Wednesday, March 04, 2020

The magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ - tiny theater world

More Ambersonian magnificence
So the patriarch of the magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ is named Earl, and he is now a playwright.

Although his wife Roberta took an interest in my art career and my religious instruction, I don't have any memories of Earl and mainly know him as the dad who liked Monty Python and was in television.

I discovered a video on Youtube of a small-town culture event in which Earl reads an excerpt from one of his plays. He appears to be the Bard of Queen Anne's County Maryland now. And after the reading he is interviewed and reveals details about himself and other members of the Amberson clan.

He admits that before he was a Maryland resident he was from "New Joisey." The Garden State is a joke not only throughout the US but internationally, as I discovered when I saw a theater production in francophone Quebec City a couple of years ago.

When our orbits intersected, Mr. Amberson was not so much "in television" as making films related to the space program for General Electric - he even interviewed astronauts - and then he created his own film production company.

Earl provided an update on the Amberson children: "they're all over the place." One of his daughters was a dancer and married a French guy and lives in France. The other had a career in her twenties and thirties as an actor and is now a commercial real estate manager in New York. His youngest son has an interesting career: "rebuilds cabins - he takes apart old buildings and sells them to hippies and makes nice little houses out of them. All entrepreneurial."

I can't help but feel he slighted his eldest, Blake, perhaps unintentionally, in his description of his career: "my boys are not in the arts at all. My one boy is in computer design in Atlanta." Actually Blake's career is in video gaming, and gives his own Youtube interview about his work.

In his interview, Blake explains that he was working as a background musician for films and read something in a magazine about "non-linear entertainment" which inspired his current career. Blake looks very much like his father. They are alike in so many ways: both involved in arts/technology, involved in space programs, created theatrical productions and started their own businesses.

In spite of Blake's career in "computer design" I will always think of him as a musician. Right before I met him, when he was fifteen, he was the Mozart of Merchantville NJ, writing and performing his own original musical. I managed to track down an article about it from the Camden County Courier-Post. The article justifiably compares Blake's musical, "Enchantment," to the Christian-rock musicals of the time, "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell":
The son of God, Alpha (played by Blake) visits Enchantment where people are allowed to do anything that makes them happy. Alpha tries to instill a sense of responsibility in the land and is falsely accused and crucified for his efforts.
Wow man, buzzkill. It was after all this that Lynn and I got a taste of evangelical eschatology courtesy of Blake's mom.

The article notes that Blake's parents had their own arts backgrounds, and Mrs. Amberson almost had her own children's TV show - I could really see that, she was so pretty and vivacious and personable. She could have been the Pixanne of Merchantville New Jersey.

After "Enchantment" Blake was briefly in a rock band with my then-boyfriend Dan, the band's guitarist. Blake was the keyboard player. Blake was the far more accomplished musician, but it's Dan who still has a musical career. On sait jamais comment les choses vont tourner.

Blake also had a brief professional relationship as a musician with Frank Zappa, which is very impressive both for the celebrity angle (unless you are my mother reading this, and you're not, you've heard of Frank Zappa), and for Zappa's musical sophistication.

Maybe that's why Blake's father describes his career as not involved in the arts at all. I suppose it is a long way from "Enchantment" and working with Zappa to video games. But I wouldn't say his career has nothing to do with the arts.

So Earl Amberson is a playwright now but in a weird coincidence, our playwriting careers overlapped. In his video interview he mentions he had an off-off Broadway production in 2011:
We were really lucky with the musical because the off-off Broadway was a real theater, walk into the lobby from the street kind of theater. And that theater was just in operation for about three years and we just hit it. We hit it right. And it was affordable... 
Right away I knew which theater he was talking about, but I looked it up to confirm. The musical is called Celluloid, produced by The Tank at  354 W. 45th Street.

Yes, it was the same theater in which I produced my adaptation of Jane Eyre in 2008.

I found Earl on Facebook and discovered we had a mutual friend - a theater person, of course. The theater world truly is a tiny world. And I guess in spite of my origins, I turned out not so different from the magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville New Jersey after all.

And I could still buy Amberthorne one day.