Friday, March 10, 2006

Book End with Cha Cha

I will warn you now. No one took this project to heart like Randy Baker. His answers are exhaustive and I mean that in every sense of the word. He is also the only person to provide a photo which might get me booted off blogger, so be warned there is ass on this page.

Randy Baker has many secrets. Every time I think I have the man figured out a new bit of him pops onto my radar and I scratch my head until it hurts and then move on. His passion for theater and for Rorschach may only have one equal and that is Jenny McConnell Frederick. Between the two of them they drive this company forward and hold the band of us together like a tightly knit poly-blend, which allows plenty of movement and breathes quite well. He has directed Rhinoceros, JB, Behold! and Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards. He wrote the strange and wonderful blending of puppets and 20 something exploration that was After the Flood.

He will soon be marrying Ms. Deb Sivingy and how he got that lucky I will never know. Of course she got lucky too, because he is a man of infinite ideas and boundless enthusiasm.

The one and only Randy Baker!

1. Place of birth?

Mt Alvernia Hospital in Singapore.

2. First experience in theater?

In the first grade I was in a production of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was cast in a large speaking role that the teacher/writer created for me... I was like the Pied Piper's buddy or something... but I REALLY wanted to be a rat. The idea of having whiskers and a tale was INTOXICATING. So much to my teacher's chagrin - after creating all that purple prose for me to speak - I became a rat. My mom made the costume. I was brilliant.

3. Where you went to school?

Preschool: Iran. A little town called Ahwaz. There used to be Americans in Iran. We were kindly escorted out of the country in 1978.

Pre-K and Kindergarten: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was the first time a teacher was convinced I should be tested for being a "genius." My mother told the teacher I was faking and could just talk a good game. I was tested. My mom was right.

First Grade: Washington DC. Went to Horace Mann up near American University. Experienced my first trick or treating experience. Learned that being American meant you get lots of candy. LOTS of candy.

Second Grade: Cairo, Egypt. Tried to trick or treat in Egypt. Got a lot of strange looks. I guess they didn't like candy in Egypt. Or Americans. Since shortly after that fated Halloween President Sadat was assassinated for making deals with the Americans and Israelis. I think if I hadn't taken all their candy that history would have been different.

3rd, 4th Grade: Moved to Singapore. Went to a British School for two years. Learned that randy meant something very different to British people.

5th grade-12th grade: Switched over to the Singapore American School. And yes. I knew Michael Fay, the guy who got caned.

College: University of Richmond. Learned that "barbeque" referred to the sandwich AND the substance. When you order "barbeque" it's redundant to say "barbeque sandwich."

4. What do you do?

Director, Writer, producer, House Manager, production manager, Resident Cockroach Killer

5. What was your first experience with Rorschach?

The summer of ‘99 is kind of a blur of alcohol, very little sleep and very big ideas.
We were all working day jobs, freelancing in theater and having a great time staying up late, drinking too much and dreaming big about theatre. I was working as production manager of Theater J, Jenny was waiting tables in Shirlington and working part time at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

While at Theater J I met and became friends with Jason Gots. He had always wanted to direct Eugene O’Neill's The Hairy Ape. I remember we read through the play in his dimly-lit, barely-furnished apartment in Mt. Pleasant. I remember thinking... this play is un-stageable. It's crazy. It's huge. It is never done and probably for good reason. But Jenny and I had a fair idea of how to put together a show and had more than a few resources between my contacts at Theater J and hers at Woolly... and more important than that - we had a ton of young friends who didn't have a voice: They were building sets rather than designing them, stage managing shows rather than directing them, acting in non-speaking roles rather than in featured roles. And no one was going to give them a break any time soon. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put into motion some of those crazy ideas we had talked about on those late nights and give a voice to a company of artists previously unheard.

So Jenny and I, Jason and our set designer friend Jordana Adelman decided to go for it. Jason and I had a name. POOR TOM PLAYERS. Jenny told us that was not going to be our name and we were like...

JASON: No It's from King Lear!
RANDY: You know when King Lear looks at Edgar and he sees him charading as poor tom and he says "is man nothing more than this..."
JASON: It's wrought with the human condition, the real essence --
JENNY: It's a dumb name.
RANDY: Yeah.
JENNY: So let’s think up something new?
JASON: Cool. Well we'll work on something. Let's all --
JENNY: Um...
RANDY: What?
JENNY: I think we need to think of a name tonight.
JASON: No because I have a --
JORDANA: Hey guys, what's going on?
RANDY: We need to think of a name for our theatre company.
JORDANA: Oy vey.
JENNY: We need to think of one tonight.
RANDY: Yeah but why?
JASON: I have to get to a --
JENNY: Tomorrow's Helen Hayes.
JORDANA: So if we are talking about our new theatre company, we need to have a name.
RANDY: Right.
JASON: Right.
JENNY: So...
JASON: Space Chimp! We should call ourselves Space Chimp theatre!

Somewhere around dawn we came up with Rorschach Theatre.

I remember we only ran The Hairy Ape for three weeks and I remember putting it up almost killed us... Seriously. Literally. Our props designer Samantha Aron tripped over some of the crap that was strewn about during "tech" and cut herself and had to be rushed to the hospital! And then there was the scaffolding/bucket contraption that broke on show number 13, and then there was the night that Andrew Price (playing Yank) hit his pipe against the banister as he was supposed to do and a piece of pipe shot through the audience. And then there was... Anyway. We all lived. That's the point.

Though fraught with danger, the show went on and we were pretty proud of what we had created. It was ours. In a way that no show we had ever done before was.

We finally got the Post to come. I'm not sure how. I think maybe Michael Kyrioglou from Woolly might have put in a call to Bill Triplett. It was a Friday night and we knew the review was going to come out in the next day’s paper. We stayed out all night, drinking at Townhouse Tavern on 17th street... and just as the bar was closing we ran over to the 7-11 to find that the Saturday paper had come out (the romance of this story depends on the idea that the Post online wasn't quite as developed in 1999). The review was a rave in a way that we couldn't believe. The rest of the run (one week) was sold out and we had a strange beast in our hands... a theatre company.

I guess that's kind of more than just one experience. But like I said. It was a blurry summer. And it all seems like one night to me.

6. Company member you would most like to be if you were not yourself?

Melissa Schwartz. Because I secretly wish that I were working in politics. And she's like all CJ Craig and stuff. Okay. I don't really wish I were working in politics. I wish I were working in the white house on West Wing.

7. Some story about working on a Rorschach play that either made you laugh or touched you deeply?

So so many... what to choose? Breaking into the building during Master and Margarita... opening of A Clearing in the Woods with so much going wrong I thought we were going to die... JB opening two days after September 11 and lighting candles on the sidewalk in dirty, abandoned Southwest DC...rehearsing in a loading dock for Rhinoceros...

But you know. It all touches me deeply. The idea that strangers come to see what we put on and that some of them even come back.

The fact that we have been blessed with the opportunity to keep producing theatre is astonishing. With so many obstacles - money, space, finding an audience, doing everything while everyone involved has day jobs - it is amazing to me that we have not only survived but that we are really doing quite well. Doing the plays we want to do and having people come to see them and getting to do it over and over - that is an amazing thing.

8. Where do you think Rorschach will be in the next ten years?

We will be moving into a brand new space of our own. We will have a paid staff. We will have huge, excited audiences. We will have artists who are thrilled to work with us. We will be producing theatre that changes the world.

A guy can dream can't he?

9. What is your favorite Rorschach show that you were not in?

Technically I wasn't in anything... but my favorite show that I didn't direct or write... wow this is hard... i'm so close to all of them - it's like choosing a favorite child! In chronological order... The Hairy Ape, The Illusion, Family Stories and Master and Margarita. is that cheating, choosing four?

10. Scott McCormick harmless adolecent or world conquering super villain?

See "The Kingpin."


J. Gots said...

Dude. 'Sup?

--Jason Gots

J. Gots said...

To expand on my previous comment: Not realizing that this blog was being maintained by two folks other than Randy Baker, I wrote "dude, 'sup?" and my contact information, assuming that Randy would see it and contact me. Needless to say, Randy did not contact me, so I'm thinking that a) he didn't see my comment or b) he hates me forever and ever and refuses to contact me.

If a), then could somebody please forward my info to him?

Many thanks,