March 8, 2015

HISTORICAL NONFICTION BY CHARLES E.J. MOULTON "VIENNA'S INTERNATIONAL THEATRE-LIVING THE DREAM"

CHARLES E.J. MOULTON has been a stage performer since age eleven. His trilingual, artistic upbringing, as the son of Gun Kronzell and Herbert Moulton, lead to a hundred stage productions, countless cross-over concerts, work as a bandleader and as an acting teacher. He is a regular contributor for Idea Gems, has written for Shadows Express, Cover of Darkness, Vocal Images and Pill Hill Press. He is a tourguide, a big-band-vocalist, a filmmaker, a painter, a voice-over-speaker, a translator, is married and has a daughter. Charles E.J. Moulton's passion is creative versatility.





VIENNA’S INTERNATIONAL THEATRE
Living the Dream

An Article by Herbert Eyre Moulton (1927 – 2005)
Written in 1981


Foreword written in 2014
By Charles E.J. Moulton
The International Theatre spent four decades playing great American and British drama and comedy at the Porzellangasse in Vienna's 9th district. Their work, and my dad's fantastic efforts and professionally high standard there as an actor and author, had cult value.
That is also what could be said about the first performance I saw at the I.T. in 1981. The 19th century type melodrama called "Cindy Lou", performed in the Vaudeville style of theatrical entertainment, introduced archetypical characters and a fairytale-like story interrupted by occasional soft-shoe showtunes. In between scenes my dad sang a tune called "Nobody", switching from his role as the villain to the part of the pennyless man with the heart of gold.
Written by my father in collaboration with the theater's boss William Wallace under the assumed name of Mr. Pennyfather of Baltimore, the melodrama took the audience back in time to experience early American entertainment. The audience were instructed to yell "Boo!" or "Ssss!" whenever the villain arrived, just like the hero, played by Robert Brand, received his customary "Hooray!" when he entered the boards. The damsel in distress  (a girl named Jennifer) was showered with chants of "Aww!" and "Oh!" and "Ooh!"-sounds whenever she sing-songed "Save me!" (sounds like an old-time Bond-like scene) and all of it created a joyous evening of fun and games. That's what we today call audience participation.
At the piano sat Lynn, inspired by all this fun. My introduction to her renditions of Scott Joplin Rags became part of an artistic experience that brought on a decision to make creativity a profession. The artists at the I.T. were like my parents: pianists, singers, actors, dancers, even painters decorating the auditorium. That complete creative effort: that's what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be creative.
When I got my first paid continental gig there as an actor in 1984 (I was 15 at the time) I had already starred in two Swedish productions as a child. Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" at the I.T. became a tradition every year since then until the theatre closed on June 30th, 2012 with a performance of my father’s play "Mark Twain's America". The script is available here online and still invites actors to read and play it in acting class. I am sure my father would invite all his angelic friends from heaven to come to the show as well, should you choose to perform it.
Its place in I.T.'s history archives will be forever remembered.
My first experience at the I.T., playing Young Scrooge and Peter Cratchit, set many professional standards I still hold on to today and try to pass on to my students: being on time for rehearsals, coming early enough before a show in order to prepare, enjoying the mutual inspiration of dramatic work, perfecting the crafts of sense memory and emotional memory in professional stage work.
I joined the new cast of "A Christmas Carol" the following season of 1985-86 as a young student in the Music Academy. I kept on going back there to see almost every production they performed after that and as time went on the place meant more and more to me.
My dad was in many of the productions and that gave me good enough reason to be there. I saw his elegant, funloving Pollonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet. His interpretations of roles in plays by Chekov, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde and Thornton Wilder taught me a great deal about the craft of acting.
We would go to our favorite pizzeria before the show, Valentino, and spend some high quality time in the theater bar afterwards, drinking yummy wine and chatting happily. These moments created a bond that gave International Theatre its special place in our hearts.
The Wikipedia link about the theater should fill in other possible blanks.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Theatre_Vienna
I.T. is part of my youth, my education and my biography. Anyone who knew me back then will agree with me that I was living a very versatile existance. Singing concerts, performing in theaters, studying voice, the receptions and premiere parties and embassy gatherings we were invited to, the I.T. was a part of the cultural Viennese lifestyle we lived.
The advantage of growing up in a cultural environment was riveting to begin with, but it came with a responsibility. In the midst of all that culture I ended up searching for my cultural profile or rather: which profile was mine to choose. Being an artist in Vienna is an education in itself. But I understood quite quickly that having many skills to choose from gave me a bonus in the artistic freelance market. I worked as a translator, oratory singer or rock artist when I wasn't working in a long running musical. Now with a steady job as a baritone in an opera house, I do the same thing. I thrive on not being dependant on one thing alone. My constant foundation and consistant strength is my wife and my daughter and, of course, the angels in heaven: among them my folks, who take good care of us from where they are.
Back then, it felt like I was waffling back and forth. It wasn't until sometime in the beginning of the 1990's when I had the feeling I was going somewhere.
I had worked as a trilingual historical tourguide in my home town of Kalmar. During a conversation with one of the teachers at the local high school, I heard that it was possible to study the high-school material alone and go up and take the exams. In that sense, I would be going to high school long-distance. I had, shortly after my first gig at the I.T., decided to go directly into the academy after finishing 9th grade in 1985 and work as a professional on the side. Now was the time to finish my high school diploma.
    Between 1993 and 1996, while studying voice and acting and working on stage as an actor and a singer, I studied to take the exams of fifteen subjects, reading 35 000 pages worth of material. The result was a grade average of A- when I finished in August of 1996.

    Shortly after my diploma, it really took off for me as an actor: several tours, long running musicals, operas, cruise gigs, theatrical summer festivals. But I kept on studying. In 2001, I received a diploma in Child Psychology from the ICS Academy in Glasgow, I studied history at the University of Vienna and Sociology at the University of Uppsala.
Nowadays, I benefit from that versatility. My life has not been subjected to the standard high school-college-profession-kind of resumé. The result of that life is an attitude that education never ends. I might decide to study toward a Master's Degree in Art History when I get older. That attitude I owe to my parents and it became stronger, of course, at the I.T.
Although I get most of my cash from working in the opera chorus, my professional solistic existance couldn't be more varied. I am now a published author (38 published pieces and all the other online work), a voice-over speaker for Swedish films, a big band vocalist (three dozen major venues the last few years), I work as a theatrical director, I teach drama, voice, guitar and conduct my own chorus in my home town. I also paint. That creative effort is learning by doing and a whole lot of fun.
So, now you're probably thinking: "Boy, is he ever bragging!"
Fact of the matter is, though, that because my choices have been unlike others I realize that age as such means very little. I studied at the music academy before I finished my high school diploma. There are colleagues of mine that are speaking of their retirement. Some of them are not even 40. That's all fine and well for them. If that is their choice, then so be it. But to me that is a total waste of time. Bono once called that a wasted life.
Being creative in some form, finding your path toward creativity, that's the ticket. Any form will do. How? Think up something that expresses how your artistic soul thrives. Find your special way in showing the world what you are about. If fame and success comes with it, all the better. But the aim is to show the world who you are. Mainly, you can show yourself who you are. Discover yourself. You are limitless in possibilities.
Grandma Moses was a housewife for most of her long life, but then she started painting when she was 78. Now she is one of America's leading artists, her art exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art.
Your decisions lead the way.
So, in actual fact, getting 105 likes in facebook for changing your profile picture is absolutely irrelevant. What matters is how you express what kind of a soul you are. Age has no relevance. Vienna's International Theatre turned into a reality because Bill and Marilyn Wallace dared to dream the dream of founding a theater located in Vienna playing high quality English-speaking drama. The great news is that you can have both a career and a family. You just got to know how to go about it.
I'm going to say this again just so you understand what I mean. I am a published author that has spread his work across the globe, a voice-over-speaker, a big band vocalist, a chorus master, guitar teacher, drama coach, painter, and yet I sing in the opera chorus. I have played major roles in major musicals. I am appearing on TV this fall.
High, low, famous, anonymous, frustrated, happy. You decide what or who you are. Just make sure that what you do benefits everyone. That's all.
No one ever said it's going to be easy. No one.
Do you have no one to talk to? Are people ignoring you? You could fall for the temptation of drinking alcohol or screaming at people how awful they are. Don't. It will just complicate things. Find another outlet.
Why not paint? Don't know how? Who cares? Buy a canvas, paint, brushes, an easel and start painting. Search the web for tips how to do it. Find an outlet: write a story. Write what you know, what you've experienced, but rename the characters.
Bill and Marilyn founded their creative reality. They thought about what they wanted, dreamt it, planned it, worked on it and realized their dream. And they didn't give up.
The following article was written  by my father Herbert Eyre Moulton during the hay-day of his activity at the I.T. Life wasn't necessarily easy, but it sure was interesting.
When you read it, try to imagine little Charlie Moulton sitting in the audience, dreaming his dream and seeing other people living their dream.
"I want to live my dream," he said. Charlie Moulton did and he had his parents and the I.T. in Vienna to thank for it.

                                  Vienna's International Theatre – Living the Dream
Article by Herbert Eyre Moulton (1927 - 2005), Baritone, Actor, Author, Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, Radio Speaker, Former Student at the Iowa Priest Seminar, MCA Show Star, Camp Gordon Chapel Choir Musical Director, Dialogue and Speech Coach, Opera-Lover, Irish-American Gourmet and Gourmand, Christmas Turkey and Stuffing Maker, Conneussieur of Austrian Wine


An American theater owned and operated by Americans, with mainly American plays staged and acted by Americans, right near the heart of old Vienna? The idea is as engaging and improbable as the plot of a Johann Strauss operetta. Especially when you consider that, with no financial aid or recognition from either American or Austrian cultural authorities --- no aid from anybody, in fact --- the theater was still able to chalk up almost 400 performances of a dozen different shows in the first perilous year of its existance --- shows ranging from Albee to "Alice in Wonderland".
For Vienna's battle-scarred little International Theatre (Opening Night July 1977) every day is a fresh lesson in the art of survival. But then, survival is what life in Vienna has always been about, though it isn't exactly what Bill and Marilyn Wallace had in mind when they made their seperate arrivals there in the early 1960's. Like countless musical hopefuls before and since, Cleveland's Marilyn Close and Denver's William Wallace, both experienced singers, were drawn to the culturally rich old city on the Danube by its traditions and continuing name as the musical capital of Europe. They met and married, took jobs as church soloists and on local radio and TV, taught English in off-hours, and drifted into semi-pro theater, Marilyn acting, Bill directing. But it wasn't good enough --- it had to be professional or nothing, preferably in a theater of their own. And, against all possible odds, that's exactly how it has worked out.
By 1975 they had enough know-how to launch their own company and enough chutzpah to call it "International Theatre" (or "I.T." for short). Stocked with graduates from their friend Sy Kahn's Drama School of the University of the Pacific, and assured of at least a couple of months a year use of the well-equipped little theater in Vienna's Amerika Haus, they were soon attracting positive attention with their tightly-staged versions of plays like STAR-SPANGLED GIRL, THE ASPERN PAPERS, and BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE.
Then in 1976 the United States Information Service, as it then called itself, observed the Bicentennial by cutting off virtually all American cultural activities overseas. Among the victims of economy slashes that still evoke lamentations in European capitals was Vienna's swinging Amerika Haus --- henceforth its popular theater would be a government storeroom. Whereupon the Wallaces took to touring the Austrian Provinces, with side-hops to the adjecent countries of Hungary and West-Germany.
Came 1977 and the big leap-in-the-dark, that turning point and point of no return that always seperates the giants from the gnats: Their Own Theater, in this case an abandoned coffee-house-turned-cinema, first licensed back in 1791 (9th District, 3 tram-stops from the Ring.) Repairs and renovations amounted to over a million and a half Austrian Shillings, or roughly $ 100,000. From all appearances the place had been going downhill from sometime around the Congress of Vienna in 1814 until its most recent phase as a flea-pit for old Communist movies. Then the Wallaces took it over --- rather, it took over the Wallaces.
"It was just like 'George Washington Slept Here'," comments Marilyn. "No, better make that 'Maria Theresia didn't.' No central heating, no fire exits, no public toilets, no sound or lighting of course, no storage space or dressing rooms, the floors completely rotted out. You can imagine what the Fire Marshals made of THAT. All that was usable were the seats and the ceiling --- that is, after we'd scraped off almost two centuries of dust."
"Actually," says her husband. "We were painting the lobby and facade until half an hour before the premiere. Marilyn just made it backstage to get into her 'Blithe Spirit'-get-up."
"Blithest damn Spirit anybody's ever seen," The Leading Lady adds.
Even then the Wallaces were not, thank God, alone. A brilliant freelance set-designer and master of the impossible named Werner Rest had already taken over the technical end at no salary whatsoever. And various firms, augmented by businessmen English students, donated fitted carpets, front-of-house furnishings and bar, as well as supplying programs, publicity photos, printing --- some even ran interference when the more militant creditors  appeared, which they do with numbing regularity. Every month is a little death, a cliffhanger in a vineyard: 13,000 Shillings theater rent alone.
"There have been times," Marilyn allows, "when the only honorable alternative seemed marching ourselves like lemmings into the Danube."
"Oh, I dunno," her husband gives a Micawber shrug. "We've come this far. All we need now is a miracle."
It already amounts to a miracle, what's been accomplished in three years existance as a company and little more than a year in their own theater --- not only highly-praised stagings of, among others, Beckett, Orwell, and Shelagh Delaney, but original productions which have included, besides the brand-new "Alive", my own Wild-West Anthology "The Fabulous Saloon", an original melodrama (to highlight a Far West museum exhibition), and my piece "Mark Twain's America", which was also shown at the Innsbruck Winter Olympics, and which still turns up regularly on Austrian TV (no repeat fees, alas). The theater has also played host to Isreal's Nesher Puppet Theater (recently on a U.S. Tour, the London Puppet Theater, and even "Les Femmes Fatales", a late-night Parisian transvestite revue. At least once a month it doubles as a recital hall, not just for American artists (pianist Karin Ottenstein, soprano Linda Hodges), but young talents from as far away as Cyprus, Australia and Jamaica.
Already the first novelty in the new theater showed the company's capabilities --- Californian Kenneth Fleishour's adaptation of "Alice", which turned the little stage into a caleidoscope of swirling lights and colors, fantasy and feathers, with mobile three-sided "pillars" switched about by the constantly orbiting cast of six. An all-American "Alice", this turned out to be, scripted, choreographed, directed, and played by Americans. The widely read Neue Kronen Zeitung lauded not only the atmosphere, but also the temperament and imagination able to solve every problem, and especially the company's obvious joy in relating to audiences of all ages:
"A successful evening, great fun for children."
Marilyn, meanwhile, between stints as Alice's Duchess and Doormouse and Mark Twain's Aunts, Mulattos, and Innocents Abroad, was kept busy climbing in and out of her sandpile for Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days", a marathon performance already crowned with a special Citation of Excellence by the Austrian Ministry of Education and Art. Unfortunately the citation --- the only official notice the company has ever had that it actually exists --- did not prove negotiable at the local supermart.
The Albee Double-bill which followed ("Zoo Story" and "The American Dream") won praise from the influential Wiener Kurier for "Painstakingly bringing out all of the author's meaning, which in this case is well worth the effort. Above all, thanks to the players for the sharp clarity and unbroken concentration they bring to both text and action."
And Graz's Süd-Ost Tagespost:
"Superior theater, and quite without the magnetism of big names."
Equally successful was Orwell's "Animal Farm" (in Nelson Bond's reworking), sparsely staged with a narrator and five players continually switching roles with the aid of hand-held masks. Renewed kudos for the fast-moving teamwork and clear diction which overcame all possible problems in communication, especially with student audiences for whom (lest it ever be forgot) English is a foreign tongue.
The company's first German-language production, the Viennese premiere of F.K. Kroetz's. "Weitere Aussichten" ("Further Prospects") prompted the following from the go-ahead Arbeiter Zeitung: "Anyone who witnessed this company's earliest days back in 1975 would have given it at most three months to live. But things have turned out differently." So differently that International was not only living up to its name, but also had "catapulted itself into the very front rank of the city's smaller theaters! This hour-long, one-woman play about an old lady whose children have committed her to an old people's home, surprised the Volksstimme into a verdict of "Highly remarkable", while the Kurier saluted it as a truthful and exact portrait of a life coming to an end.
It was the late-Spring opening of "A Taste of Honey' which marked the company's coming-of-age and provided its longest run to date (spread over four months): "International's very best," according to the Wiener Zeitung. And the Wochenschau: "The company has developed amazingly: a fine performance by a fine ensemble, now a bright and shining light on Vienna's cultural scene. It should be allowed to shine and not be put out." The Kurier: "With it, this ambitious theater takes a leading place among Vienna's smaller stages."
After a sold out and loudly cheered appearance in Graz, the Süd-Ost Tagespost called it "Living proof that English-language theater is alive and well in Vienna."
One summer visitor to "A Taste of Honey", Ann Cavallaro, had tears in her eyes as she told the cast afterwards: "I can't speak. It was absolutely incandescent. Back home in New Haven we have two excellent resident theaters, both of them extremely well funded, but I have never, ever seen anything better than what you gave us here tonight." And a visiting professor from Williams College: "If they've done all this on absolutely no outside funding whatsoever, think of what could be achieved if things were otherwise."
Many of the Vienna reviewers would tend to agree. Some weeks earlier, covering the company's "Duet for Two Hands", the staunchly faithful Arbeiter Zeitung had stated: "The death of this theater, now in greater financial straits than ever, would be a real loss for Vienna's theater scene." And when John Kendrick's short, taut boxing drama "Just Keep Listening!" opened a late-night run in June, the same critic wrote: "In the struggle between the big, highly-subsidized theaters and the smaller ones beset by all kinds of troubles, the balance is amazingly in favor of the latter." Kendrick's play has been done in a dozen world theater centers, but its author, cast in one of the play's two roles, called Wallace's production the best he had ever seen.
A mere glance at I.T.'s repertory and at some of its daily programs would make a lot of those "big, highly-subsidized theaters" look like dilettantes. There were the days this last season that saw the company tearing through four performances of three different plays: 2 daytime shows for students, plus the usual evening show, plus a late-nighter. Or, for variety's sake, three performances of four different plays: morning, afternoon, and a double-bill in the evening.
Future plans --- above and beyond survival --- include a shadow puppet cabaret (again the Isreali Neshers), a music-hall revue to the accompaniment of piano-rolls (QRS, Buffalo, N.Y.), a freshly brewed vampire extravaganza, a bill of short Edgar Allan Poe plays adapted for I.T.'s student audiences, and --- if backing can be found --- the Off-Broadway premiere (some 5,000 miles "Off") of Gene Ruffini's anti-Nazi drama "The Choice".
One dream that needn't take a miracle to realize: a year-round Theater Workshop along the legendary lines of Franko, Herbert Berghoff, and The Actors Studio.
Speaking of miracles, consider those odds mentioned earlier --- the theater, beautifully fashioned out of a literally rotting old cinema, operates on a strictly month-to-month, if not day-to-day basis, braving one financial crisis after another. It still hopes for at least recognition from American cultural officials otherwise quite active in this city. After all, with Amerika Haus defunct, International is the inofficial showcase, the only showcase now available in Vienna for America's performing arts. Unkindest cut of all: all requests for aid have met with refusals from Austrian agencies which lavishly fund other stages.
Yet it is the spunky little International with its moderate prices and adventurous repertory which seems to hold the most appeal for the "Jugendliche", the young among the town's English-speaking theatergoers --- the young, as well as the young at heart, are inspired by the magic of this most international of American theaters in the German speaking world.
Art, after all, is a spiritual endeavor and the Vienna International Theatre the most inspiring of theatrical stages. 
~Charles E.J. Moulton/Herbert/Herbert Eyre Moulton (1927 – 2005) 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please support our authors...Thank you for leaving a comment.

Total Pageviews