"THERE WERE SEVEN BROADWAY THEATRES
IN BOSTON BACK THEN"
For an hour and a half, Kenneth Meyers remembered stories and drew shrewd conclusions about his forty year love affair with this exciting theater-town called Boston. He was here as Company Manager for a touring production of "Evita" --- one of a long series of shows he has piloted across the American landscape over the years. But his love affair started with the traditional rite of passage of his undergraduate days: a trip to The Old Howard burlesque house.
He had done a Gilbert & Sullivan show when still at Deerfield Academy, studied business in Boston and done a stint in the army before he came to get a graduate degree in theater arts from Boston University in the exuberantly exciting 1950s, "There were seven theatres in Boston at the time," he said, naming them, "and all of them were busy. Back then all the hard work of preparing a show was done out of town, so by the time of its Broadway opening it was as ready as it would ever be for success. And that meant there was lots of work here for theatrical professionals."
While going to school, Meyers got paid for stage-hand work. He spoke of stopping work on taking a show out of one theatre to help with putting another into a different house, while juggling classes. "The town was always full of talented people."
In the late '50s Meyers worked with William Morris Hunt on The Cambridge Drama Festival, which he described as an attempt to beat New York at building an art center that would combine several different sized theatres with an art museum and a hotel complex. The initial offering was a temporary tent on the banks of the Charles, surrounded by a moat, which brought an English company headed by John Gielgud, and a "Macbeth" starring Jason Robards Jr. and Siobhan McKenna to the area. The moat, the boat-landing, and a large asphalt dish still remain, and for the last twenty years has been the home of The Publick Theatre every summer. The arts complex, though, never got built.
Meyers tried to learn all aspects of theater, from design to finances, because he realized a producer or company manager had to understand what his expert staff people were saying.
In 1968 he was Manager of the Boston Company of "Hair!" which was closed for a month after its first performance, while the company fought and won a legal battle over charges of obscenity. "Each company was cast locally, often from street-people, and designed for an open-ended engagement. During the month, with no money coming in, we kept the entire cast on full salary." Meyers revealed during the interview exactly who it was in local politics who closed the show, and why.
At bottom, Meyers pronounced theater a life not a business that people live out of love. He took pride in having studied both Shakespeare and theater criticism with Eliot Norton, whose love of theater was obvious even in his harshest reviews. Meyers obviously loves theater, and loves Boston too. This hour and a half barely scratched the surface of his many memories, and this Oral History project has offered a standing invitation for future instalments whenever he's back with another show.
The Theatre Museum of Boston, Inc., will continue making tapes of interviews with significant figures in the city's theatrical history, as well as working toward erection of a building where tapes and other memorabilia can be stored. People interested in The Oral History of Theater in Boston can help by buying tape for the next interview. People interested in A Theatre Museum of Boston can help by buying us another brick.
===larry stark, 29 July, 1999
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