Sunday, April 23, 2006

INTERVIEW: Mary Anderson

I recently sat down and chatted with Mary Anderson about her life with her husband of 29 years, Keith, inside the new Coronado Theatre space. Although Keith is the actor in the family, Mary has enjoyed her moments in the spotlight as well. Not that Keith has been a slouch as a breadwinner, but Mary has been that consistent wife and companion who has maintained consistent employment as a teacher and librarian, besides wearing any number of other hats in the theatre.

Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): Do you and your husband ever feel that’s it’s time to relax and enjoy the spoils of a heart-felt life together?

Mary Anderson (MA): The truth is we have cut back for health reasons, but we’d be bored to tears if we couldn’t work in the theatre. We both still need that pulse, that tension, that excitement that comes with working theatre; be it actor, director, or technician.

CQK: My understanding is that Keith has been the consistent active actor in the family. Is that correct?

MA: Keith has been acting since his twenties; I’ve been an actor, but I’m just as happy working as a technician. I love designing costumes and I believe it’s better for a couple not have to deal with casting the spouse or face divorce court. Until very recently Keith held his Equity, SAG and AFTRA cards. I, on the other hand, have never been an Equity actor, but have college and community theatre acting experiences.

[Keith A. Anderson has been a professional actor, director and producer for over 35 years. Prior to announcing his retirement a few years ago he played in over 200 productions. Since retirement he’s kept a leisurely pace with community theatre, directing 23 productions at the Coronado Playhouse (Wait Until Dark, The Merchant of Venice, Picnic, The Fantasticks, Macbeth, The Mousetrap, The Tempest, and Hamlet, to name a few.) He was Artistic Director of the Southwest Ensemble Theatre in Phoenix for three years and Drama Director for the City of Phoenix for seven years. While working in Los Angeles, he was Associate Director of Hollywood Actor’s Theatre and was involved in TV and film. He directed the world premiere in 1973 of William Inge’s The Last Pad. His book, An Essay on the Meaning of Hamlet: A Director’s Approach was published in 1979.]

CQK: When did Cupid aim his arrow towards you two?

MA: We met in 1977; it was my first marriage and the second for Keith. His previous wife was an actor as well.

CQK: Keith is not only known for his acting chops; he’s also a well respected director; correct?

[Coronado Playhouse offers up The Odd Couple as its latest production, opening April 21st and running thru May 28th. There are few theatre patrons who don’t know Neil Simon’s story of Oscar and Felix bunking together after their wives have tossed them out on the street. Surprisingly enough,
this one is directed by Keith A. Anderson. Call the box office for reservations at 619-435-4856. The Playhouse sits at the North end of the City of Coronado’s Community Center at 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.)

MA: Yes; and as I’ve said before, Keith has recently lightened up his directorial load a bit. He’s down to about three shows per year as opposed to his previous load of six to eight shows per year and that’s made with a Doctor’s recommendation. We’ve participated at Coronado Playhouse since 1997.

CQK: I understand he’s had his own production Company, so he’s well acquainted with the business side of theatre.

MA: Keith had a production Company by the name of QAM; one of his partners was Tom Quilles, who died several years ago. It was a professional company that brought shows to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Santa Barbara. Some of those productions included Tartuffe, The Fantastics, A Flea in Her Ear and That Championship Season. Their seasons were quite diverse and occasionally offered original work as well.

CQK: Do you recall an original work that they produced?

MA: Yes; a play called Yankee Clipper, written by Tim Kelly.

CQK: I’m not familiar with this playwright.

MA: Tim Kelly died about ten years ago but his works practically fill up the entire Pioneer Play Catalog. He’s the most produced playwright in the United States, although most of his work was written for High School and Community Theatre. He had a major hit with an adaptation of Mash.

CQK: Are you and Keith citizens of Coronado?

MA: We are only honorary citizens of Coronado. We live in San Diego, near Imperial Beach. We’ve lived in the San Diego area since 1983.

CQK: As an actor, where has Keith performed in San Diego?

MA: He’s performed at the San Diego Rep, Fiesta Dinner Theatre, Gaslamp Theatre, and North Coast Rep. He’s also directed at Fiesta and North Coast.

CQK: Was Keith one of those actors who were driven towards the stage from a very young age?

MA: No. As a matter of fact he started out as a pre-med student at the University of Chicago; he wanted to be a psychiatrist. After a fainting spell at the sight of blood, he decided a change of careers was in order. He did inherit his love for the theatre from his mother who was an actress. Even though the University of Chicago didn’t have a drama department he ventured into a theatre in town, got cast in Pal Joey, and soon after that he earned his Equity card in a production of Under Milkwood.

CQK: It must have been difficult traveling from one place to the next as an actor?

MA: Keith got tired of moving around. He eventually got a Theatre degree from ASU (Arizona State University) and that’s where he founded SET (Southwest Ensemble Theatre), a professional Rep Company. He frequently worked with Nick Nolte during this time.

CQK: What do you recall about Nolte from those times?

MA: He was a serious but insecure actor. And I do remember that he once turned down the part of Superman. Keith actually went to school with Nick Nolte and hired him to work in his acting company for several years before Keith and I met.

CQK: What was it that pulled you from what seemed to have been an idyllic life in Arizona?

MA: Keith was offered directing jobs in LA after the SET Board of Directors made a terrible mistake in the direction of the theatre. They moved it from its intimate space (200) to a much larger space (800) and the theatre didn’t survive after that move. It was premature and Keith argued against such a move.

CQK: Let’ talk about you for a moment.

MA: I’m currently a media librarian with Bonita Vista High. I have a lot of energy and can’t sleep more than four hours a day. Both Keith and I suffer from a boredom factor; we like to be busy and involved.

CQK: What brought you two to San Diego?

MA: We both moved on speculation of employment.

CQK: Did you have difficulty in finding employment?

MA: Keith holds a BA and an MA in Theatre and I received a degree in Theatre as well, along with a teaching credential. I taught in Iowa for a time. Although the first jobs promised didn’t materialize we both discovered employment.

[The Coronado Playhouse is the oldest community theatre in San Diego. It was first organized in 1946 as the Coronado Players and performed in a high school auditorium. In 1950 they purchased a permanent building and the first production produced was The Curse of an Aching Heart. After having produced over 200 productions, it’s still very much in business. In 1997 they started a tradition of free Shakespearean productions under the direction of Keith A. Anderson.}

CQK: Let’s change the subject for a moment and talk about the Coronado Playhouse.

MA: It’s sixty years young. The original theatre site was donated for use as a theatre and it held a 50 year lease that was up in 1996. The Playhouse had to move due to the renovations with the Glorietta Bay Project as the space was torn down. We are the primary tenant and carry a lease for ten years with options to renew. The one thing about the Coronado Playhouse is that it has always operated in the black.

CQK: That’s remarkable; what’s their secret?

MA: Great patrons, city and county grants, and fundraising.

CQK: How is the season determined?

MA: We usually have a mystery like Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, a musical, a Shakespearean production, and something with kid-appeal. We stick to classic comedies that continually draw in audiences; nothing too avant-garde.

CQK: Coronado Playhouse is unique in that it has cabaret seating.

MA: Yes; we made the decision to continue with the cabaret seating when we moved from the pavilion on the Coronado bayfront back to Glorietta Bay in our state-of-the-art complex that we are sitting in at the moment. It has a capacity of 100 and we have a liquor license.

CQK: What have been some of your best moments with your participation at the Coronado Playhouse?

MA: Recognition from ACT (Alliance of Community Theatres); a special community service award. We have also been recognized by the City Counsel for shows such as the Tempest.

CQK: Have there been any worst moments?

MA: I can think of a few. One happened during the run of Wait Until Dark. Band music from a nearby party in the building played loud enough to almost drown out the intimacy of the mystery, but that problem seems to be addressed. The other bad moment happened with our outdoor staging
of Hamlet during a dramatic soliloquy. A private boat party burst into song: Happy Birthday.

CQK: Does Coronado Playhouse ever consider new works for production?

MA: Yes, but it doesn’t happen often. In the last 10 years we have produced three original shows: Kiss and Wish Them Good Bye by Mark Sickman, Leigh Scarritt’s Angels Amongst Us, and When Angels Appear by Carla Campbell. We decided to stick with well-known pieces during our transition period as were asking our audience to follow us across the island to a tent and now back to the Strand.

CQK: How would you describe the theatrical offerings here at Coronado Playhouse?

MA: Family appropriate.

CQK: In summary is there anything you want to leave us with today.

MA: Working here at the Coronado Playhouse has been a labor of love. Both Keith and I have made an active decision to volunteer. We looked for the right people and we found them and made it our home.


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