P&S Journal: Winter 1996, Vol.16, No.1
Guys and Dolls Who Know How to Succeed in (Show) Business Without Really Trying: The Bard Hall Players
By Kristen Watson
| Where can you find a psychiatrist born to play the lead in "Fiddler on the Roof," a pathologist who has written his own opera, and a cardiologist with an Actors Equity card? Look no further than the Bard Hall Players.|
An institution at P&S since 1967, this theater group is the way many students, faculty, and staff from all Health Sciences schools meet friends, express their hidden talents, and escape the everyday pressures of medical school and work. Actors-both seasoned veterans and novices-musicians, set and costume designers, makeup artists, and technical experts all work together to create each unique performance. The Bard Hall Players have staged an array of musicals and plays over the years, including "Candide," "Guys and Dolls," "Kiss Me Kate," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "West Side Story," "Anything Goes," "The Dining Room," "The Pirates of Penzance," "Fiddler on the Roof," "The House of Blue Leaves," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Once Upon a Mattress," "The Pajama Game," "Iolanthe," "Pippin," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Our Town," "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "Company," "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You," "A Little Night Music," "The Robber Bridegroom," and "Cabaret."
Born as the Music Advisory Committee 28 years ago, this P&S Club-affiliated group evolved into the Bard Hall Players under the guidance of cardiologist Edward B. Leahey Jr.'73. Dr. Leahey devoted much of his time to acting in and directing Bard Hall Players productions as a student and, later, as a faculty adviser. Dr. Leahey continued his role of faculty adviser until he died in 1981 at age 33, a victim of acute viral myocarditis, a rare heart condition.
Jay Lefkowitch'76, professor of clinical pathology, stepped in as faculty adviser when Dr. Leahey died but admits that nobody could fill Dr. Leahey's shoes. Trained as an artist, Dr. Lefkowitch mostly worked on the sidelines, focusing on sets and program design during his days as a Bard Hall Player (1972 through 1976). "There are multiple facets to the Bard Hall Players," he stresses. "It's not all acting and singing; there's also stage design, stage sound, orchestra, and costume design. It's all very important."
However, during his first year at P&S, Dr. Lefkowitch took a stab at performing when he made his debut in the chorus of "Anything Goes" and played Avrahm in "Fiddler on the Roof" later that year. During his first year of residency, Dr. Lefkowitch also tried his hand at the role of musical director for the Players' 1976 production of "Wonderful Town" then directed "A Little Night Music" in 1992.
Dr. Lefkowitch also played a key part in inviting actress Celeste Holm to be an honorary guest at the Players' 1987 production of "Candide." He describes her appearance at the event as "almost serendipity." At the time there had been some talk about asking a celebrity to attend a Bard Hall Players production as an honorary guest and billing the event as a fund-raiser for a new theater/lecture hall in the Bard Hall/Tower I basement. At the time, Dr. Lefkowitch was living near Lincoln Center and saw Ms. Holm at a bus stop in the area. Thinking she would be the perfect celebrity guest, he called her and extended an invitation, which she graciously accepted. That production of "Candide" was billed as the "20th Anniversary Production of the Bard Hall Players of the P&S Club: A Benefit Performance for the Bard Hall Auditorium, in Honor of Celeste Holm." Ms. Holm received the first Bard Hall Players Theater Award for Distinguished Achievements in the Arts.
"The students provided the enthusiastic thespian work, Celeste Holm the elegance, and Anke Nolting and the Alumni Association staff the means and organization to stage the benefit," says Dr. Lefkowitch.
In 1989, another benefit was organized for the proposed theater/lecture hall for Bard Hall. The theme for the evening was a "Retrospective of American Musical Theater." The highlight performance by actress Patricia Neal, recipient of the second Bard Hall Players Theater Award, was her poignant rendition of "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music." Ms. Neal agreed to participate in the event because of her acquaintance with Father Dan Morrissey, assistant clinical professor of public health.
The original plan was to use the money raised at the fund-raisers to build a small theater in the basement of Tower I of the Bard-Haven Towers. However, the space available in the basement was limited and the cost of building a new stage grew prohibitive, so the money eventually was re-directed toward a refurbished Alumni Auditorium that would be equipped not only with modern audiovisual capabilities for lectures, but also "theater-friendly" accoutrements for the Bard Hall Players. Students had extensive input in determining the requirements for an effective theater space. In the spring of 1994, the Bard Hall Players inaugurated the new space with Ayn Rand's comedy-drama, "Night of January 16th."
| "Candide," 1987|
In the days when BHP productions were performed in the Bard Hall Lounge, recalled Dr. Lefkowitch, "everything had to be built from scratch. The flats, platforms, wood, and other materials were stored in the shell for the proposed auditorium in the Bard Hall/Tower I basement. Everything had to be moved upstairs and the stage was built in sections. The stage they use now is a luxury in comparison."
William Fisher'80, P&S assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and clinical director of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, was chairman of BHP in 1979 and 1980. Dr. Fisher says the 1977 production of "Kiss Me Kate" was the first BHP production with serious lighting, thanks to rented equipment. The Players appealed to Dr. Fisher, whose father was an electrician, to do the electrical wiring for the new equipment. "They must've thought it was genetic," he says. "They had me running power lines out the subbasement window and up to the first floor lounge. I was like Indiana Jones, battling all of the critters and cobwebs."
Dr. Fisher says his repertoire consisted mostly of comedic roles because he was such a ham. He played a gangster in "Kiss Me Kate," the devil in "Damn Yankees," Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," and many others. Although he started acting during his senior year in college, his first singing performances were with the Bard Hall Players. "They were mostly comedic songs," he says, "so you didn't have to have too much musical talent to pull them off."
As Dr. Fisher reminisces about his days with the Players, he recalls an anecdote about a fellow Player. During the run of "Damn Yankees," a third-year student was on a surgical rotation, which caused a conflict with her part in the chorus. "She had it all planned," Dr. Fisher says. "She scrubbed in, told the attending that she needed to take a bathroom break, ran over to Bard Hall, changed, did her dance number in the show, ran back, and scrubbed back in. The attending told her she had taken the longest bathroom break in history."
Stars, Past and Present
Jack Gorman'77, P&S professor of clinical psychiatry and deputy director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, participated in Bard Hall Players all four years of medical school. During his first year, the Players performed "The Pirates of Penzance" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," in which he played Bud Frump. It was during his second year, when Dr. Gorman won the leading male roles in both "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Once Upon a Mattress," that his talent became most apparent.
|"Guys and Dolls," 1988|
During his third year, Dr. Gorman began his stint as coordinator of the Players, a position that involved him more in the managing end of the productions. Despite the leading roles to his credit, Dr. Gorman believes one of his biggest accomplishments with the Players was overcoming the group's traditionally large deficit and ending a production completely in the black, with some profit to spare.
Erica Shoemaker'98, current co-chair of the Players, heard about the Bard Hall Players at her P&S medical school admission interview. Dr. Lefkowitch happened to be interviewing that day and realized that a future Bard Hall Player was at large when he discovered Ms. Shoemaker's interest in the arts. Ms. Shoemaker directed last semester's performance of "Guys and Dolls." It was her second turn in the director's chair; last spring she directed the Players in "The Actor's Nightmare" by Christopher Durang.
Ms. Shoemaker took two years off between high school and college to study dance in New York, but her interest turned to acting in college, where she was cast in four shows. Despite her background in dance, Ms. Shoemaker says she prefers to leave choreography to others. "Choreography is harder than directing," she says. "With directing there is already a framework to work with, but choreography means starting from scratch."
Fun, Friends, and Cast Parties
Talk to any Bard Hall Players alumnus, and they'll tell you about the good times they had, the friends they made, and the cast parties. "The Bard Hall Players is a marvelous organization," Dr. Fisher says. "It's open to anybody; no one was ever told they couldn't be part of a production, yet they still strive to put on as polished a production as possible. The social aspects were great too, and the cast parties were legendary. There were usually parties all four nights of a production. I found a home with the Bard Hall Players."
|"The Dining Room," 1989|
Dr. Gorman says he enjoyed the chance to work with people from all over the medical center: other medical students, faculty, nursing students, even the spouses of students. "I had a lot of fun and met great people."
And friendship is not the only kind of connection that can stem from working so closely together; romance too can bloom. Dr. Fisher's fondest memories are linked to a Bard Hall Players production of "Anything Goes," because there he met his wife, Holly, a nursing student at the time. "And I'm not the only one," he says. "I am aware of quite a few marriages that occurred because of the Bard Hall Players."
Ms. Shoemaker describes her time spent with the Players as "an enjoyable escape" from the everyday hassles of medical school. "It's totally different from everything else I do here," she says. "Everyone learns relevant group dynamics which help us work together."
"You've got to keep in mind that we were not all science majors in college," explains Dr. Gorman, "so it's nice to be involved in something not related to science. I was an English major in college and always interested in theater, but I never acted before the Bard Hall Players."
Players Continue to Reach for the Stars
Dr. Lefkowitch believes medicine and theater both work within the same ethic-that of never giving up; both are labors of love. And the love of theater continues for many after graduation. Dr. Lefkowitch is writing an opera adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca." Trying to get an opera produced by an opera company, he says, is "an uphill battle-worse than getting into med school."
Dr. Gorman's interest in the theater also continued; he wrote two one-act plays after medical school. Both "In the Gallery" and "My Name is John Henry Franklin" were performed in workshops at the 13th Street Theater during his first year of residency. The latter was also performed by the Bard Hall Players.
And Dr. Fisher hopes to return to the theater "once the kids are grown and off to college."
|Would You Give Money to This Man?|
Dr. Jack Gorman has found that his experience as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," shown here in 1974, helps him raise money for his synagogue.
Dr. Gorman, now president of his synagogue, finds his Bard Hall Players days a blessing at fund-raising time, when he tells the story of how he played Tevye in "Fiddler," which usually coaxes his congregation to be a little more generous.
What's in a Name?
The late Edward Leahey Jr. was "a major piece of Bard Hall Players history" both as a student and as a faculty member, says Jay Lefkowitch'76, professor of clinical pathology and current faculty adviser to the Bard Hall Players.
"I can't emphasize enough the fun Edward had with the Bard Hall Players," says his brother, Michael Leahey, director of the Office of Clinical Trials at Columbia-Presbyterian. "He lived and breathed that kind of fun."
Michael Leahey describes his brother as a Renaissance man who pursued a triple major as an undergraduate, spoke 11 languages, and was active in theater since his high school days. Dr. Leahey had an Actors Equity card and took the stage name Eamon O'Leahey for BHP performances.
"He was quite a character," says Michael Leahey.
|Dr. Edward Leahey, shown here a few years before his death, used the stage name Eamon O'Leahey for Bard Hall Players performances.|