News Column

Curtain call

May 12, 2014

By Will Broaddus, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

May 12--SALEM -- John Fogle is ready for his next role.

After five years as artistic director of the Salem Theatre Company, the Marblehead resident will step down at the conclusion of this season's last play, "Shirley Valentine," which opens Thursday.

The company will honor Fogle at party at Finz Seafood and Grill on Tuesday night from 6 to 9.

"John brought an amazing energy," said Gary LaParl, executive director of the company. "He raised the production values of our shows. He brought a particular vision to the theater, his own brand of theater that's quirky and delightful, that could challenge and entertain an audience."

Fogle has brought 23 plays to life in the company's cozy theater on Lafayette Street. These have ranged from thought-provoking fare like "A Delicate Balance" by Edward Albee and the little-known "A Picasso" by Jeffrey Hatcher, to the madcap holiday farce "Reckless" by Craig Lucas.

"I produce every show," he said. "I'm the guy who pulls the team together and does the running around. It isn't glamorous, but it has to be done.

"I have set-designed probably six or eight of them, and I've done the sound for most of them. I've directed 16 of the 23, and I have acted in one."

The company had staged shows in 10 different venues after their founding in 2002, before Fogle and LaParl moved them in 2009 to their current home, which was previously occupied by the Halloween-themed Dracula's Castle.

While the theater seats only 50, Fogle sees that constraint as a blessing in disguise.

"Limitations actually inspire creativity," he said. "Limitations of finances, as well as space and resources, force you into a mode of being very creative and finding out ways to do things. We do these shows on minuscule budgets, but they don't look and feel it."

Besides, Fogle believes that the effectiveness of theater lies as much in what it leaves out as in what it provides to an audience.

"When you go to a movie, you get everything, and it just washes over you," Fogle said last year while directing Conor McPherson's "Shining City." "In the theater, you get a little, and you're filling in the rest and use your own imagination. You become a very big player in how the play feels and sounds to you."

Fogle came to this realization in the mid-1970s, when he was making sports information films and also working at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge.

"One night, I'm watching Johnny Carson and the guest is Orson Welles," he said. "Johnny asks him, what's your favorite movie? He said, 'The one I'm working on now, because movies are dead. They come in cans.'

"I sat up like a rocket and said, 'That's exactly right; they're dead.' That's when I decided to get out of movies and into theater, which is always living and breathing."

Fogle appeared as an actor with several companies in Boston between 1970 and 1975, before directing his first show in 1975.

He has done 87 full productions since then -- not counting his work as a drama coach at Marblehead High School -- with local groups that include the Mugford Street Players in Marblehead.

He also led several seasons at the former Barton Square Playhouse, a 130-seat proscenium theater in Salem, from 1981 to 1983.

"People still remember the Barton Square Playhouse," he said. "I'm proud of what we did there, but it was a bad time."

The period right after the financial meltdown of 2008, when he and LaParl moved the Salem Theatre Company to Lafayette Street, could also be described as a bad time, but the theater has grown in spite of the economy.

"We went from three main stage shows to five per season," LaParl said. "Our audiences grew from roughly 1,200 per year to close to 2,500."

Fogle said he decided to leave Salem Theatre Company after he came up with this season's lineup and asked himself what he wanted to do next.

"I couldn't answer that question," he said. "What I said was, I'm growing a little bored with myself. It's time for the theater to have a change of air and fresh energy."

But he isn't leaving the stage completely and plans to audition for plays and commercials after recently shooting an ad for New Hampshire State Lottery.

"I feel very vigorous, so it's not a matter of being tired," he said. "About every five to seven years, I reinvent my life. It's very common for me to say, 'It's time for me to go.'"

If you go

What: John Fogle Retirement Party

When: Tuesday, May 13, 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: Finz Seafood and Grill, 76 Wharf St., Salem

Tickets: Hors d'oeuvres and cash bar $10; celebration and contribution for gift, $25; at $15 tickets available at the door.

Information: 978-790-8546


(c)2014 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.)

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Source: Salem News (MA)

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