Posts Tagged ‘Roger Morgan’

“This Is The Wisdom I Have Learned”: The Power of Memory

William Goyen’s House of Breath: Black White opened on November 4, 1969 at Trinity Square Repertory in Providence, Rhode Island. Every year I celebrate this play on this date. Why? Two reasons: it was a theatrical production ahead of its time, and it marks the occasion I fell in love with Roger Morgan.









Directed by the brilliant Adrian Hall, with sets by Eugene Lee, and lighting by the above-mentioned Roger, House of Breath was a powerful, poetic piece about an East Texas family in the early twentieth century. The production pioneered non-traditional casting before the term even existed, and explored trans-gender issues in flamboyant Adrian-Hall-style. The late great Ethyl Eichelberger (known at the time as Jim) played the role of a sexually repressed young man whose imagination transforms him into a black showgirl. I played Jim’s dead sister Jessie, brought to life through the memories of her family. 
We knew the play was groundbreaking, but Roger and I were caught completely off-guard by the depth of our connection (each of us thought it must have been the high of the production that swept us off our feet!) We now know, having celebrated decades of November Fourths, is that the collaborative experience of that project provided the foundation upon which we subsequently built our lives.  
There was one particular moment in the play Roger always loved: young Jessie (my character) remembers her brother BerryBen dressed up as a King in a pageant, and Jessie declares with great wonder: “This is the wisdom I have learned!” referring to the power of memory.  “This is the wisdom I have learned” is one of those code phrases that pops up in our marital dialogue as a sort of  “duh” realization; and recently, the phrase has come to represent the collaboration, risk, and belief that we’re doing something that matters: three of the Principles of Theatrical Intelligence. 
The spirit of the work at Trinity quickened the pace of our courtship… of course we fell in love that night! What we didn’t know at the time was that it marked the beginning of a collaborative, creative and frequently improvised life. I shall be forever-grateful that Roger and I fell in love in the middle of the wonder that inhabited House of Breath and Trinity, because within that context our lives changed forever.
House of Breath photo by William Smith

Falling In Love With A Theatre

This article is revised from our Studio Newsletter archives in honor of World Theatre Day.

World Theatre Day

What makes someone fall in love with a theatre? I asked a bunch of theatrical colleagues to name a theatre that they love and say why they love it. Here are some responses:

“There are so many! But the one that comes to mind is THE GUTHRIE when it was being built and I was going to be playing Hamlet in the inaugural production. Tony [Tyrone Guthrie] and I walked into what felt like Yankee Stadium and I was terrified. How was I going to fill that space? Then when we walked down onto the stage, suddenly it was only half as big, and I did manage to fill it; over the years it was as if I was playing a dearly beloved instrument.” George Grizzard, Actor

“GLYNDEBOURNE, the famous Opera House in England. My husband and I had a private tour, and I stood on the stage alone and sang into the empty theater. The acoustics were incredible – I got the chills hearing my voice ring out like that… it sparked my imagination!”
 Melora Hardin, Actress

“THE MUSIC BOX, on Broadway. It’s a theatre of reasonable size and seating capacity, yet it manages to feel intimate. Rounded boxes flanking the proscenium are a particularly pleasing feature. It is a theatre that really helps the director.”
  Ed Sherin, Director

“IL TEATRO PIU’ TEATRO PICCOLO DEL MONDO (“the smallest theater in the world”) in Umbria. What a gem! It was built in the early 1800s by the families of Monte Castello di Vibio who wanted a place for social gatherings. The mindset at the time was of concordia tra i popoli (concordance between the populations) so the theatre was named Teatro Concordia. It is a space with perfect proportions; a space where you can feel the history of elegant and probably melodramatic performances in that tiny town.” Marianna Houston, Theatre Educator

“I love various parts of many Broadway theatres: the Tiffany stained glass fixtures and wood paneling of the BELASCO THEATRE; the inner lobby of the MAJESTIC and its grand house; the ingenious combination of new and old to combine two theatres into one dazzling space as the HILTON THEATRE [ed: now the FOXWOODS]. And I want to add another gem of a building Off-Broadway, the WESTSIDE THEATRE’s building, lobby and interiors are remarkably beautiful.” Bob Reilly, Company Manager

“THE VIGSZINHAS (Vigszínház) THEATRE in Budapest, Hungary – a magnificent 19th-century horseshoe shaped house with four or five balcony tiers. The stagehouse was completely re-built, and the stage is so deep – it covers a whole city block – with the loading door smack in the middle. For Six Characters In Search of an Author the city agreed to close off the street to traffic every night one half hour before the performance, so the audience saw the cast enter from the city beyond. That 19th century magic was made possible by the 21st century rehab.”
 Peter Frisch, Director

“THE BARTER THEATRE in Abingdon Virginia because it’s where I fell in love with my husband of 50 years! Barter inherited the seats and the curtain from the old EMPIRE THEATRE on Broadway, which gave it a certain mystique, and by the way, probably fostered more romances than any other theatre in America!”
 Diane Hardin, Acting Teacher/Coach

“I love lots and lots of theatres. At the moment I love the McCARTER in Princeton because Emily Mann and everyone there is so wonderful and willing to do anything I ask.” Eugene Lee, Scenic Designer

What is YOUR favorite theatre? Please share it!



Love-in-sandI’ve been thinking a lot about love. 

It may be an age thing. I’m in my mid-60s and loving it, my husband Roger and I just celebrated our 43rd anniversary, and our love for each other and our work has grown exponentially over the decades. When we were blessed with grandchildren 3 and 5 years ago, I thought the level of love in our family might actually burst. It didn’t, of course. In fact, it has expanded into a three-generation-love-fest.

And everywhere I look these days, I see love. 

Can it be that love really belongs in this theatrical quotations series?  Absolutely. Why? Because for those of us who spend our lives in the theatre, a passionate love of what we do is the common denominator within the  Six Principles of Theatrical Intelligence.

Let’s take a moment to review those principles, based on the theatrical production model (as is the whole concept of Theatrical Intelligence).

1. Collaborating on a project to make it work for everyone, is number one: EVERYONE SHARES THE SAME GOAL.

2. If the show is a bust, if tickets don’t sell, no one gets paid. That’s the reality: EVERYONE SHARES AN EQUIVALENT RISK.

3. If a play is sustainable, its next steps are defined within the 3rd principle: COLLABORATION RULES.

4. Given: throughout every phase of every project, THE WORK MATTERS.

5. If part of a production’s infrastructure isn’t working (often the case) everyone understands that FAILURE IS YOUR FRIEND AND THE QUICKEST WAY TO LEARN.

6. And finally, a reflection of the commitment to innovation and acceptance of high risk: SUCCESS COMES WITH THE COURAGE TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN.

Those who work consistently in the professional theatre simply love what they do; if they didn’t, the ever-changing conditions of the creation, development, rehearsal and run of a show, would be intolerable.

I’ve chosen my favorite quotes on love from my collection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

zelda-balletZelda Fitzgerald (1900 – 1948)
 “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”


Zora Neale Hurston, Class of 1928, Chicago, Ill., November 9, 1934Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960)
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”


NerudaPablo Neruda (1904 – 1973) née Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto
“I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”


Shel Larry Moyer Shel Silverstein (1930 – 1999)
How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em.
How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.


George EliotGeorge Eliot (1819 – 1880) Née Mary Ann (Marian) Evans

“I like not only to be loved, but to be told that I am loved; the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.”


Nelle Harper LeeHarper Lee (Born 1926) 
“With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable.”
(From TO KILL  MOCKINGBIRD, Chapter 12)


Jarod KintzJarod Kintz (Born 1982)
 “With my last breath, I’ll exhale my love for you. I hope it’s a cold day, so you can see what you meant to me.


Dorothy ParkerDorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)
“By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Infinite, undying.
Lady make a note of this –
One of you is lying.”


Ingrid BergmanIngrid Bergman (1915 – 1982)
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”  

If you’d like to share your favorites, please do. This love thing is positively contagious. Let’s keep it going.


Picture Credits
Fitzgerald: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Hurston: The Estate of Zora Neale Hurston
Neruda: Pablo Neruda – Poemas Originais Traduzidos
Silverstein: Larry Moyer/Evil Eye LLC
Eliot: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
Lee: The Birmingham News
Kintz: Jarod
Bergman: LIFE Magazine

Theatrical Staging? Or Real Estate Staging? A LESSON LEARNED

My husband Roger and I recently sold our big old New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. We had moved into the building  in time to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday in 1975, and six years later our son was born there (well, almost – we got to the hospital just in the nick of time!) When the apartment next door came on the market we borrowed money to connect the two spaces so our kids could run and play.

We were two country kids at heart, lucky in love and real estate, living our dream in Manhattan with a spectacular river view.

Thirty-seven years later we knew it was time to cash in our asset and (gulp) move on. Our kids had been happily independent for years, and even with two grandchildren FIVE bedrooms was ridiculous. 

Deanna Kory, our highly esteemed real estate broker, recommended staging the apartment. (What?) THEATRICAL staging refers to the mounting of a play; REAL ESTATE staging, I learned, means removing all traces of people living in the apartment so prospective buyers don’t get distracted; they’ll be able to imagine themselves living there. 

To be blunt, I hated the idea. One theatrical truth I’ve learned over the years is that specificity makes a landscape universal; removing specificity makes it generic. But that was the point: Deanna advised that staging could increase the selling price from 5 to 125 times the cost of staging (!) so Roger and I immediately got to work.

© Samuel Morgan Photography

Rented furniture (beige), lamps (square), towels (ugly) and chatchkas (weird) appeared. Plasterers, painters, window-washers invaded our turf, as did (thankfully) Amanda Wiss and Urban Clarity, who got us organized. Our son Sam, an architectural photographer, did a photo-shoot, and his fine photos didn’t resemble the comfy home in which we’d raised our family, but it sure was ready to sell. 

Preparing to show the apartment reminded us of the half-hour-call that precedes every theatrical performance: it looks hectic but in fact, it’s a meticulous routine.

Our routine: make beds, poof pillows, empty wastebaskets, clear every surface, vacuum (Roger), arrange fresh flowers (me), leave no traces of normal life, EXIT to the Metro Diner, contemplate our future and wait for Deanna’s “all clear” text, and head home. 

Eventually the perfect buyers arrived. And as the lovely young mother vividly described how her family would live in our space, I knew the staging had worked. But there’s another chapter to our story… where did we go? 

HA!  Not very far: we are now living 10 feet 2 inches below our former home. And here’s the beauty part: our new apartment was NOT staged, which I believe is the reason we got it.  

We were always fond of the elderly couple downstairs – they were good neighbors. Distinguished college professors who loved world travel and NY’s Upper West Side, they often gathered students in their book-lined home for heady salons: discussions of physics, languages and art.

It seemed natural that when our dear neighbors died (a couple of years apart) it was in the home they loved. In fact, their clothes were still hanging in the closets when the apartment was being shown, and their books and paintings were everywhere. It looked as if one of their salons for their students was about to begin. Their apartment reflected a highly specific way of life – in other words, it was staged according to the theatrical definition of the word. And it simply did not sell.

We knew that our neighbors’ apartment was for sale six months before ours, and we would’ve bought it in an instant if we didn’t have to sell ours first. But we couldn’t make an offer contingent upon a sale. Then Deanna’s brilliant and diplomatic negotiating skills proved it’s not just a rumor that she’s the best realtor in New York: 428 days after our neighbors’ apartment came on the market our offer to buy it was accepted.

I will forever recommend real-estate-staging to anyone who wants to sell their apartment. (And Deanna Kory, of course!) Theatrical staging? Nope. Though it sure worked in our favor! 

In the meantime, the Hudson River is a most inspiring setting. Roger and I thank our lucky stars for it every day.

 We may have moved… but we’re still here. 



A Chat With Tony Award Winning Designer Roger Morgan

An earlier version of this piece was published in Theatre By Design, the Studio’s Newsletter. It is based on my interview with Roger Morgan, Tony Award winning Lighting Designer, and (full disclosure) my husband. Roger is my business partner at Sachs Morgan Studio -Theatre Design Specialists; I’ve written about him in this blog. I asked Roger about his toughest work challenge – he talked, I listened, and these are his words:

Well, you know I love a challenge. The toughest? Probably when I’m short on the three basic ingredients required to plan theatre spaces, TSM: Time. Space. Money.

Keeping TSM in balance makes a happy owner and a successful project.  So the first challenge is to convince the owner to invest some T. This is a tough sell. Why?

A comprehensive Architectural Program is necessary to predict TSM, and a Program is hard to grasp.

ARCHITECTURAL PROGRAM: ar•chi•tec•tur•al (adj) pro•gram (n)

Quantified list(s) of rooms, spaces, floor areas,

expressed in net square footage and/or diagrams;

prose descriptions of qualities that

can’t be characterized in data. 

I think of the Program as the RECIPE for the design and construction of the project. Here’s the catch: an owner often expects to begin the project with the design. With no Program. And within a budget.

Our job is to communicate the value of the Program to the decision makers, who are not usually in the business of building buildings. It can be tricky: we’re designers and we love to draw! Owners are bottom-line-driven and want results. So it’s tempting for all of us to rush. Discipline is required. Otherwise the project gets out of hand, costs more than it should and doesn’t meet anybody’s expectations. That’s not the way we like it.

So here’s the way we do it:


Interviews + Observation + Comparisons + Documentation =


How many?

How big?


For whom?

For what purposes?

Near what?


+   How often

Sq Ft, Ht + adjacencies



Net Sq Ft to Gross Sq Ft

Apply $psf cost values

Synchronize with local construction costs

RESULT: a prediction of project cost

In 40 years, no one has ever said “We’ve gotta spend more…”. And a preliminary cost estimate has never met with contentment. It’s another challenge of my job.

This is often the most intense time of a project because its very life is threatened. Assumptions are challenged: “What can you live without?” Soul searching begins and programmed spaces may be reduced. Difficult decisions are made. Eventually the Program is brought into alignment with the budget, TSM is clear, and you know what’s amazing? 

90% of the most important decisions for the project have been made, and NO ONE HAS DRAWN A LINE.

Now comes the fun part: after agreeing to the recipe, we’re ready to cook.  That’s when everything begins to sizzle.


A Foreword For My Book… Or A Backward?

(A Loony Moment of Escape)

An eminent person is sometimes said to be helpful...

For weeks I’ve been obsessed with whom I might ask to write the Foreword to my book. Tonight, my husband offered to write a “Backward”.

Granted, this was probably a gesture intended to shut me up. My husband, however, is a guy with wild ideas that often work, so I listened. A “Backward” would be the opposite of a Foreword, he explained; instead of laying out why the book matters, it would summarize what people will remember. He went on to persuade me that “Backwards” will be a forward trend in publishing.

I ignored the fact that his idea reminded me of Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University because I was convinced. We all know that people don’t read any more – I mean books are written about the fact that nobody reads them!  Who cares that I have spent this year consumed with writing, re-writing, cutting, purging, drilling down, down, down into this concept I am passionately committed to? Chances are that nobody will read the damned book anyway! A “Backward” sounds reassuring to me – a momentary escape from the thought that maybe no one cares.

So I’ll finish writing the book. I’ll find an eminent person to write the Foreword. And Roger will explain in his “Backward” exactly what readers would remember if they had actually read the book.

Um – do you suppose I should spell it “Backword”?

Ensemble Studio Theatre Gala

Ann and JerryScene: Caroline’s Comedy Club, NYC, May 3, 2010.

Event: Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Gala

Picture: EST member (and teenage friend) Jerry Zaks, who presented the “Distinguished Member” Award to me. He recalled that I was in the first play he ever did, and thus was his first leading lady.

My husband Roger got the Award too (what are the chances of that? See photo below) as well as esteemed actor Dominic Chianese. We were told the awards honored our outstanding achievements over the past 40 years. Flattering. Not to mention the real reason: survival!

Dominic’s band, the New York Sidewalkers got the entire audience to sing along in a rousing rendition of That’s Amore! and many attendees said the whole thing felt like a family reunion. I was glad that I threw away my impassioned but oh-so-serious acceptance speech before the event, and (as is my tradition) expressed my thoughts in rhyme:

I stand here tonight with the clear sensation
That I am just one in the 4th generation
Of Irish Catholics and German Jews
Who arrived in our country and paid their dues
In order to plant the roots of a tree
Whose branches have grown into my family.

Roger Morgan, you’re part of my tale
And Sam, with your bright-bellied sis: Abigail!

The Morgan family is so far-reaching

It’s hard to fathom the depth of their teaching.

I could list the Sachs-Morgans, one by one
With their spouses and children: for me, t’would be fun

For all of YOU tho, t’would be mighty boring

(And it would be awful to cause all that snoring!)

So I’ll NOT list family names at this time

Though tempting it is to make it all rhyme.

My roots are my backbone and why I stand proud
In front of this highly distinctive crowd.

Agnes and John and Ernest and Maisie

(Good lord I’m listing them – I must be crazy!)

Julius and Rosa – Dad, Mom – and Jim

I carry your love and wisdom within.

What is it I’ve learned that makes me stand tall?
My children and friends often ask, when they call.

I think it’s BELIEF, or so it would seem
You gave me this gift: whatever my dream
Belief it could happen, BELIEF with true ZEAL
Would often make my vision turn REAL.

Then, the Theatre’s dose of daily rejection
Developed my armor: mighty protection

Through sadness and failure, all part of the deal

The standard, in fact, I expected to feel.

We all know, in theatre, that things DO go wrong

And staying the course tends to make us real strong.

So what was the dream I clung to these years?
That thing that kept growing in spite of my tears?
It’s really quite simple, though not to say easy

And sometimes I must say it made me quite queasy:
To merge my life and my work into one

Which included my husband and daughter and son

To create a safe place where all is OK

No matter the obstacles during the day

Has been my passion, my quest to feel free

In fact, it’s rather like – yup – EST!

And Denny, two Jerry’s and – yes – to you ALL!

Marianna and Les, two Mindy’s and Chris:
Abigail, Dave, Sam-Jamie-Nancy-Art-Peter- BetsyPollyMelodieJackSusanAnnieDonnaRita….


Thank you. I’m honored. In my tux and my boa.

Roger Morgan with Jim Boese, VP of the Nederlander Organization, who presented the Award after a humorous introduction about representing the FOR-profit theatre world. (Note: Roger’s Award is a beautiful, useable decanter from Tiffany’s.) Roger recalled the first play he was in at age 12, in a community theatre; he was mortified that people might think he was 10, the age of the character.

The Roches (Terre, Left, and Suzzy) who sang their hilarious song from MAMA DRAMA, I’d Like Her To Be Rich. Beginning in 1987, EST member Christine Farrell initiated MAMA DRAMA as an Octoberfest project; it grew into a full length play over several years at EST. Published by Samuel French, it’s produced all over the country, 20+ years later.

Four MAMA DRAMA writers. From Left: Christine Farrell, Leslie Ayvayzian, me, and Marianna Houston. Missing: Donna Daley, Anne O’Sullivan and the late Rita Nachtmann.

There was a lot of laughter that night (and too many suggestions of a GRAND-MAMA DRAMA!)

Me and Tony Soprano?  Go figure!

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