Teddy Eck

By Scott MacClelland

YOU MAY NOT KNOW Teddy Eck, but you have seen his acting in film and television. In January 2019 Eck was hired as Theatre Department chair at Monterey Peninsula College. Starting this week and running for ten days, he will serve as facilitator of MPC’s New Works Festival, described in a press release as “a diverse collection of funny, sweet, and thoughtful short new plays, written by local playwrights, directed by student directors Linda Temple of MPC and Anthony Rodriquez of Monterey High School.” (With years of hands-on experience, Temple will direct six of the new plays; Rodriguez gets his turn directing ’86: A Coming of Age Story.) Eck, who is now on a tenure track at MPC, holds an MFA in Theatre for directing that also includes certificates in Non-Profit Leadership and Management from the University of Memphis. With a substantial body of professional work behind him—including a major stint with San Diego Repertory Theatre and Arts Memphis—and other acting and theater opportunities in Hollywood, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area ahead, one could ask why come to a small town like Monterey.

“After twelve years in stage and film, I really wanted to start moving toward being more of a producer, creator,” he told me during a recent phone chat. “Writing and directing led me to want to run my own theater company. Basically to do what I’m doing now, not just artistically but also the business and development side, the actual work to get projects off the ground.” As such he immerses himself in all aspects of a working theater company. “As an educator I never want to ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do or hadn’t done.” 

Before completing his master’s degree, Eck took a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance and a certificate in Screenwriting and Film Production from The New School in New York. He is a proud AEA and SAG-AFTRA member. And you don’t want to mess with him because he is a Certified SAFD Actor Combatant. (Eck had a small part in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln as well as featured roles in several other film and TV productions, including commercials, as you can see in his Sizzle Reel, below.) He had applied to the University of Kansas (KU) to enter its PhD theater program but suddenly the MPC position was posted and he put his PhD aspirations “on the back burner.”

At MPC Eck will not only be in charge of its Theatre Company, but also the college’s theater arts program and classes as well as the dual-enrollment MPC has with area high schools. “With the New Works Festival we partner with the high schools, “to get them to be involved with us,” he says. “We want to actively support the shows they want to put on.” He cited his experience in Memphis. “There were 35 high schools in Memphis. To prepare for an awards show we went to see all of their productions, so everybody got a fair shake.” 

Eck was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, descended from German and Irish heritage. “My dad was from a family of German farmers.” Prior to MPC, Eck was working at San Diego Rep. He moved here in January 2019 with his wife Leigh, now on the Monterey County Film Commission, and two young children.

Eck recently shared lunch with Peter Meckel, founding director of Hidden Valley. “We talked about professional theater possibilities here.” Remarking on our community as “full of gems and hidden talent,” he noted that “some people have been rooted here for a long time.” By that I took him to mean that turf competition has some clear lines drawn between different local theater companies. I remarked that the Monterey County Theatre Alliance seemed to be more about keeping the peace than to inspire collaboration. “I want to get them to play a little nicer with each other,” he said. “Where I come from I’m used to helping each other out.”  

 

Melinda Coffey Armstead

By Scott MacClelland

THE CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL brought Melinda Coffey to the Monterey Peninsula. That was in 1988 and the final years of Sandor Salgo’s tenure as music director. At the time Janina Fialkowska was the festival’s featured solo pianist. When Bruno Weil was hired to replace the retiring Salgo he soon decided that the piano was no longer compatible with Baroque music. But, of course, it remained crucial for rehearsing the choral ensembles.

We doff our hat to Melinda for finding ways to remain a mainstay of music in the community from then until now and to keep current with changing times, in particular her new program, “Still the Mind Smiles,” in tandem with well-known local poet and bard Taelen Thomas for a specially crafted program based on the poetry of Robinson Jeffers this weekend at Hidden Valley in Carmel Valley. Oh, and for making her own kind of mischief. (See her in cat’s ears above.)  

Coffey, who grew up in Healdsburg and studied piano there with a pre-revolution Russian ex-pat from the St Petersburg Conservatory, went on to study at UC Santa Barbara, L’École des Hautes Etudes Musicales in Switzerland and the University of British Columbia. She has performed as a recitalist and chamber musician in the U.S., Canada, England, France, Israel and Japan. Following a Toronto performance, BBC music critic Denis Matthews wrote of her “…exquisite pianism devoted entirely to the music itself.”

Coffey, who has had church jobs since the age of 13, became music director at Church-in-the-Forest in Pebble Beach in 1995. It was there, and at the Bach Festival, that she met her future husband, Robert Armstead, who would become “the best thing that ever happened to me.” In that position she has exercised her artistry and her network of professional colleagues to provide small concerts of mostly classical music every Sunday to enhance the church service. (In the fall of ’94 her predecessor, Bill Zeitler, chose to decamp for Microsoft and Seattle and to specialize in the Benjamin Franklin-invented glass armonica, a novelty hit at Renaissance and county fairs.)

Over the years, and in fits and starts, Coffey Armstead has made numerous CD recordings. The most recent, Southerly: Art Songs of the American South, with an outstanding lyric tenor, Jos Milton. Their program consists of all new music, James Sclater’s Beyond the Rainbow (1998) of six songs to texts by Ovid Vickers, Dan Locklair’s Portraits (1983) of three songs to texts by Emily Herring Wilson, Price Walden’s Abide With Me (2015, a Milton commission) five songs to texts by Walt Whitman, C Austin Miles, Henry Francis Lyte and Philip Rice. Four songs by John Musto to texts by Langston Hughes, Shadow of the Blues (1986) completes the collection. This program was recorded at Erdman Chapel, Stevenson School, Pebble Beach, in July and August, 2015, and subsequently performed on two days in November at Mississippi College, Clinton, and the University of Mississippi, Oxford. Not only do these songs add an exquisite contribution to the art song songbook, but their music—some of it like “In the garden” from the Price Walden set is absolutely gorgeous—could not have originated in any other place than America. (Milton sings “Unknown” from the Locklair set solo.) The Journal of Singing published this rave, “Nothing quite equals the special pleasures derived from a recording that is truly fresh in its musical offerings or approach. Southerly is such a recording.…This was clearly a labor of love, executed with a relentless attention to the smallest detail, and the result is one of the most enthralling art song releases of the last twenty years…Milton’s singing is unfailingly beautiful throughout all the songs…Pianist Melinda Coffey Armstead’s wonderful playing is a consistent joy…In short, this recording is exemplary in every way.”

In recent years Coffey Armstead has turned her attention to exploring arcane corners of history and culture via lecture-recital presentations for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at CSU Monterey Bay. These include: How the West Fell in Love with Japan (2016 & 2017), A History of Opium and the Arts (2018 & 2019), and Felis Catus: An Historical Celebration of the Domestic Cat (2018). In February of this year she became a tour docent at Tor House in Carmel (pictured above) and has created a new program of Musical Tours there. (Click HERE)