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Queens Chronicle

When theater encountered Facebook

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2019 10:30 am

Nine-year-old Mark Lord was excited when his parents took him to the Tapia Theater in Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan to see a production of “The King and I” in 1963.

“The tickets were for a weeknight and, to tell the truth, to this day I cannot believe that my mother would have agreed to let my older brother, Steven, and me stay out late when we had school the next day,”he writes. He saved the program, particularly entranced by the performance of actress Catherine Jacoby as Anna.

That night, theater took hold of him.

Through moving back to New York, attending Queens College, 29 years teaching English in the city school system and decades writing for the Chronicle, neither theater nor that first play have ever let go.

The play, in fact, inspired his new book, “The Theater and I: A Chat with Facebook Friends” (Red Penguin Books), available from online booksellers; at bookstores; and directly from redpenguinbooks.com. All are welcome to a Nov. 17 book release party at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City.

Lord introduced hundreds of high school children to theater during his teaching career and has long been a mainstay in Queens community theater. His 246-page book is an easy read that had its genesis back in 2012 when he posted a theater question on Facebook. The responses became online conversations, prompting him to post more, engaging friends, colleagues, those in community and professional theater and even some former students to join in (note: Lord quotes this author once in a single sentence). Several friends over the years suggested compiling those conversations and lists in a book. He decided to do it.

The book also includes the longtime Forest Hills resident’s earliest forays into Queens community theater, where he has acted, written and directed; his first Broadway show — “Hello, Dolly” starring Ethel Merman in July 1970 with his ticket costing the princely sum of $2.50; and his realization while working for the student newspaper at Queens College that if you are writing about plays, you can usually see them for free.

“The King and I” is a recurring thread. It is on his list of top 10 musicals — he lists them alphabetically. It was the first play he directed after being assigned to teach at August Martin High School in Jamaica.

“I went to the Director of the English department and asked who was in charge of the school plays,” he said. Told no one was, he enlisted the help of the chairwoman of the music department to change that.

“I said I wanted to do ‘The King and I,’” he said. The play was a hit, and August Martin had what would become an award-winning theater department.

As fate would have it, the play found him again a few years ago at a massive upstate flea market, when he saw a vendor selling a ceramic “Anna and the King” cookie jar.

“He wanted $50 for it,” Lord said. “I was walking around when I saw a guy selling cookie jars and asked if he had one.” He said no, with Lord then telling him about the one with the other vendor.

“He told me ‘Go back and get it. You’ll probably never see another one in your life.’ I went back and it was near the end of the day. I got it for $30.”

Theater fans will enjoy seeing the famous lines of dialogue and song lyrics throughout Lord’s narrative — if you think you’ve found one not listed in the appendix, you didn’t.

There are also reminiscences about his brushes with Broadway royalty, including delightful encounters with actress Marlo Thomas and legendary producer and director Hal Prince; one less so with Merman at an autograph signing; and how actor Alec Baldwin taught his students via letter.

Perhaps his most treasured autograph came in 1973, a decade into his journey, when he read that an actress named Catherine Jacoby would be appearing in Dansrosch Park in Manhattan. A photo of the personally autographed program from 10 years earlier is displayed proudly in the book.

On contemporary Broadway, Lord is fine with the “Disneyfication” of some of the Great White Way. He’s philosophical over shows like “Chicago,” the revival of which has been running since 1996, being vehicles to hire big-name performers for limited runs.

“A producer’s job is to sell tickets. Plays like ‘Chicago,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘The Lion King’ have become almost New York City landmarks ... If it keeps theaters open, keeps actors employed and keeps drawing people to Broadway, it’s good.”

‘The Theater and I’ book release party
When: Sun., Nov. 17, 4-6 p.m.
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23 St., Long Island City
Entry: Free. (718) 392-0722,

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