BWW Interviews: Hollywood Fringe Spotlight - Part 3: A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
June 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30
Janet Miller is about to launch her New Theatre Company, aptly named the Good People Theater Company, with A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE at this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival. The musical is a unique choice for an inaugural production and an even more unusual choice to be presented at the Fringe. Why? Because this musical, featuring music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally isn't new, yet its themes of love and acceptance resonate clearly throughout the piece. And that's definitely Fringe worthy.
The time is Dublin, 1964. Meet Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor with a poet's heart. In the morning he dispenses tickets and Oscar Wilde's best verse to his regulars. After work, St. Imelda's amateur theatricals are his passion. And, much to his sister's distress, he cooks. Foreign things. With parsley on top.
I asked Janet why she chose this show as the first production for GPTC and she said she'd been hoping to do this show for ten years. "I love the music. I love the story. I love what it has to say about being true to yourself, about the importance of finding your authentic self, and living that life - the life that's true to who you are, especially at mid-life.
The lead character, Alfie Byrne, is in his 40s and he's basically beginning to realize there's a cost to hiding. There's a personal cost to him for not living in an authentic way. He decides he's willing to risk everything - including the love of his family and friends - to come into that truer relationship with himself. And the beautiful thing about the play is the poetical magic that Alfie always had - the thing that drew people to him in the first place - only grows and becomes freer when he has the courage to simply become himself more fully. It's powerful watching this character transform from the inside out."
In addition to Alfie's transformation, there's the added layer of it being a show about a community theater group that also resonates for her. "That part of the story always felt like home to me because I've done a lot of community theater, and I love it! There's a stigma about community theater being 'less than professional,' but here's the thing: as a director, you get to work with all sorts of wonderful people for whom acting is not their first job. It's the thing they do as a second career because they're compelled to do it, they love it and they make great sacrifices to make it happen. A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE really honors the dignity and the sincerity of the deep love of theater that comes from community players and the moving way it touches their lives. And I find that very true to life. I was also drawn to its style of storytelling. It's a memory play, and I like the structure. The scenes are short and they uphold the storytelling that is really taken care of by the musical numbers."
And as for why she chose to produce it during the Fringe? "The original idea to open our Company's first show at Fringe came as some friendly advice from Jeremy Lelliott, artistic director of Coeurage Theatre Company," she says. "He and I were talking about my dream of staging A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE. He saw how passionate I was about the project and he suggested we do it at Fringe because he felt it was the right kind of umbrella organization to help us get on our feet.
When you're looking at starting a company and launching the first production, there's a nearly endless list of questions and decisions that need to be made. Putting our first show into the Fringe Festival immediately gave us some definition, some guidance and key parameters. And that helped us get through that first phase of 'well, where do we start?'
And I discovered A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE has been done at other international Fringe festivals, which makes sense because it doesn't have heavy sets, etc. It was reassuring to see it had played well in the Fringe-type environment before."
"There's also something to be said for the variety the show will bring to the Fringe mix," she adds. "Most Fringe shows are experimental and shorter. Ours is a licensed show that hasn't been done yet in LA with a fully staged production, but people know about the show and are excited to see it here. Fringe tends to feature the work of younger, rising artists and our show's story is about a group of mostly 40+ characters, so our ensemble skews a little more - how shall I say? - to the mature side! But with that you're seeing actors who've worked on Broadway and are truly masters at their craft, and who are now in our 'wee Irish musical' at Fringe."