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I think it was Billy Crystal who said, “you can only have three heroes in your life.” I don’t remember why he limited it to three, but I do remember that one of his was Mickey Mantle. I found this a fun game to play lying in bed on sleepless nights, adding and subtracting from my personal choices until I arrived at Pete Seeger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Stan Musial. Having written this, I thought about cutting it from today’s letter because it may not have a lot to do with the rest, but I’m feeling generous with the world today – what I’m hearing on the radio and reading in the paper is all so encouraging, and so I am going to be generous with my indulgent thoughts and leave it in.


I woke up this morning filled with a buoyancy of easy joy, still basking in the warmth of spending such a pleasurable evening last night as the guest on Damon and Max’s …. (I don’t know what you actually call it) live-radio-video-YouTube-show. I had a ball hanging out with the two of them. In all two short (for me anyway) forty minutes, we watched some video and photos “from the vault”, as they say, of Irondale shows as Damen expertly guided me forth eliciting my opinions, stories, and occasional tall tales on a wide array of topics, whose vary diversity keeps me from remembering most of them. I know that somewhere in there we mentioned the names Rutherford B Hayes, Herman Goering, Ariane Mnouchkkine, and Stan Musial. The expertly chosen videos were so alive and looked so fresh that I found myself in renewed awe of the people who over so many years have invested so much of their lives into making these shows happen and keeping this theatre afloat.

Last night also made me realize how lucky I have been my whole life, to be in just the right place at just the right time and to meet just the right people. I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago. South Holland, Illinois, was settled by Dutch farmers in the nineteenth century. That was lucky when I think about it. There wasn’t much to do there and so I acquired an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the thirties and forties films including B-movies and Hoot Gibson Westerns thanks to the Early Show on WBBM channel 2 in Chicago. Then I was lucky that my dad let me stay up late on Fridays so I could watch Jack Paar, broadcast live from Radio City Rockefeller Center, and dream of this magical place called New York, where famous people would just drop by and sit down on the couch and tell you about the Broadway play they had just come from appearing in, or watch Oscar Levant, Mort Sahl, or Charlie Weaver vie with each other and other guests in the Wittiest Remark of the Evening Championship.

I was lucky to meet Terry on my first job out of Acting School and share dreams with him of a permanent theatre of great actors doing great plays. And I was luckiest of all to meet Barbara, who told me I was not an actor but a director and secured for me my first directing job – A Doll’s House, with her as Nora and Terry as Dr. Rank. I was lucky to meet Ken and hire him to design the second Irondale show in 1983, and every one since, and through him Hilarie, who has toggled back and forth between designing amazing lights and costumes for us for thirty years. And I was lucky that MD walked through the Irondale door, and I was so lucky when Barbara and I were looking for a new city to explore and it came down to a choice between Berlin and Vienna, that we chose Berlin because we “heard they had the better theatre” and ended up watching Lars Eidinger play Hamlet on Christmas night in 2009. And finally, I was lucky that the young gang of technical wizards Renata, Max, Roni, and Rima who have contributed so much to what we’re doing right now, showed up on our doorstep just in time to provide the expertise to keep our programming flowing out to the world of No Theatre in this new age of zooming and doing god knows what else is necessary to keep our theatrical voices going out to the larger world with style, imagination, and expertise.

Wizard Max just sent me a copy of the video from last night’s program I was talking about back at the beginning. Here it is in its entirety. It’s the second episode of Radical Normal, the creation of Damen Scranton, who I was lucky enough to have in the Irondale Acting company for sixteen seasons. He’ll tell you a bit about that and a lot of other things right here next. So, sit back and have a good time. Maybe you’ll feel lucky that you got to see it and got introduced to Damen’s new show.

Hope you managing to keep your chins up this Holiday season. My suggestion: celebrate them all. And give your kids or yourself one additional gift for each successive night of Hanukkah. That should be enough to lift anyone’s spirits. And if that doesn’t work, I came across an excellent recipe fuer Deutsche Glühwein.

Watch the video here:
Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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