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Opening Doors and Minds

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Tom Allard, a teacher of technical theatre at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, Calif., was recently featured in a story about actors who move on to other careers ["Exits & Entrances," by Sarah Kuhn, April 5, 2007]. This is his response:

To the Editor:

I thought I'd drop you a line about the effect generated by your work. My kids flipped out. All of a sudden I wasn't just Mr. Tom, denizen of the theatre, I was somebody. That credibility pays off with more kids who want to take tech theatre, with parents who closely examine a faculty when they have to pay these tuition prices, and with peer regard. I've been lucky; I'm liked around the campus, and all of the teachers have been very receptive to me. The article was posted in the faculty lounge and it seriously upped my credibility.

Then the unexpected: a change of perspective. I have long labored with the albatross of never having finished college. I learned enough to know that I wanted theatre and split for the road and the boards. Lots of years, lots of shows, and I'm here now because of that. But this place is top-heavy with Ph.D.s. One of the most respected members of the arts faculty, upon reading the article, softly said, "I always wondered if I could have made it only on my talent. I have always taught because I was afraid to try it. At least you've done all those things. I never tried." It was from the heart, and I can't tell you what it gave me. It's the stuff of life.

—Tom Allard

Pasadena, Calif.

In the news analysis of understudy policies ["Brush Up Your Shakespeare," by Andrew Salomon, May 3, 2007], I'm surprised there's no mention made of "internal understudying," i.e., having all major roles understudied by other members of the cast.

As both a theatre manager and former Equity staff member (eight-plus years in developing theatre), I've been dealing with this problem for many years. Although the cost of hiring standalone understudies can be ruinous for many theatres, the cost of having internal understudies can be minimal and, in many regional theatres where non-Equity actors also work, may cost the theatre nothing beyond the time to rehearse the stand-ins.

Having an internal understudy not only protects the theatre, it also provides the actor with invaluable experience, even if he or she never goes on. The opportunity to understudy also serves as an additional inducement for talented ensemble actors. Further, it always remains the theatre's option to cancel a performance if the management doesn't feel the replacement is able to handle the part.

Especially for a theatre like the Public, no one should ever be thrown into the situation in which Joaquín Torres found himself.

—Jerry Lapidus, company manager

Seaside Music Theater

Daytona Beach, Fla.

When it's time for me to go to the "happy hunting grounds," I want in my coffin a copy of Back Stage. Why? Because through Back Stage, I submitted to the feature Robbing Peter, which led to a nomination for best debut in a leading role at Film Independent's Spirit Awards in 2005. I submitted through Back Stage for a short, Afterglow, which was accepted at the New York Film Festival last fall and is exhibiting now at the Cannes International Film Festival. "Ooh la la!" Thanks, Back Stage.

—Louie Olivos Jr.

Garden Grove, Calif.

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