Musicals: Directors and Choreographers (Working In The Theatre #330)


Hello, I’m Sondra Gilman, Chairman of the
American Theatre Wing. And I’m Doug Leeds, President. We welcome you to the American Theatre Wing’s
“Working in the Theatre” seminars. Every one of these programs covers a specific
topic in the art of theatre, and funding from the Annenberg and Dorothy Strelsin Foundations
have allowed us to expand these forums. We want to thank them for their wonderful
support. The Wing, with our partners, the League of
American Theatres and Producers, is perhaps best known as the presenters of the Tony Awards,
which recognizes excellence on Broadway. However, the majority of our resources are
devoted to educational programs, to help young people enter the theatre as a profession. And these seminars are just a small part of
that. Each year, we give scholarships to students
and grants to New York not-for-profit theatres. In addition, we produce a weekly talk show
on XM Satellite Radio, called “Downstage Center,” that is broadcast coast to coast. Our newest programs “SpringboardNYC” and
the Theatre Intern Group, provide educational and career development opportunities for aspiring
theatre professionals. All our educational and media programs, including
these seminars, are available free, on demand, from our web site, www.americantheatrewing.org. We thank you for joining us. So, without further ado, let’s go learn
more about working in the theatre. (APPLAUSE) Hello. We have a wonderful group of musical directors
and choreographers who are going to tell us the secrets of the theatre business. First, Christopher Ashley, known for many
of his off-beat kind of musicals and plays (CHRISTOPHER LAUGHS). ROCKY HORROR SHOW, for example. ALL SHOOK UP. THE SMELL OF THE KILL, one that I particularly
liked! (LAUGHS) He will tell us more about that. Next to him is Gillian Lynn, one of the greats
of the musical theatre. She did her ground-breaking work in CATS,
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Coming shortly, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. And she has starred with the great film actor
Errol Flynn and danced with Margo Fontey. She was with the Sadler Wells and Royal Ballet,
so she knows what she’s talking about! On the other side is John Carrafa, a director
and choreographer. INTO THE WOODS, nominated for a Tony. GOOD VIBRATIONS and URINETOWN, one of the
funniest plays I’ve seen. (LAUGHS) You were a Thwalla (SIC) Tharp dancer! Twyla Tharp. We have another dancer! And next to him is Rob Ashford, a dancer also. He’s been on Broadway as a dancer. He won a Tony for THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. He did BOYS FROM SYRACUSE and an Associate
Choreographer on KISS ME KATE. Let’s start with you, Rob. What do you need to know to be a musical director? I think to work in – hmm, that’s a great
question! I think you need to know as much as much as
you can know about everything in the world. (PIA LAUGHS) I think the more that you know
about life, about the world, about not just art, but life is really it. I think that is a great help. You also need a lot of communication skills. I think that’s good. Did you have communication skills? What was your background, for example? Well, you know, I was always the dance captain
in the shows that I was in. And when you’re the dance captain, you develop
a certain kind of skill of communicating with the cast, the leads to the chorus. So I think that that was valuable training,
because you know, you’re a therapist to each person. So you treat everyone individually. I think that’s the key to success, that
everyone’s psyche works in a different way. So I may be able to walk into Chris’ dressing
room and say, “Hey, Chris, you should be on four and not two for the big kick.” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But then I might
have to go to Gillian’s dressing room and say, “Gillian, it was great last night!” Oh, you shouldn’t be on, at all! (LAUGHS) “It was so great! You were amazing last night! You were really, really terrific. The show was great. Oh, by the way, if you could be on two, not
four, for that big kick, that’d be great.” So you learn these skills, and I think that’s
a big part of it, too. I was fortunate that I learned the piano as
a teenager, so I do know how to read music. I think that’s very helpful. I don’t think it’s essential, but it helps. And I think that when I was a dancer and a
dance captain and working as an assistant, I kept my mouth shut and I used that as kind
of university. And I think that that was a great help. How to work with a dance arranger, how to
work with a director, how to collaborate with costume and set designers. I think all of those things are invaluable. Now, you were all dancers. You were not! I was not. So how do you tell dancers what to do? And the world is glad about it, that I was
never a dancer! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Because you can have authority over dancers? How do you tell them what to do? I completely agree with Rob. The central skill, in either choreography
or direction, is communication. And it’s balancing being egotistical enough
to feel that a roomful of people should do exactly what you say, and being inquisitive
enough and open enough that you can really accept information from other people and figure
out how to talk to people with very different techniques and very different backgrounds
and know that you – a musical’s a very complex event, and you’ll never know how
to do it absolutely, so the key to unlocking your ending may come from the usher! And being sort of secure enough that you can
hear it from the usher, and also then go back in and tell everybody exactly what you want. Gillian, how do you see the attributes of
a – I think instinct is the single most important
thing of the lot to have as a director of musicals or as a choreographer, but certainly
as a director. Because there are so many – there are usually
five egos that are all working away at making this one piece of theatre: a lyricist, composer,
director, choreographer and designer. Five vibrant, we hope, egos all working together. So I think as the man or woman leading it,
you have to have a tremendous instinct for what is right, and then you have to – and
hopefully, you will have developed this, like Rob says, you know, through your experience
that you’ve had in getting there in the first place – you will have an instinct
about what is right. And then you have to really [have] huge people
skills, in that some people are very slow to get on to the main idea and you have to
nurture and be a mummy. In my case, a mummy. And other people have to be driven with a
whip! And so on, and it’s getting this balance
right. Because I’m sure my peers will agree with
me that a musical is far more difficult than anything else. I mean, I’m sure we all direct everything,
don’t we? And I’ve directed quite a lot of television
and a lot of plays. And nothing, nothing, is as hard as a musical. So collaboration is very important. Terribly. You feel that that’s – Yes. That’s the job. It’s just collaborating? Well, don’t you have to maintain a certain
authority yourself? Well, listening to Gillian, it reminds me
of how much maturity is really required for a director. You mean, because I’m ancient? (LAUGHTER) No, no, no! No, no! No, because you have – you know, and I don’t
want to embarrass you, but when you speak, people listen. I mean, there has to be a respect that just
you naturally have, that you command from people. And the great directors [have that]. And because a musical is kind of the pinnacle
of the artistic achievements – I mean, all the arts are combined in one event – that
person who is the general of that ship has to have so much maturity and respect for others,
which allows him to get respect back from them. And I think, ultimately the thing – because
I’ve worked with so many great directors, Chris among them – I’ve found that they
just, when they have that sense of self and sense of vision and sense of, you know, a
greater purpose in what they’re doing, you listen to them, and everything else falls
into place. Well, how do you learn intuition? I’ve heard that word now used. How can a person learn how to do – or are
you just all, the four of you were just born to do this? It’s hard to learn, isn’t it? Is it hard? How do you do it? How do you learn it? I mean, I think we wouldn’t actually get
off the ground without it. I think that is one of the things that perhaps
is untrainable. I mean, we all go – we get into plays, or
we get into musicals and we go into school and we dance and sing and all of that, and
that will be developing. I mean, I’m sure that as we all grew up,
under other people, we were thinking – in the end, you think, “Why isn’t that happening? And where — ?” And that means your own
intuition is being trained. But actually to take someone and say, “Today,
we’re going to start learning intuition,” I think that’s difficult. I think you can learn to trust your intuition. I think you have to reach a – But you can’t tell me that just everybody
has the right intuition. People have wrong intuition! (LAUGHS) No! No, I don’t think that everyone – No, it’s only a few. So how would you – it’s very few? Oh, very few. So you are the secret few (LAUGHS) who know
these things! And I think another term for that, actually,
is your first impulse. Yes, that’s right. Yep! Like when you first meet the material. The first time you read the script or hear
the music or see the painting it’s based on or whatever that first interaction with
the piece of art is, your first impulse about it, if it’s right, it’ll guide you all
the way through. And if your first impulse is askew, you’re
always off track. Well, what do you do before you see the actors,
for example, when you get the material? Oh, well, I mean, there’s so much work before
you get the actors to be done. Everything, actually! I mean, everything is done before the actors? Everything is done before you see – That’s a big question. We have to, now, particularly with economics. So if you’re a director, if you’re a choreographer,
as I am, it’s working with your director. I mean, I always, before, in the pre-production
process, always bring the director in as I work with my dance arranger, and we pitch
to the director every single idea, everything. I’m not talking about showing steps, but
I’m just talking about pitching, “And then, they come into the bar, and this is
the moment when the bartender comes over, and this is the moment – ” All of these
musical moments, to make sure that the director agrees that this is the way it should be going,
before you actually develop the dance or the steps. So the first thing is, you get the material,
and then you imaginatively construct each scene in your – Well, in our case, as a choreographer, you
do. Yes. As a choreographer. Because if you’re the director, there is
a text. And what we have to build are the songs, because
we normally stage the songs. So we have to “open those out,” as we
call it in the business, which means you don’t just have the song as writ. You have part of the song and then the acting
moment that you want there, you open that out so that somebody moves a bit and then
carries on. And so, we have to create those moments, those
songs and dances, and they’re so much part of the structure. That’s what Rob means about – but then,
you want to run that past the director so he’s got the whole in the end. Yes, so your question is very – it’s very
basic, right? We get a document, and then – you know,
we get a script on paper. Or parts of a script. And we get music, but the music is not necessarily
structured in the way that it will end up being structured in the show. And as Chris said, you have your own impulses
when you read that. You read that, and you get images. “Oh, yeah! Oh, I see them dancing in a big chorus line.” Do you close your eyes when you’re – It’s hard to read with your eyes closed! (LAUGHTER) No, but I mean, after you’ve read it, do
you then close your eyes and see the dancers? No, it’s just like if I said, you know,
“You’re running down the street. All right, what street did you imagine?” You know, the script says he’s running down
the street, but did you imagine a city street, a town? Did you imagine 34th Street? Did you imagine Eighth Avenue? And you know, whether you’re the director
or the choreographer, you start to expand on that vision and just talk to the designers,
and talk to the director about what that vision is. Do you do the steps in your apartment or wherever
you live, yourself? The steps are the last thing. For me, anyway. Yeah, that’s the very last thing. The steps are the very last thing. Okay, the steps – really? The steps – not that they’re not important,
they’re very important, but – I thought that would be the first thing. It’s the last thing. Well, what’s the first thing? It’s just the concept. Well, the first thing is the concept. Concept. An idea. And also, how do you do storytelling through
the dance? Yep. Because I think that’s so important. And look, John just did an entire evening
like that. Do you know? It’s so important, you can’t – ‘cause,
you know, patience today is very small. And no one wants to just sit and just watch
something stay at one level, or just dance to atmosphere. You know, if you’re trying to establish
a smoky bar, and audiences today are so smart, after about four eights, smoky bar established. Now what happens? You can’t dance “smoky bar” for five
minutes (GILLIAN LAUGHS) because no one cares. You know, so you have to have storytelling
in advance. What happened in the smoky bar? So, you mean, somebody slaps somebody? Something has to happen. A fight in the bar. Right. And hopefully, to your lead characters or
your secondary leads, or someone you care about. Hopefully. And I think that’s why musicals are so hard,
is there are so many primary creative people who all have to end up telling the same story. Your choreographer and your director and your
designer and your lyricist and your composer and your book writer and your orchestrator
and your dance arranger – Yeah, it’s true. All of the actors and all of the dancers,
all of the singers – With the same tone. The same tone, and that’s what you do. With the same tone, like style comes into
it. But ultimately, if you’re not all telling
the same story and not all after the same goal, then you get this disjointed beast instead
of a beautiful, elegant evening. I agree with all of that, with the exception
of CATS, because we started CATS with Andrew wrote – well, first of all, there was this
brilliant little book, called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” written by a major
poet, T.S. Eliot. And Andrew Lloyd Webber had adored that little
book for years. It had been sitting on an aunt’s coffee
table. And so, eventually he wrote beautiful, I think,
wonderful music, to the poems. And then, he said, “Let’s make a dance
show.” But there wasn’t a book at all, not at all. But the poems in themselves had in-built stories,
and such strongly defined characters that I went into a room for four weeks, before
we ever started rehearsals on that show. With how many dancers? Did you go alone? Two. I had a boy and a girl, and my assistant. And I had the first Rum Tum Tugger, because
he had done all the demos for Andrew, and Andrew said, “As a favor – I know he can’t
dance, and I know it’s a dance show! – but would you work with him so that he could get
through it somehow?” So that poor man had to do class for a month
with me, but so, as a reward, I staged the Rum Tum Tugger in the pre-work. But then, gradually, we put them together
and then we made a story. But that’s a weird – a one-off, really. And we were luckier than we ever believed. Then you worked on people. You used human beings. We often do that. And you said to them, “Move here, move there.” Well, we often have a boy and a girl, to try
things out, to try lifts on. Right. And also, because I was trying to, you know,
pre-package – package or pre-create, if you like – a whole show. To remember all that is hard. You want to get it onto somebody else’s
body and have a look at it and judge yourself, you know. Yes. How much did you have done, before you went
into rehearsals? I had three-quarters of it. Because we only had five weeks’ rehearsal
for that show, and when we entered the rehearsal, we had not yet a book. We had this wonderful music, and I had pre-staged
a lot, because I knew that if I didn’t, they would never get the stamina to sing and
dance, sing and dance constantly. But that was unusual. So the songs had lyrics, they weren’t just
music? No, they were T.S. Eliot’s brilliant poems. Right, right, you had those. But you didn’t have the outer structure? Nope. We made it up as we went along. In the rehearsal? In the pre-production? I had to do a lot of it in the pre-production,
in order to go forward to the next one. Yeah, yeah, in order to do something, right,
right. There’s a whole other thing that happens
with directors in pre-production, which is your conversations with the set designer,
which is a whole other [thing]. What the physical constraints are gonna be,
what the set is gonna be, how it’s gonna move, what locations of the scenes, determines
an immense amount of what the show will look [like] and how it will move. Or where the dancers can move, presumably. Absolutely. So do you draw that then out, somewhere on
a rehearsal room floor? Yep. For me, there’s usually forty-five meetings
(GILLIAN LAUGHS), across six months – Lots of drawing! Where you draft and re-draft, and there’s
napkins involved (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL). And paper cups? And then, like lots of assistants drafting
and research pictures. And no steps have actually come in yet? You’re still – No, this is really – this is very – the
first things. And models. Models. Little white models or colored models of the
set, yeah, just keeping it fresh. I think we all admire designers so well, because
we have our meetings, as we’ve all been saying. But in a way, the designer is the one who
has to come to the boil first, isn’t he? Yeah. You know, I always admire them so much, because
talking of this wonderful idea that Chris was saying, that we’re either turned on
by the piece of material or we’re not. But then, the designer has to commit more,
and more quickly, than we do. Don’t you think? Yes. Oh, yes. Right. And a little bit – he then talks to all
of us, but still, he’s the one that has to kind of forge through. The set model is the first time anyone’s
on the line. Isn’t it? Isn’t it? It’s that, there, the first person who’s
like, “Here’s what it is! Here’s my idea!” This is what it looks like? Yes! I think they’re very brave. Very brave. I think so, too. So, Pia, what we’re kind of, I think, all
describing is that the first day of rehearsal is kind of the last day of a huge part of
the development of the show. Well said, well said. So most of the work has gone on before the
actors have even gotten there. We have some tape of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. Which is fantastic! And Sutton Foster was so good in that. Yeah, she’s so great, isn’t she? So good. Oh, wasn’t she? She was wonderful. Let’s look at that for a moment. Up there, we’re getting it (PH) – This is 1922! (MUSIC) Goodbye to goody-girl (PH). I’m changing and how! I’m changing and how! So be good, (UNINTEL PHRASE) conservative,
Hot off the press, don’t step on it, jazz age,
Whoopie, baby, We’re so thoroughly modern! Millie! Now! (MUSIC) Do you have any choice in casting these people? Oh, yeah, absolutely. You have a definite – especially, obviously,
the ensemble, the dancers. We had twenty on-stage ensemble and dancers. And yeah, you’re a part of all of that. Especially when a show gets to the Broadway
level. I think everyone’s involved with everything. It seems like the final – But who has the final say? Do you, as the choreographer or the director
of a musical? Well, I think that the dancers of the show
– so of the twenty ensemble, ten were dancer-singers, ten were singer-dancers. And the ten [dancer-singers], that I had more
or less the final say. But again, in a collaboration – listen,
if Chris didn’t want that one tall girl and thinking, “She’s just gonna stick
out, and I just don’t think it’s gonna be right,” then I have to listen to that,
you know? And then, of course, the director has the
final say over everyone, of course. But yeah, you do have – you talked about
the first steps. That’s really the first steps that are made,
for the auditions. And that’s always nerve-wracking for me. Me, too! Because it’s the first time that your collaborators
or anyone, your producers, anyone are seeing anything that feels like steps. And because everyone’s so anxious to get
the show alive and to see it for real, those, you know, twelve eights that you do for the
audition suddenly take on this enormous weight! So when you’re in that studio, just trying
to get together an audition combination, knowing that maybe not one single step – Right. Would be in the show, and that’s fine! It’s still nerve-wracking. It is nerve-wracking! Do you find that’s hard sometimes, because
they’re completely out of context? Completely! Completely. You’re making choreography that has no story
to it, so it’s like – what? It’s completely out of context. Because you want to make sure they can turn
and kick and jump for all of those things. Yeah. Fosse had one phrase. He had the idea. Bob Fosse had a – it’s called “Tea for
Two,” and he had an audition combination that he always did for every audition. Yeah. So the same – oh, then you could really
– The same one for everything. How to turn, how to jump, how to roll down
a floor. It had everything, and it had style. He had everything in it, in “Tea for Two.” So when you auditioned for a Fosse show, you
always did “Tea for Two” for the initial audition. Initial, ‘cause he’d have thousands of
people come and so he could – (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) Because as I now understand, none of you have
actually prepared the steps, so you couldn’t actually give them the steps yet? Well, not the real steps. Not the real steps, I mean, you don’t have
it done. You can mock up some steps. Right. So the real steps, you do when – Well, they’re milling about, by that time. Yes, they are. They’re milling about. And sometimes, you might let, maybe eight
bars or something out, to just be testing for yourself. But you don’t really want to let it out
then, either, do you? No, you don’t. And you haven’t come to the boil. I keep using that phrase, it’s very English! Do you understand what it means? (LAUGHS) Come to the boil, yes! It’s all to do with making tea, and they
can’t. (LAUGHTER) I think we should just say one
thing, to the now, do you not think we have to make compromises? Absolutely. Because economics are such that we – sometimes
there are four wondrous dancers that you would really love, but they can’t sing quite as
well – Right, yeah. As four others who can sing really well and
dance enough. And in the old days, of course you could have
dancers and singers more. And nowadays, everybody must do everything. Everything? I’m always telling this to anybody who’s
training, you know. You also have to cover all the leads out of
your ensemble, which is a big [thing]. That’s the other thing, understudies. Yes, much more than we ever did. What does that mean, “cover your leads”? Well, it used to mean – sort of, long ago
there were “offstage covers” who, when your leading man was out, would come in and
play it. They would? An understudy. Now, almost always, the ensemble is who are
also the understudies for the lead roles. So it’s a big negotiation, at the point
of actually casting your ensemble – It’s huge. Of saying, “Do we have enough people who
can really dance and enough people who sing it? And who’s going to play the blind eighty-year-old?” (LAUGHTER) Right, right. And who’s going to be the first and the
second cover? I mean, it’s – Right. And do we cast an eighty-year-old in the chorus,
and are they going to – Stick out. Can they dance what we need, or do you cast
a twenty-year-old who’s going to play an eighty-year-old – That’s right. Wednesday matinees when he’s out? It’s an exhausting process. You were not a dancer. How do you handle dance steps, then? You know, Chris is not a choreographer. Yeah, a director. Chris is a director. Oh, you’re the director of a musical. That’s exactly right. I thought you did choreography as well? Not the least bit! Should we go down the line and fill her in? (LAUGHTER) Chris? Director! (POINTING TO GILLIAN) Director-choreographer. (POINTING TO HIMSELF) Director-choreographer. (POINTING TO ROB) Choreographer. Choreographer! (LAUGHS) We have a little mixture here going
on. So you don’t have to read music. You don’t have to dance. It helps. Does it help? I mean, you don’t as much as a choreographer
does. Good. But if you – there’s many, many times
where you have to say, “On this eight-count, I want this to be happening,” or you know,
“Take it from the key change.” Like, you really need to know something about
music, even if you can’t read it off the page. Right. But as a choreographer, I’ve learned a lot
from directors that aren’t dancers, because they understand the spirit of what they think
that moment needs. So even when they get up and do their version
of the dance, which isn’t a dance at all, but the emotion is right and usually fourfold,
so you can take that and learn and go, “Oh! I see what you want! Not those steps, but you want that energy,
or that commitment or that passion.” And perception. They sometimes perceive something in something
we’re doing, where we’ve been working to get a certain, maybe kinetic effect. But they see, “Ah! But that’s not quite telling that story. If you did this.” Don’t you think? Sometimes they see through – Yes, yes. I feel like a little knowledge is a dangerous
thing, too. Like, it’s always a better conversation
when I say, “I feel this,” or “Here’s the story line.” Yeah. And as soon as you start saying, “That second
position is not so good,” you’re sunk. (GILLIAN AND PIA LAUGH) Yeah. In the same way that the director isn’t
a set designer, either. He has to just be able to communicate his
passion, his vision to the designer, as he does to the choreographer. Did you always want to be a director-choreographer? Is this something that you – Well, I had hoped to do it, and I had dreamed
of doing it. But I held back from doing it as long as I
possibly could, because I just think choreography is so hard in itself. And I wanted to do great work as a choreographer. But this has started to come up, so I started
to do it. But sometimes you have to push, to go from
choreography to director, don’t you, of a musical? There are people who just – well – Don’t they pigeonhole you, and say, “You’re
a choreographer and therefore you can’t [direct]?” They do for a while, but nowadays it’s getting
– It’s a pretty common transition, from choreographer
to director. Yeah, it is. If you’re a good choreographer, they start
talking about it. You know, everybody’s talking about it. Yeah, absolutely. So it’s just a natural [thing], because
there is an overlap of some of the skills. But what I found is, (LAUGHS) it’s a really
different job! It’s a really different job! Oh, yes! Well, it is! You have a text! Well, it’s just that – it’s just – there’s
a level of what I said at the beginning, of maturity and vision and – also, as a director,
you have to step back in a way that you don’t as the choreographer. As a choreographer, you know, we learn, when
we do big musicals, how you have to step back and let assistants do things, as a choreographer. That’s, as a choreographer, how you start
to step back. Because the way I have always worked as a
choreographer is one-on-one. I’m great one-on-one with an actor who can’t
dance and making them look great as a dancer, and that’s been my passion, you know, working
with actors dancing. But that’s a one-on-one thing. If you’re going to try to have ten actors
do that, you’ve got to have assistants doing it, so that means as a choreographer, you
can’t – you don’t have the time to be in there and do all that work. You have to have a whole team supporting you. As a director, it’s another step removed. You’ve got to just be able to communicate,
lead, lead the show, lead the team, and not do it yourself. That’s a really basic way to say it. That’s what I was wondering. Do you demonstrate the steps? As a choreographer? Yes. Yeah. I mean, well, some people – Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Demonstrate them yourself? It’s different on every show, but most shows,
it comes out of your own body. It comes out of – Do you do the text? Would you say to an actor, “I’m going
to read the text the way I want it”? No! (LAUGHS) Or really rarely! So that is a very – Sometimes you get to it. It’s called a line reading, telling them
you how you want the sound. Yes, how – well – And it’s really supposed to be forbidden,
and everybody makes everyone crazy, and it’s usually a bad idea. ‘Cause usually, if you say a line to an
actor the way you want it, they’ll do it well that time. Yeah. But they’re not understanding why you want
what you want. It’s not in them in any meaningful way,
and it just kind of degrades over time and gets worse and worse. So it’s way better to describe what it is
that you want, rather than saying it to them. So that’s a fundamental difference. In dance, you would actually show them how
you might like it? Sometimes. It is, but it isn’t. You do show them the steps, you get the moves. But it’s still saying the right things to
get them to key into – Why they’re doing it. Why they’re doing it. What story-telling they’re doing with those
steps, or what their emotion is at that time. So that is the same, once you’ve delivered
the steps. You still have to say the right thing. Absolutely. So, motivation. You have to then, for every unit of your scenes,
you have to be telling people their motivation, what it is. And you don’t – do you listen to them,
when they say, “I feel that I would like to do it this way”? (LAUGHS) You do listen. Or do you say, “No, this is your motivation.” No, you do listen. And sometimes you say, “That’s lovely! Let’s incorporate that!” (PIA LAUGHS) And sometimes you say, “That’s
lovely,” and inside you’re saying, “But we can’t use that!” Yeah, a lot of times. “We will pass on from that.” (PIA LAUGHS) And usually, I think one of the things about
a really good rehearsal process is, the trust grows. So by week three, you can say, “Terrible
idea!” and it doesn’t hurt their feelings. No, that’s very true. Because they trust that if it was a good idea,
that you would say it’s a good idea, and you’ve said enough warm things along the
way that you can be really honest about, “Let’s just not do that.” I mean, we learn to be rude to each other
about week three, which is awfully useful. (LAUGHTER) Yes, it is! It is! (CHRIS NODS) Yes, so they don’t take it personally. There’s different ways of working. On URINETOWN, I gave the actors – ‘cause
there were no dancers, and on that show, I wasn’t at the auditions, I came in – Oh, you had no choice? Ah-ha! Because they had to be hired for reasons other
than dancing, for that show. Okay. And I purposefully gave them steps they couldn’t
do, because it was so funny to watch them try to do those steps. (LAUGHTER) And sort of worked on them – negotiated
the difference between what they were – and I could tell the audience was watching and
seeing what they were trying to do. I tried to make it so it was clear what they
were trying to do, even – and just kept telling them what brilliant, amazing, beautiful
dancers they were. (LAUGHTER) And they just threw themselves
into it a hundred percent, because they thought they were really amazing. (LAUGHTER) But sometimes, they’re better than any dancers. They’re very endearing. Exactly! Well, that’s why I love working with actors. And their very off-beat-ness, you know, is
what you want, in effect. Yeah, sure. We have some footage of CHITTY CHITTY BANG
BANG, which is the London footage. Ooh! Let’s look at that, because it’s a spectacular
show. Oh, you, pretty Chitty Bang Bang! Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we love you! And our pretty Chitty Bang Bang,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang loves us too! High, low, everywhere we go,
On Chitty Chitty we depend! Bang, bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Our fine four-fendered friend! Bang, bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Our fine … four … fendered … friend! Well, we can see that there’s a lot of acrobatics
going on! There seems to be a lot of that in dance today. So do you hire acrobats or dancers to do this? Well, that’s another of our problems, isn’t
it? Because often, we are looking for dancers
who can give us – fly when we want to – give us something very spectacular in that way. And not every dancer is trained to do that. So that’s another of the juggles we have
to do, the voice and the ordinary – good line of attack, and acrobatic skills, if possible. Did you help choose the actors and dancers? I did. I did. So you could say, “I like this one, and
I don’t like that one”? That’s right. And it is – I’m sure my peers will agree
with me that it is the most – it’s become the most exhausting process in the world,
auditioning. Because first of all, I’m a softie, and
I want everybody to get it, and I find it very difficult, you know, saying no. But secondly, you have to regard the singing,
regard the acting, regard the dancing and the acrobatics. And then, as Chris says, just as you get a
band that you think are brilliant, someone will say, “But he has to cover that, and
she has to play that role, and then she has to do that role.” And so, in the end you’re going, “But
wait a minute! I thought this was – but – ” And then
in the end, you feel sometimes that you are casting for the cover situation and not the
real thing. So it’s exhausting! I go home and take to a vodka very quickly. (LAUGHTER) I never felt sorry for the directors! I felt sorry for all the people having to
audition! Now we see it from the other point of view,
the difficulty of rejecting people. (LAUGHS) It is, isn’t it? Yes, it is. And you want – do you know, you want to
play fair to everyone. And you’re criss-crossing yourself in order
to find what’s necessary. They can be inspiring as well, especially
for a new show that you don’t really know how it looks. You may have in your mind that “I think
that this world, our world, has everyone of every different size and shape.” That may be what you go into the auditions
for. And then, for some reason, a group of five
ladies come forward and they’re all really tall, and you go, like, “Oh, that’s kind
of interesting, what it poses,” because you imagine, whoever’s your leading man,
imagine him, who’s shorter, in the middle of all those tall ladies, and you go, “Maybe
we shouldn’t have all shapes and sizes. Maybe we should have all tall or all short,”
or whatever it is. So the auditions can also be inspiring in
helping you define the world that you’re trying to create, as well. Yes. Yes, they can. I love early auditions. Like, by the end, by callbacks, there’s
lots and lots and lots of people in the room, and producers, and there’s so much pressure
on the audition. A lot of times, what I’ll try to do, early,
the first round, is, say, just me and two other people. Lovely. And the actors do the best work in those first
auditions. Yeah. And you can actually afford to spend ten minutes
with someone’s audition. And even if, a minute into it, you know you’re
probably not going to cast them, at least you can, like, get the best work out of them
in that little chunk of time. Mmm-hmm. And that you can’t do in a callback. In a callback, it’s just (SNAPS HIS FINGERS
RAPIDLY) “Who are we going to use?” So is it true that good directing is good
casting? Totally. Absolutely. Casting is so much of the show. It’s key. Yes. Absolutely right. What do you do when you couldn’t help it,
you’ve got somebody (LAUGHS) who can’t do it? You know, the producer’s girlfriend? We’ve heard about that! (LAUGHS) You know, somebody! You have to fire them. (LAUGHS) Fire them! Right? Yes, and that’s awful. You’ve got somebody in there, you can’t
– do you have the right to fire? Sure. Sure. Yes. Happens often. Oh, yes? Even if the producer has hired and the director
has hired, and the – You mean, an actor? Yes, while they’re on stage. Can you – you start working with them and
– Well, you wait until the curtain comes down
before you fire them, usually! (LAUGHTER) But then, can you – I mean, during the rehearsal,
do you have that power? There are rules. There are Equity rules. Yes, there’s rules about it. You have, I think, a month? A month of performances. You can also fire in the first five days of
rehearsal. But you have that power, to say, “I can’t
work with this person”? Yes, without any repercussions. But the hard thing about it for me is, if
you end up having to fire a person, as a director, it’s your fault. Right, right. You cast them. The audition process is to find out if they
can do it, and if it turns out they can’t, for whatever reason, you didn’t audition
well enough. Yeah. And so, they’re taking the brunt of it,
but it’s your fault. Ah! So you have to be sure. You weren’t perceptive enough. Yeah. And you try so hard to be as perceptive as
possible! I’ve had situations where I just had an
instinct about somebody, and everybody hated them, and they ended up being amazing in the
show. And then I had a similar situation where everybody
loved somebody, but what they did at the audition never changed, and it just – you just – there’s
very little, actually, you can tell from auditions. You just do your best shot. And that’s why you do tend to hire people
you know more often, because you know what you’re going to get. I feel like the body of work really has to
be part of the decision-making process, because there’s people who audition and you’ll
never – And that’s it? It’ll never be as good as the audition. There’s people who are wonderful actors,
singers, dancers, and don’t do well in that audition circumstance. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) So if you’ve seen them
be great ten times, they’re probably a good casting choice. Are people more talented than they used to
be? Is the level high, and the skill? I think the – The level in America is astounding. Is it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, and what is unique, I feel – because
I did an operetta in Germany a few years ago. And what’s unique here is the ability to
combine the skills, singing, dancing and acting. And when I worked in Germany, people came
in who could sing brilliantly, they could dance brilliantly, they could act – the
same person! But they couldn’t do them at the same time. They couldn’t, like, get out and sing a
song and move. They could stand and sing, you know? And I think this is what’s really unique
to Broadway. And I can’t speak to the West End, but I
assume the West End is that combination of skills. Well, no. I mean, A CHORUS LINE started it. We used to have dancers, and singers, and
actors. And then A CHORUS LINE came. And that was such an interwoven show that
it started it off. And then CATS has done an enormous amount
to get that interweaving going. But, as someone who works constantly, both
sides, and has for so many years I don’t even like to mention it, there’s an edge
and a hunger here. Yeah, it’s different. Highly competitive here. Yeah. It’s quite different. If it’s more competitive, is that – It is more competitive. It is more competitive. And you’re doing it. And also, I mean, I’ve had the good fortune
to be able to work in London. I did MILLIE there. And I did FORUM at the National
Theatre this past year, and I’m going in a couple of weeks to do GUYS AND DOLLS there. So I feel like I’m getting an idea of London. They do have some incredibly talent actor-singer-dancers,
but they have handfuls of them. And we have many, many, many. And so, the difference is, it’s a smaller
country, you know? And our country is huge! I was just going to say, we’re only little! We’re a little country! Our country is huge! And we draw, you know, from all of our cities
and all of our states, and they all come to New York. And Canada. So we just have such a larger pool. They don’t have that. Isn’t it also the training we get, the people
here? Well, we have good training, but the training
in London – What they’re required to do – They have good training. Do you know, I think it’s something in-built
in the American psyche. It is! About that you’ve got to get – if you
can be number one, that’s great! Right. And there is a marvelous hunger. Also, I find there’s a passion here, for
actually show biz! Yes! (LAUGHS) People go into it thinking, “I’m in the
theatre! My show! I will do MY show well tonight!” We have lost that. We haven’t quite got that at home. And also, the whole ambition thing. Ambition is not as positive a word in England
as it is here. No. It’s ridiculous, really. To be really ambitious is a little – Yes. Because you know, I’m doing FORUM, and it’s
like, none of the understudies are in the back, learning the [parts]. They’re all just sitting on the sides. And I’m like, “Why aren’t you up, learning
that?” Why aren’t they? And they’re like, “Oh, no, no! No, no!” Because they don’t want to appear overly
ambitious, to be standing behind the girl playing Tintinabula and learning her dance. They’ll just stand back, and they’ll learn
it later on their own, just not to appear ambitious. And here, it’s the opposite. Ambition is very positive. Now, what happens when you get actors, let’s
say, who have been trained in all sorts of different styles? Different teachers, different – how do you
get them all to go together, for example, to make one unit? You have to know all those things. I feel like it starts at a very – the first
moment of rehearsal is – they were talking about how scary it is, the first time you
show your steps in auditions? For a director, the first moment of rehearsal
is just the scary moment. (BANGS HIS MICROPHONE) Ooh, I just did it! I smacked my mike! We were warned not to do that! (LAUGHTER) You’re forgiven! Thank you. That first moment when everyone is as open
– everyone looks at you like open flowers. “Show us how to be good. Tell us what you need us to do.” And they will never be that open again. Yeah. And that first sentence that comes out of
your mouth in rehearsal goes in and lodges. And if it’s a good first sentence, it starts
to coalesce everybody around the same way to work and the same story and the same goal. And that first speech, I feel like is so crucial. What he’s saying is that we have to inspire. We can’t just stand there and be brainy
or witty and intellectual. We have to inspire as well. Don’t you think? I totally agree. Otherwise, we might as well go out the door
and have a cup of coffee. And what about dance training? I mean, people have all sorts of different
training in dance. How do you get them to do – if they’ve
been trained in a Bob Fosse style, or they’ve been trained Martha Graham, or they’re ballerinas,
or ballet. How do you get the whole – Well, hopefully, in the auditions, you’ve
kind of narrowed it down to the folks that can do your style or what, you know, the style
you’re gonna need for this show. Do you think you have a style? No. Everyone asks that, and I don’t. I don’t know what it is. I don’t intentionally try to have a – People started saying to me – I don’t know if I have, either. I don’t know. You don’t intentionally try to have “a
style.” You just try to serve every piece. And I think you try to make every piece as
different as an actor would like to make every performance, you know? Exactly, as his best (PH), mmm-hmm. So when someone says, “Oh, I see, that’s
you, that’s you,” and I’m like, “I don’t know what that is?” Yeah, people started saying that me last year. I was working on the Beach Boys show and they
were like, you know, “Do your thing! Do that, you know, that thing that you do,
that sort of whimsical funny thing!” I was like, “Oh, okay. I guess that’s my thing.” I don’t know where it comes from. We’re going to look at some of your thing
here. We’ve got some footage from GOOD VIBRATIONS,
so let’s look at your thing. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Ooh, this is lovely! I’m going to the theatre! Good, good, good, good vibrations! I’m picking up good vibrations
Ooo-bop-bop, good vibrations I’m picking up good vibrations
She’s giving me the excitation Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through Happy times together we’ve been spending
I wish that every kiss was never-ending! Oh, wouldn’t it be nice? We always take my car, ‘cause it’s never
been beat And we never missed yet with the girls we
meet I get around! Get around, get around, I get around, etc. My kind of town
I’m a real cool head I’m making real good bread After six hours of school, I’ve had enough
of the day. I hit the radio dial and turn it up all the
way. I gotta dance! I don’t stop! The beat’s really hot! Dance, dance, dance, dance! etc. Well, she got a dance car and she cruised
through the hamburger stand now. She forgot all about the library like she
told her old man now. Now, with the radio blastin’, goes cruisin’
just as fast as she can now. And she’ll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy
takes her T-bird away! (APPLAUSE) John, what kind of true – That’s a year of my life you just looked
at! We looked at one year! Oh! (LAUGHS) Is that how long it took? From start to finish, yeah. Well, we started with the songs a year ago. It was Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving before the
first preview. And in one year, I worked with Richard Dresser. We figured out how to take these Beach Boys
songs and make ‘em into an evening of “fun, fun, fun.” And we didn’t go out of town. You know, it’s common to go try the show
out. Yes. We didn’t try the set out. We just jammed on it, and got to Broadway. So I’m looking at that, going “Oh, wow!” What a year, what a year! Would you change something? (JOHN LAUGHS) Do you look at something and
say, “I don’t like that step!” You want to answer that question? Always! Oh, yeah! Always? Oh, yeah! Always, always. “I could have done it better, had I two
years?” Well, you know, it’s hard for me, ‘cause
I am – I don’t know if I could say I’m a “most anal,” but I really work very
slowly. I’m a very slow choreographer, I admit it. And I need to do a lot more pre-production. I wonder if I have ADD or something, but you
know? (PIA LAUGHS) But I just have to do a lot more
pre-production that I think other people do, because I’m very meticulous. And the sense of humor that I get comes from
analyzing moment-by-moment what happens in the story of the dance, and what cracks me
up as I’m figuring it out. And so, that’s why this was really a tough
one for me. I’m just saying personally. There are people who get up there and really
throw shows and numbers together. But also that doesn’t have a story line. It’s songs. Oh, yeah, it does. Yes, but I mean, you have to find the story
within each song. Oh, you mean there’s no book. Yeah. There’s not a book to it. There is, but I mean it’s – Well, yeah. A short book, a small book, yeah. Yeah, but, so you have to find everything
within the songs. Within the songs, yeah. And you know, a lot of musical theatre choreography,
actually the whole job of musical theatre choreography, I think, is to take the dance
and further the story. And often, one of the ways you do that, and
you guys probably want to talk about that, is you have to adjust the music to do that. You have to make the song build, to get to
a climax. You have to make it theatrical. You have to make it fun for the audience. Are you allowed to change the songs? Yes. Yeah, that’s part of the job. And it’s all collaboration with the composer. It’s part of every musical. The difference between choreographing other
forms of dance and – Because you can’t change August Wilson’s
words or something or – Well, there’s a collaboration there, I’m
sure, with the director, too. It’s another collaboration there. And there is this amazing creature, called
a dance arranger. Oh, heaven! And so often, when you say that to people,
they say, “But I thought you did the dances!” And you say, “No, no, this is a brilliant
musician.” It is your primary collaborator, as a choreographer. It is, for us. Tell me, there’s the – Your primary collaborator. There’s the musical supervisor. There’s dance arranger. The orchestrator. Some are writing positions and some are more,
almost supervisory positions. Supervisory, yeah. It’s like, supervise the orchestra, conduct. That’s different from a person who’s actually
writing notes on a page. And the dance arranger assists the composer,
and he writes additional music for the choreographer. And he has to stay within the style of the
composer, so it doesn’t look like it’s come from left field. And yet he has to – when we think, “But
that character, his heart beating.” And the song’s only doing this, but I want
to do “Buh-boom! Buh-boom! Buh-BUH! Again!” Right. That’s right. “Can you do that?” And he goes, “Ch-ch, ch-ch.” He does it. And it helps us extend. And it’s a brilliant person, isn’t it? It is. A very creative person. And so often, they’re given only a lead
sheet, only – well, for example, the title song of THOROUGLY MODERN MILLIE. All it is, all that exists anywhere, before
we started the show was that tune that you know. (SINGS THE NOTES OF THE SONG WE HEARD; GILLIAN
JOINS IN; LAUGHTER) That’s it. But yeah, we have a, you know, five-minute-long
opening number, all created by David Chase, who did the dance arrangements. That’s his number, from a ditty, from a
lead sheet, basically. Do you tell the dance arranger what steps
are going to be there? There’s different ways of doing it. Sometimes you go first, sometimes he goes
first. Yeah, totally. Yeah. Sometimes you do, but most of the time you
give the feelings in there. Right. So there’s more collaboration. It’s a tremendous amount of collaboration. Yes, it’s huge. Yeah, you need to build two sets of four. (PH) Very! It’s a real partnership. It’s like a love affair, actually! (LAUGHS) It is, it really is. It is your primary collaboration, as a choreographer,
other than with your director, obviously, but that’s a different thing. You slut! (LAUGHTER) Here’s the director! Yeah, there’s trouble happening. Well, is it hard for you to get along with
the choreographers? It’s like a marriage, itself. It is. And it’s the only time as a director that
you ever would say to somebody, “Go in that room for a day and make part of our show,
and I’ll only edit it. I won’t make it with you.” Yeah. And that’s a lot of trust to put into somebody
else! In a play, as a director, you do every bit
of it. Yes. There’s no rehearsal that you’re not at. And in a musical, you’re not at where they’re
learning the music, you’re not at where they’re learning the dances. You trust someone else, and you trust that
you’ve pre-produced it well enough and that you’ve had enough, rich enough conversation
about it that they’re going to create something that’s part of the show you want to play
around. (PH) When you work with a writer more than once
and you have a relationship with them, are you able to say to a writer, “That line
doesn’t work”? Mmm-hmm. I think especially through multiple shows
together. Because you’ve done that? The walls come down, and they say, “Hey,
I don’t think that staging is telling the story of the scene,” and you can say, “I
don’t think that line is telling (LAUGHS) the story of the scene,” and that’s okay. And you’re really editing each other’s
work. Yeah. I think some of the trickiest collaborations
are with estates of people, not the people. It’s the people that are guarding the gems. Oh! Right. Well, I – That’s a tougher, much tougher – Not necessarily artists. Yeah. Negotiation than with a writer or anyone. Because if they’re there, and you can explain
and they see you all come together, of like mind, but – But after a certain point, if it’s Tennessee
Williams, you can’t change the lines, say with a – can you? (LAUGHS) Well, I guess – It depends on if he was doing a musical! I mean, you know, there are what? Three versions of STREETCAR. There’s his original version and then there’s
the movie, the screenplay version. Oh, okay. All right. Oh! So I guess the director has to choose which
– “I really like the ending of,” you know, I mean. So you fudge it a little bit there. You can take – Yes. You get clear on why you need something. You know, I’m getting ready to do GUYS AND
DOLLS, and Jo Loesser is very much involved, as far as getting approval or running all
the ideas by her, running – I’m not talking about little ideas, like, “Is it okay with
you if Sarah moves from right to left and picks up a chair?” (GILLIAN LAUGHS) But like, big ideas. The set design and the look and the casting
of the leads and all of that kind of thing, you know, you run by someone like that who’s
actively involved in, you know, guarding the flame. So it’s another person you have to collaborate
with. You must go home and scream! (LAUGHS) All these people! It takes a village. I’m having a uniquely great experience,
actually, with an estate right now, on ALL SHOOK UP, which has all Elvis music. The Elvis estate commissioned it, with the
sort of initial idea of “Create a musical from this music, that Elvis is not a character
in.” And after that initial impulse, they’ve
been nothing but like kind of dude cheerleaders. (LAUGHS; RAISES HIS FIST IN A CHEER) “Okay!” (LAUGHTER) It’s been amazing. And they really care, and they really trusted
us to do the work, which has been great. In fact, we have a clip that we’d like to
see, GOOD VIBRATIONS, let’s take a look at that. ALL SHOOK UP. ALL SHOOK UP, I’m sorry, got the wrong one. We’ve seen enough of GOOD VIBRATIONS. And the little (UNINTEL PHRASE) let the iron
When the streets are (UNINTEL) with fire, And you light me (UNINTEL PHRASE) design
There you go! (MUSIC) (SINGS AT LENGTH, BASICALLY UNINTEL)
All shook up, all shook up! Turn it on! I am so glad I came here tonight! We’re glad we’re here tonight, too. The director-choreographer – you’ve asked
before, director-choreographer, and I just want to say that that’s really, for us,
that’s really fun, because you have somebody who you can talk to who’s your ally, who
has the same concerns you have. And it’s kind of like, when you have that
person and that is really working well, you can go away and have somebody to talk to about
what you’re doing. And that’s what’s so great about it, you
know? If I’m choreographing, I can talk to the
director. If I’m director, I can talk to myself! But it’s just a really wonderful bond and
a great – you know, the times it works, it’s some of the most satisfying collaboration
you have in theatre. Did that take you a year, as well? Uh – three. (LAUGHTER) Three years! Three years? Not absolutely exclusively, but from the time
we really started doing readings of it and hashing it out to now, three years. And we’re in our last ten days before opening
in New York, right now. What’s the best part of the whole process? What a good question. Watching an audience watch the show. I feel that’s why I do it. There’s something that – it has qualities
of church in it, and it has qualities of sex in it, and there’s nothing better than watching
an audience really love and really be involved in something you’ve created. Gillian, what is the best part for you? I’m like in – where I’m rehearsing,
which is on the 42nd Street studios, wonderful studios, there is a plaque to Mike Ockrent,
who was a lovely director, who we lost. And it says, “For me, the process is the
best thing.” And for me, in a way, it’s the actual camaraderie
and discovery in the rehearsal room which is so exciting and wonderful. So I’m an old gypsy. No, yes, yes. I just love that process. I’m not saying I don’t like it when it
gets onto the stage, but I just find that camaraderie, and the daily discovery, and
watching people get over a hurdle that they couldn’t do last Wednesday, and now they’ve
suddenly shot ahead with it. That’s thrilling. And for you, what is the best part? I was trying to – I thought you’d ask
me that. So many things. I mean, the community, being part of this
community. And for me, Broadway represents something
that is just a special place and situation. It’s where I wanted to work, it’s what
I want to do. And really, for me, it’s accomplishing – you
know, it sounds really self-centered – but the most exciting thing is to accomplish a
vision I have for something I really want to do on Broadway. And when that starts to happen, it’s like,
“Oh, yes! I knew that was possible! I knew it was possible!” So for you, it’s sort of midway. (TO GILLIAN) You’re in the beginning, (TO
CHRIS) you’re at the end, (TO JOHN) you’re midway. Get the vision, get the vision done. It’s like do something that’s superlative,
do something that – you know, ‘cause to me Broadway represents beyond, you know, expectation,
beyond expectation and new frontiers in theatre. And you know, doing something like that means
something to me. But you know, the community is so – it’s
such a great thing to be part of the Broadway community. It’s so – Yes, it is. You know, we feel so lucky to be able to go
to any of these events, you know, the Broadway Cares events, and feel like we’re a member
of the Broadway community. And, you know, as Chris said, you know, to
see an audience respond to something that you believe in is incredible, that immediate
response. Long answer. What’s the best part for you in the whole
process? Well, I agree with Gillian. I like the creative process itself. I like that time more than like, say, maintaining
a show. More than maintaining or sending other companies
and – that’s a different kind of thing. But I really love the creative time with the
actors. But the community is really, really unique
and very special. It is, isn’t it? We don’t have that at home, either, do we? That’s right. No, it’s not the same, either. Not that same, wonderful family. Yeah. All I ever wanted to do was dance in a Broadway
show, when I decided that I wanted to be a dancer, which was quite late. I was eighteen years old, and I decided that
I had to dance. And all I wanted to do was dance in a Broadway
show, and then once I had done that a few times, and once I started getting older and
couldn’t maintain that, then the thought of that second career, and to be able to have
your second career in the same field with the same people as your first career, you
know, is thrilling. You know, I see those clips from MILLIE, and
there are dancers in the show that I danced with on stage, and that’s so rewarding somehow. You worked for Gillian! I did work for Gillian. At the Met. At the Met! Well, tell us about her. Was she tough? She was tough, but she was great. And you were inspiring. Was I? You really were, yeah. (PIA LAUGHS) Because it was at the Met, and
it was an opera that had a lot of dance in it. And it had a hill in the middle of the stage. A huge hill! (PIA LAUGHS) And it had the regular corps
de ballet of the Met, and then Gillian brought in four or five extra people, more Broadway
people, that she wanted also to be a part of it. And she just lit them up! (LAUGHS) Which it FAUST, did you say? FAUST. With Hal. It was FAUST, yeah. Hal Prince directed it. I didn’t know there was dancing in FAUST. (LAUGHS) Yeah, there was a lot. We did a lot. It was a great experience. The only thing I’ve never forgotten about
that was that one day, we finished rehearsal in one room at the Met, and we had twenty
minutes left. And I said to my assistant, “Look! We’ve got twenty minutes. We can dash around to that other room. I haven’t quite got this right. We could go there, we’ll get it right.” And she said, “No. No, no, they have to have fifteen minutes’
travel time.” (LAUGHS) That’s so weird! “But,” I said, “it’s just round the
corner!” And they said, “No, that’s it. That’s the union rules.” Union! And I nearly had a visual explosion on the
stage! (LAUGHTER) Now, let’s talk about the – we’ve heard
about the loneliness of the long-distance runner. How about the loneliness of the director? The show is up and your job is over. Do you feel a kind of abandonment, or your
baby has been born and is now walking away? Well, it’s not really over, because you
maintain the show, you keep in touch with it. But usually, you’re on to the next, you
know, so you already – Do you watch from the back? Do you come in at night? Oh, sure, sure. Yeah. Don’t you feel a little left out? No! ‘Cause – no, not at all. Oh! How about the rest of you? I feel the first day after opening that I
don’t see a show, I have to say, in my mind, at 8:04, I’m like, “Okay, the curtain’s
going up,” and at 8:17 I know when that number’s starting, and I track that whole
period of time through the show. And there is, for me, there’s that separation
moment. So you’re still connected. Are you connected, or do you feel that somehow,
you are now superfluous because the actors, the dancers, the people are now – it’s
theirs? I have a moment of that, I have to say. I feel very kind of lonely, and I think, “Oooh!” But that’s probably ‘cause I’m a woman. (PIA LAUGHS) “They don’t need me any more!” But then, I get back in there very quickly,
and I’ve had to maintain quite a lot of long-running shows, and so you get right back
in there. But there is a severing moment. It is true. It’s the place, especially the theatre itself. When you go in and you go into the stage manager’s
office, and something that you were just so integral to – I mean, every move. Like, “What do you think? Do you want to start now? Do you want to – ?” But suddenly, it’s
all working without you, going around you. You’re kind of standing there in the office
of the stage manager, and there are four people out, and they’re trying to sort out who’s
going to do this and who’s going to move this – Yeah. “Excuse me, can you just [get out of the
way]?” (PRETENDS TO PUSH ROB ASIDE) Yes, so true! (PIA LAUGHS) And you just kind of stand there, ‘cause
everyone’s working and doing their job, like they’re supposed to. And you’re just kind of – it is a little
sad, I do say. And also, when you come back to the show,
if you’ve been away doing another project, you come back, there are four people in the
show that you’ve never even seen before do the show. And it all changes. It’s a living thing that keeps on living
without you. And also, on Broadway shows, those theatres
quickly feel like homes. They’re so beautiful, and there’s so much
history, and you really get attached to being in that place. And ALL SHOOK UP’s in the Palace, which
has this amazing history of people who have played there. And it is a treat to go into that room every
day. And once you’re not going into that room,
you feel a kind of loss. Yes. Yeah, you do. Do you watch it from the back, or do you go
backstage and look out the side? Oh, definitely, [from the back]. I don’t [watch from backstage]. That’s like looking up someone’s dress. You can’t look – (LAUGHTER) you can’t
stand backstage! (LAUGHS) You can’t? No backstage? Oh, I didn’t know that! It’s too ugly back there, and terrifying! Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You have to watch from the front. They run over you, I suppose, getting in and
out, in and out. Yeah, there’s nowhere to be in a lot of
shows. There are terrible moments, too. I once went in to one of my shows, which shall
be nameless, and I thought, “It sounds a bit – there’s no sort of zing in the air!” So I quietly went up to the sound desk – this
is really mean! – and said, “Is anyone singing flat out?” And he went (DEMONSTRATES LOOKING AT THE MIKE
LEVELS), “No. No. No.” Knew perfectly well who was coasting in and
who wasn’t. Oh! So then you had to – That’s the only time I’ve ever done anything
– it was like a terrible shock. And I went round and had a few words. But you know, it’s hard. It is hard. So what are the worst disasters? Have you had a disaster? I don’t mean the play was a disaster, but
I mean, the actors fell down (LAUGHS) during the choreography? They leap into the orchestra pit? I’ve never had anybody serious[ly injured]. You know, dancers have injuries, I’ve had
some small injuries, nothing serious, in my [shows]. And that’s just luck, I mean, you know,
‘cause everybody gets injured in shows. Have you guys? Have you had any? Everybody’s shows have gone perfectly? Come on! No, I mean, yes, not injuries. Did the door come off its hinges or something? Well, in the Beach Boys show, we had designed
these surfboards that would rise up out of the floor. Turned out they had to be attached – we
had to put these little pistons and the surfboards would have to be attached in the middle of
the number. And second or third preview, one just wouldn’t
come off. And there’s no front curtain in our show. So he’s just pulling it and pulling it? (LAUGHS) Well, a stagehand had to come out, you know. But people love that kind of stuff in previews. In previews, I guess – Well, previews, yes, yes. Everybody’s got those stories, you know,
that something won’t move, sets crash into each other, a set falls on a – And audiences really love, honestly, when
things go wrong! (LAUGHTER) Right! Like, there was a thing two, three days ago,
where a big, big vocal moment in the show, a woman standing alone on stage with a big
song, and the mike went out, and there was no saving it. And big house, and she just decided she was
going to sing so that everybody in the house could hear her over a full orchestra. And the audience couldn’t have been happier
about it! Like, “There’s no mike! She’s really singing, and we’re really
hearing her!” (LAUGHTER) And it was by far the best that
number has ever gone, from an audience point of view, because they were seeing somebody
improvise, like have to figure out how to do it, and they were seeing no technical support,
and really just the main human impulse of performing for them, with no help. And these shows are now so technical, that
you must have things that go [wrong]. In CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG – you have these
enormous shows with cats coming up and down. Well, we’ve had the car foul up a couple
of times, once when Prince Charles was in front, which was a bit embarrassing. (LAUGHTER) But the funniest night I ever remember,
because I’m sure – I grew up in the theatre where there were men up in the [flies], pulling
strings, you know? And you’d say, (YELLS) “Charlie! Up on your short, and down on your long!” (LAUGHTER) So you know, and you’ve got the
ceiling ring (PH). But now, it’s all computerized, and one
night in PHANTOM here, in the previews, the grill – there’s a big grill that goes
up and down – the grill stuck about four inches off the floor, and Raoul, the Viscount,
is supposed to be able to crawl under that at some point. And the candles wouldn’t go down. So Michael Crawford and Sarah Brighton – she
had her skirt up like this (DEMONSTRATES, HOLDING AN IMAGINARY SKIRT TO HER KNEES AND
TAKING BIG STEPS) – she was picking her way through the candles like that. (PIA LAUGHS) He was fighting his way. They wouldn’t budge. We finished the show like that. I had friends in front. And I said, “I’m so desperately sorry. I’m so upset that that happened!” “What?” they said. I said, “Well, it all went wrong.” “Oh, no, we thought that’s how it was.” Yeah. I’m always a little upset when people think,
like, that’s what I meant? (LAUGHTER) You thought that’s what I meant?! Right! Yeah. You thought that’s what I wanted you to
see? It’s extraordinary, isn’t it? I know it. They believe a lot in it, whether it’s wrong
or not. Anything go wrong in MILLIE? When we were teching MILLIE, someone came
in to check the fire alarm and had not turned off the water curtain – ‘cause, you know,
there’s a curtain of water that’s released if the fire alarm goes off, it’s kind of
[a safety thing]. And I think in newer theatres, they have that,
rather than that big steel thing that comes down. So they hadn’t checked that, so our lighting
designer, Don Holder, was standing center stage when they tested the fire alarm, and
you know, fifteen thousand gallons of filthy water that had been stored somewhere up there
came pouring down on top of him and into the pit! Into the front of the stage – That’s the worst! Right! I remember that. I had forgotten that story. It was quite a mess. And the sound people had just put in all of
the microphones in the pit. So all the pit microphones were destroyed. And we were just lucky that the cast wasn’t
on stage, that it was far enough downstage that no scenery was affected. You could get electrocuted! And it somehow didn’t sink into our deck. So we ended up losing, you know, I think six
hours of tech time. So we went into the lobby and drilled the
dances and cleaned arms. You know, you do whatever you can do. Yeah, but that happened to us. That was something. Poor Don, Don Holder. What would you be doing if you were not a
choreographer? Oh … I don’t know, I really don’t! There was not a second choice, law? Well, I was going to be a lawyer. I mean, that was [the plan]. I was in pre-law program at University of
Virginia, when I was bitten by the theatre bug. You know, my advisor said, “To be a great
lawyer, you should either major in theatre or English, because that’s what it’s all
about.” And I chose theatre, and you know, that was
– And here you are! Yeah. I don’t think I could be a lawyer now! Yeah. Is there anything else you might have done? Well, yeah, I told you I was pre-med, and
I got my degree before I moved here. Did you have a medical degree? No. Well, pre-med degree. Pre-med degree. Well, you can do CPR on stage or something,
those twisted ankles! (LAUGHS) You can always fix – I can wrap an ankle! You can wrap an ankle! No regrets that you’re not a Dr. Carrafa? No, no. This is who I am, yeah. You started as a dancer so young, and an actress,
so you didn’t have any (LAUGHS) hope of doing anything else! Really, nothing else. Nothing else. I started, and I’ve never stopped. If I had to change at all, in another life,
I might like to be a conductor. Ah! I think that’s the most wonderful job in
the world. But of vast orchestras! (LAUGHS) Yes, right! Not really show business. Show business is tough, isn’t it? So it’s a control thing. You want to be in charge here. No, it’s because I just so love music! Ah, ah! Well, I once said to a conductor, “That’s
a wonderful job that you have, beautiful music!” And he said, “It’s horrible” – I won’t
say who said this – “because all the musicians are all unhappy! They all wanted to be soloists. They don’t like what you’re conducting. (LAUGHTER) They don’t like the music. They’ve played Beethoven’s Fifth enough. And they’re miserably unhappy.” (LAUGHS) I was so depressed! Oh! That is depressing! I think you chose the right thing! I don’t think you want to be a conductor. Yes, I did. I’ll stick where I am! (LAUGHTER) Do you guys – Chris, there – you were doing finance? I did research long ago, yeah. Although as a kid I wanted to be an archeologist. I thought that would be really fun. I loved Greek mythology, and like, figuring
out where we’ve come from and what’s buried underneath. That seemed to me a fun thing. Do you guys miss dancing? Yes, do you miss – Because I just realized I do. I do miss performing. So do I. Very much. Do you? Yeah. Oh, you do? What is the satisfaction that you don’t
– Of performing? Yes, that you don’t get – oh, they’re
applauding! Is that it? (LAUGHTER) Oh, no, it’s a completely different situation! I mean, it’s a different situation, it’s
a different kind of control. I mean, you’re, you’re, you know. Yes, but at the end of it, nobody’s screaming,
(CLAPS) “Director, director!” I’m sorry to say that, you know! Oh, they do. I feel like – Do they? When they clap at the end, I feel like they’re
applauding for everything that I’ve done. Yes, yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) For the whole thing. I do, too. I’m not saying that I don’t love directing
and choreographing and that I get incredibly satisfied from that. It’s an incredible satisfaction, like I
said before, to see something that you wished, that you imagined, that you wanted to do,
to make that happen. You know, you have a vision. You might not even be able to articulate it. It’s a feeling. It’s like, “Ah, I want to do, you know
– ” My thing is to do numbers that build, the Broadway build is my – my passion is
to do the old-fashioned, like, get to a crazy moment and have a standing ovation in the
middle of the show. (PIA LAUGHS) But if you ask me, you know,
“Is there anything that you want to do?” Yeah, you know, I miss – I really loved
performing, when I was dancing and acting. I acted a little, too. I miss the camaraderie. I miss that dressing room time before a show. I miss that, you know, at half hour on a two
show day, you know, when the guys are just hanging out in the dressing room and every
– that feeling of family. I miss that. And I’m acutely aware of it, like, during
previews of a show. They have that. When you don’t have anywhere to be any more. Your tech table’s gone. Your little world is gone! (PIA LAUGHS) Oh, that’s a terrible moment! And then you go up to the dressing room to
give notes or just say hi, and you don’t fit in there any more, there’s not really
a place for you. It’s sad! Yeah, I knew it was sad. They look at you as if you’re an alien,
a bit, don’t they, too? Yeah, and especially when you’re going in
dressing rooms that you used to be in! I mean, it’s like, “Oh, that was my spot!” You know? And you’ve given three years of your time,
or a year of your time! It’s a different thing. I miss that. That’s what I miss. Did you want to be an actor? As a kid I was an actor. Oh, you were an actor! Not a very good one, but I was an actor. (LAUGHS) And where did you study, or did you? Just college and high school and stuff. It was like many OLIVER!s, many SOUND OF MUSICs
(LAUGHTER) and all the things that you can be in as a little kid. I have a friend who’s an actress, and I
never see her, because she’s always working. Do you have time? Or are these [jobs] all-consuming? Do you have time for friendship? Your families, people that you can see? Or are you constantly – when you say “a
year” on working on something, or “three years,” do you find that you have time for
friends? Yeah. If you don’t, you’re missing something. You’re gonna die. Yeah, yeah. This year was pretty – actually, I had to
put a lot of that on hold. But you have to, you have to have a balanced
life. That’s what you draw on. But I think they narrow down, don’t they? I don’t think we’ve probably got time
for hundreds of them. They do, yes. It sort of narrows down to a nucleus of people
who understand you and your crazy life. Well, also, that you work at night! And can pick you up – you know, because
we have to pick friends up and put them down again. Yeah. Because when we’re like this (PUTS HER HANDS
TO HER FACE TO INDICATE TUNNEL VISION), getting a show on, we’re pretty friends, aren’t
we? Yes! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) We don’t actually want to answer phone calls
and things, ‘cause our minds are going. And then, it goes on, we’re all lonely and
we say, “Hello!” (LAUGHTER) And we hope to be loved again! Yeah. Very true! And so I think it’s a real friend who understands
that you really love them, but you know, you pick them up and put them because you have
to. It’s also, there’s a funny, like – you
do a production, and you become so incredibly close to those people! And that process of instantly bonding, and
then letting go of that bond, and rebonding with a new group of people, is really particular
to the theatre, I think. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Everything else is, like,
more continuous. There’s this odd kind of gypsy – “My
best friend, I spend every waking hour with you!” And then, “Maybe I’ll see you next year!” (LAUGHTER) Yeah, that’s true. Well, I’ve heard people say that the theatre
family is easier than dealing with your own real family. Sure! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It’s a substitute, and they’re easier! Everybody wants to be so powerful and positive. I try to make sure I have friends outside
the theatre community. I think it’s really good. And do you do a lot of reading, outside of
theatrical reading? I mean, you talked so much about intuition
and becoming mature. What are the methods one uses? Yeah, you try to – I’m trying to – you
know, what I try to do is have a really well-balanced life. But I’m now reading “Disney Wars,” which
is about theatre, or film. But you know, reading. You know, sure, if you have time. It’s great for your brain. You know, you also use – you know, when
you focus so hard, ‘cause what we do is, you know, you have to focus so hard, especially
if – it’s like being a teacher. If you have twenty, forty people standing
there listening to you, you have to be focused for long periods of time, you need time of
unfocused brain activity. And that’s being with friends or – Also, now, things take so long to develop,
like Chris said, three years on the show, you’re working on four or five things at
once, in development, in various stages of development. And you’re always doing that. And just when you think that everything’s
set, then a new project comes in and the beginning stages of that collaboration starts as the
end stages of one, you know, happens. It’s a constant, constant refilling, it
seems, too, which is – If you had to advise a young person who came
to you and said, “I’d like to be a director or a choreographer,” what would you advise
them to study and do? I’d go back to the first thing I said, is
the more worldly you can be, and I mean that in a positive way, the better off you are. The more you’ve traveled, the more people
you know, the more opportunities, the more languages you speak, the more movies you see,
the more books you read – everything helps you. Everything is a tool that you’ll come to
use at some point, I think. What tools would you advise a young person
to find? I’d tell ‘em to call Chris and find a
way to assist him, you know? (LAUGHTER) Or you know, I mean – Ah! Get into the business! Get in as an apprentice. Oh, there’s a compliment, Chris! Yeah, so call one of the great directors,
because that’s how – I mean, one of the really, you know, that’s how people get
into the business now. So you assist, you apprentice, you intern. How would you advise a young person who might
be interested in – I would advise to go and see, across the board,
opera and ballet and plays and films, and look at television – the few wonderful televisions
there are now, as opposed to the nasty things that have developed. (LAUGHTER) And I would say that you’ll feel
a leaning. And the more you see of those things, it’s
going to enrich you, as Rob says. But if you’re really decided that’s what
you want to do, you’ll feel a leaning to one of them, and then you go great guns for
the craft that that is. What would you advise a young person who said,
“I want to be a director”? I would say, pick things that you’re excited
to direct and direct them, anywhere. That it’s a craft that you get better and
better at, and you have to do it. And ultimately, people hire directors because
they’ve liked their work, so you have to have done work people can see, and if it’s
in a basement, do it. And get passionate about things. Don’t expect people to hire you on their
project. Figure out what it is that you love, and make
that production happen. Schooling? Is that important? And that can happen in school, or that can
happen in the world. But is it important to go to graduate school
or drama school? It depends. Is it life, or is it school? It’s funny, because I was doing a talk,
at Harvard, actually. And they were saying, “Well, what college
do you go to get a master’s degree in choreography?” Life! I mean, it’s like the College of Broadway! The College of Do It! The College of Go In There! And I’m sure there are wonderful programs
in colleges that will teach you how to do certain things, but as far as to be a choreographer
in a musical, for musicals, you need to get in there and start it. It’s passed on. Yeah, it is. It’s passed on here, from the people who
do it, from one – that’s what I sort of was joking about with Chris, it’s like one
to the next. It’s sort of passed, it’s a passed-on
tradition. And you have to bring something to the table. You have to grow up, you have to see as much
as possible and have as many experiences as you’re – Shape your taste. Yes, yeah. But I agree with Chris, go and do it anywhere. Don’t think, “I’ll wait till I can do
it at a swootzy (PH) place.” Right, right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Just go and do it, anywhere at all, ‘cause
you never know when you’ll be seen. And you are discovering new things all the
time, and you have to do it, as you say. Spielberg made home movies as a kid, you know. I mean, he just did it, you know? A lot of you have done movies, speaking of
movies. You’ve done eleven? I’ve done a lot of them. Yes. What’s the crossover there? I mean, is it a totally different experience? It’s a one-time event, so you’re not creating
something that’s going to be done eight times a week. Right. I’ll give you the basics. And the other is that you’re creating choreography
where you’re directing the eye, instead of, you know – you’re showing the audience,
“Look at the feet” with the editing. As opposed to, on stage, you have to focus
on stage to get them to look at the feet over here, you know? So those are the two primary different ways. And talk about trusting your instincts and
your intuition! I mean, to me, it feels more like, in that
instance than in any theatre, because you know, you put up the dance, and you get at
least a week of previews, or two weeks, or three weeks. You get to see it and then change it. You know, at a movie, you’re shooting that
day. Those are the people for that day. This is the set for that minute, for those
three hours. And you see the first take, and then you have
to look at it and watch it on the playback and then decide completely, like, “Okay,
change. All the women should be up on the sidewalk. All the men should not do the lift. And the car should come four counts sooner.” And then they film that, and after two or
three of those, it’s done! Now that you’re trying to keep it exactly
the same, you don’t have the ability to edit it the way you would in a show. So I think that that is really a lesson in
trusting your gut. It feels like tech all the time to me, making
a film. Like, the way that rehearsal in theatre is,
you’ve got time! You’re considering things, and you’re
sleeping on them, and you’re coming back to them. And tech is (SNAPS HIS FINGERS), time is money. And on a film set, there’s incredible time
pressure all the time. So it’s being able to do the thing fast,
focused, and under pressure, on your feet. Well, it’s about the same pace as tech,
too. Yeah. Slow, but pressured, which is a funny combination. Yeah. And three seconds, four seconds at a time,
you know? Ten seconds? That’s right. What was yours? I was lucky, because I made – and I’m
still doing it, but more as a director now – but I made a lot of big movies, where
we had – for instance, MAN OF LA MANCHA, we were all in Rome for nine months! Wow! Fantastic! Half-sixpence, half – it took nine months
to make. So I was able to – if I’m working on a
movie, I start entirely from the camera and build everything from what the camera is going
to tell. But we then – in those days, we had time
to really rehearse it properly. And you don’t now. No. You have to work so fast! So fast? Yes. So you do have to go from the point of view
of the camera, because you won’t have time to make something, and then think how it’s
going to be shot. The two have to develop hand-in-glove. Yeah. But it sounds similar that you do most of
the work before you get to the set. Oh, yeah. You often do the skeleton crew – did you
do skeleton crew on your – ? Yeah. You do skeleton crew of dancers that you think
you’ll be bringing? Yep! And storyboarding, as well. Storyboarding the actual step, so that you
can give this to all of the cameramen and the D.P. and everyone, so that they actually
know what it is you’re going for. Is there something you could learn from filmmaking
that could be applied to the theatre? Speed! Speed. Oh, thinking fast? Well, you might get a day to stage a number
and then shoot it, you know? Whereas, you know, you have a whole rehearsal
process [in the theatre]. But I learned speed on film. And changing on the spot. And focus, don’t you think, too? Focus, yeah. Very much, you learn about focus from film. Is that true for you, too? Yeah. I would say of any kind of theatre to make,
making a Broadway musical feels the most like making a film. Really? They’re both, lots of people get together,
in a lot of pressure, and make a thing! Make a thing! (LAUGHS) And a Broadway show can keep on having a life,
in a way that a film can. And a lot of plays, (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) you
know, sort of come and go. Right. But the musical lasts. Sometimes. If they go into the kind of canon, and that’s
sort of thrilling. Has that happened for you? Are you waiting for the canon? (LAUGHS) You know – (TO GILLIAN) You’ve got into the canon! She has! Yes. Yes, indeed. Well, my favorite thing of the lot is directing
television. Really? Yeah, it is, actually. I like [it] because I love the camaraderie
with your crew. I always use six cameras. They always have a fight. They say, “You can only have five.” I say, “I’ll pay for the other one myself.” “All right, you can have six,” (LAUGHTER)
they say. And it’s wonderful to bind that group of
fellows. I’m very naughty and wear sexy outfits,
so I can get the cameras where I want them. (LAUGHTER) But it’s very wonderful to work
that group of people. You know, they become like your family. And I actually like the writing of the film
script and all of that. Huh. So I say this, and people look at me aghast,
as if it’s sort of something from another age, because I’ve made quite a lot of ballets,
and also plays on television. But it’s hard to get that to happen now. Mmm-hmm. It’s more difficult to work in many mediums? I think to get offbeat things. To get unusual, to get sort of artistic things
off the ground now, it’s very difficult, I would say. I want to thank you all so much. I’ve learned a lot about directing a musical,
being an arranger (LAUGHS), a dance arranger, a choreographer. I thank you all for the wonderful lesson,
also in life! Thank you so very much. My name is Pi Lindstro, for the American Theatre
Wing. I appreciate your watching. We are coming to you from the Graduate Center
of City University. Thank you! (APPLAUSE)

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