Aug 18-Sep 03, 2017
Here is some background on the writing of "Headsets" from Bill Downs from an interview Mike Cook did with him for the Bulletin.
"Years ago, when I was a student at UCLA, I got a job as a spotlight runner for several Peggy Lee concerts," Downs said. "Peggy Lee was a wonderful big band singer, but after listening to 'Is That All There Is' night after night, week after week, my mind was numb. The chatter over the headsets was the only thing keeping me awake. One night I lost concentration and leaned on the spotlight, sending the beam dancing around the stage in the middle of one of Miss Lee's quiet numbers. After the show, Miss Lee fired me. That's when I started thinking there was a play in this. I mean, for all the drama on stage there's often a quiet chaos going on backstage. So I wrote 'Headsets' as the backstage story of 'Hamlet.' And it all happened because of Peggy Lee."
"Headsets" is the fourth Downs play produced at Black Box Theatre in Las Cruces.
"The Black Box has always done wonderful productions of my plays," Downs said. "I'm amazed at how much talent there is in Las Cruces."
Downs was in the audience for Black Box performances of his plays "Mad Gravity" and "Seagulls in a Cherry Tree."
"I don't get to see the majority of my plays," he said. "A lot of theatres don't want the playwright around (some playwrights have a reputation for being rather cantankerous), but Ceil and Peter (Herman, owners of the Black Box) have always kindly invited me."
"The playwright is the only member of the theatre ensemble who is always present in sprit, but seldom in person," Downs said. "This year, I've had plays produced in Spain, South Korea, India and Switzerland, but was only able to attend the one in South Korea. Sometimes I'll be secluded in my study and suddenly realize that thousands of miles away people are laughing at one of my comedies. It's an odd feeling of simultaneous warmth and disconnection."
Downs lives in a log house in the mountains of northern Colorado. "For over a decade, I was trapped within the clamor of Manhattan and then Hollywood -
perhaps that's why I now pursue silence. People today don't seem to be cognizant of how much noise they make. If I could live
in outer space I would. I adore solitude."
Downs described "Headsets" as "a backstage farce designed to be a fun, perhaps even silly, evening of theatre. I also write what I call philosophical comedies, where I try to say something about life. For many years, I was a writer in Hollywood. Every sitcom I wrote, I was required to eliminate any real message or meaning. I think that's what drove me to the theater. I wanted to say something, not just entertain.
"Whether you're in New York or Las Cruces, theatre is immediate and local," Downs said. "And the size of the theatre has little to do with quality. I once attended an amateur production of one of my plays at an isolated community college, and the next night the same play was performed at a large professional repertory in a big city. The amateur production was wonderful, the professional so dreadful that I got chest pains and had to leave."
An actor and director in addition to being a playwright, Downs said he is "constantly asking myself if my plays are stage-able. In my quiet mountain cabin, I act out all the roles (my dog thinks I'm nuts) and I visualize the staging of every scene. Iíve also been lucky enough to direct a dozen productions of my own plays, so I really get to know first-hand what works and what doesn't."
There have been about 150 productions of Downs' plays around the world, according to www. williammissouridowns.com. He has won numerous national writing awards and has twice been a finalist at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference. He wrote for the television shows "My Two Dads," "Amen" and "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and won UCLA's Jack Nicholson Award for screenwriting. Downs also has co-authored four books. He has directed 30 plays and acted in about 30 others. He has MFA in acting from the University of Illinois and MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. Downs was trained in playwriting at the Circle Rep in New York.
No credits have been posted.
'Headsets': Throwing jabs at the industry
- ELVA K. OSTERREICH, Las Cruces Bulletin
Chaos breaks out behind the scenes as the stage manager throws up her hands, the cast gets food poisoning, a dysfunctional family runs the light board, a prima donna actor with a bit part asserts himself and a laconic assistant watches "The Love Boat" instead of paying attention to his job.
Welcome to "Headsets," a William Missouri Downs play produced by the No Strings Theatre Company that takes the audience behind the scenes of a production of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet."
The comedy throws jabs at the industry as the fictional Chicago Ensemble Repertory Group Theatre Project faces discord backstage. Stage manager Hammet (Joshua Taulbee) is in the light booth while his assistant is out, so he had called for a fill-in. He gets Claude (Monte H. Wright), who turns out to be his estranged stepfather. Taulbee's portrayel of the jaded and angry techie Hammet is a good counterpoint to Wright's calm and accepting Claude.
Amelia (Elli Hernandez) is a scrambling assistant stage manager trying to hold the cast together as things crumble both onstage and off. Helping her, but of no help at all, is Dick (Peter Herman), who is never seen but only a voice on the headset who calmly watches television through the production and wonders if he is "allowed" to do things on his union contract.
Garry Cooper (David Reyes) plays an extra with no speaking parts. He is constantly asserting himself in the light booth, looking for a place to "breathe." The other characters all have a disdain for actors in general, evident in how they regard Cooper's bad acting, ridiculous costumes and voice exercises. Reyes brings out the silliness in this play with his antics.
Finally, Officer Schubert (Gorton Smith) finds a missing skull and believes murder has been done, adding to the confusion, which by now has taken "Hamlet"-type turns itself.
The production is layered between comedy and drama. A farce on the surface, "Headsets" goes deeper into stereotypes and family damages resulting from fathers running away from problems. It is a professional grade production.
In its 19th year, NSTC has become a Las Cruces tradition with plays relevant to today's world but with a humorous bent.
Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 25-26 and Sept. 1-2; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27 and Sept. 3; and 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31. Tickets are $15, $12 students and seniors over 65, and $10 Thursday. Call 575523-1223.
Elva K. Osterreich may be reached at elva@lascrucesbulletin. com.
No seating plan has been posted.
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