Yesterday at 11AM, the lobby of the Roda was packed and buzzing with excitement. There was a nice spread of bagels, an assortment of schmears, a few thermoses of fresh coffee, and more than 100 people. It was the meet & greet for our upcoming show, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Meet & greets are a standard practice in most of the theatres where I’ve worked. Though the details vary a bit from theatre to theatre, they typically take place on the first day of rehearsal of a new show. Except for a really good opening-night party, meet & greets are usually the one and only occasion when every person involved in a production will be in the same room: the cast, crew, director, and designers (of course), and also the box office personnel, grant writers, database managers, executive assistants, payroll personnel, marketing and multimedia manager (me), etc. (It is pretty mind-blowing to see just how many people it takes to run a theatre.)
The other standard detail of every meet & greet I’ve ever attended is free food. Free food is always a big draw. I wish that when I’d ceased being a struggling student, I’d have gotten over the thrill of free food, but alas. Free food still totally rules. Whether it’s pizza, bagels, baklava, or canapés, I will eat free food at meet & greets whether or not I’ve just had a ten-course meal because, you know, it’s free food. Naturally, I love meet & greets.
After we’d sufficiently met, greeted, and obliterated the buffet, we were called into the Roda Theatre for a presentation from the show’s lead artists. Our associate artistic director, Les Waters, introduced us all to Delroy Lindo (whom many Reptiles, as we call ourselves, already know from his work on Blue Door in 2007). As soon as Delroy began speaking, I remembered the other reason I love meet & greets: hearing the artists talk about their passion for the show and share a bit about how they arrived at that passion reminds those of us who do not work onstage or even backstage what we’re doing here. Obviously, we don’t work in nonprofit arts organizations for the money. There are plenty of industries that pay administrators, accountants, and security staff a lot more. We work for the arts because we believe that it’s good for our spirits and good for society’s collective health (and as my a friend of mine who works in costume shops says, “You know, art: blah blah blah, makes society suck less”).
Delroy talked about his transformative experiences working on Joe Turner as an actor. I knew that he'd been in several successive productions of the show, including the Broadway production, and that he’d been nominated for a Tony for his performance (1986). I didn’t know that he wasn’t in the very first production--Delroy explained that Charles “Roc” Dutton played Herald Loomis in the first production, which was at Yale. Apparently, director Lloyd Richards and playwright August Wilson initially wanted Dutton to continue performing the role in successive productions. After the Yale production, however, Dutton was up for a film role. Richards and Wilson kept Delroy on stand-by while waiting to hear if Dutton would be cast. By the time they offered Delroy the part, there were only two weeks until the show opened in Boston. That blew my mind. Delroy Lindo played Herald Loomis after two measly weeks of rehearsal.
The character of Herald Loomis is a Herculean challenge with any amount of rehearsal. The role is enormously complex, physically demanding, and off the charts with regard to emotional intensity. Delroy went on to describe the evolution of his work on the role over the next four productions of the play. He felt that he genuinely needed all four full productions to really get the character. It was extraordinarily difficult and equally rewarding. He also shared, with a laugh, that August Wilson agreed with him--after the third production, in San Diego, August encouragingly told Delroy, “You’re really getting it now.”
The everything bagel with roasted vegetable schmear and the coffee were also delicious.