An extended interview with Jesse Bates on the life of Randy Marsh.



Last month, the Birmingham Area Theatrical Alliance honored Randy Marsh with its first Lifetime Achievement Award. Marsh died Monday, (March 14, 2005) after a battle with throat cancer. The following is a transcript of Jesse Bates giving the award to Randy Marsh. (Scroll down to read Randy Marsh's acceptance speech)

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and each man, in his time, plays many parts".

And each man - in his time - plays many parts.

Jesse Bates

A few years ago, there was an honorary "roasting" of Michael Landon. Landon had already had huge successes in Bonanza, Little House and Highway to Heaven. Loren Green - Pa Cartwright - said that he remembered an energetic but confused young Landon who came to him with a big problem. Landon couldn't decide if he wanted to act, or write, or direct or produce. And now, said Green, here it is 20 years and 3 award-winning TV shows later and he still hasn't made up his mind.

The same could be said of you, Randy. Here you are, over 35 years after I met you and you STILL haven't decided which you want to do!

I first met Randall C. Marsh as a callow youth of 17 or 18. (I am 6 weeks older than Randy). He already had an impressive resume under his belt as a result of his work at Woodlawn High School and with Bill Ozier, the brilliant, mercurial director of Actors Studio. I first got to play opposite Randy when he played the blustery, rule-following Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind in the basement theatre of Samford University. Then I got to play opposite him again as he played the blustery, rule following Colonel in Teahouse of the August Moon. Then I got to play opposite him as he played the blustery, rule following social worker in 1000 Clowns. And many of us remember his blustery, make-my-own-rules portrayal of Bull Conner twenty years later.

Do we see a pattern forming here?

And these were just a few roles in plays that you and I were in. There are many, many more, performed at theatres all over town. We all know about Randy the actor, as do all of his students in his English classes at School of Fine Arts.

There are the other Randy's. A few months ago, a production of one of Randy's several plays, The Reluctant Dragon, which premiered at Birmingham Children's Theatre, was performed at University of South Alabama. There's Randy the playwright.

Randy, Vic Fitchner and Carl Stewart took the pieces of Actors Studio and established a little acting company over in Southside - Birmingham Festival Theatre. It quickly became famous as a theatre that brought edge and daring back in to Birmingham theatre. Some of us were doing theatre for pay at other locations, but if you wanted to theatre for your soul, you wanted to be at BFT. So, there's Randy the producer.

Randy has directed shows all over town! Grass Harp at ASFA, Viva La Coca Cola, Dylan and Knights of the White Magnolia to name just 3 of dozens at BFT. He's directed for the Little Theatre Players, Children's Theatre, Independent Presbyterian. Randy's style of directing is the "cajole and coaxing" school. He is never the "Herr Direktor", telling an actor exactly what moves to make or how to deliver a line. Rather, Randy takes what the actor can do and then guides them to do it better. Any actors who have worked with him, who walked away saying, "Well, I could have done all that on my own!" is just unaware of the subtle hand that guided them to their stellar performance. Maybe one day he'll get a steady job. Musicals, comedies, Shakespeare, dramas, children's shows, church pageants. Randy! Please! Let's get some focus here, people!

And he's now an artistic director. And I've seen him hang lights and put up sets with the best of them. I might have to give him negative marks on is his driving. On a rainy night in the late 60's, Randy was driving a foreign import with me and 2 other passengers in the car. We were on our way back from Fort Rucker and a performance of 1000 Clowns in which we had to reblock the entire show as we played it. On the way back to Birmingham, the car hit a wet spot and did a 360 plus a 180. Let me say that again - a 360 PLUS a 180. We skidded into a muddy median that had muck literally up to our ankles. We did this twice on the same trip. When we got to a service station in some little town, Randy had to persuade a reluctant attendant that, yes, he really did know how to use the station's tire equipment (which the attendant himself had no idea how to use) and that we really needed a new tire before we all got killed. Randy, the service station attendant and NASCAR driver.

So, what other Randy's are there? There's Randy my boss - something many of you don't get the joy of having. As Director of Curriculum at ASFA, he coaxes and cajoles artist teachers and teacher artists as they do what they do best. He helps them do it better.

There's Randy the gourmet. (If you haven't had his Christmas Crackle, you haven't lived yet. And ask him about his days as Haden's sou chef in Camden, Alabama. OK, he was really the dishwasher, but for the sake of his pride.). There's Randy the dad, Randy the husband, Randy the good friend, Randy the teacher of Shakespeare and Milton. Randy the story teller.

He can tell the most marvelous stories. He can take the simplest of life's experiences and make them fascinating. There's the story he emailed to many of us about his encounter with a nurse after his recent surgery.

Mr. Marsh, you should be taking your thyroid prescription.

But you've never given me a thyroid prescription.

But you should be taking it more regularly.

I can't take it regularly if you haven't given me one.

But you need to be taking it every day.

But I don't have one.

I'll tell the doctor to renew it for you.

Or the story about his daughters taking Haden out for a Mother's Day lunch when a five dollar sandwich wound up costing him 100 bucks.

Or his story about little Gaines, only 3 or 4 years old, who built a ladder for herself out of a chair and other odds and ends in order to get to the cookies on the kitchen counter one Christmas. Randy came in to the kitchen just in time to see her little hand get in to the jar. 'Gaines", he shouted, "get down!" And Gaines went____.

Un-blustery and, frankly, not much of a rule follower. (There is this dark, uncorroborated story about Randy and skinny dipping and the police, but I don't have all the details.) Each one of these Randy's deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award. But Randy, this afternoon, "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers "salute you, thank you, for sharing parts of your life with us. There are those here who have known you since high school days; there are those here who have performed in more plays with you than I. But we all want to give you our deepest thanks. By being an artist in the theatre, you made it possible for many of us to have jobs being artist.

This award is called Life Achievement. Perhaps we are thanking you and congratulating you for something a little different. Perhaps it is for achieving a life, for making our lives better because you have been here to make them richer. This is our Valentine to you. And we love you.



Randy Marsh accepting the Birmingham Area Theatrical Alliance's Lifetime Achievement Award...

Jesse's introduction is greatly exaggerated. He also just stole most of my material. I promised Haden that I would be brief. I'll try.

Randy Marsh

Theatre is a strange animal. It'll just up and bite you in the butt and never turn loose. Haden and I met playing husband and wife in Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes; Kim was born in a trunk, running house lights at age 4 and follow spot at 12; Gaines went to rehearsal at Festival Theatre when she could barely walk, ran to the edge of the stage, flung out her arms to the empty seats and said "here I am;" When Kate played her first part, sharing the role of Scout with Jessica in To Kill a Mockingbird at Children's Theatre, she was so young that she made me bring her stuffed animal, Scruffy, to every performance to sit in my lap and watch. They have put up with me and they are my forever valentines.

Anyway, as y'all know, theatre just takes on a life of its own and sweeps you along with it. And everybody has a favorite show. Mine is The Fantasticks. It's the show that hopped up, bit me in the butt when I was 16 and never turned loose. It is a love story. It is a journey.

But The Fantasticks is more than that to me. It's a metaphor for life - which never starts nor ends exactly as we might have planned, and always seems to go awry somewhere. So, to steal a line from The Fantasticks, "you wonder how these things begin." Well, when The Fantasticks opened in March of 1960, the critics gave it a week. It was after all just another little musical with 20 year olds in a little theatre in the East Village. And truth to be told, all those actors wanted to do was keep it open for a week; they were paid by the week. Of course it went on to play for 43 years, becoming the longest running musical in the history of the theatre. Seems some critics were wrong.

When Alabama School of Fine Arts, where I've spent my life, brought arts and academics together under the same roof for the first time in August of 1974, local educators scoffed and said: "I'll give it a year, two at best. After all, most of them are twenty year old would be artists and teachers. They'll never hold it together." Seems some local educators were wrong.

When we opened Festival Theatre in May of 1972, the established theatres in Birmingham smiled and said: "Those young kids are crazy. They're twenty years old; probably won't even draw enough people to pay for the first show." And to tell the truth, we were a bunch of young theatre renegades, and all we wanted to do was to make enough money to pay for the first show. And you know what? We didn't. So, being brilliant economists, we reasoned that if we did a second show we could pay for the first show. And we did! Of course, then we owed money on the second show which led to a third show. But when we opened Three Penny Opera, we never even dreamed that one day Birmingham Festival Theatre would be the longest currently running community theatre in Birmingham. Seems some established Birmingham theatre folks were wrong. And so, "you wonder how these things begin." That's how.

In The Fantasticks, Henry, the old actor says: "Try to see it in light! I assure you, it's dazzling!" As people from all phases of theatre, and all of the arts for that matter, we have an awesome responsibility and a wonderful opportunity. We can stand in the light, and look at the darkness beyond, and know that on the other side sit real, live, breathing human beings who have taken three hours of their life to come to see our work. Our labors. Granted, sometimes there are only 3 or 4 folks out there - mother, grandmother, aunt and that scraggly guy who showed up at the door wanting to know what movie you're showing that night. But whether it's 4 or 40 or 400, we have the opportunity to reach through the darkness and stir their hearts; to provoke their minds into tears or laughter; and on those rare occasions to touch their souls so that they leave the theatre a different person than they were when they came in. And that moment is special! It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, a new piece of art is born, reminding us why we do what it is that we do. And it sure ain't for money. I've had the opportunity to share some of those special moments of magic with many of you. For that I am grateful. Thanks for sharing that special part of your life with me.

Thanks to Birmingham Area Theatre Alliance for this honor. Thank you all for coming. And I want you to know that I would not trade my life with anyone.