Old School Martha! – Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies! -147 eggs, 106 1/2 cups of sugar, 112 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 134 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 91 recipes to go!

November 29, 2010


Martha's Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

André's Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Sugar, flour, eggs, and butter come together to create a classic cookie. Martha’s recipe for Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies adds a bit of vanilla and lemon giving each delicious cookie a bit of added tang. Each golden brown cookie shimmers with a liberal dusting of sanding sugar on top. Simple sugar cookies may be considered old fashioned but they’re definitely a favorite and my partner’s retail co-workers enjoyed every last one.

I was recently asked why I don’t do theatre anymore. To be honest there are lots of reasons and since I still have plenty of cookies left to bake and plenty of stories still to share, I’ll tell you about the straw that broke this actor’s back.

It was November of 2003 and I had just finished a run of the musical, Bat Boy in which I played the role of a jealous, vengeful and impotent veterinarian. It was great fun. I’ve always loved playing bad guys. Sinking your teeth into a villain gives you the chance to cut loose and creep out your audience just a bit. I had just moved back to New Orleans from Indianapolis. Originally I was only suppose to music direct the show but after three exhaustive rounds of auditions the production staff couldn’t find an actor who could competently sing the role of the psycho vet. The guest director had heard me singing the part over-and-over for the auditionees and in frustration offered me the part in addition to music directing the show. That meant two paychecks. Score!

The show was terrific and I received great reviews as Dr. Parker. I was thrilled. The show finally closed after a two-week extension. A week after our final curtain, the artistic director, Bryan called me. The lead in the next production had dropped out at the last minute for personal reasons and rehearsals were to begin in three days. He asked if I’d be willing to read the role of Scrooge for the guest director, Jim. The show was Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge. It’s a play by famed comic playwright and former Saturday Night Live writer, Christopher Durang. I came in that afternoon and read cold from the script doing my best Dickensian interpretation. Jim smiled and said I read the “Dickens” out of the part. This, I would soon learn, was the sort of corny thing Jim would often say. I should have taken it as a warning of things to come but honestly all I could see was another paycheck right before Christmas. Jim offered me the role and I accepted. I spent the weekend with the script and realized why the original actor dropped out of the show. It was a dreadful read. It took me about an hour and a half to trudge through the entire script. I think that was perhaps an hour longer than Durang took to write it. The jokes were stale and the parody was far too dated drawing on such characters as Jeffrey Skilling and Enron as well as Leona and Harry Helmsley.

It is my personal belief that parody only works if there’s true affection by the author for the source material. Christopher Durang obviously hated Dickens’ classic as well as the Christmas holiday in its entirety and so the script simply came across as a series of cheap pot-shots being taken at the season by a cynical and frustrated faux-intellectual atheist.

I should have called that weekend to drop out of the show. I had a teaching gig that was bringing in enough money to see me through Christmas, but I was greedy. I wanted the funds and I wanted the artistic director to remember I did him a favor. These, by the way, are not good reasons to engage in an artistic venture. I was already setting myself up for failure.

Rehearsals began on the following Tuesday evening in an empty office space on an upper floor of the Jax Brewery building overlooking the French Quarter. The cast included a number of close friends from the local theatre community. We read aloud through the script and got to know the director, Jim.  He was originally from New Orleans and had been friends with the artistic director, Bryan from their High School days. Jim was now a freelance director in New York City and while he had quite an impressive resumé for staging large and lavish operas, he’d never staged a play, much less a small-cast comedy.  I was worried. It’s important for a cast to trust their director’s ability and yet, here was our director admitting he’d never directed a play before. It was obvious he’d been hired for no other reason other than he was a friend of the artistic director.

On day three of rehearsals Bryan, the Artistic Director pulled me aside. He confided that he’d made a goof with the budget. The actor who dropped out was a non-union performer and therefore could be hired at a lower salary than myself. Bryan told me he loved what I was doing with the character but he couldn’t afford my contract as it was and wondered if I would make a concession. He proposed that I donate the difference between my salary and what was budgeted for the original actor back to the theatre after each paycheck. Knowing that Bryan was in  a frustrating situation with no time to find a suitable replacement if I dropped out, I agreed.

This is known as one of those good deeds that supposedly pave the road to hell.

Rehearsals went on with my earning even less than most of the supporting non-union actors. A large portion of my salary went to pay for my union benefits and dues with most of my actual earnings donated back to the theatre. Bryan was going to owe me big-time for this. In addition, there were several musical numbers in the show and Bryan had not budgeted for a music director. For no additional fee, I stepped in to music direct the cast.

In the last few weeks Bryan introduced us to his sound designer. Another friend he’d brought in from Seattle.

What?

Wait a minute. He didn’t have the budget to pay me as a music director. He didn’t have the budget to pay me the standard equity union wage. But he could afford to fly in, provide housing for, and pay a sound designer from Seattle? Why? – Because they were old friends. Bryan was using funds from his theatre company to provide work for a host of friends across the country while screwing the local performers out of a fare wage. I was pissed. In addition the sound design was horrific! It made no sense. During technical rehearsals random sounds would loudly blare in the middle of a scene or a line. Sounds that were never discussed with the performers. Each time one would play James, the director would laugh maniacally as though to convince himself that this was really funny stuff. The cast, however, just stood around confused and frustrated by the series of random sound effects that crept into each scene. A horn tooting here and an explosive fart there. A baby crying or a pig oinking. None of the sounds made any sense in regards to the play but James and the sound designer insisted they were hysterically funny.

During the dress rehearsals I approached James about make-up for my character. I had been playing the role significantly older than myself. He was Scrooge, after all. I gave him an older physicalization and vocally I gave him some crackly gruffness. I wanted to age the character up a bit since I was in my mid-thirties and would never pass as being older than forty. James wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted me to wear no age make-up. He wanted the audience to see the younger actor parodying the character of Scrooge. He felt this would challenge his audience. This was just another of a long line of left-field directions that came from James. I bit my tongue and did as I was told.

Opening night went as well as expected. The audience laughed a bit at a few of the sight gags. The random sound effects blared throughout and the audience murmured as though they were perhaps caused by technical problems with the sound equipment. There were plenty of groans from the seemingly endless series of bad puns and cheap bits that made up Durang’s script.

The next day the opening night review was published. According to the reviewer the play consisted of two primary flaws. One was the actor playing the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The other  flaw was me. The review stated that I was neither funny nor interesting in the role and had been miscast. I was too young to play the part and too lazy to even don any age make-up.

I was mortified.

In my sixteen years of working as a professional actor I’d never received a bad review before. I got what I deserved for doing a play I didn’t believe in for a director I didn’t trust and for a theatre run by an opportunist.

My love affair with the stage ended at that moment. I realized that I simply wasn’t cut out for this type of work anymore. My skin had not grown tough from the years of rejection and criticism. It had grown raw.

What was I going to do now?

I had never really done anything else. I’d always worked in the theatre and starting a new career in my thirties didn’t seem like much fun.

I decided that I’d start over someplace I loved.

I moved back to New York City. Well, Jersey City, actually. I’d moved away after the events of 9/11 but always planned on moving back. There always seemed to be plenty of opportunities for ambitious folks like me in the big apple, even if it wasn’t in the theatre. I packed my bags and kissed New Orleans and the stage goodbye.

I’ve often thought of life as a snow globe. It only works if you shake it up.

I shook my snow globe pretty hard and when the tiny flakes settled I found myself in a much happier place. But that’s another story and another cookie.

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2 Responses to “Old School Martha! – Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies! -147 eggs, 106 1/2 cups of sugar, 112 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 134 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 91 recipes to go!”

  1. Carol Says:

    As always, Andre, your life and your storytelling are amazing. Thanks for letting us share your world.

  2. Russ Says:

    “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge”?
    A show with that great of a title should have been good.
    Maybe the title was the best writing.


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