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Episode 44

A POST CARD FROM NEW MEXICO

A Rainy Thanksgiving Afternoon
Thursday, November 26th
At home, in bed, with the flu.

"Good morning!"

Oh, it's you. You didn't have to keep ringing the bell. I heard it the first time. Come in.

"How are you feeling?"

Rotten. Did you get the orange juice and aspirin?

"Right here. I also brought you some of Mrs. Levine's chicken soup. Guaranteed 100% free range kosher chicken fat. If it doesn't kill you, you're cured."

The way I feel right now, dead is a reasonable alternative. Did Franks manage to catch his plane back to Seattle last night?

"Frank. Jonathan Frank. Yep. When do you want to reschedule his audition?"

Sometime in the next couple of weeks. We'll set a date Monday. If I survive until Monday.

"I brought your mail up, too. Lots of junk mail and a letter from the insurance company."

Let me see it. Maybe it's the check for the fire.

"I noticed you put out a press release about Neverland opening next fall in the new theatre. I wanted to talk to you about that. With everything taking so long, I don't think there's enough time to have everything ready - the theatre and the show - in just under a year."

Doing it the way we talked about, creating a small proscenium theatre in the warehouse, you're right. There isn't time. But, there are other possibilities.

"Such as?"

You know how big the warehouse is, right?

"Five floors and a basement. Around 58 feet wide and a block deep. It's pretty big."

And all open on the inside.

"Or, it will be, as soon as you and the museum people get all that stuff moved out."

That's the first problem. We've gone through the basement and half the first floor so far, and there is so much stuff, the museums don't think they can accept it all. They simply don't have room to store it, much less catalog and display it.

"Okay. So, what's your idea?"

What I've suggested to them is to establish branch museum sites at the warehouse, and display the items there. We're thinking that each display could be a complete scene, exactly as it first appeared on stage in the original production. The warehouse bays are 28 feet wide by about 20 feet deep, which is almost identical in size to most of the old proscenium theatres. Each bay could house a scene from a different show. We could fit 16 such displays on each floor, with a lot of additional stuff in display cabinets running the length of the center corridors.

"How many floors would they use? What about Drema's private apartment? What about our theatre?"

Drema's apartment - my apartment - takes up about a third of the southern end of the fourth and fifth floor. It has a private entrance. I'm keeping it with no changes. I'm figuring giving each museum the remaining two-thirds of the fourth and fifth floors for offices and storage. The museums would get half the first floor and all the second and third floors divided evenly between them for display space. We keep the other half of the first floor for our theatre and lobby, and the basement houses all the theatre support spaces. What do you think?

"I don't know. I'd have to see blueprints."

It will work, trust me. The key is to change our way of thinking about what a theatre is.

"What do you mean?"

Instead of what we had before, why don't we create an empty performance space with some sort of flexible seating. That way we could scale the theatre, from 99 seats all the way up to 499 seats, as would be appropriate for each show.

"No proscenium arch?"

If we need one for a particular production, we build it for that production.

"Well . . . it would be a lot faster and cheaper to do it this way. If everything goes smoothly, we could open by next fall - maybe even next summer."

And, since we're providing no-cost sites for two major city museums, the permits and licenses should be no problem. The city will love us!

"Wait a minute. We're not going to charge the city for the museum space?"

No. Of course, they will pay their own utilities and maintenance fees, and provide their own security and insurance. But the space itself we will provide free of charge as a gesture of our civic pride.

"What's the angle? You don't do anything for free."

By housing the museums, we create what is known as a destination. The public will beat the proverbial path to our building to visit "The Drema Paige Theatre Collection," the most comprehensive assembly and display of American and Broadway theatre history artifacts in the world! And when they leave, astonished and delighted by what they have seen, they will pass right by the box office of the Drema Paige Theatre, selling tickets to the latest Neverland Theatricals production!

"Oh! Sort of like what Disney is doing on 42nd Street."

Precisely.

"I like it!"

And there's more.

"Yeah? What?"

Tomorrow, when the weather clears up, head down to the warehouse and take a walk through the neighborhood.

"What would I be looking for?"

I counted at least a dozen buildings within two blocks of the warehouse which could easily be re-developed into off Broadway theatres. There are probably as many more which could house small off-off Broadway theatres. I'm willing to bet that within five years, if we work it right, we could be at the center of the creation of a new, downtown theatre district which would rival Broadway itself.

"Seriously?"

Take a look and then tell me what you think. I'm meeting Monday with the museums to discuss the idea further. Why don't you come to the meeting too?

"I'll be there. And I'll scope out the neighborhood this weekend."

Good. What's the status of the libretto for Neverland?

"Coming along. I think I've got it down to a cast of six."

When we bring Frank back, I want you to arrange for a complete reading. Everything you've got so far. I'm thinking it's time to turn up the burner even higher under this project.

"No problem. I was thinking about starting to do a little advertising. You know, 'coming next fall' and all that. Maybe go ahead and have the poster designed."

It's still a little early for anything more than a few press releases, don't you think?

"Is it? I'm not talking anything along the lines of the pre-opening ad campaign for Ragtime or Showboat, you know."

Well, as long as you're not suffering from Drabinsky-disease, maybe it isn't too early to put out a few things. We'll talk about it next week.

"What do you think is gonna happen with them?"

Who?

"Livent. You heard that most of the big prospective buyers walked away from the table and they're trying to raise another 30 million for op expenses, didn't you?"

It's a waste of money, if you ask me. No amount of capital will salvage that mess. And, nobody in their right mind would pour any more money into it, reorganization or not. If I were thinking about bidding on any of the real estate, I'd wait until they go down in flames and then buy it from the creditors when they take possession.

"What about the shows?"

Lincoln Center will end up buying out Parade and Fosse will be taken over by somebody, if it opens.

"What about Ragtime?"

It's too late. I'm surprised they haven't already typed up the closing notice.

"Pity."

Yes, it is. But let it be a lesson to you. Oh, my God!

"What's the matter?"

The mail. This letter from the insurance company says that they can't issue us a check until the investigation is closed.

"They haven't closed it yet?"

They're still looking for Robin.

"It's been months! If she's alive, she would have turned up by now."

I think she just did.

"What?"

Take a look at this post card from New Mexico. No, not the picture, look at the writing.

"We need to talk. Can you come out for a few days? R.P.   Robin?"

That's her handwriting.

"Where?"

New Mexico. That ranch Drema left me, she must be there!

"I'll call the police."

No! Wait a minute. I need to think.

Theater posters, as producer Bernard Gerstein writes in his introduction to The Theater Posters of James McMullan, are a strange combination of fine art, illustration, and advertising. But all three elements are rarely combined as successfully as in James McMullan's posters, which for over twenty years have been catching the eyes of New Yorkers on billboards, subway platforms, and along the sides of buses.

McMullan has had a long-standing, fruitful relationship with Lincoln Center. While the 35 posters he developed for the Center have given it a recognizable graphic identity, they've given McMullan the opportunity to experiment and hone his craft in a medium more often the purview of advertising executives and marketing strategists. The result is a body of work that celebrates the expressive power of the human form, including the celebrated image of the yakking newspaperman from his poster for The Front Page and the saucy over-the-shoulder peek from the alluring ingenue of Anything Goes.

As an added treat, McMullan includes sketches, first drafts, photos of models, and several rejected or cropped designs, including a poster for Waiting for Godot and a portrait of Sam Waterston for Abe Lincoln in Illinois that are as good as anything in the book. With their joyous use of primary colors and dynamic capturing of actors in motion, these images are both wonderfully decorative and a fine celebration of the spontaneous excitement of live theater.

The Theater Posters of James McMullan
by James McMullan, Bernard Gersten, John Guare
List Price $35.95
Penguin Studio
ISBN 0670876836


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