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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Return of Jonathan Brewster

This continues on my memories of working with Jonathan Frid.  Earlier entries can be found below.)

The "Arsenic and Old Lace" was an big success and Jonathan had earned critical acclaim for his work as Jonathan Brewster.  In fact, sometimes he was the only one in the cast who got a good review even from the cranky reviewers.  The most important aspect of the tour for Jonathan (and his manager and me) was his renewed media visibility.  On his Monday nights off during the tour, Jonathan had bookings for his reader's theater program at nearby libraries and special theater events.

What was also winding down was my creative role with Clunes Associates.  I've never minded doing the boring clerical work that accompanies the production company venture but once Jonathan was back in New York City and the tour over with, my role was clerical.  Jonathan was getting bookings for "Fools and Fiends" and there wasn't anything more for me.  This wasn't said to me, of course, as help with administrative tasks was always needed but I didn't want to spend my time doing that.  I told Jonathan's manager that I didn't want to be involved anymore and explained why.  I wasn't upset with anyone.  There wasn't anything for me that I wanted to do.  I was involved in other theatrical ventures and what time I had, I want to devote to creative work.

I called Jonathan to tell him.  He said he was very sorry to hear of my decision.  In fact, he sounded rather fine with it although a little surprised.  When I hung up, I was a little hurt that my decision to quit was taken with such aplomb.  But, whatever, life goes on, I thought.  

My fantastic "internship" at Ensemble Studio Theater had been extended but now was over.   I had learned so much from Curt Dempster and the talented group that ran and made up the theater's membership; actors who were very visible to the public but chose to spend their free time developing and appearing in new plays.  These were connects I was anxious to use.  And now the work I had been doing for Jonathan and Mary seemed at an end.  Though I knew I was making the right decision for myself, I was unhappy because I had grown to like Jonathan and working with him.  However, I had to do what was best for me.

What I didn't know until later was that Jonathan was very upset by my decision to leave Clunes.  Of course, nothing in our phone conversation had reflected this.  He told everyone else but me.  Mary told me later he had her come down to his apartment to talk about my decision, had they done something to upset me, and so on.  She told him no, only that I needed more creative work to keep me interested in staying.

Jonathan called me and asked me to meet him for dinner down at Pete's Tavern.  This wasn't unusual as I had met him there many times for dinner but I wasn't sure what he wanted to talk about.  If it was just to have dinner, that would be great.  I was interested in maintaining contact with him.  I did like him and if down the road he took on other projects, I wanted to be the one of the people he called to assist.

At dinner, he kissed my hand and cheek.  This wasn't indicative of setting me up for anything - that was a common way for Jonathan to greet a woman acquaintance or friend.  I deliberately did not hug or have any physical display of affection towards Jonathan while I worked for him.

He asked if he could call on me to assist him as needed with personal projects that could include nothing more than assist Mary with fan mail, and accompany him on errands and work on projects in his apartment. That was fine with me, I said.  He told me how much he had appreciated what I did for him at the Dark Shadows Festivals and other fan events he employed me to attend, and I probably would have attended on my own anyway.  All these compliments led me to wonder what was going.  Finally, Jonathan said he had been concerned that I felt unappreciated with Clunes. As I was a ghostwriter, a behind-the-scenes person, my name didn't appear on programs.  I told him that my real reason was what I had stated: I needed more creative input and work in order to keep Clunes work on a high priority list. (Note to readers: in the theater, you are always juggling jobs as most work is project to project).

Jonathan then asked me if I wanted to collaborate with him on the development of another one-man show.  He said that the theaters and libraries where "Fools and Fiends" had played now wanted him to come back with another show.  I would still be a ghostwriter.  I told him that career-wise, I only needed to be able to put down a resume that he and I had collaborated on projects and that I was a ghostwriter for him.  I only cared what potential employers knew about my experience.  They could call him as a reference.

A wild creative ride known as "Fridiculousness" was about to begin.


Anonymous said...

Transitionary periods are trying and emotional--a good reason not to go into theater unless it is your calling and what you are compelled to do. Even if one had the optimism to live with uncertainties, you would still have to deal with a lot of transitions and new faces and personalities. That sounds very unsettling to me.

Shifting gears, the kiss on the hand became Jonathan's trademark, and I wonder if it began with a directorial instruction for Barnabas, or if Jonathan aquired that custom in the theater and carried it over or if Jonathan made it up for Barnabas. Well it worked in that it did cement the 'gentleman' standing of Barnabas, set him apart from the more modern personalities with modern manners or lack thereof, added an element of character, and clearly hooked viewers of all ages. This just goes to show what a gesture can do. Another thing I liked was the little grin at the end of his website recordings. It is the little things!

Anonymous said...

Oops, didn't mean to not include my identity on a post (Kristine). But as long as I am correcting that ommission, It is nice to know what your contributions were to Reader's Theater. You remind me that while I have the DVDs: Fools and Fiends, Frid Again, and Frid Evil, I do not have Fridiculousness. Hope I can get that somewhere. By the way, in watching him perform those shows, I found that he did not seem to me to be reading. He must have known the material inside and out. - Kristine

Linda Dachtyl said...

I know the feeling of having to go your own way for a time concerning your professional life and then being able to pick things back up with a person down the road. To me, it shows a real relationship was established the first time beyond just the business association.

I had a relationship similar to this with a college teacher with an interim of a dozen years or so when I didn't see him and then all of a sudden I kept running into him at the store, coincidentally rented teaching space from someone that was studying with him, and then decided maybe I should consider studying with him again. When we reestablished contact he eventually became like a family member. He passed in 2008 and I miss him to this day concerning career advice, mentoring, and most of all, the deep friendship that developed. I would say in many ways we were kindred spirits.

On the DVDs, are the others still available? I only have Fridiculousness. I do have a VHS of some of the others, I think, although I would have to check to be sure. It would be nice to have all of them in DVD format if they are still available.

Thanks for sharing all this with all of us, Nancy.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I speak for myself, but I, at least, feel more than a little depressed at John Frid's passing. Are we a congregation of broken hearts, or what? And how does one snap back? He sure seemed to have had his share of losses and snapped back well enough. Another example of his heroism? Or our perception, thereof?
Sometimes I do wish I had not looked forward to the indulgence of re-watching dark shadows and just left it a fragmented youthful memory. So, here I wallow in the slough of despond that impedes forward progress. (Nancy, it is truly difficult to speak of him in the past tense.) Your coming back into contact with him professionally after your childhood is pretty darn amazing. Your outlook is bound to differ as a result. I am happy for his success with Arsenic and Old Lace, and I have a feeling you will touch on that in your next blog entry. He said so little about it on his website (talk about not being demonstrative), except to say that he was old when he did it. Yet, he was NOT old! -Kristine

Nancy Kersey said...

Thank you for the comments and kind words.:)

You asked about "how does one snap back?" My personal answer is that life goes on. Jonathan was not a sentimental person and his wish to be cremated and not have a grave site is indicative of his own view of just slipping away into oblivion or whatever it is. At 87 his death can't really be called a tragedy and Jonathan passed on before he lost his the independence that meant to much to him. People who knew him and especially those who saw him every day surely have the grief that comes with losing a loved one and finding the new normal. I tend to focus on how happy I am that Jonathan didn't linger and died before losing more things that mattered to him. That's just my view on it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your warm yet rational response. Death at 87 certainly is not a tragedy. Going peacefully in one's sleep of natural causes resulting from the typical occurrences of aging (such as a fall) is no tragedy. Your perspective is one of having seen the fullness of his life and the deterioration toward the end that told you that it was time or past time. You've seen, as have I, other deaths far more tragic...lives unfinished so to speak...not having taken their full course. My perspective is different here. There was still the wonder of a unique and somewhat mysterious person who had the spunk to live on his own and whose health and well-being I could conjecture about but wasn't sure of. It was someone who seemed so different, rather fantastic, really. A word about redheads, not being a redhead: your comment stood out to me as my experience in life has been that they do seem indeed easier to know, like and trust. It seems they might have some special chemistry that comes with the red hair. It may be that they have a greater, apparent generosity of heart and spirit. I speak from my own experience and there is no other basis for this assertion. One who has a tendency to keep out rather than let in, not in an anti-social way, just as a tendency -- a certain loner trait or secretive nature would find redheads appealing for their gregariousness or acceptance if they've had similar experience with redheads.

Yes, at a certain stage of life, anyone would need a household companion. But maybe even that was intolerable to him.

A little emotional tug of war between happy and sad emotions was going on and for a moment sad was doing all the pulling. - I do appreciate your remarks and the little kick in the pants so to speak. - Kristine