While finishing up my Bachelor's degree at USF, I produced and directed for my wife, Tracy, who was the General Manager of the Tampa Centre Club (and now is the Regional Manager) several events and productions. The Madrigal event was a big hit and when I was directing "Lonestar" by James McClure at U.S.F., I toured it to the Centre Club and then moved it to Viva La Frida, an outdoor venue I established in the courtyard of a Mexican Restaurant in Tampa. It ran for six weeks and then we put in "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet.
The Front Row Theatre was a huge, 3200 seat theatre in the round. It was built in 1974 and was nearly brand new when I acted on it as the Prince in the musical "Half Past Wednesday" for Director Jerry Leonard. I remember coming to matinee performances with what seemed like hundreds of buses with elementary school kids lined up waiting to come in to see us. It was really a great feeling knowing I was on the same stage as greats like Sammy Davis, Jr., who had performed here. What a shame that they tore this great theatre down.
The Hilltop Dinner Theatre in Ohio was a small theatre that we toured "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "I'll Die If We Can't Live Forever" too. There are no actual pictures of the theatre that I could find and it is no longer there (neither is the Cabaret Dinner Theatre - Sigh!). This is the closest that I could find that represents the theatre.
One of the first shows I produced and directed in L.A. was part of the
Texas Trilogy by Preston Jones called "The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia". It was at a 99 seat theatre on Santa Monica Blvd. The
money for the rental and advertising and, well, everything else came
from my tips as a bartender and winnings playing pool. Will Geer helped
me with costumes and getting the word out through his theatre
I played Rufe Phelps and Colonel J.C. Kinkaid was played by
Howard Wilson who used to go by his stage name, Val Voltane the perfume magician. He was Will Geer's stand in on several movies and was a
tall man with a booming voice and a very good actor.
He appeared on Broadway in the 30's.
Our lighting / run crew was B.J. Jackson who was the T.V. director
of Soul Train and one of my best friends. He tested that friendship
one day when I got a call at 3:00pm at the theatre as I was setting
up for a performance. Seems he got arrested for being in a bar fight
and it took all of my savings to bail him out so that he could
make the 8:00pm show.
When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet Will Geer, Grandpa on "The Waltons". I ended up working at his theatre and moved into a small cottage at 1332 North Stanley Ave. in West Hollywood, next door to him. Will became my mentor, teacher and friend. One morning when I was doing scene work in the garden with Joan Trossman, a fellow actor at American Theatre Arts, Will came out and gave me a book "The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights" by his friend John Steinbeck. Will wanted me to read the part of Sir Ewain, the nephew to King Arthur. I did and became enamored with the character. Two weeks later I had a play written called "King Arthur's Nephew". Will loved it and gave it to his daughter Ellen who ended up directing it with me in the leading role. Thad Geer also appeared in the show as one of the two twin knights I had to fight (one right handed, one left handed).
These were all railroad ties when I was there!
Will Geer (although I don't ever remember him in a tie, only bow tie).
Will gave me this picture of him and Richard Thomas. When my grandfather died and I flew back to Ohio for the funeral, Will sent an aloe plant
to the funeral home from "Grandpa of the Waltons".He never believed in sending cut flowers but only live plants.
Will would get up early and water his plants around the cottages before going to Burbank Studios. Occasionally, if I hadn't been out late the night before,I would come out with a cup of coffee and help him.
The ever beautiful and gifted Ellen Geer!
Thad and Ellen Geer today!
Located on the 27th floor of the Riverplace Tower in Jacksonville is the University Club. My wife is Regional Manager over the club and we have taken two shows to the facility. Both "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare abridged" and "The Complete History of America abridged" played to packed houses. I must say that being backstage and overlooking Jacksonville at night from the windows was wonderful and eerie.
For nearly a decade, my better three quarters, my wife Tracy, has been the General Manager of the University Center Club at Doak Campbell Stadium at the Florida State University. It has been a second home to our son Logan and as a Member of the Club, I have gotten to meet and know so many wonderful people.
One of these is Andy Miller, CEO & President of the Seminole Boosters. I met him early on at a Bilitnekoff Awards dinner. We talked about theatre and how Andy wanted someone to hang some lights on the poles he had in the ceilings of the ballroom and do a show. Well it wasn't very much later that I wrote and cast "Broadway Memories".
"Broadway Memories" had 27 numbers from 19 different Broadway shows and it was my first chance to work with a brilliant theatre man, David Jones.
There is very little in theatre that this man hasn't done. He has run theatres,
was lighting designer for several of my shows, choreographed even more
and has the work ethic to match his knowledge. He also starred in
I wrote the "USO Tribute Show" in the late 1990's as I had an opportunity to
work on a "Make A Wish" with Bob Hope more than a decade and half earlier. A fellow Buckeye, he was the epitome of kindness and it was with some of his fellow actors that the Hollywood Canteen and the USO were created. This was a tribute to him and those entertainers.
With the leadership of FSU President T.K. Wetherell (who played General Patton) and the marvelous talent at FSU School of Theatre, I re-worked the show to fit with the actors I cast. A 5 1/2 ton battleship set was designed by Ken Verdugo and with David Jones lights and choreography, Zach Cramer's sound design and Mike Dunn at WFSU T.V. and Krishna at Unique Video Creations, it all came together. They transformed the FSU Flying High Circus tent into a theatre.
It wouldn't have happened without the grace and drive of Donna McHugh who I swear the Energizer Bunny couldn't keep up with. We had 172 people working on the show and that didn't include cast, crew and musicians. It raised tens of thousands of dollars for the College of Music, the School of Theatre and the Flying High Circus. Just click on the video below for highlights!
"Bingo the Musical" was a fun show that the audience actually gets to play
bingo and win prizes. It starts in a hurricane with three women who go
play bingo every Friday night for years. The set was brought in from California and it was a props heavy show but was definitely a crowd pleaser. We did a special fundraiser the opening weekend for Tallahassee Little Theatre.
I was approached by Gail Rossier to be on the board of Directors of the
Character & Heritage Institute. Gail was the founder and also a graduate of the FSU Film School and is a dear friend. As a fundraiser I wrote "Rock 'N the Ages" which took songs from 1950 to 1969 with Casey Kasem as the emcee. From Rosemary Clooney and Roy Orbison to Bobby Darin and the Temptations, this was a fun New Year's Eve!
The following New Year's Eve for our fundraiser, I wrote "A Tribute to the Ed Sullivan Show". It mixed old T.V. clips with live performers, many who had appeared in the previous year's "Rock 'N the Ages" plus some newcomers. My son, Logan, played the keyboards and sang as Richard Carpenter. My wife played the finale on keyboards (her degree from the University of Akron is in the organ) and was my Music Director. I sang as Bobby Hatfield from the Righteous Brothers so it was truly a family affair!
"Midlife the Crisis Musical" had its share of rough spots in the beginning.
We lost some cast members mid-rehearsals but picked up the marvelous
talent of Michael Varde. Whether it is film or on stage, he shines.
The multi-talented David Jones asked me to produce "Pump Boys and Dinettes" which he directed and it was a smash success!
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" was first mounted at my old theatre American Stage Company in Teaneck. It is a marvelous show with one of the longest runs Off-Broadway in history. Some compare it to Saturday Night L:ive to music, although I think it rises even above that. The music and writing is some of the best I have ever worked with. I did expand the cast to six from four and added a vaudeville feel to it with sign people, in specific characters, coming out between skits to introduce the next number. One of my all time favorite shows, even over those I have written. This also was the catalyst for FSU President, T.K. Wetherell (and his fabulous wife Ginger) taking us out to dinner and discussing producing a patriotic show on Friday nights prior to home football games
Tallahassee Comunity College did a wonderful production of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" and in it starred Michael Varde. I was looking for a show to open at the University Center Club and then take to St. James Bay Golf Resort and the Jacksonville University Club. I recast the show with Michael and Kyle Davis and my son Logan. It was a smash and we toured it. It was
so successful that they booked "The Complete History of America abridged" which we mounted several months later.
Ability 1st is a wonderful not-for-profit organization that helps those with disabilities. Dr. Carrie Sandahl is a close friend who was on the Board of Directors and she asked me to meet with the ED, Judith Barrett, regarding a fundraiser. In our meeting I brought up the idea of having a "First Evening of Comedy" and utilize comedians with disabilities.
On the T.V. show "Last Comic Standing" Josh Blue was the winner and inspired my idea. His motto is that he put the cerebral in Cerebral Palsy. I spoke with his agent and got him booked. Then I spoke with the marvelous David Roche, the inspirational humorist who resides in British Columbia, Canada, has a facial disfigurement and the biggest heart of anyone I have known. Finally, we booked Terry Galloway, a local comedian who at the time was deaf. She since has recovered her hearing but hasn't lost a beat of her impeccable comedic timing.
These three comedians had the place in stiches. A side note was that Josh had missed his connecting flight in Atlanta and I had a limo pick him up at the Atlanta airport and drive him to the University Club (a little over a 4 hour trip). He arrived just before 9:00pm and I gave him a sandwich and a beer and five minutes later he walked on stage. This was a terrific night for a wonderful organization!
Curtains For A Cause was a fundraiser I created to help my friends Erwin & Stephanie Jackson to bring awareness and funding to find a cure for Dystonia, a disease that afflicted their son, Brian. The first year I directed "The Complete History of America abridged" and with matching gifts we raised roughly $27,000.00. The next year I directed "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" and with the Jackson's generous donation, we topped that by over $100,000.00. We are scheduled to produce "Curtains..." for the next nine years with a new musical per year so anyone interested in auditions or working on the show go to: www.CurtainsForACause.com.
While finishing my B.A. in Theatre at USF, I played several Kings and a horse / mule wrangler in "The Tempest", "'Tis Pity She's A Whore" and "Of Mice and Men".
"The Tempest" was directed by Margarete Forsyth, who was a tremendously talented task master, and starred her Royal Shakespeare alum and husband, Julian Forsyth. My scenes as King Alonso of Naples with Julian as Prospero were electric and this was the best Shakespeare production I have ever acted in from set, to costumes, to direction, to lighting, to special effects. We also had the marvelous Mel Churcher to teach us her vocal tricks of the trade.
Another twist to this production was how Margarete dressed the shipwrecked company in business attire with guns in shoulder holsters rather than swords. All of the island inhabitants were dressed in period costume. It was a fantastic take that translated to standing ovations nightly.
The John Ford classic "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" was first produced in the late 1620's and published in a quarto printing in 1633. Our USF production was directed by the incomparable, David Frankel. It had some brilliant actors in it and it gave me a chance to die on stage within inches of the audience. A difficult tragedy to produce and direct yet was a terrific show.
I also ended up casting two of the actors in this production in "Lonestar",
Jack Holloway and Adam Belvo! Both are brilliant!
Monica Steele was the insightful director of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men".When I auditioned for the role of Slim I already told her I had done Curly twenty some years earlier at Theatricum Botanicum in Los Angeles. She asked me during my audition what I (Slim) thought about Curly and I spat on the ground and growled how much I hated the little runt. That was the start of a production that I consider to be some of the best stage work I have ever done. Brilliant cast with Jack Holloway as Lenny, Kevin Whalen as George and Adam Belvo as Candy. Monica drew pure soul sweating out of each of us so that at the end of each show it took me hours to acclimate to the present. My son Logan, who was about 9 at the time, was so mad at me that I was part of the people that killed Lenny. That I hadn't saved him.
On the way home after opening night, Logan was in the back seat and all of a sudden started to applaud. He said he was sorry he hadn't given me a standing ovation like everyone else but he had been upset about Lenny until he saw him come out for bows. You see, I had the cast over to our house to play cards and swim in the pool prior to our opening. I got a phone call and I gave my poker hand to Logan and said he could bet whatever chips he thought was the right amount. When I was done with the call, I came back and Logan had all of the chips in front of him and Jack asked me if he was always this good at poker. Who knew?
That's my boy!
Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival reviewed our show and said:
KCACTF Region IV Production Response
Of Mice and Men
University of South Florida
Director: Monica Steele
Respondent: David Moberg
"...How marvelous to have an actor of Mark Marple's experience and age participate in the production. He lends a tremendous credibility and integrity to the play's reality. I particularly enjoyed his activity blocking and listening. In watching him, I was completely unaware that he was "acting..." He had a wonderful economy in his choices and execution of those choices...no wasted actor energy. He had only relaxed and focused commitment to the character moment by moment regardless of whether that moment consisted of rolling a cigarette or stopping a fight."