Directing is also one of those things that I realize I have been doing, or practicing, most of my creative life. As I previously mentioned, when I was about 8 years old, I vividly recall my dad and I recording a script I wrote as a radio play in our basement on a small reel-to-reel tape machine. Now, for the record, I don’t count this as my first directorial effort… however, I must acknowledge it as where the place where it all started.
I directed radio play scripts that I wrote in high school, including three that were submitted into the annual state-level competition. My favorite was the parody of The Shadowthat I wrote and directed my senior year. We had live organ music, recorded and live sound effects and a sizable cast (which included my future wife!). The rules of the contest dictated that the show had to be performed in one take. Little did I know how that process would live on with the live old-time radio recreations I regularly direct today.
I was a student director in high school (basically assisting the teacher) while also acting in the shows. In the Army I was an assistant director during the Miss Fort Hood Pageant of 1983. But it wasn’t until I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, did I actually assume directing chores for live theater shows. I assembled a mish-mash of comedy bits in a show called Comedy Tonite (hosted by Abbott & Costello, played by my best friend Phil Cappel and myself) and then I directed Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
About this time I learned that directing is a difficult skill because not everyone can take the idea of what they want from inside their head and communicate it with relative success to other artists (actors, set designers, stage managers, etc.). It was a skill I seemed to possess and I worked hard to get better at it. In fact, I still work at it to this day…
While in college I concentrated on acting and the only directing I did was The University Radio Theater where I tried to launch radio dramas on the college radio station, interspersing originals with current audio drama from NPR. It was short-lived, but a valuable learning experience.
By the mid 1990s I decided to venture into filmmaking and directed my movie Daybreak (more on that in the Filmmaker section) and added, almost by accident, The Poet Laureate of Radio: An Interview with Norman Corwin a few years later. The big film project I am now hard at work directing is called Radio Changed America.
Life is funny, no doubt. I rediscovered my love for radio dramas, in fact, all things radio, during the prolonged search for distribution on Daybreak. At the 2003 SPERDVAC (Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy) old-time radio convention I sought refuge from the grind of filmmaking. I loved sitting and watching the radio show recreations starring many voices from the actual days of network radio, in some case reprising their original roles. Eventually I was asked to prepare a Norman Corwin show of my choice to coincide with the 100-year-old’s visit to the 2010 REPS (Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound) Showcase in Seattle. With Norman’s blessing, I mounted a recreation of the 1944 war-era play Untitled. One of the other regular directors looked at me and said, “You realize you’re in the club now. There’s no going back.” He was right!
The next year I was invited back to direct two shows in 2011 (Lights Out and X Minus One), two more in 2012 (Corwin’s Descent of the Gods and Nightbeat), and three in 2013 (Duffy’s Tavern, Gunsmoke and Inner Sanctum). In addition, SPERDVAC asked me to stage Norman Corwin’s My Client Curley in November 2011, only a few weeks after his death at age 101.
My greatest honor was directing Norman Corwin’s classic radio play The Undecided Molecule at the 45th Annual ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) convention held at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in May 2011. The tremendous cast included Phil Proctor (Firesign Theater), Dick Van Patten, Marvin Kaplan, Tommy Cook, Janet Waldo (voice of Judy Jetson), Melinda Peterson, Ivan Cury, Richard Herd and Norman Lloyd (reprising the same role from the original 1945 broadcast!). Sound patterns were by Tony Palermo. It was also Norman Corwin’s last public appearance.
Directing these shows brings me back to where I started: an eight-year-old acting out a show in the basement with his dad into the microphone of an inexpensive reel-to-reel machine. Life sure is funny.
I’m just saying…