Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Day I Met Sam Wanamaker

Performing was my second language. I’d been acting (unofficially) since I was 4. I took it upon myself to entertain my family, my cousins, guests who came to visit, and to the chagrin of my teachers, my classmates as well. I made it official in college and graduate school, earning a BA in theater and an MBA in Non Profit Arts Management.

When it came time to finish my MBA, we all scrambled to interview and achieve “placement.” I got a call one day from the head of my program that the famous actor Sam Wanamaker was in Los Angeles interviewing candidates to head a Los Angeles fund raising office for the rebuilding of the original Globe Theater in London. I was thrilled. I can’t seem to remember why I held Sam Wanamaker in such high esteem, but I did. He was as holy to me as Gregory Peck, just not as universally known. And while I didn’t consider myself a Shakespeare aficionado, the idea of replicating the Globe Theater on its original London site was intoxicating. I made an appointment.

The day of the interview arrived, and I was spot on time. The temporary office they’d acquired was in the mostly unoccupied Dart Drugstore building opposite the livelier Beverly Center. A security guard led me through the empty corridors to Mr. Wanamaker’s suite. He greeted me and showed me the small, sparse office. His handshake was warm, his smile infectious. He suggested we head over to a small cafe across the street to start our interview over coffee. Eloquently describing his dream to rebuild the Globe and how he came to his deep passion for Shakespeare, I was mesmerized. Sometimes my admiration for celebrities renders me mute, but I was alive with enthusiasm for this project. I was energized and was able to contribute easily to the conversation. I think I conveyed a sense of my capabilities, my general enthusiasm and verve.

While we were talking, I was aware of not wanting to have too much coffee. I didn’t want to seem jittery or nervous. (More than I already was.) So I cut the caffeine, and drank cup after cup of water to keep pace with his endless thirst for tea. Two pots I think. I was in heaven. There was nowhere else in this world I wanted to be.

But then, we headed back over to the office building. Again the security guard met us at the door, and walked us back to the office. It seems Mr. Wanamker didn’t have keys to anything. He needed an office manager, a keeper of the keys so to speak. I so wanted to be it. We’d been talking for about an hour by now and hadn’t run out of things to say. But, the coffee and water were catching up to me. I had to pee. I thought about the fact that I’d have to go find the security guard, to open the facilities. Or worse yet, ask the famous, fabulous Mr. W to find the security guard and have him open the bathroom for me. For some reason, I couldn’t do that. I was too shy. The idea of having the elegant, debonair Sam Wanamaker take me to the bathroom was, well, it was unthinkable. So I kept quiet and continued my conversation. As the minutes ticked by, my abdomen was starting to ache. My eyes were watering. My thoughts were drifting off the project, leaving London and badgering me with how uncomfortable I was becoming. Instead of singing my own praises, I was weighing the cost benefit of staying and talking and possibly impressing, with the definite likelihood that I would eventually pee in my pants. Not so impressive.

So, I conjured up a reason to leave and lied about having a subsequent appointment. (It was Sunday.) While I would have liked to have lingered in saying goodbye, and let him know how excited I was by the prospect of working with him, and helping to make this dream a reality, I shook hands and said farewell. I walked as quickly as I could to the exit, thankful that I could open the door myself without summoning the guard. I got into my car, screeched out of the parking lot and raced to the closest gas station.

Even now, 20 years later, I cannot pass that particular gas station (La Cienega and Olympic) without thinking of the job that got away. When the Globe finally opened 10 years later, 4 years after Mr. Wanamaker had passed away, I thought of what might have been. When I was in London last year I toured the Globe. I stood on the historic site, in the open air round theater, imagining a scene played in Shakespeare’s time. The tears in my eyes this time were a mixture of happiness to see it, sadness that Sam Wanamaker hadn’t lived to realize it, and yikes, I had to pee again.

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