On “Improv So White?” (March ’19): Back when I was writing Something Wonderful Right Away (1978), I commented how few non-white performers there were in improv’s history. (The big and historic exception: The Living Premise in the early ’60s in New York, with a cast of five, three of whom were Black—Godfrey Cambridge, Al Freeman Jr., and Diana Sands. How’s that for an ensemble?) People are often inspired to do what they see other people they identify with doing. Part of what encouraged more women to enter the field was the wave of great improvisationally trained performers on “SNL”—Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and much of the current crew. There are a lot of terrific people who are working who haven’t clocked time on “SNL” too. (Glad to see the photo of my old friend Shaun Landry in this piece. And Stephnie Weir and Meagen Fay are as good as you can get.) I hope and expect Key and Peele are inspiring people too. My last visit to Second City’s E.T.C. featured a diverse and talented cast, and She the People was as strong as Second City’s mainstage show.
Avery Schreiber once described this kind of work as urban folk theatre. Clearly you have to have a broad representation of folk to live up to the challenge implicit in that description.
New York City
Metcalf and Her Audience
On “Laurie Metcalf and Her Double” (April ’19): I have known Laurie Metcalf since 1979, when I bought tickets to a play in the now famous “Highland Park church basement” for a group I had never heard of before, Steppenwolf actors—Malkovich, Kinney, and Metcalf—in The Glass Menagerie. It blew me away, and the next day I called the church and asked them to have someone from Steppenwolf call me. Jeff Perry did, and from that day on I was involved with them and on their board of directors for nine years after that.
Everyone who knows me knows my “obsession” with Laurie’s talent. I’ve never been able to find words that could possibly describe it or her, but you did it. Of all the hundreds of articles I have kept that have been written about her, yours in American Theatre magazine is the best I have ever read. You didn’t miss a thing. You covered it all…just like she does onstage with anything she’s ever touched.
I was one of the lucky ones to have seen the original Balm in Gilead in 1980 when Steppenwolf made the big move from Highland Park to Chicago, and I have always said they have done much wonderful work, but they have never nor could ever do anything to match that production. Ever!
This will be the sixth year I have made a special trip to New York to see Laurie on Broadway (or wherever else she performs in New York). I could talk endlessly about her, but the purpose of this note is to commend you on your “Laurie and Her Double” article. It was amazing. Finally someone has written the details of her talent as she deserves.