Whence the name "Parson's Nose"?
In Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", the character Mercutio, trying to wake Romeo from his preoccupation with dreams, tells him the story of the madcap Queen Mab, the fairies' midwife, who gallops in her tiny chariot across bodies while they sleep, causing them to dream of particular things - over a lawyer's fingers and he dreams of fees, over a lady's lips and she dreams of kisses. "Sometimes she tickles a parson's nose, and then dreams he of another benefice!" A "benefice" might be a promotion, or a financial bonus, and since we are a nonprofit in need of support we are always dreaming of another gift. A "parson's nose" is also, where I grew up in Philadelphia, a reference to the back end of a chicken, or as our mother said, "the part that comes over the fence last". If you look at our logo you can see both a sleeping parson and the back end of a chicken. At Parson's Nose, as veteran professionals, we take our work very seriously, but not ourselves. ("Parson's Nose" is also the only name Mary and I could agree upon.)
Why the Classics?
Our cultural expectations are being woefully underserved by today’s media. “Real Housewives” and “Game of Thrones” have a place, but we believe there’s more, and it’s not on a screen. The art form of theater celebrates artist and audience sharing story, time and place. The classics are tales that have endured because they speak illuminating truths to each generation. They containin the richest language, characters and thoughts in our culture. They are about families. In the classics, the joys and problems of a 17th Century family find kinship in the 21st. We realize we are, and have always been, part of the same human family.
Aren’t "the classics" difficult to understand?
Not if done well.True, any art form requires focus and attention, but the same rich language that may be intimidating on the page becomes much clearer when presented as it was intended, as dialogue between visible characters in a dramatic situation. For example, if in A Midsummer Night’s Dream we see that Helena is tall and Hermia is short, all the references in the cat-fight “How low am I, you Maypole?” make perfect sense and is funny! Our professionally acted, condensed adaptations are perfect introductions for the old, young, and in-between, and have been known to stimulate actual – wait for it – family conversation on the way home! The classics are gold mines of imagery, wit, poetry and characterizations that can be plundered anew each time we enter.
I’d been a professional New York actor for twelve years after training in the classics and comedy for five years under Michael Langham’s direction at the esteemed Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, had moved to Los Angeles with my wife, actress/director Mary Chalon, to start a family and do shows like "Twin Peaks" and "Hogan Family", and was guest teaching at some local colleges when I realized that my students had little if any experience with live, professional theater, and even fewer with "classic theater". In Acting Class they watched scenes from films. Theater is a completely different experience.
I was chatting about this with a lawyer friend who said, “It’s not just the kids, y'know. I don't know these shows. I’m a fifty year old lawyer and I’ve never seen 'Twelfth Night'. I’ve always been afraid I wouldn’t get it and be bored.” The only exposure he’d had to Shakespeare was of three hour "institutional theater" productions that seemed more like taking medicine than entertainment. It was "good for you." He loved to laugh but had never heard of Molière – France’s most gifted playwright, the Father of Modern Comedy, and the source for Archie Bunker and the Jeffersons.
After some discussion, Mary and I believed that classical plays could and should be done in a way that would inspire the young and reward the old, developing in them an appetite that would lead to further exploration of the unique art form of ‘Classic Theater’. We found a generous angel, Terry Perl, a passionate New Yorker with a love of theater, and in May 2000 we sailed forth to create The Parson’s Nose Experience.
We began with my adaptation of Moliere's "The Mi$er" at the Interact Theater, of which I was a member. My inspiration was the Classics Illustrated comics I'd read as a kid. I wanted to emphasize the comedy, the Italian "commedia dell arte" improvisation that colored Moliere's early theater experiences touring France for sixteen years with his company. We had minimal props, costumes, no set, but a very funny company, and we did the play in one hour. We then did "Twelfth Night" with the same formula. Audiences loved it. We had launched.
Like Moliere's troupe, we became a gypsy company. We played the Geffen and Pasadena Playhouses, toured 130 LAUSD and PUSD schools, the Jameson Brown Coffeehouse, the Pacific Asia Museum, The Fremont Center, Lineage Performing Arts, and after sixteen years settled into our own home. Our work would be under our own banner. We restored the Marston Van Pelt designed Turner-Stevens Mortuary Chapel, one block from City Hall, into a jewel box theater seating 50. Actor, audience, stage. Storytelling.
We pride ourselves on making theater in a different way. We create a social experience, serving wine and homemade cookies. We pay our artists – not what they’re worth, certainly, but above Actors Equity union “scale”. To date we have introduced fun, condensed, broad-stroke, professional comedies by Shakespeare, Molière, Goldoni, Shaw, Belasco, Grimm, Hans Andersen, Goldsmith, Perrault, Boucicault and others, delighting over 80,000 Angelenos. We have introduced The Women's Project, exploring new plays by, about and for women, and a New Plays Workshop for the works of tomorrow.
During CoVid PNT reassessed its mission and came up with a most exciting response. Taking a clue from the old Orson Welles Mercury Theater of 1940s radio, we took our Readers' Theater Series - actor, script and audience - and transformed it into a new entity which we love - The Parson's Nose Radio Theater. Throughout the pandemic the company has continued to record remotely, edit and produce in podcast form 45 episodes of radio drama, including works by Shakespeare, Hans Andersen, Chekhov, Kathrine Kressmann Taylor, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens and others. It allows us to reach a national audience, available free of charge, 24/7 on iTunes, Spotify, or our website www.parsonsnose.com. Through it the company can explore a myriad of stories, playing a multitude of characters. We shall continue our podcasts, even as we return to live performance in this our 21st season.
Thanks to your help these timeless stories will live, and grow.