Wednesday, March 6, 2013

RIP Arthur Storch

Arthur Storch - 1925-2013

I attended university at Syracuse University and received a BFA in Music Theatre in 1985.  Arthur Storch was the head of the theatre department and Founder/Artistic Director of Syracuse Stage, the prestigious professional theatre in Central New York state.  (p.s. he also directed and appeared in many plays on Broadway like "Twice Around The Park" and "Tribute." More on his Broadway career here).

Arthur was a great teacher, but tough.  You never got up in front of Arthur and "made a run at it."  If you were going to act in Arthur's class, you better know what you are doing and how you are doing it.  Arthur wanted his students to learn craft.  HOW to act.  Not "hope" it appears.

After running a scene in Arthur's class, you would explain what aspect of the scene you worked on - intention, obstacle, environment, etc... The students would question & comment on whether they saw that work; this was often "the lambs to the lions." And then the "king of the jungle" would weigh in.  Arthur was very challenging because he cared.  He wanted you to think for yourself and never stop exploring the work.  Some times, it seemed, you were crushed by him pushing you and your process.  But every now and then, when rare praise would happen, you knew you had taken a real step forward as an actor.

As a senior, I auditioned and was invited to take Arthur's advanced acting class. 

Up to that point I never felt like I was taken seriously as an actor.   I was the "dancer boy."  Most in the class were Drama majors and directing majors; only a few Music Theatre majors were in the class.  I was excited, intimidated and scared.

In Arthur's advanced class, you could bring as much work as you liked to class and depending on the day, as much work as time allowed was done.  "Who has a monologue?  Who has a scene?"

I only did one scene in class, with dear Jill McCord.  I was scared to death.  The scene went as planned, the class gave some comments, and then Arthur offered up his estimation.  I'll never forget - with a smile, he said "I thought it was very good.  I'm glad someone hasn't wasted their parents money here at SU."  Simple, but HUGE to me!  What a stamp of approval!  I remember feeling a bit numb, and I remember seeing uber-talented senior drama major Donna Horlitz smile in the back of class.  (This post is practically a stream of consciousness, so forgive me if I leave things out).

At the next Lab (scenes in front of the full acting department and faculty on Wednesdays) Arthur made a point of asking my thoughts on a scene that day in front of the entire department.  And he did so on other occasions.  Some times he would verbally agree (!!!), some times he would just nod and move on after my comments.  But it was flattering that he thought I had something of interest to say.

One day during that senior year, he stopped me to chat about HANDY DANDY, which he had just directed for Syracuse Stage.  I told him how much I liked the play and the approach to the production.  It's hard to believe I could even admit to having an opinion about it.  He asked me questions, and wanted me to ask him questions.  We spent about 20 minutes - that I never forgot - talking about the play and the process.

All of this meant the world to me and was a serious confidence boost.

To this day, I ask the dancers and actors I work with to keep digging every day  - past opening night.  I recently staged a production of CHICAGO the Musical and all I said to my actors on opening night was "there is no finish line - keep digging."

Arthur taught me to ask questions.

He taught me about craft.

He taught me.

Thank you - RIP Arthur Storch.

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