Summer. 1966. I, Richard Allen (my first professional name) was to audition for the Newfoundland Theatre League. It would mark my professional debut. If I got hired. It was a brand new summer stock theater located in Newfoundland Pennsylvania. Auditions were held at the Upper West Side apartment of Joan Kobin and her husband Bob. I have just read her obituary. She died, peacefully in her sleep, in that very same apartment on May 30th.
It has brought back a flood of fond memories.
I remember auditioning for them. Joan and Bob Kobin and some huge dog. A standard poodle I think. It could have been a pair of poodles. I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that Bill Gile, the director for the season, saw some potential in me but they would not hear of it. They kept putting my photo and resume in the “out” pile and Bill kept insisting that they hire me. He won. It was one of the happiest times of my life that summer even though when they bused us all up there – it was to be a repertory company performing five musicals – the bus dropped us off on a dirt road. The theater was nearby. Either someone picked us up or we walked. We arrived only to find the theater unfinished.
Somehow we all were transported to a rooming house where we were housed for the summer. The landlady was a strict German and not very friendly. But my fellow cast members were. I made some lasting friendships there.
The first show was Once Upon a Mattress – I was cast as Dauntless and Joan was Princess Winifred. Rehearsals went well until I started getting too many laughs. Joan did not like that and told me point blank – stop getting laughs or you’ll be fired. It didn’t help that I forgot a lyric or two and that I was prone to get a case of the giggles every once in a while. But Bill got me through that ordeal. Joan fell ill – she lost her voice – and a wonderful young girl stepped into Winifred’s shoes – Susan Goeppinger – and we had a blast. Joan recovered quickly, spraying her tonsils with some green liquid that she swore by.
Joan’s next starring part was Mama Rose in Gypsy. We rehearsed in the gymnasium of a nearby school. The dress rehearsal was incredibly moving. Joan gave her all. She was simply fantastic. It was a part that she was born to play. I was Uncle Jocko in this one and a reporter. Bill had to explain to me what a “oiseau” was and kept me from being fired once again.
I have to thank Joan for first hiring me and then not firing me. She gave me the opportunity to experience professional theatre for the very first time. And a lesson in perseverance. What a summer it was. So exciting . But not as exciting as writing my reviews for the Outer Critics Circle.