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Theodore Mann: 1924-2012.

I met led Mann 40 years ago. (Forty years ago: there's a chilling phrase.) I was a wide-eyed farm boy with hay still in my hair arriving in the sophisticated big city of New York straight off the manure-soaked cornfields of Harvard University. I was one of a couple dozen would-be actors arriving to study at the famous Circle in the Square Theatre in its new uptown location.


Running this whole operation were two adults. One of them scared me: a dark, intense man named Ted, whose broken nose gave him the air of a gangster or union thug. Fortunately, Ted's intensity was balanced by the sunnier presence of the other adult, an avuncular sort named Paul.

This scary gangster, once I got to know him, turned out--like one of his acting-discoveries, George C. Scott--to have the soul of a poet under his fearsome-seeming exterior. Ted loved Theatre. Let's face it: Just as children, up until the age of reason, happily endorse the fantasy of Santa Claus, we all come into this business loving Theatre--but we get over it. Either Our hearts get broken one too many times by Theatre's failure to requite our devotion and we leave the business, or we drop the fairy-tale romance and settle into a jaded marriage of show-business convenience. Ted never lost the romance.

At Circle in the Square, I studied the classics: Shaw and Shakespeare, Chekhov and Ibsen, Moliere, Williams, Miller and O'Neill--and I have rarely touched them since. If, as George S. Kaufman quipped, "Satire is what closes on Saturday nights," perhaps the classics are what actors do in acting class. I came to Circle in the Square because I wanted to study in NYC; I wanted to learn the business while I learned my craft. And I did. I learned that if I wanted to make a living on the stage, I needed to do musicals and light comedy.

Ted must have missed that class. In an era when the APA-Phoenix was dying and Lincoln Center was floundering and Manhattan Theatre Club was a nascent blip in the Siberia of the Upper East Side and Roundabout hadn't even made it into a grocery-store basement, the Circle in the Square was the bastion of Great Theatre in New York: great plays with great People.

While I was a student there, I saw Colleen Dewhurst in Mourning Becomes Electra, Irene Papas in Medea George C. Scott and Nicol Williamson in Uncle Vanya, James Earl Jones in The Iceman Cometh and many more. That is the Dream of Theatre: great plays with great people. For decades--decades--Ted Mann and Paul Libin kept that dream alive in New York.

Ted infected me with that, dream. Some tears after I left Circle in the Square, as a young father working in regional theatre--first while doing Christopher Durang at Arena Stage and then While doing Shakespeare at the Guthrie--I tried to talk my talented, Juilliard-trained actress wife, Beth McDonald, into selling our NYC co-op and moving to D.C. or Minneapolis to do great plays with great people. She convinced me that the commercial theatre of NYC and the ancillary opportunities of film and television were a surer way to support our growing family.

In the years since, I have turned my focus from Art to Commerce. Commerce has been good to me: I am about to start rehearsals for my 16th Broadway show. I describe myself as a Broadway hack; and now that I am president of Actors' Equity, I am myself a union thug. But within the heart of this Broadway hack and union thug, the Dream of Theatre still lives--and for that, I thank you, Ted Mann.

Nick Wyman is the president of Actors' Equity Association.
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Author:Wyman, Nick
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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