There is an expression: if there were only good days then there would be no good days. I get that. There were many good days over the last 15 years of Genesis. Not all of them though.
We had many “artistic differences” over the years. They necessitated the departure of colleagues and friends alike. Those I chalk up to going with the territory. But there were some…
I guess all books of Genesis have an Exodus of sorts. Ours came after several years in the Jan Hus Playhouse. We’d survived 911 just barely. Our demographic may have been the Upper East Side but they all worked on Wall Street. The tragedy had – like so many arts establishments – shrunk our audience. But we were still here. Our survival – instead of inspiring our landlords – drew them into jealously. In a short while, they were renting the space out to other groups, allowing them to use our equipment and pushing us into tighter and tighter timeframes. They thought that they could do it better.
When they could push no more they began renting out their sanctuary as a theatre. So we could hear other groups rehearsing right above us. Finally, it became harder and harder to rehearse and even perform. We decided to join the festival circuit and not take up residence at the Jan Hus any further. It was a bittersweet exodus for us. We were very tired of maintaining a theatre 24/7. There were times I would run into the space in my pajamas because I was sure I’d left a door open. Mary seemed to always have a mop in her hand. Parishioners began going to her for advice. I was there so often that numerous parishioners and center members assumed I ran the AA meetings that were in the space; served the homeless and the senior center lunch; and even ran the library in the main chapel area. I was there one morning very early for a tech and a man tried to get in. When I told him I had nothing to do with the main building be called me a Bolshevik and stormed out. A homeless man once took Russ Camarda’s coat thinking it was a donation, and the senior center would put a lock on the air conditioner so we would have to do our shows – even in the summer – in the heat. I began carrying a large stick into the theatre and smashing the lock – daily.
Finally it was enough.
We’d gotten offers from the Midtown International Theater Festival; Spotlight-On Productions; even the Fringe and Samuel French, so we thought it be time to move. We left quietly just before Christmas. Sighing relief and wiping away tears.
Two funny stories:
During the time that the landlords were renting the sanctuary as a theatre, they rented to this surreal group whom I had seen perform. I informed them that I thought they were a bit out-there for the church but the pastor at the time refused to listen, claiming sour grapes. So the group came in and performed…
… a reenactment of a devil worship ritual.
There, on the altar, they wore black robes and danced and spoke the name of Satan. Yes, it was “a play” but c’mon … in a church?
We were downstairs rehearsing a children’s show and heard “hail Satan, hail Satan, hail dark lord…” through the ceiling.
The other story occurred after we were gone. When we left we took everything that was ours
The extension that we built for the stage
The lighting instruments
The baby grande
Even the fake back wall we built.
Our landlords, never took stock in what was theirs and what was ours. Basically, we left the space exactly as we found it (without the water bugs though). The group that came in after us hoped that they can make this work where we could not. They were livid that they had an empty room and an angry senior center … who put a stronger lock up the A/C.
The place is under new management now and serves as a rental space. What it could have been if we all just worked together… we may never know.
Michael K. Wright
WrightGroupNY is named for Michael Kearney Wright. Michael was an aged actor who joined us for Richard III and stayed. Michael was an actor in his youth – appearing on Broadway and the like. He took a regular job during a lean time and never went back. He eventually retired as a VP from a major public relations firm. Now – in his golden years – he wanted to return to what he loved best – acting. He joined a few of our shows … Faustus, Richard III, Hamlet, and a few others. But he was not well. He could not learn lines the way he used to so he did a lot of our readings or smaller parts. He was having a wonderful time. He taught us all… Mary, Marty, myself, about how to increase our visibility and the tricks of the trade for public relations. In no time, we were writing releases and getting listed. All thanks to Michael Wright.
He was running out of money and needed to find a few dollars to offset his pension and social security so we came to an arrangement where he’d get a percentage of the house for each show he helped us promote. He was kool with that and excited.
Suddenly he stopped calling … or returning calls. I – at first was angry – thinking he went to another company or something, until I got a phone call.
Michael had passed on in his apartment. It was days before he was found.
He had no family, no very close friends, only a few actors from various companies with whom he worked. I was contacted because he had a press release for Genesis in his computer with my number on it.
It was only fitting that we name our press arm – and eventual agency – WrightGroupNY.
Every time, we get listed, an angel gets his wings.
Irma St. Paule
As the story goes, she was was diagnosed with a serious heart defect that – by rights – should have taken her from us when she was 50. So she began to eat healthy and organically, meditate, and for exercise, she would work … on everything. She simply waited until the end came and did what she wanted. In the brief time we knew here she appeared in national commercials, plays (on and off Broadway), and even in a movie directed by an old high school friend.
She was our Queen Margaret in Richard III, she was one of the mystics in Faustus, and did many of our readings. She was a tough bird and not always a pleasure to be around but she was an inspiration. No matter what weather, what occasion, what play, she was there and loving it. She was in the middle of a production when her heart finally did give way … approximately 40 years AFTER the doctors said it would. In her 90s, she checked into hospice. When asked what was ailing her she replied “it didn’t matter” she was gone by the end of that week.
She left nothing to anyone. She had whatever funeral was arranged for her through her SAG insurance and she disappeared. She didn’t care what people thought while she was alive and certainly never worried about what would be said after that. She got up every morning, walked down the five flights from her cramped east village apartment and went to work… wherever that happened to be.
Lesson to be learned.
During Richard III she was on stage with Mary and during a moment when another character was speaking, she whispered in her ear “you’re good baby… you should be on Broadway.”
A few years after Irma passed, Mary was working on Broadway.
Anne & Fay pointing at all the young people,
Irma bitching at how no one knows how to act anymore,
Michael proofing the program