RONNIE MARMO reminds L.A. why we love Italian New Yorkers so much! Entrepreneur, Actor & aggressive performing arts activist.
Marilyn Monroe had one.
Cindy Crawford has one.
Madonna has one.
Kirk Douglas has one.
Joaquin Phoenix has one.
‘The Mark’ that makes them aesthetically perfect and forever Legends!
Ronnie Marmo possesses a most ideal and rugged ‘man-mark’ just over his lip. It suits him well. He is naturally intense and when he speaks to you, you listen. Then there’s that thick Brooklyn accent. His charm can melt butter. His stare can melt steel.
We sit in serious discussion about his multi-platform theatre company, the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company, which he co-founded and is Artistic Director of.
There are two branches, one in NoHo/L.A. and the other in NYC, strictly designed to serve the well-being and welfare of the Actor; a sanctuary for the thespian.
When pressed, he has no problem describing his mission for 68 in white hot fervor:
Waide- Ronnie, tell me about your 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company… one number away from sexy!
Ronnie- (He chuckles) Exactly… exactly… what happened was, I was in a couple of acting classes a few years ago. They were OK, but they weren’t going too well and so I was going to these acting classes in L.A…. these classes didn’t feel like acting classes. Some classes feel great. But, these two felt more like therapy. People spent three to four hundred dollars a month and you’re not getting anything out of it. You’re feeling worse.
W- It wasn’t the right fit.
R- Right. It wasn’t the right fit. Honestly, I thought I was ‘regressing’ as an actor. I was trying to learn how to do it… but, meanwhile, I was doing it just fine to begin with. So, I first called a few friends. Told’em I wanted to get together and do some scene work. I want to stay fresh. I didn’t want to pay three hundred for an acting class anymore, but I didn’t want to stop acting either. I wanted to do some scene work. So, I told’em to come over. Come to my place. Come to my apartment. I had about half dozen people come over, and most of them are still members, too… and that grew into every Monday night… that grew into finding our own space… then another space… then into our home… then producing our own plays… then about a year or two into our existence, the Backstage West came to do an article on us. They wanted to do a story on us. So they asked me what our name was. I didn’t have a name. We were a bunch of people hangin’ out working on theatre and just acting. I remember I had sixty-eight cents in my bank account and so I go, ‘we’re the sixty-eight cent crew theatre guys.’ I was makin’ the name up in the moment. Once it was in print, I said, ‘that’s it.’ Over the years, it has become Theatre 68. Shortened because thirteen years ago I had a beautiful theatre on Sunset and Western. For ten years. I had the place. I decided to call the theatre, Theatre 68, and the company name would stay 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company. After so long, people started to lose that. It just became Theatre 68. Which was a bummer to me because it really wasn’t the name, but I gave up. So, that’s how it evolved into Theatre 68. To me it’s still 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company.
W- All from Actors doing scene work because they couldn’t afford to go to class. You have a focus and concentration in instruction.
R– There are some good teachers out there… but that wasn’t my experience. And I don’t believe that every person out there should call themselves a teacher and should be teaching. Some people are put on the planet to teach and others will do that rather than wait tables. I also think when you are a teacher, you can be a great teacher, but if the student and teacher don’t speak the same language, they don’t have the same sensibilities, they just don’t have the right fit. You know, I’ve seen some great teachers that I have the right fit with. Then I’ve seen some teachers that are OK, but we really spoke the same language and I got more out of them, let’s say as a director, or something. So, to be fair, some are great teachers, but that just wasn’t my experience… so, let me get a group together, spend a lot less money and we’ll keep each other accountable.
W- L.A. is notorious for Actors who are ‘teachers’…
R– It doesn’t take anything to do that. I’ve directed over fifty productions. I’ve done twelve movies. I direct a lot. I’ve never been comfortable teaching, ’cause I thought I’d be a hypocrite. I knew inside that I wasn’t a teacher. It wasn’t until this last year that I got crazy inspired with my young New York company that I thought maybe I’ll do a workshop. Maybe I have something to offer from the perspective of a director, and a producer in the business and having been someone who has done this a bunch. Maybe I’ll offer that. But, to say that I’m the acting teacher and this is how you act– I don’t buy into that. It’s hard for me to deal with that. I’ve had descent enough credits for ten years that I could get twelve people to take my class, but it doesn’t sit well with me to call myself that. So, with the theatre company, it allows me as the Artistic Director, it gives me the freedom to be inspired and smart when I feel like it, but not obligated. People come there because everyone’s perspective is important. Not just mine. I always say it’s a democratic dictatorship. You know what I mean? It’s a democracy but somebody’s gotta say, ‘hey, let’s not do that,‘ and that’s me. But certainly everyone has a big voice.
W- When are your classes?
R– Monday nights. Every Monday night. Now it’s grown into a hundred and twenty Actors on both coasts. It started with just six of us… New York will be five years old on August 29. Here in L.A., we’ll be sixteen in February. We’re just a younger company in New York, just finding our way. Same thing here. I don’t see much of a difference. Our model is the same. But, New York and L.A. there are some clear differences. Just the energy of the city is different. But for the company, it’s pretty interchangeable. I’d like to believe the family atmosphere and the community we’re genuinely offering in L.A. exists in New York…
(He goes quiet for a moment. His thoughts drifting)
I booked this film when I first moved out here, “Deuces Wild,” it was a 1950s gang movie. It was a big opportunity for me at the time. It was the biggest, in fact. I was going to work. It was on the Paramount Lot, had my own parking space… couldn’t believe it. My own trailer. Blah, blah. Months of a good job. Working with all these huge stars that I idolized when I was growing up. Making great money. But, after about a week, I looked in the mirror, and this is true, I went, what the hell are you doing here? You’re still here? I said, I bring you wherever you go. So, I had this thought, I was incredibly lonely in Los Angeles. I had everything I thought would make me happy. And it didn’t. And I realized it was an inside job. And what I needed was a community of people, people I could rely on and hang out with and be friends with and so… we met on Monday nights. Scene work. But, it was so much more than that. Camaraderie. That’s grown into a hundred and twenty members on both coasts. And the principles and values are exactly the same today as they were then. We tend to attract people who need us as much as we need them. It’s an interesting dynamic. The right people come, generally. Not everyone, but mostly. There’s no ego. No arrogance. None at Theatre 68.
W- What is your cost?
R- We’re a dues paying company. The Monday night is a class, but for a lot less money. It’s a third of what you’d pay. It’s very structured. You feel like you are in a class, and you learn. We’ve had Billy Bob Thornton and Joe Mantegna come to the group and speak. Joe is my mentor. He’s directed many plays for us. He’s a dear friend. He’s one of the greatest Actors. He’s one of the best guys in town. He’s in Toluca Lake and I’m in Burbank. The theatre is in the NoHo Arts Center… been there for three years. A block down from the Laemmle Theatre. But, we’re moving into the Antaeus Deaf-West Theatre Space. I want you to know we do a lot of good shows, but my focus, since day one, my primary focus is Monday nights and the Artists’ journey. Which is why we’ll give every Artist two writing assignments a year. We do a director’s workshop. Producer’s workshop.Everyone participates. Because I want to expose these Artists to every element in the business. What they like and what they don’t like. As opposed to, ‘you’re just an actor! Wait in the breadline for a part!’ Hey, we’ve produced over ninety productions. I put the power back in their hand with a pen so you can write. In a digital world there’s no reason you’re not shooting things.
W- What’s your overall feeling of L.A. theatre?
R- L.A. has a really bad rap when it comes to theatre. I’ve seen some really great theatre here. I’ve seen great theatre in New York and some not-so-good. I’ve seen great talent in L.A., so I think the bad rap, it’s a myth. That’s anywhere. New York. Houston. Wherever.
W- About Actors, there is a constant argument that L.A. Actors are not as ‘trained‘ as New York Actors.
R- There’s an old saying, I don’t know if you know it… New York Actors learn how to act on the street and L.A. Actors learn how to act by watching New York Actors! (We both laugh on this one) I’m not makin’ it up. You can use that if you want. It’s a funny balance. There’s lazy actors in L.A. There’s lazy actors in New York.
W- Ronnie, what’s your favorite movie?
R- Can I name a few?
W- Of course.
R- No particular order, Godfather 1 and 2! There was a film in 1981, The Pope of Greenwich Village, with Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. That’s the movie that made me want to be an Actor. I love a film called Life is Beautiful. Pacino films when I was younger. And Justice For All, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull … De Niro… I idolized those guys. I’m obsessed with that film A Time to Kill!
W- What’s your favorite book?
R- One of the first books I ever read… I was obsessed with it… Rumble Fish…
W- S.E. Hinton.
R- One of my favorite books, Rumble Fish. One of the best books I ever read. It still stays with me. I read it when I was eleven. I also love The Outsiders. Those two books are my favorites… even though it was a long time ago, I still love them.
W- You do know that The Outsiders is still the number one book in sales for the Young Adult reader?
I still remember the first line of the book…
(… and together…)
R & W- “… as I stepped out into the bright sunlight…”
(It gives us both chills remembering)
R- I remember when I first read the book, I was Johnny for Halloween. I looked just like Ralph Macchio as a kid. Just like him.
W- You know that one of the key scenes cut from the film for American audiences is the scene between Rob Lowe and Ralph Macchio in bed together. Just in bed together having an intimate conversation.
R- (He pauses. Thinking a bit) I didn’t know that… funny enough, but I did a movie called West of Brooklyn. You can rent it. I wrote it. I wrote the film. I have a scene where me and my older brother are in bed together… I remember my manager at the time begged me to cut it out of the film, and I didn’t. There is a beautiful and intimate scene of my brother and I in bed together. We’re an Italian family. We hold hands. It’s a beautiful scene. It’s a big sticking point. A lot of issues… I’m not cutting it. It was weird. He said people are going to take it the wrong way. I said, ‘no way, not in my culture.’
W- Congratulations for sticking to your guns.
R- One hundred percent.
W- What’s your favorite song?
R- I have lots of them… but, the one I want played at my funeral is Sinatra’s My Way. I love Sinatra. Metallica, Michael Jackson. I’m a crazy person. I’m loyal to the stuff I grew up with.
W- Somewhat Old School.
R- I’m an Old School guy… but… while I’m still on the planet… I guess my favorite song is Sinatra’s That’s Life.
W- What’s your favorite color?
R- Purple. It’s always been. Purple’s a strong color. It’s royal. It’s strong. It’s classy. It’s feminine.
W- It’s been a pleasure talking shop with you, Ronnie. I love your enthusiasm for Actors and Artists. And I look forward to coming to see you at Theatre 68. Congratulations.
R- Thanks, Waide. Thanks for takin’ the time.
Ronnie gives me a firm Italian handshake and hustles off to a meeting for, what else, Theatre 68!
For more information about his dynamic theatre company, projects & productions:
Ronnie Marmo/Artistic Director & Co-Founder
Board of Governors: