The actor/writer/director Austin Pendleton was recently interviewed on the excellent “Back To One” podcast which I highly recommend listening. In it, he talks craft and process and tells some amazing theatre history stories. One of which surrounds his acting in the very first production of “Fiddler On The Roof.”
The legendary Jerome Robbins was the director/choreographer. They were in Detroit’s Fisher Theatre for an out of town tryout in hopes to eventually get to New York. The early reviews were disastrous.
The cast all gathered together in a bar lamenting the bad reviews and drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Off in a corner by himself was Robbins furiously writing notes in the script. Pendleton sidled up to him asking what he was doing, how he felt about the negative press, what his plans were, etc…
Robbins replied: “Tomorrow, we’re all gonna meet early to rehearse. I’ve found ten small things I want to fix. After we fix those ten things, the next day we’ll get together early and fix ten more, and so on, and so on, and so on.”
So that’s what they did. Every single day. Right up until the end of the run.
The show got better and better and better. Producers came to see it towards the end of the run, loved it and put it up in New York.
And the rest as they say is history….
–Fiddler became the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances.
-It held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run.
-The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography.
-It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation and has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It’s also been a popular choice for school and community productions.
The lesson(s)? Never give up. Control what you can control. Find and fix ten small things every day.