Directing (Working In The Theatre #345)

When audiences go to the theatre, they certainly
can see the work of actors and designers. They can hear the work of playwrights and
composers. But the unseen hand behind every theatrical
production is that of the director. Today, we’re going to bring them out from
the shadows, or at least the back of the house, and talk a bit about their work, what they
do, how they do it, and why they do it. We have a terrific panel. Obviously, as with all of these programs,
I could spend the next thirty minutes listing their credits, but we’ll do this very briefly,
beginning with, on my right, Doug Hughes, director of Richard Greenberg’s THE HOUSE
IN TOWN, now at Lincoln Center Theater. Next to him, Scott Elliott, director of the
current Broadway revival of THE THREEPENNY OPERA. Next, John Rando, director of the Broadway
musical, THE WEDDING SINGER. To my left, Leigh Silverman, director of the
recent production of Lisa Kron’s WELL on Broadway. And finally, Joe Mantello, director of the
revival of THREE DAYS OF RAIN. Welcome to you all. Thanks. I want to start, very simply, with asking,
what is the first show you directed? If it was in school, we want to hear about
that, and then you can also tell us what the first professional production you got to direct
was. And we’ll start, again in the same order,
with Doug. All right. I was in college. I was a biology major, at Harvard College,
and there’s no – I was just attempting to flee the arts, I guess, at that point. And I – but you couldn’t study the theatre
at Harvard. It was not considered an academic subject. However, it was a big part of extra-curricular
life there. And I fancied myself an impresario. I wanted to start a theatre that would produce
work done by my fellow students. So with great fanfare, I started something
called The Premiere Society, and I hated all the manuscripts that were submitted to me. And I said that what I thought was that everybody
had limited attention spans, and if we could write a revue, everybody could write something,
you know, three minutes long, five minutes long, six minutes long, I would put that together. It was not considered glamorous to direct
this. I had thought I’d be the, you know, Flo
Ziegfeld of it all and not actually have to direct the thing. But it fell to me to direct, and I found I
liked it, and others liked it, and that’s how I began directing. And all of the writers were wonderful. They were all people from the Harvard Lampoon,
who became, you know, now write “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night [Live”], and the wonderful
Mark O’Donnell, who’s the book author of HAIRSPRAY and his brother Steven, who wrote
for David Letterman. And it was just fun. It was satire and quite wild, and it was a
marvelous experience. I don’t imagine I’ll ever feel as exhilarated
as I was, you know, when I was twenty, when I did that play. Before we go on, we should just let people
know, you made the comment about “fleeing the arts,” which in your teenage years seems
a strange comment. Can you explain to everybody what you were
fleeing? Well, I mean, I’m probably the only person
here who, you know, got trapped in the family business. I mean, my parents are actors [Barnard Hughes
and Helen Stenborg], and so you know, it’s like some strange sitcom plot, you know? I wanted to become a lawyer or an accountant
or a biologist. And you know, I doggedly pursued biology,
which I had no talent for. And then, you know, things changed. Scott, your first gig? Well, I had a kind of checkered past, also,
and fled the arts. I used to act in Broadway musicals, when I
was in my early twenties. And then, you know, I hated it. Well, I spent my whole life wanting to do
it, and I hated it! So then I thought, “Well, I’m getting
the hell out of it,” you know, “I’m getting out of it.” And I went back to college and started to
get a Ph.D. in psychology at N.Y.U. And then, I hated it. (LAUGHS) And then I thought, “Well, I wanted to be
an artist,” so I just started my own theatre company. You know, I went out and I kind of called
on my old friends from the business and I started my little Off-Broadway theatre company
called The New Group. And I really didn’t know what I was doing,
but I built my own sets. And what I really did for the first thing
was a sort of bootlegged – not bootlegged, but sort of stolen version of Brian Friel’s
FAITH HEALER. I didn’t pay for the rights (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL), because we didn’t really have the money. And it’s funny that FAITH HEALER is running
right now on Broadway, with Ralph Fiennes. But I just kind of had a group of friends
I got together, who are actor friends of mine, and I just said, “Well, I’m just going
to give it a shot.” So I kind of, you know, got together and got
this thing going, and I directed this thing, and some of my friends came and said, “Oh,
you have talent! You should keep directing.” And then, a year later, I did a play by Mike
Leigh, called ECSTASY, which was sort the thing that was sort of my first professional
thing, I guess. It didn’t seem professional at the time,
but it kind of became professional, it kind of got discovered. It was just sort of, you know, me and my friends
built the sets and, you know, had some actors in it. Got a few that I knew and a few that I didn’t
know, and then The New Group sort of got discovered as a result of that production. So I didn’t really direct much before that. And so, then that’s it. That’s what happens. John? I was an actor in junior high and high school
in a suburb of Texas, and my dad was an aerospace engineer. And I was acting in high school and also in
musicals, Captain von Trapp in, like, THE [SOUND OF MUSIC], you know, that kind of stuff. (LEIGH LAUGHS) And I had a great drama teacher. And in my senior year, I was seventeen, he
thought that I should direct a play, so he gave me a play to direct. It was a play called THE BUTLER DID IT, which
is a really lame comedy about this butler who commits a murder and you have to try to
figure out who did it. A whodunit, comedy. And it was a great experience for me, because
I was already doing lights and sound and I was acting and I was doing everything, and
so it was just sort of putting it all together. And it went extremely well. I mean, the audience even stood up at the
end of the show, except for my drama coach, who did not stand up, which was a very strange
little feeling for an emerging sort of whatever I was at the time. But then years later, we had a phone conversation
– this was years later, after I had won the Tony for URINETOWN, and we had a wonderful
conversation and we talked about that moment. And he said, “I’ve just always known you
could do better than that!” So – (LAUGHS) Oh, wow! (LAUGHTER) And did he give you some notes on URINETOWN? He did! (LAUGHTER) I think we should revive that! It’s due for a revival. Yeah! So that’s sort of – that was my first
job, was a high school job, in a way. Leigh? I was acting mostly as a kid, and I did this
summer theatre program. And I was fifteen and I went, and the first
day everyone did their monologues, and we were in Cambridge, England, and everyone was
doing all of their various things and we would talk about each monologue. And after the class was over, the teacher
said, “Leigh, I’d really like you to stay after.” And so, I was thinking, “Oh, I am so good! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I am so good!” And she said, “Oh, Leigh, you are terrible! You should really stop acting. But you’re really smart, and you should
think about maybe directing.” And she handed me Ibsen and Chekhov, and I
spent the summer directing, while everyone else got to do their little parts in the play. And it was really, she changed my life. And when I got back, I did a lot of directing
in high school and in college. And actually, my first play that I directed
was a play called COMPROMISED IMMUNITY, which was this tiny, obscure British play that was
on a double bill in my high school with REALLY ROSIE. (LAUGHS) And I think back on that, and actually,
I had a similar conversation with my drama teacher at the time. And I said, “Where did I get the nerve to
think that I should do this play, you know, when really all anyone wanted was the musical
and the happy play?” And she said, “Oh, you were always like
that.” So I think that was sort of my beginning. Joe? Well, like a lot of you, I started as an actor. And in the late eighties, I think, I was fortunate
enough to be taken in by Circle Repertory Company. They’re no longer around. And they had a sort of a second company, called
The Lab. And I went in as an actor and had sort of
a not-very-good experience on a play, and so I thought, like – you know, I got indignant
and thought, like, “Well, I’m – I’ll direct!” And so I did a play that a friend of mine,
Peter Hedges, who’s, you know, a novelist, playwright, screenwriter now – it was one
of his first plays. And it went really well. And it was really successful for its three-night
run. And I thought, like, “Oh, this is great! This is what I do!” And then the following year, that play, that
little production was moved to the mainstage, and it was a disaster! (HOWARD LAUGHS) But the great thing about being a member of
Circle Rep was that, you know, it was a strange dysfunctional family. It was this amazing place. (TO DOUG) Your parents were there, and – but
what they did, what they – what I felt was that there was a commitment to me and there
was a commitment to my growing as an artist. And that it wasn’t about how good your last
production was or how well it was received. That, you know, after that sort of disaster
of that first show, they gave me something the next season, you know? And I think certainly, without them, I don’t
know that I would have even become a director, because it wasn’t in the realm of possibility
for me. But because they sort of kept gently nudging
me and saying, “Go ahead, it’s there, keep going,” and nurtured it, it really
made all the difference. And when I walk by the theatre now, which
is a restaurant (LAUGHS), it’s very sad. So to follow on that, the people who nurtured
you, and you talked – you were in an institutional setting there. You’ve all worked with not-for-profits as
well as in the commercial arena. What is it and who is it that helped you along
as you were developing your careers? I mean, the high school drama teacher aside,
were there specific people who guided you as you were developing as a director? I’ll ask you, John. Yeah! Oh, absolutely. Well, I studied also – I have a graduate
degree from U.C.L.A., and there were a couple of wonderful professors there, who really
helped me develop and get my sort of craft together. But then, once I graduated, I went down to
the Old Globe Theatre, and I became assistant director. And I sort of had a different path, in that
I assisted. For five years, I was an assistant director,
and I worked with about twenty different directors. But sort of the most important mentor to me
was Jack O’Brien, marvelous director, who everyone here would know, and I was his assistant
for about a year and a half on most of the things he did in San Diego. And his influence was very important to me,
in growing. I worked also with other – in New York,
I worked with Lynne Meadow and Adrian Hall and numerous other – Joe Dowling, these
wonderful, wonderful people. But the assistantship, for me, was a wonderful
time, because even though I was making no money and I basically was living on people’s
sofas in Manhattan – I had a voicemail at that time, because we didn’t have cell phones,
and I had a P.O. Box, and I would go from couch to couch. In fact, another director, who was an actor
at the time, Nicholas Martin, called me “the housesitter to the stars,” (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL), ‘cause that’s basically what I would do. But there was somebody – like I was assisting
on a show called LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART. John Tillinger was the director and Terrence
McNally was the playwright, and I didn’t have a place to stay after that show opened
and I had to be in New York for several months. And Terrence was going away to do a show,
so he offered me his house to stay. So that’s sort of how I managed. But the assistant program, for me, was a wonderful
thing, because you’re in the room with wonderful actors, writers, directors, and you’re just
sort of this sponge, and absorbing how to do things, (LAUGHS) how not to do things. And so, that’s what – those are the influences
for me. Has anybody else assisted? Have you been through that experience? Leigh? Yeah, I assisted Doug many, many times. It was one of the most – I mean, he was
the first person that I thought of. It was one of the most important, I think,
parts of my career so far, has been working with Doug. And we met at New York Theatre Workshop, which
has been an institution that for me has been a real artistic home. I did my first internship there when I moved
to New York, and have stayed – I’ve directed many workshops and readings there. I directed a show on their mainstage last
year. And I had the opportunity to meet all sorts
of writers and directors. And meeting Doug and working with Doug, that
was the beginning of a great collaboration. Yeah, it was incredible, you know, to have
somebody – because it’s such a solitary job, really. I mean, you have all these collaborators,
but when something stops, or when there’s this, that – you know, the room fills up
with the smell that something’s not going well or there’s a problem, you can feel
terribly solitary, you know. And I love having an assistant in rehearsal,
and I never went – I never had any proper training, you know? I never – I taught at Yale for a couple
– a little seminar about Moliere plays, for a few years, and I felt terribly self-conscious
when I was asked to go up there, because not only had I not ever taught in an academic
environment, but I’d never gone to drama school. I mean, it was very old-fashioned, fantastic,
the way that, you know, people used to become lawyers. I felt apprenticed. And that moment, you know, which I think is
a defining moment when you’re a director, where it just – something needs to be said
or something needs to be stopped or, perish the though, something needs to be directed. And you, for a while, as an assistant, you
have the luxury of witnessing that moment, thinking your own thoughts, and being a back-bencher. You don’t have to rise and act. You don’t have to redirect the energy or
make the proverbial suggestion or simply say, “May I see it again?” or whatever it might
be. And I love that! And I find myself coveting that job again
sometimes. Just to actually be in someone else’s rehearsal
would be a great privilege. But is it tough, after you’ve done that,
and certainly people look for “Who are the really good assistants?”, to then make the
leap to directing yourself? Joe, you were already acting at Circle Rep? I was, yeah. So they knew you – Yeah. And wanted to give you a chance? Or did you have to pitch them on the idea
of directing? Well, it was very free-form, in that Circle
Rep was this odd place (LEIGH LAUGHS), you know? So it was kind of like, “I want to do it,”
so there didn’t seem to be a reason not to do it. And again, it was like a small-scale – I
mean, it was, you know, a little 99-seat theatre. You had a budget of I think, like, a hundred
dollars to do the show. And you’d have a day to tech it. You’d rehearse, you know, three or four
weeks and do it. But it wasn’t – there was no pressure. There was no – it really was, you were doing
it just to do it, to try it. There weren’t those kind of strict definitions
of, “You’re an actor,” you know? Leigh, you assisted Doug many times. Did Doug give you the chance to direct? Did he open doors for you? I think when you’re assisting, that it’s
not so much what you’re looking for. I mean, I think what Doug was saying is so
true. I mean, I assisted Doug. I did a lot of assisting for the first six
or seven years that I lived in New York. And I loved it. I mean, I think a lot of people at that time
said, “Oh, people are never going to see you as a director.” And there was definitely a moment where I
said, “I can’t assist any more. I really have to be doing my own work.” And I had always been doing it on the side,
sort of peripherally. But I think it’s invaluable. I mean, especially, as we’ve all said, it’s
so lonely, in a way, being a director. You’re the only one there. And having the opportunity to see so many
different styles of people working, and in so many different places, and traveling to
other theatres. I mean, I think that that experience was really
incredible, and then it really needed to stop. And luckily, with a lot of good fortune and
luck, I was able to really parlay into my own career, which has been really fantastic. And I think it is – it was, for me, the
right path. I don’t know that that’s true for everybody. But I loved it, and was really glad when it
was over. I mean, was really glad to be then given the
reins and to say, “Now, here’s your chance!” And you know, I mean, it was a tragic circumstance,
but another assistant of mine, Derek Anson Jones (check), had brought me a play when
he was working with me on HENRY V in Central Park. And he said, “This play was written by my
prom date – when I went to the Sidwell Friends School. It’s had one production, but nobody will
do it in the East Coast,” the play WIT. And Kathleen Chalfant was playing the Queen
of France in HENRY V, and we were sitting there one day and I read the play, and I said,
“I think, you know, she’d be just unbelievable in that part.” He said, “Well, if you ever run a theatre,
maybe you’ll actually let me direct the play.” And within a year, I was running a theatre,
the Long Wharf Theatre, and we re-opened the little house up there and we did it. And then the play – we produced it with
some cronies in New York. And Derek was an AIDS casualty. He was mortally ill. And Leigh did the London production. Leigh did the Los Angeles production. And it was, you know, this phenomenon of,
she’d known Derek, she’d worked with me, and she did extraordinary [work], you know,
looking after Derek’s production, both in Los Angeles and London. And so, Scott, with young directors, you’re
running a company, do you have the opportunity to give them opportunities? Yes. And what do you look for, when helping someone
or deciding to let someone maybe take a leap, either from only a handful of productions
or, indeed, just assisting? Well, you know, every situation is different. You know, sometimes, you know, I’ll meet
somebody that I think is really great, like this young director who’s directing the
next mainstage at The New Group is this guy, Carl Forsman, who runs a little theatre company
of his own that he started. So it’s sort of kind of interesting. We have a kind of nice understanding of the
way it’s supposed to be. And so, he really impressed me in a production
that he did with us last year, and so now I’m having him in again. You know, it becomes very complicated, because
you know, even though it’s a not-for-profit theatre and I did start it, and literally,
the play that made The New Group, ECSTASY, I produced on five thousand dollars! (LAUGHS WITH LEIGH) Well, because all of my
friends were – you know, we – it was just a sort of communal effort, you know? Now they cost so much more than that. I mean, it’s crazy how it grew over the
past ten years. And so, you know, I do – you’re care – I’m
a little bit more careful, you know, about like making sure that, you know, the writer,
whoever’s play that we’re doing is, you know, comfortable with the director. That’s a very, very important thing, because
I don’t like getting into those sorts of casualty fights between the writers and the
directors, and as the artistic director, that’s sort of my job! But I do, you know – so it really – it
always varies. And sometimes a director is not young in years,
but maybe young in professional experience, and – but we do like to give people opportunities. But on the other hand, sometimes we like to
hire people like – well, we’d love to have Joe come or Doug or John or Leigh – you
know, come and direct something at The New Group also, because it’s, you know, the
standard of work is high and their work is so terrific. But we also have a new second stage that we
just started a couple of years ago, that we’re still really figuring out, called The New
Group Naked, which I guess is sort of very, very low-budget, although not as low-budget
as I started! It’s certainly a good budget (LAUGHS), now
that I think about it! But you know, it’s sort of – and that’s
a place where we can really birth new writers and directors, without the pressures. Like, almost in a weird way, like Joe was
talking about, about Circle Rep, where we can birth people in a way that doesn’t put
the sort of pressure of “the New York scene” on their shoulders, which is hideous. You know, it can be really hideous, especially
on young artists, and it can really break people, you know, too early. So The New Group Naked is just a way where
we can kind of do it in a more less-pressured way. I’m sure you guys all run up against this
all the time, you have a young director and a, you know, beginning career director say,
“How do I get started? What do I do?” And it’s a very very difficult question
to answer because, you know, look at the panel here, and we’ve all come at it from very
very different ways. So it’s, you know – I don’t even know
where to send people, you know? I don’t know that the kind of institution,
like Circle Rep, is around any more, that does that kind of nurturing. It’s really difficult. The developments that we do, it’s like,
you know, we can kind of help you. We do a lot of readings and things like that. It gives people a chance. But you know, there really are only three
opportunities a year at The New Group (LAUGHS) on the mainstage. One of them I do, and then there’s two others. And usually, it’s a play that somebody is
attached to. You know, a director is attached to, or something
along those lines. That’s why we started the second stage. But I get about, I’d say, on the average,
five letters from directors a day, wanting work. And from all over the world, really! And it’s interesting, but – Yeah. (JOE NODS) And you want to be able to kind of have them
in, but you don’t really have enough time in the day to meet them, so – I think the other thing, too, I mean, you
know, working – because I work – anyway, the assistants, I think there’s the transition
from sort of assistant to director. It’s a really interesting one, though, because
what happens is, as an assistant, especially if you do it a lot, just from my own experience
and from watching assistants that I’ve worked with, they meet people. They meet actors, they meet directors, they
meet stage managers, they meet – they meet the theatre institutions, the people that
run them. And from that, there’s somebody out there
who’s looking for a director. And it’s not that, you know, everyone can
do that job. And so sometimes, I’ll get a call and say,
“Do you know of anybody?” “Well, please, these two people I know.” So that’s how I got my first sort of real
professional stuff, was simply by knowing people. My first professional gig in New York City
was because I had assisted on a show and there was an actress in it, and she was understudying
a play at Lincoln Center, and her other understudy that she was with, her husband runs a small
theatre in New York and they were looking for someone to direct TWELFTH NIGHT. And she said, “Oh, my God, you’ve got
to meet John.” And so, I met him, and there we were, doing
– and then I had the job. And it’s really – the thing, the great
thing about it, that I experienced, was that there’s just the simple fact that you get
to know so many people. Joe had that community of Circle Rep, but
in a way, as an assistant, you can form your own sort of community, because you get to
know certain people, certain directors. And believe me, when you find a good one,
you want that assistant as often as you can, because you want to hold on to that. I know. Like you said, it’s a lonely gig, and you
– I’m crushing the career of somebody who’s
probably a lot more talented than I am (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), holding onto him! But you hold on. You know, I’ve had the same assistant since
I started The New Group, and she’s assisted me on everything that I’ve ever done. And she’s been my assistant for, like I
said, it’s almost eleven years now. And every Broadway thing outside of The New
Group, and everything that I’ve ever done at The New Group, and she’s been my – she’s
like my backbone. She’s my best friend, and she’s been – and
she’s quite a deal older than me. She’s about twenty-five years older than
me, but – and she’s a soap star. (LAUGHS) But she’s been my assistant forever,
and I can’t imagine not working with her. Well, let’s come off of the assistant issues
and go now, really, to the work that you do. Earlier, everyone alluded in some way or another
to having been a performer – in Doug’s case, at least growing up around performers. Do you think it’s essential? Hey, I performed with Beverly Sills, man! (LAUGHTER) Well – I was in the spirit (PH) trio at the City
Opera, you know. Okay. So I don’t want you to slight my resume
as a performer. My apologies! Bubbles and I are like that! (HOLDS UP CROSSED FINGERS; LAUGHTER) But let me ask you, do you think it’s essential
for a director to have acted. It couldn’t hoit! (LAUGHTER) I don’t think it’s essential,
but I certainly don’t think it can hurt. That’s all I’ll have to say. I think you – I think it varies on the person’s
personality, do you know? I think that it really depends on the person. Some people, it could help. For me, it did, I think. It just gave me a different sort of perspective
on the whole thing. But I think some – you know, some directors
have never acted and they’re fantastic directors. So I don’t think it’s necessary, but certainly,
it gives you – it’s interesting – You know, I mean, I think so much of directing
is knowing how to talk to people? Yeah. And so in a way, whatever that is that gives
you the ability to navigate all of the personalities – Right. And all of those really difficult conversations,
and whether that means you’ve studied biology or you’ve been an actor or you’ve – I
mean, I think no matter what it is, I mean, being able to work with designers, to work
with actors, to work with producers, to deal with the money people – I mean, you have
so many different personalities and I think sometimes very treacherous waters. And I think whatever advantage that you have,
because of what other outside experiences you might have gathered, it helps. Yeah. But you know what’s so funny, like, the
kind of acting that I did doesn’t reflect at all the directing that I do. Yeah. You know what I mean? Like, what I did was Broadway musicals. You know, I mean, that was basically what
I did. I trained my whole life to do that, and that
really isn’t what I do normally. And I mean, I would if, you know – I mean,
I have, but right – but really, it doesn’t really reflect the sort of work that I do
as an artist, and it doesn’t feel – it’s funny. It feels a part of me, but it doesn’t feel
a part of me. And so, it’s almost like I retired that
part of myself when I became a director, but you don’t really retire parts of yourself. You’re influenced by it, but my taste is
not the same as the sort of work that I was kind of forced to do. Maybe that’s why I hated it so much, and
I got out of it, so. I also think that that, you know, the sort
of skills that you have to learn as an actor are useful to understand as a director, even
if you don’t act. I mean, the acting that I did in college and
in graduate school and the studying of it is extremely helpful, in terms of how to conduct
a rehearsal. And also, understanding what goes on for actors,
which is a very complicated thing (LAUGHS). How to create character, how to channel your
psyche into a character and use that, that stuff, it’s really nice to be very intimate
with the kind of things that they have to go through, you know. And so, you know, I thought I was going to
be an actor, and I just got to – I just thought it was too much about myself, so much
about the body and the voice and the speech and the action. And I was much more interested in the larger
picture and this larger storytelling. But to understand that, and to, you know – I
have this problem, that I adore actors. And it’s great to be around them, and I
think they’re incredibly brave and courageous to do what they do. And it’s not easy, what they do, and they
make it often look so easy. So, for me, I mean, I’m a huge fan of Joe’s
as a director but also (LAUGHS) as an actor, you know? And that’s an extraordinary thing, that
you have that talent, that you could do both. I wonder, do you miss it? That’s what I – Well, you know, I was thinking, in answer
to your question, you know, something strange happened to me when I started directing, like
when I started taking myself seriously as a director, is that, you know, all of the
things that I would struggle with as an actor all of a sudden were crystal clear. The trajectory of a character was crystal
clear, in a way that, you know, I thought, “Well, I would be such a better – if I
wanted to act, I would be a much better actor now, knowing what I know as a director.” But I don’t have any – it’s like I’ve
rearranged my DNA in a way that it doesn’t even occur to me to, you know, consider [acting]. Leigh, you said a few moments ago, you know,
so much of directing is about communicating with people. And Doug, you made a very interesting comment
early on, where you used the phrase, I believe it was, “or God forbid, actually have to
direct them.” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) So what is the process
of working with an actor? Is it about telling? Is it about showing? Is it about allowing them to find their way
into something? It’s almost impossible to answer, because
there are as many answers as there are actors. With one actor, you give confidence. With one actor, you give, you know – and
then your job becomes trying to somehow make that seamless in the room. But – I mean, I can only speak for myself
– there’s not one way that I work in a room with, you know, seven different actors. It would be impossible, because they don’t
all need the same thing from me. And I also find that the more I do it, that
the less I try to say. You know, that I’ve learned that patience
can be, you know, a great ally in the room. Whereas when I first started directing, I
think I was, you know, really – I didn’t quite understand the process enough to know
that what they’re doing in the second week of rehearsal doesn’t mean that that’s
what they’re going to be doing (JOHN LAUGHS), you know, two weeks down the line, four weeks
down the line. And that you have to pick and choose the right
moment, to learn when to give them what they need, and to let them flounder. That’s okay, too, for me, I think. It’s a political job. I mean, you have this constituency, all the
people that Leigh mentioned. And it’s up to you – I mean, I find that
I, I frankly perform a great deal as an actor [SIC; I THINK HE MEANS “DIRECTOR”] – How do you mean that? I think you’re there to embody a spirit
about the proceedings. You’re there to exude confidence at times
when you don’t have a shred of it. You’re there to – sometimes, I think,
to teach a company how to read the play. I mean that at a profound level. Just what is this event about? You there to forge a consensus about why we’re
all doing this primitive and risky and, at times, possibly humiliating thing together. And you know, I guess there’s an expression
in the military which I’ve always loved, and it maybe sounds a little dictatorial,
but it’s called “command presence.” You know, are people at ease with the idea
of you as – you know, the best definition I’ve always felt for myself and the one
I remind myself of is that I am a member of the audience who gets to talk back. I am their surrogate. I sit where they’re going to sit, except
that I get to talk about how I’d like it to be lit or what I think it’s about or
what I think should be buried or what I think should be brought more forward or what secrets
I think can be kept or what flatters my intelligence and what seems to condescend to me. What awakens my imagination and what is so
circuited and controlled that it shuts down my imagination and it keeps me out of the
experience. I mean, and I – just as Joe has said, you
know, I’ll make decisions about how to have a good night in the theatre, as a member of
the audience, and how to elicit a sense of ensemble, usually, and to pick my battles
about when it is the time to speak. When to say something will actually humiliate
or set us back, or what to handle quietly, what to handle in front of a group. You’re making these decisions, you know,
all the time, and eventually, you’re doing so by instinct. John, you were nodding through a lot of what
Doug was saying. I mean, is that your experience as well? Oh, it’s true. And just to add, because I think you articulated
it beautifully, but the other thing is the – you know, play to play and ensemble to
ensemble, the director’s job can be different. And each play requires its own tone and its
own sort of conception. And forging that tone, and helping, and getting
everyone literally on the same train, on the same boat, is one of the most important jobs
of the director. And oftentimes, the tone can elude both you
and the actors. And it’s terrifying and it’s wonderful
at the same time to try to figure that out. But that’s really what I would add to that,
is just the sense that you have to somehow have a vision and have a sense of what the
play, the tone of the play is, and rally your troops – that’s the designers and the
actors and the cast and crew – behind that idea, and hope that that idea can sustain
itself. And if it can’t, you’ve got to change
it quickly (LAUGHS) and find another tone and find another way to do it. Yeah. I mean, being flexible and being creatively
dexterous seems also just something to add to both of your really great definitions. Yeah. I mean, it seems like so much of directing
has to do with being nimble. And it’s like, oh, you start the day one
way, and then it’s like, “Okay, that’s not working! Let’s, you know, take this turn here,”
and being able to read a room, read an audience, read a performance at night. Being able to stay really, really flexible,
creative. It’s also great, because you know, actors
– actors are also very complicated. And you have to know when to give them – say
the right thing, or hope that you’re saying the right thing at the right time, because
otherwise they can go down a different path and a path that isn’t on the tone. It’s very tricky. But I think it’s like you’re a little
– so you have all your electrodes out there and you’re just waiting for, “Okay, if
I press that, it’s going to kick off and make that little scene and that little moment
that much better.” So you’re con – I think, you know, I sit
in rehearsal just constantly, like, listening and hearing. And oftentimes, writers will get very upset
about that, because they’ll want results immediately. And you know the process. You know that it takes weeks to do. And you have a writer breathing down your
neck, saying, “Well, why aren’t they funny here?” or whatever it happens to be. And the writer may have an idea about how
he hears the line, but that’s not necessarily ultimately going to work with the particular
actor you have. And trying to meld that and trying to – it’s
challenging, and wonderfully fun. I’m also fascinated by – I mean, I know
I spend a lot of time watching how they, how the actors interact with one another, and
trying to understand that group dynamic, because I think it can be so – well, first of all,
it’s fascinating! But it’s also quite useful because you really
understand something about how to maneuver the group, by the way that – because they’re
interacting with each other in a different way than they’re interacting with you, sometimes,
and – Is this issue of “command presence,” is
it ever okay to not have the answers? Scott? Oh, my goodness – oh, sorry! (LAUGHTER) Doug? Go ahead, feel free! I didn’t mean to speak for you. (LAUGHTER) You know, I think it’s okay. No, I get anxiety when I start – when everybody’s
just talking about, like, what happens in the room and how people direct, because I
just feel like everybody’s so different. It’s such a personal thing. Like, for me, personally I could never describe,
like, what I do. I’ve been asked over and over again, and
I know I always do the same thing to a certain extent, you know, based on, like, the group
of people that I have in the room. But I – you know, it’s really hard to
pinpoint exactly what it is, because every director, I think – I mean, having produced
several, a lot of directors, everybody has their own sort of way of doing it. I never went to directing school. I don’t know what – I didn’t – I just
kind of started doing it. I didn’t know anything about it. You know, I didn’t really even work with
any sort of directors that were any good, you know, (LAUGHS) when I was working. And I take that back, a couple! But you know, and I – so for me, it’s
a very sort of – you know, it’s really personal. Like, when I go in to work on something, I
always bring myself into it personally. And some people don’t. Some people don’t believe that that’s
the right thing to do. Some people believe the right thing to do
is to just serve the play and the playwright’s ideas, but I can’t really do that. I mean, I don’t really – if I don’t
have an emotional response or personal response to it, have the freedom to bring that in,
I don’t enjoy – I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I don’t know. I go into some sort of weird head when I’m
directing. Time goes really fast, but then I don’t
really often remember the morning in the afternoon. But for me, it’s just always – like, I
try to just be myself as much as I can and create work that I, you know – I guess over
the years – nothing against the audience, I love the audience and I want the audience
to like it – but I’ve relieved myself of the pressure of having to force the audience
to like it. I have to create it ‘cause it’s my sort
of thing, it’s my work of art. And if an audience likes it, great. If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s
great, too! So I try to be me in the rehearsal room and
not be something else or – try to create something that appeals to me. That’s so true about you, because I’ve
come to – you know, I’ve come to see your shows, like you say, like your third preview. And I think, like, you – I know! But you have – Joe was an early supporter
of mine. I have to say that I just – this man, really
– you know, when you asked about where you get confidence from? You know, I didn’t really have any – I
was never an assistant and I never – but a couple of people in my life who kind of
came out when I first started working, like Joe, and we’ve remained friends and sort
of colleagues (PH). But you’re so confident in a way that is
just shocking to me. That you let people come to your third preview! (SCOTT LAUGHS) And it’s what you say. You think, like, “Well, this is where we
are now, and I’m comfortable with it and it’s a process.” I could never do it! Ever! If you show up on my third preview, I’m
gonna kill you! (LAUGHTER) I think it’s because – no, really, I think
it’s because I’ve produced so many plays. And I’ve witnessed the anxiety of directors,
as a producer. And I feel it, because I’m a director. So I’ve learned, in a weird way, to sort
of – I’ve just let it go, basically. Well, I admire you. That’s amazing. That’s amazing, amazing! It’s an amazing freedom. It’s given me some sort of freedom. I don’t know, because I – you know, it’s
a personal job. You know, you pick plays because you love
them, or you want to do them or you feel passionate about it, and so you have to stay true to
your own self. And I sit in an audience, and sometimes I
like things that people hate. Most people hate it, and sometimes I love
things! (LAUGHS) Or, you know, I hate things that
everybody likes. You know, so I had to say, “Well, I can
never please – go into it thinking about pleasing, you know, everybody in the world.” So I just try to please myself! (LAUGHS) That’s incredible. And the artists that I’m working with, and
hope that everybody is, you know, clear and feeling good about the work that they’re
doing. And that’s sort of my mission, I don’t
know. Well, with that, we’re going to take a short
break and hear a little more about the work of the American Theatre Wing. (IRRELEVANT MATERIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED) At the very top of the program, I alluded to the
invisible director. One of the great challenges for anybody going
to the theatre, and indeed, for our critics as well, is to understand what is the work
of the director. How do we understand, watching a show, what
the director has done? And I want to ask each of you in turn, are
there things that you want people to understand that you’ve done, not on a specific show,
but generally about what to look for and understand where the director comes into the process. I’ll start with Doug. Oh, I think there are all sorts of things
that I wish people would credit me for that I think I maybe even might deserve credit
for, but I’ve long since given up thinking that that will ever happen. (LAUGHTER) I mean, I really don’t think,
even if you’re going to see an auteur of the theatre, if that phrase makes any sense,
you know, of somebody I think is a great genius, like [Robert] Lepage or Peter Brook or whatever,
I think people come to the theatre to see actors, on some sort of platform, at risk,
hoping to rehearse the audience for the adventure of their own life. I think that’s what is mainly perceived,
and I think that is what should be perceived. I think that very primitive thing is what
it’s all about. And I think that in a way, that the contribution
of a director can be enormous. And there are times when I think I’ve done
very well by a production. But in a way, the job is essential – it’s
like anything worth having. I mean, it’s essential and it’s superfluous. I mean, the event begins and there it is. And I don’t – the fact that I agonized
about its casting or cut gently one-third of it or tried to homogenize a group of disparate
opinions about what it is we were doing is really irrelevant when the lights go up, and
probably should be. But for us – I mean, it won’t – it doesn’t
keep people (LAUGHS) from opining about what I’ve done! And that’s part of the job as well. I enjoy the job so much. I like getting there in the morning, and I
feel I’m much better in these little rooms, rehearsal halls, than I am just about anywhere
else, that I’ll pay the price for an ignorant assessment of what it is I’ve done or haven’t
done. So, Joe, do you think there are things that
people can see and understand about what you’ve done? The age-old thing of “Did the actor decide
to do that, or did the director tell them to do that?” I’m not sure. I mean, maybe other directors can. You know, there’s a kind of an appreciation
that directors can have for very subtle work. I don’t know. I mean, the nature of collaboration is that
it’s hard to separate out mine, mine, mine, mine, you know? It becomes kind of a soup after a certain
point. And so, you know, I agree with what Doug says. I don’t know that that is possible or even
preferable, in some way. You know, it’s just the nature of the job. Leigh, do you learn from other directors when
you go see their shows? And let’s leave present company out of it. (LEIGH LAUGHS) But can you see things, when
you go to another show, to say, “I like what the director did there”? Absolutely. I mean, I think that – I mean, here we are,
a group of directors, and we can’t really come up with a perfect definition of what
directing is, nor do we really want to. And because it changes from show to show,
to try and figure out what a director did, when you don’t even know necessarily what
you did show to show, or you couldn’t describe it show to show, the way that Scott was saying. I mean, I think that it is essential that
going – I mean, going to the theatre is part of the job! I mean, I feel like it is what, in some ways,
is the most frustrating, the most inspiring, the most exciting, the most harrowing part
of, in a way, being – having a life in the theatre, it seems to me, is being part of
the community and supporting the community. And learning, both from productions that you
hold in high esteem and productions that you don’t. I mean, I think that it’s an essential part
to being in the theatre, no matter what discipline you’re in, to see as much as you can, when
you can. So not to pursue what seems to be an unanswerable
question, let me turn to what Joe mentioned, of course, the collaboration. And we’d be remiss if we weren’t talking
specifically about the collaboration between directors and authors. I believe you’ve all had the opportunity
to work more than once on the work of particular authors. John, you’ve worked multiple times with
David Ives. What is the relationship between a director
and author? How do you develop that rapport? It’s usually the writer’s baby, and they
trust you to read it, and read it in a way that is imaginative and would help create
a production. And so, David and I – and then also, Greg
Kotis, who I’m working with now [on PIG FARM] – the relationship is very important,
because it has to do with finding the tone and the style of the play. And I do think, sort of to answer the other
question, I do think you can go to the theatre and you can understand a director’s vision
and a director’s imprint, and an audience can experience that and love that. And I think you can see many versions of HAMLET
and see a director’s imprint on it in a way that is maybe loving and maybe considerate
and also maybe bold and daring. That’s in the case of, if you’re seeing
multiple productions, different productions of the same piece of material, it becomes
evident. Yeah. Right, exactly. And I think tone is sort of the thing. Is this a – should this be a wild play,
or should this be a focused, real play? Should it only be real and let all the elements
around it be wild? These are the questions that we, as directors,
ask ourselves and try to do on the stage. With a writer, especially because you’re
working on new work, you have that other thing, which is that you have to help them invent
their play. You have to help them edit their play, if
it’s taking time off the play. You have to help them maybe re-imagine a scene. And you have to think both as a director and
as a writer, which is a great experience! And that’s where the collaboration is the
most fun and the most challenging. And having a taste for a particular kind of
writing is a joy, and it becomes your craft. Not unlike an actor has a particular taste
– Jason Robards had a wonderful relationship to Eugene O’Neill. I think directors have great relationships
to writers. And I mean, Alan Bennett and Nick Hytner right
now, you can – that relationship is very clear and evident in THE HISTORY BOYS. And it’s that double thing. It’s the trust, that “This is my baby. I’ve written it,” the writer says. “I give it to you to give to these actors,
and let’s form a production of this.” And it’s then also the vision that the director
brings to the text. And the ability to help the writer write the
play! Sometimes the plays are unfinished when they
arrive. Or they’re too – or they’re sprawling. Some of the – as an assistant, I watched
John Tillinger work with Terrence McNally on LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART and I saw how
he just edited. And (TO JOE) what you did with Terrence on
– I just forgot – LOVE, VALOUR? LOVE, VALOUR, [COMPASSION]. Amazing, amazing, the relationship there. And it’s just so vital to the success of
the play, that relationship. And a writer needs someone to help him or
her develop the work with the actors. Now, Scott, in your case, you’ve done a
couple of shows written by Mike Leigh. Yeah. But he – is he present for that? Mmm-hmm! So you’ve had the same opportunity. Yeah. We’ve done four. So again, what’s the relationship? How did that relationship come to be? Well, it evolved. You know, like, when I did the first play,
he wasn’t around that much. But then he came and checked it out, and he
liked it. And then, as we, you know, started working
together, it just – the relationship became – well, (LAUGHS) we’re very close! And you know, when you work with somebody
that many times on stuff that’s so personal, because he devises his work in a very personal
way – you know, because he devises his work through improvisation. It’s a very kind of interesting sort of
process. Does he always direct the original productions
of his plays? Mmm-hmm, yeah. He always directs the original productions,
and then he hands them off to me, for over here. And you know, it’s just a sort of – we
have a sort of shorthand that we have with each other, and we enjoy each other, and we
enjoy each other’s sort of emotions. And we have an understanding, we’ve developed
these sorts of understandings. We’re planning to do – we’re working
on two others. So it’s like this sort of ongoing relationship. When you find somebody that you love and you
trust, it’s nice to keep it going. I have a similar relationship with Wally Shawn. Wally Shawn, I’ve worked with several times. And he also is a sort of wonderful collaborator,
and I feel like, you know, I can’t think of two people I’d rather hang out with more
than those guys. And so, for me, it’s a learning experience. I learn a lot about human nature, and they
both have great social consciences, even greater than mine, of course. And so, I feel like for me, it’s not just
about the plays, but it’s also about growing as people and growing as artists together. And every time I do a new play with one of
them, or even just a reading or whatever, I learn so much. And I want to continue to learn more and more
about the work and storytelling, and different ways that people tell stories. It’s fascinating to me. So. You mention, as you grow closer to these people. I’m wondering whether, at times, the personal
relationship can make it tougher in circumstances with the professional relationship? Because you are in the process of sometimes
saying something doesn’t work or you want to remove something, and people may hold something
very dear. Leigh, has that occurred for you? You’ve worked a couple of times with Lisa
Kron, once with her company and then with WELL, on her own play. I think that the more you work with someone,
the better you know how to work with them, on some very basic level. And you know, the trust grows, the intimacy
grows. So even though it’s maybe harder to say
the things that are hard, I also feel like that’s why you’re there. That’s why they want you there, is ‘cause
you say the hard thing! Yeah. And I take that really seriously. I mean, I think that working – I feel lucky
to have relationships with people who you work with so much, because in a way, you just
are able to shortcut so many other conversations, because you know that person’s taste, you
know their sensibility, you know what they’re gonna think. And it makes the process that much deeper,
that much faster, that much more efficient, I think. And the disagreements, always for me, end
with a kiss. Yeah. You know, it’s like it’s not about, you
know, hating each other or anything like that. Right. It’s about loving each other. You know, if you say something difficult,
if Mike says something to me or, you know, “Oh, well, what about that moment?” You know, I don’t take it personally. You know, or if I say to him, “Well, that
line is awful,” he doesn’t take it personally. It’s like, why would you keep returning? It’s like, if I didn’t enjoy working with
somebody, I wouldn’t work with them again. Yeah. (LAUGHS) That’s the way I feel about it! If I didn’t enjoy it, I would not go back. And that goes for actors, designers, whatever. If I don’t enjoy it, then for me, it’s
not worth it. Yeah. Then is the experience the same working with
– I can’t phrase this more indelicately – dead authors? When you take a classic work and you don’t
have the writer in the room – Doug, I know you’ve done some classical work, certainly. Yeah, well, I mean, I spent – I really did,
you know, I had been in New York directing plays at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and I
realized I had never done a play by a dead author. I had never done – and I took what I thought
was going to be a kind of, you know, finishing school out there at the Seattle Rep. I got
a job working for Dan Sullivan as his associate director. And I stayed out there for a decade, because
I could direct Ostrovsky plays, I could direct Kaufman and Hart plays, I could direct Shakespeare. I did, you know, half a dozen plays of Shakespeare’s
out there. I’d never done a Shakespeare before. I did Ibsen, I did Moliere. And all the time, the idea was that we were
trying to make the theatre out there as hospitable to new plays as possible. It was just fabulous! And the theatre out there seemed a kind of
sovereign form in the community. The audience was quite exciting, I thought. It was just wonderful! And to, you know, encounter THE WINTER’S
know, such a great, great luxury. Nobody was going to ask me to do those plays
here in New York, at that time! And the notion of, yeah, having some kind
of commune with a genius, you know, I still think about THE WINTER’S TALE and how I
really blew the first two acts of it and did all right with the last three. And I wish I could go back and kind of atone
for my sins. I mean, those plays seem like extravagant
mysteries across centuries. And you’re reminded, too, that there is
such a thing as a history, and that one of the obligations of the theatre is to remind
us that there is such a thing and that these conversations have been going on for a long
time. And in an age when we’re just dazzled by,
you know, fleeting spectacle that’s coming over to us on, you know, various screens,
that there are these, you know, rather ancient things that trouble us in whatever form. I mean, it’s just a marvelous thing to be
able to do. And now that I live in New York and I work
mainly on new plays, I mean, it – I hope that somehow I can, you know, keep the hat
trick going of, you know, conning somebody else into letting me have another shot at
THE WINTER’S TALE. As we talk about opportunities, and we talk
about where you get a start, we’ve been talking almost exclusively about plays. And some of you have, in fact, directed some
major musicals. Making the transition from being a play director
to a musical director, is that a shift? And Joe, certainly, you know, in terms of
musicals, you’ve got one which is one of the major hits of recent years, WICKED. How did you – what drew you to WICKED, in
contrast to some of the other work that you might have been doing? Well, I thought WICKED was just a really great
idea for a musical. And I thought that if we did our job right,
then I thought people would – it would touch people and it would tap into something. And you know, I think with musicals, in my
very limited experience, it’s got to be a great idea! It doesn’t matter how talented everybody
working on it it. If it’s not a great idea, if it doesn’t
sing, if it doesn’t call for that kind of scale, then it just doesn’t work, you know? So I thought it was – I just thought it
was just a basically great idea for a musical. And do you use different muscles as a director
when working on a musical? Well, there are more people in the room, obviously,
so that can be both a blessing and a curse. There are certainly more votes on everything. Actual votes? Well – yeah. (LAUGHTER) Or is it your “command presence,” ultimately? No, I don’t mean that. I just mean that, you know, when working on
play, when any of us are working on a play, usually you’re sitting there with the author
and, you know, maybe the producer might chime in. But you know, it’s really the two of you
making the decision. But [on a musical], there’s a book writer,
there’s a composer, there’s a choreographer, there’s a musical director, you know? So – and everybody has to try to get their
needs met. And finding that one person who can, you know,
who encompasses everything that everybody wants can be quite difficult. But I’ve been fortunate for the most part,
that everyone – most of the people that I’ve collaborated with, we really – you
know, I’ve very rarely had any, you know, knock-down-drag-out fights about an actor. And you know, now if I see that that’s the
way that’s it going, I’ll – I don’t know, I mean – that’s usually not a good
sign. John, your experience going through musicals? Well, I think, to just sort of reiterate what
Joe is saying, they’re dramatically different in that there’s a larger consensus that
you have to kind of corral. That yes, you are in sort of a command presence,
but you do have to listen to many, many voices. And negotiating those voices and trying to
figure out, and sleeping through the night, and trying to think about what’s the next
move, is the most complicated. Because it is a some – they do sing, they
do dance! (LAUGHS) Sometimes, you have an enormous technical
show that you’re trying to pull off. And for me, I got started in musicals, because
I did them in high school, but then I didn’t do them through my early career. And then, I was working with David Ives, and
he was also working at Encores!, which is this great thing in New York, the City Center
Encores!, where they revive plays that are just plays that will never get done, musicals. And he hooked me up with – Kathleen Marshall
was running it at the time. And that was a great training ground for me,
because you have to put up a musical in two weeks – less than that, eight days – and
you have a full orchestra, and you’re talking about – you’re talking about a very large
room, as opposed to a play. There are a lot of actors, a lot of singers,
a lot of dancers (LAUGHS), and an enormous orchestra. And so, those – the job becomes different. As great and as fun as it is, it’s just
a different – it’s a different task. It requires different skills in that way. And also, you’re trying to tell a story
through song, which is a big difference. I remember the first opera I directed, which
was the opera of THE CRUCIBLE, and it’s such a great play and it’s such a great
story. And the opera is a wonderful opera! But I remember saying to the singers, “Well,
God, if you just didn’t have to sing, we could do … !” (LAUGHTER, ESPECIALLY FROM
THE PANEL) So you know, that’s the truth, you know? You’re trying to give them a through-line,
but their through-line is carried by music. And so, you have to sit with the musical director
or your composer or both, and understand the through-line that’s in the score. And that’s a wonderful challenge for a director,
and that’s the great thing about musical theatre. It becomes a wonderful playground in that
way, and challenging at the same time. So it’s a – I like – I love being able
to do both. It’s a joy. Scott, I believe I read a quote from you about
THREEPENNY OPERA, where you talked about it almost as much as a play interrupted by songs. Yeah. Well, this is sort of – that’s the way
it was kind of constructed, actually. You know, Brecht and Weill kind of got together
and tried a new sort of form, the sort of musical satire sort of thing, satirizing eighty
million things. But – Which predated the integrated musical, as
we now talk about them. Yeah. So working on a show like that now, where
we have a different expectation of what musical theatre might be, is that something you – that’s
particularly challenging in working on a piece like that? Yeah, I think. You know, I mean, it was a challenging work,
you know, just the sort of, you know, kind of going in there and, you know, trying to
make something out of something that is so sort of, you know, revered in a way. And I guess that happens a lot of times when
you do revivals. You know, if you work on revivals, people
have sort of preconceived notions about the way they’re supposed to be. So for me, I try to let all that go, and not
think about any preconceived notions, and just kind of approached it – you know, Wally
Shawn did a new translation and approached it in a way that was sort of fresh. I tried to look at it like a new show, and
I tried to, like, you know, relieve myself of the pressures of having to create something
that people saw in the McCarthy era and loved, or whatever. And I just tried to, like, look at it new
and look at it fresh and put it out there that way. And so, I think that the challenge of it was
that the songs have nothing really to do with the plot or the scenes. They’re just kind of – they’re thematic,
you know? And so, they don’t really drive the narrative
forward (LAUGHS) in any way. They’re just kind of there, in between the
scenes. And so, figuring out that sort of – I guess
you would call it vocabulary, if you were going to be academic about it, figuring out
that sort of vocabulary – was interesting and challenging. And I just kind of did – tried to figure
it out our own way. We kind of all got together and tried to figure
it out our own way. But I kind of had the luxury of producing
a musical before I directed one (LAUGHS), so – ‘cause we produced AVENUE Q. And
so, that was an interesting thing, to actually not direct a musical first, but actually produce
a musical first. So I kind of got an education (LAUGHS) on,
you know, how – the kind of goings-on about it, before I actually got in there and did
something like that. So, yeah, it was all really challenging. Everything’s challenging. It’s all challenging. (LAUGHS) Yeah! Isn’t it? It’s all – it is! Everything’s a new challenge, so. But a musical! A musical is hard! (LAUGHS) It is hard! Yeah, it is. It’s hard. Really hard. And everybody knows how to fix it! (LEIGH LAUGHS) Yeah, everybody has ideas about the way it’s
supposed to be. Right, right, yeah. Yeah, everybody does. It is really interesting. And it is – It’s really – it’s in a whole different
– and the fanaticism around musicals is so – it’s so interesting to me. Yeah. I mean, the kind of devotion that people have,
and the passion that they have for them – Towards musicals. It’s true! Like when the – Both when they’re good and when they’re
bad. Yeah. When it’s not – you know, there’s just
a lot of noise around a new musical! It’s true. When you just do a play, you know – And also, there’s kind of like an interesting
– like, weird fans around musicals, too. Like, the stage doors (LAUGHS) of musicals
are kind of scary! (MURMURS AND GIGGLES FROM THE AUDIENCE) Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. But, you know, it is – it’s interesting
to kind of see – I mean, for me it was a new sort of thing. I’ve done a lot of plays with – you know,
I’ve done a lot of plays with, you know, I guess you would say with “celebrities,”
who people come and they want to get their autographs (LAUGHS) and things like that. But you’re right, the sort of kind of ferociousness
around musicals. You know, it’s funny – I had a funny thing
around THREEPENNY OPERA, in a preview, and I walked out the stage door. And I ride my bicycle to the – I ride my
bicycle around town, so I was unlocking my bicycle. And this kind of lady came over to me, and
she looked like she had been in musicals about sixty years ago. And she said, she said, “Are you in the
show?” And I said, “No, I’m not in the show.” She goes, “Do you have something to do with
the show?” I said, “Yeah, I directed the show.” She said, “Have I got some notes for you! (LAUGHTER) I’ve got some notes! Do you want to hear them?” (JOE LAUGHS) I was like, “Oh, I’ve got
to unlock my bike and get out of here now, but you know, you can email me or something.” And so, it’s funny. So yeah, people do have a sort of interesting
– I’ve never had an encounter like that before, in my career. I think maybe it’s a music thing. I think the great thing about the American
musical theatre, just based on what you’re talking about, is something we talked about
a lot towards the end of the run of URINETOWN here in New York City, was that musicals live
in a different category. They live, really, in the high schools of
America. And I have nieces who sing everything out
of WICKED. And I, you know, I performed in high schools
in musicals, and it’s a very different animal. And it’s a great thing, because of that. So the passion is higher, in terms of the
kind of fanaticism that we’re talking about, because I think it starts at a very early
age for the fan – either people who come to the theatre or people who want to be in
the theatre or know about the theatre. American high schools put on a lot of plays,
but they put on a lot more musicals. And the passion is right there. And there are probably – there are countless
women who want to play Elphaba, that are, you know, twelve to seventeen right now. (JOE LAUGHS) And that’s great! Because that’s the enthusiasm for theatre,
and an enthusiasm for a kind of theatre that, you know, should live a very long and healthy
life. And if you look at Broadway this year, it’s
such an incredibly healthy place in terms of that, in terms of the musical theatre. And the fanaticism, thank God we have it! And thank God they’re that passionate, because
it keeps us challenged, it keeps us growing, it keeps us inventing and trying to find various
sources of musical theatre. And ultimately, it keeps musical theatre being
creative, because a young person who is in a production of WICKED or a production of
URINETOWN or whatever the show happens to be, in high school, that person may end up
becoming a writer or a composer. And so, I think that fanaticism is just really
– as scary as it is for us, when we’re working on them – it really is the blood
of the success of the American musical theatre. And thank God we have it, because it keeps
us working and it keeps us challenged. But it’s blurry now. For me, like it feels like the American – like,
when I was growing up in the seventies, and I used to go see a lot of musicals, because
I’m from the New York area – the quality of the musical is very different now. And I find – I feel like – that, I find
a little kind of strange and discouraging, is that the sort of challenge of the musical
theatre, the sort of work that gets done in the musical theatre – it’s not that it’s
not being written, and every once in a while, a sort of interesting, sort of challenging
musical will surface. But basically, it’s – you know, Broadway
has become sort of – you know, well, it has – I mean, I hate to say it, everybody
says it, but it’s that sort of Disney musical thing that really didn’t exist when I was
growing up. And so, I found the musicals when I was growing
up so much more challenging and so much more interesting than the musicals that are getting
produced today. And I find that weird, and I wonder why. I just kind of wonder why. And I don’t want to lose Doug and Leigh
in this. Have you had the opportunity to do musicals,
or do you have a desire to do musicals? Well, I’m having palpitations at the moment
(LEIGH LAUGHS), because I’m wading into the whole realm of it now. Yes, you know, for whatever reason, I’ve
been asked. But it’s in that, you know, formative days,
you know? I think it’s a good idea, and an act exists
and a half a dozen songs exist. And this sort of strange, hopefully very happy,
you know, committee work process – I mean, if committee work could ever be happy, but
– is about to begin. And there are expectations for it, and money
being spent on it. And I’m so chary of it and so aware of how
perilous it all is, that I don’t even want to mention its name, you know? I think that it’s – you know, I imagine
it will be – I do need to do something that’ll give me a good scare, right about now, and
this will undoubtedly furnish it. Leigh? I am – I’m working on a musical that has
been workshopped for a couple of years now. The best thing about it is the title, in fact,
of this one! And it’s – like most of the other things
that I’ve worked on, there are a bunch of people who have never done it before. It’s my first musical. And a couple of really brave producers decided
to take a risk. And I feel like the best – I mean, it certainly
happened with WELL the same way. I mean, we were all making our Broadway debut. And in this situation, I mean, I’ve been
lucky enough to find people who are willing to say, “All right, you’ve never done
it before. We’re going to try and give you a crash
course. And see as many of the musicals as you can
and learn as much as you can, and we’ll work on it.” It’s been in development for a while, and
we’ll see if it ever – (LAUGHS) They’re like movies, musicals, remember. (PH) Yeah. They take years to kind of – Years. I mean, how long did you work on WICKED? For years. I probably did maybe two and a half years
of – when I came on, maybe about two and a half years of development. And they had already been working on it for
about a year. Working on it before. Yeah, it takes forever. It’s like films. Yeah. For years, yeah. You know, they come and – they kind of – they
go like this (MOVES HIS HAND UP AND DOWN IN A WAVY PATTERN) and, you know, they have to
come together. Well, because once it’s up and running,
it’s this locomotive that, if you’re going to make changes, you better make changes before,
you know, people have – (LAUGHS) Designed it, yes! Designed it, yeah. Yeah! So, but even then, when you – you know,
it’s really – Yeah, WEDDING SINGER was two years of development,
four workshops. I mean, it’s just – That’s short! Yeah, that’s short! (LAUGHS) That’s short, really, you know,
when you think about it, how long these things gestate. I have a couple that I’m working on, that
are in development, and I’m not rushing. I feel like, “Mmmmmuh! There’s no reason to really rush.” Yeah. It’s better to just kind of, like, take
your time, work through it, and figure it out, because then eventually you have to do
it, you know? I want to change gears, almost entirely, except
that you’ve talked, as we’ve been talking about musicals, about all of the elements
and all of the disparate places. And the earlier part of our conversations
were about interpretation, working with actors. How much of your job involves very technical,
factual, hard-and-fast things? Dealing with budgets, dealing with what can
be physically achieved. And how do you deal with that, when the impulse
is primarily an artistic one? Doug, I’ll start with you. I think it’s a huge part of the job. I mean, the limitations are very defining. I mean, I think the architecture of the place
you’re going to do it, for one, is a huge influence on me. You know, where it’s going to be set down,
how an audience will regard it. Are we in a bear pit or are we in a big proscenium
theatre? I mean, I’m very, very anxious now about
the fact that DOUBT, which is, you know, a play that we first did in a three hundred
seat theatre, and then we did it in about, you know, an eight hundred and some change
theatre, and I think we handled that well. Now we’re going to take that out on the
road, and it’s going to play vasty halls, you know? And I’m very, very anxious about how much
the event can expand without losing its essence, you know? I mean, it’s going to play places in certain
cities that are four thousand people. (GASPS AND LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Oh, my [God]! You know? And it was booked originally into the Curran
Theatre in San Francisco. Now it’s gone into the Orpheum Theatre in
San Francisco. And you know, I’m very anxious – I mean,
that’s a sidetrack. But I think that, you know, where can it succeed? Where can it connect? This show I just did of Richard Greenberg’s,
THE HOUSE IN TOWN, was an enormously difficult thing for me to figure out how to get on stage
with John Lee Beatty. We went through four different versions of
the design, some of them spectacularly under budget, some of them wildly over budget. In the end, I don’t know that I’ve ever
felt as though I’ve had a production – I’m sure others have had the production – where
I felt that the fact that the sky was not the limit budgetarily drastically impeded
something I wanted to do. And you know, but I – you know, and I’ve
also run a theatre. That’s also been my responsibility, to look
after a budget. And so, you know, as Scott has said, I think
a lot of that anxiety, fiscally, I seem to have almost, you know, brought into my approach
to production. But you said earlier, limitations are defining. Can limitations also be freeing for people? Well, I meant that when I said that! I mean, I think that’s what – you know,
how do you do this play in a thrust space, even, you know, I mean, I did this play FROZEN
and I had originally thought, “Oh, I can easily see how to do this on a proscenium
stage.” It was much better on the stage that, you
know, fate dealt me, which was a little thrust stage, and then later on, a somewhat bigger
thrust stage. Leigh, what’s your response to how you deal
with limitations? I think it’s always just best to know everything. I don’t know. I mean, I think figuring – knowing what
the budget is, figuring out how to work within it, knowing what the space is, having the
most information possible. I mean, that’s sort of your job, in a way,
is to know everything, or to know a little bit about everything, so that everyone else
can do what they need to do. I mean, I think – I don’t certainly have
the experience that anyone [else] here does, but I think that my sense of trying to learn
as much as possible from the people that you’re working with, all the time, is really important. And knowing – I mean, you were saying, in
terms of budget and that kind of thing – I mean, I think it’s only helpful to know
and to figure out what the parameters are. And whether you’re given a huge space or
you’re given a small space, it is – I think you can only make it work to your advantage. You kind of have to! Yeah. I mean, that’s the gig, is like, here’s
the play and here’s the space and we want this, and you figure out how to make it the
most exciting event that it can be, within all of the limits. And I think that those – what end up being
the parameters of the project actually make it the unique thing that it is, that you give
them. Scott, I see you nodding? Well, yeah. I mean, you know, I have the unfortunate job
of saying no to directors all the time (LEIGH LAUGHS) as far as budget goes. But I think, you know, really, your imagination,
that’s part of it. I mean, I get off on it, you know? I mean, I put the same limitations on myself
that I put on the directors that work at my theatre. I don’t treat myself better than the other
directors that work at my theatre. And I think that there’s – you know, there’s
a way – it’s poetic! It’s like we’re really all poets, or whatever,
you know. We all have a poetic side. And I always find that, like, it helps me
be more imaginative. And I find it fun, actually. And I do work that way whenever I go to other
places. I don’t work out of my own theatre a lot,
but when I do, you know, I try to – I try to be as, you know, respectful of other people’s
budgets and things like that, and try to use my imagination as best as I can to make it
happen. I think it’s part of the challenge and makes
it interesting and not so easy. Yeah. And I think that we’re going to let that
be our final thought. I’ve spent the past – We’re going to end on a note of fiscal responsibility? (LAUGHTER) Oh, my God! (LAUGHS) The limitations of time define that we must
do that! I’ve spent the past ninety minutes trying
to define something which you have all said to us is ultimately not precisely definable,
and so we can only – My mother still doesn’t know what I do. (LAUGHTER) “What do you do? What do you do? What did you do up there?” she always says. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) So, we will simply thank you for doing all
of the things that you do, whatever they may be. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) The American Theatre
Wing seminars are brought to you by our long-time partners, CUNY-TV, in association with the
CUNY Graduate Center’s Department of Continuing Education and Public Programs. Please join me in thanking our panel, and
for their work. (APPLAUSE)

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