by Robert Bowie, Jr. | May 23, 2023 | Featured, Man Machine, Personal
Last week, I wrote about the untimely death, due to Covid, of my play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, just before its Off-Broadway debut, but I also wrote about its planned rebirth on Monday, June 12th at 7pm at the beautiful Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s theater in the financial district at 7 Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD.
This week, I wanted to share the history of where the play came from over 50 years ago. (You have marked your calendar for Monday night, June 12th, right?)
In the summer of 1967, I was a teenage boy who travelled for the first time down south from my home in Massachusetts to the eastern shore of Maryland. Less than a month later, not far from Easton, where I was staying, the civil rights riots in Cambridge, Maryland exploded late that July, when H. Rap Brown, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had been invited to lead a peaceful protest in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had not been recognized down in Cambridge.
Activist Gloria Richardson, who had invited Rap to speak, admitted later that he went beyond the assigned bounds, but also asserted that the black neighborhoods were set on fire in retaliation, and the white-operated fire trucks refused to put out the fires.
Shortly thereafter, Governor Spiro Agnew went down to Cambridge and chastised the black population for lighting their homes on fire. Agnew got national headlines and, as a result, Richard Nixon asked him to be his running mate in the upcoming presidential elections.
Within the first two days, I knew I was an outsider. The blacks in Easton would not make eye contact with a white boy whose hair was a little longer than the buzz cuts of his contemporaries in Easton. When I was invited to swim at the Easton Country Club, the lifeguard rushed over to stop me, saying if I wanted to swim there, I would have to wear a bathing cap.
I looked around. Not even the girls swimming in the pool were wearing bathing caps. I felt uneasy.
That afternoon, I tasted Chesapeake Bay blue crab for the first time at The Crab Claw restaurant overlooking the Bay. My host, a local doctor, snapped his fingers and used the N-word to call the waiter to bring more crabs and more beer as the afternoon progressed. I felt very uneasy. Similar experiences leading up to the riots that steamy July never left me.
I was forever changed by these experiences and this play came from the scars that were left more than 50 years ago.
Several months ago, after the Off-Broadway run was cancelled, I got an unexpected phone call from Steve Eich, telling me that he had read the play and he would like to talk.
Steven Eich is a remarkable figure in American theatre. Years ago, I had been fortunate to have bought a single ticket to see his Broadway production of The Grapes of Wrath, which had just received a Tony Award for Best Play.
- Steve has been Managing Director of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, 1979–1995.
- Managing Director of Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, 2000–2008.
- Executive Director of the Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, 2009–2012.
He has been an award-winning producer and director, whose credits include The Grapes of Wrath, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Paul Simon’s The Capeman, The Trial of an American President, and Frank The Man, about Frank Sinatra.
Steve has been a great champion of the play, and wants to present it in the area where the events of the play took place. The goal of our June 12th reading at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is to find supporters and a venue for its future life. It’s going to be an exciting night in an amazing theater — a replica of the Globe Theatre in London — with a talkback afterward, where you can meet Steve and the actors.
I would greatly appreciate it if you can help me spread the word. Feel free to like this post and share it, and I will see you there.
by Robert Bowie, Jr. | May 16, 2023 | Featured, Man Machine, Plays
Mark your calendar for Monday night, June 12!
Several months ago I was contacted by Stephen Eich. He told me that he had read my play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, and he wanted to talk about it. This was an amazing surprise for several reasons:
First, Steven Eich is a remarkable figure in all aspects of American theatre. He has been Managing Director, Steppenwolf Theatre Chicago, 1979-1995. Managing Director, Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, 2000-2008, Executive Director, Pasadena
Playhouse, Pasadena, 2009-2012.
He has also been an award-winning producer and director. To name a few: The Grapes of Wrath, TONY AWARD BEST PLAY 1990, Producer; Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Producer, 1993–Present; Paul Simon’s The Capeman, Co-Producer 1996–1998; The Trial of an American President, NYC 2016, Director; Frank The Man, Music-Director/Producer.
Second, I was still mourning what I concluded was the end of life for this wonderful play after its off Broadway closing before it opened, after years of preparation and delays, because its producer went under due to Covid closures.
Over the last several months, Steve and I have gone over the play page by page, line by line, and finally we met last month in Baltimore so Steve could meet with Barbara Pinolini, the very well respected actress and casting Director from Washington DC with whom steve wanted to work to get his professional cast and to secure the theater he wanted for a staged reading in the Baltimore/Washington area. Since the play concerns the civil rights riots in the eastern shore of Maryland, in 1967 and its aftermath, Steve’s theory is because it happened in the Maryland/ D.C. Area this is where its professional rebirth should occur.
The theater that they chose is the Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater Company’s venue in downtown Baltimore, at 7 Calvert Street in the heart of the financial disctrict. This theater is an absolutely beautiful replication of the structure of the Globe Theater in London. It has three tiers that look over the stage and cash bars on the first and second floors.
Please join us for a wonderful rebirth! Mark your calendar for Monday night, June 12. There is garage parking nearby with vouchers available from the theater. Follow this blog and web posts over the next three weeks leading up to the reading as the professional cast is revealed, come to the performance and stay for a drink and talk-back to meet Steve and the actors after the reading. This play will blow your mind!
by Robert Bowie, Jr. | Jul 12, 2022 | Featured, Man Machine, Personal, Plays
This morning was hard. I woke up and it was raining. Over the last month, I have been coming to recognize a hard truth — which I finally realized this morning.
Over five years ago, I started this blog to force myself into a weekly discipline, to improve my writing skills and to explore how I could start a whole new career after retirement from a very happy first career as a lawyer.
My whole life I had quietly wanted to see if I could create a life as an artist.
After writing 10 plays for the wonderful little theaters in Baltimore, I decided to see if I could break into New York professional theater and I committed to writing and publishing poems.
I took classes at the New York Commercial Theater Institute and was fortunate to be accepted into the poetry program at Bread Loaf in Vermont.
All of a sudden, it was starting to happen, this improbable dream of mine.
My play “Onaje” was selected by FringeNYC in 2018 and, after great reviews, got picked up and nurtured by a NYC producer. After the rewrites and several table reads to make it a more fleshed out two-act play, “The Grace of God & The Man Machine” was ready.
But then COVID hit in March of 2020. The theaters shut down just as we were waiting to open off-Broadway.
Then in February of this year, we were ready again. We planned to open off-Broadway in November 2022 for a one-month run at Theatre Row on 42nd Street.
Also this year, I published “An Accidental Diary: A Sonnet a Week for a Year,” so we were on our way.
The dream was coming true!
But then, a month ago, COVID struck again and the producer went out of business after 15 years of producing successful shows. Even still, the producer offered the use of the performance space if I could find a new producer with such short notice.
This seems like an impossible task. I looked in the mirror this morning and I said it: “This lifetime dream may not happen.”
But then I realized, I’m not ready to give up just yet. Somewhere out there, there may be a partner, or a resource, or some other way to make this happen.
I turned away and looked for a diversion, for good news to chase away this awful gathering sadness.
Well, last week I learned that, along with my sonnet “Summer Thunderstorms” being chosen a runner-up for the Robert Frost Foundation poetry contest this year, “City Snow” had been included in the “Maryland Bards Poetry Review 2022” anthology. Both poems are from my book, “An Accidental Diary.”
I sat down by the window and opened my little book and reread “Summer Thunderstorm”:
As with the generations long since dead
The fire and brimstone of the status quo
Wakes him up from the safety of his bed
And lightening frames him in the window
And photographs him in its afterglow.
Tonight he feels his present and its past
As the summer storm also comes and goes.
Conclusions are foolish in a world so vast.
For at the edges of his world and heart
Far past the farthest boundary of his grasp
Where ideas cause worlds to come apart
He lives in this place that will not last.
He loves his life more than he can explain
And leaves the window open to hear the rain.
I opened the windows to hear the rain.
After I looked out at the storm for a little while, I got a fresh cup of coffee and started writing this. I have stuff to do. It’s time to get back to work.
by Robert Bowie, Jr. | Jun 14, 2022 | Man Machine, Personal, Plays
I opened the New York Times last week and turned to the theater section and read the headline:
“Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘Tina’ to End Their Broadway Runs
“The musicals, both of which lost steam after the pandemic shutdown, will close in late summer.”
The article pointed out that before the pandemic Evan Hansen was making $1 million a week in sales but now, because of Covid, successful plays were again falling by the wayside. Tina, about the life and music of Tina Turner also had been doing very well.
Over the last two years, as I watched New York theaters close and reopen and struggle to sell tickets, this kind of news had become the soundtrack of my life. I was used to it by now.
I turned to check my email and noticed an email from Mind the Art Entertainment (MTAE), the producers for my play The Grace of God & the Man Machine, scheduled to open off-Broadway on November 21. It read:
It is with great sadness that I announce that I, as Founder and Resident Artistic Director of Mind The Art Entertainment, have formally submitted a recommendation to our Board to close our company after 15 years.
Producing in NYC is no longer viable for us after so many losses related to the pandemic, including 6 cancelled/closed back to back productions.
This can not be happening!
Almost two years after the remarkable success of a Onaje — my 90-minute one-act at FringeNYC in October of 2018 — after MTAE became its producer, and after several rewrites and three professional table reads lead by dramaturg/ director Kevin R. Free, we had a two-act play with an explosive finish. It ran fast and smooth like a river to a waterfall. We were ready.
Then, after that last table read in March of 2020, the pandemic hit and we all had to wait but we were ready.
In October of 2021, we were surprised and blessed to be offered a virtual trial performance directed by Van Dirk Fisher at the Reliant Theater, who was doing cutting-edge online productions to expansive theater-starved online audiences. It was well received.
We were so ready and this play was perfect for the politics of its time. Its time was now.
Early this year, it appeared that New York theater was opening up, and MTAE booked Theater Row for November to open a week-and-a-half after the midterm elections. That would be perfect.
Now, after almost four years of anticipation and preparation, we have a road-tested redemptive two-act play, rich with true American characters, timed to be performed in November after the midterm elections, but Covid variations were again on the rise.
And just like that, it is over.
The producers sent heartbroken apologies to everyone and have even offered to transfer the off-Broadway lease at Theatre Row free to support a new producer, but it will be next to impossible to mount the play unless a new team is in place by the end of this month.
Yes, I am heartbroken.
But throughout my whole life, I have been blessed by the opportunity provided by crossroads and disasters.
If you are a professional producer for New York theater, or if you know someone who is, just let them know I’m not dead yet and I would be happy to send them the script — but two weeks may not be enough time. (You can click the Contact link in the menu.)
Yes, I know it is almost impossible. But as Hamlet says, “the readiness is all.”
by Robert Bowie, Jr. | Feb 15, 2022 | Featured, Man Machine, Personal, Plays
About a week ago, I could take COVID-19 and its variants no longer. I couldn’t do Netflix anymore. I needed community.
A long time ago, I decided that what makes theater a community — and Netflix not — is the interactive energy of a live audience. But I had a problem now.
If I were to go to live theater now, I would be breaking a promise that I had made to myself almost two years ago.
It was during our final table read of The Grace of God & Man Machine. I had paid no attention to talk of some virus in China. Mind The Art Entertainment had committed to produce my play and soon we would be opening off-Broadway.
That night I bought a steak, a glass of wine, and a single ticket to see Hadestown on Broadway in front of a sold-out audience. Hadestown would provide me that same energy that I would soon be part of when my play would go live off-Broadway.
I was beyond happy.
The next day as I took a train back to Baltimore, I realized something terrible was happening. Pretty soon thereafter, theaters started to close and slowly an unconscious darkness opened in me.
My hope of a second life as a playwright, which I had dreamed of even as a boy, so unfairly started to drift away, week after week and then month after month. But more horrible was the loss of not being a part of live theater.
I made the promise, and over the months I hardened my resolve, that I would not go to the theater until I could be part of that collective energy. I refused to settle for some anemic second-best with half-empty seats.
So why did I nonetheless decide last Wednesday, February 9th, to go to a new play: Behold, A Negress by Jacquline E. Lawton, at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore? Why was I breaking my promise when the theaters were not fully open?
What was it, really, that I so desperately missed?
I chose to go to Everyman Theater because it always has been a theater bustling with people and when the lights went down every seat was always filled with a loyal subscription audience. I had been going there for opening nights for over 30 years. I could count on them. Somehow, they could always seem to deliver that energy.
The day before the performance I received a phone call reminding me that I must bring evidence of my COVID vacations and booster and wear a mask the entire time I was in the theater. I confirmed that I had gotten all the vaccinations and would be wearing a mask.
It seemed to foreshadow my disappointment and to add salt to the wound.
When I entered, I had my mask on and my vaccination records ready. An assistant at the door checked off my name.
I noticed the list was not extensive.
As I entered the lobby it was strangely quiet. There was no familiar group of chatting people lining up for a glass of wine before the performance.
When I entered the theater, even after social distancing there were a lot of empty seats.
I looked around and there was a pit in my stomach. This wasn’t going to work.
Before every theater performance, I have a ritual. I observe the set and the stage and try to imagine how different it will be when I look back at it after the play is over and the actors are taking their bows.
I looked at the set and then gave it a second look. I was intrigued by how perfectly it had been designed and how beautiful the high ceilings and colors were in a post-revolutionary Paris drawing room and how carefully an artist’s easel had been displayed upstage center.
The set alone had caught my attention. It felt good. I had inadvertently crossed the threshold and now I did not want to be disappointed.
The lights went down. The music picked up and the play began.
The first of the two lead characters enters in a stunning dress and without a word, in a minute, establishes her character though action alone. The second lead enters, also in a stunning period piece costume, to establish her character and the framework of the play with minimum exposition. I was hooked.
Artfully, everything was in place.
I will give nothing away other than it was a 90-minute play with two principal actors and one supporting character. The two leads reveal a multifaceted relationship through many artful twists and turns and even briefly use dance to create the excitement of creating a portrait to change the political mind of Paris.
The play itself is about the character it takes to risk one’s self and one’s art form to save the moral authority of a culture.
Wasn’t that what this theater was actually doing by performing this play at all?
Slowly, something wonderful and unexpected rose up in me as I looked back at that stage as the actors took their bows before a small but very enthusiastic standing ovation.
It was pride, and then deep respect for this theater that would protect its patrons but also not compromise the quality of any aspect of a magnificent production, despite the cost.
It was that but there was also something else.
What was this unique little community?
The actors playing the roles, the director and tech professionals creating the atmosphere, and the willing suspension of disbelief and presence of the audience?
Then I laughed.
No other community would have a catchphrase as its answer: “The show must go on.”
I had foolishly demanded the fiction of perfection and had missed the perfection of the thing itself.
I left laughing and looking forward to rejoining this little community of feral souls who create, with a live audience, the sustaining vision for its larger community, by example.
November 22, 2022–December 20, 2022 at Theater Row, 410 42d street NYC, The Grace of God & The Mind Machine will finally open.
by Robert Bowie, Jr. | Oct 19, 2021 | Man Machine, Personal
For the blog today I am simply posting the memorial information for Van Dirk Fisher. Those who can attend should if they can and if not please consider joining me by sending a donation to Pamela Fisher, Van’s sister, via Zelle as posted in the invitation posted below.
Van Dirk Fisher
Saturday, October 23, 2021
10:00am Special Tribute by Family and Friends
(2 minutes per person)
11:00am – 12:00pm Memorial Service
The Abyssinian Baptist Church
132 Odell Clark Place
New York, NY 10030
In lieu of flowers please send donations to Pamela Fisher via Zelle to (917) 640-5731
Limited in-person seating – Virtual service available @ abyssinian.org