Steve Martin recently played a bluegrass concert at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA with the Steep Canyon Rangers. During this concert, he said about the other five men on stage:
“I don’t think of them as my band, I think of myself as their celebrity”.
And right he was. Although an accomplished banjo player, Steve Martin is not a better musician than the members of the band. He is simply the most famous one of them. Graham Sharp, the other banjo player, has one of the sexiest bass voices I’ve ever heard on a skinny white man, while Woody Platt (who looks his name), blew us away with his guitar, vocals, and winning smile.
But the star of the show was by far Nicky Sanders, the violinist (or fiddler, since it’s bluegrass). He played his fiddle better than the famous Johnny when confronted by the devil down in Georgia, the hairs on his bow snapping under the strain. He sang beautifully. And he even hung out by the merchandise booth, saying hi and shaking hands.
And that’s where I made his acquaintance! I was standing in line to buy the CD, wondering how to start a conversation, when a woman ran loudly toward him and gave him a big hug. Nicky asked her “Is Haddon here?” My ears perked up. Haddon is an uncommon name, and the sound designer/composer for the show I’m currently working on is named Haddon. The woman answered: “Oh, he’s in rehearsal”. The coincidence was too much. I tapped her on the shoulder and asked “Are you talking about the Haddon at the San Jose Repertory Theatre?” “Yes, he’s my husband”. It turns out Haddon Givens Kime and Nicky Sanders were roommates and best buddies at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and I had fortuitously stumbled over that connection.
This experience got me thinking about the role of a celebrity. The show Haddon and I are working on at the San Jose Rep is the world premiere “The Death of the Novel”, by Jonathan Marc Feldman, directed by Rick Lombardo. The play features five extremely talented actors from around the country, including Vincent Kartheiser, famous for playing Pete Campbell on the hit TV show Mad Men.
As you can imagine, The Rep is heavily advertising Vincent’s presence in San Jose, as they should, and he is graciously playing along. As he divulged in rehearsal one day, “I didn’t get where I am by acting”. People want to see him, they want to shake his hand, and they want to find out if he’s as much of an ass-hole in real life as he is as Pete Campbell.
The answer, of course, is no. Vincent is thoughtful, ridiculously funny, and inquisitively blunt. He says silly things such as “I’m a really nice guy when I’m not myself.” He has a giant potty mouth – which he calls his “process” – but he assures me he is careful around kids, of which he can’t wait to have a few. He does a killer Indian accent, especially when joking around with fellow actor and love interest in the show, the stunningly beautiful Delhiite Vaishnavi Sharma. Vincent is a good listener when it comes to notes from the director, and a conscientious, hard-working actor. He can be peskily confident yet endearingly vulnerable, and frankly, I am mad about him.
“The Death of the Novel” is a play that is going to do very well. Jonathan Marc Feldman’s text and Rick Lombardo’s direction are intellectual and compelling. Every day in rehearsal, the room is full of talent, from the designers, to the actors, to stage management, to crew, to marketing. But what is really bringing the audiences in is Vincent. What is getting the interviews and articles in the press, and creating the hype all over town is Vincent. Is he somehow better than everyone else in the room? No. He is very good, but so are the others. What Vincent is… is famous. He is our celebrity.
We were getting our daily cup of Philz Coffee before rehearsal one day when the young woman behind the counter asked Vinny:
“You know that show Mad Men?”
“Yes”, Vinny said.
“You look kinda like that guy from Mad Men!”
“Who, Jon Hamm?” asked Vincent, grinning.
“No, that ass-hole guy, Pete something!”
“I am him.”
The girl rolled her eyes “Nah…”, fully confident that he was messing with her.
“No, really, I am him. I play Pete Campbell”.
She looked at me unsure what to believe. I nodded, yes, it’s him, and then Vincent told her all about the show we are doing at the Rep, encouraging her to come see it. She was now shaking a little bit, nervous and excited, and told him that he had just made her day.
“I loved that” said Vincent as we walked away.
“Did you? Do you like being a celebrity?” I asked.
“Sometimes I don’t, but most of the time it’s great. I really feel like I make people happy. The number of times I’ve heard ‘you just made my day’…”
There’s something quite lovely about this attitude, and I admire him for it. If he didn’t like it, it would be torture, and then what would be the point? In “The Death of the Novel” Vinny plays a very difficult character, one that requires a deep emotional connection, a sharp sense of language and timing, and remarkable stamina. I know first hand how hard he has been working on this character. I also know that he was nervous as hell before our first preview performance, as were we all. But most importantly, I know that this show will be a success because it is the result of a talented and indefatigable group of theatre artists. So you, the audience member, will come to see Vincent, and stay for us all.
“The Death of the Novel” performs at The San Jose Repertory Theatre August 30 – September 22, 2012. Get your tickets here.