LOS ANGELES — Stepping into a new role can be a little scary and Paul Sand admittedly has some jitters. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Are you kidding? That’s part of the fun,” he said.
It’s been 52 years since Sand won a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play and throughout the course of his decades-long career he has worked with some of TV’s brightest luminaries.
“All the funny ladies,” he recalled. “Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore. I was always their boyfriend, their awkward boyfriend.”
He even had his own sitcom, “Friends and Lovers,” which ran, as he puts it, “for about ten minutes” on CBS. But theatre was always his first love, so in a way it’s not surprising to find him now in his nineties standing on stage at the Broadwater Theatre in Hollywood.
This time, however, he’s not acting. He’s directing the world premiere of a play that he’s written — a comedy called “The Pilot Who Crashed the Party.”
Reluctant to discuss the plot, Sand said at its core, the play is about the human tendency to make assumptions about people and believe them to be true.
“It’s a very dangerous thing. And everybody does it,” he explained. “We all do it. I’m not just being observant and saying they do it. We all do it. You meet somebody, and you assume they’re a certain personality, and then you take them for that.”
Sand wrote a short play once that was directed by none other than the legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins, but this is his first foray into a full length production. Turns out, he enjoys writing.
“Creativity is a lot of fun,” he said in a mock whisper, holding his hand to his mouth as if revealing a deep secret.
He comes from an improvisational background, and was an early member of Second City. In fact, they list him on their website as “one of the founding members of improv comedy in America.” Sand sees writing as improvising with a pen and paper, something he was still doing hours before the show’s first performance.
“It changes every day!” actor Sol Mason said, flipping through the heavily highlighted and color coded pages of his script. Not that he’s complaining. Mason plays the eponymous pilot and also worked on the staged readings last year.
He loves being a part of something from the ground up. Especially something as well-crafted as this, he says. “It’s so much fun to play with. And the more I look into it, the deeper it gets,” Mason said. “Because it’s a comedy. You think that it’s all on the surface. Then, as you read the script… you realize, there are things he plants, like several pages before, and then my reaction happens later on. It’s kind of brilliant.”
A young actor in his late twenties who grew up splitting his time between Australia and LA, Mason admits he hadn’t seen many of the shows Sand had been on, but he’s made it a point to educate himself, he says. In fact, just being around Sand has been a life lesson.
“Creativity, I think, kept him so engaged and alive,” he explained. “It gives me, it gives everyone I think so much hope and encouragement to not stop.”
As for what he hopes he’s doing at 91, “I want to be right here doing this,” Mason said emphatically.
Meanwhile Sand is ready for the next leg of this play’s journey. He’s already talking with theatres in Chicago and New York. Theatre, he says, is just what he does, and he’s glad to be healthy enough to stay in the game.
“My passion is playing,” he explained. “I always like to be out playing. And all this theater stuff is playing for me.”
“The Pilot Who Crashed the Party” runs through May 7.