PHIL PROCTOR SPEAKS
Well, Melinda Peterson is my wife. We’ve been married now about five years. I met her actually when I stepped away from the Firesign Theatre for a little while to return to my acting career, ‘cause I come out of a stage background. I was educated in drama at Yale, a BA in drama at Yale, which stands for BS Artist I think. I’ve appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway and I had a musical comedy career.
My film career, and Broadway and off-Broadway career and theater career kind of got put on the back burner and eventually I just pursued the artistic quest in the Firesign Theatre manifestation. When I gave up the Firesign Theatre I decided the easiest way to get back into theater was to do play readings ‘cause you’re going to be pursuing your art as an actor, but you don’t have to look for a role, you’re basically going in and read a play or something.
The first play reading I did was at The Actor’s Studio West Writer’s Division, Actor’s Studio being like Lee Strasberg’s very famous school in New York and they have a similar school on the west coast. A young woman came up to me and said ‘I don’t know if you remember me but we studied acting with Ruda Hagen together in New York’ and I said ‘Yeah, I remember you’. She said, ‘Well I’ve written a play and I think you’d be really right for it but can you do a Russian accent?’ and I said (in voice) ‘yez ah ken do Russian aksent, no yatoosha pos garealnisha, I also speak Russian. Iya have bean in Russia and I --- yez’. She said "Well that’s good ‘cause the last guy who did it, couldn’t". I said "OK, what is this called?". She said "Nude Radio". I said "Oh, I’m very intrigued by the title. What’s it about?" She said, "It’s about a Russian exchange person who comes over to the United States, meets a young southern belle, a southern girl, and they fall in love, even coming from these disparate backgrounds".
The first act ends with them basically going to bed together. I said, "Sounds like fun to me. Let’s go". Or in Russian, "bataucoly". So first rehearsal, I meet this young lady I’m going to be working with and a wonderful female director who’s directing us and the play is very funny and very interesting, and after about three days the girl I’m working with drops out. Why does she drop out? Because she’s from the south and she spent all this time trying to lose her southern accent and she’s afraid she’s gonna backslide and so she doesn’t want to do it. Go figure.
So, I meet this other young lady, Melinda Peterson, and she’s a wonderful actress and a pretty girl and just great fun to work with. And ah, art imitated life in that we fell in love during the course of doing this play and eventually she did another play in which she wanted some coaching with dialects, which is one of my forte’s, and she was playing Eleanora Dussey, who was a famous Italian actress who actually pioneered the 'real' style of acting, I forget what they call it, but you know, she was like 'real' instead of "stylistic". This was simply acting in a naturalistic style of acting. Talking like I’m talking to you now as opposed to (loudly with passion) "talking the way they used to talk in the old days".
The play was called "Ladies of the Camellias" and she was working with Sara Bernhardt. It’s a true story, where Eleanora Dussey and her traveling company from Italy came to Paris to perform, in the turn of the century and there was no theater for her to perform in, so Sara Bernhardt turned over her theater for her to do "Lady Of The Camellias" in the matinees, while Sara Bernhardt was doing "Lady Of The Camellias" in the evenings. And both of them were great, great famous acting stars of the time, and it was a great publicity ploy.
This play had to do with the fact that a Russian anarchist student takes over the theater and holds the two ladies hostage. So Melinda auditioned for the part of Eleanora Dussey and got it and soon thereafter I was asked to replace the Russian anarchist student, so here I am playing a Russian again opposite this lovely, wonderful actress who is again doing an accent, this time southern Italy instead of southern America. That kind of did it. We found ourselves thrown together again in a theatrical situation where we admired one another so well, worked so well together and fell even more deeply in love and soon thereafter we made whatever arrangements were necessary to live together and to get married and pursue our lives together and we’ve been together ever since.
One of the wonderful things about the relationship that I have with Melinda is that she is an accomplished and very well recognized and honored stage actress. So whereas, I cannot really afford to go off to Sacramento or even in Los Angeles to sacrifice a lot of time and to go and do a play ‘cause I’m working all the time on all the other medias, she can ‘cause she doesn’t work in the same degree that I do.
Both of us have soap opera backgrounds. I was on "The Edge Of Night" for year. She was on "General Hospital" and "The Young and The Restless", which I did recently, which I called "The Old and The Tranquilized". She was on the "Young and the Restless" for years and years and years playing a big part, so we both had these backgrounds, but now she basically does theater and I do other media. But we get together to do radio. It’s so much fun because it requires a minimum of preparation but a maximum of intense concentration prior to the actual performance of the material which is ideal for anybody who’s been trained in theater because theater is, in essence, about the process of creating something for the moment of performance.
In fact, all performance art is about "the moment of performance", not about the preparation. But the preparation is where the foundation is built for that experience with the live audience. Then, all of your background work and all of the technique and everything comes to play because you must be relaxed enough to be able to interact with the audience and ride on the wave of the energy that they’re presenting to you on the basis of which you’ve given them. Melinda and I have a great deal of fun doing this together.
We’ve also created characters. We’ve created these two characters, Frank Funnk and Margot Mundaigne, who are, kind of, like the Lundt and Fontaine. They’re two people who’ve had a long, long, long career, totally fictitious of course, in the theater, from say, the twenties up through modern time. They’re ancient but they are America’s last living theatrical married family. We have fun with them and we’ve done radio shows in those characterizations with David Ossman up on Whidbey Island for his little radio company.
We’ve also had the great joy to work with Norman Corwin, who is the master of radio from the golden age, who’s still alive. He was born in 1910. He’s still going strong. He’s still writing and producing and creating wonderful work and Melinda and I have worked with him back in LA for National Public Radio.
We did a live performance for a very prestigious radio theater that adapts pieces and does, sometimes, original pieces in front of live audiences in Los Angeles. We love radio. We love it. That has been the primary way that we’ve expressed ourselves. We’ll probably be doing a movie together in August in Los Angeles on location, somewhere. Actually it works out to be a kind of a western.
We occasionally appear together on the stage because we’re members of a group called The Antaeus Company which is affiliated with The Mark Taper Forum, the main theater stage. We present a lot of classical pieces because this is a classical company that we hope will then be chosen by the other members of the company to be presented as part of our repertory.
Most recently she did a series of early American plays which she produced and directed herself and did some parts in. I did "Patience" by Gilbert and Sullivan, where I played The Duke. It’s as funny now as it was when it was done in England in 1889 or something like that. I love singing.