Sun, Oct 21 – Will You Know It’s Me? has closed after 6 performances due to the sudden walkout of a key actor, Natural Theatricals’ producing director Brian Alprin announced today. The company is issuing refunds to all outstanding ticket holders.
Saturday, Oct 20th had to be one of the worst days in the professional career of Natural Theatricals’ founders Brian and Paula Alprin. DCTS attended the 2 pm matinee of their original musical Will You Know It’s Me?, written by Paula Alprin and directed by Brian Alprin. A previously booked orchestra’s rehearsal had run long, giving the company little time for setup. When we were finally ushered into the theatre, an obviously shaken Brian Alprin announced that the lead performer, Deborah Rinn Critzer, had, moments ago, walked out of the show due to an apparent disagreement over the director’s notes.
When reached for comment, Ms. Critzer said she and the company were unable to come to an agreement about her character. “I left the show due to minor differences in how I portrayed the character, Margery, at Friday night’s performance,” Ms, Critzer said. “I did not find out about Mr. Alprin’s concerns about these differences until I arrived at the theater on Saturday afternoon.” According to Critzer, Alprin threatened to cancel the show unless she took a different approach to her character. “I chose to stick to my own artistic integrity and leave the production,” Critzer said.
While offering to refund everyone’s tickets, Alprin encouraged the audience to stay for what turned into a staged concert version of the musical, told from the point of view of the ensemble, who, in fact, carry the musical portion of the play. The four quick witted actors managed to convey the points of the play, improvising where needed.
Overnight the company struggled with the decision of whether to continue as a ‘concert version’. The final decision came Sunday morning. The production is closed. “A theater company as small as ours doesn’t engage understudies,” said Brian Alprin. “Therefore, reconstituting the cast to the level of our production standards unfortunately was not an option.”
Will You Know It’s Me? ran for six performances between Oct 13 and Oct 20, 2007. Joel Markowitz will have an interview with musical director James D. Watson in an upcoming Theatre Schmooze.
Director, Film, Los Angeles says
Hollywood director here, and agree with you. Critzer should never be cast again. And she won’t be, here, I can assure it.
Alexandra Lajoux says
I rise to the strong defense of Natural Theatricals and its cofounders! I write as both a loyal audience member and as a past performer.
Audience Member. Unfortunately, I missed Will You Know It’s Me. I got a prompt refund from the Alprins, who are scrupulously ethical in all their dealings. I did see earlier shows, however.
From June 2005 through October 2006, I saw every performance, from Ion to Jocasta. I defy anyone who saw any of these shows – particularly Jocasta – to tell me they weren’t superb. This is not a predominantly Vanity operation; it does have a Mission. The theatre featured a variety of directors and stars, but all six had the theme of Greek classical mythology. This is (or was) the mission of Natural Theatricals. Two were written by ancient Greek authors (Euripedes and Sophocles),and four by modern authors (MacLiesh, Freund, and, twice, Paula Alprin). Of these six plays Brian Alprin directed only one, and the direction was excellent. Otherwise, I would not have returned five more times. I believe that given the time and treasure it takes to run a theatre company, that owners are entitled to feature their own talents. In my view, Brian is a fine director and Paula is a gifted actress and playwright; so much the better.
Past Performer: From April to September 2008, I was the featured vocalist in Paula Alprin’s show, Fables for the Tables/Beauty and the Beat, which appeared at 219 Restaurant, George Mason, and the National Theatre. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with Brian and Paula during that time.
Tonight I will be going to The Prince Who Hopped a Bus, the Alprins’ new show at the Alexandria Lyceum. I hope to see you there!
DC Actor says
Haaving worked at a lot of the smaller Houses and at American Century I will say that they pay the best over all in both amount and when they pay. Am I going to get rich working for Jack Marshall? No but it is not like he is getting rich either.
And proffesionalism doesnt depend on how much you get paid. I am a non union actor and I have worked with Union actors who wouldnt know good acting if it was bus and it ran them over.
john hollis says
all i can say is that when i worked for Jack Marshall in Andersonville Trial we all knew he kept a club in his trunk and no actor ever escaped..all i ever asked of him was that he kept me from making too big a fool of myself up there …he tried
Jack Marshall says
Paula…there is no doubt that the stipend referred to is for the whole ball of wax, not one performance. 100 bucks a performance is awfully good compensation, and only the very top ranges of equity performers get anything close to that. Actors, and theater artists generally, are miserably underpaid for their time and talents…and even with that, the business of live theater cannot survive without a large percentage of charitable income. The fact that you ask the question at all backs up my long-held belief that most theater-goers have no idea how little most theater artists make. And that’s our fault, not yours.
Paula Y. Bickham says
I’ve not wanted to become involved in this for as I am not a “theatre person.” I am, however, a theatre lover, and I go to the theatre quite frequently. I am curious, as are other non theatre people with whom I spoken, about the “stipend” thingy.
I must know, so please bear with me. When one is referring to a “stipend” of $100 does that mean $100 PER PERFORMANCE in which an actor appears, or $100 for an entire run?? Inquiring minds want to know (smile).
Jack Marshall says
1.There is no hard and fast rule that says that a director cannot give notes after a show opens. In a company in which rehearsal time is limited and there are few or no previews, a production often requires adjustments and changes well into the run if it is going achieve its artistic goals. If a “rule” gets in the way of making a production as good as it can be, it’s a lousy rule, and should be ignored. A director should make it clear to the cast during rehearsals that there will be no limitations on notes if notes are called for, and any actor who objects to that a) can leave, and b) isn’t someone I’d want to work with anyway.
2. Speaking for one non-equity theater…we pay artists quite a bit more than a “100 dollar stipend,” and pay on time, whether the show makes money or not. There’s more than cash to professionalism, friend…and real professionals know it.
3. I’d respect the opinions posted here a whole lot more if they were accompanied by actual names. It’s awfully easy to take pot-shots at people and theaters when you’re hiding in the bushes…
DC Director says
In my humble opinion, “Vanity company” seems most often to be used by disgruntled artists and is a petty and somewhat meaningless term. If you don’t think a company is offering high-quality professional work, then don’t collaborate with them and don’t attend their shows. Many theatre companies are founded around an individual talent, whether it be a director, a playwright, a lead actor, a designer. Was the Globe a vanity company for Shakespeare, as he was one of the original shareholders? The Berliner Ensemble a vanity company for Brecht since it performed almost exclusively Brecht’s plays for its first 20 years? The Wooster Group a vanity company for Elizabeth LeCompte? Inspired work will rise to the top and theatre companies run by people with limited talent will inevitably go under if they have no audience. Whether a theatre company is founded by a single individual or small group with personal goals and how the organization is funded is irrelevant. Let the work speak for itself.
Interesting discussion, thank you for posting it all. There is a larger issue here for DC area actors: how does one avoid the “toxic” directors and/or theater companies in some efficient, relatively unbiased fashion? Having auditioned for a number of companies mentioned, I have tried to hold my antennae up to the baffling winds of director caprices yet note that the information in auditions is often one way: one hands over a P/R, does a monologue, reads sides, does an improv (or two or three or four . . .), does callbacks to read more sides, does more callbacks, then might be offered a part and asked to respond with some short time frame. Trying to do due diligence on the director and/or theater is very much a haphazard process, depending upon who you know, what they know, how you can filter bias, experiences, etc. Even finding reviews online of previous productions by a theater or director is difficult, and reviewers themselves are often a source of difficulties (but that is a topic for another, day, eh?). Yet the overall asymetry of the power balance inherent in the actor-director relationship is so glaring so, shall I say it, patriarchial, I am surprised it is so accepted in this “modern” era. But perhaps I just missed something . . .(a secret handshake, a gender turn, a wrong tat?) Curious . . .
DC Actor says
No one said NT was the only vanity company if town.
Yes there are some companies in town who do less then proffesional work and are called proffesional companies. But as time goes on they will fall by the wayside becuase they are not going to put people in the seats.
Signiture could ve called a “Vanity company but looked what Eric has built it in to.
And look at the absolute garbage Area puts on just to put the butts in the seats. At least some of these smalled companies are taking chances. Can you see any of the big houses putting on MoJo and Mickybo like Keegan has and is going to do again?
Anon. E Mouse says
This is not beating a dead horse since I’m not repeating myself, but clarifying: I listed some vanity theatres to show that they DO exist in the area, and it has nothing at all to do with whether some of their founder/lead actors ever work with other groups – and yes, that will eventually happen – and also whether such vanity groups have founders/Board members just like the Alperins. OK, so they don’t, but they still create these little groups and give themselves leading roles time & after time. Leads to overexposure for some actors & is not fair at all to the wonderful actors in the area who audition & audition, based on their TALENT, not because they run a group, but at best they get small roles in smaller productions at very small theatres…
And there’s a glut of these small so-called professional theatres around here anyway. Some come & go quickly – whatever happened to Freedom Stage? Consenting Adults Theatre? New Playwrights Theatre? Vest Pocket Theatre? Tsunami? Unless they’re Equity, which most are not, what really qualifies them to call themselves “professional,” aside from a minimum 16-performance run and paying their cast & crew a $100 stipend ?
Publishers Notes On The Comments says
It is my opinion these comments have run their course. We are getting alot of input now that has been repeated over and over. Please post your comments and ideas but please keep it to things you have not said in a past comment two or three times.
Something about a dead horse.
Anon. E Mouse,
I don’t know all the other companies you refer to as “vanity,” but I do know that Keegan and Longacre Lea are run by people who work elsewhere, and work often with people who also work elsewhere. Moreover, people will happily work with them on multiple occasions. Go to the websites of these groups and you’ll more than likely see more than just two married/related/involved people listed as playing important roles in the company. They also don’t devote half of their production schedule to works written by one of the company’s two members.
The Alprins are a study in cognitive dissonance. As I cannot emphasize too much, they are alienated from the rest of the DC theatre community, and accept no advice or counsel except their own. Aside from a couple of shows with Port City Players, Paula Alprin has no credits other than those she has with Natural, and Brian Alprin was not involved in the performing arts at all until he and his wife organized NT (BTW, he used to hang out in the Green Room during performances at Port City until the other cast members insisted he leave and management barred him). Ask anyone who has worked at NT and chances are they will tell you that its primary purpose is to promote Paula Alprin as a performer, playwright, and composer. I came to this conclusion myself, and heard it from many people, including someone who’s known them for years and used to be a friend.
As to why people took the roles in the first place, there can be any number of reasons, and anyone with more than a little acting experience is aware you often don’t know how something is going to turn out until well into the rehearsal process. By that time, people often feel obligated to stick it out. As I’ve said before, I know the Alprins and I know Ms. Critzer, and I understand why she did what she did, and am willing to accept her at her word that she was justified in doing it.
Finally, the fact that there are no comments in this discussion by people who’ve worked at NT stating that they enjoyed the experience and would be willing to repeat it should tell you all you need to know.
Anon. E Mouse says
Excuse me, once a show opens, the director hands over the show to the stage manager. Why was the director – or playwright – still taking and giving detailed notes mid run ????? This is not acceptable.
On the other hand, suddenly quitting a show mid-run (esp. just before a performance, whether it was an hour before or 2) when it’s not a family or medical emergency is a very bad decision, so I have no pity for Ms. Critzer. Even if the alternative was that director would cancel the show if she refused to go on, she should have gone onstage, and it would have been up to her to incorporate any changes. After the performance, THEN she could have quit. I repeat, AFTER THE PERFORMANCE.
I say this both as an area actor and director for many years: BOTH parties were at fault, but the ACTOR made the worst decision because it caused the most damage to the show & to the actors & techies found suddenly without (modest stipend) employment & a show to work on…
And as for the celebrating fellow cast members pleased to get out of the production – THEN WHY DID THEY AGREE TO BE CAST IN THE FIRST PLACE ?? As Anonymous says above “Were I an actor — there’s no way in hell I’d take a role in a play that hadn’t been workshopped, is directed by the playwright’s husband and features the playwright as an actor — seems awfully messy to me…” If the actors’ gut instincts at auds told them this was not a good group to work with, then they should have declined. Even if you have to give up that $100 stipend (Is that all that makes a group call themselves “professional” in DC? 16 performances and actors/staff paid a stipend??? I’ve seen outstanding work in the very non-professional Silver Spring Stage for example, and they don’t get paid a dime…)
As for VANITY THEATRES, they’re all over DC. The founders/creators giving themselves the leads (or directing) show after show. Such as the defunct Le Neon, and the currently operating Keegan (the Rheas), Fountainhead (Jorgenson & Atkins), Quotidian, Long Acrelea (Ackerly), Landless (the Baughmans), even GALA years ago used to have Hugh Medrano in practically every production. Heritage Theatre in Mo Co. is run & directed by 1 woman, and she has one-on-on interviews with actors instead of normal auditions, and if she finds some issue during the interview (happened with a friend, he had a mistake on his resume, she angrily retorted that he lied on it just to get a role with Heritage), she will never give you a role. Heritage had their own firing/quitting issue a couple years ago: director/founder fired the lead SHE had cast, the rest of the small cast was angry and quit the show in solidarity, director had to postpone the show to totally re-cast…
So Natural Theatricals in no way is the ONLY vanity theatre in town…
Larry Kaye says
I have been reading these entries, and reluctantly, agree that the problem which occurred was at a minimum evidence of a lack of trust between performer and director. Neither trusted the other for reasons which we obviously do not know precisely. It does not appear that either thought much of the specific audience on its way to see the show though. It was both the wrong time for an ultimatum by the director, and the wrong time for a walk out by the performer. I suspect that both might do things differently if the given the opportunity. I don’t believe that making a personal attack on either the performer or director helps this process.
Actor Point of View says
To answer Theater Goer’s questions, I could suggest several hypothetical reasons problems could arise:
1. Actors discover new things during the performance process.
2. Low morale. Zero audience.
3. A world premiere- never work-shopped. When a show goes before a live audience, especially for the first times EVER, there might be a need to make adjustments if something just doesn’t work with an audience.
4. Someone other than the director is making directorial decisions.
5. Actor input is not valued especially when the director is inexperienced or ill equipped i.e. lacks understanding of the process and may not understand the need for adjustments.
You probably have a pool of people you’ve worked with over the years you can count on to help out in an emergency. The Alprins cannot draw on this kind of goodwill. Brian Alprin can very very arrogant and imperious in the way he deals with people. The claim has also been made that the rest of the cast was only too happy to have the show’s run aborted. I find this all too believable.
Curious Director says
I am baffled by the fact that this company had no contingency in place. As a community theatre actor/director, I have directed numerous shows and always have a back up plan in case of an emergency. I have stepped into a role at the last minute myself. Why didn’t this professional theatre, albeit a small one, have a back up? What happened to “the show must go on?” I guess there is always an exception. Pity.
Theater Goer says
What everyone reading along is wondering is how it came to pass that the show was rehearsed for however many weeks and then six shows into its run before this difference of opinion came to a head.
What was so important that either party was ready to play the ultimate card, and why wasn’t this issue, whatever it was, dealt with before the day in question?
Thank you for providing this forum to discuss the issue.
As to the issue of “Vanity Company,” I’ll say the following. Natural Theatricals has staged 10 productions over the course of the last 4 years. Five of them have been works written by Paula Alprin. She has appeared as well in seven of the ten shows, and is listed as the company’s Artistic Director. Her biographical sketch on the site lists very little in the way of credits other than appearances in pieces that she herself has written, mostly with NT. Similarly, her husband’s site bio makes no mention of having any kind of theatrical credits other than his directing stints at NT, and lists no sort of training or education in any branch of the performing arts. The Alprins are the only people listed on the website as being part of the Natural Theatricals organization, and if you call the only telephone number available for contacting NT, the message states that “Brian Alprin is not available to take your call.”
It is apparent to the people who work with them that Natural Theatricals, as an anonymous commenter has stated, “is financed by Mr. Alprin to showcase his wife’s writing and acting.” That commenter also says that “[e]verything else is secondary to that.” From my own experience of working with the Alprins, and from anecdotes I’ve been told by other NT veterans, that second statement is unfortunately true. Which brings us to the question of when a vanity company is “acceptable.” There is nothing inherently wrong with such an operation. I would say that as long as such a company does not mistreat the people who work with it in order to satisfy the egos and whims of the people in charge that such an outfit is just as “acceptable” a place to perform as any other. Unfortunately, the Alprins have a long history of capricious and often senseless behavior that has offended people and left them determined never to work with NT again. The nominal director of the show I did at NT was, just before opening night, told by Brian Alprin that he could no longer give notes to the cast, or try to suggest to Paula (who was playing the lead) that she should play her part differently than the way she had determined she wanted to do it. Other actors were told by Brian that they had to do their parts a certain way much different than what they and the director had worked out, and sections of the script were cut and edited according to what Paula was able to memorize. Again, I have heard from other people that other directors have suffered similar treatment when working at NT.
As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, the incident that resulted in the aborting of the scheduled run of “Will You Know It’s Me?” occurred just a few days after a scathingly negative review of the show appeared in the City Paper. This is purely speculation on my part, but knowing the Alprins modus operandi, I would guess that Paula had a fit about this, and determined that something about Ms. Critzer’s performance was responsible for her work not being appreciated, and that it needed to be changed. Brian is not noted for his diplomatic, flexible approach in dealing with NT cast members, so I am not the least bit surprised that Ms. Critzer took offense at what he had to say.
Jack Marshall says
I’ll bite on the “Vanity Company” issue, having used the term a couple of times and felt bad about it afterwards. A vanity company is a pejorative description of one that is started by a particular artist or artists to provide a vehicle to get their work in front of audiences, as opposed to a “mission” company, which is established to support specific ideas, genres, eras, or other objectives. And there are hybrids of the two: a group of people who want to do shows their way, who want to do the kinds of shows they like and who want to do it together because they are pals (or in some cases a family) start a company.
I’ll confess to using the term “vanity company” to describe a competitor that has annoyed me or worse, made me envious of its success, but really, who cares why a company was started? Running a theater company is a huge and awful responsibility that eats your life. If someone is willing to go through that and makes good theater, whatever it is about and whoever does the making, he or she should be cheered and respected. And if the productions stink, the fact that they were spawned in support of most noble and uplifting artistic mission in the universe doesn’t mean a thing.
If the insult “vanity company” would only be applied to those that are started by people who have an unjustly inflated impression of their own competence and talent that is not shared by others in theatrical decision-making positions, and such people launch a company designed to inflict their ineptitude on audiences on a regular basis with no justification other than the fact that they have the time, money and egos to do so, then I would have no quarrel with the term. Such companies are NEVER “acceptable.” Luckily, there are not many of them, and they never last very long.
Deborah Rinn Critzer says
Mr. Alprin left a voice mail message on my home phone at 11:37 p.m. Friday night. The phone ringer was off and I had no reason to expect a voice message that late at night. I did not know of any possible attempts of contact from Mr. Alprin until 12:20 p.m. on Saturday when I arrived at the theater and the Asst. Stage Manager told me what had happened after I left the theater Friday night. I called my home voice mail at 12:25 p.m. on Saturday 10/20.
No attempt was made to reach me on my cell phone.
I said good night to Mr. Alprin as I was leaving the theater Friday night. He gave no indication either verbal or non-verbal at that time that anything was wrong.
Publishers Notes On The Comments says
Thanks to everyone for keeping this civil. I think that shows the quality of our readership. That said I feel the need to make a few comments or ask a few questions.
1. There are questions that have not been addressed in the comments that maybe should be answered by Ms. Critzer and Natural Theatricals. One question I have is When was the first time Natural Theatricals tried to contact Ms. Critzer about her performance?
2. A few comments refer to a “Vanity Company”. Let’s discuss that and when is a Vanity Company acceptable in the eyes of our readers?
Cue 1 go says
I know this has gone on too long but…
What hasn’t been said, is that if the actor was in a heated discussion an hour before curtain, and the director had threatened to close the show if she didn’t give in to his changes, what kind of performance could she have given that night?
If she chooses to follow her heart, she would be in fear of the possible post show reprisals, if she followed the new direction, she would be trying something for the first time in front of an audience. Neither option is acceptable.
Acting takes concentration, it is difficult under normal circumstances, but adds the stress and frustration generated by a Preshow argument and it is near impossible.
Confronting the actor with new changes less than an hour before curtain was one of the most unprofessional, and inhumane acts I have heard of in the local theatre.
Jack Marshall says
This is one area director who would never hold this unfortunate incident against Ms. Critzer. I have had the pleasure of directing her, and found her to be cooperative and professional. If I had been asked to advise her, I would have recommended that she go through with the performance, but this was obviously an atypical situation, too atypical for anyone to make any conclusive judgements about what is the “right” thing to do. Is it bad for an actor’s rep to defy a director’s direct request, whenever it occurs? In my book it is. It is detrimental to leave a show mid-run? Sure. Is it detrimental to give a bad performance because of misguided direction? Yup. Is it detrimental to be fired mid-run, for whatever reason? Sure. Given a choice between giving a forced bad performance, quitting or being fired, which would I take? Gee…I don’t know.
What I do know is that when a cast parties with the cast member whose departure resulted in the production’s demise, there are obviously deepand serious problems in the production that go far, far beyond any one actor. Not handling a bad and unusual situation perfectly (as judged by non-participants in hindsight)is no crime; I’m sure Debbie learned from the experience, and will do things a bit differently if a similar situation occurs. It won’t at my company, however, so I’m not worried. And it shouldn’t occur anywhere.
I think it is relevant to point out here that Brian Alprin has no training or background in the performing arts. He has an undergraduate degree in English Literature, and works as an attorney specializing in banking law (a very successful one, as it happens). The only directing experience he has are the productions he has staged at Natural Theatricals, two of which were written by his wife. He has on several occasions effectively removed the credited director of an NT production when his wife (who has acted in virtually all NT productions) disagreed with the way something was being done, much to the chagrin of the other performers. I can only assume that in this instance he acted in the same imperious, bullying manner as he has in the past.
I also don’t think it’s coincidental that this incident took place just a few days after a devastatingly negative review of “Will You Know It’s Me” appeared in the City Paper.
Now why would non-theatre professionals not understand that an actors’ performance is their lifeblood??? Really. And we also understand that an actor’s reputation is tied to their ability to get work. I’m not blaming the actor in this situation. I think she made a mistake that will ultimately hurt her more than the director. She could have played the part as she chose, not compromising her integrity. A ticket refund doesn’t compensate time wasted.
With regards to the question about the “6 or 60 minutes,” if the walkout came 60 minutes before showtime, the audience members could have been told of the circumstances before paying for their tickets. Natural Theatricals (at least when I worked for them) would simply take reservations on an answering machine, and people would pay upon arrival. I do not see anywhere on their website where one can pay in advance, other than by mailing in a check with a note detailing what performance you want to attend and how many seats you want. And not to put too fine a point on it, the company doesn’t do turnaway business. It is common for NT shows to be performed for fewer than 10 people.
If Brian Alprin accepted money from people knowing that the show could not be performed as it was supposed to be, this is yet one more instance in which he is guilty of grossly unprofessional conduct.
DC Actor says
I think Ms Critzer is right. Lets stop beating this to death and go on. Hopefully everyone envolved will learn something and move on.
What we seem to have here is a public debate over something that didn’t need to go public. Was it necessary for DC Theatre Scene to inquire as to the nature of the closing of the show? Was NT even allowed time to contact their subscriber base (and current ticket holders) with the news of the closing of the show before the DCTS article was posted?
(This may not be DCTS’s fault, as I am on the NT mailing list, and I still haven’t received an email about the closing of this show, so maybe the Alrpins decided not to).
One thing that non-theatre professionals don’t (and can’t) really understand is that an actor’s performance is their lifeblood. Good performances will ensure more work, and bad performances can leave an actor struggling to make a living. Although I am not acquainted with Ms. Critzer, I have worked for NT before, and I can assure you that Mr. Alprin’s behavior in this situation was not unique. Ms. Critzer did the right thing. In our business, compromising our integrity as actors is tantamount to “career suicide,” as Ms. Critzer so aptly put it.
And with apologies to the Anonymous above me, you simply cannot blame the actress in this situation. Perhaps Mr. Alprin was was simply bluffing, or perhaps he really meant it. But six shows into a run is most definitely not the time for a director to give unwanted character-altering notes to an actor. Regarding your comment about 60 mins/6 mins, I think we can all understand what you mean. However, it isn’t as if there was no show at all. 60 minutes was enough time for the rest of the cast to be able to decide to put on the adjusted performance. I’m certain that, should any of the audience wanted a refund when they were told what that day’s performance would actually be, it would have been granted.
I wish NT nothing but the best, because they have a good opportunity to put up groundbreaking work in that wonderful space, but they are going to have to get past the problems they are currently faced with, which extend far beyond a closed show.
Addendum to my 1st comment on 10/29 at 11:16:
(I don’t know Critzer or the Alprins)
I agree with Phillip Erpen… Critzer could have taken the high road, called Alprin’s bluff, and gone on, playing the part true to her artistic integrity. She would have been much better off to let him be the bad guy and cancel the show and besmirch his own reputation. But she seems to have shot herself in the foot. Certainly she wants this story put to rest…perhaps she could salvage something by issuing an apology??? From the comments here, it doesn’t seem to me that Alprin would apologize, but that seems called for as well.
From a theatre-goer… I don’t agree that there is a huge difference between canceling a show (or causing it to be canceled) 6 minutes before curtain and 60 minutes before curtain. In each case, I’ve already left the house to go to the theatre. My time is valuable. I also don’t call the theatre or get on the internet before I leave to see it the show is actually going on. Don’t know whose fault the cancellation was, but any cancellation for reasons other than events truly unavoidable, emergencies and ‘acts of god’, should have at least several days notice
Phillip Erpen says
Unless the actress in question feared physical harm, she was dead wrong to make the choice she made, regardless of what time of day it was, whose fault it was, etc. There were multiple other ways to handle this situation and she chose a dramatic, temperamental, “diva”-like one. A choice that will haunt her for a good time to come. She did what she did to an audience and to herself, not her intended victims.
It’s just that simple and any working, professional and seasoned actor in this or any other town, would, after a modicum of thought, agree with me.
Deborah Rinn Critzer says
When contaced by DC Theatre Scene, I verified I had left the show and my reasons for leaving. I thank them for contacting me for comment and to get my side of the story which is accurately represented in their article. I was, however, never asked, nor did I offer, exactly what time I left the theater. Boy, live and learn!!
I never knew that the exact time of my departure was a matter of contention until posted comments started suggesting I had left a sitting audience.
There is a huge difference between leaving 60 minutes before curtain and 6 minutes before curtain.
Perhaps the term “momemnts ago” in the article would lead readers to believe I left a seated house.
Not true. I hope that I will not have to resort to time stamps of cell phone calls made to my husband and parents or time stamps on my Metro Smart Card to prove what time I left.
The point is that leaving a seated audience is tantamount to professional suicide. I would not do that. When contacted about leaving the production I never knew the TIME was an issue. It has become one and I want the community to know that I arrived at the theater early for our 1 p.m. call to help with re-set and left the theater early enough for Mr. Alprin to let arriving audience members know of the situation.
I do not know what Mr. Alprin told arriving audience members, how he handled tickets sales for the performance, etc. because I was not there. I left the theater before audience members were arriving.
Please, please let us put this part of the story to rest.
For the record we contacted Ms. Critzer for the article and published her response. She contacted us later to add to that and her added comments are reflected in her comments above. Since Ms. Critzer left before our reviewer was present at the show we could only publish her side of the story based on her telephoned account. We did exactly that and allowed her to add to that account after the fact.
J. Murthy says
I have known Ms. Critzer for years, both personally and professionally. She takes her craft very seriously, and if she was pushed to leave a show during a run, it must have been a very untenable situation indeed. I also must believe that she would never walk out on a seated audience for a number of reasons. First, she is a consummate professional. Second, she also has her reputation to consider moving forward.
I am not sure how others feel about the “correctness” of Ms. Critzer’s actions, but as another commenter on this post said, the other cast members stood behind her decision. That should tell people something about the nature of the situation and who was in the wrong here.
DC Actor says
It seems as if there is a discrepancy between what the article presents as what happen and what Ms. Critzer says what happen. Her side of the story doesn’t seem to be presented only the Alrpin’s. By the story you would think she walked when the audience was there. But she says she didn’t. Which one was it?
My hope is that this fairly new company bounces back from this unfortunate situation, and that they’ve learned some things about the importance of nurturing strong relationships with talent. The truth is … young companies struggle in this town. It’s hard work establishing an audience and a talent pool in one of the strongest markets in the country — and these companies are bound to make mistakes. With ridiculously small budgets, they take chances on emerging talent — actors, directors, designers, tech — and these relationships are bound to be rocky at times. Ya’ can’t get blood from a turnip — so a company’s expectations should be realistic, and so should ours. None of us would be working professionals had it not been for community, college/university, and small non-equity companies/programs providing us opportunities to make mistakes. And because the Alprins (I’m assuming) are not twenty-somethings, they’re not the hip band of artistic renegades who often produce their own work – Catalyst and Charter come to mind – and we call them courageous. Were I an actor — there’s no way in hell I’d take a role in a play that hadn’t been workshopped, is directed by the playwright’s husband and features the playwright as an actor — seems awfully messy to me. And if that’s your intention as a company — you’re opening yourself to additional scrutiny so you’d better have your shit together.
That said … it’s so nice to see our craft on display at the Masonic Temple, it’s such a beautiful space. I’d like to see that continue!!
I have no doubt that you have no ax to grind in this matter, and apologize if what I wrote gave you (or anyone else) that impression. However, the way you open the piece certainly shows the Alprins in a sympathetic light, however inadvertently. You could have mentioned that it was just as awful a day for Ms. Critzer as it was for them.
Anyone who has ever worked on a NT production knows just how difficult and unpleasant an experience it can be. The proof is in the fact that, unlike the successful small companies in this area, there is no core of actors/director/techies willing to work with them on a regular basis, and this is because people cannot endure the treatment they are subjected to by the Alprins.
Deborah Rinn Critzer says
Dear DC Theater Community,
I would like to make it clear that contrary to information in any previous postings I DID NOT and would NEVER EVER walk out on a seated audience.
I left the theater:
1. before call time
2. before the box office was open
3. before the house was open
4. before any audience members even arrived
5. before the orchestra was present and warming up
Everyone has a right to their opinion and to debate the correctness of my action in an unfortunate situation. But I insist that the community know I did not walk out on a seated audience and would not have broken that commitment.
“Response To Will Act For Food”
Quote: In providing the Alprins with such a sympathetic hearing, you are (perhaps unintentionally) taking their side.
Sympatetic hearing? DC Theatre Scene talked with BOTH Ms Critzer and Mr. Alprin for our article. There was no sympathy for either party. Both sides had the opportunity to present their sides of the story and we reported on them.
I am personally acquainted with the various principals in this matter. I know Ms. Critzer through an acting class, have seen her perform (extremely well) on one occasion, and have conversed with her several times when we’ve encountered each other at various events. I also know the Alprins, having worked on a show with them. Having experienced a number of episodes of extremely unprofessional and sometimes bizarre conduct on the part of both Brian and Paula Alprin, I can only assume that Ms. Critzer’s behavior was justified. Whoever Anonymous is, he or she is spot on when stating that Natural Theatricals is a vanity operation, and that people refuse to work with them more than once. If you have any doubts about that last point, go to the Natural Theatricals website and look at the credits for the ten productions they have done the last four years. You will see almost no names that appear more than once. Ironically, one of the very few people who did agree to act in a second NT production was none other than Ms. Critzer, proving yet again that no good deed goes unpunished.
Through my admittedly limited acquaintance with Ms. Critzer, I know her to be a respected member of the DC theater community. In providing the Alprins with such a sympathetic hearing, you are (perhaps unintentionally) taking their side. Ms. Critzer deserves better than to have her name smeared in this way.
One final point: I find it hard to believe there were many advance reservations for this show that will have to be refunded. As far as I can recall, the Alprins did not even have a system for accepting payment in advance, you simply left a voice mail message stating how many tickets you wanted and paid for them when you arrived at the theater.
Jack Marshall says
Here’s how it works: if an actor becomes uncomfortable with a particular approach to a role during the run of the show and adjusts the performance to one he or she IS comfortable with, the director has a right to ask that he or she return to the original version. But the fact that the director controls the artistic vision of the show doesn’t justify his being unreasonable or stubborn about it to the detriment of the actor and the production, and if an actor feels uncomfortable to the point of believing that he or she cannot give a good performance, that feeling should always be respected (though a good, inspirational director might be able to persuade and help the actor to try again.)
Example: if the Richard Dreyfus character in “The Goodbye Girl” got another performance after the horrible reviews and told the director, “I can’t play Richard like a comic gay stereotype anymore—the audience hates it, the critics hate it, and I hate it.” Sure, the director can “order: him to humiliate himself again, but Dreyfus has a right to refuse—it’s his reputation out there. If the director is willing to send in the understudy, play it himself, or cancel the show by firing the actor, well, that’s his call.
Now, if that Richard III had been staged more traditionally and Dreyfus suddenly insisted on playing him as a swishy, lisping clown one night and the director couldn’t dissuade him, the director would have a tough choice…allow the show to go on in a form he objects to and regards as a travesty, or fire Dreyfus to preserve artistic integrity. In this extreme situation, ending the show might be the course I would take.
From the facts we know, it is impossible to tell who is “right.” But one thing is clear: this sort of dispute should never be left until right before a performance…it is unfair to the actor, the cast and everyone else. The director has an obligation to settle the matter with as little stress and disruption as possible, and that means at the earliest possible point.
It seems that this issue still has some interest around the DC Theatre community. We will keep the comments open for 4 days. Both of the parties in the news article have been advised ot the additional time to comment. DC Theatre Scene reserves the right to delete any responses that are personal attacks or factually incorrect.
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DC Actor says
What some people are missing is that Mr. Alrpin threatened to cancel the show also unless Ms Critzer did what he wanted. All she did was call his bluff and do what he would have done himself. If he had problems with her performance he should have taken them up with her earlier that day and not when she arrived for her call time. That would have avoided her having to walk out with the audience in the seats. It is obvious that Mr. Alprin was using the audience being there as blackmail. He could have taken this up with her earlier in the day and not waited to the last minute.
It should also be know that the other cast members celebrated that Saturday night with Ms Critzer for getting them out what has been described as a “train wreck” of an experience.
Why is it always the artist that has to compromise? Why cant it be a compromise on both sides? Mr. Alprin obviously didn’t want compromise he wanted blind obedience to his demands and was willing to use the paying public, the orchestra and the fellow cast members as pawns to get what he wanted.
M. Rees says
Irrespective of Mr. Alprins heavy-handedness, Ms. Critzer’s behavior and walkout was an abomination, an act ironically deficient of any “intergrity.” Shame on her in her complete disregard of the audience.
Regardless of what happened behind the scenes, Ms. Critzer walked out on an audience sitting in the seats, fellow cast-mates ready to go on, and an orchestra warmed up and ready to play. There’s also integrity to be had in honoring your commitment to those people. At least quit between shows! Sounds like bad handling and bad form all around.
It’s unfortunate that this had to be such a stressful experience both for the performers and for the theatre company. Let’s hope that everyone learned a lesson from this!
The problem isn’t that she was changing the performance, all performance change some during a run. The problem is that the author, Mrs. Alprin the directors wife, had a vision of how the role was to be performed in her mind and Ms. Critzer was varying from that. There also apparently wasn’t any problem between the director the Ms Critzer until, as someone working on the show put it, Mrs., Aplrin threw a fit about Ms. Critzer’s performance.
Natural Theatricals is a vanity company. It is financed by Mr. Alprin to showcase his wife’s writing and acting. Everything else is secondary to that.
The company has been known to have problems with casts before. If you take a survey of people who have worked there you will be hard pressed to find people who will work there again.
Edited out personal attack — Editor
Isn’t this something that should have been worked out in rehearsal? If Ms. Critzer is changing her performance during the run of the show then she is way WAY out of line. If Mr. Alprin is asking her to change her performance during the run of the show and go against the character she created during rehearsals then he is WAY out of line. This is sad and highly unprofessional.
DC Actor says
Good for Ms. Critzer. If Mr. Alprin was willing to use the threat of canceling the show if she didn’t change her performance then she is well within her rights to do the same. Hopefully this will show Mr. Alprin that directing actors is a collaboration and that they are not just puppets on a string.
Michael Clark says
The date in the first paragraph should say “October 20th” not September 20th.