RON KEATON REDUX
On March 23, 2016, we launched the Conversations series at the Skokie Theatre. We set out to present "a monthly interview series featuring authors and influential leaders in the arts, media and business" with a plan to run for four months with two conversations for each program. As you will hear, our first program, with producer/writer/actor Ron Keaton and writer Ethan Michaeli, was particularly memorable. Our conversations have continued since those early days with now over 30 available on our website at De Usuris and online at iTunes, Stitcher and Libsyn.
This week, we are featuring the conversation with Ron Keaton including a scene from his Jeff Award winning performance of Churchill. We have also reprinted here, for the first time, the opening monologue of the show as this week's De Usuris blog post as a tribute to my friend, the late John Callaway -- proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Cheers, ET
Good Afternoon and Welcome to Conversations!
Conversations are very engaging. You can have them anywhere. With anyone. Even short conversations can have a long- lasting effect. It is always good to have something interesting to talk about. And sometimes, things just come up and you go there.
That is what this program is all about.
My friend and mentor, the late John Callaway, and I had spirited conversations on just about every topic you can imagine. He always said that he was a generalist. He said it was because he was curious about everything.
John had an amazing approach to these kinds of things. He said once that it was an extraordinary opportunity to be able to explore a topic and talk with a guest without all the phony studio gimmicks to make the broadcast appear like the audience is having fun. No commercial breaks. Interesting topics and engaging guests. Not like TV at all, he’d say.
John believed strongly in preparation. You need to show up early and ready to play, something I have always done my entire life.
I realized somewhere along the way that I was curious about everything, too. And while I have concentrated on military history for almost three decades, we are about to venture into new, exciting territory. I am very happy that you have come along for the ride. And, I can assure you I am ready to play.
Leading up to this program, I have received a lot of emails, letters, and calls from people telling me that they appreciated all of the Library programs we produced over the years. For those who may not know, the lectures, interviews and panels were presented and broadcast live over the internet before anyone put the words "YouTube" together. They were recorded live with an audience. In the early days, that might be no more than 10 or 12 people, but we didn’t care. Every one of those people were there to hear what we had to say.
In a very short time, we assembled what would become an award-winning production team. We were picked up by WYCC and our show ran twice a week – at 6 a.m. and midnight on Sunday nights. After a few years we moved to another great slot – Friday at 3 p.m. – before negotiating Sunday morning at 10 a.m. -- head-to-head with Meet the Press.
As the years passed, we produced more than 40 original programs a season with a couple of those years at over 50. Since our production season was 9 months long, you could say we were busy with the show, running the Library, and keeping all the other farm animals happy in the barn.
Nine months. Nine years. Over 300 televised programs and a Neilsen rating of just over .349. (Actually, that's less than 1/2 of one percent, if you are doing the math.) Life was good!
One of the things about being on a weekly television program, and talking about military history and current affairs, is that attitudes change so quickly. So it was a challenge to keep the topics relevant and timely. We took that part very seriously.
And, I would be recognized from time to time, in the store or on the street. People are very nice. They talk to you like you’re an old friend, or high school classmate. The first few times it was a little awkward, but then I got used to it and actually enjoyed the conversations.
One time, a woman stopped me in the store. She was very animated and engaging.
She said: “My husband is a big fan of your show at the military library. He says the stories you tell are inspiring and very stimulating.”
Well, thank you, I said.
“Oh yes," she said, "Every Sunday morning he’d make a very nice breakfast for us. Then, we’d read the papers a bit and settle in and watch your show. Pretty soon he’d lean in and give me a kiss and, well, we were off to the races!”
"I see," I said.
“Yes," she went on to say, unbelievably. "I was a little concerned when you moved your show from late Sunday night to Sunday morning, but ... no problem!"
RON KEATON, producer, actor and writer of the acclaimed Churchill one-man show was our first guest for Conversations with Ed Tracy at the Skokie Theatre on March 23, 2016. Ron discussed his long-time acting career, future goals for SoloChicago and performed a monologue from his 2015 Joseph Jefferson Award-winning performance of Churchill.
Ron Keaton on Winston Churchill’s human side...
“Most people think of Churchill as the august, bombastic, commanding presence and he was all of that. I wanted a more human side to show. I wanted people to know that he had a family and five children. And that he did worry about his failures. He was just as human as the rest of us.”
On creating a legacy...
“I’m at a point in my life where the work I want to do not just as an actor or a person is rapidly becoming legacy… I don’t have children. I don’t have a family like a nuclear unit, so my work personally has to be what I leave behind. Solo Chicago Theatre for me is my idea of leaving something behind for others to enjoy and to learn from and to play with. ... We want SoloChicago Theatre Company to be the brand for solo performance in the United States.”
“You’re never too old to learn something new, and that’s where I’m at.”