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September 06, 1970 - Image 2

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1970-09-06

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Page Two

J

. THE !MICHIGAN DAILY

Sunday, September 6, 197O'0

ai

Casting an aura, of friendship in Stratford

toot 4499V.W

By LAURIE HARRIS
TH1E BACK stage entrance
a theatre is hardly what
one not experienced in b a c k
stages would expect. In Strat-
ford, Ontario, it is a small room
with fluorescent lighting, a
desk, mailboxes 'and a door.
Oh, and two seats for the eager
signature hunter to relax in.
Intermission during the Mer-
chant of Venice made me decide
to contact an actor I had met
over a year and a half ago. He
wasn't in so I telephoned: "you
don't know me, but ..." Indub-
itably he didn't know me and he
was going out of town following
Saturday's performance;" why
don't you get in. touch w i t h
Mervyn Blake? I'm sure he'd
be glad to help you." SorI left a
note for Mr. Blake explaining I
was a reporter from The Daily
interested in getting some in-
formation about an actor's life
in Stratford and about the
theatre in general.
I had picked out my suspected
prey in the final act and went
back stage to wait in one of
these straight backed 'relaxing'
chairs - two parents, a sister

and brother-in-law waiting in
the car. They, had a slight de-
gree of knowledge as to my
whereabouts, but had no idea
where my whereabouts were.
I waited for half an hour,
maybe more, in which time every
actor and musician had filtered
his way out of the theatre let-
ting me think there was only
the back door manager, myself
and Mr. Blake (whoever he was)
in the building.
"Laurie?" and I stretched my
hand out to receive a small,
well-tanned and muscular hand.
Mr. Blake was only about five
foot seven with silver white hair
sleeked back. Orangey-colored
makeup still lodged at its roots.
After explaining what I want-
ed we were off to the actor's
post-performance hangout, 'the
bar' on the second floor in the
Avon Theatre. We located my
parents, who by now thought
I was done in, and they follow-
ed us.
In his fourteen years at Strat-
ford, Butch Blake had worked
in most of Shakespeare's plays
with a smattering of other not-
ables from the ages. Gloucester
from King Lear had been his

l

favorite role demanding the
most work dramatically, besides
being a most interesting char-
acter from one of Shakespeare's
best plays.
The trip in the car intro-
duced me to a man who was in-.
terested in practically e v e r y
facet of the theatre. Like a
master artist who can handle
and control all the media of the
arts, Mr. Blake feels it is
important to be exposed to all
types of theatres and their peo-
ple.
As young people come into the
Stratford company, Mr. Blake.
explained, the more established
actors help them assimilate by
giving them clues in acting and
style. In this manner the thea-
tre and the people who comprise
it become a bit closer to the
starting actor, and, he added,
everyone is willing to help each
other.
BUTCH Blake is an amazing-
ly congenial host at first
meeting and every time there-
after. He greets you, puts his
arm around you and you are his
friend. People from all over the
Stratford acting community
gravitate to him as a friend,
,who, with a glass of Spanish
wine in one hand and a gesture
on the other, leans forward
with his arms resting on his
knees to sincerely catch every
word of discussion.
When Mr. Blake isn'tracting
in Stratford, a month or so at
the end of the season in Oc-
tober, he acts elsewhere. (A
strange way for an actor to take
a vacation). But he has other
interests too. He organizes a
cricket match every Sunday
afternoon for those in the
Stratford community, many of
whom are native to England
who mis their traditional sport.
He even golfs when he gets the
opportunity, rare though it may
be.
His main regret is that he has
never done any musical comedy,
a field which intrigues him
greatly. After seeing this sea-

son's School for Scandal, up-
dated with many stylizations of
the musical theatre, it is easy
to understand why. Mr. Blake
visibly enjoys himself thorough-
ly- in the role of Sir Oliver Sur-
face, an eighteenth century ex-
tension of himself.
Butch Blake has the ease on
stage that his many years in
the theatre have afforded him.
Each role he creates comes off
with a jovial familiarity a n d
masculine kindness that is in-
trinsic in himself.
'T E BAR' is a dimly lit
lounge creating a typical inti-
mate setting conductive to what
is typically known as the actor's
way of life. But it is much more
than that, for it affords the
opportunity for anyone to walk
up to the actors and directors
and talk openly about theatre
or their way of life. The Strat-
ford aura is one of friendli-
ness and the many theatre
greats, and I do mean that, are
at ease with the most distant
stranger.l
The experience is unique.
One often may wish for the day
he can sit down and talk with
certain actors, but when that
time comes and he has the
choice of the cast, just how does
he approach them.. . just what
do you have in common?
Theatre . . . the actor per-
forms and you go - as na-
tural a setting as supply and
demand.
Walking by the actual bar a
gesturing hand caught me
across the face. As I hastily
tried to excuse myself, Doug-
las Campbell (actor-directory
began rambling on about a syn-
opsis he held in his hand. "This
play is about Adolph Hitler.
I'm not sure what I think of it,
but it looks like we will be pro-
ducing it sometime in the fu-
ture . . . " and so on. I stood
there, amazed that it took so
little introduction to become a
confidant of one of Stratford's
well-known directors. A n d
shortly thereafter our discus-

sion was over, something he will
undoubtedly forget - some-
thing I never could.
Then I not so casually intro-
duced myself to Eric Donkin,
a member of the company for
the past five years, who now
considers Stratford his perman-
ent home. "The community
really don't like the actors, but
they enjoy disliking us and our
different ways." And Mr. Don-
kin enjoys fulfilling this func-
tion. When the regular season
is over he often leaves Strat-
ford, as do many of the actors,
to work on television, Broadway,
or elsewhere in the theatre
world. A friendly kiss on the
cheek wishing me luck, and then
one on the other - as they do
in France, he told me. Amer-
ican style; a hand on each
cheek, a touch of the lips -
good by. Eric Donkin was a sin-
cere and interested young man,
his kisses were not the o 1 d
actor's ploy, they were a part
of our conversation.
Maureen O'Brien, who plays
Portia in Merchant and Imogen
in Cymbeline is a small thin
blond with a deep inviting voice.
Her Portia is no longer judic-
ious, but young and witty. Miss
O'Brien explained when she had
decided to become an, actress
she took it upon herself to me-
morize all the great speeches
of Shakespeare. She worked out
the 'Mercy' speech in its tradi-
tional pattern but found that
the audience did not accept it
and she changed it, creating a
new and varied, intelligent Por-
tia.
Talking to anyone for a short
period of time is not totally re-
vealing, but these three inter-
views point out the general
warmth of the Stratford c o m -
pany; their desire to meet their
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audience in a friendly, unforc-
ed atmosphere.
QATURDAY afternoon follow-
ing the performance of
School, Mr. Blake had. asked my
family to come back stage and
he would tour the theatre with
us. So we went with a bottle of"
Spanish wine for our 'amazing
host. He greeted us at the back-
stage entrance in his robe and
slippers and proceeded to walk
gingerly down underneath the
stage pointing out the various
entrances and exits from the
platform above. We went into
the orchestra pit where he ex-
plained all the machinations of
that area and upstairs to the.
balcony. He even pointed out
the pulleys and holes that were
being drilled for Jupiter's phe-
nomenal entrance in Cymbe-
line.
Upstairs, behind the Festival

Theatre, there is a smaller
practice stage where many of
the younger actors work at their
craft, creating their own pro-
ductions or doing poetry read-
ings, at free performances fol-
lowing the major production
for the evening.
And then we followed our
lively guide up flights of stairs
past the many prop rooms of
swords and wigs and costumes.
The stairs became farrower, the
lighting more obscure, and soon
we were six stories above look-
ing down to what now seemed
to be a small spotlight of a
stage.
In his bathrobe and slip-
pers, a smile and a kiss good-
by, I left Mervyn Blake. T h e
theatre was his home and he
had taken the time and interest
to bring it a little closer to my
life.

DIAL 8-6416
Doors Open 12:45 P.M.
Shows ot 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 P.M.
"A FRANTIC
FUNNY
one is indeed made
weak with laughter."
L.A. HERALD EXAMINER

4

"STRTTHE
REVOLUTION
WITHOUT
ME"

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They're young and feel-everything-more deeply...
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THE
STRAWBERRY
STATEMENT
A ROBER CI TOFF-R\WN WNKLER PROCUCTION
, METROCOLOR FROM MGM

I

_.._._

-Douglas Spillane; Stratford, Ontario
Mervyin Blake as Sir Oliver Surface

NOTE
This year's Stratford Festival
runs through October 10 in
Stratford, Ontario. Productions
include Shakespeare's 'Mer-
chant of Venice' and 'Cymbe-
line,' Richard Brinsley Sheri-
dan's 'School for Scandal' and
'Vatzlav' by 'Slawomir Mrozek.
TV RENTALS
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NO DEPOSIT
FREE DELIVERY
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