Originally from the East Coast, actor / producer / director / writer / chief bottle washer Ronnie Marmo has managed to call both the East and West coast home during his life-long career. Perhaps best known for his stellar performance in I'm Not a Comedian... I'm Lenny Bruce, which he also penned – directed, by the way, by the talented Joe Mantegna - or his three year / 150 episode run on General Hospital just a few years ago, Ronnie traveled from Los Angeles to New York to Chicago to entertain audiences far and wide. With critically acclaimed performances in dozens of plays, including Bill W. and Dr. Bob and Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding, Ronnie co-founded Theatre 68 Los Angeles 19 years ago. The New York Chapter opened nine years ago now, making Theatre 68 a bi-coastal home for many artists. Despite his perpetual-motion-machine style, Ronnie took time out to interview during the COVID-19 “holiday” from live theater.
How is the COVID-19 ban on live theater affecting you and Theatre 68?
Ronnie Marmo: We tried to keep the Lenny Bruce show open in Chicago as long as we could. We got as far as Sunday, March 15 before we ultimately postponed the show and went dark for the time being. For our last four performances, we deliberately sold only a quarter of the 180 seats in the theater to allow for social distancing; and we sanitized everything that people might touch. In 25 years, I’ve never missed a performance. Now we don’t have a choice, but this virus is scary and it’s important to respect the people who know more than us about COVID-19 safety.
The LA and NY Chapters of Theatre 68 are currently dark for productions; however, the community is sticking together with our Monday Night Actors Gym on both coasts. It's a hard time right now because many of us don’t know much about this virus. I’m concerned for theaters both small and large around the world because, generally speaking, theater is not a very lucrative business; and many of us survive month to month. After all, we don’t get into the theater business to get rich. We do it because we can’t help ourselves; we love it. It’s a sickness of sorts (laughing). My hope is that people will continue to support the arts. For example, if you currently have tickets for a show or event, it would be wonderful if people can move those tickets to a performance down the road as opposed to asking for a refund - but ONLY if they could afford to do so.
Tell us about your plans for the future. Will you continue with I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce? Do you have any new shows planned?
RM: First and foremost, we plan on bringing the Lenny Bruce show back to Chicago just as soon as it is safe to do so. Also, we plan on having a few pop-up performances here in Los Angeles. We have just signed with Columbia Artists Theatrical, and they are working on a national tour. We have already had an offer for early 2021 in Tampa, Florida; and many other venues have inquired. But I assume that, with the virus, things may be delayed a bit. We will see.
Let me tell you a bit more about Theatre 68 and our productions. We have great leadership on both Coasts, and we’ve been in constant meetings making plans and finding ways to keep the company inspired during this very tough time.
I plan to keep moving forward in hopes that all will be well soon enough / Combined on both coasts, we have 90 actors who take part in our NOW virtual Monday Night Actor’s Gym. I’m constantly trying to help keep everyone engaged. We’re working really hard with lots of writing assignments, monologue jams, anything we can do virtually to continue to grow as artists. We’re constantly producing on both coasts. Right now, we’re working on Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner. It’s a great play, a really cool play. It’s sort of a contemporary version of Anton Chekhov’s, Seagull. We plan to open in June in Los Angeles. We’re having virtual auditions next week, and we plan to move forward as if it will happen, even if maybe we have to postpone it. In NY, we are in the middle of developing seven original one-act plays written by NY company members. We’re going into virtual auditions for that as well in the coming weeks.
Any final thoughts on live theater's survival during a pandemic?
RM: Our survival depends on how kind the landlords are to theater owners. I’m going to work my pants off to keep this thing going for all involved. I feel that enthusiasm is the key to life, and that certainly has been the case for me. People have asked me how I’ve found success in different areas of show business, and I simply tell them - I do my best to finish what I start.
This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.