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On Stage: Jim Schneider tries again



"I woke up one morning and the creative urge was gone," director Jim Schneider says, explaining why he dropped out of theater a year and a half ago. "I just reached a burn-out point."

The critics had savaged his last show, Cyclops, a camp updating of Euripides' satyr play, itself a bawdy retelling of an episode from The Odyssey. And they'd been only a little kinder to the show he'd directed before that, Hollywood, a flawed camp fantasy in which gay icons Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead find themselves trapped in a jungle with a stripped-to-the-waist Rock Hudson type and a bleached-blond sex kitten.

Around the same time Schneider learned that the producers of Lepers--a sex comedy he directed two years ago, the most successful play he'd done--had wrested control from him and were going to revive it on their own.

Suddenly theater, which had been the center of his life since he was a kid, held no attraction. "I didn't go to theater. I didn't read a play. I didn't do anything that was remotely related to theater. I went to work--selling furniture at Marshall Field's. I spent a lot of time building a home life--coming home, spending time there, putting time into my relationship, which was in need of attention--and having a normal life, which is something I had never had."

Schneider had grown up in a Leave It to Beaver family in Houston and was always the kid who got everyone in the neighborhood together. When he was six he had them doing plays. At nine he had his own puppet theater in the garage. "When you're a kid they think it's very cute, but when you get older it's like, "I think we should send you to a psychiatrist. There's something wrong with this child."'

For a long time Schneider quietly battled his father, who thought his son should be playing sports. "I think my folks were always afraid I was going to end up on the street or not be able to live in the style in which I was raised. But they know I'm stubborn."

Schneider majored in theater in college and after graduate school at the University of Houston helped found a small theater, Horizon's Showcase Theatre. "Houston is not supportive of its grassroots theaters. The town has this nouveau riche attitude that theater is a place to dress up and show off all your fine clothes. Which is a shame, because there really is a lot of talent in Houston, and little theaters spring up everywhere, try desperately to survive, and then die."

After three years of struggling Schneider moved to Chicago. The first show he directed was In Apartment 3-D, a thriller about a man trapped in a room with a guy who may be homicidal that came out of a playwriting workshop given by Edward Albee. Staged in Cafe Voltaire's cramped, mildewed basement, the play was surprisingly powerful. His next show, also staged at Cafe Voltaire, was Lepers. Then came the string of missteps and disasters.

But one morning 18 months after burning out, Schneider woke up and for no particular reason started reading Albee's Finding the Sun, one of the first things he'd seen as a graduate student at the University of Houston. "Finding the Sun has to do with the journey we go on in life. Along the way we make some choices that later turn out to be wrong paths. That is what I related to in my life--because most of my life I feel like I've gone along the right path, but after Lepers my life started to take a strange turn. Also it touches on my relationship to my father. The play has to do with two people who are very different, who see the world through very different eyes, who spend their lives trying to understand one another."

Within a week he was putting together "Sand," a triple bill of Finding the Sun, which he'll direct, and Albee's Box and The Sandbox, which Edwin Wald will direct.

"Sand" opens at 7:30 on Wednesday, September 13, at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont; tickets are $18 to $20. There will also be previews on September 9 and 10; tickets are $10. See Section Two theater listings for complete dates and times. Call 327-5252 for information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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