During the winters of my junior and high school years, when I spent fewer hours competing in school sports, I often devoted industrious days and weeks working in many of the tiny legit theatres, which dotted a narrow stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. Today, “Equity Waiver” productions are usually presented in these houses with less than one hundred seats, often with less than sixty seats. The West Hollywood area of Los Angeles was a much sleepier and laid back community than today’s latest edition.
These theatres may have been small, with limited seating, but almost all of them were being funded by the working journeyman actors who had ventured fourth from the New York boards of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway productions. They were actors who worked in film but, without exception, missed the continual challenges of live performance.
To a young boy, seeing all of these recognizable silver screen heroes and heroines was tantamount to spending morning noon and night in Toyland. I couldn’t get enough. The way each of them carried themselves was a story in itself. Some literally reeked of glamour. For me, it was sponge time. I didn’t miss a trick. Make no mistake… in the beginning I was an “errand lad*.”
*The way an Irish actor referred to me. Whenever anyone in the theatre needed something, this “errand lad” became the designee. I never once considered it an imposition. I considered myself an important member of the team.
It was during my membership, as a participant, on many of these theatrical teams, without knowing it I was receiving the most comprehensive training a young professional could possibly reap.
The rewards and consequences of those early years have provided me with an immeasurable intellectual and spiritual harvest.
And then of course, there was radio. For me, it was and still is a double dose of my favorite pie; the kind you think about having seconds of before you even finish the first bite.
Way back, when kids came home from school and listened to the radio, they were simultaneously feeding their own personal imaginations.
Many of the same New York actors I encountered during my early theatre work were extremely prominent as players on the early soaps and serials of the radio shows I listened to as a child. The origin of these radio shows were similar in nature. Most of them were derived from comic books, such as Superman, Batman, The Lone Ranger, Captain Marvel, Captain Midnight, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
We all read about Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Superman, and, of course, our cowboy heroes. With radio, the printed word came to life. These heroes were different from the athletes we looked up to and modeled ourselves after. Going to a ball game allowed you to see and cheer right there before you in living vibrant color. With radio, you listened as you painted, in your minds eye, pictures of the action. Every one of my friends could announce the bumpers (lead-ins) of every serial drama. As a matter of fact… we had all the singing commercials memorized as well.
Disillusionment, Turned To Realization
It was on one day in particular when I found myself excited over the opportunity of meeting the actor who had been a notable on one of my favorite action radio shows. He was set to come in and read for a play we were about to stage. My anticipation was the same as preparing to meet Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale. I mean, I was stoked. And then the air was taken from my over-sized balloon when I was introduced to my prospective hero. It was actually a two-stage reaction: sight and sound.
For certain, in the world of voice over, one must never judge a book by its cover. The actor I was introduced to appearance-wise was the last human being one might cast as an action hero. He was short, slight, and balding. But when he said hello, the theatre vibrated from the resonance of his deep baritone voice.
It was years later, after the introduction learning experience, when that moment of enlightenment became an integral part of the voice over syllabus we still use in all levels of our educational program for voice over actors.
The bottom line remains the same: listening and increasing your listening skills will allow your mind to take in the salient truth of the moment. Being a good listener is not only one of the highest forms of graciousness, but likely the most necessary ingredient for the working actor’s success. Those of us who master the skill of looking and listening simultaneously are the artists who most inherently have the ability of presenting the truth.
The theatre and radio; what a great and cherished combo to have as a young man’s foundation. The old timers used to say, “Reading, writing and arithmetic,” were the most important keys. For me they were, “Reading, writing and radio.”