of 2000.  I am not yet ready to share with everyone the awful details of what happened at that time. But then, in 2007, along came someone out of the blue who inadvertently “buried the hatchet” once and for all, although not in the usual sense one uses this phrase, as to where the hatchet is buried.

In June and July of 2007, Zack Mannheimer, an enterprising young director who had grown weary of the theatre scene in New York, decided to undertake “A Survey of the American Theatre Landscape” by embarking on a remarkable journey which takes him from Pittsburgh, PA to Raleigh, NC, with 25 stops in between, to see if there is a hospitable city where he can locate his own theatre company.  He started a daily blog ( which you can read in its entirety, or you can skip ahead to what he says about Day 49 of his odyssey, in Lawrence.  I’m reproducing below, the more salient passages of his account of the separate interviews he had with Mary Doveton and myself, in our respective offices.

Post 49—Day 49: Thr 7/19/2007—Lawrence

After a shower at…Jay Hawk Motel…I leave to attend my first appointment with Mary Doveton, the Executive Director of The Lawrence Community Theatre ( Housed in an old church, the theatre is one block out of the heart of downtown on New Hampshire Street….

I am led downstairs to the offices by the receptionist who brings me into the green room.  Mary is busy speaking to another employee. Behind me sits a large-scale model for a new theatre, and I find out later that this larger space will be opening in 2009.

….Mary brings me into her book-lined office and we sit down. “I’m sorry, we only have a few minutes, I do have another appointment coming shortly.”  Mary sits before me, a strong-willed woman of about 55 who, despite her stern look, is as sweet as Moscato….We begin with the usual round of questions, and Mary answers: “This is our 31st season. We bought this space in 1984. Before that we were operating out of community centers or wherever we could find space.”

LCT has an operating budget of $325,000 of which 65% is earned through ticket prices of $14-$20. They do receive some assistance from granting organizations, but the other 35% is made up mostly through private donations and corporate sponsorship. “There isn’t much, we get about $8,000 from the Kansas Arts Commission,” Mary tells me after I ask her about state/city funding. “There isn’t a lot of public funding in Kansas.”

LCT produces 6 shows per year, recently closing Thoroughly Modern Millie to sold out houses….Mary explains that they try to produce cutting edge work, but the same people always come to that; there does not tend to be an overlap of those who come for campy musicals to something like the latest Shanley play. “Mysteries and musicals bring in the money, and that’s what we need right now.”

…..Her next appointment, who was running late, has now arrived. Before I leave I tell her about my quest to find a new city (to settle in). “Do not come here,” she warns me pointedly. “There’s just not enough room for another group.”

Mary asks me where I’m headed next. “Off to English Alternative Theatre to meet with Paul Lim,” I say.  She makes a face. Not a pleasant one.  “What?”  “O, nothing. Enjoy your talk with Paul.”

And with that, I’m on the road across town to the University where Paul is a professor. It seems, as I am gauging from Mary’s comment, that the theatre community here knows each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they like each other.

I’m on the phone with Paul as I cannot seem to find the building he is talking about. “I’m in a black shirt standing in a spot for you as there isn’t a lot of parking,” he says.  I arrive almost 30 minutes late to meet him, after driving repeatedly in the wrong direction down dead end streets….

“Hello!” Paul greets me as I finally pull into my reserved spot.  “I’m so sorry, I got lost.”  “Don’t worry. Come, let’s go to my office.”  I follow Paul into Wescoe Hall for the Humanities. Paul is a lively, happy man of about 60.  Originally from the Philippines, he wound up in Lawrence at KU for college, receiving his BA in 1969, his MA and becoming a GTA in 1972, a lecturer in 1978 and was granted full professorship in 1989. He is the Chancellor’s Club Teaching Professor of Playwriting in the English Department. Not the Theatre Department. Don’t mess that up.

Paul brings me into his small office jampacked with books, posters of old productions, and endless knick-knacks. I sit down beside his desk and we begin. I have so many questions for him about his company, English Alternative Theatre (, and its affiliation with the university. “EAT is the only theatre company in the country run through the English department,” he tells me….

“Since you’ve been in Lawrence for quite some time, how has it changed?”  “People used to be more adventurous,” he begins, “but that time seems to have passed. There is not a great deal of risk-taking now when it comes to theatre. Lawrence Community Theatre used to take a lot of risks, but that’s not what pays the bills anymore. Still, there is a small handful of people in the community who actually miss what they used to do.”

EAT has an annual budget of $15,000 – $20,000. Most artists are not paid, as it is almost uniformly student driven, though the designers, technicians and stage managers he brings in are given a stipend. “I don’t like them to do work for free,” Paul says.  “Does the university provide the funding?” He laughs. “We have one angel who gives us money—it’s been the same person since our inception; we founded the group together.””Who is this?” I ask curiously. Paul hands me a copy of Angels in the American Theater.  Apparently, Southern Illinois University Press, who tends to publish all the important theatrical essay books, has just put out a book about theatrical donors in America, and there is an entire article devoted to EAT’s one Angel, Grant K. Goodman. Goodman has an amazing story…there’s not enough room here to go into it, but the long and short of it is that he has always had a lifetime devotion to and love of theatre. Each year he gives EAT the full budget for the season. Paul has never run a fundraiser and has never received a grant, though they are a not-for-profit.

Angels in American Theater is an important book. Never, to my knowledge, has a book been written about the donors of American theatre. This is vital as there would be no theatre without these generous folk. For better or worse, these are the first line of defense when it comes to creating theatre in this country. While I typically abhor the wealthy paying for the art that they want, this book does not only profile the typical Broadway donors. There’s a whole chapter on EAT in Lawrence, Kansas, for god sakes. Robert A. Schanke is the editor and the brainchild behind this operation. He has edited and/or written a virtual catalog of books on American Theatre, this one being part of the Theater in the Americas series that he edits….

But back to Paul, talking about who performs in his shows “The actors come from the community and the student body. I get a lot of the disenchanted theatre students, the ones who just fall through the cracks but are talented and want to perform.”  He says this rather jollily, his round face bobbing along with his words, kindness and warmth emanating from the wide hands he speaks with. “We’ve sent about 20 students to various regional festivals of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival…and we’ve had 5 or 6 go on to win on the national level.”

“It’s all about the students,” Paul reflects.

This was such a wonderful meeting, and it was warming to be back inside a university.  For all of my dislike of what some of them do, I do miss the feeling of being inside academia. I bid farewell to Paul, and am off to The Pig downtown to continue on with my writing.

I don’t know what’s happened to Zack Mannheimer, and whether he ever actually relocated to any of the cities he visited and wrote about back in 2007.  But, it has now been nearly twelve years since I’ve stepped foot inside 1501 New Hampshire.

And now, of course, Mary Doveton is in the final stages of raising $6.2 million to build a new home for her newly-named Theatre Lawrence at 6th and Wakarusa, at the western edge of Lawrence, far away from the heart of the community.  Last I heard, as of a couple of weeks ago, she was still around $600,000 short of her goal. She needs to raise the amount before the end of September, or she’ll lose a $1.2 million out-of-state challenge grant, and that will be the end of that.

Thankfully, on September 6, Lawrence city commissioners approved giving Theatre Lawrence $100,000 ($20,000 a year for the next five years). A week later, on September 13, representatives from Theatre Lawrence asked Douglas County commissioners to do the same, to give the organization another $100,000 (also $20,000 a year for the next five years).

In its editorial on September 14, The Lawrence Journal-World wrote:

“After making a successful funding pitch to the Lawrence City Commission last week, representatives of Theatre Lawrence, the former Lawrence Community Theatre, have decided to extend their tour with a stop at the Douglas County Commission…to ask county officials to make a similar commitment….To many local taxpayers, this seems like a double-dip….The theater received a generous contribution last week in the form of $100,000 in city taxpayer money. The decision now to ask the county to match that amount may be over-reaching. A large majority of county residents already will be contributing to the fund through the city’s contribution.  Should they be asked to give again through the county?

“Theatre Lawrence says it needs the money to reach its $6.2 million fundraising goal by the end of this month and collect a $1 million out-of-state challenge grant.  We hope they are successful in meeting their goal, but, especially at a time when local government dollars are in such high demand to fund essential services, the city’s contribution of local tax dollars may be enough.”

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about Mary Doveton a great deal these past couple of weeks.  And I’ve just reread what Zack Mannheimer had to say about Mary when he mentioned my name.  What I’m wondering now, of course, is whether or not to bury the hatchet, this time in the usual sense of the phrase, by giving Theatre Lawrence a bunch of money before the end of September.  If I do so, maybe Mary will no longer make a face, an unpleasant one, the next time my name is brought up in casual conversation.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle-shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.


Farewell, My Lovelies…

May 10th, 2011

On the afternoon of 9 May 2011, the English Department of the University of Kansas gave a festive “milestones celebration” in the North Gallery of the Spencer Research Library for three of its new retirees, presided by Chair Marta Caminero-Santangelo, and organized by Administrative Assistant Robert Elliott.  The retirees (Mike Johnson, Jim Hartman and I) were expected to say a few words. Here’s what I prepared for the occasion.

Many, if not most, of the people here know me as, until recently, the one and only person who has been teaching playwriting in the English Department since 1989, the same year I founded English Alternative Theatre to nurture, develop and produce the plays being written by my students.  But, my history with the department goes all the way back to spring of 1969, and not many people here know how I came to be at KU, so I thought I might share the story with everyone present.

These days, if I am filled with feelings I cannot begin to describe when I’m watching the hit television series MAD MEN, it’s because I lived through the same exciting period in the 1960s as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in the Philippines.  Many of the ad campaigns that I worked on had won various industry awards, and my colleagues in Manila thought I was “good enough” to make it on Madison Avenue in New York.

Thus, travelling on just a tourist visa, I left for the United States with my hefty portfolio in June of 1968.  To my disappointment, after they looked at my portfolio, the people at J. Walter Thompson in New York said that, ironically, I had too much experience.  They were only interested in hiring cheaper, beginning copywriters.  They suggested I try my luck with employment agencies, which I did, and they in turn told me that I could lie about my experience and start at $18,000 a year, or else I could sit and wait for a $30,000 job to open up at one of the ad agencies in the city.  Not wanting to sell myself short, I chose to wait.

Day after day, I sat by the telephone, waiting.  Nothing.  Six months went by, and I began to worry, because my tourist visa was running out.  I had only two options.  I could be deported as an illegal alien, returning to Manila with that damned portfolio, my tail between my legs, or I could exchange my tourist visa for a student visa.  And then I remembered that, back in 1964, I had met a peripatetic historian from the University of Kansas, who had been in the Philippines first as a soldier during World War II, then as a Fulbright scholar, then as a frequent visitor in the course of his academic research.  Although I did not have any of my college transcripts from Manila with me, I turned to Grant Goodman to convince the registrar at KU to accept me as a foreign student.  And, believe it or not, that’s how I ended up in Lawrence, Kansas.

As a side note, two weeks before I left the East Coast for the Midwest, the telephone finally rang, not once, but twice, with lucrative job offers from The Wall Street Journal and from Alka-Seltzer, both of whom were starting their own in-house agencies, and they were interested in someone with my background and qualifications.

Too late.

I had dropped out of school after two years of college in Manila because I was bored with my teachers, but now I felt I was ready to reenter the groves of academe.  Had I gone to work for either The Wall Street Journal or Alka-Seltzer in New York, I would not have had the joy of studying with, among many others, Ed Wolfe, Ed Ruhe, Ed Grier, Paul Kendall, John Bush Jones, Jack Oruch, Max Sutton, Hal Orel, Beverly Boyd, George Worth and Jim Hartman.  I would not have formed lasting personal friendships with, among others, such wonderful colleagues in the department as Carolyn Doty, Bud Hirsch, Mary Davidson, Mary Catherine Davidson, Jim Carothers, David Bergeron, Geraldo Sousa, Amy Devitt, Dick Hardin, Bill Scott, Bob and Dorice Elliott, Marta Caminero-Santangelo, Brian Daldorph and Phil Wedge.

When Grant Goodman himself retired from the History Department 22 years ago, he let it be known that he did not want to be presented with an autographed 8 x 10 glossy of then-KU Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Judith Ramaley, a position which, incidentally, no longer exists in Strong Hall.  I’ve never met our new Provost, so I don’t think there’s any danger of my receiving an autographed 8 x 10 glossy from him.  Truthfully, I am quite happy with all the pictures in my mind’s eye, of everyone I’ve named, of everyone here today, to say nothing of all the wonderful student playwrights, actors and designers I’ve been fortunate to work with through English Alternative Theatre, to remind me that the journey has been worthwhile.  Indeed, it has all been more than worthwhile.

These days, given the economy, I’m thankful I never got into the habit of reading The Wall Street Journal, so there is no reason for me to imbibe the “plop plop, fizz fizz” of an Alka-Seltzer.  Actually, I’ve never in my life ever had an Alka-Seltzer, not even the mornings after the nights of heavy drinking after some of our more memorable and sometimes even deplorable departmental meetings.  I hope I live long enough to tell all the steamy stories on my website at

Thank you for the memories, one and all, everyone.  A special thank you, too, to all my friends and colleagues who have given so generously to the KU Endowment Association for the annual Paul Stephen Lim Asian-American Playwriting Award which has been established by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Miss Utah Made Me Do It!

April 8th, 2010

I was smoking up to sixty cigarettes a day when I finally quit in 1994.  And now, sixteen years later, when the nurse weighed me at the doctor’s office prior to my annual physical, there was no avoiding the fact that I’ve packed on sixty pounds since my last cigarette.  So how did this happen? Let me start at the beginning.  It all began with Miss Utah.

You may find this hard to believe but, back in the Philippines, when I was just sixteen years old, I was already hosting my own television show on Channel 10, the government-run station.  Our weekly hour-long  variety show was on the air for a couple of months in 1960.  It was called “Get Together” by our unimaginative producer because he claimed this was what the show was, a get together.  Needless to say, I rarely had any say about who the guests were.  I would show up every Saturday at the studio (which we called “the barn”) a couple of hours before taping the show, and that’s when I’d find out whom we were featuring at the “get together” that week.  Because it was a variety show, the guest list tended to lean more toward the entertainment industry, mostly movie stars, especially if they were Hollywood celebrities visiting Manila for one dubious reason or another.

Back then, a name we were all familiar with was Steve Parker, who was married to Shirley MacLaine but who, for some reason, did not live with her.  Alas, rumor had it that Steve preferred to sow his wild oats with a wide array of attractive Asian lasses.  Although the unconventional long-distance marriage between Shirley MacLaine and Steve Parker survived for several decades, they finally got divorced in 1982 and, to no one’s surprise, he immediately got hitched to a Japanese woman in Hawaii.  But, back to Miss Utah.

In 1960, besides being famous for being unfaithful to Shirley MacLaine, Steve Parker was also an enterprising entrepreneur.  One of his enterprises was a spectacular stage show which he produced annually, a lavish extravaganza featuring beauty queens from all the beauty pageants—Miss America, Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Cosmos, Miss Galaxy—who were willing to tour Southeast Asia with him; parading in their swimsuits and evening gowns; showing off their unique musical, declamatory or baton-twirling talents; rousing and arousing the natives with their energetic high-kicking dance routines.

I have no idea how our producer managed to get Steve Parker to bring his bevy of buxom beauties to “the barn” but, there they were, bigger than life, that fateful Saturday afternoon in 1960, when I was expected to “Get Together” and chat intelligently with them.  What I didn’t expect was to be chatted up.

It happened during a short lull in the taping of the show, when the beauty queens were changing into their much-anticipated swim wear.  First one out of the  dressing room was the statuesque Miss Utah from the Miss America Beauty Pageant, wearing a blindingly white one-piece bathing suit with a red sash across her chest to match her flaming red hair, and white stiletto heels which made her seem even taller than the Tower of Babel, given how she reduced all the men in “the barn” to Jell-O and gibberish.

To this day, I have no idea why Miss Utah chose me, but I can still hear the clickety-clack of her stiletto heels on the linoleum floor as she headed in my direction. Once she had me cornered, she slipped her left arm into my right arm.  She didn’t seem to mind the fact that one of her breasts was resting firmly on the crook of my elbow.  “Can I have a cigarette?” she asked huskily, sounding like Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, or maybe Julie London in those early Marlboro commercials which aired in moviehouses in Manila prior to the trailers and the main feature.

Probably no one else but me remembers this, but when Marlboro was first introduced, its target audience was women, not men.  Long before the world was introduced to the rugged Marlboro Man, we were all treated to a black-and-white commercial of sultry songstress Julie London having some kind of dalliance with a man in a dimly-lit restaurant.  Slowly, seductively, she pulls out a Marlboro, he lights it for her, and then she blows smoke in his eyes as she starts to sing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” in that breathless, whispery, smoky voice of hers.  In my boyhood, Julie London was the insurmountable Marlboro Woman, the pulchritudinous personification of “filter…flavor…flip-top box!”

And now, standing in “the barn” in her stiletto heels next to me, Julie London had metamorphosed into Miss Utah.  “Can I have a cigarette?” she repeated pointedly.  All eyes in the room were suddenly on me.  You could have heard the proverbial pin drop, but it was my pen and clipboard. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, “I just had my last one. I’m out.”

“Oh.”  She looked disappointed.  She let go of my blushing elbow and clickety-clacked across the room to one of the cameramen.  I saw him offering her a cigarette, and then she clickety-clacked back to me.  She didn’t take my arm this time, but spoke in the same life-altering baritone as before.  “Do you have a light?”

I could hear the technicians in the room starting to snicker because they all knew about my pristine respiratory organs, my virgin lungs.  “I lied earlier,” I blurted out the truth. “I don’t smoke.  I don’t have a light.  I’m sorry.”

“I see,” she smiled sympathetically.  “Well, when you’re old enough to smoke, be sure to look me up in Utah.”  And then she clickety-clacked away again, to the same cameraman, taking his arm and sticking his elbow into her ample endowments.  He completed the ritual by flicking his Ronson and lighting her fire.

Before the day was over, on the heels of my humiliation in the hands of Miss Utah, I rushed out and bought my first pack of Newport mentholated cigarettes.

Shortly after that, I worked as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson Co.  One of our clients was Liggett & Myers, makers of premium L&M, Lark and Chesterfield cigarettes, which were given free to JWT employees, so we all smoked like chimneys.  Later, when Marlboro dumped Julie London and created the Marlboro Man, in commercials which showed him herding all those wild mustangs to the thumping theme from The Magnificent Seven, I shifted to Marlboros.

Flash forward to 1994.  By then, I was teaching in the English Department at the University of Kansas. I was also running English Alternative Theatre, my own theatre company.  Two years earlier, I had bought a truck on installment, to haul furniture and set pieces for the theatre company.  As for my nasty nicotine habit, well…you know how theatre people are.  I was smoking two packs of Marlboros a day, three if I was in rehearsal with a play, which was just about all the time.

In the spring of 1994, a good friend asked me what I was doing that summer. He had rented a large house for two months in Lurs, a picturesque village which dates back to the 10th century, perched on a narrow butte overlooking the Durance valley, one of the best wine-growing regions in France.  He said the house itself was surrounded by magnificent olive groves.  Would I care to spend the summer in France with grapes and olives and people who don’t speak English?  There was only one catch.  He was allergic to cigarette smoke.  I would not be allowed to smoke in the house, and certainly not in his presence.

By then, I had been smoking for 32 years.  Unbeknownst to him, I had in fact been thinking about quitting—not because of all the dire warnings from the Surgeon General, not because my dog coughs every time I light up near him, but because the University of Kansas had recently banned smoking in all the buildings on campus.  I had just spent a miserable winter putting on my bulky jacket, cap, scarf and gloves every 15 minutes in order to commiserate outdoors with other victims of the ban. Oh, how we smoked and fumed at the injustice of it all!

Thinking my silence was a sign that I was about to turn down his kind invitation to spend the summer in France, my friend made me another offer. Because he really cared about my health, he said that, if I gave up cigarettes, he would be happy to pay off the rest of the payments on my red Toyota truck. Is it a deal?

There was no way I could quit cold turkey, so I proposed a compromise.  I would bring two cartons of Marlboros with me, and when that was gone, I’d be done for good.  To my surprise, he agreed.

We left for Lurs in early June, and I stuck to my plan.  I would cut back to two packs a day for the first week, then a pack a day for the second week, then ten cigarettes a day for the third week, then five, then three, then two, and then…finally…on the Fourth of July, I would have my last cigarette and declare my INDEPENDENCE from Marlboro Country!  This I did in 1994, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.

But, as I said earlier, I’ve also put on 60 pounds in the intervening years.  When I had my last physical, I told the doctor I didn’t feel any healthier for having given up cigarettes.  Did I just swap possible lung cancer for probable diabetes?  The doctor patted my arm, the same arm which had been intimate with Miss Utah four decades ago, and said:  “If you had the will power to quit smoking, you’ll have the will power to lose weight.”

And so I’m working on it.  I’m looking for pictures of Twiggy and Mahatma Gandhi to put on my refrigerator door.

While on the internet recently, just out of curiosity, I Googled some of the people I’ve mentioned in this “limerance.”  According to Wikipedia, Steve Parker, Shirley MacLaine’s ex, was in Honolulu on May 13, 2001 when he expired of lung cancer.  Julie London was in poor health because of her long-term cigarette habit until her death on October 18, 2000, in Encino, California, at age 74.  Wayne McLaren, the actor who portrayed the Marlboro Man in print and television cigarette advertising, succumbed to lung cancer at age 51 on July 22, 1992.

As for Miss Utah…whoever she is, wherever she is…I hope that she hasn’t kicked the bucket…that she’s kicked the habit…that she is now so fat she’s no longer able to bend down and slip on those stiletto heels to go clickety-clacking with impunity…but that somewhere in back of her closet she still has that  blindingly white one-piece bathing suit…that she takes it out occasionally to look at it…and perhaps remember how she once shamed a boy in Manila to “manhood.”

My Andrew Tsubaki Story

December 22nd, 2009

Many people shared their personal recollections of Andrew Tsubaki at the memorial service in Lawrence, Kansas on 20 December 2009.  For me, the two most moving testimonials came from his sons.

Philip, the younger son who lives in Campinas, Brazil, said his father left Japan for North America in 1957, at the age of 26, his character and personality already formed as a young Japanese male from that period—strict, stern, austere, demanding, undemonstrative, unemotional.  Philip confessed that he was surprised, and ultimately comforted by, the many email messages which poured in from his father’s former students—one in particular, which said that “the sensei always had hugs for everyone.”

Arthur, the older son who lives in Rockford, Illinois, spoke of his father’s love of travel, and how he took Lily and the boys with him whenever he could.  But, Arthur said, they rarely actually travelled together, because his father always departed a day or two earlier, to make sure all the arrangements and accommodations were satisfactory.  Having paved the way, he would then meet the family at the airport upon their arrival, and that’s how all their trips began.  Arthur ended the reminiscence by saying this is how he now views the death of his father—that, as is his habit, he has simply preceded them on yet another trip, paving the way for them, and that they will again find him waiting for them at the end of their journey.

Although I thought I would, I was not among those who spoke at Andrew Tsubaki’s memorial service, because I suddenly didn’t quite know how to put my thoughts into words, not after I heard the outpouring of grief and love from his two sons.   But now, a couple of days later, my mind a bit clearer, I’d like to share my own Andrew Tsubaki story.

In 1995, Andrew directed the English Alternative Theatre production of Tea by Velina Hasu Houston, a play about five Japanese warbrides trying to live “normal” lives in Junction City, Kansas.  As the producer of the show, I had made arrangements to hold our rehearsals in a large studio-like space  on the second floor of Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.  A couple of days before rehearsals began, Andrew asked me if the budget for the production could include the purchase of half a dozen each of the following items—brooms, dustpans, mops, sponges, buckets. 

“Yes, of course,” I replied, “but what are they for?”

“The rehearsal space is sacred,” he said.  “This place is not as clean as it should be.  The actors must clean this place each night before we rehearse.” 

And that’s what they did, the five Asian women we had found to play the Japanese warbrides, on their hands and knees each night before rehearsals began, scrubbing and cleaning those wooden floors at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.  Needless to say, the EAT production of Tea was wondrous and magical.  Andrew Tsubaki would not have had it otherwise.

Although I love the notion that the rehearsal space for a play is sacred, I’ve never dared to ask my actors to do what Andrew Tsubaki demanded of his.  Only the sensei could get away with it.  I have visions of him now, supervising a choir of angels, all of them on their hands and knees, purifying the heavens, because the final resting place of an artist is, without any doubt, sacred.

25 November 2009: Hell Happens, But Heaven Prevails

November 25th, 2009

This past weekend, after 21 years of mostly good and wonderful memories, English Alternative Theatre presented its final production of an original script by one of my playwriting students at the University of Kansas.  But, thanks to the awful temper tantrums of one of the actors, who had earlier asked me if he could also design the set and the lights for the show, and which I was foolish enough to agree to, I am now going to remember this final show as THE PRODUCTION FROM HELL.

Just as I was thinking this, I picked up the latest issue of Newsweek, and saw that its cover story on a journalist’s captivity in Iran is titled 118 DAYS IN HELL.  And then I saw that, not to be outdone, the latest issue of Time shows on its cover a bawling baby bidding bye-bye to THE DECADE FROM HELL So what’s going on?  Is this Armageddon?

Just out of curiosity, I did a quick check on, and discovered that the word HELL appears in the titles of 968 movies you can watch…3,452 songs you can listen to…and 474,641 books you can read.  Thankfully, also shows that the word HEAVEN appears in the titles of 1,016 movies…5,911 songs…and 523,445 books.  Thus, it would appear that God is winning over Satan in the world of popular culture, but not by much.  Going Rogue or Going Rouge, take your pick.

In the playwriting classes that I teach, in order to encourage the students to focus on each and every word they’re using, one of the early classroom exercises they have to write is a short monologue which would incorporate two very special words—the first, their favorite word in the English language; and the second, the one word in the lexicon which, if they could, they would banish forever from everyone’s vocabulary.  You’d be surprised what words show up on either side of the fence.  But, as far as I can remember, in the 21 years I’ve been assigning this exercise, I don’t think HEAVEN or HELL has ever popped up on anyone’s list.  And, just as I’m writing this, I remember hearing on MSNBC recently that PRE-DETERMINED seems to be one of Barack Obama’s favorite words.  To date, he has used it over 900 times in various speeches and public forums.  I wonder now if it’s all pre-determined, whether he knows where we’re going to end up when it’s all over.

Meanwhile, back to THE PRODUCTION FROM HELL.  Drop in on me sometime and, if you’ll bring a case of Pete’s Wicked Ale with you, and you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, I’ll tell you all about it.