Changing Traditions in Musical Theatre | The Meighen Forum 2019

(pleasant music) (people chattering) – Welcome and good morning. My name’s Anita Gaffney. I’m the festival’s executive director. Before we get started, I’d
like to thank the Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, and the Anishinaabe for their stewardship of this land that they share with us through The Dish With One Spoon Wampum Treaty. This is a very exciting time. We have a whole series of events that we have collaborated
with with the New York Times, and this is the first one, Changing Traditions in Musical Theater. We’re going to start with
some very brief introductions, ’cause we want to get to
the meat of the matter. You will have the chance to ask questions, so I think that some
papers will be handed out. You can write down
questions, we’ll collect them through the session and you’ll be able to submit some questions, so we’ll get to hear from you. Today’s session is being recorded and will be available
on our YouTube channel in the coming days, so you can savor every
moment again and again. So, without further ado I’d
like to introduce the panelists. Donna Feore, who’s an acclaimed
director and choreographer of this year’s Billy Elliot the Musical and Little Shop of Horrors. Donna has directed, helmed, classic musicals, modern musicals, brand new musicals. I can’t wait to hear what
she has to say today, and we’re joined today by Jesse Green who’s the co-chief theater critic for the New York Times, welcome Jesse. Jesse has probably seen
more, thought about more, written about more musicals
than I’ve had hot meals. (audience laughs) And we– – I’ll exchange with you. (audience laughs) – Yeah. And the panel’s being moderated today by our own David Prosser, our literary and editorial director who I know will get the very best out of our panelists today. So, let’s get started. (audience applauds) – Okay. – Thank you, Anita. So let me just start off
saying I just got off the plane from the UK last night, so I’m jetlagged and probably not at my best,
so don’t expect too much today, from me anyway.
– What’s our excuse? (audience laughs) We’re starting with excuses, okay good. – But from these guys,
it’ll be a different story. So we’re gonna talk about musical theater, and I mean I don’t know what
those words suggest to you, because musical theater,
it encompasses everything from I guess the Desert Song
to Toxic Avenger the Musical. We think of musical theater,
certain things swing to mind. Rodgers and Hammerstein probably
immediately comes to mind, Lerner and Loewe, chorus girls, showtunes, but I mean really the association
between music and theater is as old as the ancient Greeks, and that’s just in Western culture. I think in any culture that
has a theatrical tradition, music and dance for that matter have played significant parts. And with other various forms of that. There’s operetta, there’s the so-called book musical, and we’re gonna kind of
chart the development, I think that’s the idea anyway, chart the development a little bit through the eyes of our panelists of these various forms and
their own involvement with it. So, the way into this I
think is for me to ask each of our guests in turn how their own personal
engagement with this art that we call musical theater began, what that phrase perhaps means to them, and I’ve been told that I
should start with Jesse. So what–
(audience laughs) How did– – Well back in ancient Greece. (audience laughs) – I remember those days really well. You look a bit young for that. – Well actually, my
participation in musical theater began as I expect a lot of people’s did, as a very clumsy pirate of Penzance. (audience laughs) Or the equivalent. I actually began in an age when people, young people performed in operettas. I went to an arts camp in
Michigan called Interlochen. Maybe some of you know of it, and every summer that was
like the big, cool event was to do Ruddigore, yeah. (audience laughs) So, you know, I was
really on top of things, and as you say, Rodgers and
Hammerstein in high school. Donna and I are going to do a number later from Everything’s Up
to Date in Kansas City. I still remember my tap dance routine. (audience laughs) I began really at the point where operetta was a throwback, but still part of the popular culture,
and the book musical was beginning to be a throwback, but was still in sort of its prime. So I’m talking now in the ’60s and ’70s, every school in the United States, I don’t know about Canada, would do the Rodgers
and Hammerstein canon. Would do the Lerner and
Loewes, would do those shows, and I grew up with that, but then starting around 1970, things began to change in New York and gradually began to filter
down into the high schools and the amateur productions, and when my parents came back
from a show they had seen and they couldn’t stop talking about it, and I was like a show you
talk about for days afterward? It was called Company. It was a show by Stephen Sondheim. His first sort of breakthrough
hit as a composer, and we got the probably eight track tape, and I didn’t know at the time that albums had the lyrics printed. I don’t know if you ever
had this experience, so I sat there for days
transcribing the entire score, the words so I could learn what they were. And gradually, in that
way, came to learn about where the musical was going next, and maybe that’s where
I’ll turn it over to Donna. You probably come in
somewhere around there. – Well, you know I came from
the professional ballet world, so I was a professional ballet school kid. You know, not really being in that world of musical theater at all. But my first experience
really was in the late ’70s, I was in Vancouver and an actor, a wonderful actor named Jeff Hyslop was starring as Mike in A Chorus Line, and it was doing a Canadian tour and I went to see it at
the Vancouver Playhouse, and you know we always hear these stories about people saying well I saw this and it changed my life forever, and I saw the show and
I went back into this really rigid world of professional ballet, and I just thought okay,
something’s not right. But I stayed with it
for quite a long time, and then my first real
entrance into musical theater for myself, I was already in
the concert world of dance, and as wonderful as that is, it was really quite narrow. I got a call to come to Stratford, and it was 1990 and I was very much in the concert world of
dance and contemporary dance, and a director choreographer
named Brian McDonald had seen me in a show. And my first season here, I was offered a leading dance part in Guys
and Dolls, the Carmen part, and I was offered a play
called Julius Caesar, and at that point I
thought it was a salad. It sounded okay, it sounded– (audience laughs) Like it sounded sort of low fat and I thought okay, well
this could be okay for me. I don’t know. And Stratford, I don’t know. I started driving here,
and I was a big city girl and I’d been living in LA and New York, and I started driving here thinking okay, what have I done? And I saw cows, and I saw, is there a theater here somewhere? Well, of course the rest is history, but my first year I mean,
those first couple years for me was, it was such a gift because not only did I get Guys and Dolls
right out of the gate, so I started there. Then I went right into an H.M.S. Pinafore, and so I was exposed to, and Shakespeare. I mean it was a buffet of fabulous for me, so I had all the best shows, but also the different genres, and then I had the gift of Brian McDonald, who was such a great mentor to me. So you know, in those early days for me, the GNS taught me so
much about the musical formula in a way, of how it works best. And rhythm and pace,
and so I’ve carried that with me forever, but that
was kind of my first in and then the rest is kind of history, but yeah I didn’t really go
back to that ballet world. That was it for me. – Well, maybe we should mention here, not that this is history class, but the development of the musical theater does come out of several trains coming into a station
all around the same time, and one of those trains
was definitely operetta. Not only the famous Gilbert
and Sullivan ones in English, but those of composers like Rudolf Friml. I don’t know if that era, you know The Vagabond King, Rose Marie, those kinds of shows, and at the same time, this
was largely in New York. The effects of jazz were beginning to be promulgated more widely,
not just in clubs, but through recordings and Tin Pan Alley was a place where all
these different sounds started to come together to form what we could come to
think of as the musical, but at the time they were,
that term didn’t exist exactly. There were revues, there
were musical comedies, there were operettas,
there were hot jazz shows, and at some period from
the ’20s to the ’40s, they coalesced into what we began to think of around
the ’40s as musical theater. Many people look to Oklahoma, because of my performance I think. (audience laughs) As the first of what you
might call the golden age of the musical theater. That was 1943, and then as we were discussing,
various things happened and that golden age
began to end in the ’60s with the arrival of
rock music on the scene, which didn’t integrate
that well at the time. People didn’t really know what to do with it in musical theater, and the pop market went elsewhere. So there became a division between what musical
theater people listened to, and what the rest of the
culture was listening to, and that didn’t begin
to come back together until a number of years
later, and a prime example which I guess we’ll get to is Billy Elliot by one of the biggest
pop stars of the century. And by that time, popular music could come back into a
musical expressively. – Right, and because of Elton John I mean I think people like a Sara Bareilles and all these pop rock singers are now entering into the
world of musical theater. Well, and to some extent The Who and Pete Townsend with Tommy. This has been going on
for quite a long time, so I think that all of
these incredible artists they see the value of
being able to tell a story in a different way with, in fact in their very style of music. Yeah, and I think the ’70s
was also a big changing time for musical theater that was
the time of A Chorus Line, and these more dangerous
kind of musical theater that began to really tap into the dark and dangerous
side of humanity, right? And being able to have in a musical are we going to really sit and listen to a 10 minute monologue? You know that was revolutionary
for musical theater. – So one of the things, a
name that came to be applied to these new kinds of shows as the Rodgers and
Hammerstein golden age shows began to die down was the concept musical. Many people point to A Chorus
Line as a brilliant example. The works of Hal Prince in New York. The director who directed a
lot of the Sondheim shows, Company as I mentioned, Follies, Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd. These were shows that
were not merely content to tell a cute story, but began with both a political idea often enough,
or an idea about humanity in much the way the great plays do, and then apply to it a directorial vision so that the vision was
really a visual and dance and even stage design idea, rather than just you know
hey, let’s get together and pen some tunes and put ’em up there. And you know you get the choreographers. I wonder which ones are the
ones that inspire you a lot, but you get Michael Bennett,
you get Jerome Robbins– – That would be mine. Michael Bennett was for me, that was it because I think that you
know, Agnes de Mille, one of the greatest
choreographers of all time, in the style of the musicals
when she was choreographing, they were very separated,
those dance numbers. You know we’d have a scene,
and then we would have, and in fact they had two
different casts, often. You know, it wouldn’t
even be the same actors that would come do the dream ballet. What happened with A Chorus
Line and Michael Bennett is that all the movement was
an extension of that character. In a way that each of their numbers was like this sort of
physical motif, right? That they all had their own way of moving, which I was so blown
away with and excited by. And when I did it here,
and re-imagined it, one of the big sort of selling points to, and we’ll talk about this in a minute about getting them to wiggle
those right side of their hands and not you know, allowing the change was that if Michael Bennett was alive now, he would definitely have evolved and the level of dance. It’s like anything in the world whether it’s sports or dance, I mean the level just
keeps going up and up, and what these dancers are able to do, and in fact I think what
we have now are dancers that are strong actors. That really, I always say dance steps are incredibly boring to me. That doesn’t work. But it’s when they’re telling the story, and we stay connected with
all of these people on stage as characters that the
movement then becomes a heightened element, and it’s another way again of telling the narrative. – I’m playing the role
of the sort of curious but uninformed person here, which is not really much of a role. (audience laughs) It’s kind of closer to reality, but I’m wondering if it would be useful to back up a wee bit. Is it just in terms of the style of music that we draw a distinction between operetta and musical theater, or is there something
more to it than that? – Well, I think it’s a lot more than that. Operetta was primarily a
musical event, originally, and you could tell because
the orchestras would be closer to the size of a symphony orchestra than to the kind of pit
orchestras we have now. At Stratford you’re very lucky because you get pretty
large pit orchestras. – Shh. – Sorry, sorry. Not enough, not enough,
you always need more. – Yeah– – Is that what I’m supposed to say? Okay.
– Mm, never enough. – I’ll just say that in the
current production of Oklahoma, the revival of Oklahoma that has recently opened on Broadway, which is a kind of radical
reinterpretation of the show without changing a word. Not one note, not one
word has been changed, but it’s radically different. The orchestra is seven players. Now it makes sense. If we have time, we’ll explain why, but it is certainly the case
that the emphasis has changed from the purely musical
values of operetta, which were almost always
comedies by the way, and light ones at that with
kind of ridiculous plots involving, as you well know, ghosts stepping out of the
frames of their pictures, or silly pirates who are afraid to steal anything because of
their loyalty to the queen. You know, just plots that
do not bear much attention. So the largest change was in the seriousness of the subject matter, even if it was a comedy,
even if it was a romance, the way the romance was looked at was much more like the theater was trying to do at the same time. In the ’40s and ’50s you had
an enormous change going on in the non-musical theater as well, and the musical theater
of the next two decades tried to pick up on those changes, and bring them into the musical fold. But then, and we’ll
get to this eventually, at the time that you were
talking about A Chorus Line, two things are happening. Not just the Chorus Line line, which also the concept musicals
and the Sondheim musicals, but then there’s also what we call, I hope this isn’t offensive
here, the British Invasion, where Andrew Lloyd Webber and the mega musicals from Europe– – And Cameron Mackintosh.
– Right. And Les Mis and those, you know at a time when Broadway was falling
apart financially, they basically saved the musical while also some people might argue, and that would include me, ruining it. (audience laughs) – Here we go. (audience laughs) Now it’s getting good. – I was kind of curious,
because in some ways some of those mega musicals seemed like a throwback to the Victorian era of stage spectacle, didn’t they? I mean the Victorians were
huge on stage spectacle. They loved nothing more
than putting a sinking ship or a burning house on stage,
and rendering it apparently in some remarkably realistic way. – Yes, and the great
19th Century melodramas, you know had to have some pyrotechnics or they wouldn’t get audiences, and this was a great commercial innovation to bring that view to musicals, but also using as the source material, very thick doorstop European novels. And my complaint has to
do with that, basically. But yeah, these shows looked different, they sounded different. I would say a more bombastic
quality, is that fair? – I say anthem-like, you know? Everything is kind of
like an anthem, you know? And quite brown, brown flags and yeah. – But interestingly, a
lot of those shows now are being redone in smaller
and more contemporary ways, which brings up an interesting question which is how much freedom should Donna and other directors have to mess with, or improve
as you may see it– (audience laughs) – Gee start with mess with, or improve. – Classics of the oldest stripe, but also of the more recent stripe. I’d be interested to
know, what do you think was the most unusual or outrageous or significant alteration
you’ve been able to do in one of the shows you’ve directed here? – I mean, I’ve been really fortunate to you know, I think
we’re driven by the space that we put, you know that main stage is very unique in the world, and you cannot take what is classically what I would call a proscenium show, like this is a proscenium, the Avon, and plunk that down on a festival stage. It’s an organic, kind of communal space. If we’re in that space,
this audience member, if we’re the stage and you’re here, you are part of the show. So whatever this person’s doing over here, you can’t help but feel that kind of communal energy,
whether good or bad. I think Chorus Line would probably be the most radical, because it’s
a classic proscenium musical. The line was downstage. Why was the line downstage? Because they didn’t use a miccing system when they did it in the ’70s. So, they had to get the dancers as far downstage as possible. I know from I’m a research freak, and I knew I came in
armed with John Breglio who is the gatekeeper of these rights, and rightly so. He protects Michael Bennett’s interests. That you know, one thing
that Michael Bennett really wanted was no orchestra between the actors and the audience, and I knew we could offer that. But having said that, what I wanted to do was create that line in
a different dimension, so I wanted our audiences
to be able to see what goes on behind the backs of a dancer. I found that interesting, because that is where
all the panic happens. So whatever’s happening here,
if my hands are behind my back there’s a whole buffet of crazy
going on back there, right? So it’s kind of interesting
to see that kind of public and private
persona, which I thought– – How did you do that literally? I’m afraid I wasn’t here then. – Oh you missed that?
– Yes. Well I’ve only been the critic
at the Times for two years. (audience laughs) – I can redo the show for you right now. (audience laughs) No, you know what we thought to do with my designer, Michael Gianfrancesco who is quite brilliant, and
continues to reinvent himself, we thought that if we
put the line upstage, and that we made it, what I really loved was this idea that we
couldn’t do originally that this line could disappear, because this show is
about fantasy and reality, so when these actors say well I remember and it was a flashback, and
they conjure up this memory, it’s of a time. And so I wanted to
disappear the other world, so that line was LED. So what we could do
was that line was there when we wanted to restore, and then we could make it all go away. And so the world just became the world, and we kind of put them, and everybody that’s in the show became part of their world. So I found that interesting,
and I think John Breglio loved the idea of that,
so it was pretty radical. You know, having said that, I say Chorus Line, but
possibly Billy Elliot has been the biggest kind of mountain. It’s a massive show,
and to reimagine a show that has 31 transitions in it, we’ve gone on about that. I really should’ve read
it better before now. (audience laughs) – In case you don’t know
what she means though, the transitions are– – Scene changes. – Scene changes, and in a typical musical, and certainly a golden age musical, there might be one per act or two per act. – Yeah. – Or you know, maybe up to a dozen. – Maybe, you know a Guys
and Dolls, Music Man would be like 14, because it’s fairly big, but we’re talking about back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And it’s an actor driven space. We don’t have a fly floor in that space. We don’t have you know, wings and so everything has to happen
in front of the audience. But having said that though, while we kind of went crazy for a while going how are we gonna conceive this? How are we gonna make
this work organically that we’re not plunging
people into darkness for even 20 seconds at a time? It’s too much. So, we did take, I take almost 14 minutes off the original show in
the actual running time. I know it’s a lot, you know that’s a lot. Why, because the elevator
system only can go so fast. And so by changing things
and driving things quicker, and maybe just having more suggestions of, it really is an actor driven piece. I think the book is, you know Lee Hall, when we talk about book musicals, this is that kind of
musical where these scenes really lead us into a song for a reason. So, I don’t know if that moves us into another place, but the book musical. – Well okay, let’s as a
curious but uninformed audience member, explain to me what we mean by a book musical. – You go. – Well, let’s say before 1943 that term would have seemed like some futurist, I mean nobody would know what that meant. There were musicals, as I
said, that had silly plots whose only purpose was to
get you to the next song, but not in terms of developing character, just to set up enough
plot so that the words of the verse of the next song
would at least make some sense so that people didn’t think oh the show’s over now,
it’s time to leave. You know, that’s all those books were and if you read the books to all the Rodgers and Hart musicals from the ’20s through the ’40s, except maybe Pal Joey, which
was the beginning of a change, you are shocked that such a
thing was ever successful. Of course it speaks to
how amazing the songs are. But with Oklahoma, his
partner, Larry Hart, well it’s a complicated story, but he was no longer in the picture and Hammerstein became
Rodgers’s writing partner, and Hammerstein, who had
written the book for Showboat, had much bigger ambitions as a librettist than Hart ever did. Hart was content to write
wonderful, tricky lyrics. So their first project, Oklahoma, was based on a play that’s
basically about a girl in the American West before
Oklahoma became a state who is terrified of being killed by a hand on her farm. I mean that is not how it sells itself, but that is the story. There’s a crazy guy in the smokehouse and she can’t, she’s
afraid to show the man she actually cares about
how much she cares about him because it might inflame
the rage of the other guy, and as this current production that I’ve been mentioning brings out, it’s really about a woman’s
power and lack of power and her choice in a time like that. So you start to get to have
these extremely powerful themes that nevertheless have to be hammered into the musical theater form. – Yeah, and I think I
mean a great libretto, I mean you can have a sung through musical that still is, I consider
a good book musical because it’s a great book. But I guess people think
of the book musical as musicals that have scenes, spoken text, and then they have songs. And now what I see a lot of right now, compared to the writers
like Rodgers and Hammerstein is that we often have
writers saying it twice, and that’s not ideal. You know, we want to say it in the scene, or we want to say it in the song and frankly it’s a musical, so you know this is
where lyricists step in as being a really
critical cog in this wheel of a great musical is that the lyricist and the book writer, sometimes it’s the same
person, sometimes it’s not. There has to be some kind
of a meeting of the minds of how they’re going to tell the story. We also I think, just for a fun fact, I’m on three new musicals right now, and the general challenge is always how do we not put too much information in the lyrics of a song? Because as an audience,
we’re splitting senses. We’re asking you to listen, we’re asking you to take
this information in, we’re asking you to follow exposition. So this is a big challenge, and this is where the genius
of these writers we cannot, I look at these classic musicals and when you look at a Guys and Dolls, the construction of these
musicals, these were writers. – So that was a big change though, beginning to understand
what was the meaning of song in a musical as opposed
to just a diversion? So in these great musicals,
you have book scenes, these great book musicals, that are developing character and plot in a way that is more or less, maybe a slightly denatured form of what you might find
in a non-musical play. But they are building to a point in the emotion of one or more character, where the story cannot
continue until they sing. There has to be a huge amount
of underpinning and buildup for people to sing on
stage and make any sense, otherwise you’re going like okay, well why are you singing about your cat? I don’t really care. But why are you singing about
this choice you have to make? Well that I understand
and that I care about, and then as you say on the other hand, the lyrics can’t be so intensely specific that they’re no different from the scene you’ve just come out of. – And if we miss them,
that’s the other thing. If we miss them, then what happens? And if we go one step further from we get to a point we have to sing, now let’s get to the musical that we would consider a dance musical, or a musical with production numbers. Now we have to earn,
and I hate saying that, but you really do have to
earn the ability to now physically go. And I think that’s kind of a perfectly constructed musical really is we start with that scene. We then heighten it to the point where we have to go to that
next level of communication of being able to sing it, and then we go to the
next one, and we dance or we have some kind of
production value of the show and then we start that whole cycle again. And I think that that’s when
it really works, you know? If there’s going to be
movement and dance in a show, again dancing for the sake of dancing, this is where Billy Elliot strikes me is there’s not an unearned
moment of why they do it, and plus to me you know, and we’ll get into it, but dance is really simply
a metaphor in Billy Elliot. We can talk about the styles of dance, but that’s not really
the point I don’t think. – Another throwback I think is given what you’ve just been saying, then we never have a
steady evolutionary line, because then what we get are
the so-called jukebox musicals which in a sense are a throwback to– – Much in the way viruses are a throwback. (audience laughs) – And here we go. (audience laughs) – No well if you want to get me started, I’ll give you Andrew
Lloyd Webber if you want, but I’m not taking the jukebox musicals. – You know, it’s interesting
because when you look, let’s talk about a jukebox musical, and the different kinds of– – Oh no, are you working on one? – No.
– Okay. – No, no no no. – Just want to make
sure I’m not stepping– – It’s, no, no, because I find they’re complicated, but let’s take Crazy for You. Let’s talk about that show. I did do that show. Now that would be what I would actually call a reverse musical. So you’ve got Gershwin, and
then Ken Ludwig comes in with this library, and
you know talking to Ken he was given 400 songs. License to just go do, you know, take which ones you want. But now he has to write a book that then threads a story
with these existing songs. So in a way it is a jukebox musical, except you’ve got Gershwin. – Well it’s a very high end jukebox. – They’re kind of starting at the top, you know what I mean? So in a way, I look at that it is sort of a jukebox musical. However, let’s talk about
the jukebox musicals that we, do we want to talk
a little bit about that and what’s going on? – I think it’s interesting to know, and just as consumers of culture, how do these things come about? Now, you’ve mentioned a case
where the Gershwin estate, which is a famously perverse estate if you know these things. They’re extremely weirdly controlling, to the point now where Porgy and Bess is not allowed to be billed
as Porgy and Bess by whoever, all the people it’s by.
– Oh right it’s Gershwin’s. – It’s the Gershwins’s, a
weird apostrophe situation, Porgy and Bess, even though Ira Gershwin only wrote the lyrics to
three of the songs in it. DuBose Heyward wrote all
the rest of the songs and wrote the libretto and wrote the play with his wife, who has been
eliminated from the credits that the opera was based on. So there’s a lot of worms crawling around in the mud back there, but and I don’t meant to
pick on the Gershwin estate. This is a rather typical situation, because you have heirs
who on the one hand, rightly want to protect
the artistry and the vision of their great ancestors,
or parents usually, and on the other hand who
want to keep making money out of works of art that
are soon going to be running out of copyright. So, in the story that you’re mentioning and in many others, what
happens is that the estate tries to find new ways to monetize what they can keep in copyright. They can’t keep the songs
in copyright forever, despite Disney. I don’t know if any of you
have followed the lawsuits that Disney has initiated to keep getting the copyright extensions into the deep future, but even with that, a
lot of the classic songs are coming out of copyright now. So if you want to sing on stage
your Rodgers and Hart song from 1917 or ’18, whenever
they got out of college, you can do it and probably not pay anyone unless they can figure out a way to reuse that material in a new product that they can license, and then you have to pay for that license. So a lot of these jukebox musicals arise either from that motive, or
the motive of record companies who have a catalog of songs by a pop star, 20 years ago usually, and they want to tap into what looks like a great source of income for
otherwise moribund assets. And to my mind, you can’t look at why a lot of these musicals are so bad without looking at where they come from. They do not come from an
artist’s need to express an idea. They come from an owner’s need
to monetize a moribund asset. Sorry! (audience laughs) – But I am–
– Mama mia. – But I’m seeing a shift,
you know I have to say I do see a shift now of
looking at this Oklahoma is very encouraging to me on Broadway, because it means that our, they are opening the doors and John Breglio has to be commended for allowing this change in A Chorus Line. Barry Weissler, all of these people that are holding these
rights near and dear are seeing that things can be re-imagined and it kind of leads me to the next thing I know we wanted to talk about. – [Jesse] Yeah who cares
what you want to talk about? – No that’s okay, I’m just
following the script here. – Do you want to talk
about re-imagining, David? Do you want to talk about that? – You know funny you should say that. – Yeah, do you want to? I’m thinking that you might
want to, I don’t know. – Well no, it’s funny you should say that. I was just thinking, you
know we’ve talked about Gilbert and Sullivan, and we
all know that for many years the D’Oyly Carte Company
exercised a kind of death grip over how you could stage
Gilbert and Sullivan. – Yep. – We’ve mentioned the
British mega musicals, in which basically you’ve got the show and anyone, you know you put on the show it’s like a franchise. You have to do it the way it was done, and with the costumes
and with the blocking from the London production or whatever. So there’s this kind of idea of the show as the thing that is unchanging that is created and then locked in. But that idea gets
challenged in many ways. I mean here at Stratford, we did, we started as you mentioned
with this great tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan productions directed by Brian McDonald who’s
completely reinvented them. And so– – Out of copyright now. – Yeah, out of copyright.
– Gilbert and Sullivan. – Let’s talk then about how you, about the re-imagining of a musical. You’ve spoken about the physical
kind of re-imagining, right dictated in a sense by the
festival theater stage, but we’re in a time where we could go back and look at some of those classics. – We are in a very unusual time right now, because I think that there
are many wonderful musicals that I think are more challenging to do right now in our climate. I don’t want to do material that, listen, if you’re going to
re-imagine a classic musical you need to have a point of view. You have to have a reason to do it, and something to say about
it, or why, you know? And when I do re-imagine any
of these classic musicals, you know one thing I don’t want to do is change the source material
i.e. the book, the music, because I find what’s interesting
and the biggest challenge and what really excites me
is to look at this material with a modern lens, and find
the relevancy in that material to a modern audience, because every time when
I dig in, I find it, and I’m always just like oh my god. You know, nothing has changed,
or everything has changed. For example, I’ll be very
brief, but Guys and Dolls, and we spoke about this Jesse, that at first glance on a Guys and Dolls, you see a whole cast of
men and a couple of women in the show, and it’s
so easy to dismiss it as oh women are submissive, women are this, and I didn’t quite see it that way. I dove in, and very quickly one realizes that there are three people in Guys and Dolls that have a job. One of them, and a real
career and successful. One of them’s called
General Cartwright, a woman. The other is the second woman in the show, Sergeant Sarah Brown, and
the last person to have a job is the other woman in the
show, the third woman, which is Adelaide. The rest of the people in the show throw dice on the ground
and hope for the best. So.
(audience laughs) So very quickly I thought you know? There’s something to be said here, and it’s about choice. Someone said to me,
well you seem to really come after your shows from
a female point of view, and I went. (audience laughs) Okay? But I think what’s really interesting now is that we are on the cusp
of some really exciting times in the world of musicals and plays. And you know, I’m directing a
play called Bernhardt Hamlet in Chicago and diving
into Sarah Bernhardt, so I’m in the Sarah Bernhardt world, so right now I can do anything because I have, I’m
channeling Sarah Bernhardt. Just so you know, she can do anything. – [Jesse] Do you sleep in a coffin? – Funny you should mention that. (audience laughs) I just ordered mine today, no. (audience laughs) So it’s an exciting time to really, I find it really interesting
to look at these musicals and go, were the writers
ahead of their time? – Well, can I answer that?
– Yes, no go! – Yes, yes they were.
– Yeah, right? – Guys and Dolls, of course
you’re cherry picking. Guys and Dolls… – It’s true, it’s a good one. – I once moderated a panel
for New York Magazine about the greatest musicals ever, and there was somehow it
came out as a three-way tie, but Guys and Dolls was– – What was the other two? I need to know. Do you remember, do you remember? – Carousel, and Sweeney Todd. – Interesting! – Your mileage may vary, but anyway. – Okay, okay. – You can look it up and
see the whole conversation about how we got to, but yes I mean Guys and Dolls could barely be more
brilliant in its construction, and just as we think of as we talked about in reading Shakespeare. Sometimes you read Shakespeare
and you see Shakespeare and you think, how did
a human being do that? Even for all the craziness
and the Grand Guignol and the plots that don’t
quite join up properly. Even with that, you just can’t believe the insight into human nature,
the beauty of the poetry, the expression of politics,
and all those things. Well, we are now talking about some of the great artists
of our age in this medium. So we shouldn’t be so surprised that they’re able to create
works that stand up to, I would say not only stand
up to reinterpretation but require reinterpretation
as time goes on. Now I know a lot of
people don’t like that. A lot of people want to see their Oklahoma or their Guys and Dolls just like it was. In fact, one of the great
gestures in your production Donna that I’ll never forget, and I hope I didn’t make it up. (audience laughs) – Yes I did that whatever you’re gonna say right now. – So soon after the opening, wasn’t the opening in black and white? – Mhmm. – And then there was an amazing blackout. – Yep. – Which by the way, as
I noted in my review, you can’t do a blackout
like that on Broadway. – No. – Because of the fire laws, you can’t turn off the exit signs. So you can’t get a full black, so you could never do what Donna did in that, how many seconds? It was very few. – Well yeah. What happened was I collect black and white photography
with my husband. We love black and white photography, and one of the reasons I love it so much is I always have this desire
to dive in to the photo and think what’s that world like? And so we were literally
sitting in my kitchen, and with my costume and set designer and I had this idea of the concept that I wanted to reset people’s clocks. Because this is a busy life we have, and settling an audience is a very challenging thing as a director. And what I wanted to do
was reset the clocks, but also have this modern feel. And so I said if we start in this photo, and I was looking at a
black and white photo, and then I want to dive in and within a few seconds,
we’re in the photo so we’re in full color, New York. And they laughed at me and they said so, will they go offstage
and change their clothes? And I said not so much. What I’m thinking, is
that they do it onstage. So then what happened
was we really quickly, and they so like 25 seconds? I said I’m thinking more like 11. (audience laughs) We got it down, we
actually got it down to 10, but we should’ve sold
tickets to the infrared, which is what our stage manager has so she can see, ’cause
we can do what we call an arena blackout in the festival theater, because we don’t have the exit signs. So it does, we can, Jesse’s right, we can do that there. But you know, I don’t
know if you were there but there was a hot dog cart, and there was stuff on stage. Well, watching what
happens in that blackout with the actors, they were overdressed. So they just ripped off
the black and white, and they had color, but the hot dog stand had boxing gloves flying out of it, people were shoving clothes
in, pants were going in, pants were being ripped
off like the Full Monty. It was unbelievable, and you know it was the first time, 10 times we did it, there was people ow, you
know banging into each other. But, but going back to the
reason we were talking about this is it’s a different way to tell a story. In a way, we have kind of a responsibility to use how we’ve advanced in the theater and the magic of lighting
and all the things we can do to tell the story differently
of this source material. Having said that though,
we really still have to be I think very mindful of why we’re trying to re-imagine a story. There are musicals out
there that are really tough right now, I think, as good as they are, can we get around, you know what I mean? The subject matter. – Yes, and that was the other
kind I wanted to bring up, but I did want to say that
when I watched that moment, what I also felt aside
from what you’re describing within the context of the show itself, but in a kind of meta context was oh, we’re bringing something from the past to life. And that’s what I want every production of a revival musical to do
with purpose, as you say. In New York, and possibly here as well, there’s a lot of discussion right now about certain classic musicals that have what you might
call Me Too problems. An example that happened
this year was Kiss Me, Kate was revived on Broadway with Kelli O’Hara. To me, she’s almost reason enough to do it because to hear her sing those songs almost overrides any political
objection you might have. And they had to fight with themselves and with the estates to figure out what they would do about
a perceived problem of a character who both
in the modern story, and in The Taming of the Shrew story which is inside the play, you know spanks his
wife, or his wife-to-be, and who at the end, the wife basically according to the original text, depending on how you read it, humbles herself before her husband by saying you know, I’m ashamed
that women are so simple and that they should put their hands out for their husbands to put their foot, I mean it is tricky material, even if you just do The
Taming of the Shrew, but we don’t talk about not
doing The Taming of the Shrew. Or we shouldn’t talk about not doing it. – Well some people do.
(audience laughs) – Well so that’s another panel discussion that would be really interesting, but in terms of Kiss Me, Kate the production decided to make a few surgical changes, one of
which was they simply changed the word women in the
final, in her final song. I’m ashamed that women
are so simple, to people. I’m ashamed that people are so simple. Well, there was of course a huge outcry. Are we all such snowflakes that we can’t deal with a little, but you know, it’s not the last time you’re
ever going to hear from a show any one time you see it, so my way of looking at
that is you take it in, argue about it with yourself
or with your friends. Whatever you want to do, and then go see it again in six years with somebody else’s vision. It’s still there. Shakespeare’s still there. As we were saying earlier, if Shakespeare had put a covenant on
Hamlet in 1603 saying it may only be done with a
white man playing Hamlet, and with the staging equipment that I have here at The
Globe, or wherever it played, so get out your candles, folks. That’s the only way
you’re gonna see Hamlet for the next 500 years,
we wouldn’t have Hamlet. – [Donna] No. – So thank god for the
expiration of copyright. (audience laughs) – No exactly, and you
know the other thing, these musicals I think
what we have to look at is what do we learn? And just because the
subject matter is difficult, you know when I did Oklahoma I redid the whole ballet, but there is a rape in that ballet. And you know, we have not gotten, you know that’s not gone away. These are very difficult subject matters. Little Shop of Horrors is another one where she’s dating a man
who physically abuses her. And what I have to look at is where do we go with that? Do we leave it up in
the air like it’s okay? There’s not a single person on that stage that thinks it’s okay. She needs to find within
herself that it’s not okay, and she does, and she does
complete that journey. There I think we need to not
shy away from that material. It doesn’t matter when it was written, because last time I checked we don’t have any vaccines now for domestic violence. Domestic violence is still
alive and well, unfortunately. So then one has to say well, okay well what did we learn? Well we learned you do that, we’ll probably chop you up
and feed you to a plant. I’m good. (audience laughs) And I think I pretty much solved it. I think I’ve got this all solved. I may be generalizing, but I
feel like I may have done it. Do you know what I mean? I’m just saying, I
think I’ve got it, yeah. – How would that work
in Billy Elliot, now? – Oh well you haven’t
seen it yet, have you? – No, no. Some double casting across the shows. I think we’re gonna get questions soon. – Well we will, yes. How are we doing? 22. Okay. Shall we go straight
to audience questions? All right. This is where I need my glasses, because of course I forgot to tell– – While you’re looking at those, though, while you’re previewing those. – Yeah you preview those,
and Jesse will talk. – I have something I want to come back to from what you said. – Okay. – You alluded to, but we
didn’t really get to talk about the fact that the commercial model for musical theater has changed
radically in several ways. One line of which has
produced bigger and bigger mega musicals and jukebox musicals because people falsely
believe them to be safer. I mean the evidence actually is that 1/3 of all Broadway musicals fail, regardless of what type they are. So it’s not a good investment for the record companies
anyway, but be that as it may that’s one line of development
in the economics of musicals. Another is the experimental
staging of smaller works that often come from off Broadway, and what I want to talk
about is spaces because– – [Donna] Wow, yeah. – You talked about bringing a proscenium show like A Chorus Line to a thrust stage here,
not just a thrust stage, but like an incredible thrust stage. A lot of the most interesting newer works, whether they’re new revivals
or a new original musicals are coming from other spaces that they’re not created
directly for Broadway. They’re created for
smaller and more eccentric kinds of physical environments. – [Donna] And almost more
immersive too, right? – Often in the round,
often spaces in the round or very nearly so. Places where you may not be
more distant from the action than I am from the back row here, as opposed to in a 2,000 seat house where you can barely see the stage. And you can do different
things in that environment, and artists who respond to space, and I would include especially
director choreographers are going to shape the material to those abilities of a small space and the limitations of a small space. When those shows then achieve success at a small
theater say off Broadway, say at the Public Theater
or at the Atlantic Theater and then, you know naturally not wishing for this great piece of
work to then disappear, they want to bring it to
Broadway they face a problem because all but one of
the Broadway houses are, well all but two are proscenium stages. And one of the ones that
isn’t is in the round, but it’s like 1,000 feet underground and nobody really likes to go there. (audience laughs) – [Donna] Unless I’m doing a show there. – It’s a great space!
– Then everybody come! – It is a great space,
but it’s hard to sell. – No it’s true, it’s true.
– Circle in the Square, and then the other one is
Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont, which is a thrust that’s run by an organization
that’s not a commercial house. So, then these artists have to rethink what their musicals can
be for other spaces, not just other audiences, and in the way that we ask, to those people who say these
shows should not be altered. A great classic should not be altered, I point out well you’re going to be putting them into
completely different spaces. You have to alter them, and
that should be the signal to you that it’s not just a physical alteration, but an emotional alteration. – And you know what, that’s spot on because I hear this all the time when people say well, I saw Cabaret. I saw it here 10 years
ago, it’ll be the same. That’s just simply not the case, you know? We’re always reinventing them, and some of it is about the space or what kind of experience
we want to create. And the thing that’s so great
about these intimate spaces is that you now put the audience
as an accomplice, right? I love that feeling that the
audience is all part of it. I always say to a company if
there’s 25 people in the cast that on that first preview
when you have an audience, you know the 26th member
of your cast shows up, except you don’t know
what they’re gonna do, they’re unpredictable,
and they’re loose cannons so it’s tricky, but
it’s exciting you know? And it’s exciting for an
audience to be part of that. So when you take this,
and we see this a lot where great successes off Broadway, and it used to be, let’s go
back to Little Shop of Horrors. Is it the longest running
off Broadway show? It is, isn’t it? So it never–
– Off Broadway musical. – Sorry, off Broadway musical, and it never left. It was never meant to. It was meant to stay there. It was this gem, and it never
transferred to Broadway. And so it was allowed to kind of, that was good, it was successful. It’s different now. It seems like the ideas
that have that success off Broadway, and there’s
always that hunger to bring it to Broadway. – Well in part because it’s the only way these days that the artists and the work of which they’re so proud can be seen by enough
people, because the culture doesn’t really have a route anymore for a Little Shop of Horrors
to get from off Broadway to the world without
going through Broadway. – And it can be successful. – Yes, well a lot of
them do a beautiful job of making these new works. Recently on Broadway the best
shows of the last couple years were from off Broadway. A musical called The Band’s Visit, a musical called Fun Home, which had– – And that was tiny theaters. Didn’t they play at the Atlantic? Weren’t they there? – The Band’s Visit was at the Atlantic, a 190 seat theater. – 190 seat theater is
where it started in, yeah. – And there’s on other
point, and then questions. But I just–
– Hey, go for it. – I just really feel the need to, along the lines of what we’re saying, let’s also remember that
as with Shakespeare, so too with a lot of these great musicals, when they were produced
it was extremely rare to have a black person in the
cast of a Broadway musical. To have anyone of any
other ethnicity than white to consider the meaning of
LGBT issues at all as existing in the world of the show,
or the cast of the show. Any of these kinds of
diversity that we now are beginning to encourage and embrace. I think it’s the strongest motivation for rethinking and coming
back to this material now is to bring those issues into play. It doesn’t have to work with
every single piece you do, but it’s such an enormous opportunity that it seems to me to
be a shame to miss it. – Well and casting Music
Man for me, someone asked me why did you cast a man
who’s black as Harold Hill? And Daren Herbert is Afro-Caribbean, but my answer to that was actually because he was the best person to play that part, period. And so I’m very happy to
be in the world of the arts where that is my motivation. – But can I ask, I wrote about this guessing as to what your motivations were. That’s what I do, I just
make up other people’s ideas. You’ve heard about fake
news, that’s me, thank you. (audience laughs) I’m the enemy of the people. So, when I saw that Music
Man last year, which I loved, and I was with my editor who
had never seen The Music Man, and it was like, he was bowled
over like a seven year old going to his first musical. Anyway, yes he was the best
person that you could find, but what I liked, if I’m not imagining it, was you didn’t try to pretend on the other hand, that he wasn’t black. – Well yeah.
– A lot of times people get, a black actor gets cast in something, but they’re sort of forced to seem like they’re playing a
white character anyway, and they can’t bring everything about themselves into the role. – Which is colorblind casting,
which really can’t exist. We can’t you know, that just
makes no sense to do that. – So I call this color conscious. – Color conscious, yeah. – Is that term used here? – Well listen, I also cast an actor who was black to play Tommy Djilas. I think that was, that made sense to me. – That’s what you were thinking about. – That story started with there, and it made sense to me,
that story, that connection. Everything on the page
started to fall into place. I didn’t change a single
line of that show, or a note. And to me, it just all fell into place. – We should just say that
Tommy Djilas in The Music Man if you don’t know is a kid from
the wrong side of the tracks who is considered trouble, and is usually played as a white ethnic. That’s the term, you know. I don’t know in Iowa at the time what ethnicity that would have been. (audience laughs) Probably just paler. (audience laughs) – But there’s a deep connection
between Harold and Tommy for sort of inexplicably at
the beginning of the show and instantly, and I thought well they see themselves as outsiders, and so I kind of ran with that and it made sense, and I think that again, for an actor they’re going
to ask those questions and we don’t, as directors we
shouldn’t be making choices that we can’t answer all
of the actors’ questions because ultimately they
have to embody the person. So it made sense, but yeah. It’s a really exciting
time to not be dictated by ethnicity and gender, ’cause we can go on and on
because all bets are off now. I mean you know, and really what it takes is we need to keep offering
up this content, this material and audiences, you know, it’s new. But we need to keep doing it, because otherwise we’re
not going to move forward. We’re just gonna get stuck. – An awful lot of it is about audiences need to do a bit of work here, because sometimes
audiences are so bound by strange conventions or
ideas of naturalism. I mean we had, I remember
someone who wrote saying that Harold Hill, a black man arriving in a community like
that in 1912, it’s impossible. It’s not real, and then I think– – But a man starting to sing in the middle of the town
square, that’s totally possible. – That is so natural. – And we run into this with
Shakespeare too, you know. Well, that character, that
historical person wasn’t black. – Yeah and Hamlet’s always
played by a 19 year old. – It’s a very strange thing,
and I don’t know how we, I mean apart from the
work that you do Donna in reinventing the show, and showing how it works, because who could have
been at The Music Man and not seen okay, this works? And yet people have these odd ideas. – You just keep doing it.
– Keep doing it. – It’s changing. I mean, there are a lot of
things that are changing that we’re here advocating. There’s a lot of things that are changing that are probably gonna
put me out of my job. But I have to advocate
them too in the long run, and it’s better to be a little
bit happy with the change than to always be resisting it. – And there’s such an instant
perception in Billy Elliot. I know you haven’t seen this yet, but you know Billy’s father is white, Billy’s mother is black, and Billy looks white, but someone said well that couldn’t happen. Well you should come
to my neighbor’s house. Because my neighbors are Jamaican, their daughter is Jamaican. She has a husband who’s white, and their daughter looks more black, I would say more like Dom,
and their son is white. To her dismay, she’s
like look at this kid. Does this kid look like mine, you know? But the thing is, we have this perception but there is also real life, and a reality that’s true. And I don’t have to defend that, right? Because he has to, I don’t have to. (audience laughs) – That’s what they pay me for. – He gets all the, Donna
we got this letter. What would you like, I don’t want you to do anything about it. Would you like me to write back? No. – All right, we should probably give time for at least
one audience question. I have three here. One of them I kind of think
we’ve already answered. One question is can you define
what a jukebox musical is? But I think we did, didn’t we? – It’s an existing song,
it’s an existing song list of popular, Jersey Boys
is a jukebox musical. Do you know what I mean? Cher would be a jukebox musical. These are musicals that
have existing famous songs, and then a story is written. Does that make sense, Jesse? – Famous songs generally that were not intended for the theater, and that’s the key point. (audience laughs) – Moving on. (audience laughs) Okay, two questions. One card, two questions.
– Uh-oh. – First question. Is there a line of progression from Hair to Hamilton? – Absolutely. Hair is often considered,
with some accuracy, not total accuracy, the
first Broadway musical that used rock music. It’s not quite accurate, because it’s a kind of
denatured rock music. I mean it’s great, the music, but it was written for the theater by people who wrote for the
theater, not by pop acts. So it’s a little bit
different in that way, but it was the breakthrough
and certainly many of the composers of the late golden age heard that and went uh-oh, you know? This is going south. What we do is going to
stop being relevant, and that turned out to be the case. At that point, what I have called the bridge to popular music was down. The old system whereby Broadway songs became the hit songs of the time through the record
business, through radio, and through dance bands and
people buying sheet music and playing it on the
piano in their own parlors as used to happen. Yes, I did. (audience laughs) That was gone, that was basically gone. The means of distribution had changed, and the audience for music
had completely broken up into a million smaller
municipalities you might say, instead of one nation. So that was, Hair was where that change began to affect the theater profoundly. Hamilton is sort of at the
other end of that line, where there’s become a
rejoining of popular sound and the musical to some extent because Hamilton is not
just the leading seller of cast albums in certain, over a certain number of
years since it opened, but on the pop charts it’s done very well. So it’s a hopeful sign that there are ways of integrating popular music
and musical theater again that will regain public interest. The question is whether it will only be for the currently popular musical forms, or whether it will spread
out to other kinds as well. – Thank you, okay same card. Second question. Glasses back on. Can or will shows like Tommy and Hair and The Lion King endure? – Well–
– If reinvented, I guess. – You clearly haven’t been
to the Disney offices, so I think they absolutely
Lion King, you know. I think that’s–
– Which were the three again? – [David] Tommy, Hair, and The Lion King. – The Lion King is simple
why Lion King will, because we keep having children, and we will keep having
a family experience. And it is one thing you
can bring your family to, and there will always be new kids. So yes, I think that’s right. Isn’t that why, you know. Hair, oh Tommy. Boy, it’s tricky now
because when you look at something like Tommy where
things are going now, I don’t even know how to answer that. – I personally don’t think Tommy is of the echelon of works
that are likely to survive, despite being no longer
in the popular mode. But I don’t know. I mean check back with me in 10 years. But Hair has been redone
on Broadway recently and was a success. I think its message is
probably one that can be, will retain relevance for a long time and I think that one might. – That freedom of youth
and that kind of message I think is, yeah I think
it will endure, I think so. – My stage manager’s
disappeared from view, so I’m not sure how many
more minutes we have left. Are we out of time? Oh, we can keep going? – Okay.
– Okay. Well again, I think this is a question that we may have already
kind of dealt with. – [Jesse] We’ll reinvent our answers. – Reinvent your answer.
(audience laughs) – [Donna] Let’s re-imagine
our answers, Jesse. – What do you think is
the role of censoring, or changing a show for
contemporary social acceptability? You have talked a wee bit about that. – That’s a good question.
– Yeah. – Well let me ask Donna,
so you saw The King and I, the Kiss Me, Kate that I
was discussing earlier. What did you think of that change, and there were a few
other changes as well? – You know, I feel like they didn’t trust the good work they did. I actually feel like they did a great job, and you know the characters were strong, the women were strong, and
I feel like we trusted her. We trusted her to make a decision, and so we didn’t need to, she
didn’t need to bail on it. You know, I really feel
like it would’ve been maybe a little bit stronger message, although I know Kiss Me, Kate so well. So I guess it’s slightly different from an audience that maybe doesn’t know the Shakespeare play. That’s a whole other topic, but you know, for example though in that show, Tom, Dick, and Harry
was hilarious, you know? And on one bats an eye ’cause it’s that sort of Vaudeville feel, because we accept that. Do you know what I mean? Which I thought was
actually very, very good, but no I think that bailing on that, I guess I say the word bailing
because it is a little bit. Okay, it’s a slippery slope. I don’t know where to stop if we start, do you know what I mean? I don’t know what’s off the
table, what’s on the table, because that’s subjective. So yeah. – You know, I have my
own feelings about it that aren’t so different from yours, but primarily what I feel
about this self-censorship let’s call it, ’cause no one
actually imposed these changes, or has yet tried to
impose similar changes, is that you know these
are artists up there. The directors, and
particularly the performers who have to do it every night, and in conversations
they work towards ways that they can feel good
about what they’re doing. Particularly when you
have a starlet vehicle, as that was, that star had better be happy with what she’s being asked to say. So I think some of this came about through legitimate artistic discussions between Kelli O’Hara–
– I agree, yeah. – And the director, and Amanda Green who was hired to make these
slight changes in the script. – And I respect that,
because you know what, as I said an actor has to do it. So I respect that. If that’s how the decision came about I think they could have gone either way. I do think that they
did a great job, though. I think those women were really great. – So my upshot was I don’t
think it was necessary, but I didn’t mind it either. – Yeah. – It didn’t spoil it for me. – No it didn’t, that’s
really, that’s right. It didn’t spoil it for me, but I didn’t think they needed to. But going to censorship,
let’s talk about Billy Elliot. Let’s talk about the most, the most that we’re getting
is the swearing in the show. And there’s disclaimers
all over the place, but let’s talk about that. Fixating on the swearing in Billy Elliot, you really miss the point, right? And Lee Hall has written a lot about this. This is a culture, the
Geordies is a culture. It is the way they talk. This is completely, deeply rooted and connected to who they are as people. Now, when one wants to
talk about appropriation, that’s a whole other thing. To me, I think me
changing the way they talk to suit us in that we
don’t like that word, we’re kind of veering into that world of changing a culture to suit us, and also we will
capitalize on that culture. So I feel very strongly about this, that I wasn’t going to change that. That is, I haven’t changed it because I think it’s in the show. The writer had an intent
when they started this that they were going to
demonstrate this culture, which is different than anywhere else, and their struggles were different and that they were real, and that they are real people. It’s gritty, it’s not
pretty, warts and all. That actually is where you
know, musical theater is going and Elton John and Lee Hall were, again, you know this was 2005 and they were really moving in a direction where we need to actually
do even more of now, which is to double down on this and say if we’re going
to demonstrate this, we’re going to show it for real. Now we may not like that. We may not want to hear that, but then again, that’s subjective. What’s offensive to you may
not be offensive to you. So then who are we doing this for? So what are you doing? I serve the writer. It’s actually a director’s
job, by the way. Right, I mean we should just
take our ideas sometimes, directors, and go to the good idea island and do some stuff there,
’cause it’s a good idea. It’s not necessarily
the show on the paper, and I feel like yes we can
re-imagine it, reinvent it, talk to the writers, but
ultimately if we go cross purposes of what the writers intent was, we really aren’t gonna have an authentic, real, deeply connected piece. – I think one of the issues
that arises in Billy Elliot is that people perceive it mistakenly to be a family show, or a children’s show and that language in
conjunction with that– – Exactly, just read the
first page, you know? Fooked if I know. (audience laughs) I think you know how your
night’s gonna go, right? – Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t
recommend it to children. – It’s so good for children,
it’s so good for that. – They know this language, spoiler. – But if you, if you, yeah. If you don’t take children to Billy Elliot because you’re worried about swearing, what you’re missing is the opportunity to show a child what it is
to not have a perfect family. To look at young kids with
real struggles about gender. With real problems, with this little rose in amongst all the weeds growing out to chase what it is their
dream and their goal, and in spite of incredible obstacles, what this kid manages to do. That’s real, and if we worry
about a couple of swear words because it really is who these people are, then I feel like families
have missed an opportunity. What do we want in the theater? We want to walk out, and we’re gonna see when someone says it’s a kids show, it’s not a kids show, it’s a family show. That’s different. I want to take my family,
and I want to keep talking. And you know what? How great that someone else
brought up the subject matter. Let’s open the door, and
then we get to keep going. And then we look heroic,
because we know more than them. (audience laughs) – Unfortunately, we can’t keep going. The presence of Anita at the podium– – Let Jesse have a last word. Can Jesse have the last word? – I was just going to say
so what you’re saying is don’t stay away for the curses, stay away because of the gay sex. (audience laughs) – I think, is that what I said? – Put it on the banner. – Yeah yeah. – And with that? – Yes, did we get that all on tape? That’ll be our–
– Yeah. – Promo. – No don’t do that, come! Everybody come! – Thank you Donna, Jesse, and David. That was just wonderful. It whet our appetite for
Billy Elliot this afternoon. (audience applauds) Thank you. It is an enormous honor to
have Jesse and Donna with us. Donna has touched down
for a couple of days. She’s directing, as she mentioned, Bernhardt Hamlet in Chicago which opens at the end of September. And it’s wonderful to have
The New York Times here for a few days, and you’re just
starting your sojourn here. Jesse’s back tomorrow
to talk about Othello with David Prosser in the
lobby of the Festival Theater. On Saturday, we’re doing a
session with Cara Buckley, who is a colleague of Jesse’s. A session around The Crucible in the time of the Me Too Movement. And on Sunday, Jesse returns
with some of his colleagues to talk about politicizing
theater coverage, so that’ll be a great one. So thanks to, yeah okay. Box office is open. And thank you to David for
moderating, jet lagged and all. (audience applauds)
Thank you. (audience applauds)

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