Nathan Thomas-Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Nathan Thomas

Email seemed dumb to me. 

Obviously, I am not an “early adopter” when it comes to computer technology.  I’m not a Luddite.  But I do not leap up from the divan to get the latest shiny object.  So, when Lane showed me e-mail – I was unimpressed.  If I wanted to contact people, I could wait in the lobby of the theatre.  Sooner or later most everyone walked through the lobby.  If I missed someone that way, I could actually call them.  And, usually, I could leave a message on their answering machine (answering machines being mostly present to folks I knew in the early 1990s).

I had come off the road having had one of the best acting partners one could wish for in Jill Giles.  And now, once again I was part of a group of brilliant, talented, and clever people.  Doug and Cheryl Weaver, Lane Glenn, Jay and Martha Magee, Katja Thomas (no relation), Erik Huffman, Sara Frank, Dana Brail, Gene van Dyke, Clay Buck, Don Downie, and others.  It was a magnificent group.  In many countries this group would have stayed together and formed a theatre.  We could have put on any play ever written.

I got a graduate assistantship working in an office that gave me access to a NEXT computer.  NEXT was a company Steve Jobs started while on hiatus from Apple.  With the computer came an email account and an easy entry to the Usenet.

To young people, Usenet probably would seem like some antiquated thing.  But it was a place where people would post emails and others would read them and comment on them.  Compared to today’s social media, the Usenet world expressly labored for a level of gentility that has since been destroyed.

There were various directories where people would discuss all kinds of things.  In those days there was about one group that had discussions of theatre – rec.arts.theatre.

Rec.arts.theatre included a few regular features.  There was an on-going, unresolvable series of persuasive posts about the merits of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim as creators of musical theatre.  There were occasional announcements about tech positions.  There were not many in-depth discussions about theatre at that time.

The internet as something that everyday people could utilize wasn’t there yet.  The people on the Usenet discussions were mostly people in large, research universities and government/military installations.

I lurked on rec.arts.theatre for several months.  I started posting early in 1994 – 25 years ago.  An early post was about the then uncompleted Globe construction in London.

From that beginning on the internet, I became a bit of a scold, I guess – particularly when it came to theatre history.  Even more particularly I would post long pieces about people’s myths about the history of acting and acting training.

I have a little pride in writing about the importance of yoga to Stanislavsky’s work back in 1996.  And I wrote about how we forget that Stanislavsky the actor was the alter-ego to Alexiev, the very successful businessman.

I had had a chance to work with Arkady Katz.  And I had been to Russia.  I was a little full of myself, probably.

I had Scott Walters and Ross Willits as conversation partners.  We talked about anything and everything.

Very quickly rec.arts.theatre splintered into different groups and America On Line came into being.  And, before you know it, everyday people found their way onto Usenet and into Usenet discussions.

One of those people was Jeremy Whelan.  I never met Jeremy face to face, but soon he and I tangled.  Jeremy would write long posts about his opinions about acting.  I would reply point-by-point with a particular focus on myths he perpetuated.

Jeremy’s largest button, though, was constant pushing for a Usenet group that focused solely on acting.  Despite Jeremy’s harangues, there never was a rec.arts.theatre.acting.  However, someone set up an alt.acting group.  The problem with the alt.-prefixed groups was the difficulty in policing them.  So the group was filled with advertisements for penis lengtheners, time-shares, and make-millions-by-working-from-home ads.

I think it was a guy named Dan Norton who decided that it was easy enough to start a list-serv, and so he did – Acting-L.  This was followed after a short period of years by a list-serv (Acting_Pro) hosted by three estimable raconteurs – Bill Smith, John Crowther, and “il professore” Norman Schwartz.

Out of connecting through Acting_Pro, a new group sprouted – The Network of Co-operating Studios.  It was founded by Lissa Tyler Renaud, and comprised a group of teachers from distant locations working together in a series of collaborations working toward improving the state of the training of actors. Original members of her Network were Pat Cronin, Michele Cuomo, Andy Garrison, Bill Smith,
and myself.

It was a heady time.  Lissa and Bill collaborated.  Andy and Bill collaborated.  Lissa invited me to work with her studio then in N. California.  This work deserves its own history.  Sadly, over time, it wasn’t feasible to maintain this network.

In the meantime I had gotten my Ph.D.  I had run a touring company for a brief time.  Then I moved to Louisiana to teach at Centenary College in Shreveport.

At the same time I was bouncing from Baltimore to Shreveport, our publisher and editor in chief Arthur had the idea to start a new on-line arts journal.  It would have the same quality, feel, and reportage of other arts journals, except it would exist in an on-line, rather than a “dead-tree,” universe.

I was not a writer on the first issue’s table of contents.  But I quickly got added to the fold.

When I started, I pledged two columns a month.  This was a foolhardy pledge that wasn’t taken up.  But with very few breaks over the past twenty years, I’ve had this little corner of the internet to my very own.  I don’t have a precise count, but there have been about 200 columns – a little under 1000 pages – that have flowed through this space. 

I’ve written about things small and large.  I’ve written about theatre history, American history, and current events.  I’ve interviewed a variety of folks, most recently the immensely talented Jessica Warchal-King.  I’ve written several book reviews.  A short piece about the history of Dalcroze eurhythmics has been cited by a variety of academic researchers.

And now comes the time to hang it up.

Essentially I started when I was in my early 30s as a graduate student – full of vinegar, headstrong, sure of my opinions and what was and wasn’t so.  Now I’m getting closer to the wrong side of the middle-age teeter-totter.  My daughter (I was single when I started) is edging ever closer to her tenth birthday now.  I find I know a lot less now than I did then.

I think often of a quote from Ralph Richardson, “I always had the idea that when I was old I’d get frightfully clever.  I’d get awfully learned.  I’d get jolly sage.  People around would come to me for advice.  But nobody ever comes to me for anything, and I don’t know a thing.”

The grand ambitions of my youth have been replaced by a more modest one.  I want to meet my hero, Sir Derek Jacobi.

I want to thank all of my fellow scribes with whom I’ve shared this space these twenty years – particularly Michael Bettencourt, Claudine Jones, Patrick Walsh, and Les Marcott.  My writing has been elevated by being on the same page as them.

I want to thank Arthur for publishing me for all of these years.  Some months I’ve come very close to barely scraping through with a column long after the deadline had passed.  There’s never been a cross word between us.  I can’t imagine a better publisher and supporter for a writer to have.

Finally, I want to thank you – the reader – you who have been stationed on the other side of the screen.  I’ve often tried to imagine you.  Over the years the number of readers who stop by my corner have risen and diminished.  But regardless how small, the numbers are still more than my family and friends (most of whom already know my stories and don’t read this column).

I hope over the past years that I’ve entertained you, given you something to think about, provided some moments of diversion.  I hope that at least I made you a little mad, at least.  I hope at least once I poked one of your buttons and got a rise out of you.  A little challenge of our long-held opinions can maybe shake us into a new place.  And I hope that I did that for you at least once.

Mostly, I’m just glad that you came back each month to see if I had something to say.  I tried to imagine you and what you might be going through – your challenges, your trials.  I tried to say something you might need to hear.  Thank you.

The stage manager in the booth is about to call the last cue on this space.  Perhaps I’ll write the occasional piece, and we’ll get to say howdy again, as old friends do.

In the meantime, cue to dark.  Go.


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Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor,
Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer,
and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, and is a member of the
theatre faculty at Alvernia University. He writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives

©2020 Nathan Thomas
©2020 Publication Scene4 Magazine




January 2020

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