John Uecker

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John Uecker is a producer, director, actor, and editor whose work may be considered to occur in the genre(s) and form(at)s of magic realism, metarealism, poetic realism or heightened realism. Much like his non-linear path, it is difficult to place Uecker's artistic contributions squarely in any one category, but it is apparent from the people he has been associated with he does not seek the deconstructivism of downtown New York theater.

Directing[edit]

Uecker initiated and directed the world premiere of Williams Guignol, a production which paired The Chalky White Substance with The Travelling Companion under the aegis of the Running Sun Theater Company. [1][2]

Uecker also produced and directed many of James Purdy's short plays off-off-Broadway. He directed "Sun of the Sleepless" at Theater for the New City, two one-acts by James Purdy, with Laurence Fishburne and Sheila Dabney. Uecker became associated with Theater for the New City upon directing a play by Dr. Larry Meyers.

Uecker subsequently directed Purdy's full-length plays Foment [3][4] and Rivalry of Dolls.

For eight years in New York City, for the Running Sun Theater Company, Uecker taught a detailed yet distilled approach to the Meisner and Strasberg systems which were synthesized in exercises uniquely developed and taught by Kim Stanley.

These classes were offered twice per week, 4 hours per session, at free or low not-for-profit cost to students. It was developed for actors who simply could not afford the more expensive schools in New York City.

Influences[edit]

Uecker's influences are eclectic. He has coached and/or directed the following dynamic range of actors: James Gandolfini, Holly Hunter, Brett Butler Laurence Fishburne, Melissa Gilbert, Sam Trammell, and Jason Hale. Uecker's major influences may be grouped by the following: New York City's East Village artistic scene, the American playwright Tennessee Williams [5] and playwright, novelist and short-story writer James Purdy.

The East Village, New York City[edit]

His associations with Nan Goldin, Lindzee Smith [6], Jim Jarmusch, Sara Driver, and Kiki Smith, Bibi Smith, and Seton Smith, as well as [7] Crystal Field of the Theater for the New City [8] and Ellen Stewart of La Mama may be counted as essential to his creative development.

Uecker also was influenced by Candy Darling, perhaps most famous for her work in Paul Morrissey's "Trash" and Andy Warhol's “Flesh”. Uecker lived with Darling during her ascendancy into the public eye.

The Method[edit]

Another influence on Mr. Uecker was his comprehensive study of method acting technique, as transmitted to him by the original group of teachers in America who studied with or embodied training principles of Konstantin Stanislavski (a famous acting teacher and author of in Russia): Sandy Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Harold Clurman, and more markedly Kim Stanley (whose method of teaching acting Uecker would later represent under the aegis of The Running Sun Theater Company).

Uecker also was an assistant to Harold Clurman at the Actors Studio in the Playwrights and Directors Unit.

James Purdy[edit]

Uecker encouraged James Purdy to return to his original theatrical roots. It is a little-known fact that Purdy started writing plays as a child, crafting them to win his elder brother's approval. Purdy would act all the characters in the plays, and play them out using stick-figures, which is consistent with the early origins of Federico Garcia Lorca.

Uecker urged Purdy to write full-length plays with a foray into the productions of his smaller theatrical works which Uecker produced, directed, adapted, and/or acted in. [9] James Purdy & the Works (see the Tennessee Williams section later in this article). [10] was one such workshop production at the Ensemble Studio Theater. Images of the productions are here: [11]

Uecker collaborated with Purdy on a large-scale, substantive edit (or heavy edit) on "Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue", a novel which won the New York Times "Most Notable Book Award". [12] Uecker also was associated with the creative development and substantive editing of the last two publications of Purdy's lifetime, "Moe's Villa and Other Stories", a collection of 13 Purdy short-stories [13], and "Selected Plays" [14], a collection of 4 full-length plays.

The relationship with Purdy produced 9 full-length plays, 30 short plays, as well as a novel and a book of short stories. Uecker brought the mainstream press' attention back to Purdy by helping to land a lifetime retrospective review of Purdy's work in the New York Times Book Review. The result was a long essay by Gore Vidal, who framed Purdy as "the outlaw of American fiction" and praised him as "an authentic American genius."[15]

Uecker acted, directed, and produced many of these shorter works Off-Off-Broadway which he helped develop. [16]

Tennessee Williams[edit]

Uecker began his work with Williams on the afore-mentioned Williams one-act play called “The Chalky White Substance[17]. Over time, Uecker became a general assistant to Mr. Williams, and also intermittently functioned as a literary assistant to the smaller works.

Tennessee Williams attended the afore-mentioned workshop performance and, inspired by the show and the adaptations of Purdy's work to stage (which Uecker had facilitated), Williams hired Uecker the following day to assist him as well. At that time, Williams dedicated his one-act play, The Chalky White Substance, to James Purdy. [18]

With Williams, Uecker creatively assisted and edited (the edits being a light edit) many of Williams's later one-act plays, many of which have found their way into print and are becoming produced and recognized. Uecker was one of the few people permitted free access to Williams during his creative process [19]. Uecker also edited A Monument for Ercole, which was loosely based on Raul Castro. The Uecker edit was approved by Williams with copy-edit corrections in Williams's hand (the original manuscript which features the mark-up is likely viewable at Harvard University in the Tennessee Williams collection).

Playwright's death[edit]

Upon the death of Tennessee Williams, Uecker was described in the media as Mr. Williams' secretary, while noting that Uecker lived with the famous playwright in a two room suite .

Mr. Williams's body was found Friday morning by his secretary, John Uecker, who shared the playwright's two-room suite. Mr. Uecker said he had heard a noise in Mr. Williams's room at about 11 P.M on Thursday, but did not investigate. At about 10:45 A.M. Friday, Mr. Uecker entered the room and found Mr. Williams lying next to his bed.[1]

Speaking to CBS New York, on the 30th anniversary of the playwright's death, CUNY Professor Annette J. Saddik said Williams had been taking Seconal – a barbiturate derivative – to help him sleep, and also had been drinking the night he died.

“When this happened, John Uecker, who was his companion and assistant at the time, was still around and told the (New York City) Medical Examiner, ‘Look, people are going to think it’s suicide or AIDS or something bizarre and we don’t know what happened,’” Saddik said in the interview. “So the Medical Examiner, said, ‘OK, he choked on a bottle cap.’ But really, his body just gave up and the eventual diagnosis was intolerance.”[2]

Before Williams died, he had the opportunity to choose an unusual chronicler. Lyle Leverich was not known as a biographer, or even as a writer. John Uecker questioned Williams about his choice of Leverich, and Uecker's recollection of Williams' response differs from that of Leverich, who later authored Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams

"Fair" is the word Leverich says Williams uttered the one time he was asked why he chose him. John Uecker, a New York director who worked as Williams' assistant in his last years, did the asking.

"Wrong," Uecker said, in a recent interview. "He didn't say Lyle was fair. He said kind. I kept questioning him over and over. He wouldn't answer. I said, 'I really don't know anything about Lyle Leverich. Have you read anything he's written?'

"Then, he yelled at me: 'Lyle's not a writer! A writer's the last thing I want! Lyle will write the truth, but he'll be kind.'

"And in the long run," Uecker added, "he was right."[3]

Uecker was hired by the Executors of the Williams' Estate (Southeast Banking Corporation and John Eastman), for the purpose of cataloguing, authenticating and preserving Mr. Williams' later work because of Uecker's extensive and first-hand knowledge of the genesis of Mr. Williams' later manuscripts.

Uecker referred to his experience by Williams' side as a reference which guided his work on Williams' plays after Williams' death.

After Williams died, Mr. Uecker became more involved as general and literary assistant to James Purdy.

Mr. Uecker recently spoke at the grand opening of the newly renovated Tennessee Williams Welcome Center in downtown Columbus, Mississippi. [20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ SUZANNE DALEY (February 27, 1983). "Williams Choked on Bottle Cap". New York Times. 
  2. ^ "30 Years Ago Monday: Tennessee Williams Dies In Manhattan Hotel Suite". CBS New York. February 25, 2013. 
  3. ^ ALLAN M. JALON (January 11, 1996). "The Accidental Biographer : Tennessee Williams Knew This Unknown Would be Kind in Writing His Memoirs". Los Angeles Times. 

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