Pages from Michael Butler's Journal
THE ERSTWHILE PRODUCER
Recently, upon my return to the theatre, I was labeled "the erstwhile producer" by a local critic. My original reaction was one of hurt and then miff. Who did he think he was to put me down? I had always felt that the term "erstwhile" sounded negative. It felt like a slam. I called a friend to ask the definition of the term. She said, "Well it is very correct--you don't always produce. You have other interests." How true and then some.
I am basically not from the theatre world. I'm an admirer of it who realizes that it is the ultimate of the performing arts -- of all the arts for that matter. The theatre is also the platform with the greatest freedom and ability to really say something of import. My role in life is to be a player in many areas, and to strenuously avoid being possessed by any one field or group. I have only been involved in theatre which really moves me.
My initial involvements were WEST SIDE STORY, ONDINE, and THE GOLDEN APPLE. With the first two, I was really into the purpose of those plays. During ONDINE , I was living with and in love with the star. THE GOLDEN APPLE, starring Kaye Ballard, was great entertainment. After that I got involved with family business, paper and trading, then with politics. My political views got me involved with HAIR and subsequently with THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE . LENNY was also a case of a message delivered in an entertaining way. I got into it because Jules Fisher, my best friend in the theatre, and Tom O'Horgan, the Director of HAIR, asked me to join them. I never liked the scatological thrust of Lenny Bruce, but I devoutly believed in his right to say what he wanted.
HAIR was very demanding. We were involved one way or another with twenty-nine productions. For twelve years. that was more than two a year. I had made a promise to the company that I would not do anything else until we completed the movie. This was a very complicated situation with crazy participants, broken promises, drug-ridden failures and my inability to perceive the treacherous waters of that industry. When the film was finally set, I embarked on another project.
REGGAE ON BROADWAY was my next undertaking. I love Reggae music. With the increased commercialization of rock, it has been left to the reggae troupadores to speak to the issues of our times. I made a serious mistake in not trying out REGGAE away from Broadway. Everyone felt that we could do no wrong there. We did not give the play the training it needed away from the heavy demands of the Apple. We had serious director problems and our musical director had a conflict at La Scala which denied the show the t.l.c. it deserved. Nothwithstanding we soldiered on and were making headway when the transit strike hit town and closed up the theatre scene. At our closing matinee, Jackie Onnasis came with her children, exclaiming that the show was one of the best she had seen -- a nice memory to have.
After the HAIR film opened, I went home to Oak Brook, quite burnt out, really wanting to be away from entertainment for awhile. Just as I was beginning to feel good again and was starting to get back to showbiz, my Father was killed by a drunken driver. I had to assume the management of the Butler Company developments. I found myself returned to the byzantine world of internecine war from which I had escaped for so long. Well, it broke me materially and thus set me free.
I had been saving scripts and ideas for several years. After licking my wounds I began to create ORLOK, a development and production company. People must have sent me hundreds of scripts or treatments. I was able to cherry-pick and come up with stable of interesting properties. You don't go to the polo field with one pony -- you have a string of them. It is my belief that in entertainment you will have a small percentage of success, but if you have good taste in subjects which people want to see, two out of ten will pay for twenty. In our past theatrical ventures, we have had many failures whose names I can scarce remember. I can clearly recall the winners -- they have paid for all and then some, many times over.
Four ORLOK properties have emerged for the first flight. They are POPE JOAN, REVELATIONS, HAIR AND THE' 60s, and DogTroep's MANDARIN. They are backed up by other very interesting projects which will see light in the near future. I hope you are interested enough to check them out. Just hit on The Pope Joan Workshop Web. Now -- why am I suggesting that? If you are reading this, you are already in the Web, so hit on an icon for the Producing Company and the "Erstwhile" Producer, who doesn't want to produce just anything except what I love and want to share with others.
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