Thursday, January 7, 2010

How I Became an Orchid

by Co-Founder and Ensemble member Larry Grimm

I have spent much of my life trying to justify being an…… actor.  At moments I have even denied that I was an actor. But this little theatre will keep you a little honest and that’s where my story begins.

After I graduated college I won a post-graduate fellowship. In short, I was awarded a chunk of change to travel around the globe writing about cultural differences in comedy ( I was fascinated by stand-up at the time – in the 80’s there was a big stand-up comedy boom and I falsely thought it was more powerful than theatre ever could be.) And although I had fleeting thoughts about being a post 90’s Gilbert Gottfried ( hey --I was 21)  and knew in my soul that I was an actor, this fellowship thing was an extremely convenient way to blanket myself in a protective pseudo-academia, to detach and insulate from being the dreaded  and clich├ęd image of a starving and unemployed actor. When I came back to Chicago and started doing shows, one of which was a breakaway sensation for Red Orchid called “Born Guilty”, it was clear that the bug had bitten in a way that was impossible to hide from.

But hey, that didn’t mean I couldn’t still try to hide.

If I was going to be an actor around town, I thought, I would not make the mistake of joining a dysfunctional theatre company that thought they could offer some new and cutting edge style of performance to the already crowded and overly noble minded storefront scene.

I had already witnessed the theatre’s founder, Guy Van Swearingen, go through a painful changing of the guard with the initial ensemble he created so when Guy, his sister Jody and Mike Shannon approached me with the idea of being an ensemble member, I shared a polite “Thanks, but no thanks.” I soon found out that the theatre already had stationary made and my name was listed under the ensemble heading.  I guess they weren’t expecting me to turn them down. In Guy’s characteristic warm-hearted fire house humor he said, “Don’t worry Lar, we’ll keep your name on the stationary even though you don’t want to be an ensemble member”. Although I think this was less a token of kindness and more about not wanting to pay for new stationary, I was touched enough to be roped in for the rest of the “new ensemble meeting”.

The meeting’s key highlight was Guy administering the four person gathering with a strict adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order as if we were members of the city council and Mike pacing back and forth mumbling, “This theatre needs to make more money this year than it ever has. We need to have a benefit that makes a f*** of a lot of money.” I smiled and thought privately, “This place is never gonna make it – I made the right decision.”  But the fact was that a decision had been made for me. In the same way that I fooled myself into thinking I could be a stoic non-participant in stand-up comedy, a detached academic observer of a craft, I foolishly thought that my name could remain on the company stationary and that I wouldn’t have to participate. I could move on.

I haven’t moved on. I remain today, ironically, a cofounder of the ensemble when what I initially offered was nothing but a firm commitment of tepid reluctance. But like much of A Red Orchid’s affairs things are unofficially official.  A Red Orchid is a little theatre that keeps you a little honest -  a theatre that keeps you whether you want to be on the stationary or not. A little like…. your family.


See Larry in Red Orchid's upcoming Chicago Premiere of Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh