Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.
Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)
Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.
Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.
In the past several years, Gregory Crane and his wife Amber Collins Crane have appeared individually and together in many North Bay productions, including “Deathtrap” with Ross Valley Players, and “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Novato Theater Company. The two were the best Blanche and Stanley that many critics had ever seen. Gregory was tremendous as the dance master in “A Chorus Line” and Amber gave an astounding lead performance in RVP’s “Incidents in the Wicked Life of Moll Flanders,” for which she won an “outstanding actress” nomination from the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.
Gregory studied at NYU/Tisch and is the author of a solo play about the life of Tennessee Williams titled “Love, 10.” Favorite performances include “A Streetcar Named Desire” (SFBATCC nomination), “A Chorus Line” (SFBATCC nomination), “Two Gentleman of Verona” (South Coast Rep), “The Glass Menagerie” (RVP), “Deathtrap” (RVP), “Private Lives” (RVP), and “The Diary of Anne Frank” (Hangar Theatre).
Amber worked in theatre, television and film in NYC, LA, and in regional theatres including Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Berkshire Theatre Festival before making Marin her home. In addition to Moll Flanders in “Incidents in the Wicked Life of Moll Flanders,” favorite Bay Area roles include Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire,” Becca in “Rabbit Hole,” May in “Fool for Love”, and Birdie in “Little Foxes.”
ASR: How did you get started in theatre?
GC: My older brother is an actor so I started young in musical summer camps in LA.
ACC: My first role was playing baby Jesus in the church nativity play when I was four months old. Pure nepotism. My Mom and Dad were Mary and Joseph. Those other babies didn’t have a chance! I will forever be searching for the chance to play a character bigger than the divine prophet and son of God. Blanche in “Streetcar” came close.
…1. Be kind to everyone 2. Know your lines 3. Maintain proper dental hygiene.
ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?
GC: When I was 19, I was in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Hangar Theatre in NY. That was my first professional production. It was a transformative experience being onstage for two hours and telling such an important story for me personally.
ASR: When was your present company formed?
GC: The company we are currently working with is called Zoom Theatre. In March, when shelter-in-place began, Patrick Nims decided to produce and direct plays for a web audience. Zoom Theatre debuted in early April with two early David Mamet one-acts. Next week, Amber and I open the play “Lungs” by Duncan Macmillan, a beautiful play about a couple starting a family as the world is starting to fall apart. We’re hoping it will really resonate in today’s world.
ASR: Who has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theatre?
ACC: I would have to say my college theatre professor, David Dvorscak. He saw me as an artist before I saw myself that way, and helped me understand what a profound strength vulnerability can be on and off the stage. He also pushed my very perfectionistic self to take risks in my work. He would say that theatre is a wonderful place to fail—as long as you fail big and with all your heart.
GC: I had a great mentor in high school, Ted Walch, and another in college at NYU, Michael Krass, who believed in me, encouraged me, and treated me like an equal. They are still my friends and confidantes today.
ASR: How do you envision the future for the theatre community overall?
ACC: We hear it over and over right now: “these are uncertain times.” But I am certain that the theatre community will recover. Theatre artists are the most stubborn, resourceful people I know. They can make magic with a $50 budget and a handful of paperclips. When the apocalypse has come and it is all just miles of dust and rubble, I can guarantee that if you listen hard enough, you will hear a stage manager somewhere shouting “Places!,” and a troupe of actors responding, “Thank you, Places!”
ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas? Musicals? Comedies?
GC: “Zoo Story,” “Hair,” “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” a hip-hop Shakespeare play written by good friends from NYU. It was an off-Broadway hit in the early 2000s and paved the way for “Hamilton.”
ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?
GC: Before: vocal gymnastics, body loosening, breath work, gratitude practice. After: beer.
ACC: My “warm up” includes manically throwing together dinner for the kids, singing loudly in the car on the way to the theatre, some stretching and movement on the stage, and a prayer in the wings. I wind down with red wine and a racy period drama. I like my sexy with corsets and without penicillin!
ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?
GC: 1. Be kind to everyone 2. Know your lines 3. Maintain proper dental hygiene.
ASR: If you had to spend a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?
GC: Projections. It’s the only one I’d be any good at. I have a love for photography, Photoshop and animation, so I think that would be fun. The projections in RVP’s recent production of “Silent Sky” were really beautiful.
ACC: I would have to say set decorating and props. I am forever creating little installations in my own home with loved objects and books, things I have collected from nature, art work from my children. It would great fun to layer a production with meaning and depth by thoughtfully choosing each prop a character touches, uses, and loves.
ASR: What theatre-related friendship means the most to you? Why?
ACC: This question makes me emotional! I am so deeply grateful for the friendships that I have established in the bay area theatre community. Attending an opening night often feels like what the best family reunion ever should feel like. I love it! But I have to say that my friendship with Gregory is the theatre-related friendship that means the most to me. And not just because he is sitting right here! Having the chance to work on stage with him is part of what has helped move our relationship from husband-and-wife/partners in the business of running a family to a true and evolving friendship. I am able to see him through new eyes when we are performing together and that is such a gift when you have known each other as long as we have!
GC: My wife. Hands down. I love being on stage with her, and even more than that, I love talking about plays with her and getting her insight into my work.
ASR: What the weirdest thing you have seen a guest do at the theater?
ACC: When I was working the front of house for a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in SF an audience member started hurling loud, expletive filled insults at Big Daddy, letting him know very passionately about what she felt about his parenting skills and his value system. I had to escort/drag her out into the lobby where we proceeded to have a full therapy session about her own family history. The theatre served its purpose as a place of catharsis that night for sure!
ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?
GC: It wasn’t really a screw-up, but I saw John Leguizamo’s “Freak” in NY. Some guy was being loud and belligerent in the audience behind us. John yelled at him to shut the *bleep* up, then just said to all of us: “This is why I love live theatre, man.” That was exhilarating.
ASR: Do you have a day job?
GC: I am a project manager in Apple’s marketing department
ACC: I am a psychologist by day. I find my role as an actor and my role as a therapist to be very complementary. I think that the best theatre and the best therapy demonstrate that relationships can heal and they honor the darkest moments in our lives, in our stories, as opportunities for the most beautiful transformation.
ASR: What are your interests outside the theatre?
GC: DJ’ing, stand-up paddleboarding, cooking, biking, my kids.
ACC: My children. They are endlessly fascinating to me. Bizarre little magical creatures. I am so lucky to have a front row seat to their adventures.
ASR: Do you actively do any other arts apart from theater?
GC: I DJ and take photos. I love the opportunity to create a good time for people and get them to dance. I’ve been throwing Zoom dance parties during quarantine and it has been a great release for me and for my guests.
ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk taking, such as rock climbing, shark diving, bungee jumping, skydiving?
GC: I race stand-up paddleboards. I did a nine-mile race around Angel Island and the water was so choppy I had to do most of the race kneeling. I’m always thinking when I’m out there how easily a shark could pop up out of nowhere and take a bite out of me. But it’s a great sport, especially in the Bay Area.
ACC: Answering questions for publication seems risky to me. I tend to keep a low profile! But beyond that, I am risky in love. I fall in love a hundred times a day with people, coffee drinks, a particular squirrel outside my window, the smell of the jasmine growing on my fence. My heart gets broken a lot. And, just like the adrenaline rush of rock climbing, each time I can’t wait for the next time!
ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or play?
ACC: I love a good quote so my favorite changes daily, but one that resonates now is from “Marisol” by José Rivera. “What a time to be alive, huh? On one hand, we’re nothing. We’re dirt. On the other hand, we’re the reason the universe was made.”
GC: “Get busy living, or get busy dying” – from “The Shawshank Redemption.”