Ceisler Duo Catch Local Theater Acting Bug
Special Projects Director Jeff Barg and Consultant Glen Macnow share a love of being on stage. Both are currently performing in productions at the Players Club of Swarthmore.
Jeff’s show, “If/Then,” is a musical about city planning that starred Idina Menzel on Broadway. The show opened last weekend and runs through October 2. (Click here for tickets.)
And Glen will be appearing Nov. 26-Dec. 11 in the Cole Porter classic musical “Anything Goes.” Tickets to that show go on sale here on Oct. 26, or you can get them now—and save up to 50 percent—by buying a ticket package here.
Glen: “The first time I met you at Ceisler Media I thought, ‘I’ve seen this guy before.’ Turns out I’d watched you perform in ‘Shakespeare in Hollywood’ and been very impressed. What I didn’t know is that you’re a quadruple threat—you sing, dance, act and even write your own musicals. Pretty daunting.”
Jeff: “That’s kind of you, but my skill levels at each of those things vary. Choreographers know to keep my steps very simple. But that’s one thing I love about doing community theater—on- or offstage, there’s a role for everyone who wants to be a part of creating something artistic and fun. That’s not to say there’s no competition—actors still have to audition. But it’s a welcoming place that lets everyone play to their own strengths. Was it daunting for you to start performing onstage?”
Glen: "Well, I hadn't been in a play since college before I started up again five years ago. That's decades of rust. But I've spent half my life as a talk show host, often performing before a live audience. So being on stage wasn't intimidating. What was scary was the singing—I'm an average singer at best—and the dancing. Mostly the dancing. I've had 11 knee surgeries and I was never very nimble to begin with. It helps to be hidden in a crowd of several dozen better dancers. When I was in 'Guys and Dolls,' my director, Anthony SanFilippo, said to me, 'People will only notice you dancing if you're very good or very bad. So your goal is not to be noticed.' I think I succeeded in that regard."
"So off of that, here's a question for you—have you ever truly embarrassed yourself onstage?"
Jeff: “I don’t embarrass easily. I’ve been in my underwear on stage, I’ve attempted dance steps that I had no business trying, I’ve been dressed as a Barbra Streisand doppelganger... emerged decently unscathed from all of those. A complete lack of shame is an important prerequisite.”
“My most embarrassing moments have come from things I had no idea I was doing at the time. Everyone has vocal or physical tics that they do so naturally in everyday speech that they’re oblivious to them. A friend who directed me in a show back in college recently told me that so much of directing is pointing out people’s tics and making them self-aware. The few times good directors have told me about physical or vocal tics—ways I moved my hands or ways I used my voice—I was aghast at first, but ultimately grateful.”
“Do those kinds of things crop up for you? It has to be a very different set of muscles to go from mostly improvising over hours on the air to something in which your words, notes and movements are all scripted, and theoretically the same every night.”
Glen: "Well, I'm long past the age where I worry about humiliating myself. In radio, if you say something dumb, you make a fool only of yourself - and I've done that more times than I can count. But if you screw up in live theater, you affect the entire production. It's only happened to me once, when I suddenly blanked in the middle of a scene—just forgot where I was in the script. There were several seconds of awkward silence, which felt like five hours. My brain was scrambling. Fortunately, one of my talented castmates sensed what was going on and improvised enough to guide me back onto the script."
"And that leads me to the aspect of all of this that I appreciate the most. My background is as a sports guy. I played for teams — hockey and baseball — until my body just wouldn't allow it. I really missed being part of a team. Acting in local theater has brought that back for me. The cast and crew get close over the months of rehearsal. They aim to make each other better. They hang out backstage and bust balls. They celebrate success together. I love it all—well, maybe except when they force me to sing karaoke at the cast parties."
Jeff: “Yes to all of that, and it’s my favorite part of the process. Performing for an audience is fun, but going through an arduous rehearsal regimen and establishing a group dynamic that leads to mutual trust and camaraderie? That’s the reason I do it. Without that, you wouldn’t be able to recover from those moments you describe, where one actor loses track of where they are and it’s up to everyone else to get the scene back on track. It can be terrifying, but once you recover, it’s a total rush.”
“Of course, sometimes the improvisation that’s necessary to right the ship is harder than other times. For example, I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare over the years, and it’s a challenge to improvise in iambic pentameter. Are you interested in Shakespeare or other classics, or are you more of a 20th-century theater kind of guy?”
Glen: “Shakespeare? Way out of my league. I had a tough enough time reading the Bard in college, let alone trying to perform those verbal gymnastics. I’m probably most comfortable in those large-cast classic musicals—I got to play Harry the Horse in ‘Guys and Dolls’ before the pandemic. Somehow, I’m usually cast as a bad guy—including a few small roles I’ve had in recent years in movies that no one ended up seeing.”
“Right now I’m rehearsing for ‘Anything Goes’ at the Players Club of Swarthmore. I play Elijah Whitney—not the inventor of the cotton gin, but a drunk, myopic, womanizing business tycoon. It’s hard to think of a role more fun than that. We open in November. Before we get out of here, let’s talk about your play, which is running just as this newsletter comes out.”
Jeff: “Yes, we opened last weekend and run through October 2. ‘If/Then’ is unlike any musical I’ve ever seen: It’s about the big impacts that seemingly tiny decisions can have on our lives, and it follows two parallel storylines in the life of one woman, Elizabeth, an urban planner in New York City. I play Stephen, her boss and almost-but-not-really love interest. I went to grad school for city planning, so it’s the first time I’ve ever been typecast as an urban planner. That’s fun. The structure is really interesting, because Stephen is a major player in one of Elizabeth’s storylines, but only a bit character in the other storyline, and those stories play out in parallel. It sounds complicated, but I promise it’s easier to follow than Shakespeare.”
Glen: “Can’t wait to see it. Hey, break a leg.”
Jeff Barg is a Special Projects Director at Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.
Glen Macnow is a Consultant for Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.