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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Sep. 29, 2014 4 years ago

Theater SRQ&A: Elliott Raines

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by: Kathryn Parks

One of the great plays of American theater will be presented in a professional production at the Players Theatre this week — “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams. It opens Thursday, Oct. 2 and runs through Oct. 12. The four-person play stars Lynne Doyle, Lauren Ward, Dylan Jones and Josh Brin.

There’s one person, however, who's been the driving force in bringing this classic play to a Sarasota stage. In fact, he recently started his own theater company, “Two Chairs Theatre Company” to mount plays by mid-20th-century playwrights.

Elliott Raines has directed in New York City, and now, here in Florida, for the past 20 years and has been acting for well over 50. He's channeled his wealth of experience and passion for discovering the truth in acting in order to produce compelling productions on local stages with skilled actors.

Learn more about Raines in the latest Theater SRQ & A — from why he selected “The Glass Menagerie,” how he met his wife while directing a play and how an earthquake brought him to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Tell me about your new theatre production company.

The name of my company is the “Two Chairs Theatre Company.” I chose this name for the simplicity it suggests. For me, acting is paramount. My joy in the process is discovering and exploring the emotional truths that abound in great plays.

Why did you start it and what are your goals?

I've always wanted to direct the works of the great mid-20th-century playwrights — people such as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. However, I saw no practical avenues to reaching my goals here in Sarasota other than forming my own company. Over the next several years, I look forward to producing several plays from this era.

Why "Glass Menagerie?"

It's a great play with wonderful characters and themes to explore. I’ve wanted to direct this play for a long, long time, and I’m finally getting the opportunity to do it.

Where might people in Sarasota have seen your work?

Since 2009, at The Players Theatre, on the main stage, I have directed “Terra Nova,” “The Boys Next Door,” “The Dixie Swim Club” and “Every Girl Wants to be Annie.” At The Players BackStage, I've directed “Denial,” “Yankee Tavern” and “Frozen.”

Describe yourself in five words or less.

Specific, meticulous, detail-oriented and driven.

When did you know you wanted to be in the performing arts?

I’ve always wanted to perform. I first appeared onstage when I was 4 years old, and I have rarely stopped since. I turned my attention primarily to directing about 20 years ago.

Why the Sarasota area?

Simple answer: The 1994 California earthquake! One of my two best friends in this world, Larry Barrett, the owner of Simply Gourmet Caterers, lived pretty much at ground zero. He and his wife, Jamie, and son, Dylan, moved to Sarasota soon after. I started visiting them, and I fell in love with the place. My future wife, Laura, also fell in love with Sarasota, and we planned our lives together here.

What has been one of the top experiences of your arts career?

I met my wife, Laura, through a comedy I directed in New York City, “Beau Jest.” My leading lady was Laura’s best friend. Laura liked the play so much, she asked to meet the director. Thank God for that — certainly the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

What do you love about directing in the Sarasota area?

There's amazing talent here! More importantly, there's a kindness of spirit in the arts community down here that you rarely, if ever, find anywhere else.

Do you have a separate day job?

I am retired, now. Previously, I was an attorney for the State of New York for 22 years (lawyer by day, actor and director by night). I was a law clerk to two Supreme Court Justices in Kings County, the late Hon. Maxine K. Duberstein and the Hon. Michael J. Pesce and also a special referee in matrimonial matters.

What hobbies do you have outside of theater?

I love the electric guitar. Currently, I’m working on playing blues and jazz lead guitar.

What is something people don’t know about you?

When I was 9 years old, before puberty turned me into a frog, I was briefly in a professional choir in New York City. Our choir sang in Madison Square Garden in front of 16,000 people. It was a great experience! My favorite part was that our dressing room was the New York Knicks locker room.

What would be your ideal day off?

My ideal day off would be:  Sudoku puzzles all morning, watching old Westerns in the afternoon and spending the evening in our swimming pool with my wife, Laura.

If you could have lunch with anyone from theatrical history, who would it be?

Edwin Booth. I’ve always been fascinated with 19th-century theatre, and I would love to talk about it with that century’s greatest American Actor.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is my wife, Laura. She's always in my corner, supportive of my goals and desires. I couldn't do what I do without her.

What's your favorite thing about directing?

I love working moment to moment with the actors. I’m a very specific, hands-on director, and working with actors to break down the script to understand each character’s needs and wants is the reason I direct. I love the rehearsal process as much, if not more than the actual performances.

Where do you typically go out after a show?

I love to go to The Longhorn Steakhouse on Fruitville Rd. This has become a tradition with my shows, and The Longhorn people are terrific!

Name one thing on your theatrical bucket list:

Directing Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman.”

Do you have any theatrical goals for next year?

I have been in discussions with Jeffrey Kin, the artistic director of The Players Theatre on several projects. However, I would prefer not to discuss specific titles until they become definite. Nonetheless, some very exciting plays for future productions are in the works.

If you had unlimited funds to support your theatrical goals, what would you do?

I would start a repertory company where I could pay actors and everyone else a good wage and have a resident theatre home in which to perform.

IF YOU GO:

"The Glass Menagerie" — takes place Oct. 2 through 12 at The Players Theatre main stage, 838 N. Tamiami Trail.

Show times: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. $25 for regular tickets and $30 for premium. 365-2494

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