Albert Poland has lived a life for any theatre lover to dream of. A producer and general manager who worked on Broadway shows such as The Boy From Oz, The Grapes of Wrath, As Is, and Dirty Blonde, Poland was also on the ground during the golden age of Off-Broadway theatre. And, with the publication of his memoir Stages, Poland provides eye-witness reporting from one of the most exciting eras in theatrical history, along with the better-known Broadway productions from later in his career.
“I remember feeling like I was part of the community,” Poland says. “The Off-Broadway theatres were like little movie studios, that’s how I thought of them. And Maria Irene Fornes would have a play running one place, and do the costumes for another place. You didn’t have to say people’s last names. The sense of community was just unforgettable.”
The downfall, he suspects, was when money began playing a larger role in the scene. “I think everything started to evaporate when money began to enter the picture, when costs changed and money began to control more than our imaginations,” he says. “What I loved about having no money is you were forced to use your imagination. The budget for a show at Judson was $19! I don’t know what they spent it on. Probably coffee or something.”
The memoir itself has been in the works for several years, ever since Poland turned 50 and thought, “I’d like to write a book about all this.” He twice took a year off to clear his head, but pressed on. “I just thought it was such an adventure that I wanted to get it down on paper,” he says.
And while the book is filled with a who’s who of the last 50 years of entertainment, Poland’s own story is just as riveting as his tales of starting a Judy Garland fan club (and meeting Judy) or going bar hopping with Sal Mineo and Jill Haworth, who pointed out all the mafia members they encountered. And part of Poland’s story is being an out gay man at a time when it wasn’t always embraced, even in Manhattan.
“I’ve always been very upfront about being gay,” he says. “It’s part of me. It’s not the only part, but I’ve been unabashed.”
But part of Poland’s story, too, is being the general manager of Little Shop of Horrors (as well as one of the driving forces of its success), and he’s delighted that the show continues to play to sold-out houses almost 40 years after premiering. “I just think it’s a magnificent show,” he says. “Howard [Ashman] was a genius. He was breathtakingly brilliant. There’s the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty about the Disney renaissance, and when Howard comes on, you see he’s the colonel of the whole thing.”
From one high-ranking theatre official to another.