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Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director

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A warm, witty tell-all and history of American regional theater, from one of our best-loved directors For Jack O'Brien, there's nothing like a first encounter with a great performer, nothing like the sound of an audience bursting into applause. In short, there's nothing like the theater. Following a fairly normal Midwestern childhood, O'Brien hoped to make his mark by writi A warm, witty tell-all and history of American regional theater, from one of our best-loved directors For Jack O'Brien, there's nothing like a first encounter with a great performer, nothing like the sound of an audience bursting into applause. In short, there's nothing like the theater. Following a fairly normal Midwestern childhood, O'Brien hoped to make his mark by writing lyrics for Broadway but was instead pulled into the growing American regional theater movement by the likes of John Houseman, Helen Hayes, Ellis Rabb, and Eva Le Gallienne. He didn't intend to become a director, or to direct some of the most brilliant—and sometimes maddening—personalities of the age, but in a charming, hilarious, and unexpected way, that's what happened. O'Brien has had a long, successful career on Broadway and as artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, but the history of the movement that shaped him has been overlooked. In the middle of the last century, some extraordinary people forged a link in the chain connecting European influences such as the Moscow Art Theatre and Great Britain's National Theatre with the flourishing American theater of today. O'Brien was there to see and record it all, in beautifully vivid detail. Funny, exuberant, unfailingly honest, Jack Be Nimble is the tale of those missing heroes, performances, and cultural battles. It is also the irresistible story of one of our best-loved theater directors, growing into his passion and discovering what he is capable of.


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A warm, witty tell-all and history of American regional theater, from one of our best-loved directors For Jack O'Brien, there's nothing like a first encounter with a great performer, nothing like the sound of an audience bursting into applause. In short, there's nothing like the theater. Following a fairly normal Midwestern childhood, O'Brien hoped to make his mark by writi A warm, witty tell-all and history of American regional theater, from one of our best-loved directors For Jack O'Brien, there's nothing like a first encounter with a great performer, nothing like the sound of an audience bursting into applause. In short, there's nothing like the theater. Following a fairly normal Midwestern childhood, O'Brien hoped to make his mark by writing lyrics for Broadway but was instead pulled into the growing American regional theater movement by the likes of John Houseman, Helen Hayes, Ellis Rabb, and Eva Le Gallienne. He didn't intend to become a director, or to direct some of the most brilliant—and sometimes maddening—personalities of the age, but in a charming, hilarious, and unexpected way, that's what happened. O'Brien has had a long, successful career on Broadway and as artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, but the history of the movement that shaped him has been overlooked. In the middle of the last century, some extraordinary people forged a link in the chain connecting European influences such as the Moscow Art Theatre and Great Britain's National Theatre with the flourishing American theater of today. O'Brien was there to see and record it all, in beautifully vivid detail. Funny, exuberant, unfailingly honest, Jack Be Nimble is the tale of those missing heroes, performances, and cultural battles. It is also the irresistible story of one of our best-loved theater directors, growing into his passion and discovering what he is capable of.

30 review for Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director

  1. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    I love accounts of life in the theater, and this one captures the experience well. It deals with O'Brien's development at the University of Michigan and at the roots of the regional theater movement in the early 1960s. Led by Ellis Rabb, who I have to confess I knew nothing about before encountering this book, other figures who are important to the account include more familiar names like Rosemary Harris, John Houseman, Helen Hayes, and a young Christopher Walken. I was expecting a little more ab I love accounts of life in the theater, and this one captures the experience well. It deals with O'Brien's development at the University of Michigan and at the roots of the regional theater movement in the early 1960s. Led by Ellis Rabb, who I have to confess I knew nothing about before encountering this book, other figures who are important to the account include more familiar names like Rosemary Harris, John Houseman, Helen Hayes, and a young Christopher Walken. I was expecting a little more about O'Brien's directing technique and its development, and that isn't really here. He's only just beginning to direct as the book ends (and I'd like to hear more about that). While Ellis Rabb is a fascinating figure, unless you experienced him as an actor or director more than I have, you might ultimately find all the attention given to him a bit much. Still, his story is a good example of how great figures of the theater (or I suppose any endeavor) can also be difficult, challenging people, but people who are ultimately worth hanging in with. I love the idea of repertory theater, a group of artists who learn to know each other switching between big parts and small as they remake themselves for a variety of productions. While he demonstrates its potential for triumph, O'Brien also gives a good account of how this approach uses some people, perpetually casting them in the bit parts with the thought that they'll eventually get the brightest spotlight. I also think he's very good at showing how productions that seem destined for greatness can become average through bits of bad luck, bad behavior, and simple happenstance, while other productions which seem smaller can become beloved of audiences.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Colin McPhillamy

    There aren't many who could tell the (until now) little known story of the APA Phoenix Repertory Company, and none from this point of view. Jack O' Brien apprenticed to Ellis Rabb, learnt from him, took his inspiration to California at The Old Globe in San Diego and then to Broadway. Easy to read as backstage stories tumble with theatrical politics, as finally O' Brien's own development as a theatre artist means that he must break with his mentor. Not only is this book a fascinating read to anyo There aren't many who could tell the (until now) little known story of the APA Phoenix Repertory Company, and none from this point of view. Jack O' Brien apprenticed to Ellis Rabb, learnt from him, took his inspiration to California at The Old Globe in San Diego and then to Broadway. Easy to read as backstage stories tumble with theatrical politics, as finally O' Brien's own development as a theatre artist means that he must break with his mentor. Not only is this book a fascinating read to anyone interested in the development of 20th century American theatre, it also fills a void in the archive. The great Eva Le Gallienne headed a company that fielded a repertoire in New York in the 1920s, but she was working below 14th Street. The APA is the only company to have sustained a repertoire on Broadway. That was in the 1960s. Among other things this book sheds welcome light on this little known corner of Broadway lore.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erik Benjamin

    very interesting but tough. O'Brien has a tendency to ramble a bit and go into some very minute details, but I guess that's why he's a great director. very interesting but tough. O'Brien has a tendency to ramble a bit and go into some very minute details, but I guess that's why he's a great director.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I thoroughly enjoyed O'Brien's memoir of his years preceeding his career as Artistic Director for the Old Globe in San Diego. Beginning with his years as a college student and chronicalling his experiences with the very tallented and seriously flawed producer/director Ellis up until the point the two of them go their separate ways and O'Brien's carreer and successes begin to truly bloom, O'Brien tells the story of the development of repratory theatre across our country. His writing voice is fill I thoroughly enjoyed O'Brien's memoir of his years preceeding his career as Artistic Director for the Old Globe in San Diego. Beginning with his years as a college student and chronicalling his experiences with the very tallented and seriously flawed producer/director Ellis up until the point the two of them go their separate ways and O'Brien's carreer and successes begin to truly bloom, O'Brien tells the story of the development of repratory theatre across our country. His writing voice is filled with a delightful sense of humor and honesty that makes his memoir a very enjoyable read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rob DeRosa

    Absolutely fantastic book by an amazing Theatre Director.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Can't wait for Jack Be Quick. Can't wait for Jack Be Quick.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Frank Kelly

    The best written, most insightful, theatrical memoir I've read in my 68 years. The best written, most insightful, theatrical memoir I've read in my 68 years.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth D. Lyman

  9. 5 out of 5

    Allen

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jen

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Terrel

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Fitzgerald

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael Chopoorian

  14. 5 out of 5

    Siddhant

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joe Harrell

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  17. 5 out of 5

    TIM

  18. 5 out of 5

    GINGER

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ricky

  20. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Childs

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stan Gray

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dan Eggleston

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Mitchell

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robin Wray

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Emmerling

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janice

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marc Borsak

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jana

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Lambert-Maberly

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