The Playgoer: The Actor's Life

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Actor's Life

When I saw Terri White in the Encores concert presentation of Finian's Rainbow last spring, I knew she was a wonderful performer. Naturally, I did not know that just a year previously her acting/singing career had put her literally in the streets.

Susan Dominus in today's Times tells her remarkable story:

In the summer of 2008, Ms. White, 61, could not make rent. She was evicted from her apartment of 14 years, after a breakup with a longtime girlfriend. She could not work. She also could not find a way to ask for help. For three months, when she was not crashing on a friend’s couch, she slept in Washington Square Park. The daughter of traveling performers, Ms. White has been performing in musicals since she was 8....

Between gigs on Broadway and singing with Liza Minnelli, Ms. White had always worked for tips in piano bars around the West Village. She was a regular at 88’s until it closed, then found a new home at Rose’s Turn on Grove Street — until it, too, closed. She struggled to get a perch at the few surviving piano bars around town. Heartfelt if campy renditions of American songbook classics were out. Spoofy if campy versions of ’80s pop were in. “They want to bring in the younger crowd,” Ms. White said. “And I’m old.” She still played one night a week at the Duplex, on Christopher Street, earning enough to keep her phone on and get by on Ramen noodles, and kept some clothing there after losing her apartment. In the park, Ms. White slept on a bench near the bathroom because it made her feel more civilized.


Ms. White never mentioned to the others who slept in the park that she had been nominated for a Tony award* [see note] when she performed, alongside Glenn Close, in “Barnum,” in 1980....
Thanks to a sympathetic cop, a loving partner, and a knockout audition for Encores audition, she's now on Broadway, in Finian's big transfer. (Singing the apropos anthem "Necessity.")

So, a happy ending. And perhaps an exceptional case. But perhaps many show people this morning will read with chills down their spines.

Is this today's actor's nightmare?

(Here's a quick clip of White singing "Necessity." Great song.)

*Wow. Commenter Tom catches this, um, untruth. A little internet research would have prevented this reporting error.


Anonymous said...

Very touching story -- done in that Times-y (all-American) way: all about the individual and never asking about the structural issues and possible collective responses. I kept wondering as I read this: Where was Equity? Don't get me wrong - very pleased that White got a glorious happy ending. But the story also made me wonder about all those who don't.

Tom Shea said...

"Ms. White never mentioned to the others who slept in the park that she had been nominated for a Tony award when she performed, alongside Glenn Close, in “Barnum,” in 1980...."

Maybe that's because she WASN'T NOMINATED. Jesus, doesn't anybody fact check anymore?

Not the important part of the story, of course, but an important part of the journalist's job, yes?

Playgoer said...

Good work, Tom! Thanks for being as tough on NYT's fact-checking as you are on Playgoer's. After all--they have no excuse.

And I heartily agree, Anon. The article, while a good read, is just a "triumph of the human spirit." By posting it here I indeed hope to ask the broader questions about the actor's precarious status in the current NYC economy.

And, yes, what about AEA? I trust they have support for homeless actors. Don't they? Do they?