Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I love Cher.

Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Jeffrey Keenan.

I love Cher. The reasons are many and varied. I’m a homosexual: that’s one. She sings catchy tunes: that’s two. Bob Mackey’s gowns: uh, ok, that’s still one. The movie Moonstruck: that’s three. Longevity: that’s four.

I also like Cher because her name is a homophone: a word pronounced the same as another but one that differs in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, i.e., "Cher" and "share."

Sharing is brilliant idea when it comes to producing local and/or economically conscience theater.

The first crossover hit of my short but illustrious career as a producer in DC was with the locally written show Courting Chris. Courting Chris was a sort of Cyranno de Bergerac meets Will & Grace—perfectly timed for the culture and very, very funny to boot. Sam Schwartz, Jr. principally wrote the piece, but he was also my “Creative Other” at the time. Whenever I was directing his work, he would attend nearly every rehearsal sharing ideas on character and staging, and likewise, when I asked for rewrites, he would invite me work on the text with him. We shared those responsibilities.

The initial theater for Courting Chris was a tiny, 50 seat house in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Washington DC, far removed from the theater centers downtown and in the northwest quadrant. Small shows had been happening there for years, mostly as neighborhood or community projects not aspiring to great heights. But Courting Chris was a different show: new, topical, well written, funny… the audience and first-round reviewers all agreed.

The Theater Alliance under whose auspices I was producing Courting Chris, an organization that has since gone on to become one of the most highly respected small theater companies in Washington DC, at the time was a tiny little thing. Once the reviewers and word-of-mouth had sparked huge interest in the show, there simply wasn’t the space or time available in that little house to accommodate the crush for tickets.

The Church Street Theater in DC at the time was a rental house. 150 seats in a charming nineteenth century former girls' school gymnasium that had for years acted as a neighborhood playhouse. Luckily, it also sat smack dab in the middle of the “gayborhood,” just off of 17th on a picturesque little street north of downtown.

Church Street needed a show and my show needed a venue. Because of scheduling vagaries, we lost two of the four actors in the intervening weeks, and we spent a hectic pre-opening two weeks rehearsing new actors and retooling the show to fit in to this much larger and more accommodating space, but we opened mid July to a resounding flurry of glowing reviews.

A typical show in DC runs for 4-5 weeks. This show ran for fifteen. And Mr. Schwartz was nominated for his first Helen Hayes Award for best new script.

Before I’d hung up the reins after seven years of producing and directing in DC, I had produced theater in eight different venues across the city and had co-produced shows with at least five different organizations. In each case everyone involved benefited because each of us was willing and able to do the requisite work. And all of those relationships evolved out of friendships and professional respect.

Cher was particularly amazing in Moonstruck. But she wouldn’t have glowed half as brightly if Nicholas Cage hadn’t been there to absorb and reflect her light. If I do say so myself, they “Cher’d” the screen together brilliantly.

Question of the Blog:
With whom could you co-produce?
What do you bring to the table?
What do you need?

For a review of Courting Chris, click here.



  1. Jeffrey, how do you think this production and the one from your previous post would have fared had it been produced here in NYC? And what would you have done differently or the same had it been produced here?

  2. Thanks for reading and for the question! This is Jeffrey, by the way.

    Understanding I'm nothing if not an egotist, so having said that, I honestly believe both productions would have fared very well in New York. While it's challenging to find something new or different to say on stage in a city that has hundreds--if not thousands--of different productions staged every year, quality work ALWAYS finds an audience.

    The two most valuable pieces of any show are good writing and good acting. If you have those core elements, you're halfway there. Good direction is next and then design elements that compliment the piece. Too often, I see shows in NYC that want to be different, I think, moreso than they want to be good.

    Good is better any day of the week.

  3. this is HILLARIOUS. I love Cher.