Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, writer, actor and director Ron Fassler. Ron made his professional acting debut in 1979 at the Cincinnati Playhouse and he most recently appeared in 2015's Trumbo with Bryan Cranston. Ron has worked with directors Mike Nichols, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Guest and Jay Roach. His dozens of television shows, cartoons and commercials include portrayals of doctors, lawyers, journalists, game show hosts, police captains, police snitches and the voice of a talking toilet bowl.
He has recently published his first book, Up in the Cheap Seats.
Norm: Good day Ron and thanks for participating in our interview.
Why do you think the theater is important?
Ron: I can’t put it into words any better than the great actress Julie Harris, who one said: “At its very best, the theater is a balm for hurt minds. It unites us as human beings, gives us a home, brings us together. You say: That’s what it means to be alive, to be human, to feel your heart beat. That’s what it means. Theater does that.” To me that says it all.
Norm: When did you first perform and how did you get the part?
Ron: I began doing plays in elementary school—which I wrote myself. I was very industrious and ambitious. But the first play I ever auditioned for was when I was in 7th grade. It was a children’s production of a play called The Stolen Prince. I got the title role and a few days into rehearsal I was fired for being “obnoxious.” I tell the story in my book, because it taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten, and that thankfully kept me in good stead over a thirty-eight year career as a professional actor.
Norm: What advice do you have for our readers who might dream of becoming involved in the theater as an actor, producer, director or any other involvement?
Ron: Get to know every aspect of the theatre, film or television. Things have changed drastically for any young actor who begins their career in 2017 than from when I began mine in 1979. Actors today need to be versed in writing, directing and producing. It’s not enough to just say, “I’m an actor. Here I am. Anybody interested?” With technology making it possible to film movies on an iPhone, the ability to create your own work is a major step up when it comes to forging a career.
Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your career?
Ron: It’s this book, no doubt about it. It has been my passion project for the past four years. It took me that long to interview the one hundred artists I met and spoke with and to write it. I’m more proud of it than anything I ever set out to do in my life.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to act? What was least useful or most destructive?
Ron: Acting takes you out of your head and into the body and mind of someone else. Most actors are drawn to it as a profession because in many cases, they are unsatisfied with being themselves all the time. If you ask me, an actor’s curiosity is their best tool and one that needs to be fed constantly. An actor must never stop seeking new ways to interpret the world around them.
Norm: As an actor, which characters are the easiest to portray? The Most difficult?
Ron: The easiest characters to play are the ones closest to myself. The hardest ones are the ones that are the furthest from who you are as a human being. But they challenge you the most and are always, always the most fun to do.
Norm: What would you consider your dream role?
Ron: In my book I make it very clear that even though Robert Preston as Harold Hill in The Music Man inspired me to become an actor, it was the role of John Adams in 1776, which I first saw portrayed by the great William Daniels on stage at the matinee the day before it opened in March of 1969. That performance has stayed with me forever. I would love to still play Adams before I become too old to believably play a man in my forties on stage (though I do think I still have a few years to go before I run out of time).
Norm: What would you consider an outstanding theatrical production and why?
Ron: I’m a sucker for any play or musical every time I step inside a theatre. And sure, not all of them are winners—not by a long shot—but most recently I have been wowed (just like everyone else) by Hamilton. I saw it three times with its original cast and if I could have gotten the tickets (and afforded them), I would have gone once a week for a year. Yes, it’s that good.
Norm: What do you think is the future of live theater?
Ron: Again, with a show like Hamilton, and now Dear Evan Hansen, the theatre is opening up to a whole new generation of young people that have never seen a Broadway show. With Hamilton now about to start touring, there will be thousands of kids that don’t have the chance to get to New York, who will hopefully be taken to see it by friends or family willing to plunk down the big bucks. I can almost guarantee they will walk out on air and say, “When can I see another musical?” And that’s important to the livelihood of the theatre.
Norm: What motivated you to write Up In The Cheap Seats and could you tell us a little about the book?
Ron: I’ve been telling the stories of these teenage experiences I had going to the theatre every week for years. I saw 200 Broadway shows in just four years between the ages of 12 and 16, at a time when I could sit in the last row for the average cost of about $3.00. So I had this extraordinary education in the theatre, impossible to do today, all self-funded by the paper route I had in my home town of Great Neck, Long Island.
I still can’t imagine what led my parents to think I was mature enough to handle going into Manhattan by train every weekend (it was about a half-hour trip) and walk around Times Square in the early 1970s. I mean, it was dangerous! 42nd Street was nothing like the way it is today. All those beautiful old theatres were playing porn and there were drunks, drug addicts, hookers and pimps.
Luckily, I didn’t have to walk down 42nd Street because there were no legit theatres at the time housing shows. Now you have the Lyric, the Victory, the American Airlines and the New Amsterdam. I never would have thought in a million years that a show like Disney’s Aladdin would ever be playing on 42nd Street.
Norm: Where did the title of the book come from and what does it mean?
Ron: Up in the Cheap Seats is where I sat every Saturday afternoon for a matinee, week in and week out. This was at a time when sixty shows came in a season. It was an incredible time. Believe it or not, I saw the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company in 1970 for $2. That’s not a typo.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Ron: What I wanted most to achieve with this book was to bring back in a colorful way an era that no longer exists. I wanted to shine a light on some shows that people might have only heard on an original cast album, like Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s last musical The Rothschilds, but have never seen in a full-blown production (and may never get to).
I also wanted to write a few chapters about some of the great stage actors I got to see and who, even though were very famous in their time, are now slowly being forgotten. So I pay tribute to the aforementioned Julie Harris, as well as Maureen Stapleton, Joseph Maher and John McMartin, who I was fortunate enough to sit with before he passed away last year.
Norm: Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
Ron: To be welcomed into the homes of people like Mike Nichols and Sheldon Harnick was not only kind of them, but a little overwhelming. They couldn’t have been nicer and more forthcoming. Harold Prince, another idol of mine, was so gracious and said the favorite three words that anyone said to me throughout this whole process: “Call me Hal.”
But I got to talk with James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, Tony Walton, Robert Morse, Doris Roberts, Ken Howard, Jane Alexander, John Lithgow, Nathan Lane, Bette Midler… I mean, it was an embarrassment of riches.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Ron: The most difficult
part was finding the perfect way to phrase a sentence gracefully, and
to make sure the meaning and intent was clear. I’ve written for
television and film, but that’s nothing compared to writing a book.
The most enjoyment I got was that I found out early on that I could
do it. And my confidence never wavered. I didn’t have one minute
where I was writing and thought, “This is crap.” I know that
might sound egotistical, but it came together rather easily for me. I
can’t wait to start work on another one. It was that much fun.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your book, Up In The Cheap Seats?
Norm: What is next for Ron Fassler?
Ron: I’m going on the road with the book. At my New York City book launch at the end of February, I was thrilled to have the Tony winning actress Joanna Gleason join me for a conversation. And in Los Angeles on March 19th, I will be joined by the legendary two-time Tony winner Robert Morse. And to keep these special guests consistently members of that exclusive Tony Award club, my book event on April 5th in Montclair, New Jersey will be with Priscilla Lopez of A Chorus Line fame.
And in terms of new book projects, I have a number of things cooking. Anyone interested should check in with my website for updates.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Ron: If you asked me about the person who drew the illustrations in my book, I would love to give a shout out to Jeff York, a Chicago-based artist who did the most hilarious and sensational job, as you can see here:
Norm: Thanks again and good luck with all of your future endeavors