In photos: Left, actor/director Bruce Jordan at his home in the Stockade neighborhood of Schenectady; top right, Neil Casey and Michael Knowlton, seated, share the stage in Boston at the Charles Playhouse for the 40th anniversary production of “Shear Madness”; bottom right, Jordan and Marilyn Abrams were the stars of their own show, “Shear Madness,” when it opened in Boston 40 years ago this month.
After more than 40 years as co-creator and “chief tweaker” of his ever-evolving play, “Shear Madness,” Bruce Jordan has learned a few things.
“You have to put a limit on Trump jokes,” said Jordan, who first staged and performed the show with co-creator Marilyn Abrams for the Lake George Dinner Theater back in 1978. “It’s way too easy, so only one per show. You have to be equal opportunity offenders. If you offend the Republicans, you have to offend the Democrats, too.”
This week Jordan is in Boston, where after a 40-year run at the Charles Playhouse, the city officially declared Jan. 29 Shear Madness Day. Jordan and Abrams were both in the 1978 version in Lake George, and also shared the stage when it opened in Boston in 1980, and when it premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 1987. They haven’t performed in the show in a while, but they’re still directly involved in three ongoing productions, and this summer the pair will bring “Shear Madness” back to Lake George where things got started 42 years ago.
While the characters have remained the same, the show is updated each time it is produced to reflect the city it’s being held in and the political and cultural events of the day. “Shear Madness” is based on a German play from 1963 called “Scherenschnitt,” which had a much more serious tone than the production Jordan and Abrams came up with. The play is a murder/mystery set in a hair salon, and the two main characters are a hairdresser and a policeman.
Jordan grew up on the south shore of Long Island, went to SUNY-Geneseo to get a teaching degree, and then headed to Glens Falls where he taught English, theater and speech for four years before jumping into the theater world with both feet as an actor and director. After getting a master’s degree in theater from C.W. Post in 1973, Jordan moved to Rochester where he helped found GEVA, a regional theater company that derives its name from the Genesee Valley. While “Shear Madness” has taken him around the world and to Europe, he has called the Stockade neighborhood in Schenectady his home for 33 years.
Q: When did you realize that you and Marilyn had a huge hit on your hands?
A: We had been in thousands of shows, so you can tell right away that the audience is really into it and that they’re having a good time. Then we opened in Boston in 1980 and two years later we were in Philadelphia, getting great responses.
Q: Why did you head to Boston for your first on the road production?
A: The first two summers we had people from Boston and they kept telling us to bring the show to Boston. We had never really thought about taking a play to Boston, but one night after a show Marilyn and I drove to Boston and looked for a theater. We found a place we thought was perfect, so after doing it in Lake George in the summer of 1979 we opened in Boston at the Charles Playhouse in January of 1980.
Q: How do you update the play?
A: That first summer we were doing jokes about the Canadians putting phony quarters, Canadian quarters, into our parking meters. We do the updates ourselves and we also get jokes from other people. Whenever we go into another city we hire three experienced, veteran actors, and then three local actors that all help us with the new script. But Marilyn and I don’t have to do a lot of that now because our productions in Boston, Washington and Chicago are like our family. They know what to do, and we’re always continuing to localize it. That’s why it’s been so successful for so long.
Q:Are you doing any performing these days?
A: The last time I performed in our show was as an emergency replacement at Capital Rep about 10 years ago. I do miss it, however, I did a lot of acting when I was younger. It’s a tough job. When you’re acting you can never go out at night. You never see your friends. And on Monday, the one night you can go out, everything is closed. I love directing, and I continue to do some of that, and I supposed if I loved a play and got to work with a director i love, I would do it again.
Q: With the success of “Shear Madness,” you could live anywhere in the country. Why is Schenectady’s Stockade still your home.
A: Jack Sheehan and his wife Kathe, who ran The Costumer, were two of my best friends, and they had two children. They told me how they didn’t have any family in the area, and that I should come to Schenectady and be an uncle. I need a place somewhere. I do have an apartment in New York City, but there’s no reason for me to leave. I love it here, Marilyn and I still have our office in Latham, I have a lot of friends in upstate New York, we love going to the Berkshires. And when you live in the Stockade you get to know everybody. I’m waiting for Arthur’s [Market] to reopen so I can see all my old friends.
Q: Do you ever think about how lucky you are to have created a huge success like “Shear Madness?”
A: It’s like anything. You go to work every day and you don’t think about it. I remember one time I was in the office doing some reading, and I came across an article on our show that was 18 years old. I couldn’t believe it was 18 years ago, and now 40. I keep on thinking how I get to work with comic actors all day, so that never gets horrible. You do have problems here and there, but it really has been wonderful.