Friday, September 18, 2009

Cathy Renna is Cool.

Talking about Cathy Renna, who Jim and I had lunch with, yesterday, after way too many years, is difficult because she's a professional in this business, but she's also a friend. I was a guest in her home long ago, in Boston back when I was the "just back from the dead" songwriter doing AIDS education concerts, at colleges and universities, following the success of The Last Session in New York.

I think I was still very fragile back then. (I'm still fragile, but who isn't?)

She had a deaf cat. Its ears never moved. And we all bonded.

Over the years, as Jim and I did our thing out in California in theatre, Cathy became involved with GLAAD as their PR person, and our lives intersected again when both TLS and Big Voice in New York and L.A. became nominees (winning once).

On her own now, with Renna Communications Cathy knows everybody and, better yet, everyone knows Cathy, or who she is. She's based here in Washington, but has been out of town until now for personal reasons. This was our first chance to catch up. I was almost unable to speak. All I wanted to do was hug. (Maggie, who we also saw this week puts it, totally deadpan, "Oh, right. You're a hugger.")

After we got caught up on our personal lives -- she and her partner's daughter is a "girly girl" who loves princess parties, Jim's here with Zero Hour and headed for New York -- and after playing, as Jim put it, La Ronde, with our menu selections -- "I've decided to have what he wanted"-- we began discussing a Depression-era type experimental theatre project she's involved with: A sequel to The Laramie Project, where the cast has gone back to the town and come back with another play, once again transforming, but this time into the thing Laramie has now become, ten years down the road.

The two killers were interviewed. It should be hair-raising.

Only instead of one production, they're allowing 130 simultaneous productions -- of either this one or the original -- to be performed on different stages all on one night, October 6. Would this be, in effect, a virtual movie or tv show?

I thought, how ingenious of the writers back then. It was being "broadcast," but everyone's channel had a different cast.

It's retro, and yet it's cutting edge because with all our electronics, there is no substitute for the live human voice. Almost everything that humans have ever been invented to make a sound are doing so in order to copy or catch something the human voice does. Or to reach beyond it while still being a "voice."

A movie or tv show is one step removed from real life, pale imitations of the real thing you feel when live theatre is at its best. It's visceral.

Last night, one of our close friends, the wife of an ambassador, came up to me after the show and said, excitedly, "You know, I didn't see Jim tonight! I thought I was going to see Jim, the actor, but I didn't. It really felt like I was with Zero Mostel."

But enough rambling. Cathy Renna is cool.

From her website:

Bruce Shenitz | THE ADVOCATE | October 2009

Eleven years after Matthew Shepard’s murder, the creators of The Laramie Project take a look at everything that’s happened in the town since in a new play that will premiere in more than a hundred theaters worldwide on the same night.


Kaufman has said that by opening a play at different theaters on the same night, he is following in the footsteps of the Federal Theater Project, the New Deal–era program designed to employ out-of-work artists, writers, and directors and through which Sinclair Lewis’s play It Can’t Happen Here was produced simultaneously in 22 cities in 1936.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:
In many ways, it's similar to the experimental theatrical project I have done with several student groups, including Northeastern University, where they cast and rehearse a staged concert version of The Last Session -- with me as Gideon, playing the score. They learn the music. I come in and stage it in a few days. Boom. We have a show, and everyone leaves, after laughing and crying for two hours.

I felt energized after talking to Cathy. She reminded me how much I love grass roots, community-based projects and programs, like I created and ran at NAS. The volunteer phone operator on the front desk who became the managing director almost overnight because we were broke and I was the last one left standing. Me and Danny Kirkpatrick and Paul Zollo. (To poor Paul, I was like, "Who the hell is he again?" To Danny, I was the one guy he could rely on to do make something happen so that we could stay open another month. I was inventing programs right and left. And one day, I created an artist development division, found a volunteer to staff it and and one day this nice, intelligent guy walked in the door and now he's Dan Brown, the biggest author in the world.

And I'm going to get his book today.

And I'm going to remember the power of being the volunteer front desk operator who comes in with an intention to just be useful.
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