By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
For Miller and Syer, life imitated art. Just as Katherine and Petruchio grow to love each other in Taming of the Shrew, so, too, did Miller and Syer become inseparable. They married in September 1982 — then promptly began rehearsals for Bent, the second show of the 1982-83 season.
"Martin Sherman's play is beautiful and brilliant," Miller says, "but the story's about Nazis and homosexuals, and Fontaine was apprehensive about the response. To her surprise, audiences and reviewers embraced Bent. After it closed, I remember her exhaling and saying, 'I was wrong about that one. Now what are we gonna do? Oh yeah. That little Catholic one-act.' "
They didn't see it coming.
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In January 1983 Syer was to appear in Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, Christopher Durang's satire about Roman Catholic education. "We expected Sister Mary to be the sleeper hit of the season," Greenberg naively recalls. That was before John May, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, denounced Durang's comedy as "a vile diatribe against all things Catholic" and called for a boycott.
"We refused to be censored by the archbishop," Syer says. "The production was an enormous rush, like being on the top of a rollercoaster. After playing for four years to 150 seats in the train station, now we were in the 700-seat Edison Theatre, and the place was packed every night. I was on the Charles Kuralt Sunday Morning program. I was on with Phil Donahue. It was a heady thing.
"But we had worked out a deal with a real estate holder to move Theatre Project Company into his building downtown. When Sister Mary happened, he said, 'No, no, I have no connection with those people.' All of a sudden, corporate relationships that I had been developing for years wouldn't return my calls. All of a sudden they forgot that they had been giving us $25,000 a year. Over the next six months, between a third and a half of my board resigned. I got angry enough after the Sister Mary experience to stick with Project Company for another five years. Then I just couldn't do it any more."
Syer resigned at the end of the 1987-88 season.
"When Fontaine left, a lot of people were upset and sad," Miller recalls, "but boy, was she happy. She immediately started freelance directing around the country at theaters with resources and budgets. One of the reasons she was so successful was because of all those years in St. Louis when she had to figure out how to mount a production on a shoestring. That makes you very creative."
In 1991, three years after Syer's departure, the company ceased to exist. "Looking back on Theatre Project Company now," Miller says, "at the outset we began as young, raw talent, but we developed into polished, finessed actors and directors. We did some amazing work in the post-train station years."
"Yes, there was wonderful work later on," Salomon agrees, "but we also always felt like we were fighting the Man. The establishment." ("We couldn't get into the club," Syer adds.) Nevertheless, more than two decades later TPC's legacy and mystique reside in such alums as Lee Patton Chiles, Joe Dreyer, William Grivna, Joe Hanrahan, Ron Himes, Joneal Joplin, Chris Limber, Jerry Vogel and David Wassilak, who continue to participate in St. Louis theater. Today it is almost impossible to peruse a local theater playbill without reading a reference to TPC in the credits.
"Two years ago I did a one-woman show at the Rep [The Year of Magical Thinking]," Syer says. "During that visit people talked to me as if the Theatre Project Company had been walking on water. You'd think it had been this blazing star in the firmament of adventuresome production. And all I could think was, 'Where were you back then? Where was your checkbook?' For me personally, those twelve years were glorious, but they were also heartbreaking."
As TPC's impending demise became inevitable, Salomon and Miller turned to other priorities. In 1987 Salomon accepted a part-time position at John Burroughs School teaching seventh-grade speech. One year later he was made chair of the theater department, a position and vocation he still cherishes.
"It wasn't until Wayne came to Burroughs in my junior year that I developed an interest in acting," says Sarah Clarke, known today for her roles as Nina Myers in 24 and Renée (Bella's mother) in the three Twilight films. "Until I met Wayne, I thought acting was imitation. He made me understand that acting is a process that involves make-believe and imagination. Wayne was this wildly enthusiastic, intelligent, fun individual who would encourage you to find what you love and then do it."
Heather Goldenhersh, another of Salomon's students (who would receive a Tony nomination for her haunting portrayal of Sister James in John Patrick Shanley's 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Doubt), adds, "When I started at Burroughs, I had no idea that I wanted to go into acting. Wayne was my great influence. He was like a dad or an older brother, someone I could confide in. When I graduated from Burroughs, Wayne basically dictated the colleges I was to apply to. I got my first choice, Juilliard. Then when Wayne came to my fourth-year performance, he was disappointed in the program and in the schooling I had received. That's the thing about Wayne. He can be completely honest and upfront, but always in a loving way that is not harmful."