A MENTOR TO MANY LEGION OF ACTORS OWES CAREERS TO PROFESSOR WARREN ENTERS - The Buffalo News

Share this article

print logo

A MENTOR TO MANY LEGION OF ACTORS OWES CAREERS TO PROFESSOR WARREN ENTERS

FRONT AND center on Warren Enters' desk, where it can't be missed, sits a name plate. Engraved under the theater teacher's name is the message: "I Mean, Do Something."

It's a dictum he has repeated endlessly, say students, during 23 years as a professor at Buffalo State College, a post from which he retires this month.

But Enters couldn't preach if he weren't practicing.

A minuscule sampling of his "do somethings":

He got the first Tony Award given for an off-Broadway play, for the 1954 comic hit "Thieves' Carnival."

With more than 30 plays to his credit, he's Studio Arena's most prolific director, including "Love Letters," running through May 31.

He runs an antique business and owns an extensive collection of theater memorabilia dating from the 17th century.

As he bows out of teaching, alumni have decided that it's time to roast a man many think of as their mentor. On Saturday, a dinner will be held at the newly renovated Theatre Arts Building on campus. Former students are getting car pools together from New York and Philadelphia and people are flying in from California and Japan, said co-chairwoman Margaret Smith.

"We're doing it because we love him, his intelligence, his talent and his innate ability to draw out a person's true self," said Ms. Smith, who acted with Ujima Theater Company for nine years.

The impending event has churned up memories and emotions:

"There isn't a day that I don't think of him," said Tom Holehan, artistic director of Square One Theater Company in Stratford, Conn. "I'd like to think I've stolen everything good from Warren. He prepared you for theater and the business of theater."

"We never felt we were just getting the textbook theory," said Tom Fontana, creator of the "St. Elsewhere" television series, who will be master of ceremonies that night. "Warren was a director on Broadway, so you knew he was giving you the real dirt. When I got to New York I was pretty much prepared for everything that happened both positively and negatively because of Warren."

"He told our first acting class that we shouldn't judge each other because 'You all equally stink,' " said Michelle Kronin, who was in "Human Remains and the True Nature of Love," picked by Time magazine as one of the Top 10 plays of the year.

"We all think he went to school with Shakespeare," said senior Chuck D'Amato, who adds that Enters' biting wit covers a "big kid at heart."

When Susan Gibney, who has appeared on "L.A. Law" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation," was a "scared sophomore," Enters lent her his car for two days so she could go to Rochester.

David Domedian, producer of "As the World Turns," took acting classes from Enters at 8 a.m. Monday mornings, where, he says, he learned to sleep sitting up.

"I used to say if you could act at that time, you could act any time," said Domedian. "Now I start filming at 7 a.m."

Even though he can list a bounty of successful former students, including Diane English, creator of "Murphy Brown," Enters is bemused when people ask how many have "made it."

"I always say, 'How many poli sci majors have become president of the United States?' " said Enters.

"People think teaching acting is about getting up on stage and making faces, but it's about knowing yourself and learningabout yourself in various situations."

That's precisely what happened when he enticed veteran actor Saul Elkin to play Tevye several years ago in a joint production of "Fiddler on the Roof" between the two colleges.

"I knew I could play old Jewish guys, but I didn't think I could take on a role like that because of the singing," said Elkin, department chairman of theater and dance at the University at Buffalo.

"It turned out to be a rare experience in my life. It was a play for which I had deep feeling, but I was entirely uncertain as a singer. He got me a vocal coach and somehow we managed."

For the same production, Enters convinced then-college presidents Steven Sample and D. Bruce Johnstone to make a surprise opening-night appearance as villagers.

There's no way to stereotype Warren Enters: People have called him sweet, eccentric, energetic, a brilliant director, a keen businessman.

Bonnie Bartlett, who plays the free-wheeling Melissa in "Love Letters," calls Enters an "old-fashioned" director.

"He is trying to interpret the author's intention and shape it so the audience gets the most out of it," she said. "But he doesn't tell you how to do it. He doesn't attempt to have you
do any characterizing. He's really a mind person. He's a bit eccentric, I would say, but everybody in the theater is."

Earlier this month on opening night, Enters was schmoozing in the lobby, greeting friends and acquaintances, and being visible before the play started.

"At Studio, I always love it when people come up to you at one of your plays -- as if you don't know that it doesn't work," said Enters, who has directed such notables as Pat Hingle, Julie Harris, Dame Judith Anderson, Alan Alda and Helen Hayes.

"Sometimes you have to cast your 93rd choice because people aren't available or aren't interested, but people act as if you don't know that the performance doesn't work. They also act like the great successes were an accident, but the failures are all yours, as if you aren't the same person."

Enters, who has has directed on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional theaters, thinks Studio Arena occupies a unique position among Buffalo's theater community and has a responsibility to strive for first-rate talent.

"Buffalo is in a terrific position," he said. "We're 45 minutes away from the greatest pool of talent you could have. You don't ask the symphony to play with local musicians, so I don't think Studio Arena should be chastised for not using all local actors. What it should not be is mediocre. It should fail in a big way or succeed in a big way."

Elkin says he's surprised that Enters has decided to retire now.

"I think he should remember that there no longer is a retirement law in education," he said.

Why has Enters chosen this moment to retire?

Especially now, the first time he's ever had his own office and with new facilities at his fingertips.

"Because I want to leave before people carry me out," said Enters, who will be 70 on May 26.

"I have a terrific house on the Vermont border and I want to spend time there. There are wonderful people in Buffalo and they've been wildly supportive, but they can come and visit me."

There are no comments - be the first to comment