This story appeared in The Times Free Press on |
October 24, 2002
Born January 5, 1948 - October 22, 2002
Stanley Thomas German,
passed away on Sunday,
Oct. 22, 2002, in Woodhaven,
He was a lifelong devotee of music and the arts,
and was a skilled
He was involved in the production and
direction of various
musical shows in both the U.S. and England.
Survivors include his parents,
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin German, Chattanooga;
brother and sister-in-law,
Frank German Jr. and
Deb Young and her husband, Ross,
Bentley Young, Knoxville;
Thomas German and his wife Kathleen;
Timothy German, Knoxville;
Schlotter, Woodhaven, N.Y.;
several aunts and
one uncle and
A memorial service will be held this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Memorial United Methodist Church, Lupton City,
with the Rev. Amos
In lieu of flowers,
the family requests that donations be made to a favorite
Arrangements by Heritage Funeral Home,
East Brainerd Road.
For those of you who are
interested we are posting here one of the letters that Stan sent to me (Jerry
Hale) last year before our 35th Reunion. I felt that this would be a good time
to present it to you my classmates so that we could all remember Stan with
fondness as he recalls a trip he took to England.
Be warned though Stan was long
worded and nothing was taken out... - Jerry Ann Hale
This thing seems to have worked!
It is really so great to hear from you.
I am attaching here my epic saga of how I spent LAST summer vacation!
We've come to the end of the year and at the moment I am snowed into my
apartment with my decidedly restless animals. I don't know if either of them had
ever seen snow before today, but I know they had never seen it in such
abundance. For my part, I am content with keeping the coffee pot on and looking
back over the year. Leaving aside the other paltry events of world history, the
most important point to me was my trip to Buxton. After all, I had been waiting
all my life to do this. If the end results were mixed, I cannot regret for a
moment -- or even a credit card payment -- that I was there and worked with
wonderful people. All things considered, a good year.
It seemed like fun to put down my thoughts and memories of the trip and so even
if I send out two or three episodes of this, friends on Savoynet will always
have the option to delete. So here goes.
I had prepared myself for the Festival during the previous nine months, but
still arrived in Buxton with some apprehension. Although unsure of what I would
be walking into at the first rehearsal, I was still able to map out a musical
game plan for the project. So when the big day arrived and I took off from JFK,
I was virtually champing at the bit and hot to trot!
I arrived in London on Wednesday and spent the better part of Thursday roaming
around The Tower of London. I found myself wondering if the scenic designers for
the Festival could incorporate the Toyotas now parked at the entrance to the
Beauchamp Tower. I did not notice any fire extinguishers in the immediate area.
Just the same, while wandering through some of the areas, I found that if I
touched the wall, I could feel the YEOMEN overture playing somewhere in the
On Friday Neil and Lisa Jenkins, my friends who had made the trip possible and
were my hosts in London, were occupied and unable to take me to the train
station, but had made the arrangements to get me there. I realized that I was
truly beginning an adventure when the taxi arrived twenty minutes late with a
very apologetic Indian gentleman driving. Once we got my luggage safely stored
in the car, he admitted that this was his first day on the job and wasn't
precisely sure how to get to the train station! I suddenly had a flashback of a
night when Karen and I got into a cab late at night and gave the driver our
address in Queens. He sat there for a moment and then said, "Queens. That's
somewhere to the right, isn't it?"
The Indian gentleman did manage to get me to the station on time and I dragged
my bags through the station looking for my departure gate. There was no posting,
but suddenly a voice came on the public address system announcing that my train
was now boarding on Track 14! Hoisting my bags as best I could I stumbled off to
find Track 14! Needless to say, I was about as far from Track 14 as one could be
within the confines of a single postal zone. Once arriving at Track 14 I had to
work my way through Station Security looking flushed and desperate with my
overload of luggage. Luckily, they must have decided I was gasping and wheezing
too hard to be taken seriously as a terrorist.
I had a ticket in the B car, which meant dragging to the FAR end of the
platform. I had packed for the trip to allow sufficient clothing for the entire
visit as well as several scores and other preparation materials, so in the
blistering humidity and heat I was hauling no less than six bags, all loaded to
the extreme. By the time I reached the end of the train, my heart was pounding,
I was light headed and soaked with perspiration. As I started to board the
train, there was another man in similar condition and circumstances also
dragging himself onto the train. We exchanged a wry greeting and moved on to our
I had decided to take the train from London to Buxton so that I might enjoy the
scenic treasures to be had between London and Manchester. Anyone who has ever
made the trip will immediately know the area I am describing. (It was thrilling
to discover that the technique for hanging clothes out to dry was so similar on
both sides of the ocean.)
My car was populated with a large number of young professionals...there is an
American term for them, but I don't know what the British equivalent is. Every
one of them had a cell phone and spent the entire three hours calling and
receiving calls. It was a rather unique experience, sort of like traveling in a
rolling field of chirping crickets.
An hour or two into the trip, having tired of looking at the laundry of the
suburbs, I decided to work my way back to the club car and pick up some
munchies. I started off in the direction of the club car and kept walking ...
and walking ... and walking ... until I began to fear that I might wind up back
in London before I could find the snack bar. When I finally reached the facility
I purchased my snacks and beverages and started the journey back. As I returned
to my car, I had to climb over a number of people clustered around a passenger
who was obviously ill. I did a double take when I realized that the man who
appeared to be having a heart attack or heat stroke was the same overloaded
gentlemen who had boarded the train with me in London. I had a momentary flash
that God had tossed a coin as to which of us would have the attack. Somewhat
shaken I returned to my seat, but when they announced that the sick passenger
would delay service, I began to envision myself unable to make my connection and
sleeping on my bags in some deserted suburban train station for the night.
An attendant reassured me that my connection was a station where I would have no
difficulty in picking up a later train if I missed my scheduled transport.
Somehow I managed to get to the connecting station, but was told that my train
would be coming in on the track on the other side of the station. I dragged my
bags down the stairs to the subterranean tunnel and was beginning to wonder if I
had simply delayed my heart attack so I could do it at a suburban train station.
A young lady who was cleaning looked at me curiously and pleasantly said, "
Excuse me, Love. But why didn't you use the lift?" All I could do was continue
to gasp for breath and try to smile at the same time. (It's not easy.) She
pointed out the other "lift" on the far side of the tunnel and I used it to
stagger onto the other platform just as my train arrived. I stumbled onto the
train, but was too tired to find places for my bags so just camped out near the
This train turned out to be a true commuter and we stopped at every stop, making
the trip to Buxton about 45 minutes. At Buxton, the door I was standing by did
not open and just as I was about to give in to panic, a nice young lady reached
behind my back and pushed a button which opened the door abruptly and allowed me
to more or less fall off the train onto the platform. Ignoring the startled
looks I was getting from the people on the platform, I stumbled out of the
station and was greeted by a kindly cab driver who more or less poured me into
the car and loaded my luggage. I gave him the name of my hotel (the Lee Wood)
and he said pleasantly, "Oh that's a nice hotel. It's just at the top of the
hill." We drove in what seemed a constant upward motion for several minutes
before I fell out of the cab on the doorstep.
While checking in at the front desk, the young lady asked if I would like to
have my bags brought up to my room. I was frankly ready to see them burning in
hell and eagerly accepted her offer. She personally took me up to my room and
departed. A minute or two later there was a knock at the door and a strapping
young man was standing there with the accursed luggage -- eyes bulging, red
faced, looking winded and pale with sweat pouring off his face. Having had
recent personal experience with said suitcases, I tipped him enough to support
him through the next recession.
I was scheduled to meet Producer Stephen Hill and some others for dinner, but I
had no intention of leaving my room without a hot bath. When I couldn't get the
lights to go on in the bathroom (or anywhere else) I called the front desk and
was given polite instructions for a combination of switches which had to be
thrown before the current came on in the room. Once illuminated, I turned on the
bath water and the knob came off in my hand. I put the hardware back together
and at last climbed into the welcoming tub while humming Noel Coward's
"You're a long, long way from America.
Be prepared to face the worst.
The guitars are strumming,
the Yanks are coming.
You'll find the plumbing
rather frightening at first."
Later, bathed and refreshed and ready to take on Buxton, I asked the directions
to the opera house area. One of the charming ladies at the desk informed me that
she was going off duty and would drive me down to the area. She dropped me off
at the hotel/restaurant which had a notice by the door that Mary, Queen of Scots
had stayed at that hotel in 15??. I assumed that she had found the food
satisfactory and went in to meet Stephen and Company.
I met Stephen and several other members of the group in the pub and we sat down
(eventually) to a lovely meal and conversation. During the course of the meal we
were joined by Chris Webster and Diana Burleigh, the Assistant Director. At one
point, Diana was describing having performed in an American in a play and
proceeded nearly to choke me by demonstrating an Upper East Side New York accent
so perfect that I could practically give you the postal code! Our little group
was finally the last in the pub and were being given reproachful looks by the
staff, so we broke up for the evening and toddled off to our accommodations.
I wasn't quite sure where my hotel was in relation to the opera house so Stephen
walked a bit with me to point out the way. We had not managed to leave the
immediate area of the restaurant before we found ourselves surrounded by a loud,
boisterous, tipsy and slightly threatening group of young people who basically
seemed to be holding us prisoner in a dark corner. I followed Stephen's lead of
not showing that we were anything more than amused by the situation, but I was
painfully aware that there was no one on the street anywhere nearby who could
have provided help if we had required it.
They proceeded to louder and rowdier until I suddenly realized that they were
rather aggressively giving us a history lesson on Buxton and the surrounding
area, going into great (rather heated) detail regarding who had visited Buxton
and in which century! Flattened against the wall, I was taken to task by one
rather bizarre young lady who asked threateningly if I was bored with the
conversation. I assured her that she had my undivided attention.
As suddenly as they appeared, they were gone (probably off to a local historical
society) and Stephen and I headed back to my hotel. Stephen had pointed out the
route, commenting that it was just at the top of the hill, but as our
conversation continued he walked me all the way to the gate despite a sudden
summer shower. Following our recent adventure, I was awfully happy to have his
company. I mean, what if I ran into a militant group of mathematicians! It was
only later that took a moment to wonder what would have happened if we had
failed a pop quiz on the history of Buxton!
Saturday was the beginning of the festivities. It was a beautiful day and I
arrived at the opera house plaza so early that there was no one there but me and
a few rather sleepy ducks! I wandered the streets feeling truly happy and
charmed at every turn. The costume parade was great fun, frequently clever in
the extreme. I was almost too excited to be able to sit still for the
sing-along. And what singing! I was sitting next to Diana and only her
occasional disapproving glance kept me from applauding before the ends of some
of the numbers.
After the sing along, those of us who had arrived in Buxton met at David's place
for a pre-rehearsal war counsel and quick read. It was here that I met the first
of the Trinity: Larry Byler was there and we quickly discovered that we had
similar senses of humor and were in serious danger of having our wrists slapped
by those deeply involved in the production process. Larry would prove over the
next week to be not only a fine musician, but virtually bionic -- he can sit at
a piano and play for ten hours without complaining! He's nothing less than
amazing and I suspect that he may in fact be an android. But he has a great
It was also at this meeting that I first met St. Jill the Divine of Duffey. This
was the lady who's ever present coffee pot would keep me going for the coming
week. Unfortunately, on this occasion she was pouring wine. I hadn't realized
that I had been too excited to really eat that day and so I managed to get
absolutely snozzled on one glass of red wine. I don't know if anyone in the
group thought I was bored, but I'm sure my eyes had been glazed for most of the
evening. I finally bowed out of the meeting before it was done and staggered up
the inevitable hill to my hotel. I realized as I entered the lobby that I had
spilled some red wine on my shirtfront and looked as if I had been mugged --
possibly by a local science club.
I managed to get back to the opera house area with little or no time before
curtain, so despite my fantasy of a lovely dinner at the hotel, I grabbed a
sandwich in the snack bar and entered my first performance of the Festival! I
promised myself a proper sit down meal later in the week.
After the opening night TOGETHER AGAIN performance, David and I stood at the
rear of the cabaret making nice. One of the D'Oyly Carters was singing and was
using a technique of singing that I learned at LOOM and employ for optimum
results in the shortest period of rehearsal. As I turned to David to say that
this would be my approach to the show, he said "Don't you just hate that kind of
singing. It's extremely irritating and I can't stand all those extra vowels." I
don't remember who was standing with us, perhaps David Cookson or Stuart Box,
but this little news flash hit me so hard that I literally fell back into what I
thought was a wall, but proved to be a loosely stacked pile of room partitions.
David and a couple of others standing nearby caught me before I managed to go
crashing through. I had to tell David D that we were now in exact opposition for
the rehearsals that would begin Monday morning. We argued the point with great
civility, but could come to no understanding. David finally ended the
conversation with, "You're the MD. It will be your call." Reeling from the
unexpected impasse, I excused myself and with as much dignity as I could muster
managed to leave the cabaret and toddle up the hill.
When I mentioned our philosophical differences to one of the cast members a day
or two into the rehearsal, their eyes lit up and they asked with barely veiled
delight, "Oh, are you fighting?" I responded to the effect that as two gentlemen
of a certain age and with a couple of thousand performances under our belts, we
would be working out the difference like two seasoned professionals -- which,
I'm happy to say, is exactly what came to pass!
Back at the hotel, my own battle really began. I have never had to face such
conflicting realities on such short notice. I had waited my entire life for an
experience such as this, and I was not going to spend the coming week in battle
with another professional. It could only end in ill will and a diminished final
result. Time to add up the facts.
Fact 1: This is the way I have worked and trained companies since my days at
LOOM. Truly a case of "having been taught and thus believe". Phrases are
abbreviated in order to maximize individual words and concentration on final
consonants to force all pronunciation forward and prevent it from being
swallowed into vocal technique. This also is to be used to smooth out the
differences in regional accents which, as it would prove the following morning,
Fact 2: David Duffey had spent a great deal of time visualizing his concept of
the show. There was a good chance that my "freeze dried" technique could
diminish the quality of his production, even though I honestly believed it to be
the most efficient path.
Fact 3: David, having directed a number of Festival productions, was old guard
and I was the new kid on the block. If it came down to a confrontation, I would
be cast as the villain, losing the respect of the company at once and making our
task of getting this bird into the oven on time practically impossible.
Solution 1: Plant my feet, do my usual preparation and then fit it into David's
production as best I can and let the chips fall, etc.
Solution 2: Face the first rehearsal having discarded everything I knew about
G&S technique and flounder hopelessly in front of an ensemble who were not going
to take kindly to any of weakness.
Solution 3: Damn it. There HAD to be a Solution Three!!!!! What the hell was it?
Little or no sleep to be had that Saturday night.
With dawn, the epiphany! David did not want the sound I was prepared to produce
in Buxton. I was prepared to go into rehearsal using the styles and techniques I
had used at LOOM and had LOATHED there from day one. Why was I defending
philosophies and techniques I had never truly believed in? Some two decades
before, I had owned my own voice and style and, God willing, that voice would
speak again. With the first glimmer of hope, I went down for my breakfast in the
hotel's lovely atrium.
The restaurant in the atrium was a source of great delight to me during my stay
in Buxton. With its sparkling silver, bone china and starched napkins, I'm sure
Terrence Rattigan would have been taking notes. I settled in at a table with a
view of the cricket field across the road and feeling terribly English, I
ordered a pot of tea. Although there were several items of interest on the menu,
I was a little leery of experimentation at that hour of the morning (the idea of
blood pudding for breakfast is a little unnerving) and settled for a nice safe
order of scrambled eggs. My young waitress returned with a plate so full of
scrambled eggs that I began to worry for the poultry industry of the area: they
had clearly just wiped out an entire hen house for my benefit.
I did my best with my eggs, toast, etc. and thoroughly enjoyed my oh so
civilized morning tea and, prepared to pay my bill, signaled the young head
waiter. When he (finally) put in an appearance at my table and I asked for my
bill, he replied "Oh no, sir. It's included with your reservation. You may go."
Having been dismissed by no less a personage than a head waiter, I decided to go
down and see what was going on in town. As it turned out, not much, so I
returned to my room to start work on my "new" Yeomen concept. It quickly began
to come together and I realized that I had the chance to make a serious attempt
at balancing the words and music. Phrasings should bring forth the words,
refusing to be rushed through while the emotions of the moment should dictate
tempi and dynamics. I found myself elated that I was thinking for myself after
so many years. It was going to be risky and hard work, but it would be worth it.
I met David, Larry and the second of the trinity, David Cookson for dinner.
David Cookson is David Cookson, which is to say -- nothing happens without David
Cookson. David had prepared the MIDI files for the group and had retouched them
per my requests over the previous months. He would work in the other rehearsal
space all day while Larry and I worked in the main rehearsal hall, working
elusive notes and phrases with his unending patience. When I pulled unorthodox
techniques, e.g. stomp and snap, he would grin at me and skip down the road to
hell with me. Again, without David and Larry -- this thing wouldn't have
When we met for dinner, I said to David "Everything is going to be fine." David
looked at me as if I had just confirmed my mental instability and agreed that
"Everything is going to be fine." David's first choice for dinner turned out to
be closed on Sunday evening as did his second choice. With time running out, we
found a lovely Indian restaurant and, having inadvertently left Jill and Ann
Byler behind, settled in for a quick meal. There was almost no time left for
anything more than a quick meal and fast chat so I chose not to mention that I
was occasionally allergic to Indian food. At that point, I was hungry enough to
eat a sacred cow and I was willing to take my chances. (I still prayed that my
seat for that evening's performance was on the aisle!)
At one point in the evening, I asked David how long he had been preparing The
Yeomen. He responded quite simply, "All my life." I was surprised, considering
his background but he explained that this was the show he had worked this thing
out in his mind for years and asked me if I didn't have one or two of those
fantasy productions. I had to admit that I did indeed have two or three of those
lurking around that I would hope to stage and/or conduct in my lifetime. Just
the same, I resolved that David's dream production would happen if there was
anything in the world I could do to make it so. And then I ate dinner.
God was truly kind. I managed to digest the delicious meal without incident and
was able to sit through both Trial and Pinafore without making any abrupt exits.
Good thing. I did NOT have aisle seats that evening.
On Monday morning, I had breakfast in the atrium again, but suggested they
confine themselves to only two eggs for my breakfast. Somehow, in the excitement
of the previous day, I had neglected to get specific instructions for reaching
the rehearsal hall. I had asked David the day before, but he had been a little
uncertain regarding the correct route from Lee Wood to the church. He assured me
that I wouldn't have any trouble finding it -- it was at the top of a hill.
Deciding that discretion would be the better part of valor, I had the desk clerk
call me a cab. I told him I wanted to find the church and he chuckled, "Oh
that's easy. It's at the top of the hill." Of course! Silly me!
I don't know if anyone has ever really noticed, but that church really IS at the
top of a hill! I got out of the cab, took a very deep breath (perhaps adjusting
to the altitude), said a quick prayer and went in to meet the company for the
To be continued....
Monday morning I arrived at the rehearsal hall. I had been preparing for this
moment for nine months, but have never known such an urge to turn and run. By
good luck, I did not have sufficient cab fare to go back to Queens or even the
Manchester Airport. The obvious remaining choice was to go inside.
When I stepped into the church basement I was struck by a strange odor and a
mustiness reminding me of Summer Bible School as a child. There was also a
dampness in the hall that I felt immediately. Chalking it up to the usual
idiosyncrasies of rehearsal spaces, I reported for duty. Stephen, David and
Diana Burleigh were already in place and the room was filled with groups of
Savoynetters. I dreaded the beginning of introductions since it was obvious I
would never learn all their names in the course of one week but did my best to
look semi-conscious and smile benignly when the introductions began. I
recognized the principals whom I had already met for the most part and some of
the U.S. contingent. Also in evidence were Bob and Jackie Richards. I have a
theory that if it were possible to tap into their collective energy and
enthusiasm, one could light the entire Buxton festival and still sell surplus
electricity to the greater Manchester area.
I did meet a few of the cast that morning whom I had not met before, notably
Tony Smith. The air must have been charged during our first meeting. I'm
thinking, "He looks like Sean Connery but my God he's big!" Tony, (I'm
guessing) looking down from the heights wondering who the fat little ponce was.
I was very fortunate in working with Tony: He required less than the usual
amount of personal attention and I think I was probably spared severe neck and
back trouble from constantly looking up. The one thing that was certain was that
he had been perfectly cast and I was glad I had gone along with David and
Stephen's recommendation for the role.
Also present was a rather nervous David Craig who had been called in at the last
minute to replace an ailing Ron Orenstein as Wilfred. Busby Berkely to the
contrary, it is very glamorous to come rushing to the rescue when the leading
lady or man comes up lame, but the truth of the matter is that it is nerve
wracking in the extreme and only a very strong performer would willingly do
this. David was tense, but I never saw more than an occasional glimpse of it. A
true professional from beginning to end, I have worked with only a few people in
my career to equal his hard work and impeccable ethic. Bottom line: He had been
given a difficult assignment, he accepted it and put full concentration into the
project. I would love to know where he found time to prepare his award winning
Major General Stanley. I assume that there were secret rehearsals being held
somewhere in Buxton between 3:00 and 5:00 in the morning.
The ensemble greeted me pleasantly although there were a couple of glazed looks
on the first encounter. I guess conductors are supposed to be muscular, tall and
have manes of wild hair that blows in the wind whether or not there is a wind.
First impressions notwithstanding, it was time to go to work.
There were a number of announcements, issues to be resolved and introductions to
be made, so we didn't begin just yet. It was during these few minutes that St.
Jill of Duffey said the three words which guarantee her a place in my heart
forever: "Coffee or tea?"
Armed with a nice civilized cup of tea, I was ready to begin the warm-ups. Most
singers have their own sets of warm-up exercises and there is no quicker way to
make an enemy of an otherwise sane singer (oxymoron?) than to ask them to use
new warm-ups. I have a set of warm ups that I have come to trust over the years.
I have come to expect a more or less routine litany of complaints: The warm-ups
1. Too easy
2. Too hard
3. Too wide a range
4. Too narrow a range, and never high enough
5. Percussive and therefore dangerous to the vocal mechanism. 6. All of the
None of these complaints came and the company learned the warm up process on the
spot. This had never happened to me before and was a surprise bordering on the
miraculous. Not only did they learn the warm-ups on the spot, they sang them
sensibly and productively. My final warm-up consists of the old Nestles
Chocolate commercial ("N-E-S-T-L-E-S: Nestles makes the very best chocolate." I
could see several members of the ensemble mentally measuring me for a straight
jacket, but there was a certain method in the madness. Although it is a bit of a
joke, the exercise calls for a series of teeth, tongue, roof of the mouth sounds
followed by two forced yawns. (Whatever you do, don't ever tell anybody that
there was a reason for this: it would spoil the fun.)
By the end of the warm-ups, most of the people in the room had been vocalized to
a high C or D, but I made sure they never knew this for fear that they would
panic in the upper register, close the throat and fail to produce the desired
effect and/or tense up and close the mechanism, resulting in SATB bleeding from
the nose, throat and ears. I actually went so far as to chase people away from
the piano during warm-ups, managing to offend a couple of people in the process.
Speaking of offensive, the rehearsal piano in the hall was truly a "rehearsal
hall piano." More or less consistent with any New York rehearsal hall, this
piano had the amazing characteristic of not having a true octave anywhere on the
keyboard. I was concerned that rehearsals with this instrument would ultimately
destroy any collective tonality the group could achieve. There's no denying that
a C major chord could easily have soured the milk at the coffee bar. Stephen and
David magically located a piano tuner who was scheduled to rescue us at some
point during the afternoon. I never had time to ask how they managed this small
miracle -- perhaps a very small piano tuner and a very large hat.
Following the exercises, we moved on to a full chorus rendition of "Strange
Adventure". This was the big moment. For better or worse I was throwing out all
my years of G&S indoctrination and truly entering a "strange adventure". Would
this ensemble accept a direction so heavily based on emotion or else reject it
as being against the traditions. I had my answer immediately. The damn thing
With my very best "rah rah team" voice, I warned the group that they would have
to stay on their toes with me because I would be doing my best to keep the music
constantly alive and shifting -- always off center. Since nobody attacked me
physically, we tried again. And here the miracle began. The group followed
perfectly. In my career of ... uh, ...several .... years, I had never worked
with an ensemble of such musical strength and sensitivity across the board. This
was supposed to be "an amateur group", but they were stick responsive beyond any
group, amateur or professional, I had ever encountered. They worked together as
if they had been an ensemble for years. Come to think of it, they had been -- as
a group of friends, some of whom had never actually met before that morning!
And now I was in for a penny, in for a pound. We set to work. Although it would
have been tempting to do "something new and exciting" with every note, I
confined the changes to places where musical common sense went against the "we
have always done it this way" path. The first Tower Warders chorus is
traditionally sung note by note. We altered the approach by setting a series of
two note phrases followed by an eight note phrase. Nothing brilliant, but as my
ultimate object was to free the ensemble from the conductor during performance,
it made for easier ensemble singing.
Musical experiments with the principals developed as I saw them rehearse
dialogue scenes. Based on Tony Smith's stature, any time the Lieutenant sang I
kicked the tempo up just a little as if he were impatient with the sluggishness
of those around him. Kay Byler (Phoebe) displayed a subtext of constant
discovery, so when she sang I would establish one tempo for her, but slow the
tempo to allow her to think things over in her lyrics. Sylvia Greinig (Dame
Carruthers) was regal and solid as the Tower, so I set her songs to grand and
somewhat rigid tempi. Fairfax (Peter Crichton) tempi were usually four square
but in dramatic moments I would set the beat in concrete to convey unfeeling
determination. Sharon Brindle was portraying Elsie dramatically as not being too
tightly wrapped and in danger of going over the edge at any moment. For her I
used erratic tempi keeping her always off center. (Sorry, Sharon, but if anyone
doubts the effectiveness please feel free to review the last ten minutes of the
My first major mistake was not striking "A Laughing Boy" early on. By not
cutting this song when the option was available, I forced John Penn to work very
hard on a number which would never work to his full advantage. John's Sgt.
Meryll was a revelation to me. He acted the role naturally with a great deal
more warmth than I had ever seen in the part, but I should have been more aware
that he was losing notes during the rehearsal and had succumbed to the Buxton
plague along with the rest of us.
Mike Nash approached me with the request to disregard the usual pauses during "A
Private Buffoon". I was not comfortable with the idea but agreed to meet him
half way and only take the pauses in the first and last verses. In doing so, I
made another major error in my efforts to go where no man had gone before.: NOTE
to future YEOMEN MD's: "A Private Buffoon" is NOT a patter song; it is an almost
perfectly constructed micro-one act play. If anything the tempi should be pulled
back and pauses observed to maximize the dramatic content of an amazingly
literate lyric. Bad call on my part.
And then we hit: the first male ensemble! Not only did we have a full-blooded
men's ensemble, but they were singing in a more than passable four part harmony!
Four parts! The group I had truly waited years to meet. We were going to make
some music here in Buxton. We even had 1st and 2nd tenors. Now THAT'S a chorus.
Later we came to "Here's a Man of Jollity". This was some of the first hard work
we had to do. The object of the game was to produce a vicious and threatening
Gilbert and Sullivan chorus....not your average Climbing Over Rocky Mountain.
Everyone threw themselves into this with great determination. I did far more
picking and tweaking than I had planned, but it was still part of the
experiment. Could we produce the effect of pecking birds of prey based on the
production of consonants without damaging overall musical quality. (Those
readers now bored into a stupor may feel free to nod off. We'll wake you when
something interesting happens.) Note to MDs preparing YEOMEN in the future:
tricky territory to get the harshness of intent without getting a harsh musical
sound. Although I think we did pretty well in this area, I was never totally
satisfied with the sound of this chorus. I think that this was fundamentally a
group of nice, congenial people who were simply not emotionally equipped to be
vicious - at least not collectively.
The morning proceeded pretty much in the same way and I was surprised when the
lunch interval came so quickly. I don't know about anyone else, but I was having
a ball. Work was getting done and music was being made. I was in love with the
entire ensemble, suggesting immorality on a rather grand scale and the music had
become a new score I had never seen before.
Just the same, one has to eat I suppose. I continued to hold to my hope of a
really nice sit down meal during the festival, but could find nothing to my
taste in the immediate area. I did find Kay Byler and Marissa Green on the
shopping street and we spent some time swapping performance horror stories. I
was interested to learn that Marissa has hopes of conducting some day. I
personally feel that there are not nearly enough female conductors and made a
mental note to give her an opportunity to conduct during our time at Buxton.
My final solution to lunch was a chicken salad sandwich and mineral water at the
snack bar and some lovely conversation with Bob and Jackie Richards. I enjoyed
the conversation a little too much and managed to arrive back at the rehearsal
hall late for my own rehearsal.
David needed the use of the lower hall to tape out the dimensions of the set, as
well as an imminent visit from the piano tuner, so we moved the rehearsal
upstairs into the sanctuary. Where I had noticed an unpleasant odor downstairs,
upstairs had a dry, dusty, choking feel which was very uncomfortable. I was
concerned by rehearsals in the sanctuary on a couple of levels: the hall was
extremely "live" and I worried that they would develop a false sense of security
in the resonant hall and have acoustic shock when we moved to the actual opera
house. On the spiritual side, I was uncomfortable conducting the rehearsal from
the pulpit. Over the years I have developed a somewhat explicit vocabulary and I
was concerned that not only would I say something that would offend the company,
but perhaps offend a higher power and I knew we would be needing all the help we
St. Jill of Duffey was, as usual, a step or two ahead of me and sent up a cup of
tea to sustain me through the rehearsal. I remember having difficulty finding a
place to put the cup while maintaining sufficient respect for the locale.
The rehearsal was again productive and brought out two rather surprising
revelations: 1) Even with a solid female chorus, the word "shrinking" cannot be
sung in ensemble. Feeling frustrated by my inability to solve the problem, I
threw it open to the floor and received some very good advice from the singers
and we experimented with various possibilities for producing the sound. I think
Sharon Brindle may have provided some of the more helpful suggestions, but the
word stubbornly refused to be sung throughout the entire time at Buxton. No
matter what we tried, it still sounded like "shrieking".
On a more whimsical note: I had to stop David Craig's entrance for "To thy
fraternal care" several times without a good reason. It simply felt wrong.
Finally the realization came: If David made the entrance there as written, it
jumped over the pause necessary to turn over the vinyl recording from side 2 to
side 3. I could remove the feeling of (personal) discomfort by holding back the
downbeat for a moment, which we did. I explained my reasoning and enjoyed seeing
the company divided into those who understood the concept (vinyl owners) and
those who did not (CDs). From somewhere nearby I could hear Marc Shepherd in a
whisper explaining the concept to the people around him.
During the rehearsal that afternoon, I felt a sneeze coming on and did what I
could to suppress it. The sneeze never did actually materialize, but was
replaced by a sudden deep cough which cut through my body with enough pain that
I actually grayed out for a moment and luckily could grab the podium and hold on
until the room came back into focus. I continued work while I prayed that it was
a single incident, but other coughs and sneezes continued to come with
increasing frequency until I was gulping frantically at Jill's cup of tea to try
to be able to continue the rehearsal. By the end of the day my speaking voice
was beginning to get raspy. No problem with my singing voice - I haven't had one
As the day progressed, developing my philosophy as we went along, the music
began to take shape. I would stand in front of this amazing group, falling more
and more in love with them by the minute. I would make the most modest musical
request, only to have it sung back to me in near perfection. The day progressed
like this until it was time to shut down for the day.
Larry Byler (pianist, California) and David Cookson were my eyes and ears and
kept things going. I want it known that were it not for these two dedicated and
infinitely patient and talented men, we would have never arrived at the theatre
on Monday night. Usually Larry stayed with me downstairs while David did
individual coaching upstairs. All things considered, rehearsals were extremely
As I started to walk back to the hotel to change for the evening, the really
weird stuff started: Members of the company began to catch up to me and tell me
that they had never rehearsed a work with such a full understanding of the
objectives at hand. They praised the rehearsals for productivity and clarity. I
silently prayed that they had been at the same rehearsal I had just left.
That evening I sat next to Sylvia and Fleur Greinig at a nice production of
IOLANTHE. I coughed discretely through the performance, but managed to survive.
As the performance began, I noticed a young man sitting a row or two down from
me at the front of the balcony. During the overture and subsequent performance
he became so excited that I began to fear he might flip himself forward out of
the balcony. It was only later in the cabaret that he was introduced to me as
Andrew Crowther. I recommend sitting with Andrew during performances: if the
show turns out to be dull, you can always watch him for entertainment. And a
fine show it is, too. He reminded me of someone I used to know who sat at the
rear of the Eisenhower Auditorium in Washington, D.C. to see his first IOLANTHE
in 1967 and nearly fell down the steep stairs in his excitement.
I made a brief visit to the Cabaret where I was reacquainted with the difference
between American and British tastes. We Americans cheerfully pay for a near
empty glass of something just as long as the rest of the glass is filled with
ice. On the other hand, at the Cabaret that evening I ordered a Scotch (a rare
occurrence) and when the young lady asked me if I wanted ice, I responded in the
affirmative. She opened the chest, carefully selected a single ice cube and
carefully deposited it in my glass before moving on to her next customer. When
in Rome. . .
That night I went to bed shortly after midnight and the cough set in for real.
There was little or no sleep that night and the cough was painful and sometimes
became so intense as to become frightening. The night was endless, but finally
the sky outside my window showed morning light and I could hear the church bell
in town ringing. I took a long cold shower and managed to convince myself I
would live through the day. I had been waiting a long time for this trip and a
minor thing like coughing up a lung was not going to spoil my good time.
Breakfast in the atrium again. God, I loved that place. Also that morning I set
my toast rack aside so I could feed the ducks on the way to the rehearsal. My
waiter asked if I wanted him to take it away and I confessed my secret agenda.
He looked at me rather blankly and walked away. A few minutes later he
discretely supplied with another rack of toast so that I could have toast (and
delicious whipped honey!) with bacon and eggs and still have enough to feed the
Having gotten an unwanted early start to the day, I wrapped the toast in a
napkin and walked down the hill. (I don't suppose it is necessary to point out
that if you go to the top of enough hills, sooner or later you will have to come
down one.) I must have been up early indeed, but the ducks were not on duty when
I arrived at the waterfall. A small parade of very young ducklings swam by and I
broke up a piece of toast and tossed it into the water before them. Out of
nowhere the entire flock of ducks, geese, dodos [Michael Walters assures me that
they were Muscovy ducks] and a rogue swan came out of NOWHERE and began swimming
at me with amazing speed. Reaching the edge of the stream, they climbed out onto
the grass and surrounded me. I broke up the remaining pieces of bread and
scattered them among the flock little by little. Finally I was out of toast and
still surrounded by the flock and the situation began to take on a certain
Hitchcockian deja vu. I mean if Buxton has marauding bands of local historians,
why not carnivorous ducks?
When it became obvious that I had no more bread crumbs to give, the ducks
lingered for a moment and then, giving each other looks which clearly said, "He
must be an American," they waddled away in disgust and headed back to the
stream. I headed up the hill to the rehearsal.
Tuesday morning David worked with the ensembles and I tried to work with the
principals to expand on the ideas I mentioned before. Peter Crichton greeted me
at the door with a friendly hello and burst into a fit of coughing. Not what I
wanted to hear from the lead tenor. Peter had worked long and hard on his role,
including long drives to special coaching sessions with David Cookson. He was
excited and, frankly, too eager to pull back. He came in performing at a level
which would possibly be surprising to some, but the flu bug shaved the edges off
his voice in a steady progression all the way to the performance. I found this
heartbreaking (as I'm sure he did) and did whatever I could to keep him from
tensing up and making things worse.
Despite St. Jill's ever present cup of tea, my voice quickly deteriorated to a
rasp and David Cookson announced that the best thing for me would be something
called Sanderson's Throat Specific Mixture and set out to find a bottle for me.
St. Jill looked grave and mentioned that she wasn't sure this would be good for
me: "It might make you different." She was called away before I could ask for an
explanation and I was left pondering this enigmatic statement. I never did find
out what she meant, but the entire time I was in Buxton I kept checking for hair
growing in strange places, change of dental characteristics or the number of
digits on hands and feet. This line will always rank right up there with "The
task should be easy".
David returned with the Throat Specific Mixture and proceeded to mix up a
cocktail which I was to gargle every two hours. The overall color of the mixture
is reminiscent of a specimen usually found in small plastic bottles with a taste
similar to what I had always imagined battery acid would taste like. David not
only played for rehearsals that day, but dutifully showed up with said cocktail
every two hours like clockwork. By lunch I was off in search of a drug store (er,
apothecary, chemist) and found one in the shopping mall at the bottom of the
street (see above). When I asked the young lady if she had anything for cold and
cough, she reassured me that lots of people were coming down with this and
produced a wide variety of over the counter medications. She was a little
surprised when I told her I would take one of each and walked out of the store
armed for my battle against the bug.
Back on the street in the sunlight I almost ran into a rather formidable lady
and jumped back with a gasp. This woman was an absolute ringer for my beloved
friend Betty Peruchi who had been my teacher and mentor through much of my life
until her death a few years ago. I guess that would make this woman a dead
ringer. It crossed my mind that David's Throat Specific had actually changed me
into Haley Joel Osment ("I see dead people.") I considered approaching her, but
decided against it. Consider the possibilities of the conversation: "Hi there!
You don't know me, but you look just like a friend of mine. She's been dead for
five years." Some things are best left alone, but I would continue to see her
off and on for the next few days and always stopped and stared at her like some
kind of mad stalker.
Donald Smith [?] found me wandering the street in search of a sit down lunch and
guided me safely to a parked trailer where it was possible to obtain a
reasonable facsimile of an American cheeseburger. The sit-down luncheon would
have to wait.
After lunch we returned to the rehearsal where I gargled the battery acid
cocktail and popped a handful of pills in the hopes of controlling the unceasing
battery of sneezing and coughing. Voices were failing through the rehearsals and
by the end of the day an attempt at the Strange Adventure quartet proved
hopeless and upsetting for the performers. I postponed further work on it. Bad
mistake, but I don't know what else I could have done. I could have done damage
to their voices as I had destroyed mine, and at whatever result, that is too
high a price to pay for an amateur production. Due to limited availability of
all four singers at once, Strange Adventure was never rehearsed again in my
presence until almost the day of the performance.
Other principals were beginning to cough discretely and the smaller ensembles
became impossible to rehearse. A Man Who Would Woo and When A Wooer Goes a
Wooing could never be rehearsed because there was always someone sick and
occasionally one of the cast members dissolved into tears of frustration or rage
at being unable to produce a satisfactory sound.
After rehearsal I headed back up the hill to spend some time in my beloved
That evening the performance was PRINCESS IDA. A number of people were severe in
their criticism of the production (despite our own Stephen Hill outrageously
funny as one of Ida's brothers) while I found little to complain about. This was
a strictly traditional IDA and consequently bore more than a passing resemblance
to the Light Opera of Manhattan production and, by extension, my production for
the Charleston (SC) Opera Company. LOOM had professional actors, not to mention
the late Georgia McEver in their production and was in the final analysis
sharper and funny. Just the same, I felt like I was seeing a dear old friend
after a long absence and coughed enthusiastically through the entire
After a brief visit to the cabaret, one Scotch with a single ice cube, I set off
up the hill to the Lee Wood. NOTE TO FUTURE VISITORS TO BUXTON: Try to get out
of the opera house area and off to one side or the other. The stars in Buxton
are spectacular and I took my life in my hands by standing in the middle of the
street staring up at the glory of the heavens. My compliments to the lighting
Back at the hotel I arranged my lovely overstuffed pillows, opened the window to
enjoy the cool night air, put on my jammies and climbed into bed and turned out
the light for a much needed night's sleep. Wrong. The medications had kicked in.
Not only was the coughing as ceaseless and painful as the night before, my eyes
were now wired open: they wouldn't close. I spent Tuesday night counting the
cleverly painted stars on the ceiling of my room and inventorying the small
cracks in the plaster. There was one in the corner that looked like the map of
Italy, although around 3:30 in the morning I noticed that it was beginning to
look like my Uncle Max.
Wednesday morning: Saved by the church bell and I swear I heard sheep. For
someone not bordering on a psychotic episode, this would have been idyllic.
Another long soak in the tub and off to the pond and the rehearsal. Sharon's
voice is gone. Peter's voice is gone, but he's trying valiantly. John's voice is
there, but developing gaps at unexpected moments. Sylvia's voice is there but
the edges of her tone a getting progressively rougher. Kay Byler has now
succumbed and has taken a vow of silence, speaking or singing only when
absolutely necessary. Give the girl credit, she actually
was able to stick to this resolution.
If David Craig is suffering, it seems to be from nerves more than plague. He is
uncomfortable with "Jealous Torments" and frankly doesn't want to do it. He then
proceeds to sing it for me and blow me off my seat. He is a delight and the
number establishes his character in a few bars of mostly unknown music. I told
David that the decision to cut the song would be his and he could exercise the
option at any time up to curtain time. I then proceeded to hide every time I saw
him coming so that he would never have a chance to tell me he wanted to cut the
Side note of explanation to a limited few company members. Several sympathetic
members of the company slipped up to me during these days and, referring to my
blue blazer and tie, ever so gently assured me that it would be all right for me
to dress casually and comfortably for the rehearsal and I longed to. I have not
made much of a secret of having health issues which I must deal with on a daily
basis, but what no one knows is that one of my medications has created a
condition called lypodystrophy which had kicked in with a vengeance just before
I went to Buxton. The condition drains body fat from my arms and legs making it
somewhat painful to stand for extended periods and creating a growth on my
stomach and a hump on my upper back. I have become proficient in choosing
clothing and colors which effectively camouflage the deformities which continue
to affect my arms and legs. It's not really that bad, and the medications
brought me back from the brink of a physical collapse and the deformed legs and
arms are a minor price to pay under the circumstances. So the answer to those
concerned company members
is: "No, I don't feel naked without a coat and tie. Besides, I've seen myself
naked and it isn't the sort of thing you want to discuss in polite company." And
that, kids, is all I have to say about that.
Work progressed nicely and I could begin to see the shape of things to come
and began to get genuinely excited. This was going to be the YEOMEN I had always
dreamed of. Now I could see David Duffey at work. I suppose I have worked with
better directors than David, but I have to place him up with the four or five
best. His concepts are solidly planned, but not set in concrete. He is on a
journey of discovery, as we all are, and works and develops an idea, discarding
it only when he sees he is following the wrong path.
Lunch time returned me to the hamburger stand, but I was feeling festive and had
onions on the cheeseburger. With the time left, I located one of the local
charity shops which displayed a beautiful terra cotta tea set in the window
which would be a perfect gift for my friends Neil and Lisa. I entered the shop
and was greeted by a very sweet lady. I took a quick look around and then asked
the price of the tea set. She seemed slightly flustered and had to go to examine
the set. I was getting out a twenty pound note when she returned and
apologetically informed me that the set was highly priced at six pounds. I
became very indignant and told her that I would not pay a penny less than 10
pounds. She tried valiantly to make me understand that 6 pounds was less than 10
pounds, but I would not hear a word. (I suspect I had affected a passable Texas
accent by then) and told her I would pay 10 pounds - take it, or leave it and
please wrap it quickly as I had to be somewhere else shortly. Looking somewhat
stunned, she retired to a back room and returned with my tea set in a bag which
I took and paid her the 10 pounds. I kept a straight face until I could get out
of the stop. Here was a very nice lady, doing very nice work, who would be able
to go home and tell her family about the crazy American who didn't know the
difference between 6 pounds and 10 pounds and had demanded to pay too much for a
tea set. Immortality has its moments. Still no sit-down lunch.
By Wednesday afternoon, there was a visible presence of Benadryl, Vicks and
various other over the counter medicines in the rehearsal hall among the
ensemble. Although I'm not specifically hearing a weakening of the chorus
quality, I am hearing stereophonic coughing and sneezing around the room. I try
to calculate how far this can go before we begin to speak of "acceptable
Today is also special because at long last I have met Nick Sales. We manage to
work through the trio and I am delighted that after a bar or two he senses what
I want and remains a step or two ahead of me for the remainder of the rehearsal
period and performance. He gives an intense, well grounded and sustained reading
which is exactly what I wanted and no further direction is necessary. His
musicianship is impeccable.
I can see clearly now exactly where David's rehearsal's were going. For those of
you who have not worked with DD, take my word for it that this man is a top of
the line director. Although he made a few errors in reaching for something new
exciting, David won my complete respect with his rehearsal technique. He moved
rehearsals on, constantly achieving and polishing. There was only such down time
as was necessary for brief private conferences with the production team. He
drove a strict and productive rehearsal but NEVER took the joy out of the work
and made sure the company felt the pride of a job well done. Even when I lost it
big time during a rehearsal, David serenely said to me, "It's all right Stan.
I'll take it from here. " As usual I headed for the canteen stalking the cup of
tea and a large serving of crow.
Thursday night is the performance of THESPIS. I have looked forward to this all
week and am more than a little shocked to see my ghostly doppelganger performing
the role of Diana. I will see her one last time that evening at the cabaret. If
it was eerie before, it is downright frightening now. She not only looks like
Betty, but she moves and speaks and even styles her hair like Betty. The entire
experience has been unnerving and strangely comforting because I know how
thrilled Betty would have been to see me in Buxton if she had lived. Hey, kid!
We made it. (cough, cough).
Friday afternoon David Duffey and Larry Byler are doing a near run-through
downstairs and I am working patch sessions upstairs. David Cookson has been
called away for the afternoon and the singers are at the mercy of my playing.
Also, Diana Burleigh needs the upper chamber to work specific scenes. While we
are waiting for her to finish her rehearsal, I curl up on a pew and FINALLY get
some sleep. I awake suddenly to find everyone standing around me enjoying the
joke tremendously. Cat nap finished, I take my place at the piano and begin
working with Sylvia and John and some of the others. The work goes a little
slowly and we more or less run out of time. By this time Jill is collecting tea
cups and she and Sylvia decide that I look awful and should go back to the
hotel. Admittedly I am not feeling at the top of my game, but when Sylvia puts
her hand on my forehead and exclaims, "My God! You're boiling!" I decide to go
along with their greater intelligence. Regrettably I forget to mention that I'm
leaving to David who is understandably upset to find that I have disappeared so
After a decent nap at the hotel, I return to the opera house for the
professional production of GONDOLIERS.
Before the performance I am relieved to find that Larry Garvin has finally
arrived. Now the triumvirate is complete as I had envisioned it. If something
should happen to me, there is now a conductor on the team who is willing and
able to step in. Actually, Larry pointed this out to me within ten minutes of
greeting me in front of the opera house and I managed to keep a straight face
while thanking him. Mentally I make a note to check stairways for tripwires.
(Just joking.) (I think)
My seat for the evening (happily) is on the aisle and I am, by the grace of God,
sitting next to Stuart Box. As the performance progressed, the fatigue sets in
and I become the incredible shrinking MD, sinking lower and lower in my seat and
tilting dangerously close to curling up and going to sleep on his shoulder. To
spare him this possible embarrassment, I make a discrete escape at the
intermission. I am hot, feverish and determined to have a cold soft drink. When
I arrive at the hotel, the vending machine is out of order and I finally lose it
entirely. I have longed for an iced tea ever since I arrived in England, I
worked hard and deserve and ice tea, and NOBODY is going to keep me from having
My first night in London with Neil Jenkins, I asked for an iced tea at dinner.
Neil looked at his plate, locked his jaw and almost imperceptibly shook his
head. It was only at that moment that I realized that asking for iced tea in the
United Kingdom is roughly the equivalent of ordering a ham sandwich on white
bread with mayonnaise at the Tel Aviv Hilton. I have contained my desire and
contented myself with mineral water all week, but now by God, I AM GOING TO HAVE
AN ICED TEA!
I return to my room and put the kettle on, brewing a double pot of tea. I then I
call room service and ask for a large bucket of ice to be delivered to my room.
A few minutes later I hear running feet coming down the hall and open the door
to find a genuinely alarmed young lady with a moderate (not large) bucket of
ice. She immediately asks, "Are you all right?"
I didn't quite pick up on the implication and answered, "I'm fine but I'm hot
and thirsty and want an iced drink."
She sighed audibly and said, "Oh, I'm so glad, Love. We thought you'd hurt
I thanked her for her concern, tipped her and closed the door having learned a
valuable lesson in European living. If I want sufficient ice for a cold drink,
it may be necessary to break my ankle.
Dress rehearsal and final run through go well, but at the end of a long and
tiring week tempers are edgy. They don't flare, but they're just beneath the
surface. And it is here that I have to ask a question to which I certainly have
no answer. The Buxton Festival is a magnificent event and well worth the time
and expense involved. Where else in the world can we who admire the works of
Gilbert and Sullivan sate ourselves in experience and camaraderie with others of
similar taste. But by the nature of the festival, the world begins at 7:30 and
we stay up late drinking and enjoying good comrades and conversation. However,
if we have a full day of rehearsal each day, is the danger of burn out not
increased a great deal. If someone has an answer to this problem, I am eagerly
awaiting a solution.
The final tableau is rehearsed and set and any doubts we may have had are swept
away in a tidal wave of emotion. All involved are visibly shaken at the end of
the rehearsal and David swears all visitors to the rehearsal to absolute
secrecy. A few days from now, my friend Karen will see the video and when the
final stroke comes, Karen gasps and leaves the room, returning a few moments
later with a hand full of Kleenex. Even on video, the effect is shattering.
The cough and some sort of chemically induced jet lag continues to keep me from
sleeping and I am now holding onto reality at any given moment with my
fingernails. By Sunday, one thing is perfectly clear. If I am going to get
through the performance without creating a side show myself, I will have to take
Sudafed. I am slightly allergic to Sudafed, but it does indeed put a temporary
hold on coughing and sneezing and therefore is absolutely necessary. I return to
the chemist where I have been buying cold remedies all week. The girl at the
counter looks up amazed and says, "Oh you poor dear! Are you still at it?"
I tell her that I am and ask for a box of Sudafed. The head druggist/chemist
comes to the counter and explains that he can't sell me Sudafed if I am taking
any other medications. He asks if I am taking anything else? I don't know if it
was all the medications or simply the absurdity of the question, but I broke
into a fit of uncontrollable laughter just managing to gasp out the epic list of
medicines in my pack at that moment. The young man's eyes opened wide and he
explained that under no circumstances could he sell me Sudafed because of the
potential side effects include heart attack or stroke.
I explain to him that I am perfectly aware of these dangers but it will be
absolutely necessary for me to use the medication to get me though the next 48
hours. He again declines to sell it to me and I hear my voice becoming a New
Yorker's voice, i.e. I am speaking in perfectly conversational tones but they
cut through the air and can be heard in the far end of the store. (I usually
make a conscious effort to keep this from happening.) I can see that this young
man is torn between selling me the meds or calling for help. Putting yet another
edge on my voice I say to him, "Just sell me the Sudafed. Do not give me a
receipt or a shopping bag. I will carry it out of here in my satchel and if I
clutch my heart and fall dead tomorrow night, I swear on everything holy that NO
ONE will know where I got them! NOW GIVE ME THE GODDAM PILLS.
As I walked up the hill to rehearsal, I passed a couple of the chorus coming
down looking for an apothecary. I directed them to the lovely shop in the mall.
I assured them that they would find the staff pleasant and helpful.
From here it was one last rehearsal and then Day of Terror.
Sunday night there was yet again no sleep. A combination of medications and
nerves kept me awake and playing the score in my head until the blessed sounds
of the church bell signaled that ready or not, the day was here. It was Monday,
August 7. Time to get up and go for breakfast.
My waiter appeared as usual at the table and brought my pot of tea and my menu.
I ordered dry cereal, bacon and one -- count it -- one! -- egg and screw the
tea, bring me a large cup of coffee.
To be continued. . . .
I seem to have made more than my share of typos in the earlier posts. I will
continue doing so for the sake of consistency.
One thing I forgot to mention before was a matter of great pleasure to me. With
Larry Garvin now in attendance at the rehearsal I could dispatch him to the
upper floor to tweak "Day of Terror" which had begun to go South. He worked with
the men first and later in the day I was able to send the women's chorus to him
and have the rehearsal conducted by Marissa Green, thus making good on a promise
that I thought would not be fulfilled. I understand that she did well and I know
she had the extra bonus of Larry's evaluation and comments. Thanks to both of
Back to the Day of Terror
To understand a lot of what went on the day of the performance, I would like to
explain that for some reason I never got over being jet-lagged. This probably
was a combination of the sheer excitement of the Festival and the drugs I was
taking to fight back the flu, which would later turn out to be an infection that
had moved through my entire respiratory system and into the rest of my body.
After the festival I would be more or less bedridden for a month or more,
including a wonderfully dramatic collapse in the waiting room of my doctor's
The night before had been sleepless as the others and it may have been some kind
of fevered hallucination, but I swear there was a soprano somewhere in the hotel
who started vocalizing before dawn. If there is a bottom line to be had here, it
is that on Monday, August 7, I had not had more than three or four hours sleep
on any given night for the past week. I was surviving on coffee and stimulants.
After breakfast I returned to my room and made a valiant effort to sleep, but it
was no use. I was too excited and wired up. Finally I gave up and packed my
tuxedo and a change of clothes for the evening and had the front desk send for a
cab. The rain remained more or less consistent for the entire day, making for
two days running of rain and cool breezes. No where, anywhere, to get warm and
That morning David Duffey and Keith Drage (an outstanding stage manager) were
overseeing the load-in and setup of the scenery, etc. Arriving at the theatre I
discovered that I was very truly de trop, so I retired to the dressing room for
a quick nap before the orchestra rehearsal. There was a moderately comfortable
wing chair in the dressing room and curled up for a short nap. My eyes had
barely closed before I snapped wide awake with the sudden realization that the
rehearsal begins in 40 minutes and none of our leading ladies have flowers! I
charged out of the theatre in search of a florist in the market street but am
unable to see one. Finally in sheer desperation I stop a stranger and ask if
there is a florist in the area. The nice lady thought for a moment and suddenly
remembered. "Oh yes! Turn right at the second street. It's ..."
"At the top of the hill?" I asked, having become completely conditioned to
Buxton by now.
She looked at me politely and finished, "...around the corner."
I thanked her and ran off to find the florist. It did not occur to me until
later that I had just been directed to the one and only locale in Buxton that
was not at the top of a hill!
I found the shop, but they had an extremely limited inventory and it took some
fast talking and a little bullying to arrange for flowers for the ladies. I was
a little disappointed that I couldn't find a way to send flowers to everyone,
but plastic will only bend so far.
I returned to the theatre breathless, damp and chilled, where I am introduced to
Andrew Nicklin, Musical Director of the Festival. I had assumed he would be
available to help with orchestral balance and other musical problems that might
arise, but he informed me that he had another obligation that afternoon and
would only be able to stay for part of the rehearsal, but I should watch out for
the brass. I hoped I was wrong about what that seemed to mean. Andrew lead me to
the orchestra pit and introduced me to the Festival Orchestra. Bear in mind that
I had come to the pit almost directly from my shopping expedition and so I was
damp, looked like an unmade bed and my hair was wild and unruly from the
dampness. It would have been nice if my wild hair makes me look like Stokowski
or Toscanini, but the resemblance is much closer to Bozo the Clown.
As I prepared to begin the rehearsal, I stopped to look at the set for the first
time and was surprised and a little dismayed to find that the White Tower seemed
to be constructed of red sandstone, making it resemble less the Tower of London
and more a ConEd substation near my apartment in Woodhaven. (I'm not sure what
kind of stone was used in building the White Tower, but I had always taken it
for granite.) This is not without precedent as the founders of The University of
the South in Sewanee built their campus from the local sandstone in gothic
architecture. The effect is memorable and I recommend that anyone crossing
Monteagle Mountain in middle Tennessee should detour off the highway for ten
minutes to see this remarkable sight first hand.
The orchestra pit was cold and damp with a small trickle of water actually
flowing through the back of the pit. After Andrew's introduction I greeted the
orchestra with the usual comments regarding how much I had admired their
performances during the previous week and how happy I was to be working with
them. Looking around the faces in the group, I could imagine friendlier firing
squads. Andrew retired and I asked the orchestra in general if any of them had
performed any Brahms or Tchaikowski recently. Someone answered, "No, but we've
done a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan."
The point I was preparing to make was my desire for a woodwind sound of the
fullness of one of the Brahms symphonies and from the strings the intensity of a
Tchaikowski work. Helga Perry has since suggested rather gently that I had
inadvertently thrown down a gauntlet and challenged this group, making
worse an already tense situation. I could feel waves of antagonism coming
at me from most, if not all stands.
We began with the overture and I found the orchestra planted firmly behind my
conducted beat. I stopped the orchestra and asked them to make an adjustment for
an American conductor and meet me at the downbeat, not after it. Can you feel
the love? We started the overture again and although the drag was less
pronounced, it was still there. I felt like I was rolling a cannon ball up a
very steep hill. The third effort produced still more improvement, but I was
being urged on by the powers that be behind me in the stalls not to waste time,
so I did the best I could with the overture and moved on with the rehearsal. The
tempi in the overture were a little hysterical due to the orchestra alternately
ignoring my beat and then suddenly clicking in with me. Larry Byler made a video
of that part of the rehearsal which is very funny because I can be seen doing
everything short of stamping my feet to pull things together.
We began the rehearsal as a dress run-through with dialogue which quickly proved
to be a mistake. The orchestra members were hissing at me to get on with the
music or run out of time when the three hours were up. I understand the
principal of a union orchestra and knew that when the three hours ended, so
would the rehearsal -- no matter where we were at the moment.
I don't know if the orchestra did not want an American conductor, or if they
were circling for a kill on general principals. I knew at once they were pulling
the old "test the conductor" game, i.e. playing wrong notes, too loud, too soft,
late entrances, etc. They expected me to shout out recriminations and swear at
them and single out individual players for reprimand. ("That's wrong, sir/madam.
You are playing a B flat which should be a B natural. Now clean up your act, you
stupid twit!") I spent the last twenty years learning NOT to shout in
rehearsals, and I would be damned if this provincial group was going to undo
that. Even so, it would not have been time efficient and the clock was ticking.
I had been told by a number of knowledgeable people that it would be necessary
to earn the orchestra's "respect." I don't think they had much respect for me,
but I can guarantee that I had very little for them due to their childish
behavior. In truth, I made some mistakes conducting the rehearsal but, contrary
to popular belief, orchestral conducting is not like riding a bicycle. When you
return to it after a long period, it takes a while to make the adjustment. Just
the same, this was the Buxton Festival Orchestra and as a matter of pride I had
expected them to be as helpful as possible in pulling things together. I suppose
I had foolishly expected them to be cordial.
The cast was performing at varying levels of vocal capability and there was
absolutely no way to balance the orchestra with the singers. Various members of
the orchestra were complaining that my tempi were unrealistic in view of how
many notes they had to play. Tick tock tick tock. I had taken the dreaded
Sudafed to allow time without coughing and I could feel my blood pressure
rising. I wondered what arrangements could be made to send the remains home in
the event that I clutched my heart and fell over during the rehearsal or
performance. It was both reassuring and daunting to know that there is a minimum
of 3 1/2 people within 100 feet who could catch the baton and carry on before I
hit the floor.
Precious time was lost in semantics when members of the orchestra did not seem
to understand the term "first ending", but ultimately realized that I was
describing "first notes". The rehearsal grinds on, but ultimately we run out of
time. Parts of the second act and especially large chunks of the Act II Finale
would go on that night unrehearsed.
At the end of the rehearsal I look up to find David Duffey and Andrew Nicklin
standing at the bar of the pit looking stricken. Andrew proceeded to explain to
me how to conduct this orchestra in front of both the orchestra and company. The
smile is frozen on my face, but at least I didn't make an inappropriate
response. His intent was plainly to be helpful, but his timing was way off. The
great irony here is that Andrew had actually been in the house during the
free-for-all and was too much the professional to interfere and I had not
realized he was there and had not asked for help! Lost opportunities, but the
villain of the piece was the clock. Tick tock tick tock.
The rehearsal over, I retired like a wounded animal to the dressing room. I had
dreamed of the lovely dinner I would have the evening of the performance --
perhaps dressed in my tuxedo and enjoying a glass of wine and a steak. By the
time I even realized that it was time to eat, there was no time for a formal
meal and it was still raining which ruled out leaving the theatre in my tux. I
had a "last supper" of another chicken salad sandwich and a glass of milk in the
snack bar. Oh, and a crumb cake. How appropriate. (NOTE to future visitors to
Buxton: Try the chicken salad; it's not bad.)
I returned to the theatre in black despair of what was about to happen. Where
had all our magnificent work gone and how bad was the evening going to be? I
found the company to be in good spirits; I suspect that David Duffey had worked
overtime to keep the collective chins up.
Firmly resolved to keep smiling, I returned to the dressing room to put on my
stylish new tux and shiny patent leather shoes. "Places" was called and headed
for the pit thinking about all the nice things that had happened in my career up
until tonight -- which would mark the end of it. I passed a visibly nervous
Sylvia Greinig and whispered, "Give it your best, Kid." She managed a smile and
answered, "I will, but there's not much left to give." Not what I wanted to
hear, but pretty obvious among several key players.
John Penn was visibly nervous and I stayed away from him altogether. One wrong
word from me at this point could have had deadly results. This was particularly
ironic since John played Sergeant Meryll by just breathing. I don't think I have
ever seen the part played so naturally and believably and I was sorry that John
was not enjoying his performance as much as I was. His voice was functioning but
uneven at the edges as parts of the evening would show.
At David Cookson's stage manager desk, Keith Drage told me to stand there until
the announcements were made and I was given the word to go down to the pit. Once
in the pit I was to wait for a flashing green light on the podium before
beginning the overture. The general attitude around me seemed to be "Poor Sod.
He doesn't stand a chance. I kept smiling until I began to wonder if my facial
muscles might spasm and leave me with this idiot expression for the entire
Ian Smith's announcements were mercifully short that evening and he returned
from the front of the curtain, spoke to a couple of the members of the company
and walked past me without acknowledging my existence. Several people wished me
luck with looks that made it perfectly clear that they thought I had the
proverbial snow ball's chances in hell. At last I was dispatched to the lower
It had been pouring rain for several hours and I arrived at the orchestra pit to
find there was now a small river with a current running across the back of the
pit and Iolanthe-like I had to tip-toe across the lily pads (actually
strategically placed planks) to enter the pit.
One of the members of the orchestra indicated a path among the music stands
which would lead me to the podium. As I worked my way through the pit, a voice
to my right hissed, "Maybe if we point to the exit he'll just keep going!"
Feeling all warm and fuzzy from this welcome, I mounted the podium. There is a
ripple of applause from the gods which I turned to acknowledge. I found myself
nose to canvas with the wall of the pit. I was fully a foot too short to be
seen, much less take a bow. I'll chalk it up to the Sudafed, but for a moment I
had this intense desire to make my hands into rabbit and duck puppets and do a
little pre-show performance at the rail of the pit. My other alternative would
be to hurl myself up, clutch the railing of the pit and pull myself into view
like Quasimodo -- which I suspect would have come as a rather disagreeable
surprise to the people sitting in the front of the stalls. I abandoned these
ideas (drug induced?) quickly and turned to the business at hand, i.e.
destroying my career for once and all.
I opened my score and watched the green light on the podium. And waited. And
waited. And waited. And waited. I hear programs rustling behind me. And waited.
The orchestra members begin to fidget in their seats. And waited. WHAT THE HELL
ARE THEY DOING BACK THERE? TAKING ROLL CALL? PERHAPS AN IMPROMPTU PRAYER
MEETING? Flash flash. Thank God. I stepped up to the podium. Flash flash flash.
Obviously backstage is getting impatient with me to begin. After all, it had
been at least five seconds. I clinched my teeth and gave the downbeat.
I think unconsciously I must have closed my eyes in the "Tell me when it's over"
mode. But I suddenly realize -- the orchestra is playing. No, I mean they are BY
GOD playing! I open my eyes and try to look calmly around the pit. They are
playing! They don't like it (the tempo is brisk) and they don't like me, but
they are playing! We all seem to be playing the same overture. We are making
music. We have come in from the marching field. Phrases are being shaped,
dynamics observed. I began to wonder if the drugs had finally taken me all the
way to hallucinations. The Tower stands in the sunlight on the bank of the
Thames and the wispy spirits of characters float in the air. Finally we reach
the climax of the piece and the orchestra allows me to take the music in my
hands, hold it over my head and then hurl it down that long steep slope to the
final proud chords.
Personally, at this point, I would like to pack up and go home. Why not quit
while you're ahead? Oh, right. There's two acts to go.
I don't want to say a word against brains. I have a great respect for brains. I
often wish I had some myself. Just the same, one would not have to be the
sharpest knife in the drawer to ponder what has just happened. Two hours ago I
left this group displaying what seemed to be lynch mob mentality. Now we are
making music. So what happened in those two hours? I offer a few theories:
1. The orchestra has realized what a truly magnificent conductor I am and have
resolved to follow me into unknown territories.
Not bloody likely.
2. Someone has intervened. Someone with influence with this group (e.g. Andrew
Nicklin?) has spoken to the group and suggested that they give this poor sod a
break and cover up his blunders as best they can.
Possible. Very, very possible.
3. The orchestra has had its fun that afternoon and are now ready to settle down
A valid possibility.
4. The orchestra has decided among themselves to play nice, despite their
feelings about the Yankee.
Possible, but doubtful.
5. The orchestra is actually the professional group that I had thought they were
and in a performance situation instinctively must give their best effort. A
combination of ethic and instinct.
6. Miraculous Divine Intervention
7. The rehearsal had been retribution for the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Draw your own conclusions.
8. They had decided that I truly was a madman and might return to the pit
carrying a gun and go truly postal.
There must be myriads of other possible explanations. Therefore, will anyone who
has any first hand knowledge of what happened there that afternoon please mind
your own business. There are some things its best not to know.
I knew the adrenaline was flowing and that I had to get it under control or face
disaster. DIGRESSION: William Mount-Burke, founder and director of the Light
Opera of Manhattan, was a diabetic. One evening he had forgotten to take his
insulin shot until just before a performance of DESERT SONG. During the opening
sequence, the Arab rebels were supposed to sneak down the aisles to the stage
during the andante mysterioso opening bars. Bill's insulin kicked in and he
double timed most of the first act. The Arabs had to hoist their desert robes to
the knees and run like hell to be on stage in time for the opening chorus. The
entire performance looked like a video on fast forward. I was determined that
this was not going to happen in Buxton.
After the most beautiful applause I have ever heard in my life, I raised the
baton to begin the opera. I tried very hard to obtain a good perspective, but
still wound up a click or two higher than I had rehearsed the tempo. Kay Byler
is a young actress of good instinct and personal strength. If the tempo was not
to her liking, there was nothing to show it, but while accomplishing the goals
we had set during rehearsals for this song, she managed to adjust the tempo
downward to the correct rate. I doubt seriously that she even knew she had done
When the time came for David Craig (Wilfred) to sing the first of the restored
material, I was in control of myself again and this number came off without
incident for the most part. Remembering the ovation that David received for
"Jealous Torments" I realize that we were in the right to include the restored
material. Whatever the blips in those numbers, we are Savoynet. Through the
miracle of technology, a group has been gathered that encompasses a great
repository of knowledge about the subject of Gilbert and Sullivan and the art of
performing their works. If we had been at Buxton just to "compete", rehearsals
could have been stricter and we could have avoided any kind of risky ventures.
Thanks to Savoynet, people who had never heard (possibly never heard OF) the
material deleted from Yeomen would not have had the excitement of discovering
something "new" in an arena dedicated to material that a thousand or so of us
can recite by heart. I think we did well here, but that is -- like this endless
rambling of mine -- strictly a subjective observation.
David Duffey's work was paying off with interest and the stage is alive with
realistic characters portrayed by the ensemble. The semi-circle is dead, long
live Herr Direktor. Just the same, I will always remember the entrance of the
Yeomen, headed handsomely by Philip Walsh's commanding solo, and the double
chorus that followed as "The Love of Three Apples." I'm not sure how I could
have continued conducting while being so completely aware of a secondary drama
playing out on stage. Fleur Greinig was carrying a basket of apples and as the
final double chorus began, the basket tipped and three apples fell to the floor.
One apple rolled a couple of feet and stopped and Fleur was able to retrieve it
quickly and with a minimum of notice. The other two apples, however, rolled away
and down the raked stage toward the pit. Fleur could still capture one of these,
but the third had rolled out of her reach and any effort on her part to chase it
down would have upstaged the entire company of Yeomen. I watched in quiet horror
as the third apple rolled slowly but relentlessly down the rake toward the
orchestra pit. By my calculations it would arrive at the edge of the stage in a
few moments before plunging into the pit and "bombing" one or the other of the
French Horn players -- hopefully on the head since mashed apple inside a French
Horn would not have been conducive to virtuoso playing for the remainder of the
My natural instinct was to try to warn the players in mime, but since the
eccentricities of my conducting were already subject to comment -- and there was
a musical number going on -- this was not a valid possibility. Can you imagine
the orchestra's response if the crazy man with the stick started waving at the
French Horns and pointing to the stage while describing small circular motions
with his baton? I was about to shout out "Incoming!" when I was saved by the
bell -- more specifically, the apple stopped rolling. As the chorus (beautifully
sung, by the way) came to a conclusion, the applause must have vibrated the
stage because the errant fruit resumed its journey toward the pit. Now knowing
there was nothing I could do, I leaned up against the wall of the pit and smiled
benignly at the French Horn section while trying to guess which one of them the
apple would actually hit. Fleur had made one last grab, but had been unable to
corral the pesky critter and it rolled on toward it's appointment with destiny.
Fortunately for the French Horns (and of great disappointment to me since it
would have made for a great story for the future) the Buxton stage has a
perfectly concealed safety trough which caught the apple as it rolled over the
edge, preventing anyone from being struck. Sigh.
Sylvia Greinig entered as Dame Carruthers and, although her solo went well, I
could tell she was fighting for control of notes at either end of her range.
John Penn (Sergeant Meryll) was already having some vocal problems which were
aggravated by a severe case of nerves. Nick Sales sang beautifully as Leonard
Meryll (the real Leonard, dolt) as we had known he would. The problem of having
such a great voice is that if people aren't careful, they begin to take it for
granted that he will do well. I can vouch that Nick did not let us down that
If there were some sort of Buxton Medal of Valor (Valour), I would like to
nominate Peter Crichton as the first recipient. Peter's voice had been fading
all week and by the time he arrived at the theatre that day, he had to have been
painfully aware that he was "damaged goods". I can only imagine what Peter was
thinking as he stood in the wings knowing he had to follow Nick Sales. I
mentioned before that I had spent the last hour or so stifling an urge to turn
and run; surely, Peter must have had similar feelings. Peter's performance that
night would be remembered by the local G&S community and may have become a
factor in considering him for parts in other productions. On the other hand, I
had the ultimate luxury of not only leaving town when the performance was over,
but to actually be able to leave the country! It was a great comfort.
Peter did better in his first aria than I had expected and I suspect that it was
largely due to the work that he and David Cookson had done in the months before
the festival. Just the same, I was relieved when he could finally end his scene
and exit -- hopefully to the nearest available bottle of Listerine.
Jack Point and Elsie entered with the "vicious" crowd. After having been duly
beaten up, we moved on to "I Have a Song to Sing." I don't know if Sharon
Brindle was equipped with knee pads that evening. If not, she should have been
since she was constantly either being thrown to the ground or dropping to her
knees in emotional frenzies. I have no question in my mind that it took several
days after the Festival for the bruising to fade.
Sharon was suffering from severe throat problems like some of the other
principals. During her first scene she miraculously kept her voice under
control. I think this is probably a testament to her strength of will.
I don't know if I was the only member of the Savoynet company who was a survivor
of the "eight a week" syndrome, i.e. eight performances a week for 50 or more
weeks a year. Perhaps David Cookson and Diana Burleigh. If there are others, I
hope they will forgive me for not mentioning them. But anyone who has lived
through this experience develops certain senses and it was during the "Song to
Sing" and the dialogue that followed that mine kicked in. I thought I heard it
during the song, but when the dialogue began I was sure of it. The theatre was
silent. Probably any readers here are saying, "So what?". Because I mean truly
silent -- no one is adjusting themselves in their seats, programs are not being
consulted or moved, no one is whispering to their companion. Silence. I don't
know about the big time theatrical professionals, but I treasure these moments
like gold and can list the times this has happened to me in the past twenty-five
years. The audience was ours. This is not even suspension of disbelief -- the
audience not only believes, but are a part of the action and emotions taking
place before them. I pity the large number of performers who will never know
this phenomenon because it is the moment that makes everything you have gone
through to be in the theatre worth while. And it was happening in the Buxton
An audience can only maintain that degree of concentration for so long and I
could feel it slowly fade away after the trio ("Alas I Waver"), although they
were still very much involved with the action on stage. They were very much
"with us" through the Point/Lieutenant dialogue and Elsie's agonized aria. The
tension as Phoebe stole the keys took the form of nervous whispers and titters
and finally the explosion of applause when the switch has been made and Phoebe,
with a combination of a giggle, a laugh and a scream, ran from the stage.
And then the unbelievable. David Craig began his short monologue -- and the
audience was silent. David had the entire house in his hand, hanging from every
word! This happened TWICE in one evening at the theatre? I could actually feel
the electricity in the air, so when David made his exit I clapped my hands once
and the spell was broken and the audience gratefully burst into dialogue
applause. No, I didn't do it -- David did. That audience wanted to applaud so
very much, as usual, everyone was afraid to be the first. David deserved that
When the Act I Finale began, the chorus was in full voice and more than a little
impressive. At the same time, Peter Crichton's voice had reached a point where
there was no longer any doubt that he was having vocal difficulties.
My first conductor's nightmare materialized when John Penn slipped one beat
ahead. This is a deadly situation because you can't skip a measure to
compensate: there is nothing to be done but allow it to play out until a cadence
and hope everyone will meet at the double bar (for a drink!). To John's credit,
with harmonies and rhythms shifting under him like quicksand, he managed to hold
the integrity of his vocal line until we could get together. All things
considered, a really tense 10 seconds, but this wouldn't be the last surreal
moment that evening.
Overall, the company performed gallantly through the lengthy finale only to be
done in by the curse of the amateur production - the errant prop! Just as the
music rose to the final climax, Tony Smith's sword unexpectedly broke and the
blade dropped to the floor dead front center. Although I have seen this happen
in Broadway and major opera productions, it is usually catastrophic in a company
which has not had time to adjust to possible unexpected situations. Even though
the singing remained stirring, there were 50 people on the stage trying to
maintain character while staring at this strange thing on the floor in front of
them as if a deadly snake had suddenly appeared on stage. If Tony could have
managed to drop the entire sword, at least the audience could have recognized
the mysterious item. As it was only the blade, the audience became obsessed with
identifying the offending object. Hindsight is 20/20 and there were two or three
people in the immediate vicinity who could have retrieved the item, but as is
usually the case everyone was too unnerved to break blocking. Michael Green in
"The Coarse Actor's Handbook" suggests that directors should not waste time in
rehearsals with lines and interpretations, but should dedicate the time to
covering possible accidents and how to react to them. I am prone to agree with
Allowing for the problems I have described, we managed to get through the Finale
and were rewarded with enthusiastic and prolonged applause at the curtain fall.
I would not know until much later about the audience members who left at
intermission. With each telling the number grew larger and more irate. With the
stories I have heard, I am surprised they were not storming the box office
demanding their money back. My only problem with this mass exodus is who the
hell was there in the audience during the second act? They must have bruised
their poor little hands trying to make enough applause to cover the absence of
the hundreds who had stormed out into the night following Moses to the promised
Crossing the river at the back of the pit, I retired to the dressing room. I had
been physically uncomfortable during the second half of the finale, but had not
realized until I reached the dressing room that I was wringing wet and had
apparently lost a couple of pounds in sweat. I know the English term should be
perspiration, but trust me in this -- it was sweat. I took an additional belt
from my street clothes and hoisted up my tuxedo pants and tied them in place.
David Duffey was mercifully present and spreading the word of favorable response
and personal praise to the company. As happy as I was to hear the reassurance
from David, I would have happily traded it in for a cup of St. Jill's tea. I
contented myself with sticking my head under the faucet and gulping down as best
I could. I then retired to the outside of the theatre (the rain had finally
slacked to a fine mist) and had my ever present cigarette. While I was there I
chatted with the bass player and told him that among other instruments I played
the instrument in various symphonies in my youth. I mentioned the joy of playing
string bass when the chord falls in place and the instruments reverberates from
the entire orchestra. We agreed on the almost sensual pleasure to be had from a
well played bass note. He must have agreed with me since he played at a fairly
strong forte for the entire second act.
I met the concertmaster on her way back in (sorry, I don't have her name
handy) and sincerely thanked her for her special efforts in holding things
together during the first act. I asked if there was a particular watering hole
where the orchestra would gather after the show. When she acknowledged there
was, I gave her 50 or 60 Pounds and asked her to buy a couple of rounds of
drinks for the boys in the band. Since I would be at the cabaret, they would
then be free to say all the horrible things they had been saving up all day. I
never heard anything further about this (nor should I) but I hope they had a
As "places" was called, I received another round of encouragement of David
(still no tea) and headed back to the pit. I tiptoed over the lily pads again
and then faced the single most unnerving moment of the entire day: the orchestra
shuffled their feet. To those of you who do not play in orchestras, this is a
subtle sign of approval given from members of an orchestra to a fellow musician
in congratulations of a job well done. I was perfectly aware of the custom in
the US, but did not know it to be an international signal. This was particularly
unsettling since is usually not given as a rubber stamp gesture. It begs the
question of whether some of the orchestra members at least had begun to
understand what we were doing.
Someone in the balcony had seen me come in and started the applause again. I
knew I couldn't take a bow, but I signaled the orchestra to rise to acknowledge
the recognition. They all came to their feet and the applause stopped like
someone had shut off a switch! I looked around to universal looks of disdain.
The universal opinion of me had returned. The lucid moment had passed.
Act II opened well enough although Sylvia jumped a beat during her solo and in
trying to compensate managed to fall two beats behind, leaving her on a
collision course with the ladies' chorus. The only reason I have mentioned this
and John's first act incident is to point out 1) what a hopeless situation it
can become and 2) how well both John and Sylvia braved it out until we could all
get together again. If this ever happens to any of those reading this epic, you
will understand how much you long for any familiar toot, whistle, plunk or boom
that can give you a clue as to where the hell you are. Even the MD mouthing your
words is not always the desired escape route.
Mike Nash and David Craig moved through their scene without incident and Peter
Crichton made his first entrance. Although he worked through the aria with a
good degree of musicianship, there was no denying that his voice was pretty well
shot by this point.
And then it was time to go to Waterloo, or hell depending on your regional
thinking. "Strange Adventure" went South. Way South. Way, way, way South. I knew
the singers were doing their very best, but it seemed to get worse moment by
moment. Luckily, the singers on stage could not see several members of the
orchestra rolling their eyes, holding their nose, snickering, etc. Strangely
enough, these people helped the situation more than they could have ever
guessed. The people on stage were MY singers and MY friends and seeing this sort
of mockery infuriated me to such a degree that I was ready to climb off the
podium and give them a piece of my already diminished mind. Since I could not do
this, my anger took the form of a tempo and I conducted the second half almost
at march tempo. This brisk tempo helped the onstage singers pull together and
more or less recover themselves before the end of the quartet.
The only question by now was "What's coming next?" It didn't take long to find
out. Armageddon. We had not rehearsed the arquebus sound effect that afternoon
and when it came it bore a striking resemblance to the launch of a SCUD missile.
The audience AND the orchestra rose a few inches from their seats and came down
MAJOR DIGRESSION: When this explosion came, I had a momentary flashback to a
production of Hansel and Gretel I had worked with some years ago. At the moment
when the wicked witch was pushed into the oven, several flash pots on the oven
and in the immediate area were set to go off with modest little puffs of flame
and smoke. Unfortunately, at the first performance an overzealous assistant
stage manager had generously loaded devices with flash powder. When the witch
tumbled into the oven, the flash pots went off in a manner reminiscent of
Hiroshima, narrowly avoiding injury to the young actors playing the children.
The effect was sufficient to throw "Gretel" backwards with a cry of "shit!"
which must have been heard in the third or fourth rows. Hansel, however, was not
so discrete and his exclaimed "Jesus Christ" was clearly audible in the back row
of the balcony. The explosion had also completely erased any memory the two had
of their lines, but Gretel was finally able to get her breath and cry "Oh,
Hansel! We've killed the witch." Hansel turned to her, his eyes still wide with
terror and responded "Yeah. How about that?"
BACK TO MATTERS AT HAND: Although I did not anticipate the size of the blast, at
least I knew it was coming and gave the downbeat. The orchestra was not so lucky
and some of them were still shaken by the off-stage bomb. The result was part of
the orchestra beginning with the downbeat and part of the orchestra jumping in
as best they could, for the most part out of synchronization.
Peter and John were obviously shaken and rushed through the recitatives, leaving
the orchestra several measures in the dust. For a moment I thought that
Fairfax's response to "Hark, what was that sir?" might be something to the
effect of "Beats the shit out of me." Although he stuttered a bit, he was able
to get out the proper response, but by that point the orchestra and the stage
had completely parted company. I tried to gather the forces by "marking" the
deleted measures, i.e. giving a series of strong downbeats to indicate the
ultra-rapid passing of those measures while hissing out rehearsal numbers and
letters. This is a standard procedure in the US but I am not sure the UK
orchestra knew what I was doing. (Those of you who have been waiting to blame me
for the chaos may now step forward.) By this point, I understood what it felt
like to conduct popular music on the deck of the Titanic. (Not a bad analogy
considering the water rising at the back of the pit.) Just at the point when I
had decided to cut the damn thing off and start it again, the chaos subsided and
we all managed to gather within the same measure. We made good on the rest of
the number, but I was personally ready to go upstairs and find another belt.
Things settled a bit and we made it to "When a Wooer Goes A'Wooing". By this
point the domino effect had taken its toll and practically everyone on stage was
struggling to produce an audible sound. And just to show that God does indeed
have a sense of humor (humour), the audience went silent again. THREE TIMES in
an evening. The audience was totally involved with the performances on stage and
they didn't move until the final chord as Mike Nash as a broken Jack Point
limped off the stage. Unbelievable, but true.
If there had been anything learned that evening, it was "Don't Get Cocky", so
when the Act II Finale began I gave more concentration than I had ever given in
my life. The principals, in varying degrees of discomfort, gave everything they
had. We survived most of the traps until Elsie (Sharon
Brindle) looked up and saw Peter (Fairfax) standing beside her. Sharon summoned
up the last power she had to hold the infamous "AH". Now came the conductor's
worst nightmare: What if you gave a downbeat and nobody came? With Sharon
already singing the note I gave my proverbial "Part the Red Sea" downbeat and
little or nothing happened. Sharon is still hanging up there; God knows what she
is using for a voice. I beat out the dead measure and give another downbeat and
the orchestra FINALLY comes in. It had been something like four seconds, but I'm
sure Sharon felt like we had just added an hour to the second act.
The chorus thunders response and Mike Nash as Jack Point interrupts the action.
He reprises "I Have a Song" and for the FOURTH time that night the audience goes
silent. Sharon responds sympathetically (although it was unfortunate for the
video that young Christopher chose that particular moment to pick his nose) and
I begin to move the tempo forward to the final curtain. Mike Nash throws down
his masks and now the audience is NOT silent. They are wired. They have never
seen anything like this. They are surprised. They are disbelieving. They are
upset and confused. They are whispering to each other and shifting in their
seats. David's final stroke is an unqualified success. And with the last chord
come the masks suddenly pulled out of hiding. The gasp from the audience is
clearly audible and then came the applause. It comes in waves. Someone in the
balcony cheers. The company does not move, no toothy middle school bows here but
the applause continues. The curtain falls. The applause continues. The curtain
rises. The applause continues. The curtain falls. The applause continues. The
curtain rises and the company lower their masks and face the audience and the
The orchestra plays the introduction to "Strange Adventure" but the audience
does not back down. And then Savoynet sang. A wave of beautiful choral sound
pours from the stage and surprises the audience silence again. All the wounds
and injuries I have felt that day are washed away by the beauty of the singing
and unity of thought and purpose. The chorus ends and the curtain falls to a
momentary stunned silence and then the redoubled force of applause follows. If
the audience left at intermission, who the hell is clapping back there?
We did it, and we didn't fall down.
The orchestra got up and left. A few of them said something to me -- as far as I
can remember nobody called me names. I thanked the concertmaster and wished her
well at the pub. I sat down on the edge of the podium to catch my breath.
Unknown to me, my friend Neil Jenkins had come to the edge of the pit and
snapped a couple of pictures of me. I didn't see them until several weeks later
and even then I couldn't believe that I was that exhausted old man.
As the adjudication began I gathered up the orchestra parts and finally headed
back to the dressing room. I'm wasn't supposed to hear it, but I overheard the
news about the audience members who left at intermission and that the Smiths
might not allow Savoynet to perform next year unless they could guarantee a
better musical performance. There was general jubilation in the dressing rooms,
but very little of it was for me. I dressed and put my sopping wet tuxedo into
its bag. I gathered up my various belongings and headed out. Kimmo Eriksson was
standing in the hallway looking blonde. I mussed his hair as I went by and said,
"Frankly, I've wanted to do that all week." I left the startled young Swede
behind and headed for the cabaret.
I met Neil and Lisa Jenkins outside the cabaret and we went in together. Whoever
had used the other two tickets I had sent them had beat a hasty retreat after
the performance (part of the intermission exodus?) and I murmured a quick prayer
that the four of them were still on speaking terms.
As we entered the cabaret area I could see where the Savoynet people were
sitting and started to lead them into the area, but they held back suggesting
that we might sit somewhere else. Although I wanted to be with the cast very
much, Neil and Lisa are very precious to me and not knowing when I would see
them again, I agreed. At any rate we split the difference, taking a table just
outside the Savoynet area so that if anyone wanted to speak with me I could be
easily found. As it turned out very few wanted to speak to me at that point.
Neil also whispered to me, "I don't think we'd really fit in with the cast.
They're a little strange."
I asked for a definition of "strange" and he replied, "Most of them are talking
to each other in some kind of code!" Up until that moment I had never known that
it is possible to inhale a vodka through the nose. After I could finally stop
choking, I told him that I understood. If there are any readers here who do not
know what Neil was talking about, please stay on Savoynet a few more months and
you'll figure it out.
I was too tired and numb to be in performance mode that evening, so I was
perfectly happy to watch the members of the cabaret perform. Neil and Lisa,
having invited me out to walk their dog the following afternoon, departed after
about half an hour. I remained at the table and thoroughly enjoyed the cabaret.
I was particularly delighted with Marc Shepherd and Larry Garvin's rendition of
"Brush Up Your G&S" and as an extra treat I finally got to see Chris Webster
perform some of his music hall material accompanying himself with a virtuoso
performance on the banjo. (I had suggested the use of a banjo in the YEOMEN
orchestrations several months before, but nothing ever came of it.)
Since we were running on a tight schedule, Chris had to curtail his performance
but the audience would have none of it. Chris insisted that his allotted time
was up but the audience insisted and he finally gave in and did a couple of
delightful encore numbers. This was a great relief for all of us since we had
come dangerously close to having to drop a hat.
The evening came to an end at last with a final choral rendition of "Strange
Adventure". I couldn't resist teasing the company just a bit by insisting that I
should sing before the finale. God know, it's as close to an 11 o'clock number
as I'll ever get. Then I stood before the group and for one last time we sang
together. The humidity in the cabaret must have been unusually high that evening
since half way through the chorus my eyes became covered with this strange mist
and I could no longer see the company.
As I prepared to leave for the hotel, part of the Belgian delegation presented
me with a box of Belgian chocolates, just to prove their superiority to Nestles.
I was so tired that I could not remember her name or do anything more than
mumble a thank you. Those chocolates were to come in very handy during the trip
It had finally stopped raining and I hoisted my garment bag over my shoulder and
started up the hill to the hotel. As I came to the turn in the road I became
aware of motion in front of me. As I stood there a misty gray figure
materialized out of the hedges several yards away. It seemed largely transparent
and sparkled a bit in the mists with two small figures in a constant circling
motion beside it. I was overjoyed! I was actually going to be able to tell an
English ghost story. I didn't feel at all frightened, only excited. I walked on
toward the slowly rotating, misty figure. As I reached the corner, I finally got
a good look at the elderly lady in the clear plastic raincoat trying to manage
her umbrella and two rowdy Pekinese in front of a narrow garden gate during a
late night walk. Oh well, back to the real world.
I returned to the hotel, ordered my bucket of ice, put on the kettle and stopped
The following morning I was up early and after breakfast walked down to the
opera house to pick up my video of the previous night's performance. I found it
wrapped, labeled and ready for me. I assume that was Stephen Hill's work.
I returned to the hotel to await the call from Neil and Lisa to arrange to meet
for our walk. The call did not come as I expected and I was about to go down to
the atrium for lunch when the phone rang. It was Neil; they were downstairs
waiting for me.
They had decided that I had been confined to the immediate area for too long and
announced that we would be taking Woody, a Springer Spaniel, out into the
countryside for his constitutional. I believe Neil referred to an area called
"the common"? At any rate, we drove a distance into the country and Neil parked
the car in a secluded little area and we set off on our walk. The first leg of
the walk included climbing over a stone wall to get into the beautiful wooded
area. This is the England of the guidebooks. We came out of the woods onto a
lovely meadow with a small river winding through it. There were other walkers
and their dogs in the area and Woody, in his excitement, broke away and
disappeared into a thicket. There was a resounding splash and Woody returned
immediately covered to his neck in thick brown mud. At least I think it was mud.
With typical English restraint, Lisa cried out, "Woody! What a bad dog you are!"
or words to that effect. (I hate to think how I would have phrased it if it had
Victor.) Woody, sublimely happy, charged back to us but veered at the last
moment and ran with some of the other dogs to the nearby river where he leapt
into the running water. Actually, it was sort of a dive -- best described as the
four legged splay with a half twist, scratch and bark. Greg Louganis would have
been green with envy.
Woody headed for the center of the river with his new found friends and everyone
seemed to be having a wonderful time. As I am a great dog lover, I nearly
collapsed with laughter to see the Canine Olympics taking place a few yards from
me. The Woodster is a lively, but obedient dog and when Neil called him, he
turned and swam back, climbing out of the river nicely washed now, and gave a
remarkable canine shake-down -- spraying water over everyone in the immediate
area before happily padding off into the woods.
It was getting on into the afternoon and Lisa suggested that we should have tea
at a little place they knew in the area. Since I had eaten a light breakfast and
missed lunch altogether, I was delighted with the idea. Lisa pointed ahead and
in all innocence said, "It's at the top of that hill." I looked ahead to the
area she had indicated. To Lisa and Neil this was a hill. I may have just been
tired and ill by this time, but the damn thing looked for all the world to me
like K2. I could just make out a small structure at the top of the mountain, er...hill.
Until this moment I hadn't really noticed the difference of our afternoon
attire. I was wearing my blue blazer, gray slacks and penny loafers. I finally
realized that Neil and Lisa were dressed appropriately for leading hordes of
singing children over the Austrian Alps.
We set out through the woods on a small foot path. Shortly after entering the
woods, we found ourselves following a couple of cows who were enjoying a
leisurely stroll. Neil was a little concerned that Woody might decide to charge
the cows so he put the dog on a lead and left the path leading Woody down to the
edge of the river where the two of them tromped bravely through the mud and
muck. Lisa and I continued on the foot path following our bovine guides. \ I
suspect that in England the concept of tea time is so ingrained that it exudes
from rocks, trees and animals. At any rate, the cattle must also recognize tea
time because we found that several cows had come down the hill through the trees
and were now walking behind us. As we continued on more and more joined us on
the path until Lisa and I were literally penned in at the center of a small
herd. It was at this point that Lisa confided that she had a pathological terror
of cows. I gave her my arm and, trying to move like cattle, we worked our way
slowly forward through the herd. The cattle seemed completely oblivious to our
passing, but by the time we worked ourselves free I had finger shaped bruises on
The path turned sharply upward and we ascended over rocks and roots as we
climbed. Neil and Woody rejoined us and we finally stepped out of the woods at
the top of the hill in front of small establishment. We settled in at an outdoor
table while Neil purchased tea and sandwiches. Looking down, I realized that the
climb had actually been worth it. Spread before us was a magnificent panorama of
rustic England viewed with gathering clouds punctured with broad beams of
sunlight pouring down. From our table we could see the expanse of meadows, woods
and river. The river featured an old stone bridge (Roman architecture, but I
don't think of Roman origin) and a small waterfall in the distance. My
compliments to the scene designer.
We had a lovely tea and caught up on months of conversation. It was now late
afternoon and the temperature began to drop. I heart fell when Neil announced
that it was time to go back. Personally I was prepared to wait patiently at the
table until the hotel sent out a search party, but not wishing to seem
ungrateful I put on my best face and the four of us started our descent. Somehow
we retraced our steps and finally returned to the road where we once again
climbed the ancient stone wall and fell into the car. We drove back to the hotel
and said our good-byes, leaving me only a few minutes to change clothes
(absolutely necessary) and run down the hill to the opera house to meet Peter
and Carol Crichton for dinner.
Our plans were purposely rather vague, but Peter and Carol recommended a
restaurant which was as you may have guessed at the top of the hill. This
particular hill, however, was the one and only hill in Buxton that I had
purposely avoided at all costs. The Bylers and Marissa Green et al had stayed
somewhere up there and I had marveled at their ability to come and go so easily
since it has an unusually severe slope. By the time the three of us made it to
the top I caught a glance of my reflection in a store window with red face, eyes
bulging and gasping for breath. Once on the top of the hill we had a selection
of restaurants but settled on a particularly lovely Italian spot.
Now if I have not made this point clear before, let me do so now: I am not a
native New Yorker, but after 25 years here I have picked up certain elements of
the lifestyle. A New Yorker may or may not be loud, rude, vulgar, etc. but the
absolutely consistent characteristic of a New Yorker is found in the fact that
separated from pizza for more than a few days, they begin to go into withdrawal.
Finding pizza on the menu was a real delight, heightened by the subsequent
excellent pie brought to the table. Even so, I think Carol and Peter may have
been a little taken aback by the ferocity with which I attacked my food. There
is no doubt that I am to table manners what Attila the Hun was to international
diplomacy, but in New York there are so many authentic Italian restaurants that
it becomes natural to pick up the uninhibited enjoyment of your food displayed
by first or second generation Italians! What can I tell you? I love Italian
After dinner we returned to the opera house for the Derby MIKADO. We parted
company at the door on the understanding that they were going to collect me the
following morning and drive me to the train station. With my great love of
luggage this was an absolute godsend.
The day had taken a toll on me and I had begun coughing again. Once inside the
theatre I found that my seat was well down front and in the center of a row.
Fearing that I would become a serious distraction for fellow audience members I
asked for and received permission from the ushers to stand at the back of the
house for the performance. In point of fact, I actually settled down on a
conveniently placed radiator to enjoy the performance, which I did. The day had
been a long one, however, and somewhere around the middle of "Were You Not to
Koko Plighted" I dozed off and fell, ever so discretely, from the radiator. A
number of people in the rear of the theatre turned around and, judging from
their looks, decided that I must be the Titipu town drunk. This could be taken
as a sign of divine intervention and I declared that my share of the Buxton
festival was over. I slipped out of the theatre and started up the hill to my
It has only recently occurred to me that the one and only place in Buxton where
I could actually get any sleep was in the opera house itself. Don't read too
much into that statement, but there is a certain irony there.
Back in my room at the hotel, I sent for my ice, boiled the water for tea and
set to work packing for the next day's trip. I took everything out of my bags,
organized it by size, shape and value and made an Olympic effort to consolidate
as much of my luggage as possible. After several hours of serious concentration
on the matter, I managed to consolidate my six bags down to seven. Not the
result I had hoped for, but I suppose if it can happen with loaves and fishes,
it can happen to underwear and Buxton souvenirs.
Wednesday morning was rainy and I took a corner table in the atrium overlooking
the soccer field and the nearby gardens. I was surprised to find myself evenly
divided between sadness that my wonderful adventure was over and grim
determination to get home as quickly as possible.
The Crichtons arrived on schedule and we started loading the eight pieces into
the boot of their car. (Did I mention the lovely going away present they brought
me?) Just as we were preparing to leave a car horn cut through the gray morning
and speeding up the drive is a little car commanded by the cherubic face of
Stephen Smith. He was bringing me some musical materials that I had left at the
cabaret on Monday, but it was very good to see him one last time.
As we chatted, I began to understand that there was some kind of consensus that
most of the things that had not worked properly on Monday night had been my
fault. This hurt me a great deal and during my recovery after my return to New
York it would worry and confuse me like some kind of small terrier attached to
my pant leg.
We said our good-byes and set out for the train station. It was a gray day, as I
mentioned, but even the monotone of the climate could not diminish the beauty of
the areas we drove through. Again to all, I highly recommend you see this area.
I don't know about the rest of the world, but for Americans it is like nothing
you have ever seen. (Don't get me wrong -- I'd be extremely happy to take any of
you driving through my home turf in Tennessee if any of you should ever drop in
-- and have four days to kill. You supply the car and the gas; I'll supply the
I parted company with the Crichtons at the train station and managed to get back
to London without incident. For coverage of the trip through the train station,
hailing a cab, getting to the airport, checking in, etc., please go back to the
material in Part 1 and read it backwards.
Once settled into Heathrow with time on my hands, I discovered a Burger King on
the concourse. As I said, certain American habits die hard and I rushed to buy a
Whopper, fries, and a milk shake. I'm not sure what special touches the English
staff had added to the usual recipe, but that has to be the filthiest hamburger
I have ever sunk my teeth into, followed closely by a bag of rubber French
fries. I'm not sure how that hamburger had been prepared, but I am willing to
bet that the cow (possibly a friend of mine from the day before) had died of
natural causes. I suspect this was also the case for the potatoes. Finally, I
have to assume that the milk shake was a grand final gesture by the
aforementioned cow. Eagerly looking forward to a nice airline meal, I made my
way to the boarding area and at last found myself on an airplane heading west.
As soon as we left the ground I began to cough and I continued to cough non-stop
for the next seven and a half hours. I consumed Sudafed, Benadryl, aspirin,
Robitussin, orange juice, tomato juice and watched "Erin Brockovich" -- none of
which had the slightest effect on my performance. I was perfectly aware that I
had become the most popular passenger on the plane and that my fellow passengers
would happily let me de-plane before they did -- preferably in mid-air.
Parachute optional. I was desperate enough to think of having an alcoholic
beverage, but considering what was already in me, there was a very real chance
of spontaneous combustion.
By the fifth hour I was beginning to get delirious and was on the verge of
sending word to the pilot, asking him if he could put the plane down somewhere
so I could get out and walk around for a few minutes. The fact that we were over
the Atlantic Ocean should not have been that much of a problem. I mean, isn't
Greenland up there somewhere?
At the point when I was ready to lock myself into the loo and open my veins, the
seatbelt lights came on and we began our (endless) descent into JFK. Only when
we were on the ground did the man next to me finally turn to me and ask "Are you
all right?". I smiled bravely and assured him that I was having a terrible
allergy attack, but that it was nothing contagious. (I made a quick agreement
with God to settle up later for that statement.) The gods of American Airlines
were kind and I was able to get off the plane, collect luggage and get through
customs with a minimum of fuss.
When I stumbled out of the airport with my nine bags (did I mention the book I
bought for the plane trip), I was ecstatic to find no shortage of taxis and to
be headed for my own little bed around the Brooklyn Beltway. (Actually, Karen
and I would stay up for hours watching Buxton videos and talking, but who knew?)
We left the Beltway and headed up the length of Woodhaven Boulevard when the
driver asked for specific instructions to my home. I laid my head back and
closed my eyes: "Go down Park Lane South, but turn onto 76th Street before you
come to the cemetery. You can't miss the building -- it's at the top of the
I have gone on and on beyond human endurance, but I hope that at least some of
you have found some of my ramblings entertaining or informative. If I have gone
on this long, there is a strong probability that I will have offended someone. I
assure you that this was not my intention, but if I have offended anyone, please
let me know and I will add your names to my list of people who do not speak to
For a number of years now I have been actively trying to get my life organized.
I'm still not very good at it. One of my methods is to divide the issues of my
life into three imaginary folders: "Do It Now", "Scarlett O'Hara" and "Rhett
Butler." I have been wanting to write up my Buxton experience since I returned
in August, but the project found itself trapped in the Scarlett O'Hara File
("I'll think about it tomorrow). The questions regarding damage I may have done
to the Savoynet 2000 production have been worrisome and until now have refused
to be put to rest. Now that I have pulled everything together and put my
experiences in some kind of order, I can fondly move the entire adventure into
the Rhett Butler file, where I assume it will stay.
Just the same, I can't thank everyone but I want to single out a few people.
David Duffey for forcing me to give my best efforts. David Cookson and Larry
Byler for making it possible to rehearse. Larry Garvin whose presence in Buxton
cut my anxiety level by half. Jill Duffey for the best cup of tea in the
Northern Hemisphere. Diana Burleigh for being there. Stephen Smith for holding
the world together. To all involved with Buxton for giving me the opportunity to
realize a lifetime dream.
I doubt that I shall be able to return to Buxton, given my financial and
scheduling restraints. There are also some random doubts about how welcome I
would be there. Just the same, I look forward to meeting you all again someday
when we gather at the double bar for a drink -- at the top of the hill.
Respectfully and affectionately,
Thus Stan ended his email to me.
And yes Stan, we and they, WILL
get together at the double bar for a drink -- at the top of the hill.
-- Jerry Ann Hale (Tollett)