One of New York City’s most respected and notable acting teachers, Roger Simon, offers Stage Voices’ readers insight into the inner workings of an actor’s technique  

PLASTIC VALUES–“A HOMBURG, DEAR BOY!” 

(By Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher)

. . . So, as I say, I always say to my actors at The Simon Studio, here in New York City, “That’s why they pay us the big bucks! Take that needed time and make it happen!”  In our wonderful age of sound bites and the quick fix, we are, unfortunately, influenced by pressures to meet demands, particularly commercial demands and deadlines.  An actor or director has to be very careful not to rush the process by going immediately for results.

I offer a case in point: Between 1968 and ‘70 I had made somewhat of a name for myself as a young American director in London, directing premiers of Off-Broadway playwrights, like Sam Shepard, Jean-Claude van Itallie, and Megan Terry at the Royal Court Theatre and other theatres.  I was casting a production of Carl Sternheim’s expressionistic dark comedy Bloomers (or The Underpants, as it is better known in the U.S., and as it was called in Steve Martin‘s recent clever adaptation).  My production of Bloomers, an English translation, was for the newly built Gardner Arts Center‘s first season in their beautifully designed theatre by Sean Kenny (the brilliant innovator, known for his Oliver! and so many other British and Broadway designs). 

I was looking for the perfect actor to play the central role of Theobald Maske, the overbearing bourgeois husband of the flirty Louise, who accidently drops her panties in front of admiring gents at a public parade.  Naturally, the successful West End actor Alfred Marks came immediately to mind.  Alfred, who had already distinguished himself in London, with numerous 1960s transfers of Neil Simon‘s plays, invited me to meet him and discuss the play at his club on Tottenham Court Road. After trading initial pleasantries at the bar, Alfred looked me right in the eye and simply said, “A homburg!”

“What?” I replied incredulously, trying to be polite.  “A homburg, dear boy.  I see the character in a homburg!” Alfred patted his head, as if to visualize the exact angle that a homburg should be worn on his head and the physical life it would give him.  For a moment I was taken aback, being pretty much used to actors wanting to talk about their potential character’s inner life.  Inner life, indeed!  Alfred’s “homburg” inspiration proved that he understood how important that hat would be to the inner life of his character, not just to what was external.

Alas, I never got to work with Alfred, although we did find a great West End London cast, including: Judy Cornwell, James Grout, Ferdy Mayne, and Jack Shepherd.

Alfred Marks, however, instinctively knew what “plastic values” could do for a character, and he reminded me of that for our production.  I updated the play, from the early 20th century to 1930s Berlin, and used George Grosz cartoons for the visual inspiration.  I even had them all over the commedia, like a painted backdrop.  Alfred’s  “plastic values/ homburg” became my private image for the style of the production, though; a kind of Oliver Hardy touch that seemed just right. I later had further success with that play and production concept, bringing Bloomers to New York and then to the Netherlands. 

So thanks, Alfred, wherever you are, and thanks to the late, great, Nikos Psacharopoulos, my Directing Teacher at Yale School of Drama for introducing me to the “plastic values” concept.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email rhsstudio@gmail.com

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(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this article 

Read Part 2 of this article

Photos, courtesy of The Simon Studio, Tania Fisher, public domain,  from Top:  Roger Hendricks Simon;  Jean-Claude van Itallie; Alfred Marks; homburg; Judy Cornwell; Tania Fisher.   

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