Funny the World...

Theatre Thoughts

March 26, 2000

coxbox.jpg (32427 bytes)Friday night we went to The Lamplighters to hear a fascinating talk by Scott Hayes, the great, great grand-nephew of Sir Arthur Sullivan. He spoke about Sullivan’s relationship with his family, how he stepped in and became like a father to his late brother’s children, and about a trip Sullivan made to California to visit the family, after they had moved to this country. Wonderful, little known stuff about half of the famous team of Gilbert & Sullivan.

The second half of the program was Sullivan & Burnand’s silly one-act, Cox and Box, last performed by The Lamplighters in 1970. Another fun evening.

Saturday night we went to the San Francisco symphony, preceding which we joined a bunch of Lamplighter tech crew members for dinner at Cafe Riggio (see my epinion review!). Now that The Lamplighters has been forced to play union houses, where they are forced to use a union backstage crew, the close knit volunteer crew is kind of at loose ends, and so tries to get together to at least see the show as a group.

I bring this up because I have been, for a few months now, nominally the publicist for The Lamplighters. My ten-year formal involvement with the company ended in 1986, with the death of my best friend, Gilbert Russak. I continued to do things from time to time, but my friend Barbara Heroux, the new managing director has been determined to get me back and actively involved with the company again. As publicity has always been "my thing," I agreed to take on the task.

But, alas, I’ve learned that publicity "at a distance" just doesn’t work. Not for me, anyway. I feel that to be effective as a publicist, you have to be excited about your project, and involved with it at least to where you can talk about it intelligently and with some degree of enthusiasm. It’s just not possible to phone that in. I’ve been sending out publicity releases, but really my heart isn’t in it. The Lamplighters is at an awkward period, when community theatre is no longer supported by the mainstream media (so getting exposure or reviews is often difficult to impossible), and the old audience members are getting older and dying off. When you look out from the stage and see a sea of blue hair, you know that you’d better start doing something to show the young people that Gilbert & Sullivan still can be fresh and fun in the 21st century. For this you need energy and a publicist who can make the necessary contacts and follow through. That ain’t me. As I told Barbara, to everything there is a season, and my season has passed.

The attitude of the media toward community theatre baffles me. The concept of "community" theatre would in and of itself imply support of the community. But the days when the San Francisco Chronicle would send a reviewer to a Lamplighter show are long gone. And it’s a shame. This company has been a San Francisco institution for nearly 50 years. So many little theatres die out because there just is no way for the theatre-going public to learn that there is anything affordable worth attending. And not everyone has a hundred bucks to shell out for one of the big touring companies bringing yet another production of Les Mis through town.

I’m so glad that I was at least a part of the age when community theatre was supported by the community and encouraged by the local media before the press got too big for its britches.

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created 3/26/00 by Bev Sykes