Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Notes From Annie's Garden - I knew John Tillinger back when...

By Annie Keefe
Associate Artist

…and I’ve seen him naked!

That got your attention, didn’t it? I’m sitting in Annie’s Garden on a gorgeous summer day, looking into the rehearsal hall as they ready it for the next production – Alan Ayckbourn’s BEDROOM FARCE, to be directed by John Tillinger.  I thought talking about John from a personal, rather than a professional standpoint might be fun.  Because John is fun!

John Tillinger (Joey to his friends) has been my friend for almost 45 years. When I was a young stage manager at Long Wharf Theatre in 1972, Joey Tillinger was a young actor.  When we first started, there was a semi-resident acting company which was augmented from time to time with other actors, including Joey Tillinger.  While the semi-resident company was pretty much disbanded soon after I started working there, there were a bunch of ‘usual suspects’, and Joey, along with wonderful actors like John Cazale, Tom Atkins, Bill Swetland and Emery Battis was one of them.

The cast of The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie.
Photo by William Carter. Courtesy of Long Wharf Theatre.
We did several shows together, including a memorable J.M. Barrie play called THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON, in which Joey played a terrifically funny Momma’s Boy. Not long after, Joey started directing at Long Wharf in Stage II. As his career took off, he was less and less available to act – indeed he says he began to suffer from stage fright. It’s not uncommon for actors to make the move to directing.  Mark Lamos was once a wonderful, sought-after actor.  And actors like working with directors who were actors for lots of reasons, not the least of which is their sensitivity to the process of creating a role from just the words on the page.
The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey; Carson Elrod
 and Michael Countryman,. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

A rehearsal room with Joey at the helm is a fun place to be.  There is a relaxed quality that can lead to excellent work.  No one tells funnier stories than Joey.  With 50 years on both sides of the footlights, not to mention both sides of the Atlantic, Joey has LOTS of show biz stories, and the knack of putting
the stories over. He knows what is funny and how to make an audience laugh.  He has been our go-to Ayckbourn director for five shows as of this season.  You will also remember his work on THE DRAWER BOY, A HOLIDAY GARLAND and our production of Pete Gurney’s
Children – by A. R. Gurney, directed by John Tillinger,
with Mary Bacon, Katie Finneran, Judith Light, and
James Waterston; Photo by Carol Rosegg.
CHILDREN.  He directed me and Joanne Woodward in an hysterical reading of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE in 2008.

Breaks run long in Joey’s rehearsals!  In addition to stories, you can always find food in Joey’s rehearsals.  Our stage managers know to have a bowl of Gummy Bears in the room, and I never fail to bring him donuts from Coffee ‘An.  After he complains about how fat he is getting, and how bad I am to bring them, he almost always picks up a glazed donut and demolishes it. His other major loves are dogs and his family, and now his grandchildren. He tends a spectacular garden at his home in Roxbury. He loves Italy and speaks fluent Italian.  And in this business, he has worked with just about everyone.

The cast of The Changing Room by David Storey.
Photo by William Carter. Courtesy of Long Wharf Theatre.
So – back to the opening statement.  In 1972 I stage managed a production of David Storey’s THE CHANGING ROOM at Long Wharf.  It transferred to Broadway and won a Tony for John Lithgow.  The play takes place in a locker room in the north of England.  There were 21 men in the play, 14 of them on a rugby team, all 14 were naked at some point in the play.  I was the stage manager.  Joey Tillinger was one of the team members…and I never let him forget it!

Joey has brought together some old favorites and some new faces for this production of BEDROOM FARCE, and I can’t wait to see it come to life! 
The cast & director of Bedroom Farce - Top Row: Matthew Greer,
 Nicole Lowrance, Scott Drummond, Claire Karpen, John Tillinger,
Cecilia Hart, Paxton Whitehead. Bottom Row: Carson Elrod, Sarah Manton.
Photo by Peter Chenot.

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