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Tony Tanner
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WRITER/PRODUCER

 

I got very sick. Diagnosed at first as a side effect of medication for high blood pressure, it later became obvious that I was struggling through a panic syndrome… I could go on about that but won’t. Suffice it to say that at the first night of my production of THE MIKADO on the Cal State Northridge Campus, I was unable to get up and greet friends who’d come a long way to see it. My legs just wouldn’t do their job.

 

As I came out of it I started to write. The urge to do so became so overwhelming that I couldn’t ‘think up’ plots quickly enough so I did what W. Shakespeare did, I took my plots wherever I could find them. Cleverly avoiding the possibility of expensive ‘options’ on recent writings I turned to antiquity and started to write my versions of time-honored legends. Medea, Phaedra, The Bacchae… Orpheus and Eurydice… these monumental undertakings came reeling off my pencil and my computer keyboard faster almost than I could wield them. But then the log jam in my file cabinet started to stifle me. I had to get them out and about.

 

Did a cable talk show in NYC once with Elizabeth Swados, Joe Papp’s favorite composer. I didn’t like her music much and somehow supposed she would be a tight-lipped go-getter. She was not. I liked her at once. At once. As we chatted in the wait room, she asked me what I was ‘up to’ and listened for my answer with that special intensity that denotes genuine interest. I told her I was writing like a madman.  “Get your shows up,” she said, “Even if you have to do them on a street corner, get them up.”

 

Remembering this, I took advantage of an offer of free rehearsal and play space in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park and put up my Medea.

Then did it again. Then started to mount a whole series of productions of my work, exactly as Ms. Swados had instructed me to do.

 

I had had works produced by others in modest corners before this. In particular the West Coast Ensemble’s artistic director Les Hanson had fathered a few of them, with varying degrees of success. Here they are…

 

DREAMERS  music version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

THE MUCH ADO MUSICAL    yes, another Shakespeare musical.

 

THE VIEW FROM TABLE MOUNTAIN

This was a play of no little ambition. It was in fact an imaginary meeting between Vera Stravinsky, wife to Igor, D.H. Lawrence’s Freda and Picasso’s Francoise.

 

They meet in Taos at Lawrence’s home. All their men are dead but return to exchange words with their partner.

 

The LA Times smothered it; the LA Weekly extolled its virtues.

 

Unfortunately this is a one review town and that review is not the LA Weekly’s.

 

But heartfelt thanks to Mr. Hanson. His encouragement and belief sustained me for many moons after that.

 

In Plummer Park, in the Great Hall and in Fiesta Hall, over a period of five years I yanked the following to their feet…

 

MEDEA

 

THREE SISTERS………… the musical

 

A PAIR BY MOLIERE……

New (by me) adaptations of Les Femmes Savantes and Le Misanthrope.

 

THE OEDIPUS TREE……the legend from the point of view of Oedipus’s father.

 

Shakespeare’s TROILUS and CRESSIDA

 

SECOND THOUGHTS……A musical revue

 

Staged reading of PLAIN JANE, my music version of Pride and Prejudice and…

 

A Series of lecture demonstrations called…

 

WHO’S AFRAID OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

 

We did three plays.  HAMLET, KING LEAR and MACBETH.

Scenes from the plays were realized with fine actors and a few chairs. In between, I talked about the history of each play, the author’s sources, his life, his times. The iambic pentameter was examined, also his use of it. The audience was asked to participate and comment on the characters, their development and the unfolding of the play itself.

 

Hugely, hugely successful. I was begged to do more. I didn’t. Too much hard, hard work and too little financial return. Also it took time away from MY stuff. Shakespeare has had literally millions of advocates during his lifetime and subsequent to his death. I’ve had but a few. So I keep on trucking.

 

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA was to have been the first part of a two-evening event entitled THE TROJAN WAR. Since the LA Times was yet again, conspicuous by its absence from any performance, the Shakespeare was not reviewed and subsequently visited by not very many. I was deep into the red financially and exhausted from the ardors of doing waiver theatre in difficult, difficult facilities, so I quit producing for a good long time.

 

The itch to finish what I had begun overcame me and overcame prudent self-interest too. I went back to the Park and staged THE AFTERMATH. This was the material in THE TROJAN WOMEN and THE ORESTEIA presented in one evening and was indeed the second evening of THE TROJAN WAR.

 

The Times didn’t come for the longest time, but after being implored by audience members to review the work, a critic came in the penultimate week and raved. The last two performances sold out.

 

A happyish ending. But of course as long as one is alive and ambulant, there is no end.

 

I am workshopping a new musical at present based on Chekov’s short story: THE LADY WITH THE LITTLE DOG and early next year will produce my version of another legend: DON JUAN DISPENSO.

 

After that, yet another Shakespeare musical: SOMETHING OF SILVER, based on THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.  

 

And so on and on and on…