R. Bruce Connelly is an Ivoryton Playhouse favorite!
He has acted and directed at the Ivoryton Playhouse since first appearing as Jesus in Godspell in 1974. Recent productions he has starred in include The Bells of Dublin, The Producers and Last of the Red Hot Lovers. He directed Playhouse productions of Oliver! and Barefoot In The Park. We caught up with Bruce after the opening matinee performance of I Ought To Be In Pictures now on stage at the Playhouse.
Why Neil Simon?
As an actor and a director, you are in great hands with a writer like Neil Simon. You know, the writers of Sid Caesars’ Your Show Of Shows – one of the best TV variety shows ever produced – were Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Larry Gelpart and there have been many shows produced at the Playhouse that were written by these talents including The Producers and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. But I Ought To Be In Pictures is different because there is a heartfelt story here – a difficult situation is being explored and made better in this play. There is a great deal of heart and it’s very moving. Besides the jokes you expect from a Neil Simon comedy, there is also a lot of honest emotion for the audience to respond to.
What makes this cast special?
They all say yes! As a director I had a vision to guide them into the same world and into the same energies and timing. The three people starring in this play took every single director’s note they said “Yes! I’ll do that” and “Yes! I’ll change that”, supporting me by their positive and open attitudes. Each of them are very funny in their own way – they brought that comedy with them. They can make us laugh but they can also make us cry and that’s what this play demands.
As an accomplished actor, was directing always something you wanted to do?
I started directing in 4th grade with a chaotic production of Hansel and Gretel in Grammar School in Wallingford! It wasn’t until college that I started directing seriously – and I found that directing also helps me as an actor. I like to have a director guide me through a scene or monologue to help me get to where I need to go honestly. Since I’ve had good directors in the past, they have helped me to help other actors. Miss Constance Welch, who founded the Yale School of Drama with George Pierce Baker, was my drama coach at Southern Connecticut State College and I direct in the same style. It was her kindness and support of actors that inspires my work as both an actor and a director. She’s been gone since 1976, but she still directs me today!
What makes acting or directing at the Ivoryton Playhouse so special?
The staff and crew are some of the best that I’ve ever worked with. It’s always a pleasure to come back here. From the people who greet you at the door as you arrive to the crew behind the scenes – every one of them is so good at what they do and so easy to work with. When I come back to Ivoryton it’s like my home away from home. Jacqui and Suzy and Ed Burke (at whose home I stay when in Ivoryton) are like family. They always make me feel very welcome whenever I come back.
Bruce is looking forward to directing Pickwick Papers for the Battell Arts Foundation in Norfolk, CT in August and he continues as Barkley the Dog on Sesame Street as he has since 1993.