Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shear Sadness

...well, perhaps "sadness" isn't quite the right word, but I was certainly experiencing mixed emotions today at the Kennedy Center. Many of us in the extended family of Shear Madness gathered to bid farewell to the show's long-time associate producer, company manager, and back-up stage manager, Robert Warren. After 8 years with the Madness, he's heading south, to take a prestigious gig at the Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota.

Robert was not with the company the first year I worked there, but by the time I was invited back several years later, he had assumed command of the Shear administrative office located in the bowels of the Kennedy Center. I always enjoyed his dry, quick wit, and eventually discovered we had similar artistic tastes. Over the years, I've had fun discussing local productions we have both seen, and we, more often than not, shared the same opinions.
When I returned to the show about two years ago, Robert had ascended to the position of associate producer, and was also stage managing my performances (I have previously written about the second, "Spring Fling" company of the show, which I was thrilled to join for a few years running). It was during these runs that I discovered Robert's skill with the topical quip; he was often able to come up with a funny ad lib regarding a current event. Such topical comments keep the show fresh after 20-something years and add immediacy to what is, let's face it, a pretty straight-forward murder mystery.

Robert had a varied career before joining the Madness of Shear. In the 80s, he studied theatre and acting in New York, at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and at Marymount Manhattan. He continued his studies at the University of Maryland, and spent some time working at the White House and at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. In the late 90s, he became the producing artistic director of the Blowing Rock Stage Company, where he set plans in motion for the swanky Hayes Performing Arts Center in North Carolina.

In terms of Shear Madness, I've been very pleased to return to the show on occasion over the years, though I am not one of the immediate Go-To guys used repeatedly for the show. But I credit Robert with doing his bit to keep my name in the Madness mix; he surprised the heck out of me a long while back, by attending my performance in Thief River at the Theatre Alliance. This is a guy who cares about actors and acting, which makes him a great addition to Florida Studio Theatre's staff. I'm not sure what his exact title will be, but I do know he will be acting as the associate artistic director, with lots of creative input into setting up the theatre's various seasons, including cabarets and a New Play Development Series, as well as the main stage productions.

I'm sorry to see Robert go, but in his new position, he will have the chance to stretch artistic muscles which have been dormant for a while. And that's a great thing.

It was only appropriate that the extended Shear family celebrate Robert's next phase. Cast and crew members, past and present, gathered backstage today, between shows, to wish him "Happy Trails." We were joined by some of the KenCen folks who worked with Robert daily; more of them, as well as the top brass of Shear Madness, will be joining together tomorrow for another send-off. But for today, the last word was issued by the current cast of the show, who gave Robert several parting gifts, and gathered onstage for a picture. That's Robert in the Barber's Chair, which, in these instances, is also the Seat of Honor. It's well deserved.