New Play Development (Working In The Theatre #211)

(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing Seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” These are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, located in the heart of Times Square, where
Broadway and Off-Broadway all meet in order to present the very best of live, professional
theatre. The American Theatre Wing is very well known
indeed for its Tony Awards. But as important as that award is, I hasten
to add that it was not created to reward the best review, the longest run or the most exciting
performance that one can ever think that they have seen. It is indeed a reward to show that you have
achieved a degree of excellence in the craft of theatre. And it is the most prestigious award in the
theatre. In fact, I think, in creative arts. Our programs are many. Behind this Tony award stands a commitment
to the community through theatre. And that was started by a wonderful woman
named Antoinette Perry, in whose honor the award is named. And Antoinette Perry was an actress and a
producer and a director and a playwright. And she believed very strongly in training
for the theatre. She also believed in giving back what you
learned to the theatre, giving back to the community. And so what we do is really, we continue those
programs year-round. We go into high schools and we go into junior
high schools, and we bring those students to the theatre. We don’t bring them en masse, we give them
the privilege of buying a ticket to go to the theatre. They pay a very small price, but they do pay,
and they learn how it is to buy a ticket and go to the Broadway theatre. And do they come! And they’re a wonderful audience. And they’ve come to all the Broadway shows
like LES MIZ and CATS and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR. And then we arrange for them to meet with
the cast afterwards and ask questions, and so they are enlarging not only their horizons
of theatre-going, but also their minds as well. And then these seminars, which are an outgrowth
of a school that the Wing had for returning veterans, so they could come and retool their
trade and learn what it is to work in the theatre, from the standpoint of the playwright
and the director and the producer. They then took back what they were learning
and what they were working on into the hospitals, and they did shows for patients in the hospitals. This is what we continue to do today. We send live, professional theatre into hospitals,
nursing homes, and AIDS centers. And the seminars are on the playwright/director,
on the performer, on the production, on agents and guilds. And today’s program is on regional theatre,
I think perhaps the breadbasket of the American theatre. What has been done in regional theatre has
come in and fed the Broadway and the Off-Broadway theatre. And we are very pleased to be able to present
the representatives of top regional theatre from around the country and New York, here
for our seminar. I’d like to introduce one of the co-moderators
of the seminar, who is Dasha Epstein, who is a Vice President at the American Theatre
Wing. But she wears two hats. She is also a producer and has been a producer
of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Dasha Epstein can tell you what regional theatre
is all about, and how important it is. Dasha. Thank you, Isabelle. Hello. (APPLAUSE) Thank you. And first, let me thank our wonderful panel
here, who are artistic directors from some of the best regional theatres in the country,
and I thank you for being here. Let me tell you a little bit about regional
theatre. America does not have a national theatre,
but what we do have are regional theatres. More than three hundred companies exist across
our country which present performances annually to an attendance of over twenty million people. Regional theatre is as diverse artistically
as it is geographically widespread. With the spiraling cost of production today,
we no longer have the luxury of developing new plays on Broadway or on the road. So what do we do? We turn to our artistic directors and their
theatres to stimulate and discover the talents of new directors, new writers, new designers,
and new actors. Other than British imports, Broadway is mainly
supplied by shows which have incubated in your theatres. These plays then may have an extended life
that goes through our country and through Europe. More than forty years ago, Margo Jones, Nina
Vance, and our panelist, Zelda Fichandler, wanted to provide an alternative to commercialism
and to the centralization of theatre that just existed on Broadway in New York. They had wonderful dreams. They dreamt of quality, non-profit theatre,
with resident companies, which would travel to cities across the country. The Ford Foundation subsidized the beginning
of this program. Today, the National Endowment of the Arts
contributes funding. But were it not for the individual theatres
themselves and their own fundraising, in addition to the money that grants have given them,
I don’t believe any of these theatres today would exist. That’s sad. Because of the financial lure of Hollywood
and T.V., many original resident members of those companies have left, and for the most
part, what we used to call resident theatres have now become known as regional theatres. However, many have survived, and we have great
cause to celebrate. They’ve given us wonderful, Pulitzer Prize
and Tony Award winning plays, plays such as CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, ANNIE, ANGELS IN
AMERICA, and this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, THREE TALL WOMEN. They all began in regional theatres. Regional theatre has been inspirational. It has provoked, it has educated, it has moved,
and it has entertained ninety percent of people outside of New York. It has given growth to that part of theatre
which is far more than frivolous entertainment. Today, with adjustments being made due to
escalating costs, where does the line of commercial and non-commercial lie? Has the personal vision of the artistic director
been compromised by the marketplace? Are the dreams of the founders of regional
theatres still possible? An artistic director is not a little title
but a big title, just a title, but it covers much more than the name implies. With us today are a group of prestigious artistic
directors, heading regional theatres across our country, to tell us their experiences,
of their triumphs and their turmoil. Let me first introduce you to Mel Gussow,
who is my co-moderator. He is an esteemed critic who has traveled
many miles, across our country and Europe, reviewing regional productions and theatre
festivals and writing profiles on theatre personalities for the New York Times. Mel is also the author of a biography of Darryl
Zanuck and the new, highly-acclaimed book, Conversations with Pinter. He has also been the recipient of the George
J. Nathan Award for dramatic criticism. Mel, let’s put the show on the road now, and
with the participation of our honored guests, review the past, the present, and the future
of regional theatre. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Dasha. I just want to add a few remarks to what Dasha
said about regional theatre, a little bit of the background of it. As a movement, regional theatre was more accidental
than intentional. No one sat down with a map of the United States
and circled cities that would benefit from theatre, and yet now there are three hundred,
as Dasha said, theatres across the country. Almost every major city and many minor ones
have one or more regional theatres, just as they have symphony orchestras, opera companies
and art museums. The concept of regional theatre was born in
1915, with the founding of the Cleveland Playhouse. But the emergence of the movement as a national
force did not begin until 1947, with the establishment of Margo Jones’ Theatre 47 in Dallas, then
renamed Theatre 48 and so on until she died in 1955. At her theatre, Margo Jones produced works
of Tennessee Williams and William Inge, setting an early example of regional theatre as a
home for new plays. She was the first of several far-sighted directors
who helped change the course of American theatre. After her came Nina Vance and then Zelda Fichandler,
who in 1950 co-founded the Arena Stage in Washington. The Arena was the first regional theatre to
win a Tony award, and it remains one of our flagship companies. Two turning points and two other people who
made essential contributions. First, MacNeil Lowry (PH), who in the late
fifties and early sixties spearheaded the Ford Foundation’s support of the performing
arts, and in so doing, encouraged and nurtured resident companies outside of New York. Secondly, Tyrone Guthrie, who was the inspiration
behind the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, which was the first major implantation of
a theatre in an American city. What followed in the sixties and seventies
was a massive decentralization of the American theatre. New homes were found for writers and actors
and directors, as audiences discovered they did not have to come to New York to see first-rate
work. For them, New York became “out of town.” Since then, regional theatre has spread and
sometimes, because of economic necessity, it has retreated. Individual theatres and artistic directors
have, in a sense, ended their run. There has been greater competition, and in
some cases, collaboration. The movement has remained vital. In Los Angeles, Seattle, Hartford, Houston,
Atlanta, Ashland, Oregon, Tucson, Arizona, throughout Chicago. The label “regional theatre” is actually something
of a misnomer, suggesting small-minded provincialism. “Resident theatre” is closer to an accurate
description. But “regional” or “resident,” it is no secret
that this has become our national theatre, a network of companies presenting some of
the finest work at the highest professional level. Many, if not most, of our best new plays and
playwrights have come from regional theatre or institutional theatres. August Wilson and Athol Fugard from the Yale
Repertory Theatre when Lloyd Richards was the head, Beth Henley, Marsha Norman, and
Jane Martin from the Actors Theatre of Louisville, works by Sam Shepard, David Mamet and Tony
Kushner. They all owe a great debt to the regions,
as does Broadway, which has long since abandoned its role as an initiator of new work, but
looks to London and to regional theatre, places like the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, for
guidance. With shrinking Federal, state, and foundation
support, companies necessarily have to look for other sources of money. The interaction with the commercial theatre
can be mutually beneficial, but it should never be a primary motivation for a choice
of season or choice of artists. The great advantage of regional theatre is
in its independence, the ability to reflect a director’s vision and not a consensus of
a board of trustees or a survey of the audience. Ideally, in regional theatre, an audience
and the artist themselves can be stimulated on adventuresome paths. It should continue as a place to take chances. And now if I can introduce our guests, at
least the ones on my side. Isabelle has already been introduced. To my far right is Randall Arney, who is Artistic
Director of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, as well as a member of the ensemble. And next to him is Michael Price, the Executive
Director of the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, as well as the founder
and first President of the League of Historic Theatres. And next to me is Emily Mann, who is the Artistic
Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a playwright and a director,
best remembered for EXECUTION OF JUSTICE. And on my left, starting with Mac Pirkle,
he is the founder and Artistic Director of the Tennessee Rep Theatre, director of many
regional productions, from CHORUS LINE to PIRATES OF PENZANCE, which they’ve done. And next to Mac is Zelda Fichandler, whom
I spoke about just a minute ago, sort of the mother of regional theatre. Former director of Arena Stage, Zelda Fichandler
is now the Artistic Director of the Acting Company in New York, as well as the President
of the Board of the Theatre Communications Group, which I hope you’ll tell us a little
bit about later. And next to me is Lloyd Richards, Artistic
Director of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, previously Dean of the Yale School of Drama
and Artistic Director of the Yale Repertory Company. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) Can we start now, perhaps? Randy, would you start it and tell us a little
bit about your theatre and the focus of your theatre? I know we could all go on for hours and you
could all go on for hours about it. But would you each maybe tell us a little
about your theatre and what you do and your focus? Sure. The Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago
is in its eighteenth season. The company started in 1976, as a group of
actors [and] directors who actually went to the University together and came to Chicago
to start a company in the basement of a church in Highland Park, Illinois. The company has grown from its initial number
of nine to a present number of thirty, and as we enter our eighteenth season, we have
about fifteen thousand subscribers, season ticket holders, in Chicago. Three years ago we were able to raise funds
for and build a new eight million dollar home for ourselves, which hopefully will ensure
our permanence in Chicago for years to come. Michael? Well, the Goodspeed Opera House is in the
New England town of East Haddam, Connecticut, [and] is now in its thirty-first year. And we’re committed to the preservation of
the American musical, producing lesser-known works, and to the enlargement of the repertoire
by producing at least four new musicals each year. Emily? Well, the McCarter Theatre Center for the
Performing Arts is in Princeton, New Jersey. I think we’re the only Performing Arts Center
here. That is, from September to June we produce
five plays on our mainstage, works that we initiate ourselves, but we also book in things. We have a marvelous man named Bill Lockwood
who was at Lincoln Center for twenty-six years and with us for thirty years, and he brings
in a series of classical music, modern dance, and special events, which are often one-night
drama events. So we are very rarely dark, but we are not
in the old-fashioned repertory. We have plays that run for three weeks on
the mainstage. We are having our thirty-fifth anniversary
this year as a professional theatre company. We started as a place where the Princeton
men put on their Triangle Club skits twice a year. And this building was dark except for four
weeks a year, and then we were asked, as a professional company, to come in in 1970. Thank you. Mac, would you take it from there? Sure. Tennessee Rep is in Nashville, Tennessee. We are about to end our ninth year. And I think our company has right now a couple
of different focuses. One is to try to hold onto our existence in
Nashville, and provide Nashville with a theatre that indeed interacts with its community in
a meaningful way, beyond just the titles that we produce. We’re out in the country like so many cities
where audience recognize titles they’ve heard of or read about and don’t recognize ones
that are relatively new. And a lot of it depends on the trust that
you have with the company that’s producing that work. And that’s a big part of our relationship
in our own community. And the second focus that we have is our attempt
to interact with the larger theatrical industry in the country, specifically in musicals. Because of the great wealth of songwriting
talent that’s in Nashville, and a group of men and women who pay a great deal of attention
to lyric and memorable melodies, we’re hoping that in the future we can become one of those
places in the country where new writers who are coming out of the popular music field
can have an opportunity to interact with writers of theatre and create new works for the musical
theatre. Thank you. Zelda? Umm … (LAUGHTER) I think about the word
“breadbasket.” And I think about, first of all, nourishment
for the community which was mine, which was Washington, D.C. And taking off from Mel, not primarily for
this New York community, which I find myself now part of. But “breadbasket.” I was taking a Masters’ degree at George Washington
University in, I think it was called “Theatrical Literature,” or something like that. And my professor said, “Theatre exists in
ten blocks of Broadway, and that’s all. Museums, schools, art galleries are all over
the country, but theatre is in ten blocks of Broadway.” And I said, “That shouldn’t be that way.” He said, “No, it shouldn’t.” I said, “Well, let’s do something.” So we took over a little movie house, where
they were showing pornographic films, and nobody was coming, sort of down there, it’s
now across from the Martin Luther King library. And we converted it into an arena, because
Ed Mangam (PH), who was my partner, had seen Margo Jones’ theatre, because he came from
Dallas. And all of a sudden, Washington, which had
no other theatre, it was all closed on the segregation issue, had its own little 247-seat
theatre, with four tiers surrounding a sixteen by twenty foot stage, where it had a budget
of eight hundred dollars a week, and supported itself through that phase and the next phase
for ten years on box office income. That’s a little miracle you might want to
ask questions about. How much was a ticket? What was it then? A dollar ninety. We didn’t want to break the two dollar barrier,
we thought that would be bad luck. (LAUGHTER) It grew. It had a very simple mission, which it still
has forty-three years later, which is to connect the past and the present, to provide an artistic
home for artists, and to speak to its community so that its community could be reawakened
to speak back. I’m not quoting exactly. The mission was very shortly phrased and without
enormous eloquence. But it has held to today. So we speak both to contemporary work and
to work from the past. We now have a large complex of buildings,
with three theatres and a budget which has had to drop thirty percent in the past three
years, from a top of ten million, speaking of contemporary circumstances. And I’ll leave the rest to questions and responses. Lloyd? Oh. I’m sitting here thinking, “Where do you begin?” Yeah, it’s impossible. So we begin at a beginning in the middle of
something, which was a beginning [in which] I got a telephone call from a man I’d never
heard of, called George White, asking me to come to a place I’d never heard of called
Waterford, Connecticut, and direct an epic play of the Civil War that was to be done
in a theatre that had not yet been built and it would all happen in two weeks. (LAUGHTER) Now, those are the kind of things that I respond
to. And of course I went. And it was a dream there I went and it poured
rain and I looked into a mudhole, but there was a dream in that play. And the dream had to do with a concern that
George White had about the future of the theatre. Think back to 1965. How many places were there that were developing
plays at all? I think you can count them on one hand, in
this entire country. And he was concerned about the development
of the American theatre, by paying attention to the American playwright. And I said, “Hey, that’s for me.” And I’ve been there ever since. And in that time, we have done the work of
over four hundred playwrights, and whatever. Now, it was also mentioned that I was involved
with Yale, and that happened in 1979, when there was a vacancy there in the deanship
and as the artistic director. And for me, the Yale program at that point
was a bellwether program for training in this country. And as that program went, training would follow. And so, it was something that I responded
to and became very involved in training, because we must have [it]. And you talk about passing on, we must pass
on excellence, or else there won’t be excellence. And so I went there to do that, and part of
doing that, [which] was very important in the development of excellence in every area
of the theatre, is the demonstration of excellence. And so the fact that there was a professional,
regional theatre that existed as a part of that complex, and a part of my job was also
an important part of my going there. So I could also go on and carry on … I’d like to ask you, you’ve talked about Steppenwolf
being founded by a group of young people from the University. Why Chicago? Was it a western university? As I understood it, it was an eastern university
that they came out of. No, it was, in fact, Illinois State University. Chicago seemed to be a natural place to begin. Most of the founders of Steppenwolf are from
small towns in Illinois. John Malkovich is from Benton, Illinois. Terry Kinney is from Lincoln, Illinois. The group met each other in college, at Illinois
State University. The founder and artistic director, Gary Sinise,
was still in Highland Park, Illinois, where he had gone to high school, had not gone on
to college. And when the group graduated, they said, “Gary’s
living in Highland Park and has a connection to a church. Let’s see if we can use the basement.” And it moved to Highland Park. It’s very interesting, though. I think Chicago is a very important piece
of the Steppenwolf history in that it was really our ability to work in relative obscurity
(HE LAUGHS) for the first ten years of our existence that really helped us put down roots
with each other. And there was no one really coming to our
plays. We were doing them for ourselves more than
we were for anybody else. And it was really that first ten formative
years, before the twin-headed monster, Fame and Fortune, first entered our doors and began
noticing our work. But by that time, our love for the work, our
love for each other, and our love for this home that we had created with each other was
great enough that we have been able to continue to grow. How does an outsider come into Steppenwolf? We are very much in the community of Chicago. We work in any number of our plays with certain
of our own group in the shows as well as a collection of guest artists. The group has grown from nine to thirty, by
incorporating people that we feel are personally and professionally compatible with the ensemble. I went to college with most of the founders
and spent three and a half to four years in Chicago, and probably ten to twelve shows
before formally being invited into the group. Whenever we grow, it’s usually because somebody’s
been around acting, directing enough that we kind of can’t remember when they didn’t
use to be there. And it’s a very natural selection process. But that process is not written down anywhere. It really is more from the heart than from
fulfilling any specific duties. I’ve always wondered, with all the fame and
fortune that’s come to Steppenwolf, how you’ve managed to keep all the people together. You hear about one of the stars, one of the
directors, coming back and doing still another show there, in a day when you really don’t
find many repertory companies around America. You seem to have maintained at least a nucleus
of people who do come and go. How is that possible? That’s a very good question, Mel. We ask ourselves that all the time. I really think it’s what is in the hearts
of those people that started the group. There’s nothing we could do to make them come
back, [and] if we could make them come back, we wouldn’t want them to be there if they
were there because they were made to come home. And I think it’s important that the group,
as each of the individuals– I mentioned John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf– as some of these
people began to be known and to be offered work elsewhere, it was the group that really
encouraged that for them. The group, instead of being threatened by
that, very much said, “You go do what you can do. We’re going to stay strong here. We’ll be here.” And not unlike whenever you go away to college
the first time and your mother’s calling you all the time and insisting that you come and
visit her, it’s when she quits calling, it’s when she seems to be doing just fine without
you, that you want to go home and visit. The group continued to stay strong. And the other thing, I think, Mel, that I
would cite is it was very important that the group identity [of] Steppenwolf continued
to grow. I’m very proud of the fact that even though
Joan Allen, a member of our ensemble, has since won a Tony award, and John Mahoney,
a member of our group, has since won a Tony award, Steppenwolf, the ensemble, won a Tony
award before any individuals in the group did, and won a Tony award for outstanding
regional theatre excellence. I cite that as an example of the theatre and
the group identity growing and flexing its muscles, so that as the group continued to
grow and as individuals continued to grow, there was very much a home for them to come
back to. Do you feel that way about Goodspeed? Does that apply there? Do you have that kind of allegiance? We have a wonderful return of artists, year
after year. Directors, actors. Our musical staff and musical director generally
stay with us. Orchestrators stay with us. But everyone else comes and does a play and
will come back another year, or two years later, and do the same thing. So there is a great return and great continuity
of performing artists. Emily, I would like to ask you a question,
since I have great admiration for you as a writer and as a director. Thank you, Dasha. And I would like to know how you put all of
this together with your artistic vision, and can you still keep your artistic vision the
same, working with a board and working with a theatre at the McCarter Theatre? Well, I’m very blessed that way in that I
think it strengthens my work, as both a writer and a director. I went to McCarter because I thought it was
time to give back what I had been given. I grew up in the regional or national theatre
movement. I was a young writer/director at the Guthrie
Theatre. And from that moment, from my early twenties,
believed that that was the place in the national theatre movement where you could make new
work, whether it was in the classic repertoire as a new way of looking at classical work
or whether you were writing the new play. And the national theatre movement has been
very good to me. And at a certain point in time, I was asked
to really put in my time as a person to run a theatre and give back. And so, for me it was a place to be able to
create my own work, and that’s what the board asked me to do, and also make an artistic
home for my colleagues, so they could do their best work. And because I had been on the road so much,
I thought, “I want to make a theatre where I would like to come, if I were still on the
road, where I could do my best work.” And so that was a way for me to focus what
I was doing. So it’s an artist-driven theatre. We are there for artists, whether you’re a
writer, director, choreographer, composer. This is the place to come to do your best
work. One more question I had for you, Emily. In a male-oriented arena today (EMILY LAUGHS),
does a woman’s voice have as much influence? Especially with a board, probably being comprised
of mainly businessmen, do they give you as much, let’s say– Money? (LAUGHTER) –as far as fiscally handling it as you do
artistically? I wonder if that’s a sexist question, Dasha? (LAUGHTER) I’ve been reading about it a lot. I think that men have– Well, I think I can answer it, actually. Interestingly enough, the board has been extremely
supportive, not only for the writing and the directing, but I think they were hungry for
a woman’s voice. And I’m afraid to say this, it’s a very sexist
remark, perhaps, but you and I have had this talk, but not for many years. I actually think that it was a plus for them
to have a woman come in. And I don’t mean to offend any of my male
colleagues, but in a lot of ways, the job is uniquely suited to what is considered a
female sensibility. We witness from Zelda that our founders of
the movement were women. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think there’s a real reason for that. We are making homes, and we’ve done that for
millennia, and we’re doing it here for artists. I just wonder sometimes if a male-oriented
board will give a woman as much credibility in the fiscal planning of her program. I don’t really think that that’s so in the
theatre. I don’t know. You could all answer that better than I can,
but I keep going back to Antoinette Perry, who was a writer, a producer, a director. And I never heard or read any reference to
her as “woman producer, Antoinette Perry,” or a “woman director.” And maybe we’ve grown into looking at this
differently, but at that time I thought that the theatre was one place where that didn’t
quite exist, and we didn’t have to overcome that much. The fact is, today there really are many more
theatres that are run by women, which was not true when Zelda was at the Arena Stage. And they’re in producing as well. And the president of our board is a woman. Ah-ha. Zelda, how do you feel about that? What’s the reason for regional theatre? What is the reason for it? There was a tremendous need on the part of
the artist. I know there was a need that may have been
perceived or not on the part of the country. I know as a young person, when I grew up and
went to college, we came to New York to experience professional theatre. I think the past thirty-some, forty years
in American theatre history are going to go down as some of the most miraculous years,
in terms of what has happened. But the regional theatre started its major
movement out of artists who wanted to do things in a way that they weren’t being given the
opportunities to do it. Yes, they moved into Off-Broadway, and ultimately,
when that got too much, into Off-Off-Broadway. But there were still not those places where
you could go and work and form a company and do the kind of work you wanted to do. So people went out into the cities, following
Guthrie’s pattern, following Zelda’s pattern, and others, and began to create theatres. That’s one of the things that has changed. I think the regional theatre is a very different
place than it was thirty years ago. I think we have developed two generations
of people who have had the regional theatre, for whom New York has not been a mecca, who
have looked to a regional theatre, a professional theatre, in their own home, in their own environs,
where they could go and expect possibly to work. So that’s slowed down. We used to consider, when I came to New York,
that there were at least two hundred people a day who came to New York to get into the
theatre. I met them all, walking up and down (LAUGHTER),
but they were there. Now they don’t come like that. They go knock on the door of the regional
theatres and expect to do professional work. Very interestingly now, also, and I think
importantly, that urge to create a theatre– not “theatre,” to create “a theatre”– does
not exist to the same degree. But those people now go to the created theatres
and create, rather than that need to create a different space. You know what I’m looking forward to? I’m looking forward to the time of the Off-Regional
Theatre (LAUGHTER), which is that next step in regional theatres, that say, “Hey, this
is not enough. You have to find another way to do things.” Do you think it’s more conventional? That you want to go “Off”? That’s going to happen, that there will be
an Off-Regional Theatre. The new movement will be that, or I perceive
it to be. I think that’s started, actually. I do, too. You think it has started? Yes. Is it all right if I respond? I know in Washington, there are like twenty-two
theatres in a city, including the outskirts, of about three million people, which is quite
a saturation. And they’re sort of “Off-Arena Stage.” They’re either despite you, or in protest
against you, or in some form of different vocabulary than you, with a different agenda
than you, an “Off” agenda. And it’s very healthy, and it’s very wonderful
that these Off-regional theatres exist, because they allow for the particular, unique expressions
of individual sensibilities of artistic directors or writers or directors. That’s also true of Steppenwolf, in fact,
in Chicago. I would consider that an Off-regional theatre. The Goodman always dominated Chicago, but
then after that, many, many theatres sprung up in reaction to or in collaboration with
the Goodman. Well, thank God we’re still in motion, and
not just coagulating in the form it began. One thing I wanted to ask you, Lloyd, to follow
up what you were saying, what if we didn’t have regional theatre in the last thirty or
forty years? Could you imagine what the American theatre
would be like? Well, if you go back to what it was becoming
when the regional theatre began really to happen, it was why the O’Neill began, because
there was very little attention being paid to the development of playwrights. Certainly in the New York area. I don’t know what had happened to those marvelous
old producers, who used to take a writer under their wing and support them in development
and assist in their development, but they disappeared. There were writers who did not know what to
do, who could not get work done. Now, if that had prevailed, I think more of
that talent would have ended up on the West Coast, certainly. I think what did happen is because the commercial
theatre did not pay attention, it lost three generations of producers. Three generations of really the exciting,
innovative producers went to the regional theatre. It lost talent in so doing. And I think that if that regional theatre
had not happened, than that talent, because it’s going to break out somewhere, a great
deal of it would have ended up in the different media. I think that beyond just nurturing the writer,
I think that the regional theatre, more than Broadway, has given writers and artists the
right to fail. Very important. And you know, because you got a bad notice
in the newspaper, your play does not close the next day. But the theatre stands to keep your play going
and to keep working on it and to bring you back again another year to try your wings
again. And I think that that’s what the audiences
also have given us in the regional theatres, is the right to fail. They’re like fans in the stands in a ball
club. We have hits, we have runs, we have errors,
and they keep coming out to support us. And may that continue. It’s not continuing in the same arc as you
might be experiencing it, because you’re so really highly special. Because there are stories that this is the
first year since the birth of the regional theatre that audiences have dwindled. The first year, statistically that Theatre
Communications Group theatre facts research shows a dwindling of the audience and a reduction
of subscribers, of those faithful who underwrite, subscribe, whatever it is that you want to
do and will stay with you. And I think that that interplays with the
economic dilemma and feeds the economic dilemma. I mean, I don’t think it necessarily is good,
because it responds to economic pressures by withdrawing instead of by saying, “Never
you mind. This is what we think ought to happen. This is what we think will entice you to come.” So there’s a little tightening spiral that
worries me. But, Zelda, we watched with fear two years
ago when that trend began, and it reached its zenith towards the end of last year. And it’s over now, Michael? Well, I hope it’s over with. Okay. But I’m seeing something different. The subscriber who says, “I’m coming three
times a year, in the same seat on the same day on the same performance,” has decided
to wait a little longer. And the place is being taken by the single
ticket buyer, which is a little bit harder for us to find. I think that’s true. But what we’re seeing is that the age of our
audience is spiraling downward. Instead of an audience growing older, and
the average age being in excess of fifty-seven, we’re seeing our audiences are younger because
there are seats to be had on a Saturday night. Do you think that’s a national thing? It’s happening at our theatre. Exactly the same. It’s happening in Tennessee, as well. It’s very interesting. Is that happening in your theatre? Yes, actually, that’s true. The audience seems to be getting younger. And yet, the question about subscription is
a very interesting one, because we find that it seems that the subscriber is younger, but
is choosing plays one at a time, much more often than they are subscribing to five or
six. As long as there are seats available on a
Saturday night, there’s no reason to subscribe. Is it because of the cost of a subscription
that they don’t want to plunk down quite that much money at one point? Yes, part of it. Part of it is the difficulty of committing
to eight nights in a year. I think one of the reasons why audiences declined
is really the predictability of the repertory in so many theatres, and the idea of cloning
last season’s Broadway and Off-Broadway success. I mean, to look at the list and realize that
there were twenty-four DANCING AT LUGHNASAs around the country, eleven OLEANNAs and ten
MARVIN’S ROOMs, makes me think there wasn’t much imagination shown in all cases by the
theatres that picked them. Certainly, they’re all fine plays, and they
should be done. But should they be done by so many theatres? I agree with that, absolutely. And the implications of that question. I think part of that’s also if the regional
theatres didn’t do those plays, would those audiences ever see them? I mean, I think that’s part of the purpose
as well. I don’t know, you know, where all those DANCING
AT LUGHNASAs were. Arena Stage, for one. Yeah. But you know, in Nashville, Tennessee, there
are some plays produced that the audience, they’re not going to get to New York to see
them, not the general ticket buyer who is buying a single ticket on a Saturday night. There’s a certain aspect to the audience that
may come up here to see theatre, and that’s part of their diet. But generally speaking, I don’t think it is. It’s certainly true. That gives them a chance to see it, although
in many cases, people would plot their yearly trip to New York and see all three of those
plays if they were on. But it does say something, I think, negative
about the future if in fact, regional theatres more and more look to plays that have done
commercially well for one reason or another in New York, then those are the ones that
they pick for their following seasons. I think it’s a question of balance, Mel. I mean, you can do DANCING AT LUGHNASA if
you also originate three new plays. Right. And do a new look at KING LEAR. It’s just a question of balances. And there is the question of depriving an
audience of seeing an exquisite piece. I mean, Broadway and Off-Broadway is part
of the national picture and in my view, should be reconstituted as a non-profit institution,
because it basically is a non-profit. (RUEFUL LAUGHTER) Only a few shows make profit. Most shows lose money. And the exchange could be a little more both
ways, I think. That show is one that’s worth mentioning,
because it’s so beautiful. Could regional theatre exist without subsidies? No. The possibility of that, I think, was over
by the early sixties. To get back to the other side of the fence
with Brian Friel with DANCING AT LUGHNASA. I read today in the Times, I think we all
did, about Brian Friel’s play, THE FAITH HEALER, which had opened on Broadway fifteen years
ago and closed after only twenty performances. And it got a brilliant review at Long Wharf
today. And I remember seeing that the last sentence
was, “This is not going to Broadway. Run to see it at the Long Wharf.” Now, why do you think it’s not going to Broadway? Is it because it’s not so-called “commercial”? Or what is the reason for something like this? Well, in this case, I think it’s probably
the actors’ commitments. Have to go back. They were locked into that period of time
and have to get back to wherever they’re going. It’ll come to New York at some point, sure. But it’s interesting that it’s just the reverse. A show that did not work well in New York
was picked up by a regional theatre and redone, just as Steppenwolf has done. Yes, we’ve done so many plays that didn’t
[run in New York], we call ourselves “Theatre of the Second Chance.” (LAUGHTER) You know, two dozen plays, which
I can’t think of now, that didn’t work on Broadway and that either deserve a new look
at, a new perspective directorially, or another audience. And that’s all right. I think that’s logical. And that’s one of the functions [of regional
theatre]. But why is Broadway the mecca? What does Broadway provide for regional theatre? Why do we say, “Direct from Broadway” if it
goes to Chicago? “Coming to Broadway” or “On Broadway”? Isn’t that a historical thing? The arts center, the cultural capital of the
United States, the center of making stars, the history of the pinnacle? We haven’t caught up with the fact that our
national theatre– and Emily insists on calling it that and I’m proud of her for doing that–
our national theatre is a dispersal of artistic impulses. There’s still the old reference that’s in
our head. Popular songs come, you know, out of Broadway,
that have to do with theatre. I think that phrase sells, too. In Nashville, Tennessee, “Direct from Broadway”
sells. (LAUGHTER) There’s no question about it. I’m not in the midst of a sophisticated theatre
community who can’t wait till Sunday to go down to the bookstore and get their New York
Times and find out what’s going on on Broadway. It’s not part of their cultural need. And the development of what they would like
to consume culturally is something that is informed by national sources. And if a national tour comes in or something
comes in with a star from their generation and the way they reference that, if a show
comes in and is labeled “Direct from Broadway,” it has a particular kind of … Appeal. Absolutely. That is exploited by the way touring has changed
in this country in the last four or five years. And in my situation, my theatre is ninety
degrees from the theatre that brings in all the Broadway tours, and it is a very different
sensibility about why someone chooses to come to our theatre as opposed to a Broadway tour. But the examination is fairly surface oriented. It’s a lot of work on my part to get them
beyond the title and who’s in it, and to say, “What’s the actual story and what part of
the human condition is this about, and do we even care about that subject matter?” You know, they’re like, “How long is it and
do I know the person who’s starring in it?” Well, I think the important thing about THE
FAITH HEALER was the fact that it was not created with that intention, that it was created
as a regional theatre piece, for whatever that artistic reason was, to re-examine that
piece and to do it. If later on, and for anything that’s done
in the regional theatre that’s done in that way, if there are residual possibilities,
all right, fine, one can examine them. And one can do them. But the intent is what impresses me about
that last line. And the importance of that intent, that “We
did it for here, for now, for these people. Whatever else happens with it, that’s another
thing.” But it is for now, which is a great respect
for an audience and for a community and for a region, to say that “We are here. We’re here with you, and we create things
for here, now and you.” It’s like Tip O’Neill said, “All politics
is local.” And a real theatre is local and belongs to
its community. And then if it spirals out, fine. But it really does exist to communicate with
the people of its area. And that’s organic to theatre, “Gather around
and let me tell you what happened today.” Tell you a story. “Tell me a story.” Yeah. “Here’s a story about what happened today.” I always considered my audience, when I ran
the theatre at Yale, as a group of good friends that you met once a month. You know, you have it, you go out with people
once a month that are good friends, you like them, you like the conversations. You go and you have something good to eat
and you chat. And some days it’s scintillating, it’s wonderful,
the food is good, the conversation is great. And then there are other days when it isn’t. With good friends, intellectually stimulating
persons that you’ll go out with, and today it wasn’t so good. “Oh, okay, all right. That doesn’t mean we don’t go next month. Of course we go next month.” And that to me is kind of a relationship,
a potential relationship between a theatre and its audience, where there’s communication
happening between the seats and between here and there. And that’s what it’s about. Where does the community come into this? You know, you have your theatre and you’re
serving an audience in regional theatre. Well, I’ll tell you what it meant for me. When I went to the theatre in New Haven, I
went in and I took a look at the theatre, meaning the people in the theatre who were
there, and I went outside and I took a look at the street, the people who were passing
up and down the street in front of the theatre. And I said to myself, “Does that group in
there reflect this group out here? If it does, then I have a theatre of the community. If it does not, then there is something wrong
and something I must address so that the people in the seats reflect the people in the streets. And it has to do with everything I might do
in that theatre.” How often did that happen? It began to happen. Not because you wrote big articles and made
big [things], but all kinds of little things that you do, and certainly having to do with
what happened on the stage. Where people would come because, “Hey, that’s
me up there! That has something to do with me. I am here because what happens on that stage
has to do with me.” I’ll tell you, one of the happy/unhappy experiences
in my New York theatregoing one year was we had a wonderful show in New York. Which one? One of August’s plays. And it was the year that DANCING AT LUGHNASA
was on. There were some wonderful dramatic shows on. And after I had seen my show, then I went
to see DANCING AT LUGHNASA. And what was interesting was the audience
that was there, besides the Tony voters, the real audience that was there. Then there was a show that– oh, God. Mel, you can tell me what it is– that reflected
really Jewish life, and I went there. And that was a very different audience. And there were about four shows in New York
that began to attract an ethnic audience in New York. And my question to myself was, “The problem
is, how do we get the folks from LUGHNASA into my show? Are we creating a theatre that goes where
I just see myself, or can I begin to see myself in another culture? And how do I do that?” And that’s one of the problems of regional
theatre, the development of that within an audience by virtue of what you do and how
you do it. And I think that is our challenge. That is a very important question. And the thing is, you do serve. But I believe you also lead. Absolutely. And teach. And entice. And seduce. Are you talking about marketing? And provoke. And provoke. And agitate. No, all from the stage. Yes, all from the stage. Not a choice of plays and how they’re done. Yeah, it’s not a matter only of service, because
then you think of other professions. You don’t think of teaching as “service.” It does serve, but it also arouses and enlivens
and excites and evolves. And out of all this comes ownership. Yes! And I think the key to regional theatre today
and its success in its life is the ownership of that theatre by its audience. And you’re right. We can’t just follow and do plays by audience
survey. We have to lead. Oh, I hate audience surveys. I never did one. We know what theatre can give you, and what
theatre does give you. It’s how to get the audience into that theatre,
whether it’s regional or Off-Off-Broadway or anyplace else. That shouldn’t be the regional theatre’s first
thing, though, how to get the audience in. I think the main thing is to stimulate that
audience, to bring them in with whatever they’re going to do. And I was thinking, back in the years when
you were at the Arena, some of the most provocative plays being– We’re going to have to pick this up again. I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mel, but we’re
going to take one quick break and stretch. And then we’re going to go to questions from
the audience, and I know there are lots of them. And I also have some questions as well. And then we’ll come back to this. (APPLAUSE) We’re back at the American Theatre Wing seminars
on “Working in the Theatre,” coming to you from the Graduate Center of the University
of New York City. We’re talking about regional theatre. This seminar has been devoted to regional
theatre, that very important part of theatre, that feeds not only their own community, but
New York, Broadway, Off-Broadway, and around the country. And Dasha Epstein, who is Vice President of
the American Theatre Wing and a producer in her own right, and Mel Gussow, who is critic
for the New York Times, will continue the discussion. And I think you had a question that you asked. Zelda, it seems to me, looking back on the
years at the Arena, that some of the most provocative Chekhov and Brecht and Shakespeare,
for that matter, was done at the Arena, by yourself, by also by outside, innovative directors
like Pinteley (PH) and Liviu Ciulei. And I find, looking around America, with few
exceptions, that that’s no longer true. The Alley Theatre in Houston has an alliance
now with Robert Wilson, for example, but I don’t find too many of these terribly interesting
directors getting a chance to work in regional theatre. Is that true or is it not accurate? It seems to me [that it’s true]. I don’t guess I know it from any other way
but observation. And that influx of directors, as Lloyd was
saying about his entrance to the O’Neill, it was sort of accidental. Alan Schneider, the great American director
who died not too long ago, brought Liviu Ciulei to Arena, actually. I didn’t know of his work. And then I got very interested in Eastern
Europe around that time, and before that time, I was interested in Eastern European theatre,
so this whetted my appetite. I went out to see a production of Liviu’s
at the Guthrie of THREE SISTERS, because he had come to see mine, and I saw this amazing
runthrough of TARTUFFE by Lucien Pantillia (PH), who had been a comrade of Liviu’s, so
I brought him to Arena. And then Lubimov (PH) I met in Moscow, when
our company toured there, and saw his work, saw five or six of his plays. And then when I read he was in trouble in
London, I called him up and I said, “Come here, you won’t be in trouble.” So it was kind of improvisational that way. And the other thing is, I had a very long
run of forty years. You can’t run the same theatre for forty years. You have to transform it along the way, by
bringing in other influences that fit within the wide band of your taste but are not exactly
aligned with it, or that theatre becomes stale, because its life has to transform. And maybe the theatre managements now are
so much shorter, the artistic directorships last such a shorter time, that the need for
outside influence isn’t felt as strongly as I used to feel it. I always had the feeling of “How can I enlarge
the vision of the audience, emotionally, aesthetically, humanly?” And that was part of the reason for bringing
these [people in]. And it’s also just my personal taste. Emily, we were talking a little while ago
about the audience’s reaction to the project and to the performance and to the play. And I think what is so wonderful with regional
theatre is that you do get that audience participation and “take” on a show. I would like you to discuss that, if you could,
a little bit. Well, it very much ties in with what Zelda
has been talking about, about enlarging an audience and also enlarging yourself so that
you can give more to an audience. But what we do, and most of the people here,
is that we have discussions after plays with the audience. Sometimes with the artists who have created
the piece themselves and sometimes, because we’re at Princeton University and have some
very, very interesting people from other fields, if it’s a piece about American history, we
might have Arnold Rempersand (PH) on our stage or we might have Cornell West (PH) on our
stage, though now he’s gone to Harvard. We might have someone from the Religion department
or from the Woodrow Wilson School of Politics or from the English department. Whatever it is, we’ll mix it up. But I was just thinking, recently we did HELLO
AND GOODBYE, Athol Fugard’s play. He directed it, with Maria Tucci and Zjelko
Ivanek, who are great collaborators of Athol’s. It’s a play he loves, he chose to do, and
I love of his. And it split our audience. And what was wonderful is Athol loved to talk
to the audience, as did Maria and Zjelko and as did I. But one day, it started with, “That’s a depressing
play and we don’t like it and we don’t want to come to the theatre to be depressed.” So Athol, not taking it on as his problem,
said, “Well, you see, that’s very interesting, because to me, great theatre must be entertaining. And this play to me is very entertaining. And why? Because it’s an interplay between mind and
heart.” So she was very interested in this comment,
and she said, “Well, keep talking to me. How does it affect your mind? How does it affect your heart?” So there Athol spoke to this woman and to
the rest of the audience about his childhood, why he had to write this play, why this play
amuses him, where he finds the humor, and also why there is this extraordinary interplay. So that’s an amazing experience for that particular
audience to hear from the man himself, why. And by the end, there was a very different
feeling in the room. And there was an incredibly interesting and
well-informed discussion of the play. And other people who had liked the play could
answer people who didn’t: “Stop saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t like it.'” They said, “I didn’t really understand it.” Then some of them said they wanted to come
back. And then they wanted the study guide that
we give to the students. From that particular discussion, we’ve started
now taking the study guides that go to the young subscribers and to the schools, and
we’re giving them to subscribers who want to read more about the plays and about the
writers. So it’s just a way of enlarging the experience. And people went out happy, you know, really
enlivened. Yeah. And it’s a play that would not have been done
commercially. No. Because of that very same reason, and because
that possibility existed. I’ve had wonderful experiences with Athol’s
plays. For ten years, he made Yale Repertory Theatre
his home. And I guess one of his plays, there was an
editorial in the paper that I was as proud of as anything that I had ever done. It’s the reason I was in theatre, because
[of what] the editorial writer said. They were having a problem in the New Haven
[City] Council, and it was along racial lines. And in the editorial they said that the suggestion
is that the entire Council go down and see Athol Fugard’s play, and then address the
question. And it was the theatre being used in a very
wonderful way. Did the Council go see the play? I don’t know. I have no idea. Yeah. But isn’t that a wonderful suggestion? This is not a new play, but relative to relationships
with communities, we did a production of WEST SIDE STORY recently. And we costumed it, and to a certain extent
choreographed it, in today, in 1994, so that the community could engage in a discussion
about youth violence, because youth violence in Nashville is at an all-time high and has
grown fifty percent over the last ten years. And we brought in young people from all across
the community, from all different walks of life, to sit and discuss what they felt like
was going on on stage inside this play. And then there were discussions around the
community led by social service facilitators and people from the police department who
had never stepped foot in our theatre at all, because it was at least utilizing the medium
to strike a chord that was already in the community in a variety of forms. And what happened in the community emotionally
because of it was extraordinary, because it generated a discussion that was political
and it was social, yet it all centered on an artistic point, which I thought helped
us redefine ourselves in the community. Did it also help bring audiences in? Yes, it did. It’s the second largest seller we’ve had,
and a lot of it’s because of the way a broader segment of the community was involved, because
of the discussions that happened around the show itself. We’ve had that same experience with two pieces. Maybe the Broadway theatre ought to try that. (LAUGHTER) Yes. You know, in a way it’s rather wonderful to
hear, because it just proves how large the theatre can be, to entertain, to teach, to
provoke. And it brings me back to a story that Zoe
Caldwell told me last summer. And she was furious, because she had gone
to theatre here in New York, to see one of these extravaganzas. And she was told by a young man who came out,
“I’m sorry, but the audience will have to wait, because the computer is down.” And she said she could forgive an actor being
sick, the curtain not rising, but the computer down! Now, that doesn’t happen that often in regional
theatre. (LAUGHTER) And I’m happy about that. No, you can’t afford the computer. (LAUGHTER) I’m happy that that show isn’t one we could
all do. I’m afraid our computer was down a couple
of times. Do you review regional theatre differently
than you would review Broadway, Off-Broadway, or English theatre? Do you use any different kind of yardstick? Certainly not, no. I think all theatre should be equal, and all
reviews should as well. I suppose, in reviewing something way off,
in the extreme Off-Off-Broadway, I might feel that one should almost have higher standards,
because you expect a certain level of experimentation, which you wouldn’t find on Broadway. But on the whole, I would say that most critics
would hold to that, that it’s the object itself, it’s the play that’s to be reviewed, and you
can’t decide that it takes less of a review because it’s somewhere else or not. What do you expect a production to give you,
as a critic, as a reviewer? What do you expect the theatre to give you? Well, I would say I expect it to give me some
surprise, that it shouldn’t be more of the same. And that surprise can come in many different
ways, in many different places. It’s very easy to bore critics, I think, because
they’ve seen incredibly much, which is why anything innovative, you know, gets through
and should be acknowledged as such. Whether that appeals to your taste or not,
you should be aware of what is coming at you. I think that’s what is necessary, more and
more, is that surprise that comes in that we’re not getting. And I think that’s important in theatre. And I guess that’s what you’re talking about
doing, too, in regional theatre. And that’s what learning is. Learning is being surprised. A connection is made that wasn’t made before. And it’s taking a risk. And so you’re enthralled and surprised. And I go to sleep easily, too. (LAUGHTER) I’ve produced four hundred plays
and seen about a thousand, I guess. So you’d better be surprising. And that, I think, is finally [the point]. Lloyd asked the question the other day, “How
do we get audiences from one ethnic group to another, and how do we get people into
the theatre?” And I think that theatre audiences find exciting,
quality work. And I think that that has to be the bottom
line, in any event, regardless of what created the work or why you’re working at it or for
it. If it’s surprising, if it’s good quality theatre,
we find our audiences find it. And no matter how much we scream and yell
what great theatre we’ve got going, if the audience doesn’t believe it, they won’t be
there to see it. So I think the bottom line, no matter what
your mission is, is finding a way to do it in an exciting a way. How large is your theatre? We have two theatre spaces in our building. Our mainstage is 500 seats and then we have
a convertible space upstairs that can be anywhere up to two hundred seats. Michael? We have one theatre of four hundred seats
and one of two hundred seats. We’re in a theatre that can be nine hundred
to eleven hundred, and I would kill to have a two hundred seat theatre somewhere. What I had at Yale Rep, I think, was six hundred. That seems the ideal. Yeah. The Arena was eight hundred, and the Kreeger,
its companion, was five hundred, and then we had an experimental theatre, another space
that was about one fifty, one eighty. So you’re saying between six hundred and eight
hundred? Eight hundred to one-something. Mine’s a thousand. I, too, would kill for one that’s about two
hundred. Yes. You’ve got a problem there. (MAC PIRKLE LAUGHS) We’re going to questions
now. Well, not the size of the house, actually. I think it’s fun to have a big mainstage. Oh, absolutely. But you need a laboratory space. You need a place to fail, where you can create
new things. And also, you need to have a space that can
be filled, and not to have to reach out with a product in order to fill those thousand
seats that you have. This is true. And I think that that’s one of the things. We’re about to go to questions. In the meantime, you keep talking. (LAUGHTER) Randy, I think also, as exciting as it is
for an audience to see something that is new and that is a surprise, as we all said, I
think, too, it’s an attraction for an actor to come back. I remember when Albert Finney came to Steppenwolf
and did a production with you, and speaking to him in London, he turned to me and he said,
“I like that family.” And that ties in with everything that we are
saying. There is a mutual respect and a give and take,
also. Yes. What is the first question? Yes, my question is directed to the full panel. Can an unknown writer knock on the door of
your regional theatres, present a script, and will it be read? That’s a question that’s asked in general. And the thing about the regional theatres,
or theatre at all, is that it is remarkably individual. There are as many different personalities
as there are theatres, which means there are as many different tastes, and as many different
ways of functioning. So there are theatres where you can go and
mail a script in, attention will be paid, and you will get it back in two or three weeks. There are others that may take up to four
or five months. Why? I don’t know. I can’t answer that question in general. But that they take a script and read it and
get it back to you at all, the economics of reading plays is very big. It costs a theatre, every play they have read. I imagine that most regional theatres get
over two thousand plays a year. Now, when one considers the time and the payment
that’s involved, and the mailing back and forth, it is a good amount of money and time. But any theatre has to invest in its future
in that respect. So, some may have it and spend it, and others
may not. Speaking from the frontier element of our
group here today, the economics of our company really just won’t allow that. We’ve asked people to send in a synopsis and
selected dialogue samples, because you know, I can guarantee someone will hold it. (LAUGHS) Whether they’re going to read all
the way through it, I couldn’t guarantee that to anybody, just because it indeed takes so
much time. We don’t have a literary staff. We don’t have a department that does nothing
but that. We’ve tried volunteer reading groups that
just absolutely don’t work and the evaluations are not appropriate. And we’ve found that it’s a much more difficult
task than we had first imagined, anyway. However, every play submitted to the National
Playwrights’ Conference will be read, cover to cover. Yes, this question is for Mr. Richards, because
of your experiences in South Africa, as well as Miss Mann. How does your institution address the needs
of its environment through communal catharsis and still be commercially viable? Well, why don’t you wait for the answer? I wasn’t going too far. (LAUGHTER) Commercially viable is not a problem that
I have had with my institution, either at Yale or the National Playwrights’ Conference,
that’s not the point. With the National Playwrights’ Conference,
I am constantly looking for areas that are not represented generally in the theatre. Twenty years ago, that was a concern about
women playwrights. If you look back twenty years ago, the amount
of plays submitted by women to the National Playwrights’ Conference was five percent or
less. Oh, my God. Now, how do you address that? Oh, my goodness. You have to demonstrate that we are interested
in women playwrights. So what do I have to do? You don’t wait for them to come to you. I had to go out and find women playwrights
and plays by women and make certain that I even bypassed my own selection process into
what I considered to be an artistic director’s choice and make certain that we did plays
by women to demonstrate to writers that we were interested in women’s work. The same thing was true with black playwrights,
that that had to be demonstrated. So you make certain that there are plays there,
that you do select from them, that we do that. And that began to increase the [percentages]. Now, I would say, close to fifty percent of
the plays that come in to us are written by women. A good percentage of them are written by minorities. We had to do that as far as the Asian minorities
were concerned, and one of the first playwrights we happened to do it with was David Henry
Hwang. And he went out, and when we did his play,
the Asian theatre groups in New York all went up to grab him and make sure they had an Asian
playwright. But you address that as a theatre question
and as a theatre problem, and you try to do what you can to make certain that those writers
know that they are welcome. The panel touched on educating an audience
for theatre. Broadway doesn’t seem to be doing that. How would you go about educating an audience? Are you talking about educating them to come
to the theatre? Educating them to come. There seems to be a “musical mentality” now. Many plays of merit aren’t financially very
successful. Now, it’s a really very sad thing, that there
have been two generations that haven’t gotten arts education in the school system. The generation that I started with had liberal
arts education and education in the schools, as I did. I had art education, theatre education. That’s how I knew the theatre was from grammar
school, junior high school, and high school. And I think dwindling audiences are not only
induced by two people working and not enough time and high ticket prices, etc., but also
because they never touched it. And fewer people play the trumpet. Fewer people were in an amateur production
or painted a painting. And I think increasing access, going into
the schools, a touring company that I’m involved with that plays to people that have never
seen theatre before, wrapping artists around the educational process in the school system
so that there’s team teaching– I’m also involved with that– with an artist and a teacher. And it’s a lot of outreach. And more and more arts institutions are doing
it, and I’m glad about that. I want to thank the panel very much for this
wonderful afternoon. My question is in regard to the rehearsal
process. Do you feel that the quality of the performances
of the actors and of the entire project is affected because of the limited run and their
means of trying to become profitable? VARIOUS VOICES
I don’t understand the question. In other words, the amount of time allotted
for specific pieces of work is usually a short amount of time. And does that affect the quality of performance? And in trying to do so, by cutting the limited
rehearsal time, because they need to be profitable– Oh, quite the contrary, quite the contrary. First of all, we’re not cutting rehearsal
time in our theatres. Often, the rehearsal time will equal performance
time. And by having a shorter run, often we get
a better quality actor who can commit to us for that period of time. But we are not cutting rehearsal time to make
ends meet. I don’t think at any of our theatres. I think it has to do more with [an attitude]. I was at the Moscow Art Theatre and I was
talking with the artistic director of the Moscow Art Theatre. And I said to him, because this is always
a question that comes up, “How much rehearsal time do you have?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “What is your rehearsal time for a
production?” He said, “How much does it need?” And it is not a matter of you can’t fit everything
into four weeks, or you can’t fit everything into three weeks. It’s like taking a piece of art and saying,
“Everything must fit this frame.” And everything does not fit that frame. Every imagination does not fit that frame. You have to find the canvas for it. You have to find the frame that fits it. And too often, we are locked in. And this is one of the things that upset me
when the regional theatre began to develop its own process. It picked up the patterns from the commercial
theatre, and so there were limitations, like the rehearsal limitation of four weeks, rather
than a totally different thing. It’s as if you’re going to create a piece
of art. What does it take? So we don’t create a production. We create a piece of art. That’s what we want to do. So, how much time does it need? I learned from the eastern European directors
that I was speaking about that you could ask for seven weeks’ rehearsal. And if you insisted and the theatre wanted
you, they would somehow yield it up. When Liviu Ciulei did PEER GYNT at the Guthrie,
what was it? A three month rehearsal period that he managed
to carve out, and other things had to shift and change, but he worked it out. And some of us actually do find ways to add
and subtract weeks and time. I think we sometimes make the mistake of that
thing called “a workshop,” where you sort of try a little sketch out and then– Drop it. And drop it. And then no one’s available again, and so
you really do start from scratch. Maybe the writer has got a little bit further. But that, I don’t think, is what Lloyd is
talking about. I mean, that whole idea of when you all come
together to make something, how much time do you need? And I think we need more of that kind of questioning. But sometimes, we are able to construct it. More so, I think, in our theatres. I think we have time for just one more question. This is for Zelda Fichandler. Can you tell us a little about your work with
the Acting Company, and how your work at the Arena affects what you’re doing now? My work with the Acting Company– and I’m
also artistic director of the Acting Program at NYU, and those two things are related to
me– and they’re directed in my psyche to developing the future, to developing talent
for the future and audiences for the future, because I see both of those wells drying up. And my work with the young actors is not only
about voice, speech, movement, repertory, and inner technique, but also an ethics of
acting. What an actor contributes to his society,
that it is a profession of dignity and can be one of continuity and lifelong service
in the larger sense of “service.” And also, an idea that didn’t come up. I’m wedded to the notion of “company.” And it’s an old-fashioned idea, and I’m wedded
to it in an old-fashioned way, that you make a commitment for a period of time to an ensemble
with the thought that you grow together as you grow individually. I’m sorry to interrupt you, and I’m sorry
to have to bring this to an end. I don’t know when we’ve had such a fund of
wonderful information and talent and knowledge that has been on this program today. It’s been absolutely super. And I have to say that although this program
is on regional theatre and you all come from the various regions of America, it is only
in New York City that we could present this all together, that you are all here together. (APPLAUSE) This is coming from the American Theatre Wing’s
seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” and from the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York, located on 42nd Street, the heart of the theatre. Thank you very much for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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