A New Stage Of Growth
The Pacific Repertory Theatre enters a new era with its star-studded production of The Cherry Orchard.
Thursday, July 12, 2001
Three of Arts: While the appearance of Apollo Dukakis, Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich at Pac Rep provides the glitter, the legacy they leave may be the gold.Inside the Golden Bough, a remarkable team of actors and directors filters back from lunch break. Olympia Dukakis returns from the stage-right landing where she''s been catching a breath of fresh air. Her husband, Louis Zorich, gets up from the lobby bench, where he''s been waxing philosophical about the art of theater. Apollo Dukakis, Olympia''s brother, tosses the wrapper from his tuna sandwich into a trashcan.
Since they arrived in town about a week ago to rehearse Pacific Repertory''s presentation of Anton Chekov''s The Cherry Orchard, this trio has been busy. Olympia is starring in the production that''s co-directed by Zorich and Apollo. It''s a truncated rehearsal period, with a mere three weeks to blend the experience and work style of the Dukakis/ Zorich team with those of the Pacific Repertory actors and staffers, some of whom have been with the theater since its inception almost 20 years ago.
Since the Dukakis company arrived, celebrity seekers have been focused on the big stars. To maintain the integrity of the rehearsal process, a closed-rehearsal policy has been enacted; gawkers hoping to catch a glimpse have been shooed away from the theater.
There''s no doubt that the publicity surrounding the Dukakis team is good box office: The entire run of Cherry Orchard was virtually sold out two weeks before the show opened.
But as exciting as the big names may be, their importance to Pacific Repertory Theatre--and the theater-going public--is more symbolic than anything else. Long after the curtain has gone down on the final performance of The Cherry Orchard and Olympia, Apollo and Louis have moved on, the consequences of this production will be felt.
By agreeing to include two actors who are members of Actors'' Equity Association in each of its regular season shows, Pacific Repertory Theatre is making a big commitment. If that seems like a small thing, it will have profound impacts on the way the theater does business--and even how the actors view their jobs. How that will ultimately affect the quality of Pac Rep productions remains to be seen.
During Pac Rep''s history, one of its great strengths has been the commitment and diverse talents of its core personnel. Stephen Moorer, the group''s founder and artistic director, was also a frequent director and performer; he was the deal-maker and he was the guy who shot most of the publicity photographs and personally delivered them to the newspapers. At his side, almost from the very beginning, was John Rousseau, covered with sawdust one minute, hanging lights another; onstage for one show, directing the next. Dan Gotch, too, was there, pounding out original scripts and serving as the group''s dramaturge in his artistic moments; then banging out grant proposals when wearing his business hat. In between the two, he would sit in the director''s seat.
Julie Hughett came on board as an actress a couple years into the theater''s history, but her role quickly expanded to include a host of administrative duties, including box office manager and producer of Pac Rep''s annual Monterey Bay TheatreFest.
To say that each of these core members had to be gifted at multi-tasking is an understatement and there''s no way describe the level of commitment they showed while the theater company grew.
But this kind of commitment can carry a group only so far. This is a world where professionalism implies--if not demands--a certain degree of specialization. And Pac Rep''s new relationship with Actors'' Equity is likely to force it to rethink the way it does business.
This rehearsal period for The Cherry Orchard provides a pointed example. Typically, a play presented on the Peninsula rehearses for between six and eight weeks, every evening, with each rehearsal lasting two to three hours. Because there are few paying acting gigs on the Peninsula--and the ones that do pay don''t cover much more than gas money--rehearsal schedules have to be scripted to work around the actors'' day (or night) jobs.
In the case of the Pac Rep core group, those day jobs included other duties around the theater. It''s an approach that''s worked pretty well for almost two decades--but isn''t likely to last much longer.
There are limits to both the times and the number of hours that an Equity Actor can be asked to work. In this case, the Dukakis/Zorich team is committed to a six-hour day, from 10am to 4pm. That means the rest of the theater''s business--from scenic construction to box-office management--has to be scheduled around the rehearsals.
Outside the theater, sitting in the shade of an oak tree as the actors drift back to their rehearsal, Stephen Moorer finishes a cigarette. He''s laughing and seems at ease. And at least on the surface, he''s proud of how far his theater company has come. But when he talks about the inevitable changes on the horizon and how they will affect the troupe, his eyes change intensity and he looks into space, as if he''s trying to see into the future.
At the same time that Pac Rep is becoming Equity-sanctioned--an undeniable coup--the company''s comfortable way of doing things must change. It isn''t nostalgia or trepidation in his voice when he speaks. But it isn''t anticipation, either.
"It''s hard on the organization," says Moorer of the Equity rehearsal schedule. "We are used to doing our regular jobs during the day. In a way, it''s a whole new learning curve--we may have to choose to do two jobs instead of four or five."
A House and a Home
There''s a seemingly inevitable arc to the story of the group that started life with a production of Scapino at the Pacific Grove Middle School in 1983. Back then, the company was known as GroveMont, a name chosen to reflect what they then considered their home turf. Lead by brash, energetic, 20-year-old Moorer, the fledgling troupe had neither a fixed home base nor much of a budget. What its founders did have was a surplus of attitude, an as-yet-unproven belief that they could succeed in building a professional-quality theater where other groups had failed.
GroveMont''s can-do attitude propelled it through a series of transformations. In 1984, it produced the first Monterey Bay Theaterfest at the Custom House Plaza in Monterey, a free celebration that mixed street theater with original plays, adaptations of classics and the now-legendary Human Chess Game. That same year, Pac Rep also produced Robinson Jeffers'' Medea, its first play at the Outdoor Forest Theater. It was a production that staked Pac Rep''s claim to the Outdoor Forest, and to a legacy of theater arts in Carmel.
In 1990, the theater further consolidated its share of Carmel''s history by claiming the name "Carmel Shake-speare Festival" for its summer productions at the Forest Theater, thereby rejuvenating the name of a series originally started locally by Herbert Herron in the 1940s.
In 1986, the roving theater company took the next step in its development, leasing out the upstairs portion of a building on Hoffman Avenue in Monterey and transforming it into an intimate, 90-seat theater. With the opening of the GroveMont Theater Arts Center, GroveMont was able to mount full regular seasons dominated by new and/or controversial works.
In 1990, GroveMont made what seemed to be the biggest mis-step in its history. In that year, it took out a lease with option to buy the Monterey Playhouse on Washington Street in downtown Monterey. The building, which had started life as a garage, had briefly been home to an all-ages nightclub then sat empty for years. The group moved in and did some extensive remodeling to transform it into a theater.
But in 1993, when the time came for GroveMont to exercise the option, they were unable to negotiate a mutually agreeable price with the building''s owner. For a while, it looked like GroveMont might very well be back on the street hustling ad hoc performance spaces. But some kind god smiled on GroveMont that year when United Artists put the Golden Bough Playhouse on the market.
The Golden Bough has a fabled history that goes back to 1924, when the original theater was opened by Ted Kuster. That theater burned to the ground in 1935, as did its successor in 1949. The current theater was built as a combination playhouse/movie theater in the early ''50s. Upstairs there''s a theater that seats around 300 people, while downstairs the Circle Theater has a flexible seating arrangement that can seat up to about 100--the perfect size for more cutting-edge or experimental works.
It''s the kind of place that dovetailed nicely with GroveMont''s fascination with Carmel''s cultural scene. Just as importantly, it was also the kind of place that stimulated donors to open their pocketbooks when the theater troupe announced its intention to buy the place and renovate the two stages. Thanks to the largesse of the community, coupled with the determination of the GroveMont staffers, the purchase and first-round of renovations were completed and the Golden Bough opened the doors on its first full season of plays in March of 1995. At the same time the curtain was going up on the inaugural offering, Death of a Salesman, the theater company announced it was changing its name to Pacific Repertory Theatre, a name intended to have a broader appeal.
Whether the name change had any impact is a moot point but the group''s success is undeniable. By December of last year, the theater company was able to completely pay off the mortgage on the Golden Bough and become one of the few regional theater companies in the country that owns the theater in which it performs.
And it paved the way for the next step in the theater company''s development.
This isn''t the first time the Dukakis/ Zorich team has presented this production of The Cherry Orchard, an original adaptation by Olympia and Zorich. They first produced it at the New Harmony Theater, near Evansville, Indiana. After that production closed, one of the younger actors, Maury Ginsberg, wanted to see the show mounted again.
"[Ginsberg] got on the phone to find theaters on the West Coast," says Apollo Dukakis. "This theater was growing and thinking of expanding to Equity status, and it was a happy marriage. When I first came to see [Pacific Repertory''s production of] West Side Story, I was blown away. I was really impressed that this has been going on for years."
Pac Rep''s struggle and growth seems to resonate with the seasoned troupers. Although Olympia Dukakis has gone from startup theater to international fame and awards--including her Academy Award-winning role in Moonstruck--and her husband Louis Zorich has had a thriving career in stage, film and television that included a regular stint on "Mad About You," they remember a time before the international attention.
In the early 1970s the trio were the heart of The Whole Theater in Montclair, New Jersey, a Tony-nominated theater company that faced some of the same challenges that faced the growing GroveMont cum Pacific Repertory Theatre. (Zorich starts to talk about the challenges, "We were working for almost nothing..." before Apollo corrects him: "It was nothing.") This empathy, apparently, went a long way to convincing the group to come to Carmel.
When Zorich speaks, his normally deep, rich voice takes on an almost loving tone--the tone of voice that a mentor uses when describing a protegé.
"They thought this production would be like a calling card," says Zorich. "And since we, ourselves, did the same sort of thing, we wanted to go and help them out."
The final curtain will go down on this production of The Cherry Orchard on Aug. 5. The Dukakis/Zorich team will go back to New York, or on to their next gig, leaving behind the core group of Pac Rep staffers. By the time they hit the road, they will have helped re-shape the way the local company views its approach to theater.