Friends of mine are working on a new musical, and the only chance I had to see it was on Wednesday night. The theatre is a long trip, almost twice as far as it is to NYC, but it’s a pretty drive to a charming town and a lovely theatre that does bold, interesting, innovative work. So, even though it meant that chicken I roasted was the last Dinner at the Country House since Sunday, I headed northeast.
A few years ago, this theatre produced a show I co-wrote; one night after a performance, our director took my collaborator and me to a local pub for dinner. Now, I try to leave time for dinner at this pub every time I go to that theatre. I honestly don’t remember what main I ordered on that first trip; it’s a side dish that stuck with me. Cottage Fries are round slices of potato, so named because they vaguely resemble the shingles that might tile a cottage roof. These are mandoline-sliced, ridged rather than with flat sides. They’re heavily spiced, with very crisp exteriors and a tender center; I suspect deep frying.
Most Cottage Fries recipes I’ve found call for oven-frying with a long baking time. These are, I’m pretty sure, deep fried. My writing partner, who found them so tasty as to be addictive, referred to them as Crack Fries. I doubt there is any illicit substance in the seasoning blend; I taste cayenne, salt, and paprika, and they’re served with a dipping sauce that includes dill, leeks, and sour cream–but who knows what else is in there? The Harp and Dragon isn’t telling.
I met a friend for dinner before the show–of course, at the Harp and Dragon, and, of course, I ordered the Cottage Fries to share. She’s a theatre professor at a relatively-nearby college. She told me of a particularly disheartening master class that had been given for her students by two theatre professionals. It seems neither of the guests–the music director for a long-running Broadway show and the director who supervises touring casts of several mega-hit productions–has any real interest in new musicals. The music director could only name one currently-writing team, and the director avoids working on anything new because “I expect to get paid for my work; I’m saving for a country house.”
(Yes, that did sting a little.)
These two have the musical theatre equivalent of cushy corporate jobs. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making a living, but the suggestion that anything other than working on big-hit shows is worthwhile does not bode at all well for the future of the musical theatre. Where, after all, will their next jobs come from?
There are lots of jokes about how training in the theatre best prepares you for a career in fast food, but I don’t usually hear the suggestion of them from people who are working in the theatre. Writing doesn’t yet pay all the bills for me or most of my peers. Many of the actors and musicians I know are primarily employed outside the theatre. It’s a challenge to keep one’s craft alive as something other than a hobby, though even avocational art can be fulfilling. I don’t know if our waiter was an actor or a painter or a sculptor or a med student, but we tipped her well. We would like fries with that–especially when they’re as good as the ones at Harp and Dragon.