Way Off Broadway
Why does a three-time Tony-nominated New York director and choreographer come to a way-off Broadway stage in Annapolis?
Dames at Sea at Infinity Theatre Company is a blast from the deep past for Randy Skinner, who choreographed it as a student in the mid-’70s. Nowadays, Skinner says, “people don’t write songs so tuneful.”
Skinner should know: Dancing since he was four, he has worked with some of the industry’s best. His greatest compliment came from Ginger Rogers, who told him he danced like someone she knew well.
Dames, a 1930s’ Busby Berkeley dance extravaganza set on a naval battleship, feels like a discovery,” Skinner says. It takes you back to when Oklahoma and South Pacific were new and played on the radio and were on everyone’s lips.
New Yorkers Alan and Anna Ostroff created Infinity Theatre to import New York talent to theater in Annapolis, Anna’s hometown.
This summer, their second, they thought they might lure one of Skinner’s assistants to work on Dames. It’s a genre he and his company are into: Another Broadway revival, 42nd Street, earned him a Tony nomination for choreography.
But when casting director Michael Cassara suggested Skinner himself, they were all surprised when the director agreed.
Skinner said part of what attracted was the Ostroffs’ business sense. Alan and Anna spent the decade before launching Infinity as traveling performers, getting a sense of the nuts and bolts of running a theater and what it takes to make it succeed.
Skinner’s only demand was that the Ostroffs rehearse Dames for two weeks in New York before one in Annapolis.
Doing Dames has been a bit like going on vacation for Skinner, who’d never visited Annapolis before. In New York, he says there’s an air of existing “above it all” about theatre work. Not here. The cast gets to “be in a place to express themselves and do really good work,” he says. “It’s a nice lift. That’s why people do it.”
Skinner has treated Dames just as he would a Broadway opening. “Everything comes from the top,” he says of the tone he sets throughout a production. A key element of his style is his relationship with actors: “When you trust the actors and give them credit, you know they’ll do their homework,” he says.
Skinner has advice for young, up-and-coming performers. “Theater is full of a lot of dreamers,” he says. Have a plan, he tells those who work or study with him. Save money so the artistic heart has freedom to express itself. “You want a nice life,” he says. “You don’t want to struggle like a student forever.”
In New York or Annapolis, live theater serves the same purpose: giving people time and place to get away from their concerns and worries. That’s true as well for community theater and the local actors who nurture the art with their skills, love and dedication.