Performance (Working In The Theatre #209)

(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, which is located right in the heart of Times
Square, right where Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway all go out to show the
very best that New York has to open. And when they open in New York and then they
go out, from the outside comes the very best of the regional theatre, and the theatres
outside come to New York and help them as well. Today’s seminar is on the Performance. And these seminars are geared to show you
what it is to work in the theatre, what it is to work in the theatre from the standpoint
of the performer, of the playwright, of the director, of the agent, and unions and guilds
as well. The American Theatre Wing is a year-round
organization. And although we are known for our Tony awards,
and justly proud of them, they are not given just for the rave review or the longest run. They were created in honor of a woman named
Antoinette Perry, who believed very strongly in training for the theatre. And so this award is given for those who have
achieved a degree of excellence in the craft of theatre. Miss Perry also believed in giving back everything
that the theatre gave to you, the magic of theatre to be brought back to those who were
studying in the theatre. And so, our programs also stress that. We give back to the theatre the magic of theatre,
through our many, many year-round programs. We have a program that goes out to hospitals,
nursing homes, and AIDS centers to bring the magic of theatre to those who can’t come to
it. We have a program called “Introduction to
Broadway,” and that’s with the Board of Education, and the Board of Education of junior high
schools as well. And we bring students into the Broadway theatres. The unique part of this program is that each
student pays a very small sum for their ticket. But that’s important, because they learn the
art and the habit of buying and committing themselves to going to the theatre. It’s a very important part of theatregoing,
and it not only enhances their education, but it also, I hope, creates the audience
of the future. We also have “Saturday Theatre for Children,”
and that goes into the schools at the very youngest age, to introduce them to live theatre
as well. And then these seminars. They’re a wonderful introduction to the theatre. And they are also geared towards giving back,
as well. The people on the Performance Seminar and
every one of our seminars, give not only to each other the craft of theatre as they discuss
what it is to work in the theatre, but to the students as well. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, and I’m going to turn
this over right now to our co-moderators, Brendan Gill, who is a member of the Board
of Directors of the American Theatre Wing. He’s an author and a critic and a longtime
member of the New Yorker magazine. And Jean Dalrymple, who is also a member of
the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing, and is a longtime example of what the
theatre should be. I think Jean has done everything in the theatre,
from writing to working to press agent to managing. And between the two of them, I think they
will bring to you really important gems that will come out of what it is to work in the
theatre. (LAUGHTER) Brendan? Thank you. All of us made such pitiful attempts to do
well in our voice test that we have partly identified ourselves already. But let me do my share of the identifying. On the far right, Victor Garber, who is playing
the Devil in DAMN YANKEES. Jean Kerr said long ago, “The devil gets the
best lines, and always does.” Victor has many of the best lines, which he
deals with joyously. Next, F. Murray Abraham, who is now playing
one of the most odious roles ever written, that of Roy Cohn in ANGELS IN AMERICA, and
also has the distinction of being a Professor of Theatre at Brooklyn College. He may be addressed in that way, as “Your
Magnificence.” (LAUGHTER) And then, Susan Egan, who is making
her Broadway debut as Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, who is a graduate of UCLA, and
has had much experience on the West Coast, of which I believe she is a native. Jean, take over. Thank you very much. I enjoy taking over, always. I love to speak after I’ve done the “One,
two, three, four, five.” (LAUGHTER) Way down there, we have a lovely
girl named Bebe Neuwirth. She’s currently playing the good part of Lola
in Broadway’s DAMN YANKEES. Known widely, however, as Dr. Lilith Sternen
Crane on “Cheers.” I suppose that’s, what do you call it? T.V. (LAUGHTER) Oh, that reminds me, I was supposed to mention
these names first, and then describe them. I apologize to the men up there, because they
need my names to put the camera on them. So this time I will mention the name first. Burke Moses. He’s currently appearing as Gaston in BEAUTY
AND THE BEAST. Then we have Michael Learned, currently Sara
Goode in THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG. That’s me. And I should have said your name first, too,
so that they’ll be sure to put the camera on you. They will put the camera on you, however. And then we have someone I saw last night
in a very amusing role, in LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR. God, what a funny show. How can you all stand it, especially you? (LAUGHTER) His name is Nathan Lane. That’s for the people over there. (LAUGHTER) He’s now in LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD
FLOOR, and boy, is he good. Thank you. Jean has already stolen the show. Everybody else, just do your best. I mean, it’s pitiful. When we were talking in the Green Room, which
is not green but sort of a nasty old shade of gray, it turned out everybody was interested
not only in acting, but in the teaching of acting. For example, Victor is going to be teaching,
I guess, this summer. And of course, we have His Magnificence, the
Professor, here right next to me. But tell me what your teaching role is. Whom are you teaching and what are you teaching? Well, I started out teaching at HB Studios,
because Uta Hagen had asked me to come down there. We’d worked together in a play, and I was
very nervous about it, because I felt like I didn’t know anything about acting, even
though I’d been doing it for a long time. And what I realized was that because I had
been doing it for so long, I did know something about it. And I was able to at least communicate what
it was like to work in the theatre as a working actor, as opposed to just someone who taught. And from there, I was asked to teach at the
Manhattan School of Music, which is to musical theatre professionals, basically teaching
acting to singers and dancers. Because in my opinion, there’s no difference,
you know. So I’m just actually teaching acting to these
[people] for three weeks in the summer. And this is my third year doing it. And what it does for me is it kind of solidifies
to myself what it is that I do. So I get a lot out of doing it. And I kind of get back to basics again. And I also, you know, once again, talk about
my experiences as an actor. And I’ve been around so long now (HE LAUGHS),
that it just feels like, you know, I have something to impart, even though most of the
time I don’t really think you can teach acting. I think you can sort of help someone to reveal
themselves, but that’s about it. Who taught you? I just copied everybody I ever saw. (LAUGHTER) I did. I just watched every actor that ever impressed
me. I just thought, “Well, what are they doing? And how did they do that?” And then I just [did it]. You know, that’s my technique. I mean, technique is an individual thing. I mean, obviously, when I say “copied,” I
mean that I saw what it was that impressed me about certain actors and I tried to understand
what that was in myself. And that’s how I learned. Very good. Did you go to school? Where did you go to school? I did not go to school. Okay. Ever, perhaps. Actually, never. (LAUGHTER) Speaking about how long he’s been in acting,
you would think he starred in the Civil War. I was up for that. (LAUGHTER) I left school when I was sixteen,
and I became a professional singer, and I never went back to school. And so basically, you know, I learned to act
by acting and by watching other actors. Now, Murray, having heard from your colleague
that he doesn’t believe it can be taught and you’re the teacher. How do you feel about that? There are several things he said that really
are all true. He’s a wonderful man. It all really is true. The thing that you can impart, if you can
share, is through simply your being with people who want to act, there’s a kind of an osmosis
thing that takes place. Because as a working actor who is teaching,
as was true of so many artists in previous times, musicians and dancers, and they make
the best teachers. What it does, if you’re a working actor who
is teaching, is remind you of how little you know. Because if you only teach, that’s fine, too. But if you only teach, you don’t really know
for sure if what you’re teaching works. I have students here from my graduate class
at Brooklyn College. As I explain to them, what I tell you in theoretical
terms doesn’t really always apply. It’s what you should be doing. The fact is, when I opened my show, I had
a little over two weeks’ rehearsal to open two shows, right? It’s not a big deal. What show? ANGELS IN AMERICA. ANGELS IN AMERICA. Thank you. (LAUGHTER) The point is, I was prepared and
I really worked hard. And after a little over two weeks, I was ready
to have an audience see me. They would prove to me what I needed to know. So when it came time to get up on the stage,
I had two shows to open in two days, and all I could think was, “I wish I were somewhere
else.” (LAUGHTER) “This is crazy, but I have to do
it and now I’m committed and maybe there’ll be, you know, some terrible earthquake and
I won’t have to do it.” In other words, it’s all the stuff everybody
goes through, whether you’ve been in the business for as long as Victor (LAUGHTER), which is
a lot, or if you’re just starting out. It always comes back to the same basic terrible
fear just before you go on, most of the time. This actually happened to me. I play Roy Cohn, and he’s really this very
high-powered, very verbal, extremely intelligent man. And he talks very quickly, otherwise it doesn’t
work. If you start a stream of these words going
and if you stumble, it ain’t gonna come. It just ain’t. So what happens is, you learn it very well,
and then you just turn it on and hope it all comes out. And all I could think of, in the middle of
this terrific speech in the last act of MILLENNIUM APPROACHES, was, I swear, in the middle of
this tremendous speech, was, “Am I wearing my shoes?” (LAUGHTER) I swear this is true. I thought, “I didn’t put them on,” because
I had a lot of changes at the end. And I couldn’t think. “Do I have my shoes on?” And I’m acting all the time. I’m saying the words, you know, and I’m making
the gestures, but I’m thinking, “I’ve got to have my shoes on.” And I started to wiggle my toes to see if
I had my shoes on. And I started thinking of a way to put the
blocking together so I could look at my feet to see if I had my shoes on. (LAUGHTER) And then I was thinking, “If I
do see that I don’t have my shoes on, I’m really going to lose my lines.” This is all while you’re acting, while you’re
being “Roy Cohn,” you know. So all this stuff is just theory, until you
get up on your feet and you do it. Like Victor says, it’s true, you can talk
all you want to about it, but there’s only one place finally to learn. That’s up there with your hair on fire. (LAUGHTER) Anybody may notice what wonderful shoes he’s
brought today. And then Susan has on some remarkable shoes
which are tied together with ship’s rigging. Yes. I don’t what ship she came through the Panama
Canal in, but it’s nice that you have a souvenir. Well, thank you. Now, Bebe, you have also taught, out in Orange
County, in California. Yes, very briefly. I was asked by a friend of mine who was with
American Ballet Theatre and came up to me in ballet class one day out in Los Angeles
and asked me if I would teach a course to her students at the Orange County High School
of Performing Arts, to the ballet dancers, teach them how to act. I immediately said, “No,” because I don’t
know how to act and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that to (LAUGHS) an impressionable preteen. But then, you know, we talked about it for
a while and decided what I would teach was “Dance Performance,” acting for dancers. What I boiled it down to was what happens
when you take dance outside of the classroom. There’s something that happens when you dance
in the classroom and you’re just working on your technique in ballet class, and then there’s
something that happens when you dance on a stage, and it’s different. I only taught for just one semester, and it
was really interesting to explore that in exercises and with these girls who had very,
very limited performance experience. And you were saying that you learned by teaching? Yes, as Victor and we were saying, it sort
of forces you to define things that you just do naturally in the course of your professional
life. You know, I perform as a dancer. I’m a professional dancer, that’s what I do. Now, I never really thought about what exactly
it was. And now I’m trying to teach other people,
I have to define what it is so that I can tell that to these girls. Did you have a young or old teacher? Who was teaching you? I actually went to the High School of the
Arts that Bebe taught at, yes, before actually you taught. Susan is my daughter, by the way. Yes, that’s right. (LAUGHTER) That’s not true! I studied at the High School of the Arts. And I went to UCLA. And initially, I was a theatre major for my
first semester. And I found that for me, studying history
and anthropology and other things were more important and actually helped my acting more
than studying in a classroom. Everybody, I think, learns differently. And for me, taking class for acting didn’t
work so well. I am learning as I go. I kind of think of what I’m doing now as my
apprenticeship. And I think I learn better by doing and by
getting up there and by watching people who I work with and trying to take everything
in, and by working with a lot of different people, witnessing everyone’s different techniques,
and finding what works for them and then trying it out myself. And so I’m sort of establishing my own technique
now. And that was an ancient tradition, surely,
that actors went on stage. The Booth family, three generations of Booths,
they were all thrust on stage for boy parts, or whatever it was, at eight or nine or ten. Buster Keaton was on stage at two. His parents threw him, wasn’t that it? One time, when they were playing in the Hayden,
some Yale undergraduate was in the audience making fun of his mother. And the father, Mr. Keaton Sr., picked up
little Buster and hurled him into the audience and broke the Yale undergraduate’s front tooth. (LAUGHTER) A dangerous baby, he was a projectile. (LAUGHTER) Nathan, you’ve taught? Or have you not taught? No, I’ve never taught. I’ve just tried to emulate Victor Garber. (LAUGHTER) It shows. I’m sort of obsessed with Canadian actors. And to find the right shoes, you know. (LAUGHTER) I think if it’s Eugene O’Neill,
it’s boots. (LAUGHTER) Or if it’s Terrence McNally, it’s
pumps. (LAUGHTER) Really, I’ve guided my whole career
based on shoes. (LAUGHTER) And Victor Garber. And if I could ever wear Victor Garber’s shoes
… What about barefoot? That’ll come. Well, yeah, barefoot. Eventually, I hope. No, I’ve never taught. I guess we’re talking about how we got started. And I was supposed to go to college. I went for about an hour and a half. I went the day of registration, and then through
a series of circumstances, decided not to go at the last minute, and left, and sort
of went into acting. And I didn’t really study. I sort of have to reiterate what Murray and
Victor were saying, that I think it is something you learn on the job, and the only way to
really learn how to act is to do it on a stage on front of a group of people. I have taken some classes. At some point, somebody said to me, “Well,
you know, you should study. You should, do something, you know, get some
sort of foundation.” And I took kind of a crash summer course at
the Stella Adler studio. I didn’t study with Stella Adler. That was real smart. (LAUGHTER) I was working with her cousin or
something. (LAUGHTER) And I was very young, and it was
a little too abstract for me. And you know, there were classes, she would
say, “Go to the window and tell me what you see, you know, describe.” And people would go, “Oh, I see a homeless
person and I see, you know, the poverty in the world. I see dark clouds and I see, you know, the
tragedy of life.” She said, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see four hundred dollars going
down the drain.” (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Well, I think we ought to get back to working
in the theatre. However, anything is valuable any time you
can get up in front of a group of people and work. Anywhere, in a class, and hopefully, eventually
in a professional situation. And then I did, actually, study with a woman. Her name is Joan Bellomo . She had an acting
class, and I studied for about two years with her. And I think she had taught at the Neighborhood
Playhouse. And essentially, what happened was, I was
a struggling New York actor, and for me, what really helped me was I got into standup comedy. I had been acting in New York for a while,
and wasn’t able to make a living. And someone said, “Well, you’re funny. You know, why don’t you try doing that?” And it was a very freeing experience for me
because eventually I put an act together with another actor who was also out of work and
I became, you know, a writer. Suddenly I had to write my own material, and
my own producer and my own director. And I learned a great deal. Certainly, you learn very quickly what works
or doesn’t work in front of an audience. Especially in a night club or opening for
a rock act, you find out very fast if you’re funny or not. And that sort of led me to going to L.A. for
a while. And then eventually I got back to New York
and the theatre, which is what I really started out to do. But it was a very freeing experience as an
actor, because you’re so dependent on being cast in a play, on someone else hiring you. And suddenly having my own product and being
my own sort of producer and director and writer was a very liberating thing for me and changed
my sort of feelings about the business. And I could sort of control it to a certain
degree, because I always had this product I could take out and do anywhere. And also, I hopefully honed some skills in
the process. Well said. What about you? Did you go to school for acting or did you
pick it up? I went to school in England actually, to a
vocational school in England. So it was very structured. It was primarily a ballet school, but we had
dance classes every day, different kinds. And I was a special drama student because
I was a terrible dancer. (LAUGHTER) And they said, “We think maybe
you ought to try drama here.” But it was fabulous, because I was eleven
years old, and we were studying Shakespeare voice production and intercostal diaphragmatic
breathing, mime, scenes, at eleven, so that your whole physical body was actually being
formed, to the point where by the time you’re ready to work, you’re forgetting about all
the technique. It’s just there, it’s part of you. It was really wonderful. So I’m very grateful to have had that. But I think I learned an awful lot when I
went from theatre to television, which was interesting for me, too, because I had been
in regional theatre for a long time, and that was fabulous. But television is
lot of things, but what I learned from it was to be simple, and the old “talk and listen”
stuff, which was very helpful to me. I mean, the technique is wonderful to have
to fall back on when nothing else is working for you on stage. But to actually just be present and to take
the risks of being different every night was something I really learned in the immediacy
of doing film and television. And that helped me on stage. What you just said about having something
to fall back on is very interesting. With as many years’ experience as we have,
it still is necessary. Yeah. There are places where you just say, “I’m
lost!” Yeah. And then you fake it as best you can (LAUGHS). You fake it. And you hope you can fake it well enough to
fool people. People don’t believe that, you know, when
you say it. They won’t believe it, but it’s true. Yeah. But what is that? What do you “fall back” on, your experience
or what you have been taught? Well, I tried something once. I had to do a television show that was horrible,
I just hated it. Not the show, but I mean … this was a “Movie
of the Week,” so I just don’t want you to think I’m talking about another show (LAUGHTER),
that we all love. (LAUGHTER). But anyway, I had to do it because I needed
to, I don’t know, feed my kids or something. (LAUGHTER) But anyway, it was awful. And there was this scene that was sort of
a rip-off of that movie with Glenn Close where she cried in the shower. And I had to cry in the shower. And I’ve always had a hard time crying on
stage. I cry in real life at the drop of a hat, but
on stage I have a hard time. So I thought, “Well, I’m just not going to
dredge up all that stuff for this scene, it’s crap. And so what I’m going to do is just fake it
and see if I can.” Because I was in the shower, I knew I’d have
water on my face. (LAUGHTER) And so it was totally fake, phony, I faked
the whole thing. And it was wonderful. (LAUGHTER) I mean, I wasn’t wonderful, but
the scene worked is what I’m trying to say. And it was absolutely acting, is what it was. And for what it’s worth, there it is (LAUGHS). But be sure you have a shower. (LAUGHTER) A cap is good. Now, Burke, like Moses of history, you’ve
been allowed to enter the Promised Land, here you are. Yes, we’re a hit Broadway show, we couldn’t
be happier. Where have you begun? I actually did go to a school. I went to Carnegie-Mellon University. And I had three turbulent years there where
I was sort of in school and out of school. I’d stop to work and I’d go back. And school for me was sort of a mixed blessing. There were some teachers. It was like a smorgasbord here. You’re picking up a little here, a little
there, whatever you can use. You know, they’re talking about technique,
and some teachers would teach you to have a technique when you’re picking up a glass
to put it over this and then you’re going to flick your ash in the ashtray and you’re
going to do this because of this. And eventually, you get so bogged down in
trying to incorporate this teacher’s technique that you just lose all sense of the scene. And so you do, you just learn to let go. Whether you’re doing a serious drama, whether
you’re doing a very broad musical like we’re doing, all of a sudden you realize the scene
doesn’t work. And that is when you go back and deal with
the questions. “Okay, who are you? What are you doing? What is your action here? What are you trying to accomplish?” Why are we all in this script? (LAUGHTER) Exactly. And it’s when you get in trouble, you go back
to that. But like everyone else here, most of what
I learned was from the stage and watching people who were better than me at the time. And sitting backstage and you know, “Nathan
Lane’s doing this, Faith Prince is doing that and I think I’ll steal that.” And all of a sudden, moments of theirs flick
up in your work. And in the next shows you do, you sort of
just pick up what you need in order to survive. That’s great. How do you know, though, where to put this,
that you’d steal a little Nathan, and I assume Victor as well, as long as you’re stealing. (LAUGHTER) How are you able to do that? It’s not even that. You look and see what you’re doing. I remember, working on GUYS AND DOLLS with
Nathan and Faith, because I was a replacement, and I was not part of the rehearsal process. So I didn’t really know what they were doing
all the time, especially when I was offstage. And I’d sit in the wings. And I remember Faith had a relationship with
the audience that was just like this (CROSSES HIS FINGERS), that the rest of us sort of
didn’t have, because we weren’t allowed. She actually had the only soliloquy, she had
“Adelaide’s Lament” in the show. And I used to look at her and watch her and
say, “Why is she pulling them in?” And I realized, she’d give the audience a
look and she’d kind of (DEMONSTRATES) like that, as though, “We’re all best friends,
aren’t we?” As though, you know, we’re sitting there,
and individually having a moment with each member of the audience. And I thought, “Isn’t that interesting? Now, that’s very interesting. She’s able to do that because she has a soliloquy,
and I don’t think Nathan Detroit could do something like that with the audience, not
quite as well. And to see her do that, and then to see Nathan
play, you know … Very often, I would turn to the audience and
I would say, “I love you, babe.” (LAUGHTER) “Work with me.” (LAUGHTER) But it’s true, what Murray was saying about
experience, that the audience is aware of the confidence of a performer, if he has gained
that experience, and then he is a presence who is not going to be shaken by any accident
that may take place. And that makes them so at ease. Oh, then the audience feels confidence in
the actors’ confidence. And then this bond is established between
the audience. And the old-time performers, the old Al Jolson
kind of people, who would milk the audience, who would manipulate them, but they would
come out on stage, and instantly the energy level would alter, because of that. And this is something which is acquired, I
assume, only by time. It is. You can manipulate it, but some people have
it to begin with. And I’d like to mention something about this
idea of “stealing things.” It’s not, all the time, a conscious stealing,
by the way. You can find yourself in the middle of a line
reading that you picked up and digested some time ago, and you realize that it’s not yours. It’s really the damnedest feeling. You’ll be so proud of this particular thing
that you’ve accomplished, and then you’ll maybe see an old, old movie and you’ll hear
exactly the line reading and you’ll go, “Oh, God! I stole that!” (LAUGHTER) “I hope nobody notices.” That happens with playwrights very often. (LAUGHTER) Do you have that communication
with the audience, Bebe, and Victor? Say yes. (LAUGHTER) Yes. (LAUGHTER) I guess I’m not as technical as
a lot of what these other people are saying. I am not as conscious of it in that way. I don’t go out to “get them,” you know. It’s just something else that happens. And I don’t know that I could say what it
is. I know that I have a great time on stage with
Victor Garber. Thanks. Thanks for saying that publicly. (SHE LAUGHS) I don’t know. You know, when– Can you feel an audience’s reaction to you? Yes, yes. Can you work with that? In an audience that is cold, and you feel
that you’re not getting through to them, you know what to do? Do you do something? Yes, I suppose so, but I don’t know that I
could explain what it is or how it is. I know that there are things to remember not
to do. For instance, if an audience is cold and not
laughing, don’t talk louder. Don’t try to, you know, ram the jokes down
their throats. Just, you know, be easy and gentle and hopefully
they’ll come to you. Sometimes they’re just not going to. Sometimes they don’t like the piece, and there’s
nothing you can really do about that except just keep your integrity as much as you can
and just do the piece as well as you can and as much as you love it. I don’t really know quite how to say what
it is, because I’m not well versed in the technique. What do you want to add? Well, I think, you know– Oh, can I say one thing? I’m sorry. It’s that when I’m in trouble on the stage,
I try to, as my acting teacher taught, really just plug into the other person and what’s
happening there. That’s right. The Meisner technique is what I studied, and
that has to do with just listening, responding, and working off of the other person, and paying
attention to the relationship and the circumstances. I think that’s really the most crucial part
about any performance. I think the one thing we’re forgetting to
mention is that it depends on the part you’re playing. You know, like you were saying, with Faith,
I mean, she’s talking to the audience. My character in DAMN YANKEES, right off the
bat, comes out and talks to the audience, communicates to the audience. There’s an immediate rapport. Or hopefully, immediate, not always, believe
me. If you were there last Wednesday, you know. (LAUGHTER) But the point is, if it’s not based in some
sort of truth within you, it’s bogus. And it’s not going to happen. It has to be somehow connected to who you
are and what you’re trying to do as a character. You come out and wink at the audience or try
to get their approval, it’s the most nauseating kind of performance. Right. It just makes me cringe when I see actors
doing that, and it’s not a good idea. From my perspective, you know. But it has to be– It’s part of the character. Absolutely. It depends on the character. But Faith Prince is a magical performer. That’s right. She can just walk on the stage even without
doing the soliloquy and the audience will, “Aahh! Who’s that?” But that’s why, because it’s based in truth. Yes. Because there’s a connection to her guts. See, but that comes from a long, long time
of training and experience. I happen to see an old seminar that Faith
was on when she first started here. And she talked about doing an audition into
the musical school in Ohio. And she had a cold or laryngitis, so they
did a tape. And so from that, that’s years and years ago,
or not really so many years ago, but enough for her to have gone from Ohio to New York. I think she did THE FANTASTICKS and then she
did one of the other shows downtown, Off-Off-Broadway, finally to Broadway. And from all of those tours that she did in
the theatre, in New York, came, being able when she had the right part to be able to
communicate with the audience. But it was a long process, and it’s what you’ve
all been talking about, that you get more from the experience of acting and working
than you do– I’m sorry, Professor– in the schoolroom. But you know, Lily Tomlin told this story
about she had met this woman who worked at a Disney World type place, where they had
some sort of a “Future World” type show that they did, where these sort of robots came,
animatronic-type things. You know, where Lincoln comes out and talks
to you. And these things came out every night, and
obviously, it was the same performance every single night. And she said the audience, each time they
saw these robots, responded in a totally different way. They laughed in different places. But this was sort of proof that, you know,
sometimes, it just [doesn’t matter]. The audience does affect the energy in the
theatre and does have an effect on your performance. But you know, as Bebe was saying, it’s really
important. For various reasons, for your ego, you want
them to love you. You know, I’m a desperately neurotic person. I come out and immediately [if] I am not getting
unconditional love, I start to, you know … no matter how long I’ve been doing this, I still
feel, you know, “I’m too old and tired, I don’t know if I can get through this unless
they love me.” (LAUGHTER) And sometimes it’s not about you at all, you
know. You can’t let that get in the way, and you
have to get back to what’s [important]. The more you concentrate on what you’re doing
and what the other person is giving you in the scene, the better it is. And the rest will take care of itself. And sometimes an audience will sit there and
not make a sound, even in a comedy like LAUGHTER, and then at the end of the play– They laugh. –they go crazy. And you realize, “Oh, in their own way, they
were enjoying this.” It doesn’t always make it as much fun, but
it’s about concentrating on your work, and not allowing the audience to make you– You have to be in control, also, and I think
the more time you’re on stage, the more experience you get, as you were saying, the more you
can do that. And it comes to a point where eventually you
can literally command the stage. And that’s what– Yeah, but it’s not simply a question of going
up and doing a number, like, for years. That’s not enough. There has to be a classroom of some kind. I think it’s lamentable that older performers,
people of many years’ experience, have no masters to go to to learn certain things from. The idea of throwing someone out on stage,
is saying, “Throw them in the water, let them swim.” There are other ways. And you can cut through a whole bunch of wasted
time with a year in class. Not everybody needs it, though. There are certain things that are invaluable
that you can learn only from other people who have been in the theatre. And I wish more masters would be willing to
share their experience with me. I would love to work with someone, and there’s
no one I trust, except for Uta Hagen. That’s where I think regional theatre comes
in. I mean, I think we bring over all these English
actors, and they’re very skilled and good because they work all the time. But they also work with each other. And they work in the theatre and they work
in film and they work in television. Yes. And they work for no money in regional theatre. You know, I’m back in front of an audience
for nine months now, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a play that long. I’ve been in regional theatre, where we did
many plays. But to do the same role for nine months is
a very interesting experience. And you’re absolutely right, each audience,
it’s like another character in the play. Each audience has its own character. In SISTERS ROSENSWEIG, have you changed your
acting to the audiences, through the nine months you’re talking about? I don’t think so. I hopefully have improved. I mean, audiences teach me so much. What about working with the others? But the danger is to cater to an audience. The minute I try to cater to an audience,
I’m gone. What do you mean, by “catering”? By wanting them to love me. I’m not playing a sympathetic character to
begin with, but if I want them to love me, they’re going to hate me. It’s just a simple rule. And if I try to just stay in the play, and
I’m working with Tony Roberts now, who’s wonderful, because every night something new happens. And the audience does affect the play, but
we’re not catering to them. Or we try not to. It’s an easy trap to fall into. The other thing I try to watch is when I start
thinking I’m good. (LAUGHTER) That’s right. It’s such a trap. You know, when you think, “Boy, I’m really
on tonight.” (LAUGHTER) Whoo! And there’s a smugness that you can pick up. I mean, I’ve seen it when I’ve been in the
audience. And it’s a sort of smugness that comes across
and the audience gets it right away. Right. So you have to find that kind of balance where
you’re out there and you’re vulnerable, and yet you’re also confident enough so that if
you fall down, the audience isn’t going to have panic that you’re not going to be able
to get up again. And that’s happened to me, actually. (LAUGHTER) Making a fabulous entrance with
a parasol and a skirt and falling flat on my face, and not being able to get up because
I kept walking up my dress. (LAUGHTER) It was a nightmare. And the audience had a heart attack, because
I was young then, and I didn’t know how to handle it and make them feel comfortable. It was awful. But anyway, you just survive those things. What did you do, wave to them? There were all these wonderful gorgeous men
standing around in tights who were just looking. And I finally said, “Would somebody please
help me get up?” This was Shakespeare, by the way. (LAUGHTER) And they graciously did help me
get up. And then we went on with the show. Nathan, you spoke of writing your own material
as a standup comedian. I was wondering, do you continue writing? Are you interested in writing? Are you interested in being a playwright,
as well as an actor? I have to say no. No, I haven’t. I should, I wish I could, but I haven’t really
pursued it. You get no unconditional love as a writer,
you know that. No, it’s a lonely, lonely business. And certainly I have a lot of friends who
are writers. Terrence McNally, you know, is a great friend. And yeah, I have tremendous respect for what
it is that they do. And I don’t feel I have that discipline, at
least at this point in my life, to sit down and write. When I did, it was at a time when I had no
choice, I had to. And I find that I sort of need a deadline
or something. If I have to speak somewhere or do something,
I can force myself to sit down and do it. But no, I haven’t. Are there any other writers in the group here? I have a script that’s in my closet, when
you speak of a lonely profession. It sits there, waiting. I want to ask, you’re both working as cartoon
characters, in a sense. That’s an entirely different kind of acting
that takes place. How do you get through your personality? How do you get through acting with the costumes
that you’re wearing in the show, in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? Well, it’s interesting. In one interview, somebody asked me, “How
did you prepare for this differently, since you’re basing your characterization on a cartoon?” As if I’m going home every night and watching
my video and going, “Okay, she winks here.” (LAUGHTER) I’m not. I didn’t approach it any differently at all. And I think what Victor said is the truth. You know, you can’t always play reality, because
there aren’t beasts locking girls up. Well … (LAUGHTER) Well, there are. Good analogy, yes. But I mean in the literal sense of what we’re
doing, there aren’t teapots walking around. But what if there were? And that’s perfectly normal to you. Right. English teapots? Right, English teapots and candelabras and
things. But you have to play truth, even in that situation. Especially in that situation. And you can’t cater to the audience. I think there are a lot of traps to fall into,
in our show in particular. I think we fell into them all, at one point
or another, and sort of worked our way out of them. And you work your way out, yeah. But you can’t wink to the audience, it doesn’t
work. Exactly. My problem was I was dealing with such a self-absorbed
character that the trap there was to act in a bubble, where you’re just out there acting,
not really caring what your partner’s doing. And you have to keep on and constantly remember,
“Wait, you’re wanting to get a reaction out of this person.” And so, you know, get that reaction, have
that beat, so you’re back and forth listening. It’s a little different for us, because she
really plays the eyes of the play. She’s on the straight. Yeah, she’s definitely the straight woman
in it. And for me, approaching this role, there were
things that I wanted to do as far as movement, because Disney characters and cartoons move
a little differently than, say, that we do. There’s just a more dynamic movement that
I wanted to play around with. What kind of direction were you given? “Act good.” (LAUGHTER) That’s it. “Soar,” you know? “Don’t mess up.” (LAUGHTER) The director Rob Roth and I had
dinner beforehand. We were pretty much right on the same thing. He basically said, “Well, just go for it,
pal.” (LAUGHTER) And so we did. And we just saw how far we could take this
thing and made some rather bold choices and let the cards fly. But the most difficult thing, or the thing
that I had to constantly shift my focus to was the idea of getting a reaction. Because every time our scenes wouldn’t work,
and we had one particular scene that gave us a lot of trouble, it was because we were
not interacting. It had nothing to do with, “Oh, this stuff
is wrong, or this stuff. Why isn’t this joke working?” It had to do with what my intention was, and
we’d shift that around. What does your audience consist of? Well, we have two different audiences. It’s like two different shows, completely. We have the matinees, which is a real circus,
sometimes. (LAUGHTER) And then we have our evening audiences. What’s the difference between the two? There’s chatter going on all through the matinees. But it’s not that they’re not into it, it’s
because they’re saying, “Oh, Mom, this song wasn’t in the movie,” (LAUGHTER) and you know,
“Who could ever learn to love a beast?” and I’m revealed with a book, and forty kids are
going, “Belle! It’s Belle!” (LAUGHTER) At least they’re all part of the
show, and they’re all staying awake and they’re loving it. But in the evenings, you know, there’s definitely
a sense of humor going on on stage that’s for adults, as well. Especially the stuff, I think, between us. One day on stage, I’m going out, I’m doing
this Gaston song of mine. And I go up on this table and I sing, “I’m
roughly the size of a barge.” This is during a matinee. And all I hear from the audience, I go, “A
barge,” and I hear from the matinee, “A barge!” (LAUGHTER) Some kid just stood up in the middle
of the audience and just wanted to sing along. (LAUGHTER) Well, what a tribute to you! “I’ve got the talent!” Yeah, but in the evening performances, they
tie in, I think, to the love relationship between Belle and the Beast, and they definitely
tie into the more adult humor that we play. The matinees, every time I’m at the foot of
the stage, there’s always somebody in the front row who tries to get my attention. (LAUGHTER) “Belle! BELLE!” (LAUGHTER) But it breaks the monotony, because
it’s two different shows. That’s a pretty tough thing. Tell me about the audience in the other shows. What about you? What’s the difference in audiences? The great thing is when kids come to see DAMN
YANKEES. And I encourage you to bring your kids to
see DAMN YANKEES, because it’s a show you can bring your kids to. And sometimes, we were talking about it the
other day, there’s a little laugh, just a little kid’s laugh that is just so charming. And I love it. I mean, as you were talking about earlier,
the most important thing is that people come to the theatre. You know, however they come is however they
come. But to see little kids and teenagers who have
no idea what DAMN YANKEES is, you know, backstage, waiting for autographs at the stage door,
it’s thrilling. They’re hooked, when they do that. And that’s important. And that’s all I’m there for. That’s all I’m there for. Sure. That’s wonderful. What about, Murray, the fact that you are
playing this absolutely loathsome character? Can you feel in the audience the sense that
their attitude– this is a historic figure. This is a person that people already have
an opinion about. Oh, the thing that you’re talking about, the
reaction, the responses from the audience that are really that vivid are true of Roy
because they hiss him. They actually hiss the villain. Some of the things I say are so odious, and
they go, “Ohh!” They go, “Ssss.” (LAUGHTER) And then so it’s a success. But I would like to add one thing about this
idea about when you’re on stage and you get lost, working with your partner. This does not always work, because sometimes
the partner’s no good. Or sometimes the partner is not looking at
you or doesn’t care about you. As you said, has a bubble, or deliberately
avoids looking at you and makes you uncomfortable. I think that the key, really, is here. This is where the work is and will always
be. It’s got to be your responsibility. What do you in that situation, with a partner
not giving you anything? It’s technique. You’ve got to make that person be what you
want them to be. You act. You’ve got to act. You pretend like it. It really is that simple. It’s very difficult when you’re in a very
important, serious scene. Or in comedy. One thing more. We talk about all this experience we have
and how we’ve learned and so on. It’s also true, especially with comedy, that
you can have a laugh, there’s a great laugh, and you can have it for four months. And baby, when it goes, you never find it
again. So all these professionals, all this technique,
it’s gone. It’s ephemeral. I was part of that in a Terrence McNally play
called THE RITZ, and we had a laugh that went on for about ten seconds, I promise you. Jack Weston used to just count, “Eight, nine
…” under his breath. And one day, we lost it and we never found
it again. So there’s another element that we can’t discuss
because we don’t understand it. But there must be something that happened. There must be some part of it you missed. He must have stopped counting. (LAUGHTER) Once you stop counting … You know, when somebody tells you about a
moment, it’s the same kind of thing, I think. If somebody comes up and says, “That moment,
when you burst into tears that way and the tears come halfway down,” never again will
that ever happen. I don’t know why that is, but it’s probably
the same thing as the laugh. You become conscious of something, or you
try to control it, or I don’t know what. There is danger in art. But the director and the author both blame
the actors when that laugh goes. They must think you’re doing it. Immediately. But besides, they’re off somewhere else. They’re off in the South Seas, they’re writing
another play. They don’t care. What do you bring to bear in that terrible
anger that you have to have? For Roy Cohn? Yes. I relish it. I really enjoy it. But you’re not an angry man. No. I’ve discovered that that’s the way to play
it. Because he knows as a character, as a man,
so well what he inspires in other people, that the more he makes them angry, the more
excited and happy he gets. He says things about Ethel Rosenberg that
make my liver curl, but it works. The nastier I get, the more the audience seems
to love me. I can’t understand it. It’s funny, isn’t it. Because they know he’s going to die, maybe? (LAUGHTER) Or, I don’t know, do they love
a bad man? What do you think? Well, I think they take relish in seeing him
physically embodied by you on stage like that, and that they can exorcise, as well as exercise,
an emotion. Otherwise, you’re not available to them. How are you going to hate Roy Cohn, who’s
dead, you know? This way we can. Umm-hmm. Mephistopheles. And you might get slugged in the street some
day. No, they’re afraid of me. (LAUGHTER) Like Victor. I’m afraid of you now! (LAUGHTER) Scared! It really is such a powerful performance. And how do you manage it, matinee and evening? Acting! All right. No, really, it’s my work. I really mean it. I’ve done bigger parts. You do it. You get up there and you do it. It’s the use of the voice. Are you lost in it? Obviously, I was surprised. I would have thought that you would be so
lost in the part that nothing else would be going on around you, but the fact that you
worried about your shoes shows that there was another part that was clicking in the
back. And that’s interesting. I tell you, it’s the darnedest thing. That’s early on. Now it’s something else– Socks. Socks, now. (LAUGHTER) Nathan, what about the actual use of the voice? You have to shout a lot in your play. Now, is that wearing out your voice? Sometimes. It’s very tiring. I play a character named Max Prince, who was
inspired by Sid Caesar. And at the time, in the play, he’s an alcoholic
and he takes tranquilizers, and he’s a pretty volatile man. This is a comedy? And this is a comedy. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. And Nathan comes charging in, roaring and
ranting. Yeah. It’s a difficult thing, because he’s rarely
in a quiet, contemplative mood. It’s always he’s in some sort of rage about
he’s fighting the network and he’s a very sort of tortured soul. And it was interesting when we started the
play, finding the right balance of anger, because he was written very angry and he was
kind of frightening. And finding the right level, and also, you
can’t start out there, because you have two and a half hours to go. So, you know, you start to find different
ways of doing that, so you don’t hurt yourself. I mean, certainly, I always feel that the
great thing about a long run is you are able to explore that and try every[thing]. I’ve played this part every way I can think
of, and hopefully I’ll find more ways. That high pitch of excitement that runs through
the show, is that hard to maintain? Is that built around you? Or all of the characters? Well, essentially, not since TARTUFFE has
there been like a setup for [a character]. They talk for thirty minutes about all of
my problems and what’s going on, and then I have to come on and sort of live up to this. And it’s not really until I come on that we
find out what the play is about, is this man feels that the network is undermining his
show. And it’s sort of his battle. He’s waiting for (UNINTEL PHRASE) after his
show’s out. Now what do you do? Right, yeah. It’s a fantastic setup. And it’s a very, very funny play. But also, at the end of the play, I always
feel that if the play is really working, we can sort of turn on that dime and that they’re
moved by this sort of [thing]. It’s amazing, I would think that you were
so drained, but yet you were kind enough to come talk to the students, the night that
we brought them in for “Introduction to Broadway.” Well, you know what it’s about? I did a play with George C. Scott last year,
a revival of a play called ON BORROWED TIME. And I hadn’t seen him in a long time. And he came into the room and we were there
to do an interview and we were talking. And he looked at me and he said, “Do you still
love it? Do you still love acting?” I made my Broadway debut with him, and he
said, “That’s what I remember most about you is how much you loved to go out and act.” And I think, you know, you have to sort of
go back to that and say, “Why did I do this? Oh, yeah, it was because I couldn’t wait to
get to the theatre every night.” What did he say? Did you ask him, “Do you still love it?” No, he scares the hell out of me. (LAUGHTER) We’re going to have to take a break, but before
then, Jean, you worked in radio, didn’t you? You wrote for radio? Was it anything like what was portrayed in
LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR when you were in it? No, not at all. I thought not. (LAUGHTER) It was a more tranquil kind of
time. Oh, yes. Very quiet. We’re going to have to take a break now and
just stand up and stretch and walk around and do whatever you have to do, and then come
right back again, so we continue. I have lots more questions. You’re not off the hook, any of you. (LAUGHTER)
(APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American Theatre Wing
seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” And these are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. This seminar is on the performance, and a
wonderful group of panelists are here to talk just about that, what it is to work in the
theatre. And Brendan Gill and Jean Dalrymple are co-moderating
this, and they are going to continue as we discuss all the pitfalls and the pleasures
of working in the theatre. Well, there’s one thing that I’m interested
in as an erstwhile reviewer, and of course, I’ve been going to the theatre for sixty or
seventy years, like Jean. There are very few things that are absolutely
new in theatre, and certainly there are very few things that are or have been new that
have been dangerous. But Murray and I were talking before this
program about the fact that technology is entering the theatre in what may be a very
dangerous way. In musicals, for example, so much of the lighting,
the cues, are all now programmed by computer. There’s not the margin of the performer’s
freedom to do, within a few seconds one way or the other. I remember in a musical recently, the star
singing took maybe three or four seconds longer than she habitually took, and the spot went
off and there she was, completing her song in the dark. This would never have happened a few years
ago. And I think Murray is very interesting on
this subject, and his resentment, I think you would have to call it, of the degree to
which he is no longer that free person, the actor dominating the stage, taking his place
fully on the stage. So Murray, would you talk about that a little
bit? Yeah. I think that one of the reasons I am an actor
is because of the primitive nature of it, and the communication between me and the audience. I think it goes back to cave times. I think it is essentially that primitive. People come to a great, big, dark place, and
they watch someone do something. When we start putting computers between the
experience of the theatre, my performing and their perceiving it, I think that we’re killing
the absolute nature of the theatre. It’s an odd thing. I think technology is entering our lives in
a very negative way, all the way around, in all aspects of our lives, but particularly
in the theatre. It’s an odd phenomenon, but movie houses are
becoming smaller, and the theatres are becoming much, much larger, so that we need the aids
of things like microphones and special lights and things that, again, get between you and
the experience of the theatre with me. I think without that visceral exchange, we
lose a very important aspect of our lives, which is vanishing in many, many places. People at the checkout counter, for example,
in supermarkets. They no longer look at you and discuss things
with you. It’s really just zip, zip, bang, get out,
you know? And we used to have conversations with the
mail carrier in my home town. The garbage collectors were people we knew,
believe it or not. All those personal contacts are gone. People are now retiring into their living
rooms and staying there safely with their tapes and they’re not risking going out and
seeing an experience. Maybe an accident that’s on stage, something
where someone goes up on lines. Only now if you go up on lines, you’re really
in the toilet because the lights will go out on you, and somebody else will start talking. (LAUGHTER) Hopefully not that far. Part of the excitement of the theatre is the
potential of, I don’t know, seeing someone get out of a tight jam. That’s part of the thrill. That’s being taken away from us. What do you think you can do about it as an
actor? Or what do you do? I don’t know. You’ve got to start your own little theatre,
get a hundred seat house, get a little company of people and do your show. And come back down into the swamp. Absolutely. I must say, at DAMN YANKEES we are blessed
with real strings. We have a real string section. That’s great. We have real violins. We have a real, gorgeous harp in our orchestra
pit. And I agree completely with what you’re saying. I’ve done too many shows now where we’ve had
synthesizers in the pit. You know, they sample in a guitar string and
that does the introduction to a song. And it sure does sound like a guitar. And it sure does sound like a harp. But when you have those instruments there,
what you’re saying, it puts the soul back into the music. You feel different, you sing differently,
you dance differently, the audience gets to receive a different show. And it’s much fuller, it’s much more human,
which is what the theatre is. It’s a human experience. Excuse me– I shouldn’t be talking at all. (LAUGHTER) I think that the reason that dance
has become so important in the last thirty years, twenty years, is because as everything
else becomes dehumanized, and in television and in movies and everything, plainly everything
is blipped out. If it doesn’t work, you do it over, and you
have perfection. The one remaining place depending upon the
human body– Yes. –and the opportunity not only to succeed
splendidly, but the chance of failing, is the dancer. But– I’m sorry, am I interrupting? I have to say that something very, to me,
very frightening is happening to dance. And that is MTV, and music videos and rock
videos. It has done something, because there have
been maybe three people who really knew how to film dance. And I believe, unless there’s somebody who’s
alive, these men are dead. They’ve changed dance for cameras because
they didn’t know how to film dance, really. Bob Fosse knew how to film dance. So now nobody knows how to do that, so they’re
changing. And now, MTV, you know, music videos, are
very, very popular and people watch that a lot. They’ve done short clips and little isolated
movements and that there, and it’s become something that I don’t really know what that
is. Yes, they’re dancing, but it’s a hybrid. It’s not a pure dance form, it’s something
else. And I fear that that will educate an audience,
who unfortunately watch an enormous amount of, you know, television. (SHE LAUGHS) I don’t mean to bite the hand
that fed me, but I mean it in terms of music videos and things like this. It’s educating this large audience to say,
“Well, that’s what dance is.” And then they go to a theatre and they see– And they’re disappointed. They will see something totally different. And my fear is that choreographers– and I
have seen it happen. There is a very popular musical on Broadway
now that the choreography I find insulting, as a trained dancer, because it’s bits. It’s a bit here, it’s a bit with a prop here,
it’s a bit with a prop here. It’s not that human thing that happens. A well-constructed musical, people will talk
until they just can’t talk any more, they have to sing. And then when they just can’t sing any more,
they just have to dance. That’s what dance is. That’s what it should be. It is not a little thing here and there, and
get the camera right and an angle right there and it will evoke– that’s something else. It’s a very good explanation. Yeah. (APPLAUSE) My! Michael, you go, and then Victor. Go ahead. I forgot what I was going to say. Oh, my son is a drummer, and he did an essay
on drum machines and how perfect they are and how now they’re not using them as much
any more because they’re too perfect. It’s exactly what you were saying, so that’s
my only hope. Right. I agree with you so completely, and it scares
me. I used to think, if there were such a thing
as reincarnation, I’d like to come back, but I’m not sure I would now. I’d better get it together in this life, I
guess. (LAUGHTER) You know, I have people who call
up and they’ll leave a message on my answering machine, or they might be crying or something,
and they say, “Oh, I feel so much better now.” And I think, “You’ve just talked to a machine.” (LAUGHTER) This is crazy, what’s going on? Yeah, yeah. What did you want to say, Victor? That I think it’s all true and unhappily,
I think the reality is that it’s happening. So we have to then say, “Okay, what do we
do about it? Or how do we go on?” And I think that we also have to remember
that the experience that happens in a theatre for a young person, say, coming into a theatre
for the first time, in a musical or a play, will never be taken away. The experience that we all have had at some
point will continue, because there will always be plays. And yes, technology is here, and it’s not
going anywhere. And as soon as it burns itself out or destroys
itself, we’ll always go back to the experience of an actor and an audience and a musician
and an audience. And it’s still happening. I mean, LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR is a play,
it’s written by a playwright, there are actors. They make you laugh, they make you cry. It’s still happening. And as long as that continues to happen, there’s
always hope. And I think that ANGELS IN AMERICA is a play,
it’s a new play. Yes, there’s technology involved, but still,
you know, when I go see that play I have the experience of a play. And so, as much as we can bemoan what’s happening,
and I mean, here are two actors in a very successful musical that is based on a cartoon. There’s room for all of it, and I think that’s
what we have to remember. There has to be room for all of it. And the audiences will find their way or not. And we as actors have to do what we do with
integrity and ethics and continue to fulfill our functions as actors, as dancers, as singers. But my complaint is that there has to be room
for all of it, that as an audience member, the menu has to be wide enough that you can
go and see BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and you can go and see PASSION, you know, in the same
week. And that’s always been my concern, because
it’s going to be there. So we just have to continue. We have to accept it, we have to embrace it,
and we have to move on. Well, it’s almost like you’re going from footlights
to spotlight in the sense you have to learn how to work with it. Yes. But how do you have all of that continue for
us, the small play as against the great big one? Yeah, that’s the question. Well, Arthur Miller’s play just opened. I mean, Terrence McNally’s play will be done
at Manhattan Theatre Club. There will always be theatres who will do
plays. There will always be actors who will act in
plays. You’ve just mentioned two heavyweight playwrights. Yes. That’s not a difficult trick to produce those
people. It sure is. It sure is! Well, if it’s tough for them, how about the
new playwrights? Well, of course it’s tough. I mean, of course, it’s tough. That’s what we’re talking about. Where’s the training for these people going
to come from if we’re going to continue to go with technological progress. My belief is that if the play is good, it
will be produced somewhere. It may not be produced on Broadway. It may not be produced Off-Broadway. Somewhere, the play will be done, somewhere. You know, if it’s not the Old Globe– The danger is that people start to think the
only theatrical experience they’re getting, and because of the ticket prices, that they
feel, “Well, you better dazzle me with something.” And then that is– CATS. –becomes known as the theatrical experience. They get their money’s worth. Whereas, you know, it gets harder and harder
for a serious play or a play without a lot of hype that may just be a play that’s good,
a well-made play, to be done. And you know, a theatrical experience to me
was like in ANGELS IN AMERICA, seeing Marcia Gay Harden sit there and give that speech
about the (UNINTEL PHRASE) at the end of the play. And that’s sort of magical when those things
happen. And I mean, to me, that’s hopefully what it’s
about. What do you think can be done about ticket
prices? Anything? Like in technology, you’ll not go back, it
won’t go away. It’s here. And the ticket prices are here. Do you think that there is anything that you
can do, any way that you can influence the cost of tickets? Can you get more student tickets? Can you get more last-minute tickets at the
box office, not depend on TDF? Can you organize anything as an actor? That’s what worries me. The theatre prices are what worry me, because
it has become for the elite. In Europe, everybody goes to the theatre. Everybody goes to opera. It’s made available to people. Everybody goes to concerts. In this country– Prices are almost as high, but there are more
areas that you can get lower ticket prices, right at the box office, not having to go
to TDF, which is wonderful, but if you’re not going to do that, you can go to the box
office if you’re there at seven o’clock at night and they’ll know that there are X number
of seats that they make available to you. I don’t think that the producers are doing
that here. I don’t know that they are. I think some are. I know a few of them are. I know that Cameron Mackintosh does it. I don’t know if any of the others do. Well, you can see my show for ten dollars
on a Wednesday. Can’t beat that. And how do you do that? You go to the box office the day of performance
and you can see it for ten dollars. How many tickets? And in the evening, you can see it for twenty
bucks. But you’ve got to be there early. Oh, that’s great. How will you let people know? Same for our show. We have twenty dollar tickets, and I think
they’re fifteen on Wednesday matinees. And yours is what? What about you? You have to pay full price to see our show. (LAUGHTER) Our salaries are so damn high. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. But it’s worth it, okay? Now leave me alone. (LAUGHTER) How does the audience know about this, the
ten dollar tickets? I didn’t know that that was available. Well, let’s bruit it about. It’s available. Why shouldn’t it be? See it. Oh, we have a lot of questions now. Would you start with questions? Yes, I’d like to ask you the difference when
you are creating a role in an original play and the difference between when you’re stepping
in and redoing a role in an established play? Because I know there’s a big difference as
far as the writing goes. I’ll say very quickly, I just stepped into
a thing. That, for one thing, you know it works. So that takes a lot of pressure off of you. When you’re originating a part, when you’re
creating one, it’s up for grabs, baby. It’s like, let’s try this and see if it works. Fitting yourself into somebody else’s performance
and trying to get on this train, as I described before, that is already running, you just
have to jump on the train and fit yourself in. After a little bit of playing with it, say
maybe five or six weeks, you will make the part your own. You’ve got to just dump your ego at the doorstep
for a little while, while you fit into the play. That’s all. It’s not a big deal. I think that there’s no question that creating
the part is much more fun. The danger of it is exciting. All those jokes that you’re telling that you’re
not too sure are really going to work. It’s very exciting. Right? Absolutely, yeah. I mean, the great thing with this play, we
went out of town and did it for three weeks in North Carolina. And Neil Simon was there every day and rewriting. And it was sort of old-time theatre, being
out of town and changing every day. And I’ve gone into a play. I went into SOME AMERICANS ABROAD when it
moved to the Vivian Beaumont. But I had sort of an advantage. I had seen the play, but I knew so many of
the people involved in the show that it just felt very comfortable. So I was very fortunate that way. But it’s slightly terrifying. But yes, you do have the advantage of knowing
that the show itself works and somehow you have to just fit into that. It’s completely terrifying, I think. I had to go on with this guy with two hours’
rehearsal with him. And then you’re on. Yeah. But that’s sort of fun, too. I mean, that’s sort of the excitement of it,
too, is having someone new there and not knowing what’s going to happen. They say the adrenaline that’s pumping through
an actor’s body on opening night is equivalent to the adrenaline of a fighter pilot in battle. And I believe it. Well, no wonder I’m tired. I’m exhausted right now. (LAUGHTER) Bebe Neuwirth alluded to it before when you
mentioned that you didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds you, referring to television. I was wondering if any of you feel larger
or smaller with respect to the fact that you’re now not on T.V. and you’re not in the films,
but on Broadway. And particularly, in regard to how you’re
recognized in the street and how the media treats you, because I think there’s a difference
in the way you are treated, even though you are the same persons. What is the question? (LAUGHTER) If you feel yourself larger or smaller or
different than you were when you were on T.V. or on films, when you are on Broadway. Would that mean, do you prefer what you are
doing? No, not that. If you sense yourself differently treated
by yourself or by the world around you. There seems to be more respect for the theatre
in general, from the public and from critics, I guess, if that’s what your question is. From the outside world, there seems to be
more respect for theatre in general than there is for television. Except in Los Angeles. (LAUGHTER) In Los Angeles, the theatre, in
the entertainment food chain, falls somewhere between folk dancing and accordion playing. (LAUGHTER) Basically, they feel you’re out
of work. That’s it. Looking for work, yeah. My question is directed toward Bebe Neuwirth. Having performed with Bob Fosse in SWEET CHARITY,
the revival, and also with Gwen Verdon, do you find that even though Bob’s not with us
now, does he influence your performances? I hear his voice every day. I hear his voice in my ear every day. And if I’m not, I try to listen for him, and
I keep his words daily, and Gwen, the same thing. Yeah. Great. Thank you. Absolutely. My question is directed to the panel as a
whole. I think we had a consensus earlier that actually
performing is the best way to get your training, is the best way to learn acting. My question is, how do you get from a teacher’s
studio where maybe you got a start into that apprenticeship role, make that jump from student
to working actor? Could I answer that question? Simply because it gives me an opportunity
to mention the American Conservatory Theatre, where I spent several years, which is a theatre
that Bill Ball founded. And it’s back to what Murray was saying earlier. We were performing plays. In fact, one season we did thirty plays in
a season. We had two theatres. And there were two companies. And what we did was we took classes, we taught
classes, and we performed. It was extraordinary. It was the most creative period of my life. So there we were, professional actors on stage
working with students who got to work with us on stage. We taught the students. We also took classes. Perfect. Perfect. And we were performing and rehearsing at the
same time. It was absolutely a gift. And that building at 450 Geary Street, if
you walked past it, it bulged. You know, you could hear Shakespeare in one
room and tap dancing in another, and somebody maybe trying to sing. The American Theatre Wing school started that
way, for returning veterans– That’s wonderful. –who were able to retool their trade. And they had wonderful people there that taught
them, and they could go from one room to another. And then they in turn took what they were
working on out to a hospital or out to a high school, in order to have an audience. And that was the whole beginning of these
seminars, as a matter of fact, because I found that when the school closed, there was no
other way of this sharing of experiences and learning at the same time, from each other
as well as giving back. I think for young actors now, it’s really
hard. And it’s always been hard to be an actor or
to be in this business. But I think that there is no “way.” There’s no one way. Your way is the way. So you have to find your way into this business
somehow. And I think it’s auditioning and going wherever
it is you can to act. And I think that you have to sort of follow
that within yourself, and don’t listen to anybody else. You mentioned the word “audition.” Can I just intercept right now and get a quick
round of the panel on auditioning? If you audition and how do you feel about
auditions? Do you want to start? Blech! You’ve opened a can of worms with that. I like to audition. Sometimes you’ll see a role or you’ll know
of a choreographer and you get in there and you actually do their choreography and it
doesn’t feel so good on your body. And you’ll know that maybe that’s not the
place for you. Or you’ll get in and actually be working on
a script and say, “It reads well, but now that I’m actually doing it, you know, it’s
just not right.” It gives you a better chance to really examine
the material, regardless if it’s song, words, or dance. And I like it. Can we go around? Auditioning, I [have] sort of a love/hate
thing with it. Sometimes it’s great, depending on who you’re
auditioning for, and sometimes they just don’t look up from their papers. Because you’ve basically got thirty seconds. You walk in the room– And then you go back again? Oh yes. Then you go back again. I mean, you’re just basically going up, because
they’ve got something in their minds and the way the market is these days, they can kind
of get it, you know. And personally, as long as I do a good job,
I feel great. It’s when I do a bad job, I’m just awful. Can I say something, because you just reminded
me? The worst part about auditioning is a lot
of times the people you’re auditioning for. There is a lot of disrespect for the performer,
for the artist. And so that reminded me of that. (LAUGHTER) Murray, do you teach auditioning in your classroom? I teach everything. (LAUGHTER) Why am I not surprised? (LAUGHTER) How do you feel about auditioning? Auditioning? I hate it. You know, it’s a necessary thing, and sometimes,
as Burke says, you know, the potential for humiliation is always there. And I’ve often greeted it. So I just keep going, you know. I just keep going. So you have to learn to do that and go back
again. Yeah. I mean, I’m sure if I’d had to audition for
DAMN YANKEES, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the part, you know. So I was very fortunate that Jack O’Brian
knew me and knew my work, you know. But that’s not always the case. And you know, I just keep going. Nathan? I agree with what everyone has said. I think yes, it’s a necessary part of the
business, but not an always pleasant one. It’s a matter of, you know, how you look at
it and try to make it the most positive [experience]. I can remember auditioning– it’s probably
why I have no film career– I auditioned for a movie called “Rat Boy” (LAUGHTER) and I
went in and I was someone who was holding Rat Boy hostage. (LAUGHTER) And I had these lines, and I had
to, you know, look into the camera and say, “Listen, lady, if you ever want to see Rat
Boy again–” (LAUGHTER) So I started– (LAUGHTER CONTINUES) And you didn’t get the part? And I did it just like that, too. I started, I said, “If you ever want to see
Rat Boy again–” (HE LAUGHS) I’m sorry, let me start again. “Listen, lady, if you ever want to see Rat
Boy–” (HE LAUGHS AGAIN) And I finally said, “I have to leave. I have to lie down.” (LAUGHTER) And the person said, “Do you know
who’s directing this movie?” I said, “Who?” She said, “Sandra Locke, Clint Eastwood’s
girlfriend!” I said, “Well, not since Orson Welles has
there been such a visionary. Yes!” (LAUGHTER) What was I thinking? “If you ever want to see Rat Boy– let me
out of here!” (LAUGHTER) I think we have time for just one more question. Yes, my question is for Murray. I know you have a very busy schedule with
the movies and theatre. How do you coordinate that, to come teach
us? And I can vouch for him. He does teach everything. That’s one of my students. Thank you. You have to get someone who’s very reliable
to come and stand in for you when you have a rehearsal, which I have, by the way, class,
coming up this Thursday for our show, brushup. But you have to rely on your students to come
up with the goods. I have private sessions with them whenever
I try to make up for the classes that we miss. I depend a lot on the kindness of my students
and their hard work. I’d like to mention one thing briefly about
the audition process. It’s the same thing, I think, essentially,
as the acting process. It’s bigger and it’s bolder, but essentially
it counts on you using whatever it is you have to offer, because there’s only one thing
that will ever sell you, and that’s the thing that makes you so completely individual, apart
from everyone else. That’s the thing that these people want to
see. They want you to tell them the answer, because
they don’t know the answer. And if you go in and try to find that thing
in yourself, yourself alone, that you have to offer, you’ll come out of the audition,
if you don’t get it, it doesn’t matter, you have really done the right thing. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE) This has been an extraordinary
panel, and we have to bring it to a close, as we always do. And I think that we could go on and on and
on and we still wouldn’t get all the questions and the answers that we can get from this
panel. The American Theatre Wing is proud to present
the people that we do to talk about working in the theatre. This is just one of the seminars that are
being given, the one on the performance. And one on the playscript/director, one on
regional theatre, and one on the production. This seminar is coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, and I am delighted to be able to be here. I’m delighted to be head of an organization
like the American Theatre Wing, that works year-round to say “Theatre,” theatre to students
and to the audience, “Everybody come to the theatre. There’s nothing like it.” Thank you very much for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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