I have to blame my father. He got me started on the drums at the age of 6. It was my passion as a youth and I never had to be told to go practice. So I grew up inside the rhythm. A solid start.
And then there was Jack Eyerly, my first real mentor and our chorus director at Principia Upper School. He grabbed me up and taught me, stimulated me, believed in me. And he pushed me, though he never had to push hard. He mostly helped me see that I could do it – that I had real talent.
And then there was Sanford Meisner, my acting teacher, my life teacher, the man who taught me how to be a creator, how to get inside the character, how to stimulate the emotions, how to concretize the moments, how to hook on to the muse. He was the best teacher I ever had – besides life.
And finally I was thrust out into the world – age 23, green, naïve, … extremely lucky.
I wrote, with a partner, named C.C. Courtney, an Off-Broadway musical called Salvation. He wrote book and lyrics and I wrote the music. We both starred in the show. It was in the heyday of Off-Broadway when the real action was in the small theaters and Broadway was stale and confused. Hair was pretty much the only thing happenin’ and the rock musical was very unrealized. Salvation was an 8-character rock musical that was what one might call “anti-religious”. Anti organized religion really.
The show was meant to be revolutionary, to slap the audience in the face following in the footsteps of Hair. It did, and the audience and the critics loved it. Looking back, it was definitely sophomoric and not a piece that I’m proud of. But it was Off-Broadway’s biggest hit and ran for 2 years and played in 11 different countries. Out of the show came a song that was a million-selling hit and #1 on the Billboard Pop charts in the summer of 1970. It’s ridiculously long title broke all the rules, but also gathered a strange kind of attention – If You Let Me Make Love To You Then Why Can’t I Touch You?
It gave me my start. It set me up immediately as a NY composer for the theater. Suddenly I was a Broadway composer and I probably had not seen more than 10 musicals in my life. I thought, “Boy, this is easy! Write some songs, be a star, make lots of money.”
Then came the fall. With my same partner I wrote another musical called Earl Of Ruston. My partner and I disagreed throughout the experience and actually broke up before opening night, this time on Broadway. I hated the show and walked away from it. He was the star and the director, the book writer and the lyricist and held the power this time. I wanted no part of what I thought was a mess. The critics agreed. It flopped and ran for just 4 performances.
My career looked to be short lived.
A week after the show closed, mired in depression and very much lost, I received a call from Joseph Papp, producer of the NY Shakespeare Festival and the hottest theater in America, The Public Theater in NYC. He said to me, “I’ve been watching your work. You have great talent, but you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t understand the theater.” He was, of course, right.
He went on, “Why don’t you come work at the Public Theater and learn what real theater is all about.” I thought he was asking me to come take some sort of a course there. I didn’t know that they even had classes, but I said that I would be interested. I met with Mr. Papp and he offered me the position of Composer-In-Residence at both the Public Theater and the NY Shakespeare Festival. Flabbergasted, I jumped at the chance.
A successful composer in NYC is most fortunate if he or she can get a show up in three years; it takes at least that long to write and get a first production if lucky. In the five years that I worked as Composer-In Residence I wrote music for 40 shows that were produced. I wrote Greek music and Russian music and avant garde synthesizer music and quasi-classical string quartet music and folk music and 19th century drawing room music and comedy songs and rock and R&B and Gospel and on and on.
I worked with all the gifted young directors and designers and playwrights and actors passing through those hallowed halls – most of which died in the AIDS epidemic which followed and left the NY theater community so bereft of talent for several decades.
I not only survived, I learned my craft, I learned the theater as Joe had promised, I made a good name for myself and I got paid to boot.
The Public Theater is a large complex bordering the East Village which housed 10 theaters. There were times when I ran back and forth checking on 4 different shows in rehearsals that featured my music. I was in my late twenties, full of energy and learning on the job. And I was lucky enough to have a great producer in Joe Papp as a mentor. He didn’t know much about music, but he knew the theater and shared his great knowledge. I was at least smart enough to sit at the feet of the master and soak it up.
… to be continued …
Even More Inspiration
Tags: acting, Communication, composer, dreams, Inspiration, Inspirational, inspirational community, Inspirational Music, Inspirational Music Artist, inspirational music composer, lyricist, Music, New York, Personal Thoughts, Peter Link, song writing, Writing