The Tibbits’ blog has just been hijacked! Lisa Lawrence here (music director Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), and I will be occasionally popping in to write about those that keep the Tibbits running smoothly. This particular entry is about Charles Burr, who has been the artistic director for 28 years, and has worked 36 years (since 1982) as an actor and/or director! Throughout this entry will be a little about Charles, plenty of pictures, and also some thoughts from a few that have worked with him (in parenthesis will be the most current production they did with Mr. Burr). Thanks for reading, and as always, your support of this fine theatre!
Chad Tallon (Resident Alien) “‘Pardon Me, are you Charles Burr, sir?’…the artistic director of the Tibbits Opera House first brought me in in 2011, and has had the faith in me to bring me back multiple times. Through his dry wit, skill, and passion for the art, Charles has turned the Tibbits Opera House into a wonderful place, and people love getting the chance to be directed by him. If you haven’t seen a farce directed by Charles Burr, I’m not quite sure you’ve lived.”
I have always wondered, “What does an artistic director do?” When I asked Charles about his job title and what it encompasses, this was his response, “The executive director who split this job out of his always said my job description was ‘make summer theatre happen’. That really does mean that it covers everything: pick a balanced season—(so each production is different but I can use the same core of performers), attend auditions, hire other directors, hire actors, hire design/tech, hire orchestra, contracting all of them, find housing for them, set up apartments for them, write about the plays for the program, be interviewed, assign interviews, guide productions of other directors to be quality control, attend all production meetings for every show we produce, direct some of the shows, act in one if necessary, cook dinner for the company after we strike the show.” I imagine there are many other things Charles is responsible for that he hasn’t even listed! He did also stress that his job is made much easier by all the wonderful help in the office, and with volunteers.
Sean Noonan (Resident Alien) “I think one of the best parts about working at the Tibbits is that I get to work with Charles. He’s a man that fascinates me to this day and it pains me to only be able to see him 2 months out of the year. Talking with Charles during the 5-10 minute breaks we get are such gems of moments. In those few minutes we can have a conversation as simple as asking how each other are doing, or go deep into our interpretations of the text of a play or musical. He inspires me to keep learning more about theatre and art, as well as learning about myself.”
As I mentioned earlier, Charles has also been an actor on the Tibbits’ stage. Moonface Martin in Anything Goes was Charles’ first role and he considers it one of his best! He told me, “I have done many roles; Fagin in Oliver!, Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. Sometimes it can be just as much fun to be Henry Higgins’ butler, and not have all the pressure of Alfred P. Doolittle. (I’ve done both here in two My Fair Lady’s).”
Maureen Duke (Damn Yankees) “Upon meeting him, I knew Charles and I would get along just fine. I was immediately drawn to his dry sense of humor, and sly smile. Charles gave me my very first role. I didn’t really trust myself to do the role of Morticia, but he certainly did. I’ll never forget the day he demonstrated how she walked. I think Morticia is his dream role Tibbits made me fall in love with musical theatre all over again. I wouldn’t be who I am without my 3 summers there. I owe a lot to Charles and the memories and experiences he gave me. I’ll always value his friendship, even from afar.”
Gloria Logan (The Fox on the Fairway) “OMG where to start. I’ve known Charlie uh Charles since he was about 15. Then and now he is the best read person I’ve ever known. His theatre knowledge is only surpassed by his kindness. It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life to be at hand to watch a sensitive boy grow into a skilled actor director but even more wonderful is to be a part of his creative life. He is always joy. Charles and I have shared many memories and I cherish them all.”
Obviously, Charles holds a special place in many peoples’ hearts. I asked him what his favorite experiences have been and his response was this, “I try to think of each new show that way. Certainly Gentleman’s Guide was great fun. I loved Hi-Hat Hattie, the one woman show about Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel. I love doing the farces such as Lend Me a Tenor, Out of Order, Run for Your Wife, Fox on the Fairway, etc—they create a wonderful creative energy in the rehearsal room that I think we bring into the theatre every night.”
Peter Riopelle (Charlotte’s Web) “There are so many thoughts/tributes/memories of Charles, it is very difficult to choose a single one or two… I will say (and have said for many, MANY years) that one trait that has always stood out (among MANY) is that he does and always HAS treated his actors like GOLD. In a profession where actors are all too dispensable, and often seem like “necessary evils” or simply “cogs in a wheel,” Charles has always gone out of his way to treat actors with an enormous amount of RESPECT, Dignity, and VALUE (even when they sometimes haven’t deserved the courtesy). Also, he is FAR AND AWAY the FINEST DIRECTOR, CONNOISSEUR, AUTHORITY and VIRTUOSO of FARCE that I have ever worked with. A favorite memory of mine is his long-since-discarded-but-very-sorely-missed annual “SOIREES”: where he would have the entire company over to the cast house for food, drink, and an entire evening literally EDUCATING US on CLASSIC (and often forgotten or neglected) musical theatre. It was like a MASTER CLASS in the genre, but with cocktails! He would have handouts, old photographs, and literally drop the needle on old albums. It was like food from the Gods. I learned more about Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Lunt and Fontaine, Bernstein, Sondheim, and CERTAINLY Cole Porter from those evenings than my BFA and MFA combined! I feel very BLESSED to have been a part of those RARE GOLDEN moments!”
Coldwater, Michigan is definitely a special place. Out of all the fine things the city offers, Charles Burr best likes the supportive patrons of the Tibbits!
Catherine Skojec (Boeing Boeing) “Charles has greatly influenced my career as a performer. He was the first person to give me a chance and hired me for the summer company when I was 19. I was definitely nervous and shy that summer as I tried to get my bearings through On Broadway: 1956 and Chicago but it was a summer I learned so much about myself. I was fortunate enough to work with Charles both as a castmate and my director and in my first two summers there, I wanted to be a part of his farce so badly. I remember watching the shows and admiring the eye for comedy and the fun it must be to be in one of them.(and I was not wrong! Boeing Boeing was a joy to do!) But I have two memories that I love with Charles. The first was Guys and Dolls with him as Arvide and myself as Sarah. The scene and song that we shared was one of the most genuine I have felt onstage and it meant the so much that he trusted me with this type of scene and chose to work together. My other favorite memory was the night before leaving that summer. As most of you Know Charles has a vast collection of amazing soundtracks and books in his home and I always admired his knowledge on theater. As I was saying goodbye for the summer, I went to hug Charles and he handed me a book on Mary Martin saying he was going through his collection and wanted to share this one with me. The simple gift of thinking of sharing a piece of this knowledge and vast collection with me meant so much to me. It’s been so lovely to have a piece of a man and a theater that has always made me feel at home. I still reread it and share it with other friends in the business.”
I also inquired what might be a dream show or role that Charles hasn’t yet done at the Tibbits. I truly love his response which was this, “As director, two by Stephen Sondheim that I don’t think Tibbits will ever do: A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd; and as an actor, Man of La Mancha. I think there is a Don Quixote in me—a man who finds his dreams more real than real life.”
Steven Zumbrum (Footloose) “I stayed in Charles’ house both summers I worked at Tibbits and I was stunned to see every wall lined with books, play scripts, and recordings of musicals and operas. I was determined to read and listen my way through all of them–after two summers I don’t think I’ve made it an eighth of the way through. It was especially difficult after I fell down the stairs my first summer, bruised my tailbone, and was unable to sit for long periods–I spent a lot of time reading while leaning awkwardly against walls.”
Suzanne Marie Timler (Jesus Christ Superstar) “I started at the Tibbits with Charles. We were both incredibly shy, so we were pleasant to each other. Over the years we have become great friends. We warmed up to each other gradually, finding our commonalities. We both love old musical theatre, the classics. He took the time to talk to me about it like no one else would. When I started working under him, I saw the genius that was Charles. He was a director that made me feel like I was incredibly competent, talented, and worthwhile. It’s extremely difficult in this business to find loyalty. Charles is nothing but loyal to his actors. He respects and realizes what it takes, he’s been there. Working with him has bettered me in so many ways. Now look, I am a director. Much of that credit goes to Charles. I will say that I love him. He is a constant in my life and I will be forever grateful for him and the Tibbits!”
In closing, I just want to state that I wanted to create this blog entry as a tribute to Charles Burr. He has made my experience at the Tibbits phenomenal as well, and I sincerely hope that the city of Coldwater realizes what a treasure they have in him. To have retained someone of this caliber who not only produces such great works, but has a legacy of people that love and respect him, is nothing short of amazing. I can attest from experience that not every summer stock theater has that level of professionalism, and even fewer have a leader at their helm with the patience, kindness, and love that helps provide a safe environment for actors and musicians to hone their skills and grow as humans. I, in addition to many more, am very thankful for the artistic director behind this program and its diverse productions! Keep an eye out for future staff highlights and as always, thank you for your support of the Tibbits!