Martin O'Hearn


A LIFE AT THE EDGE OF THE THEATRE

Martin O'Hearn photo At the top of the Sixties positive column I place popular culture—plastic models, comic books, TV, movies, radio, paperbacks. Monsters, superheroes, spies, and the Beatles! And that culture wasn't afraid to dip back into earlier decades, with pulp magazine reprints and revival movie houses.

(Eventually I became an amateur comic book historian as I found that the uncredited writers of those previous decades could be identified by their styles, just as the artists had been by interested fans.)

In the Sixties negative column (below Vietnam, to put things into perspective): Boston Latin, the public college-prep school. Latin School had been coasting on its reputation; it was still segregated (by sex) and remained a dress code school. Those in charge hadn't heard that this was the Nineteen Sixties. We in the “Aristocracy of the Intellect” were nearly drowned in seventeenth century rote learning. As you might guess, we did in fact take Latin as a language requirement. (To be fair—Latin School has improved since, I hear.)

It still surprises me that after six years at Latin I wanted to be a high school English teacher (the high school part being the surprise). I went on to Northeastern University, not very far down Huntington Avenue.

By the time I graduated with my B.S.Ed., I’d abandoned the idea of teaching; I'd gotten into theatre. Taking a children’s theatre course led me to auditioning for the next semester's plays, and I acted in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Arsenic and Old Lace photo

“Arsenic and Old Lace” as Dr. Einstein—2nd from left

After that, I stayed on the technical side, as I hung around backstage for a number of years after graduation. So I was in the right place at the right time when a professor, one of the producers in a touring young-audiences company, was looking for an assistant stage manager. The tour was all of three and a half weeks long, filling in dates that the regular tour couldn’t meet with its already full bookings.

In the thirty years since, I've toured twenty-seven seasons coast to coast. The daily schedule was: arrive at the hall at 8 AM, unload and set up a full show (set, lighting, sound, costumes); open the house to the teenage audiences bussed in from area schools and then put on a show from 10:30 to 12:15; and load back into the truck and be out before 1:30. We’d drive, on the average, 200 miles to the next city’s motel. The typical tour consisted of stage manager, electrician, house manager/sound operator, and five actors and actresses. Everybody worked setup and driving.

I toured, at different times, as stage manager, electrician, or sound operator. I’ve been technical director and lighting designer as well.

A few years along, I started playwriting for the company. The tours presented classic stories from American and English literature, weighted toward horror and humor; for instance, that first tour’s Act I consisted of four Poe stories and Act II of four Twain pieces. I submitted a Hawthorne adaptation, unsolicited, when the playwright hired for the job turned in a script ignoring production realities. That script used life-sized puppets to make use of every character in the original story; mine combined and dropped characters so there were no more on stage than we had people to play them. I’ve had ten scripts adapting authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, and Roald Dahl produced, with a few of them touring since the Eighties.

And now I’m writing for myself, publishing my first novels as ebooks. They’re a 1930s pulp superhero adventure and a story of breaking into the early comic books; I guess I burned out on literature!