Tell us about Ken Kantor.
Well, I was born in the Bronx. I went to graduate school at Boston
University Theater Arts program and was actually a New York City school
teacher for three years. I taught Junior High School for two years and
Elementary School for a year. I was convinced that I was never going
to get any work as an actor! Finally I just figured I would give it
a try and see what would happen.
How did you come to Forum?
By a rather circuitous route that began with Santa Claus, I
suppose. A number of years ago I was Santa Claus for a number of friends
with young children on the Upper West Side. And each year I
would do Santa Claus at this one home where they would invite other
Each year there was a guest in this house who looked a
bit like Jerry Zaks, but not so much as you would comment on it. At
that time Jerry was just another New York actor. I never thought twice
about it. Well, Jerry cast me in the First National Company of
Anything Goes. I asked the friends whose house I had been doing Santa
Clause at whether that was the same Jerry Zaks, and they said, yes. So
at rehearsal one day, I went over to Jerry and said, You know, you've
seen my work before.
He didn't have any idea what I was talking about. I told him about our
annual anonymous get-togethers, and I've been working with Jerry ever
since! I did two very different tours of Anything Goes. The first one
starred Leslie Uggams - a great talent and a wonderful human being. The
second one was with Mitzi Gaynor. Shortly after that I was with the
Broadway company of Guys and Dolls for three years, which was the
whole Broadway engagement, and now Forum. I've been working with Jerry a
lot, and that's how I came to be in Forum - a gift from Santa Claus and
Eddie Strauss, who's the musical director and I think more responsible
for getting me into this show than anybody else.
What was it like auditioning for this show?
It was really rather peculiar. I auditioned for this while we
were still doing Guys and Dolls. The day I auditioned was the day they
postponed production for a year because Nathan was going to do
Birdcage. So I didn't hear anything more about it for over a year. By
the time I got back in touch with them everything had been cast. They
called me in to read for one of the covers. I was getting ready to
leave to do Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof the next day
or so. They offered Forum to me then and there and that was that. I
was the first cover hired and I think I started rehearsing about three
or four weeks later.
Can you talk about the difference between Understudy and Standby?
I noticed Nathan had both, and now Whoopi does as well.
Standby and Understudy, the way they're used in our show, are synonymous.
But, you're listed as one and someone else is listed as the other.
It makes no difference. None of us plays another role in the show.
We all just Standby.
How do they determine who goes on?
It's purely a contractual thing. You can negotiate to be listed as
a Standby or an Understudy, but essentially, it's the same thing because
none of us are in the show. We're all standing by because the way the
show is written there's nowhere to hide us. So the Standbys almost
form a second company of Forum. There are about nine covers. We hang
out on the sixth or seventh floor, in dressing rooms for the most part,
except when we get to go on.
So you have to be here the whole night?
They've been very nice about it. Once we established the fact that
we'd learned our parts and had gone on they allowed us to get beepers.
Some of us were reluctant to do the beeper thing because we always had
the feeling that the management might be trying to reach us
unsuccessfully. But after eight or nine months I think we all
succumbed to the beeper. The management and our Production Stage
Manager Artie Gaffen, have been particularly generous with the covers in
letting us use beepers and not having to be here every night. But, now
with the opening and everything, we all try to stay pretty close.
Tell us about the rehearsal period.
I think they approached even the first rehearsal period as if it
were a new show. Eddie
Strauss's attitude is pretty much the same as Jerry's. He feels that when
he comes into rehearsal and he's confronted with
a scene or a song he treats it as though it were a brand new song. He
asks how can he can make it work as successfully as possible. All three revivals
that I've done with Jerry have always been approached
with great sense of respect for the original but also the
feeling that it was a new piece. Forum was explored from that
point of view.
There was a great deal that was attempted that didn't quite land
properly. During the preview process a lot of that was edited away.
A certain amount of editing
takes place during the performance of the show as well. The premise of Forum
is "we shall employ every device we know in our desire to divert you."
So if something wasn't diverting, out it went and we tried something
When Whoopi came in she got the broken-in model. As far as the
text was concerned, the show was pretty much frozen. Larry Gelbart
came in and did a pronoun substitution. He also did some very minor
script changes, not so much to make it a role for a female but to
neuter the script so that anyone could play it, a man or a woman. The
premise is to look for the funniest guy you can find. If the guy is a guy
fine. If the guy is a lady, then, fine too.
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