Go to an opening night – any opening night – in the nine Bay Area counties and you will more than likely find 88-year-old Richard Connema and his partner of 50 years, Eddy Chambers, in the audience. That’s why, on April 28, 2014, the 2013 Lucy Jordan Award was awarded to Connema.
The Award was started in 1992 to honor the legacy of Lucy Finney Jordan, a former ballerina and chorus performer who, for many years, was the “face” of Actors’ Equity in the Western Region as the union’s outside field rep. The award is given to those who demonstrate “a lifetime commitment to the theatre and especially, helping other theatre artists.”
They've jokingly referred to themselves as "those Muppet guys" – the two elder, gentlemen critics in the Jim Henson oeuvre who were known for their critiques followed by hearty peals of laughter. The two men’s assessment isn’t that far from the truth.
For many years, Connema has been giving voice to the Bay Area corner of the theatre world on the San Francisco section of Talkin' Broadway. His critiques are notable in that his observations draw upon nearly 80 years of theatergoing and moviemaking. A typical review might reference the original production as well as the film, thanks to his years working at MGM and Warner Brothers.
Although he invokes his personal history within a piece he’s written, he never dwells in the past. But rather, he uses his experiences to place art into a meaningful context. Most importantly, Connema is one of the tactful few who manages to write critically of art without being unkind. Like a show or hate a show, he never fails to recognize – and honor – the amount of hard work that goes into a production.
Meanwhile, he and Chambers, the indefatigable pair that they are, never miss an opening; the duo come armed with smiles, the occasional martini and Chambers’ ever-present camera. The photos he takes of beaming actors usually wind up on Connema’s active Facebook feed as he sends word out about the shows he has seen, seemingly doing quite a lot in social media for small productions.
When it comes to how many plays Connema thinks he has attended:
“From the time I retired from Warner Brothers, [I have seen] around 1000 plays in the Bay Area, not including New York City, Los Angeles, London and Paris. Last year, maybe three plays a week. Sometimes there have been five straight plays a week."