I love days like today.
Now that our trip to China is over and Alison's two children have had their first babies (though technically speaking it was Sherm Jr.'s WIFE who actually had the baby), we are knuckling down and cranking out the interviews. I did one last week, I have two telephone interviews set up for next week, I am doing an interview on Monday, we have an interview on the 20th, and I have a tentative group interview later this month.
But today we were interviewing John Alecca.
John took over leadership of the Lamplighters in 1991. He was one of a field of 60 interviewing for the job, and during his tenure at the Lamplighters, the company went through some of its major changes.
It lost the theater where it had performed for more than 20 years and literally had to find a new home overnight (police came into the theatre in the middle of a rehearsal and told the actors that they had to leave the theatre now because it was being remodeled and there was going to be asbestos in the building...the new owners had forgotten to let them know ahead of time!)
Under Alecca's term, the company took a huge leap forward from performing in school auditoriums on the outskirts of San Francisco, to performing in professional union houses downtown.
The repertoir expanded experimentally, starting with My Fair Lady. Until that time, the mainstay was Gilbert & Sullivan, with the occasional other show, mostly written during the same time period as the G&S operettas. My Fair Lady was different because though it was set in the same period, it was actually a contemporary piece. And it was wildly successful.
John organized the Lamplighters trip to compete in the 2nd Annual International Gilbert & Sullivan festival in Buxton, England, a monumental undertaking, bringing an entire theater company (actors, set builders, and a group of devoted audience members) to England. Nobody knew what was going to happen at the festival -- we definitely didn't expect to win all the big prizes and go home with the prize for the best production of the festival...but we did.
Walt and I went to Buxton, and took my mother, who had never seen Gilbert & Sullivan before. Walt went as part of the tech crew (that discovered it had to build a set in the middle of the street for the performance!). It was such a fabulous experience, meeting other G&S companies from The United States and from England (there might have been another country involved--I don't remember). My best memory of the experience was getting a kiss from John Reed, the famous d'Oyly Carte patterman (retired by that time) who had been my favorite for a long time. I gave him a copy of each of our two histories and he kissed me. One of the high points of my life to that point!
It was under Alecca's leadership that The Lamplighters made its so-far only CD. They rented space at Skywalker Ranch (yes that Skywalker Ranch) to record it and he told us today that at that time it was the only compilation of G&S songs recorded in the United States, that they could discover. Not only that, but it immortalized some iconic Lamplighters performances from people who are no longer with us, or who no longer perform.
I was still active with The Lamplighters during the early years of John's 7-8 year leadership and so we had a lot of the same memories, things that I had forgotten all about. It was like taking a giant step back in time talking and laughing with him.That's the best thing about this new history project--remembering. I love it.