Wednesday, January 18, 2023


 On my goodreads author profile there's a place to indicate "influences." I thought hard about who I should list there, and I decided I'd share some of those thoughts today.

Of the seventeen books I am credited with creating, sixteen are anthologies of plays that I edited as part of NYTE's publication program. For those books, the main influence on my work is clear: John Gassner. His play collections were the first ones I ever read--checked out regularly from our public library when my sister Nita and I were children. I'm afraid he's mostly forgotten now (here's the piece about him on Wikipedia) but his impact on the work I ultimately did in this field is incalculable, in terms of both inspiration and the ineffable elegance of his books. 

My seventeenth book--which will be published in a couple of months--is a memoir. Now I've read a lot of memoirs in my time, especially by people involved in show biz and the arts. Many of these served as negative examples to me. For example, I love Hermione Gingold's How to Grow Old Disgracefully but the book, while quite funny, doesn't always feel completely candid or forthright (as opposed to true, which it may well be). Stephen Sondheim's two volumes Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat are invaluable accounts of his professional career and absolutely worth reading, but so much of the man is missing from them. (And yes, George sings, in Sunday in the Park, "I am what I do"; but we all know there's more to a human being than that.) Julie Andrews's first memoir Home is a book I never finished: she reviews her childhood in more extreme detail than I really needed to know. Similarly Joel Grey's Master of Ceremonies is so squarely focused on his sexuality and sex life that the parts of his life that I was most curious about (i.e., his career in theater) were given relatively short shrift.

So, I had lots of ideas about what NOT to do. As for what I did: Well, I have been writing for public consumption for decades. Thousands of reviews, plus lots of incidental articles, profiles, interviews, think pieces, blog posts, what-have-you. I have developed a style over all this time, and it's one that's very natural to me. (Who influenced my reviewing style? Frank Rich, Ethan Mordden, David Richards, Harold Clurman; all the likely suspects, I suppose.) Those who I asked to read the early manuscripts of Indie Theater Guy all agreed on at least one thing--that the book sounds like me. That is exactly what I was hoping for.

Stylistically, I can point to one recent memoirist whom I think I have at least subconsciously been guided by, and that's Andrew Tobias. I recently read two of his books, My Vast Fortune and The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up, and both are characterized by a lightly humorous, breezy, informal, somewhat self-deprecating style that I enjoy very much and that I think may have affected how I approached the task of writing my own book.

Finally, structurally, Indie Theater Guy owes a gigantic debt to Patrick Dennis's Auntie Mame. Even Nita, who introduced Auntie Mame to me, reading it to me (with great expressiveness and style!) when I was perhaps five or six years old, didn't notice that the structure of my memoir is appropriated from Dennis's framing device. His book is a series of recollections of larger-than-life extravagant adventures (those of his aunt, whose life he compares to that of a Readers Digest heroine billed as the "most unforgettable character"). It will be hard to say this humbly, but: so is mine. 

Check out the official Indie Theater Guy website for more info about the book and related projects.

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