Filichia Features: Let This Prince Inspire You

Filichia Features: Let This Prince Inspire You

By Peter Filichia on October 03, 2019

Here's a recommendation to everyone interested in furthering a theatrical career.

Come to New York and rush to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. See the marvelous exhibition entitled In the Company of Harold Prince .

You'll be so inspired that you'll paraphrase a line from one of Prince's most famous productions (Follies): "If he can do it, I can do it."

Start at the very beginning, which Prince did. You'll read framed letters to luminaries in which he begged to put his foot in the theatrical door. Witness where and how he succeeded.

More to the point, you'll see letters where he had to admit he'd failed. As one plaque written by a curator says, he made "attempts to reconcile (if not exactly apologize)".

Another plaque will show you the importance of doing field research: "In the summer of 1966, Prince went to Moscow on vacation on the advice of Boris Aronson to see the Taganka Theatre's production of Ten Days That Shook the World. The production was non-linear and used simple but surprising technical effects to subvert the audience's expectations. Prince called the experience 'a turning point in my thinking as a director' and a breakthrough for his work on Cabaret."

So, directors and producers, in the spirit of that landmark musical, "What good is sitting alone in your room?" Get out there more and see other people's productions. You'll never know who'll or what will inspire you.

Prince wrote a letter about this trip to his accountant: "I therefore think that my fare to Moscow and my living expenses there should be deductible." Keep in mind that when you do research, don't overlook items that you might be able to write off.

You'll also learn that you should think twice, thrice and even more times when you're inclined to turn down an opportunity. Even great ones make mistakes, and here's Prince's May 22, 1980 letter to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who'd offered him the chance to direct Cats.

"I can't do it," Prince wrote. "I want to get the Sondheim thing completed."

That "Sondheim thing" was Merrily We Roll Along.

What he did add to that letter is "Let's find a project." And fewer than six years later, he and Lloyd Webber did: The Phantom of the Opera.

Moral of the story? When you turn down something, don't close the iron door, to use an expression from Prince's On the Twentieth Century. Leave an opening for the future. Prince did, and wound up directing a musical that has already run 5,700 more performances than Cats, which had set the previous record for Broadway longevity.

As for Merrily, watch a 1991 video where Prince takes full responsibility for that musical's short run. "I couldn't figure it out, and ten years later I still can't."

That's one reason why so many directors have been drawn to Merrily . Will they find the solution that had eluded Prince? More a dozen directors will try this season alone, literally from Edmonton in Canada to Novara, Italy.

Set designers, you too should visit the exhibit, for there are many miniature models and drawings from Boris Aronson who did Prince's Fiddler, A Little Night Music and Pacific Overtures (among others). Seeing Aronson's meticulous detail will inspire you to make better models and drawings for the sets you'll be designing.

Some pieces may inform your upcoming productions. If your theater is planning The Pajama Game, you'll examine an actual drawing from original set designer Lemuel Ayers. He saw a nighttime scene with "a dark violet sky, silver and white clouds - perhaps with some cherubs sleeping in them - and twinkling silver stars spelling out Sleep-Tite" - the name of the factory that's the center of the show.

Performers, there's something here for you, too. A section of one room has been set aside for you to sing. Bring your pianist, for there's a keyboard; on it are many pieces of sheet music from Prince's hits and misses. You'll stand in front of a tinseled curtain and enjoy a nice tune-up for your next audition.

Finally, there's a three-page timeline for Merrily's characters that establishes "1953: Frank and Charley are graduated from Chicago Latin School."

The reason that that's worth citing out of 28 entries in the entire list is to point out that bookwriter George Furth knew that "are graduated" is grammatically correct. Most people would have written "Frank and Charley graduated." Add am, are, was or were to graduated.

See how much you can learn from In the Company of Harold Prince?


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