January 24, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Dear Mr. Soleimanpour;
* Points left index finger at computer screen and waggles it affectionately *
…are a lovely man.
I wish you could have been sitting next to me last night and seen your play, your actor, your audience, your venue. But then, you were with us, on the stage in front of us all, cradled in the big, capable hands of Brian Mani.
You would have been proud last night. For this reason, I’m writing to you about it so that you can feel proud today. You made 93 people feel happy, special. As if they received a gift.
First, I will tell you about Tom Klubertanz, whom you know, as he was the fellow that saw White Rabbit Red Rabbit in Edinburgh last year, and arranged through your generosity to bring it to Oconomowoc Arts Center. Imagine a man who radiates a happy energy. A man who strides through life with arms stretched wide, fingers splayed, ready to embrace the next person or thing with joy. He infects everyone he encounters with his enthusiasm. Most importantly, he inspires his students to do great things with their lives. What could be more wonderful than that? You trusted the right man with your play.
Second, I will tell you about Brian Mani, your actor. He’s a big man, over six feet, broad shoulders, handsome, an easy smile. He is the sort of person toward which everyone in the room would gravitate. It’s comfortable to be in his orbit. He’s also the sort of fellow you would like to have with you if you ever went to a tavern full of rough looking characters. Of course, I’m very fond of him as he is the husband of one of my dearest friends and business partner of 20 years, Marie Kohler.
* Gets a fresh cup of coffee *
* Prepares to wax eloquent about a friend *
Brian grew up in a tiny farming community in Middle America just a stone’s throw away from a similar place where my folks were raised. People would say he’s “corn fed.” Earth-bound. Tethered to his roots by a long, long rope. Some might think it odd that a man from such humble beginnings would become one of the finest classical and contemporary actors in the Midwest. But he was made from people who made themselves. It’s no surprise that, through shear strength of personality, he has made his own success.
I don’t know who was more delighted last night, the audience or Brian. He glowed. Smiling irrepressibly with each turn of the page. He didn’t act, of course. He was just Brian. Generous actor that he is, he shared the stage with you. And you shone. You shimmered. We saw the rabbits and the bear and the cheetahs being ostriches. We saw your uncle and the cages, and his experiment unfold. For those eighty minutes or so, you and Brian and the audience were connected. Oh, you would have had so much FUN.
Finally, I’ll tell you about your audience. Like most American theater audiences, mostly women and mostly people over the age of sixty. But, to my delight, there were many high school students there! Probably Tom’s students. Some of them I think were seeing the show for the second or third time. They sat close to the front. Perhaps positioning themselves so that they could be number three, five or nine?
Normally, the stage is a terrifying place — at least to most audience members. Whether it was because of your writing or Brian’s personality, last night the stage was a safe place to be. Those called upon to participate on stage did so willingly and admirably. As I said, there were 93 of us (not including you), and we were connected by common experience. I had the distinct honor of being the scribe. As a result, people — until last night strangers to me — approached me easily after the show. We chatted as if we knew each other. No introductions necessary. We all lingered in the lobby, as if to depart, we might leave something valuable behind.
* Sighs *
I remember Tom Stoppard said something in an interview with Charlie Rose many years ago. Unlike the urbane playwright, I’ll express it clumsily but it was to this effect; in countries where freedom of speech is limited, poets are valued. You made 93 new friends last night who value you. Multiply that by how many hundreds of times your play is performed. How wonderful.
Thank you for your gift.
Co-Founder, Renaissance Theaterworks