A) I was born into a theatrical family that goes back to the 19th Century. My paternal grandmother's aunt (Mary Moskowitzlater Moss) first started as a chorus girl in the Yiddish Theater and then went on to be a part of George M. Cohan's troupe. My grandmother became interested in theater, became an actress, and when she met my grandfather (who was a tailor by trade) she hooked him into theater. They became pioneers in the Yiddish Theater in the early part of the 20th century by bringing Yiddish Theater to cities across the US; up until then it was only seen in New York. After several years The Grossman-Reinhart Reparatory Company was well known in Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and then set down their roots in Chicago. Among the actors in my grandfathers' company were Muni Weisenfrund (later to become Paul Muni) and a child actor by the name of Herschel Bernardi. They raised 4 children, my father Irving Grossman being the second eldest, and all 4 were involved in show business their entire lives; both the Yiddish Theater and then Broadway. My mother grew up in New York and was a child actress in the Yiddish Theater, pushed by a Mama Rose type mother who herself had been a chorus girl. When my father was brought to NY by the famous impresario, Boris Thomaschevsky, he met my mother and they appeared together in numerous plays and musicals on Second Avenue (the Broadway of the Yiddish Theater). If you ever visit the Second Ave. Deli (2nd Ave. & 10th St.) there is a walkway of stars from the Yiddish Theater with one dedicated to my parents, Irving Grossman & Dinah Goldberg. At the age of 5, I was handed my first script playing my dad's son in a musical production they were producing, directing and starring in. By the 50's the Yiddish language was evaporating and the shows became more bi-lingual to attract a younger audience. With the demise of the Yiddish Theater, my dad did some movie and T.V. work and took over from Joseph Buloff (another Yiddish actor) the role of Ali Hakim in "Oklahoma" at the end of its run. My mother went on to appear in the original cast of "Milk & Honey" with her good friend Molly Picon (a great star of Yiddish Theater), and succeeded Molly in the starring role of Clara Weiss. She later toured in that show (which I then appeared in as well), the play "A Majority Of One", and had featured roles in Woody Allen's "Radio Days" & "Purple Rose of Cairo". I guess what hooked me into theater was that it was the trade of my family and our life.
The first Broadway show I have some memory of seeing was "Peter Pan" with Mary Martin. My first vivid memory is of a musical called "Plain & Fancy", because they set a barn on fire on stage; technical processes I had never seen down on Second Ave.
(I had no idea this section would go on for so long, but this is the first time I've ever put this down on paper---- I have a long history with my family!)
WHAT I DO:
A. Though I still enjoy being on stage as a performer, I mostly find myself in the role of the director; which I have done more than a hundred times since my first directing gig at age 14 doing "My Fair Lady" no less.
B. This job not only entails transforming a vision into a reality through your actors, but also having the full responsibility for all aspects of the production.
C. My first real training in theater came at the age of 13; besides having gone to dancing school since I was 5. My training came as a result of performing at a big party that Molly Picon had thrown for her husband during the run of "Milk & Honey". That night on old friend of my parents' from another Yiddish Theater family dynasty was present. She was the great Stella Adler, who had taught Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty. Upon witnessing my performance she told my parents' that I had talent, but no discipline! Being a friend of the family, she gave me a full scholarship to attend her school of drama; where I studied until I was 19. Being a resident of NYC I auditioned, and was accepted, into the High School of Performing Arts (yes, like "Fame") where I got to know people like Ben Vereen, Glenn Thurman & Candy Brown. During my high school years I also had the opportunity to tour in productions of "Enter Laughing", "Come Blow Your Horn" did Off-Broadway"Hello, Charlie" did a screen test for the film "Up The Down Staircase" (didn't get it!) and made it to the second round of call backs for a TV series in development called "The Monkees" where I did get to read with Davy Jones! Stella Adler sponsored me to audition for Yale Drama School, where they then took in a small class each year. Legend has it that I got beat out by another NY guy by the name of Henry Winkler. Turned down by Yale, I headed for California and The Pasadena Playhouse Theater Academy. I learned a lot there, and worked with (even dated) Sally Struthers. The problem back then was that the school was not fully accredited with collegiate status and with the war in Vietnam escalating (1967) I had to get into an accredited college or face the draft. I returned east and eventually wound up at Hofstra as a Speech-Drama major. It was at Hofstra where I got the chance to study directing under some great people like Dr. James Van Wart, Dr. Richard Mason & Joseph Leon. I also learned much about directing over the years from working with mentors such as the late Walter Baden and Fred De Feis.
MY THEATER EXPERIENCE:
A. Picking a favorite production that I have worked on is a tough one, but I have to admit that I look back at my "1776" for TTG in 1997 with wonderful memories and great pride. I was very intimidated by the piece going into it, and questioned if I would do it justice. The final result was tremendously gratifying. As an actor, playing Tevye is my ultimate high. With all the family history I have and our background, I feel more at home with that character than any other. It's like being my grandfather on stage, who portrayed Tevye in Sholem Aleichem's original "Tevye , The Milkman" in Yiddish with my mother playing Chava.
B. What motivates me I suppose is my yearning to keep being creative and expanding my capabilities. Though I do not run as crazy as I used to 15 or 20 years ago, when I would direct 5-6 productions per year and perform in 3-4, I find great satisfaction in doing my one show every year or so and feel I can bring more to it on that basis.
C. Pre casting is not something I endorse. I can only recall 3-4 times in 30 years when I did pre-cast lead roles---as per the producer's request. I may have a particular actor in mind for a given role and encourage them to audition for it, so I can be proved either right or wrong and also have the option to cast someone else better suited who may just walk in. There have been instances (such as in several Burlesque reviews I did) where people were asked to be in the production because we needed certain types and abilities. I know, that as an actor on L.I., I have had a few disappointments when I've showed up at auditions to find that the role I wanted to audition for had been pre-cast. However, I've never had the fortune to be pre-cast myself!
D. My worst theater experience as a director was many years ago when I did "Cabaret" for Act One in Dix Hills. A week before we were to open, the school we used had a fire which destroyed our set, some costumes, and displaced us. However, within two days we moved into a small space at Commack H.S.,put up a make shift stage and set, begged & borrowed costumes, and opened on schedule. Everything turned out fine, but it was a nightmare to live through. As an actor, I had a horrible experience in walking onstage at Eisenhower Park when playing Applegate in "Damn Yankees" and having to do a scene with an actor that was drunk out of his mind. He was totally out of it and I think I wound up making the scene into a monologue.
E. My best theater experience is really hard to pinpoint as a director. I have been so fortunate to work with many quality people over the years who have contributed to giving me wonderful experiences in theater. Sentimentally, I do look back on a production of "Annie Get Your Gun" I directed at Airport in 1988. Both of my sons, Ian (then 13) and Randy (then 10) were in it. Though I worked with Ian before and after that, it was the only time I had both of them in a show. Well, after that Randy retired from the stage but helped me with some techie stuff later on. As an actor, I have to point out what a high it was doing Applegate (Damn Yankees) in a Lincoln Center Outdoors Production in NYC in 1980, with like 8000 people in the audience each night. I knew it was the closest I would ever get to starring on Broadway.
F. A message to all actors out there: The most important wordPREPARE! That means come prepared to auditions knowing what you will sing and know the lyrics. Come prepared to rehearsals! Do your homework---review lines, music, blocking prior to rehearsal. Rehearsals are not the venue to learn the same thing over and over again, but rather the time and place to sharpen and perfect the execution of what will be performed. As a director I attempt to have as much detail work done as possible before I step into the rehearsal hall, as I do not believe that is the place for directors to begin the creative process; they too are there to execute. A good teacher always has a lesson plan and good students do their homework. Okay, I think I've made my point!
G. To Producers: L.I./community theater producers are not really producers as in the sense of Bialystock & Bloom, since they don't have to raise money. They need to understand their role in the production is more in the administrative aspect, rather than the creative. Because many L.I. producers are also thespians, some of them tend to cross the line at times. I would just ask that producers be there to support their creative team and handle all the administration of the production.
H. To Directors: Even though on L.I. we are not under the watch of the original authors and composers, we still need to be true to what their concepts were for the material. As an example, I shuddered when seeing a production of "Guys & Dolls" where the director saw very dark overtones to it or the production of "Oklahoma", where to the amazement of many in the audienceJUD LIVED! We must stay true to original intent (even if you're doing "Fiddler" and your producer asks you to make the costumes less drab!)
I. To the techies out there on L.I. --- A BIG THANK YOU! I am continually overwhelmed by the many people who do so much, do not get paid, and do not experience the adulation of being on stage. They are the unsung heroes and without them no show could go up.
J. In the past 5 years my work has been limited to Arena Players, TTG and the Suffolk Y. I work at these theaters to be involved with the material they have selected, as well as the production values they strive for. I have found TTG (for 20 years now) to be extremely supportive of their directors as well as the Y during my 8 years with them. Both groups also have a lot of nice people there and I feel like I'm with family when working at either place.
A. In terms of growth of L.I. theater; I don't know how much it can grow in terms of expansion. There are now 2-3 times as many theaters now on L.I. than 25 years ago, without the size of the talent pool growing. 25 years ago it was nothing to get 20 people in a chorus and today it's tough getting half of that. I do see growth in the quality of talent and feel that is raising the bar of what the audience's expectation is on L.I. L.I. audiences are exposed to more L.I. theater than ever before, and as a result are a bit more discriminating; as they should be.
B. My greatest joy is spending time, and traveling, with my family. My wife Marcia (who I only cast twice in our 32 years of marriage), my son Ian and his wife Pauline (who is a fabulous choreographer down in Washington, D.C.), and my son Randy and his girl friend Alyson. We all try to get together to see 2-3 shows a year in the city, where then all of us play critic. Every summer the six of us head off for our time share week and have a blast! I guess my next greatest joy will be when I have a grandchild to take along.
C. What irks me is people who take themselves too seriously. I expect people to take their project (production) with a serious attitude, but sometimes the seriousness focuses too much with the individual.
D. If I won the lottery tomorrow I would:
1. Retire form my long term career in the optical business.
2. Buy homes for both my children,
4. Contribute to charities such as the American Diabetes Association
5. Buy a theater on L.I. with the realization it could not make money.
E. I would have no problem with the money, as I've never been worried about my looks. A long time ago, my mother told me I was the most gorgeous creature on earth and I figured she knew what she was talking about. However, no amount of money is more important than the health of my loved ones---that's paramount!
F. My favorite word, I think, is attempt! If we never attempt, we can never succeed or fail either. It is the word that opens doors to everything in life.
G. When I get to heaven I would hope to hear 2 words: GOOD JOB! Each day I try (attempt) to be the best person, husband, father and friend I can be. I hope that my supreme teacher will judge that I did those jobs well.
As I do this interview I am just getting ready to open "The Scarlet Pimpernel" at the Suffolk Y and I have great expectations for the production. There may be 1 or 2 productions that I will audition for.
Dream theatrical projects:
Directing LES MIZ, RAGTIME, SUNSET BOULEVARD
Roles: Mickey Fox in 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY
Willy Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN
Max Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS