TheaterScene.net had the opportunity to speak with Fassler about his favorite memories, experiences, and insights about the industry he has loved for decades.
TheaterScene.net: Congratulations on your new book and the opportunity to share your stories!
Thank you! I’ve been an actor over 40 years, I’ve also directed and written films and television shows, and it took four years to write this book. Writing a book is not an easy thing (laughs), but I can’t wait to start the next one.
I’ve been telling my stories for over 50 years about my adventures going to the theater as a little boy, all by myself into Manhattan, and I self-funded it all from my paper route. It was a remarkable education, at a time when 60 Broadway shows came in a season and I could sit and watch up in the cheap seats, at an average cost of $3 a ticket. It was just extraordinary.
TS: Tell me about the process of collecting your stories and memories for your book.
I wanted to talk to as many people as possible from that era, who were actors, writers, directors, designers, and I spoke to more than 100 great theater artists and that was the true joy – to sit down with the legendary Harold Prince, Robert Morse, James Earl Jones, Stephen Sondheim, Bette Midler… the list goes on and on. Everyone was so generous with their time and so gracious.
TS: Do some of your experiences feel like dreams?
When I met Harold Prince, who really was the greatest director/producer of the latter part of the 20th century, I sat down with him for an hour in his office, and the next day I woke up and literally thought I had dreamed. The greatest thing that happened was when Harold Prince shook my hand and I said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Prince” and he said, “Call me Hal.” Those are my three favorite words spoken to me.
TS: What was the demographic like back then of people going to the theater?
The demographic has not changed that much. The theater is still more elderly people than ever before. It was like that when I was a kid and it’s like that today. The one thing that I’m thrilled about is that shows like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen are bringing in the young people in a way that shows have never before. I really can’t remember one show designed for the youth out there when I was going to the theater, like these shows are.
TS: Is there an interaction that you recall that really took you by surprise?
I remember every single one of my interactions with these actors and the one who absolutely intimidated me was when I went to meet James Earl Jones after his performance in The Great White Hope. This was 1969, and he got the kind of reviews that you only dream about and he took the town by storm. It was one of the most powerful performances that I’ve ever seen. When James came out, he was soft spoken and gentle and asked me my name and age. He was so generous with this time.
I’ll tell you a story that’s actually not in the book. I used to always get autographs and then one day I was with the beautiful actress, Colleen Dewhurst, who won two Tony Awards and was in a number of TV shows and films. She was so gracious, and then I asked if she would sign my program. A flicker of disappointment crossed her face and she signed it, but said, “I really should be asking you for your autograph,” and I thought that was so charming. I left her dressing room and never asked anyone for their autograph again.
TS: Do you have any secrets to scoring a deal in this day and age?
There are certain services you can sign up for that offer complimentary tickets when they are trying to paper the house. There’s TDF that offers significant discounts and there’s also standing room. Lotteries are also another way to try to get a deal.
TS: What are your hopes for your book, in terms of inspiring your readers? Do you think that people who aren’t as familiar with theater will appreciate it?
I was hoping that the book would brand me as a theater expert and that I would have the opportunity to do some lectures and masterclasses at schools or perhaps do corporate events. I just recently received a phone call and I’m going to be speaking in front of 8,000 people at a medical convention in Chicago in June and will be the keynote speaker. My hopes and dreams are starting to come true! I really believe that theater is a cure-all for what ails you. I hope this book reaches a wide audience. The lessons to be learned from a life in the theater as an artist or as a patron are invaluable — there’s nothing else like it in the world.
TS: Do you still feel that same wonder when going to the theater today?
I’m always thrilled going into the theater and hope for a transcendent experience. That’s what I love – the opportunity to have one of the greatest nights of my life.
TS: Looking back, what do you think the little boy in you would think about this book?
I can’t help but always go back to little me – – the little boy. People tell me not to lose him and are so invested – I really took that advice to heart. It’s really a mix of a memoir and an oral history of Broadway. I’m so grateful to those theater artists who gave of their time and made this book exactly what I hoped it would be. It really is a traditional love story, except it’s the theater.
Visit Ron’s website, http://www.ronfassler.org/, for more information about events and how to purchase.