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 and Magical realism of Philadelphia, Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

Favorite Author Duane Swierczynski to speak at Free Library of Philadelphia (central ) Feb 26, 2015.

Upcoming Author Events on February 26, 2015
lippman_swierczinski.jpg Laura Lippman | Hush Hush: A Tess Monaghan Novel with Duane Swierczynski | Canary (A)
Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 7:30PM Add to your calendar

Central Library
Cost: FREE
No tickets required. For Info: 215-567-4341.

Laura Lippman’s detective fiction includes the popular Tess Monaghan series of novels, the New York Times bestselling What the Dead Know, and Every Secret Thing. Her books have won a plethora of crime and mystery book awards, including the Agatha, Edgar, and Nero. A former Baltimore Sun reporter, she now teaches writing at Goucher College. In Hush Hush, Tess Monaghan investigates a murderer who has returned to her uneasy family after a long absence. Duane Swierczynski is the author of numerous crime novels, including the Edgar-nominated Expiration Date, Secret Dead Men, and the Charlie Hardy trilogy. He has also written dozens of comics for both Marvel and D.C., and has published six works of nonfiction. In Canary, Swierczynski tells the story of a college student-turned-drug informant who must outsmart the criminals—and cops—who hold her life in the balance.

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Family of VP George M.Dallas, James Dallas, An Anglican Priest of the Church of England.

James Dallas was the nephew of US Treasury Secretary Alexander J. Dallas)

and was the first cousin of the US Senator and vice president George M. Dallas.

His Father was related by marriage to Lord Byron and a friend of his,

Alexander compiled a book of recollections and correspondence with his father and Lord Byron.

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Reserve the date on your calendar.

Edgar Allan Poe’s 206th Birthday Celebration will be at


Philadelphia’s City Tap House

 

Come celebrate Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthday  with The Raven Society of the Free Library of Philadelphia , at City Tap House Logan Square site.

When:  27 Jan 2015.  Games and Poe Trivia! Join fellow Poe fans as we toast the Bard of Baltimore with a happy hour in honor of his belated birthday. The sing-songy “The Raven” will be recited also.

This event is Free. (but There will be a Cash Bar)

 

Click here to register and get more information

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/edgar-allan-poes-206th-birthday-happy-hour-sponsored-by-the-raven-society-tickets-14882404673?invite=&err=29&referrer=&discount=&affiliate=&eventpassword=

logo Ric Ben-Safedrdb1938

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Poeiana-Bankruptcy/Boston Bust/Nevermore Off Broadway/Reanimator/Authors Houses

My thanks and appreciation to Herb Moskowitz for this information, which I have re-posted to my WordPress Blog on George Lippard’s “Quaker City” blog. George Lippard was one of many Philadelphia authors and writers. George Lippard also raised money to give to Edgar A. Poe. Poe wrote a letter praising Lippards writing, and Lippard later printed the letter as if it were an endorsement of his writing style, which it obviously wasn’t. Poe unfortunately never learned how to manage his addiction to Alcohol and died suddenly in Baltimore as a result of Delirium. (Though many fans of Poe’s refuse to accept the obvious Alcoholism as a contributing cause of his death, they are so devoted, they would prefer to ‘deny’ that reality. A shame really!

Kind regards,
Ricardo Ben-Safed

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Nov. 3 2014 3:24 PM

A Melancholy List of Edgar Allan Poe’s Debts,
From His Bankruptcy Petition of 1842

The Vault is Slate‘s history blog.
http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2014/11/03/edgar_allan_poe_biography_his_bankruptcy_petition_from_1842.html

Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in December 1842, appending this list of creditors and debts to his petition. The writer, who supported a sick wife and a mother-in-law and lacked the backstop of family money, was constantly scraping for sufficient funds. This list shows just how extensive his array of debts was in the early 1840s.

Poe filed for bankruptcy under the short-lived federal Bankruptcy Act of 1841, which was meant to alleviate the financial strain of the Panic of 1837. The 1841 act opened the door to voluntary petitions of bankruptcy, and many Americans (both individuals and merchants) took advantage of it. Thirty-three thousand cases were filed under its auspices before it was repealed.

The Panic of 1837, instigated by a real estate bubble and worsened by instability in banking, affected Poe because the resulting climate caused many magazines to shut down. At the time, Poe was trying to support himself and his family as a writer, and commissions and positions were hard to come by.

Poe owed money to doctors for “medical attendance,” to any number of businesses for “book debt” (a standard term meaning “money owed a business for its goods or services”), to a music teacher, and to many individuals who had lent him money over the years. The creditors’ addresses are in Philadelphia, Richmond, and New York, reflecting the writer’s residencies over the past decade.

Poe’s petition was granted in January 1843.

I first spotted this document on the National Archives’ Today’s Document Tumblr, where you can see the rest of Poe’s petition.

Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version.

PoeDebts

National Archives and Records Administration, Philadelphia.

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE – Free Library of Philadelphia

Thanks Herb for forwarding this:

At Phila Free Library…an evening of Edgar A. Poe…

logo Ric Ben-Safed

rdb1938

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On Monday, October 20, 2014 1:20 PM, Herb Moskovitz <herbphilly@aol.com> wrote:

AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE

Information and Free Registration, Click here…

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-of-edgar-allan-poe-tickets-12836376949?invite=&err=29&referrer=&discount=&affiliate=&eventpassword=

Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central, Room 108
1901 Vine St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Thursday, October 23, 2014 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM (PDT)

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe features dramatic recitations from memory of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known and loved works. The recitations are framed in the context of the author’s life, interspersed with readings from newspapers, letters, and observations of Poe’s contemporaries.

About the Presenter:
Anne Louise Williams is a historic interpreter certified with the National Association of Interpreters. Anne integrates her passion for history, literature and drama to perform literature in the context of the author’s life. She has portrayed Virginia Minor, recreating her testimony on suffrage before the U.S. Senate Committee. In 2011, Anne participated in a re-enactment of the testimonies in the infamous Lemp Divorce at the Old Court House in St. Louis, where the trial occurred in 1909. Anne will be performing at several other venues this fall, including the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA, the Poe Visitor Center in Fordham (Bronx), the Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, NY, the Daniel Boone Home in Defiance, MO, and the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, MO.

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George Lippard would have approved of this ‘notice’!

 

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Jeffrey A. Savoye
Date: Sat, Oct 11, 2014 at 2:32 PM
Subject: Death of Joseph V. Ridgely
To:

I regret to announce the death of Joseph V. Ridgely, at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD. He had long lived in Roland Park, in Baltimore, but moved to Aspenwood Senior Living in Silver Spring in 2010. In 1997, he co-edited, with Burton R. Pollin, the volume of The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe devoted to the non-fictional prose in the Southern Literary Messenger. He taught at Columbia University, commuting from and back to Baltimore by train, until his retirement in 1989. He was 93. (He was predeceased by his wife, who passed in 1986.)

Jeffrey A. Savoye
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
http://www.eapoe.org

‎”Every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.” – John Locke

 

Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's | Tagged , , , ,

God, Stephen Hawking and M Theory

God, Stephen Hawking and M Theory

I speak my brain on Channel 4 News about the booksellers’ current favourite controversy – Stephen Hawking versus God –Ted

Yesterday, when I should have been writing a paper about data from the Atlas detector at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider, I was taxied across Geneva to talk live on television to Jon Snow about Stephen Hawking‘s apparent sudden conversion to atheism.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/science/life-and-physics/2010/sep/03/god-stephen-hawking-m-theory

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