Interview with a Playwright and teacher: John T. Dalessandro

(Ricardo Ben-Safed ) As soon as I met John D’Alessandro at the weekly Coffee Club, I wanted to interview him. He’s a retired High School English and Drama teacher who also went to Merton College, Oxford and earned a PhD. and has an interesting creative history. So I decided to interview him.  Here are the results of the interview.

 

“John, What do you think got you started in theater productions?  How old were you when your interest was first piqued?”

 

 (John D’Alessandro )  “Since my mother was a business woman, running beauty shoppes, she occupied her five children, including my brother and I in various lessons to keep us busy and out of trouble. Rita has to study accordion, Jeanette, the Hawaiin guitar, Antoinette, drums.  My brother and I  were forced into dancing school, whether we liked like it or not, taking lessons sometimes three times a week from the age of 4.
We danced for all charity organizations who were having meetings or banquets, and in the early 1930 were in a few vaudeville shows.  Our picture is still displayed in an old vaudeville theatre in Oaklyn, N.J.,  The Ritz. My mother did play the piano and my father played the guitar for our family orchestra (brother and I were the singers).  Our dancing teacher was a pretty good, we never realized that he was gay.”
(Ric) “I enjoyed reading  the anecdotes you wrote about in your book ” It tolls for thee, Mr. D”. There is a charm in reading about the young High School adventures of people who later became celebrities.  What did you learn about Producing that might have helped you as a High School Teacher?”
(John) “There are some stories in the original book about students in my musicals: notably Bye,Bye Birdie,  Good News, Oliver etc. I would always tell my casts no to be inspired to go into acting, but a few did anyway, including Bruce Willis and Michael Landon who were successful, but many more who got nowhere.  Of course, being in a high school musical is an unforgettable experience for high school seniors and the subsequently all became fans of and attended productions of Broadway musicals. This was the best teaching effect and result.”
(Ric) “When do you think your interest in musical theater got started? Did you have dance or voice lessons when you were young?  Do you think you are organized  to produce from afar, or did you direct the productions more from impulse?”
(John).  “When I was a high school senior, we wanted  to give a Broadway musical but we didn’t have money for royalties. Consequently, a class mate and I wrote a musical called  “A Latin in Manhattan”, I directed it as a student and it  was pretty good.  When I went to Temple U. in my junior and senior years, although I was in the business school, I was dance captain for two musicals given by the famous Pop Randall (theater names after him.) At those shows everything backstage was chaos. so when I did my own musicals I developed a system of completely organizing the cast and all the committees, so that it would all operate smoothly without my being back stage.”
(Ric). “Did you have a role model to be a Producer?  How did you develop those skills if not?”
(John) “I guess it was in my third year in my third school, that I got a chance to direct a play.  The school had never done a musical before, but I decided to give “Good News”,  copying most of the stuff from the movie. There were 90 Seniors students. The choral work was very hard to do.  I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I did “Bye Bye Birdie” for my second musical and found out for myself how to do it.”
(Ric) ” So would you say that your methods evolved along with your interests?
(John) “My methods were picked up by several high school  in South Jersey, and also by about three cast members who became teacher-directors in the own high school jobs.”
(Ric) “I imagine if was a trick to keep a balance between your job as an English teacher and developing the musical theater group at the High School?  Did you have to fine tune your own skills?”
(John)  “When picking a high school musical, you have to keep a ear out for good singers in the school choir or glee club.  I never pre-cast but I usually knew who would be trying out for the lead roles. Although a few times, such as with “High Button Shoes“, a great lead came out of the woodwork. Of course, I had seen the show or movie of the musicals;  sometimes, as with West Side Story I was in theatre in the dark scribbling notes on the choreography of Jerome Robins etc. Costumes was never an obstacle because in all cases but one, I rented costumes from Brooks Van in New York. I always had the good fortune of having a great music director who never argued with me.”
(Ric) ” Would the School District give you a budget to work with?  How did you fund this musical theater.
Did the School Districts leave you on your own , and just paid the bills without questions?”
(John)  “In the adult productions, such as with the Haddonfield Chorale or the Camden County Musicrafters, the group usually had no money, and that meant I would have to be producer, director, choreographer, and also public relations director. In adult groups there were always people with college experience, so you would get a dentist who would be a great Music Man.  None of my productions every made much money but they did break even.”
(Ric)  “What was your best musical and the worse to produce? What production was the easiest…. ? What effect did they have on you?”
(John)  “Of all the 21 productions I directed and choreographed, I found “High Button Shoes” to be the most difficult. Besides 105 in the cast, 300 costumes, much scenery, three horses, a gorilla, a model T car and so much else. Fortunately I had a student teacher take over my English classes, but the task was monumental and I lost 30 lbs. The easiest was West Side Story with the Penn Players. Because the 32 boys and 32 girls wanted to do it. Penn students are very smart and they would call their own rehearsals without me. They were easy to teach. Although I could have used get-up costumes I had all the costumes, including beautiful suits and gowns, made for me by Brooks Van Han in New York.”
(Ric)  “How hard do you work to get High Schoolers interested in going into the Theater.  Comment if you would on inherited skills and ‘learned’ ones.”
(John)  “I try very hard to dissuade students, especially cast members, from thinking about studying theatre arts. But some defy all the odds and do it anyway. Some go to N.Y.C but usually end up working in a restaurant and working as a bartender. If any of these ever get anywhere, it is mostly luck. In the present time, they shouldn’t try unless they are really, really good looking.  Directors don’t care about resume’s but the will take a good singer who is really good looking.”
(Ric)  “Did you inspire yourself to become a Playwright? “
(John)  “Of course, my play   “Raiding Poppa” has been sent to many producers in New York City. There was one production of it in Daytona Beach and some companies did readings.  It is almost a fantasy of mine and I wrote it mostly in tribute to my mother, who was a great suffragette, and to my grandfather, who although he was a bootlegger, was a great man.”
(Ric)  ” What important proverb or wisdom did you learn from your experiences and publishing a book of memoirs?”
(John) “The first book was one great vanity trip, signing books, making guest appearances etc.  At my age, if I complete the second book, do I really need another vanity trip.?”

 

(Ric)  “Well, I hope you don’t talk yourself out of it.  I attended and very much enjoyed your course at Temple University Center City titled  “How to Produce a Broadway Musical”.  I’m going to look forward to your next book as well as the next course at Temple University.  Incidentally I just did a search and discovered that your first book is presently on sale at Amazon.com in England for £ 25.25, but here in the u.s. for $125 to 130 dollars”

 

Posted in Mystics of Philadelphia, Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

An Open Letter to the Jewish-American Community: What is wrong with you?

Ricardo Ben-Safed:

It makes no sense for a Jewish group outside of Israel, to join in the Boycott and Divest movement against Jews and Israel.

Originally posted on Liberty's Spirit:

This post has been updated from the original. So I am reposting it.

The Jewish Community Relations Council in conjunction with UJA-Federation have decided to allow groups into the Salute to Israel Parade that promote the BDS movement, which seeks the destruction of Israel. How seeking genocide against the people of Israel is saluting Israel is not certain, but in this Orwellian think tank that is the progressive sycophantic mind it must make sense somewhere. So if you were waffling on whether these so-called leaders of the Jewish-American community deserve your scorn, waffle no more. At least there was some push back from one congregation in NYC.

Furthermore, more recently, the Open Hillel movement has begun to denigrate the Israeli solder, along with of course JStreet U, by bringing in Breaking the Silence speakers. However these groups who claim their right to enter into the Jewish world due to freedom…

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

Fiction is Mightier than Fact

Ricardo Ben-Safed:

I can really appreciate what British writer Sean Gabb is saying. I’d just like to add a cautionary insert to his words of wisdom. And this is largely the need to counter the quickness of the internet. Writer’s need to learn to respect your readers. And by that I mean, don’t become like the Journalists and scream ‘negativistic , critiques’ at your readers or even other writers. When you do that, your writing suffers and you become a short screaming headline…or worse your ‘negative’ goes Viral on the Internet. You’ll be tempted, but for god’s sake…don’t succumb. Don’t become another curmudgeon! There are already too many arrogant curmudgeons publishing. Be positive!

Originally posted on The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG:

by L. Neil Smith

I’m primarily a novelist.

I’ve spent my whole professional life, so far, attempting to create stories that will entertain my readers and at the same time advance the cause of individual liberty. And yet if I had a dime for every person who ever told me — usually in a snooty, supercilious tone –”I don’t read fiction”, I wouldn’t worry over my semiannual royalty statements.

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

George Lippard and Edgar A. Poe both wrote about “Annabel Lee”

Poe wrote:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee…
-Edgar Allan Poe
Annabel Lee
1849

Lippard wrote: as a Jounalist: The Spirit of the Times an anti-immigrant, anti-catholic newspaper of the “know nothings’ American Independence Party. (The newspaper was not in favor of the ‘enslaved” either. In 1844 Lippard published his first novel, The Ladye Annabel; or, The Doom of the Poisoner, a gothic tale of torture and the grotesque. His friend Edgar Allan Poe praised the inventive nature of the work.

Later Poe was inspired to write “Annabel Lee”.

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A Brief Respite Before More Snowy Weather

Ricardo Ben-Safed:

More snow coming ?

Originally posted on CBS Philly:

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Getting snowed in by Thursday’s nor’easter may have provided another excuse to snuggle with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day!

Needless to say, this storm was a big one. Philadelphia broke a 115-year-old record for daily snowfall with 10.4″. But after a second round of snow came in very early Friday morning, the city officially picked up 11.1″ from the storm in total.

While we are catching a break on Friday, it’s going to be a brief one.

A new clipper system is on the move and will deliver a fresh dose of snow (generally 2-4″) through Saturday.

As the storm heads offshore, it will start to re-strengthen; however, it shouldn’t mean the Delaware Valley would get walloped again, as the main energy should stay out to sea — or at least to our northeast. The first snowflakes will fall beginning early Saturday morning through the far northwest…

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

Holocaust Memorial Day and Am Yisrael Chai

Ricardo Ben-Safed:

Impossible to forget this reality too!

Originally posted on Liberty's Spirit:

From 2003, the Israel Defense Forces flyover the Auschwitz death camp

KADDISH is the Jewish prayer for the dead. From The Jewish Virtual Library:

The Kaddish is a prayer that praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The emotional reactions inspired by the Kaddish come from the circumstances in which it is said: it is recited at funerals and by mourners.

The word Kaddish means sanctification, and the prayer is a sanctification of God’s name.

The opening words, yitgadal t’yitkadash, were inspired by Ezekiel 38:23 when the prophet envisions a time when God will become great in the eyes of all the nations. The response of the listeners to the first lines of the mourners is a public declaration of the belief that God is great and holy: Yehei Shmei rabba mevorakh l’olam ul’almei almaya (May His great Name be blessed…

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

A Political Triangle

Ricardo Ben-Safed:

Hmmm…a different type of political split ignores the traditional “Left vs Right”!

Originally posted on The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG:

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

Yep, The Boycott of Israel is a call to Genocide

Ricardo Ben-Safed:

It really bothers me, that so many are blind to this.

Originally posted on Liberty's Spirit:

If you didn’t realize that those who want to Boycott/Divest/Sanction the State of Israel, really want to destroy her, then today’s news about Hamas’ endorsement of BDS should bring you back to reality. Read the article in Middle East Monitor HERE.

Meanwhile if you are sill convinced that Hamas is merely misunderstood read Khaled Abu Toameh HERE

Jewish Virtual Library also has a breakdown of Hamas’ history and a copy of its Charter. Pay particular attention to Hamas’ channeling of antisemitic tropes, rejection of freedom, the peace process (because that means Israel would continue to exist) and adherence to the same Islamist principles as Al-Qaeda.

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's