Performance (Working In The Theatre #217)


(APPLAUSE) This is an American Theatre Wing Seminar on “Working
in the Theatre,” coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. It is located on 42nd Street in New York City. Here is where the wonderful quality theatre
all comes together, from Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, to meet and to share and
to nurture the quality of theatre and the magic of theatre. The American Theatre Wing has long been occupied
with quality, because its Tony Award was founded on that premise, to reward the achievement
of excellence in the theatre. It is a wonderful award, and we are justly
proud of it. However, all through the year, the American
Theatre Wing works on programs that will be of service to the community through the theatre,
from our “Saturday Theatre for Children” program, which goes into local schools in their districts,
in the five boroughs of New York. Elementary school age children line up to
see a professional theatre. We go into hospitals with theatre and cabaret
and all kinds of wonderful performers who come to share theatre with those who can not
come to it. We go into hospitals and nursing homes and
AIDS centers. And a program that is called “Introduction
to Broadway” is just that, where we have, in cooperation with the New York City Board
of Education and the wonderful, wonderful generosity of the Broadway producers, brought
thousands upon thousands upon thousands of youngsters to their first Broadway show, and
in the majority of cases, to their very first show itself. This is done with the generosity of the producers,
and it is also done because it’s the American Theatre Wing. And it is also done, I hope, because it will
bring an audience of the future to our shows, which is what we need, that young audience. The seminars are still another part of the
Wing’s programs. And here, these seminars are geared to show
you what it is to work in the theatre. What it is to work in the theatre as a performer,
as a playwright, as a director, as a producer, as a press agent, as a representative of the
unions and guilds, how they work for you and how to work with them, and having them work
for you. And the set designer, costume designer, and
light designer. All of the Wing’s programs are committed to
education as well as a commitment to the community. And they all say, “Theatre,” loud and clear,
and they say it year-round. I think perhaps we’ve had the longest run
in New York City and the longest influence and largest influence across the country,
both with our Tony Awards and with our programs that really service the community. Right now, this seminar is on the performance,
and I’m going to turn it over to Brendan Gill, who is an author and a critic and usually
wears a hat of “author” here, and not “critic.” He just adores the theatre. And George White, who is President of the
O’Neill Foundation. And they, in turn, will introduce this wonderful
panel of performers to you. Thank you for being here, and thank you for
being here. (APPLAUSE) On my far right is a man whose name is a two
line rhyming poem, Michel Bell, who is now playing Joe in the great, new, triumphant
production of SHOW BOAT. And on my near right is Rosemary Harris, who
is playing Sybil Burling (PH) in the production of AN INSPECTOR CALLS, which is one of the
most successful and thrilling productions on Broadway. George? Thank you, Brendan. Downstage left is Audra Ann McDonald, a recent
Juilliard graduate, who is currently appearing as Carrie Pipperidge in CAROUSEL. I had forgotten that was her last name, it’s
nice to know it again. Immediately on her right is Charlotte D’Amboise,
who is presently the designated hitter, otherwise known as Lola, in the Broadway production
of DAMN YANKEES. And on my immediate left is Lonette McKee,
who has been seen frequently on television and film, and I want to talk about that at
some point, but is currently performing the role of Julie in the acclaimed SHOW BOAT. So, here we are. (APPLAUSE) We had been expecting to have this morning,
and are unable to have this morning, Philip Bosco, also from AN INSPECTOR CALLS, who had
as himself, not as the Inspector, called in ill. (LAUGHTER) It’s too bad. But both Rosemary Harris and he, acting in
this play, which has received so much praise and discussion about its prodigious set, which
is a miracle of stagecraft, and also, however of deceptive perspective, so you can’t really
tell how big or how small anything is on that set. But it does require the actors to be almost
acrobatic. It’s a test of your skill physically to get
around, I would think, in that set. Has that set produced any difficulty for you? Well, not really. You have to have some sort of relationship
with a mountain goat, though, to navigate it. (LAUGHTER) Especially Mrs. Burling, because
I have three inch high-heeled shoes, which makes it a little hard. No, we’ve been very lucky. We had a couple of little accidents at the
very beginning, but that’s only natural. It was very exciting. I’ve never been in a musical, and it gave
me a feeling of what it must feel like, because I’ve never really been in anything that heavily
technical before. And we were all so thrilled, just watching
it all happen. It was very, very exciting. And of course, now– You don’t get damp, do you? No, I don’t. No, Mrs. Burling doesn’t. A lot of rain in this play. (LAUGHTER) Yes. No, Mrs. Burling’s very smart, she covers
herself up with a blanket. But Jane Addams get absolutely soaked to the
skin, and so does Marcus. And Philip gets pretty wet, too, so maybe
that’s why he’s got a cold. (LAUGHTER) Philip Bosco, for example, the house which
opens up, it’s like an enormous dream, a fantasy of a doll’s house that anybody would want
to have. It is. If only one had a castle to fit the doll’s
house into. But there’s a point, for example, when Philip,
who’s a big man, has to come out on a balcony, and it’s dodgy to see how he’s going to get
through that doorway and still be in scale with everything. And I thought that this is one of the cases
where the actors would always be under a certain amount of tension to be inside the play, to
be inside their characters, and also, however, having to be in what amounts to me, out of
the audience, as almost a circus atmosphere. Yes. Well– And I couldn’t believe it, when the rain came
down, along with all the other troubles. (LAUGHTER) George Bernard Shaw says, “Habit
is everything.” It seems very natural to us now. But I remember our first technical rehearsals,
Steven Daltry (PH), our director, would say, “Can you get a little bit further to the edge,
you know, ’cause you’re not lit there.” And I said, “Well, will you just give me a
day or two? I’ll get a little closer to the edge.” (LAUGHTER) And now I stand right on the edge
and sort of teeter around, perfectly happy. Brendan, if you’re going to talk about scenery
and having to work with scenery, what about Michel here? Yes, yes. What about that? SHOW BOAT, which has the show boat of all
time, filling this enormous stage, it’s one of our biggest stages anyway. And it is a multi-level show boat, with real
windows and real doors and real decks and, I guess, real bales of cotton. And Michel, as Joe, has to wander debonairly
along, in and out of it, as the other actors all do. But I think this is a function of what has
happened on Broadway in recent years, that of having to borrow the oddest skills of the
movies to make things real on stage. So we’re always engaged in spectacles that
we never could have encountered twenty or thirty years ago. It’s a big challenge to see how you can do
all of this kind of thing and you’re living in a world there. Oh, yes, we are, Brendan. We have to give thanks to Hal Prince and his
conception of trying to make it lifelike, you know, the entire plot of SHOW BOAT, in
that it’s an old story, okay? And it speaks throughout, I think, the ages
of time, just right through the channel of time. And it’s kind of an ironic thing, when you
look at the life of the 1880’s, you know, of how everything was, socially as well as
racially and as well as the family structure, it hasn’t changed, okay? And so, it’s like he reached down inside and
pulled that out to the forefront, so that it’s more palatable, I think, a lot, for the
audience now. And so that we can be more natural and more
at ease, you know. And I think also, adding to that, like you
say, the enormity of the set. It’s life– And the danger. Yes, and the danger of the set. (LAUGHTER) I wanted to get into that a little bit, ask
about that, because particularly in this– I want to get back into acting. (LAUGHTER) Oh, let’s talk sets. Sets are wonderful, yeah. (LAUGHTER) Definitely. Because it relates to acting, but I mean,
so much goes on– So much. — particularly in the second act, where you’re
suddenly, you know, fast forwarding time. Yeah, yeah. I mean, you’re going right from the, you know,
the Palmer House set– And also dangerous. Those montages are dangerous, because you
have tiny little spaces for 73 people to maneuver and change. Exactly. You know, it’s matters of seconds they have
to change and get back out there and do what they’re supposed to do and be in the right
place. And if they’re not, sets and scenery is moving
behind you and going along tracks and doing this. If you step in the wrong place, it’s dangerous. (LAUGHTER) Well, it’s dangerous, yes. And I imagine it doesn’t help one’s concentration
as an actress. No. Well, the first three weeks that we were,
you know, doing the techs and stuff, we were all just thinking about the scenery. We were noticing that everything that comes
out on stage is literally flown backstage. That’s right, yes. Everything, the walls, the car, all the sets,
all the furniture on the sets. The car is flown, too? The car is flown. It’s hanging backstage. Yeah, and parts of the boat, as well. When did you first work with those 72 pieces
of scenery? Well, some of them were flown in Toronto,
so we had some experience as we did it for a year in Toronto. But everything had to be flown at the Gershwin,
because while it’s a huge house, we have a smaller backstage area at the Gershwin than
we had in Toronto. Yeah. You know, bringing up what Brendan brought
up earlier about the cinematography effect, it’s all animated now, you know. And I’m thinking that, you know, this is my
first musical, as well as Rosemary’s. And you know, I’m really in awe of the technology. You know, you push a button on that computer,
and that set is gonna move regardless. That’s right. It moves, regardless of who’s in the way. (LAUGHTER) So if you’re in the way, the best thing to
do is to hop on and hold on. Jump out of the way. Yes, there you have it. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Because if you try to move out of the way,
you’re going to be in the way of another piece of set moving in that spot. That’s true, too. It’s amazing. I think, Isabelle, to get back to what you
said, you’re interested in talking about acting, I think what we’re talking about now is the
one, an added layer of difficulty for actors. Yes, and having the concentration on your
acting while all of this is going on around you. That’s right. Nobody ever had to do that in opera, for example,
with changing scenery. All anybody ever used to do in the audience
(SIC) was stand up there and belt it out, you know, motionless, these two great creatures. But nowadays, actors have to pretend, they
have to be inside the character, they have to be acrobats– That’s right. Yeah. — they have to do all these things. And then the mercilessness of electronics,
not a second out, you know. Oh, yeah. That’s right. And the spot going on and not going on and
you have to be in it. So as well as choreography or staging on stage– On stage, you have it backstage. — you have it backstage, as well. And now, tell us about CAROUSEL, for example. Well, it’s exactly the same thing. Exactly, exactly, yes. The whole stage turns, starts at a mill, and
within the whole duration of “The Carousel Waltz,” turns into a carousel. But they have to show us the entire story
of how we get there. So first, we’re in a mill with a huge clock. And then the whole time happening, we’ve got
a turn table spinning. So we start with the mill, and then, all of
a sudden, we’ve got our clothes flying in, that we have to pick up. And if you don’t pick up your clothes in time,
your clothes fly out. (LAUGHTER) And that has happened before, when
your clothes fly out. And then you’re like, “Well, let me make this
work. Let me make this work without my costume.” (LAUGHTER) So you’ve got that to worry about, and as
the story progresses, we go to the boatyards to pick up the boys. And all of a sudden, we’ve got boats flying
on stage. And then, all of a sudden, we’ve got a carousel
ticket booth. Meanwhile, we’re dancing, running around,
and the turntable is running. And then all of a sudden, ticket booths comes
on. Then, like, certain rides of the carousel
come on. And then, all the while, horses are coming
on while you’re trying to buy cotton candy, while you’re looking at Uncle Sam, who’s on
stilts. And then all of a sudden, this airplane hangar
comes down and there’s a carousel. And if you are on that little star in the
middle section as the airplane hangar comes down, you know, you’ll get your little “Rest
in Peace” sign right there. (LAUGHTER) You’re squished. What’s happening here while all that’s going
on? Well, there’s a ton happening. What’s usually happening is you’re trying
so hard to stay within the character. And at the same time, you know, it’s difficult
because you’re worried about your life. It’s also inspirational, because you really
are, you know, you really feel like you’re at a carousel. You really are in the rain or really are on
a boat. And that’s what actually, in a good way, helps,
you know, your character and it helps keep you in the moment, even though at the same
time you’re thinking, “Okay, I hope I’m not on that star so this thing doesn’t come down.” You know, “Carousel! Dead Carrie, you know, at the same time.” (LAUGHTER) And then, at the end of the carousel, when
that flies out, the next scene change is happening. So there’s a huge hill coming downstage, what
we call a big green turtle coming downstage. And you’re sitting there fighting with Mrs.
Mullin, trying to run off stage while there’s this turtle coming down. And usually, what’s happening at that point
is we’re going, “All right, we’re okay, we’re okay. Okay, run! It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming!” So it’s quite a dichotomy, what goes on there. And also, Charlotte, you have a certain amount
of this, too, because as Lola, you have magic going on around you. The main problem with my show is the same
thing. I mean, everything is flown, everything. It’s amazing, it’s just amazing how it works. But there are, like, tons of tracks on the
stage. Right. And my heels, I’m constantly walking in them. (LAUGHTER) I mean, it’s like throughout the
whole show, I’m falling in these tracks. And I can’t believe that we dance on that
stage. It amazes me. When I first went on, I’m like, “How am I
going to dance on this?” I mean, there’s just holes everywhere. But you do. You do. Well, then, you have all the magic that goes
with it. Oh, right, a lot of magic. And of course, you have played Peter Pan,
too, so you actually have flown yourself. Right. (LAUGHTER) There are a lot of stories with
that one. Well? Well, just the famous banging into the walls,
or not flying, which is really the worst. (LAUGHTER) “Up you go! No, you don’t!” Yeah. (LAUGHTER) It’s really lovely. You really love the people that fly you. You buy them presents. (LAUGHTER) You make sure they treat you very
well. In the old days, the flying of the sets and
everything was all done with sandbags. Now, what is backstage that makes it possible
to fly all this stuff? Steel drums and cables and all of that? Well, there are cables that are, I don’t know,
I can’t really– I’ve looked at them, to step over them. You have to really– Yeah, it’s a big deal to step over them. Oh, yes. But they’re electronically flown, aren’t they? Yes. They push a button and they’re somehow just
hoisted up on a turn, yeah. The steel drums, I think, are working But at the Gershwin– It depends on your stage, because we have
people pulling ours. Right. Some of ours are pulled, too, yeah. Right, yeah. Half and half, I would say. But see, that’s another thing, is that there’s
the crew of about what? 35 now, I would think. A lot. Yeah. And so, you’re running into them as well. And there’s always this little dialogue of,
you know, what’s going on backstage as you’re running to your next spot. And you know what else? Because of the time that our production takes
place in, we wear these long gowns, you know, with the trains on them? And somebody’s always stepping on your tail,
we call them our tails. (HE LAUGHS) I’m guilty. And then you’re walking and trying to get
on and somebody’ll be on your skirt! You’ll say, “Will you get off my dress so
I can make my entrance!” (LAUGHTER) This gets us into auditioning. When you auditioned, were you told what you
were going to have to work with, all these people? Were you told that you were going to have
to work with all this equipment and everything that has happened? Is that part now of the auditioning process
and questioning that goes on? No. Not really. No. So if you are a performer, if you are an actor,
an actress, it has nothing to do with whether there’s only two people on the set and one
stagehand, if that could ever happen– No. — or 75 stagehands. No, you usually have no idea when you go to
these auditions– That’s right. — what it’s really going to be like when
you get either in those rehearsals or out on that stage. Yeah. There’s no way to know until you do it, unless
you’ve done a lot of shows before. In my case, I had done some theatre before,
and actually, I had done SHOW BOAT before. But not on this scale. Can we bring this in, what she’s done, Brendan? Let’s talk about what you’ve done before. Oh, okay. (LAUGHTER) She’s such a shy thing, very shy. Take a very long breath. Yeah. I started so long ago, you don’t want to hear
about that. (LAUGHTER) Believe me, I started right here. Where did you start? Did you study? Well, no, I started in Detroit when I was
about five years old. I started writing music and playing piano. And I had had no formal training. So then a few years– At five, you had no formal training? Yeah. (LAUGHTER) Just one of those things. But so then my mother began taking me around
to all the nightclubs and stuff in Detroit. And I would go out on stage and tell the band
what to play, even though I had never studied music, I didn’t know what key or anything
to tell them. I would just sit at the piano and say, “Okay,
play it like this!” And I would do this little act, with my mother
as my chaperone. And then when I was about fourteen, I got
my first hit record in Detroit. And then, left Detroit, went to L.A. You would
think I would come to New York to do theatre from Detroit. But I didn’t know about that. Why not? I had a sister that was living in L.A., and
she was trying to get into films. So that’s where I ended up going to L.A.,
and I did, in fact, end up getting into films shortly thereafter. I did my first– How? Did you audition? It was a fluke. I had signed with a modeling agency, because
a friend had suggested that I could do modeling, because I was really, really struggling in
L.A. I mean, we weren’t eating too good. So this friend said, “Why don’t you try to
sign with this big Nina Blanchard Modeling Agency?” So I went there, and she signed me up, but
I wasn’t getting any work. So one of the agents who was there at her
agency was assigned to try to get models work who they thought might have some acting ability. So they casted the movie SPARKLE. And this agent called me and he said, “I think
you’d be perfect in this movie. Honey, if you could just sing. Do you think you can sing a song?” And he didn’t know I had been doing this since
I was five. And I said, “Sure.” So I ended up going on the audition for SPARKLE. I played for myself. I sat at the piano and played for Sam Ohstein
(PH), who was the director, who’s actually a brilliant editor. And I got it. I got it and that was the beginning of my
professional career. So you never had any really formal training,
except by doing, right? Well, then I did. No, actually, I did. After I did my first few films, thank God,
it was a blessing, I was coaxed into starting classes with a wonderful voice teacher in
L.A., Dini Clark (PH). And at first, I really didn’t get it. I didn’t understand. “Now, what can this guy teach me about singing? I’ve been singing since I was a little girl.” You know, “What could he possibly teach me?” Then, of course, after about two classes,
I realized that there was a whole world that I had no idea about, in terms of singing and
technique. And I was raised on Motown, which is not to
put that down, it’s a wonderful part of our history, but it certainly has nothing to do
with Sinatra and Judy Garland and Ethel Waters and Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. And he taught me about them. And those are the real singers. I think that’s interesting, to go along, to
find out the background of each one. Sure. Right. I wondered, also, Audra Ann, about how you
are a recent graduate of Juilliard, so you have had the training. Yes. And how did you get into CAROUSEL? Were you involved in the London production? Oh, no, not at all. Actually, I went to Juilliard on a fluke. I was into musical theatre from the time I
was about nine. I was doing a little Mickey Mouse Club back
in Fresno, California, where Mickey’s from as well. And I did a lot of shows at a musical theatre
there. And I decided I wanted to be an actress, a
musical theatre actress. And my voice teacher at the time, I was kind
of studying, and he would say, “Sing this aria,” and I’d be like, “No, I’m going to
belt!”, you know, and I was like always trying to belt everything. Yeah. And so he said, “Come on, why don’t you just
try and audition for Juilliard, just to see what it’s like, just to see what the operatic
program would be like?” And I said, “Okay, it’d be a nice trip to
New York. And you know, my mom will pay for it, cool,
I’ll do it.” (LAUGHTER) So I went ahead and I auditioned, and I sang
a soprano aria, and I told them I was a mezzo soprano and I did some optional endings, just
things you’re not supposed to do at all in classical music. And they laughed at me, at my audition. And they asked me, “How old are you?” And I said, “Well, I’m seventeen.” And they just laughed again, and I thought,
“Well, I blew this,” you know? And then they called me and accepted me. I thought, “Well, it’s just, you know, to
have some, like, comic relief at school.” (LAUGHTER) I swear, that’s what I thought
it was. It’s just, there’s no reason. So I studied opera, but the whole time I was
there, I kept missing musical theatre a lot, and fighting with my teachers the whole four
years I was there. So every once in a while, I would sneak away. And I did an industrial. And then I snuck away and I left school for
six months and I did THE SECRET GARDEN tour. And that’s how I got my agent. And then, after I graduated from school, I
went out on the road again with SECRET GARDEN a year ago last May. And then, I got the call to come in and audition
for CAROUSEL. And I auditioned six times. After fainting at my final callback– I also
fainted when I auditioned for SHOW BOAT. Did you? Yeah, I’m good at that. (LAUGHTER) After the audition, or before? Or in the middle? Oh, I fainted, I sang, “Darling Mr. Snow,”
boom. And I fainted. (LAUGHTER) I sang “Bill” for the SHOW BOAT
audition. Right, right. And I sang, “He’s just my–” bang, I fainted
for that. Oh, you didn’t. And then, my sophomore recital, I finished–
I always finish my numbers, that’s good. I finished these two beautiful Margaret Bond
(PH) songs. I just remember thinking, “Oh, I got through
these songs. I hate opera, but I got through these songs!” I finished the last note and then I heard
someone go, “Somebody catch her!’ and I thought, “What’s happening?” And it was me, falling. (LAUGHTER) Oh, my goodness. That’s amazing. And then they hire you, that’s even more amazing. It’s the sympathy vote, it’s the sympathy
vote. And then, when you say you were fighting all
those four years, what were you fighting? I was fighting the operatic sound. I was fighting really giving my voice over
completely to opera. You know, all of my aunts sing, and my faux
Uncle Mickey over there was a singer who I grew up listening to. And so I had this, you know, kind of spiritual
sound. I had a musical theatre sound going. And opera was something that just seemed really
foreign to me, and I just didn’t want to give up the sound I was raised with. But I did end up compromising and ending up
with a technique, which helps you to survive each experience. Well, exactly, and that’s what I wanted to
get at a little bit, is your view of the difference of dealing with opera, not only vocally, obviously,
which we know about, but acting. Acting? I mean, you’re doing a whole different ball
game there. Well, I think for me, anyway, and the thing
that I got into trouble a lot at Juilliard is, when you’re dealing with opera, your first
concern is the voice. And your first concern is the technique and
the purity of the sound and the beauty of the notes and the breathing and all that stuff. Acting is secondary. You know, you’re thinking, “Okay, I have to
have the right kind of technique,” and then I think, “Oh, and I’m sad.” You know what I mean? Yeah. It’s really, I think, not three-dimensional
at all. You see, my training was the opposite. My teacher stressed acting. Right. He said, “If you are a good actress, when
you sing, you’ll be a great singer.” Yeah, and I think that’s the thing. There lies the difference right there. There’s your difference. It’s difficult, I must say, a little personal
allusion, you play Carrie. This is Charlotte. But Charlotte’s mother is Carrie, so I almost
said Carrie. (LAUGHTER) That’s just an aside. But you come from a theatrical background. Yes. And so you grew up with it, with your father
being a major dancer. Right. Why didn’t you go into selling insurance,
having seen so much? (LAUGHTER) You knew better. Oh, absolutely. Well, both my parents were in the ballet world,
so I grew up in the ballet world. And I grew up in New York City. So, of course, you want to go into the arts. I mean, because you’re surrounded by artists. But I never wanted to be in the ballet. I always wanted to sing. And I know exactly what you mean about the
opera, because I was a big Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand fan. And I remember studying voice and I would
never want that sound. And I would fight it and fight it and I swear,
only last year have I given in. (SHE LAUGHS) But it’s something that, you
know, you have an image of what you want your voice to be, you know. And it’s totally wrong to train that way. Opera is really the base, you know. Well, it’s like ballet is the technique– Exactly. — so you can do whatever dance you want. You need that firm technique. And the ballet, I started at eight years old. And I am so glad that I did, because it’s
the basic training. And I can probably dance till I’m, you know,
fifty years old. God. No. (LAUGHTER) You know what? I take that back. (LAUGHTER) Maybe thirty-five. No, but I mean, because of that training,
you learn how to keep yourself in shape. You learn how to keep yourself technically
trained, so you can kick your legs for a long time. Did you then train for the theatre, when you
decided you wanted to do it? I was, eight till about fourteen, ballet,
ballet. Right. And the only reason why was because I wanted
to do THE NUTCRACKER SUITE, and all the little kiddie ballets, New York City Ballet. And as soon as I outgrew them, I went, “I
don’t want to do this! I want to sing, I want to dance, I want to
do jazz.” Like Bob Fosse was a huge [influence]. Like I went and saw DANCIN’, I went, “This
is what I want to do.” So then I just started taking jazz and singing
and really pursuing what I wanted to do. At an early age, I always knew what I wanted. What was the first theatre that you did? Besides NUTCRACKER and all that, as a little
child– gosh, you know what? I’m not sure. I guess I did a couple showcases in the city,
which were musicals, like TOULOUSE-LAUTREC and little things like that. And dancing. And then when I was eighteen years old, I
did Surflight. Oh, God. (LAUGHTER) Which I made thirty dollars a week,
and you did twelve shows in twelve weeks. Boy! And I lived in a room, you know, a little
room with three girls, you know. And it was a great experience. I learned so much. I mean, you rehearse one show during the week
and you’re performing at night, the other show. So you don’t have a day off for the whole
summer. So that was really my first experience. And then, from there, I started to get shows
and stuff, and work. I’m awfully glad you did. (LAUGHTER) Thanks. Well, one thing, to have a really terrible
experience of having to live like that and work like that, after, we always say, “That
was just a wonderful experience.” (LAUGHTER) But during it, like I look at my journal? “I hate this! I’m miserable!” you know? But, no. Rosemary, everyone seems to have started five,
six, seven. How early on did you start? Well, the first performance I remember giving,
I was four. (LAUGHTER) And that was I played the Queen
in THE DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS. And my sister was Salome and she was a little
bit older than I was and just as the last veil– they were actually curtains– but just
as the last veil was supposed to fall off, the record said, “And the door opened and
the Queen came walking in,” and that was my cue. And I remember the power of walking onto that
little stage. It was in our living room, I think. Although it was a professional performance,
because my sister had invited all the neighbors and they had to pay to come and see it. (LAUGHTER) And I remember hearing my cue and
moving across the stage, and then my sister taught me how to kick my train and then walk
back again. And I never under-rate a non-speaking role,
because it was total silence while I did this. (LAUGHTER) And I thought, “I like that! (LAUGHTER) That feels good. I’d rather be here than there.” I think that was the first taste of it. And it is an addiction. You get sort of addicted to that feeling. And then, I acted, looking back, I used to
do the strangest things. I remember living with my grandmother and
my great-aunt, who were great animal lovers. And I don’t know how the idea came up, but
I decided that I would dress up as a grownup– I was eleven– and pretend to come and report
a case of, not cruelty to a dog, but a dog that was tied up all the time. I knew that would get my grandmother and great-aunt’s
attention. So I wore my mother’s little fur piece and
a little hat and high-heeled shoes. And I went round to the front door, which
nobody ever used, and I rang the bell. And they opened the door and I just sort of
stood there. I wasn’t at all frightened. I simply said I wanted to come and report
a case of cruelty. And they invited me in and I sat there. And they asked me where the dog was, and I
invented all this right off the top of my head. And then I heard myself say, “And my husband
says–” (LAUGHTER) And I suddenly saw my great-aunt look at my left hand, and I realized I wasn’t
wearing a wedding ring. (LAUGHTER) And I thought, “Oh, I’ve blown
that.” Anyway, they sat and listened to me, and finally
they said, “Thank you very much.” And I got up and walked out the front door,
and I thought, “I made it!” And I did. They did not know who I was. Oh, you’re kidding! Oh, God. They really did not know. So it is all auto-suggestion. It is simply the power. It is very strange. That is amazing! Yeah. Yes, it is. You should have gone into playwriting as well. (LAUGHTER) Maybe you have. But that’s very important. What is that power, Rosemary? I don’t know. It’s simply believing. It’s like, children play, “Let’s pretend.” And if you have enough belief in what you’re
doing, other people will believe you. That’s right. It’s a sort of mystical thing. I know it sounds silly. It doesn’t sound silly to me. Oh, no. And then another time, I dressed up as a fortune
teller, because we were having a fete or something, a little village thing. And I dressed up with a veil and looked like
a sort of gypsy fortune teller. And nobody knew it was me. And they started coming in, and I had to sort
of invent fortunes and things. And gradually, I got more and more frightened,
because I began to know too much about the people that were coming to see me. Mmm-hmm. And there was a woman who we knew was having
an affair with someone else. And she came and asked me what was going to
happen. (LAUGHTER) And I thought, “This is getting
very dangerous.” (LAUGHTER) Rosemary, how old were you when you did that? I was sixteen. And then what happened after that? Did you then go to the theatre? Did you go to school? And then I did one more of those sorts of
bizarre things. (LAUGHTER) It was in a time when there was
very little home help, and I was living with my sister, helping her look after her two
little children. And the woman in the flat downstairs had three
little children and she was desperate for some help. So we plotted this scheme that I would go
and make myself available for the job. So I got myself all dressed up, with a little
turban and things, and she interviewed me. And I only lived upstairs. (LAUGHTER) And she suddenly asked me my name, which I
hadn’t prepared to sort of say anything, and “Eliza Huggins” came out, which should have
given me away. (LAUGHTER) So close to “Eliza Higgins,” you
know. (LAUGHTER) But that didn’t seem to give away
the show. And it turned back on me afterwards, because
I left and she was so excited because she said, “What will you do?” and I said, “I’ll
do anything. You know, I’ll do ovens, I’ll clean windows. (LAUGHTER) You know, I love children. I’ll do all the washing.” And she thought that I was an answer to her
prayer. And then, of course, we told her the next
day that it was me. And she was so angry that she then put an
advertisement in the paper with my address, saying that I would be a home help. (LAUGHTER) And I was deluged with sacks of
letters. But all I bring that up [for] is, that is
what acting really is. And in spite of all the scenery and everything
going around, if you can keep that belief that you are who you are, then it’s just the
work. But you also have to bring something to it. You had a power within yourself that you felt
it could be. Oh, I think it’s an instinctive thing. I don’t know that it can be taught. I think it’s something that– Did you go on? Did you ever go into teaching? Did you ever have anybody teach you? Did you ever try and teach others? Well, not till afterwards. Because I was going to be a nurse. I really wanted to be a nurse, and sometimes,
I regret that I wasn’t. But I was ambitious and I thought, “If I’m
a nurse, I’ll end up as the matron in a hospital. I’ll be an administrator, and I don’t want
to do that. I want the hands-on, one-to-one relationship,
and I don’t want to push a pen behind a desk.” And then, I thought I’d be a physiotherapist,
because I thought, “You can’t be a physiotherapist behind a desk.” (LAUGHTER) But the training was too expensive,
and I had no money. And then, it was my sister nudged me and said,
“Go on, why don’t you be an actress? You’re always acting at home. (LAUGHTER) Why don’t you make a living at
it?” So I sort of approached the little stock company
and said, “Before I waste any time and money on an academical training, could you tell
me if I have any talent?” And the local director said, “Come to a rehearsal,”
and they were just breaking, and I saw all these actors leaving the stage. And they were like the gods and goddesses
of Mount Olympus. (LAUGHTER) And then we sat in the stalls, and he opened
the play that they were currently doing. It was a little weekly rep. And he said, “Well, let’s start reading.” And so, I read a bit, and he said, “Well,
I think that’s okay. If I have something for you, I’ll let you
know.” So that’s how it happened. Well, did you have any formal training after
that? Yes, I did. I went from one job to another, and then I
realized that I couldn’t– well, it’s a very long, boring story. You don’t really want to hear it. Well, try and shorten it. Yes, I’ll try and shorten it. (LAUGHTER) Well, at the end of this– A little gong will go off. — I was in a rather tatty, twice weekly,
nightly rep. And at the end of season, they decided to
do HAMLET. And I thought, “Well, maybe I might get to
play Ophelia, if I’m lucky. I’ve never done any Shakespeare.” But unfortunately, I was just cast as the
Player Queen, who is usually played as a boy, and she becomes the Queen in the play. And they imported a young actress who had
just graduated from drama school in London to play Ophelia. So I thought, “Aha! So that way runs the game.” And I thought, “The only way to take my next
step forward is to try and get into a drama school.” So then I applied. Did you go to LAMDA or RADA? I got into RADA. And just spent a year there, because I ran
out of money and to leave and get another job. And then I got a scholarship and went back. But I did have a year of voice training, which
was a great help. So that, along with your power, was able to
bring you where you are today, do you think? (LAUGHS) I don’t know, but I figured, you
know, one step up. What about Michel? What’s your background? Oh, I started out– You’d have to have been three, because we’re
going five, four, three. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, that’s right! No, actually, our whole family, you know,
we were always singing and entertaining each other. There were seven of us at home, and my mom
and dad. And it was a lot of fun, because we used to
embarrass my mom by going out in the neighborhood and just, you know, performing, like right
on the corner. You know, no matter what it was. Where’s home? Fresno, California. Right! And you know, (LAUGHS) right on the corner. And she would be so embarrassed that she would
sneak out of the house behind one of the bushes in the houses, “Come here!” (LAUGHTER) “Come here! I said, come here!” And we’re just oblivious, and we’re going
along, you know, “La cucaracha!” or whatever it is. And seven of us lined up, just doing this,
in a chain, you know. (LAUGHTER) And the funny thing is people would
drive by and slow down and look and some would stop and watch and started laughing and then
applauding, whatever. And out of all seven of us, I’m the only one
that kind of like took it seriously. And I agree with Rosemary, there’s some kind
of a– I don’t know whether it’s vivid imagination or just the innate ability to internalize
something that you really, really want. You know, and you turn it around and you become
what that is. It’s something that’s hard to explain. It really is. It could be predestined. It could be past lives. Yes, it could be, you know. But the whole point is to take that and be
in your own little world, and have that become reality within yourself. You know, then, I suppose the people who are
watching end up saying, “Whoa! Well, who are you, or what is this?” you know. But not to, you know, labor that too much,
the fact is that from that moment on (LAUGHS), I really wasn’t really interested in just
the fact of going into acting or singing or anything. It was just something that came natural and
we had a good time at. And also in a church, a lot in church. How many singers? Is there singing in your family? Did your father and your mother have great
voices? They both have very good voices, yes, they
do. In fact, my mother was– She has a gorgeous voice. Now, wait a minute, are you from Fresno, too? Yes. Audra and I– He grew up with my father. Right, right. Oh, okay. I picked up the Uncle Mickey, but I was not
sure what the– From the church, after church, where did you
go? Singing in the church was one thing, but then
where did you go? Yeah, from that point on, I was looking into
doing athletic stuff, you know, playing football. But I turned the football in and traded that
in for music, mainly because of the scheduling. And the fact that you don’t get hurt in singing
as much. (LAUGHTER) Except by the scenery. Except for, yeah, the flying sets. Depending on the show. Exactly, exactly. But it was something that, I guess, was an
external thing. You know, my family as well as, you know,
people in the extended community, kept saying, “Yeah, why don’t you sing? Do this, do that.” And there came, you know, the need to do this. But immediately, went right into training. Fortunately, had a high school teacher who
taught me voice at 7:15 in the morning– Good God. — from the age of fifteen on up. No preparation for acting. Yeah, right. No, no, no. In fact, I haven’t had any formal acting training,
you know. When did your extraordinary timbre of your
voice develop? That would have to be in adolescence. Yeah, I would say at an early age, fifteen
or sixteen. But you were singing when you were very young. Yes. The quality of the voice was something that
was very unique unto itself. When you said that you’d not had any formal
training in acting? Right, I hadn’t, no. Then what do you bring into acting? Basically, what Rosemary was saying. But you need a discipline. You need something that you have to call upon. Yes, yes. If the scenery falls on you, you know, what
happens. Right. It all happened natural. But you know, I think discipline can come
through experience. Yeah. I really do. Like you find your own discipline and your
own technique. What is your experience in that? Well, the experience– let me just finish
this train of thought. All right. I’ll hold something then. That’s all right, go on. Because I wanted to get into the fact about
opera, because as a kid, I was an oddball. What I would do, and we had a singing group,
you know, that I had formed, and we called ourselves– what was it? Not “The Variations.” Something, “Twelve Thirty-Three,” because
that was the time that it was when we finally got tired of trying to think up a name, you
know? (LAUGHTER) “Oh, let’s see … oh, all right,
yeah!” So we got together, and we would imitate and
do all the different Motown sounds and all that. This is through high school, outside of being
in church, of course. But off on the side, I would sneak to the
library and take out opera. And for some reason, the sound, I was just
into the sound of the voice, or into what it can do. And the enormity, you know, the extent of
what the voice can do from one end to the other. Umm-hmm. And in doing so, the first opera voice that
I heard was Leonard Warren (PH), you know, doing MACBETH. And I just sat and cried. For some reason, I just sat and cried, I don’t
know why, all right? But I wouldn’t let my friends know this, of
course. (LAUGHTER) “What are you doing, man? Come on!”, you know. So with that I just began to get totally into
the voice and nurturing and training and trying to mimic anything I heard. Which is acting. Which is, I suppose, yes. Sure, it’s acting. And I think that’s where my training came
from. But vocally, as well as a singer, I trained
going through college, at Chapman (PH) University, and also taking numerous lessons thereafter
from either Giorgio Tozzi (PH), Vladimir Shustroff (PH) and Maestro Eduardo Muerer (PH). I mean, you just begin to just go wherever
you need to nurture that thing. I call it “a fix.” You know, what is it that you need to sustain
yourself internally, you know, regardless of what’s going on around you. What about the acting side? Where did you acquire that, in school? The acting side, yeah, No, not in school. A little bit off and on, okay? One of the professors in school, you know,
just because of the voice itself and the naturalness that I just seemed to have, just pushed me
into the Shakespearean repertoire. And we did some, and I really, really loved
it. Because then it tapped on something that was
already there, you know, that imaginary something that was already there that needed to come
out. And from that, I just, you know, I just did
a lot of it at home, a lot of home study. Your great predecessor, Paul Robeson, didn’t
give up football. That’s right. I was just going to bring up Robeson at Cornell. Yes, that’s right. And he was a hero and an athlete. And then he learned acting out of singing,
because people wanted him to be an actor. Exactly. After he received his law degree. Had you listened or seen anything of Paul
Robeson in SHOW BOAT? Oh, yes. Oh, yes, quite a bit. And how did you feel about it? Did it influence you or did you say– Well, knowing the history of Paul Robeson
and what he stood for, in as far as the humanitarian side of what he feels mankind should be about,
the fairness for all peoples. I mean, he was a champion for oppressed peoples
all over the world, spoke nineteen different languages and all this. I mean, that in itself was extremely, you
know, awesome to me and I thought, “Wow,” you know, “this is more than I can even begin
to imagine.” And being a Phi Beta Kappa scholar and All-American
athlete as well, he to me was like a Renaissance man, ahead of his time. You know, just a champion and a hero. It was a heartbreaking life, a heartbreaking
life. Oh, yes. What about his performance in SHOW BOAT? Did that influence you, bother you– It didn’t bother me. — or inspire you? It inspired me. I have to, just to really, really pinpoint
that. When I first, my teacher in high school, his
name was Dmitri Costu (PH)– Oh, he was my teacher in high school, too. Oh, you’re kidding! We didn’t even get that far. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) He was my chorus high school teacher
in ninth grade. Wow! (LAUGHTER) That’s a small world. Wow. It is, it is. Whoa! No, this is unplanned. (LAUGHTER) Wow. One of the first songs, after, I think it
was “Non pien dri” (PH) and then there was a few art songs, from Hayden and Purcell and
all, he brought up “Old Man River.” And at the age of fifteen, I didn’t know what
the words meant. And I was like, “What is this all about?” And I took it to my father and said, you know,
“Dad, what is it?” “Well, son,” and he explained to me, you know,
why they had written in dialect, you know. And I said, “Well, why don’t they just say
it the way it is, you know, because we don’t speak this way.” You know, in our house, we didn’t speak that
way. And that was my experience of what, you know,
a black life was all about, you know, the Afro-American family. And so I refused to learn it. And in doing so, of course, Dmitri realizes,
about maybe the third or fourth lesson, says, “Well then, how’s ‘Old Man River’? You want to look at it?” And I said, “Oh, yeah, I left it at home.” And he kept, you know, knowing that being
a pianist himself he just sat down and said, “Well, look, I know it by heart, let’s just
try it.” And I said, “Oh, no!” And I started to sing it. But the thing I did love about it was that
melodically, how low it went. Of course, in those days, I did it in the
key of C. And it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had, musically, although
lyrically, it was hard to take. Of course, I understand why, now I do. But back then, being a fifteen year old, you
just kind of want to push it away and not really identify with it as much. I want to pick up, too, on the influence,
because you talk about Robeson, and of course, that was such an overarching and powerful
influence on people. Yes. But you did know about that, and I want to
move it along to other influences now. Lonette, we were talking about having seen
the two films of SHOW BOAT, one with Ava Gardner and one– With Helen Morgan, umm-hmm. And did that have an influence on you? No. Not at all? (LAUGHTER) Not even in the reverse, something
you didn’t want to do? Oh, well, maybe in the reverse. Maybe in the reverse. I actually felt that the first movie that
they made of SHOW BOAT, I didn’t like the way they portrayed black people in the film
at all. And I wasn’t too crazy about the way– That was ’27, 1927? Actually, it was probably thirties. No, ’36. Stage version was ’27, as I said earlier,
but I’m sure it was thirties. ’36 was the film, yeah. She did it on stage in ’27, though, Helen
Morgan. That’s right. And the second version as well, I found things
that I didn’t like about the portrayal of the black folks in it. So I was actually– and then, you know, I
did a production in ’83 for the Houston Grand Opera. And there were things that I was adamant about
not seeing done in this production. Such as? Like “Niggers all work on the Mississippi.” (LAUGHS) Yeah, right, okay. Your basic “N” word. I didn’t want to do it. Who made the decision on that? Hal made the decision. Hal did? Yeah. I was very pleased to see– Yeah, but it was interesting that he would
even look at the actors and ask, “How do we feel about it?”, because he did, individually. It was wonderful. Oh, yeah. At which point did he ask this of you? When? Well, he told me very early on, when I had
my first meeting with he and Garth about doing the show, that he wanted to change all the
stereotypical versions and characters of our show, but he didn’t want any of that stereotypical
stuff in there or anything that would be in any way offensive to people of color. Umm-hmm. There was a reason behind that, though. If you look at it, you know, historically
speaking, the Afro-Americans had a really rough time on the stage, okay? Back then. Yeah. And so, if you’re looking at a piece written
in 1927, that is about the 1880’s, coming through forty years, you have to kind of be
almost authentic as to where that is coming from, for that era. Right, he didn’t want to rewrite history. Right, exactly. SHOW BOAT is what it is. And there are some things that are very disturbing
about the relationship between the way white folks were treated at that time, as opposed
to the way black folks were treated. And there are some disturbing things in 1994
about that. So he didn’t want to rewrite history. It has to remain true to the fact that, yes,
black people, and especially with regard to my character, Julie, or to Joe, for instance. Julie’s choices in those days, she was a very
fair-skinned black woman, her only option was to either say she was black and be a slave
or lie and say she was white. I find that very disturbing. But these are the classics, though. SHOW BOAT is a classic, and you do not rewrite
the classics. Yes, that’s right. That’s right. Any more than in England, if Dickens, to show
the cruelty of people to the English people, you don’t say, “Well, that’s not so,” because
you must, if we’re going to do a Dickens play, “Let’s change it because it’s changed.” No, you have to, I think, remain true. But you did get some flak from– That was very interesting, what came out of
that. But SHOW BOAT is a very old-fashioned play
to begin with. Actually, the plot of SHOW BOAT, taken from
a novel by Edna Ferber, who know nothing about history. She was a popular novelist. So, in 1925, it was already a totally synthetic
image with a lot of stereotype in it, based on a nineteenth century melodrama– That’s right. — by (UNINTEL) Bussey (PH) called “The Octoroon”– Yes. Yes. — and half a dozen other plays. So they were acting out of a tradition that’s
well over a hundred years old. That’s right. In order to sell, you know– Rosemary, how do you deal with classics in
England, though? You’ve done them, and do you change them in
order– Well, AN INSPECTOR CALLS is completely changed. Changed, yes. From the original production, it certainly
is. Well, I’d like to know more about that. I couldn’t even recognize it when I saw it,
because I had seen the original, of course. It was changed how? Well, it’s supposed to all take place around
the dining room table. It all takes place on an engagement party,
when the daughter of the house is getting engaged to a smart young man. And it all takes place around the dining room
table, and the maid comes in and opens the door from time to time and says, “The Inspector’s
here,” and goes out again. And that’s usually played in stock by an eighteen
year old. And I think the actress playing it in London
is nineteen. (LAUGHTER) And she’s on stage from the beginning
of the play to the end, and Stephen has made her an extremely important character. But usually, she’s this ASM who opens the
door, says, “The Inspector’s here,” (LAUGHTER) and then goes and puts on the record, you
know, and makes the sound or goes and makes the tea or something. But Stephen– The whole point of the play is changed. The whole point of the play is changed. Well, it was a socialist polemic, really. The whole point of the play is a moral point,
as well. Yes, and that’s why it’s a wonderful– I love
being in this play, and I suppose it satisfies my feeling of not being a nurse somehow. (LAUGHTER) Did you see it in London, when it was done? I did, I did, and I just couldn’t believe
when I was asked to do it here that I would have the fortune to play in it. But I think it’s a wonderful play. It has a moral and you know, it is uplifting. It’s not just some flighty bit of nonsense,
which I thought acting– I mean, I wanted to act, but I didn’t want to be an actress,
because I thought that actresses were flighty and inconsequential people and that I really
ought to do something more with my life. With a play like this, you feel that it is
worthwhile, because the message is, you know, “We’re not alone. We must care for each other.” It’s very exciting to tell that story. And don’t you feel that it makes sense? Don’t you feel, that in a real sense, by being
actors and actresses and by being able to address the public in so many ways, that we
are blessed with those opportunities? Yes. That we actually have a very important role
to play in changing what’s happening socially and in making contributions, as directly as
you would if you were a healer or a nurse. Well, bringing up what you said about what
happened in Canada, about the– Well, you know, ironic that, you know, the
protest in Canada? Did Hal come in your dressing room and tell
about the front page of the Toronto Star? Yes. Yes. That it– This was– bring us– It was discovered recently, after a lot of
rigmarole when we first tried to open SHOW BOAT, there was protesting by some of the
black community, saying that they didn’t want to see this any more, they didn’t want to
see black people portrayed as slaves, whatever, whatnot. I could respect that opinion. Although I didn’t understand, none of us did,
why they were targeting SHOW BOAT? Why were they going to this classic and suddenly
wanting to, like, rewrite the history of this classic? As it turns out, the protest was in fact sponsored
and manipulated by people in government in Canada, who decided that they wanted to fund
this protest– Yeah, it was funded. — and get an uproar going for their own personal
political agendas, to do something to close SHOW BOAT. That’s amazing. Wow. Yeah. It wasn’t really the community at all, speaking
up about that. Yeah. Do you know, Isabelle, there was something
I wanted to– isn’t it true, though, that I mean, with change, okay? And you’re speaking about how a great work
can change from one to the [next]. A lot of it has to do with just simple survival
or making it palatable for the social acceptance of the time. Well, the social mores of our time. And business, you know, because if you– Would you agree, to a certain extent, that
it has, like, for CAROUSEL to be done in the nineties— Well, look at CAROUSEL, that’s a classic example. Oh, yeah, you have to. — you know, you can’t just gloss over issues
like wife-beating– Oh, yes, oh, yes. — and violence and suicide. You have to address them in the nineties. Right. I have a theory that revivals are classics,
and they should be treated as classics. And so, therefore, when you’re in England,
you don’t say, “Oh, here’s that old Noel Coward again.” You say, “Here’s Noel Coward’s classic,” and
there might be four of them on the West End at the same time. And everyone says, “Oh, just revivals,” but
they’re classics and they’re not changed for our time. And I think the same thing, I think, should
be held true for the SHOW BOATs and the CAROUSELs and any of the others. In the direction of it is where you have the
new and the significant part. Well, yeah. Well, a new way of looking at it without changing
it. Yes, because there are generations who come
up not knowing what that’s all about. And I think that’s important. We’re going to have to continue that after
this, because we now have to take a break. And I’m sorry, this is what happens. I’m the woman that interrupts at all times,
so here I am again. (LAUGHTER) So just stand up and stretch for
a minute. And please don’t go away. It’s all just for really one or two minutes
and we’re coming right back again. And there are so many questions and so many
things that I want to ask about here, so I’m sure you do, too. How long is our break? One minute. (LAUGHTER) How far do you want to go? (APPLAUSE)
(MUSIC) This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American Theatre Wing’s
seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” And these are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, in New York City. This seminar is on the performance, and we
have a wonderful, wonderful representative group of performers sitting here, telling
what it is to work in the theatre, and how they started working in the theatre. And Brendan Gill and George White have been
conducting a wonderful, in-depth co-chairing of this group, and they’re going to continue. And hopefully, we can have some more answers
to how you work in the theatre. There’s one thing, I’d like to sort of start
out, because we talk about, strangely enough, Phil Bosco having a cold. And it’s relevant, because all of the people
here also are– well, with the exception of Rosemary, but I think you sing, too, sometimes. In the shower or whatever. But anyway, the point is that we have four
of our five panelists who are singers and they are in shows that demand not just talking
a song through, but you have to sing music that is well known, that is major. What do you do to avoid getting a cold, or
if you have one? Now, that’s a perfectly professional [question],
you know. And it’s a terrifying thing, because you know,
we talk about opera. And the voice, you can’t control it. That goes, you might be able to fake it when
you’re speaking. So anyway, I’d like some professional advice
and counseling on what you do. I think you ought to see your doctor on that
one. (LAUGHTER) Okay, let’s go on to the theatre. Okay, but I think we need to talk about things
that you have to protect yourself from. Well, you know, people think that it’s very
glamorous to be on the stage and to be the actor or to be the singer or the performer. But I’m sure we can all attest to the fact
that it is not a glamorous life at all. It’s a life of discipline. You have to watch what you eat, what you drink,
what you do at all times. Exactly. You’re always guarding the throat. Moronic. Absolutely! (LAUGHTER) You want to eat something with
hot sauce on it, you can’t, because it’ll strip the chords. You can’t drink orange juice or grapefruit
juice or whatever before you sing. It’s constant. You can’t have a drink, forget that, no alcohol
on the chords before you perform. And mostly, for the most part, after the performance
either. Afterwards, right. Because then you’re dry the next day. So it’s a life of discipline, it’s like an
athlete. I think the most important thing you said
is you have to have discipline. Continuously. And that’s what makes an actor, that discipline,
that you’re able to recreate a role, over and over again. And that discipline ends up becoming a way
of life. And then it’s not like, to me, I don’t look
at it as being– As a sacrifice? Yeah, a sacrifice, or something hard or difficult
to do. I do! Okay? I do. (LAUGHTER) I’d like to go out and have a beer
every night. Stage door johnnies ain’t a-raging over you
with gems and roses, that’s what you’re saying. Yeah, yeah! It doesn’t take much to keep me happy. You can’t go to clubs, you can’t be around
people that smoke. No, no. You can’t be in loud places. I mean, it’s just endless. I know. It’s like becoming a hypochondriac, you know. Well, the hard thing about it, I was just
saying as we were commenting on the hour of getting here this morning, that we are indeed
vampires. I mean, we kind of live by night, but we can’t
live like vampires, you know. Like, we entertain the vampires. (LAUGHTER) So we’re on their schedule, you
know what I’m saying, but we can’t act like them, because we have to, you know, constantly
be there and, you know, be in good voice. And you know, be using our instrument a hundred
percent. And so, I think it’s a major sacrifice. It is. I think it’s wonderful to hear, because we
constantly hear about British actors and the British theatre being more disciplined than
ours and the British have more discipline. Surely you couldn’t ask for more than that. But what would you say, Rosemary? No, I was just going to quote Sir Laurence
Olivier because he said the most important attribute an actor can have is stamina. Uh-huh. He said, “You can have all the talent in the
world, but unless you’ve got stamina, you won’t survive the great roles.” Well, he did. He was manic about that. You can not play Coriolanus unless you’ve
got stamina. You can’t play Othello unless you’ve got stamina. You can’t play any of the great parts. And he was an athlete. Yes, exactly. He kept himself, worked like an athlete all
the time. Oh, yeah, yeah. And he would test himself with falls. He would want to fall farther, on purpose,
as a dying person, than anybody else had ever fallen, you know. Take bigger risks. Ten feet, twelve feet, whatever it was. And it was superb and wonderful. And to me, what was odd was that he physically
fell apart so young. He wasn’t the wonderful athletic person. I know. That’s the irony. But he kept himself, even so, even when he
was doing– Oh, yes, he was always, right to the very
end. And he wouldn’t not go on. He wouldn’t not be playing, but it was hard. Do you find a difference between the British
performer and the American performer, working with both? In terms of discipline and things? Yes. No. I think, in the old days, English actors were
not very disciplined. They used to drink a lot, you know? It was a tradition to go on slightly tipsy. But that has all changed. (LAUGHTER) And you know, there are some wonderful
actors in America that also had that reputation. But thank goodness, young people don’t feel
that that’s a part of it any more. Oh, and even the actors we used to have who
were famous for a seeming lack of discipline, who did drink and carry on, like Tallulah
Bankhead and John Barrymore, nevertheless, they had the tradition of discipline, even
when they violated it, and they were determined to go on, in the condition they were in. Well, Charlotte, you were going to say– I was going to say something about musicals. When you have to sing and you have to dance
and you have to act, it’s not just preparing for the acting, it’s preparing for the dancing
and the singing. Which means that, you know, if you’re dancing
a lot, you have to go to physical therapy, you have to go to dance class, you have to
swim, you have to ice after the show. Then with your voice, you can’t eat this,
you can’t do that. I mean, it’s just like constant, you know,
preparation. That’s right. What preparation do you have before each show? Swim, ’cause I have tendonitis everywhere. Swimming, mostly. And then I go to a form of Pilates, which
is a form of dance. Or I always get to the theatre early and give
myself a ballet barre. I ice after the show every night. What does that mean? Ice, because I have tendonitis. So after you dance, things swell up and you
ice, to ice it down, my knees and my feet. My brother used to, when he was in SONG AND
DANCE, he danced in that, he used to get a huge bucket of ice and water and have it waiting
for him, and stick them in, right after the show and sit and then take off his makeup. I can not do that. Now, is tendonitis curable? Not really, it’s kind of a chronic thing. You can keep it under control. What about your father? Does he have it? Oh yeah, my father can barely walk. (LAUGHS) Oh, I disagree. No, no, well, the doctors go, “How do you
walk? How are you doing this?” And he just does it. No, it’s a lot of physical abuse that you
do on yourself. And you have to take care of yourself, you
know, or else you will have a lot of pain. That’s true. But it’s three times as much work, I think,
when you’re in a musical. It’s not easy, it’s really not. No, it’s not. Yeah, it’s a lot more work here, I mean, in
a musical doing eight shows a week, as opposed to an opera doing a maximum of four a week. Right. But yet, at the same time, depending on the
role you’re playing, that also can be extremely difficult. Can be hard. Or like a straight role, a legit play, where
you don’t sing at all or dance at all, where you’re just acting, that’s what I crave to
do. Me, too. I can’t wait. I can’t wait for the day when I can just do
a straight play, when I’m not worrying about warming up the voice for an hour before every
show. And you can have a drink after the show. Is that what you want to do? Do you want to do a straight play? Oh, yes, I’d love to. Yeah, then I could go out and have a drink
after the show. That raspy voice is very good on stage. (LAUGHTER) Speaking is great. Who else would like to go into a straight
play, without singing and dancing? Oh, well, I don’t know for me, it’s just wherever
I think the work that I believe in takes me. You know, I mean, my next project could be
an opera if it’s the right part for me. Or if the right part were to come along for
me in a straight play, I would want to do that as well. You know, I think it depends on where the
soul of the artist craves to go to next, and whatever, you know, opportunity drops in your
lap. For some reason, I feel that it’s the challenge,
you know? And I get off on that. I mean, if there’s a challenge, you know,
then I’m going to go for it and try to conquer whatever that is. And that is what this is all about, is this,
you know, keeping healthy is a challenge, you know? And the minute you (LAUGHS) catch that bug,
then you end up saying, “Okay, I lost the challenge.” (LAUGHTER) It’s interesting, too, when you do get involved
in something and you have that discipline, it does simplify your life in a weird way,
because it focuses you. When you’re not working is when your life
is all over the place You go astray. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. And then suddenly, it goes whoop! And then you have a purpose, every minute
of every day, and it’s nice in a way, you know? Well, working is great. Yeah. What happens when it’s not working? And what happens to your performance and the
audience’s reaction to it when it’s not working? Do you have something to bring forth, that
you can rise above this, that you can respond through your responsibility as an actress
towards the audience? If the instrument doesn’t respond, if you
get hung up– Right. I mean, if something goes wrong and you’re
not singing well that day or you’re not– You’re not feeling well? You have to let go of it, you know? I mean, because there’s a point where you
can go crazy– That’s right. — and neurotic, and just get like, “I didn’t
sing that note well, and it ruined my whole performance.” And you know, it doesn’t. And I’ve learned that, by seeing, you know,
my fiancé [Terrence Mann], actually. He’s in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST right now and
he’s, like, so neurotic about this one note. (LAUGHTER) And I’ve gone to the show and seen
it and seen him blow the note completely. And nobody knew but him. And you know, even people would know, I mean,
it was that bad. (LAUGHTER) But they didn’t care. But no one cared! And I kept trying to say to him, “Honey, it’s
not even about it! You don’t realize how much you bring to that
role and how much no one cares.” Exactly. Well, I can give you one good example of that,
when I was doing LADY DAY, which was a one woman show, which was the story of Billie
Holiday’s life. I remember making the mistake of going out
on stage for a matinee, after having been really sick for the past two or three days,
with a really bad cough and a really sore throat but thinking it was fine. And I was singing on it, so I didn’t know
there was going to be a problem. And this day, the third day of the illness,
and I went to work, and I didn’t really warm up. I did not warm up. I went to half hour, put on my makeup, went
out on stage, opened my mouth to sing, and realized there was no voice. I didn’t have a voice. And the whole show was songs, 22 songs, one
after the other. And I remember turning to my musical director,
Danny Holgate (PH), saying, “Danny, you have to take all the keys down. You have to lower everything.” And he said, “Like what? A half a step? A whole step?” I said, “No! Lower it a third! Lower it a fourth! You really have to lower it!” I could not sing the notes. I ended up talking through the whole show,
for like an hour and forty-five minutes, just talking and acting through those songs. I got a standing ovation after the show. Nobody in the audience, except those who knew
I was deathly ill, they thought that that’s the way I was supposed to perform the show,
just half dead or something. (LAUGHTER) You know? Because that’s how it was this day. Well, but that’s what we’re talking about
here, you know, is being a professional. Well, I think the show must go on. And the difference between Rosemary ringing
at the door and being a lady, and being a professional on stage and knowing what to
call upon and do over time, so that the audience gets their money’s worth, you know. That audience is a very important ingredient. Oh, they are the ingredient. And that’s where the technique comes in, too. Like studying versus not studying, whether
it’s an opera technique or any other type of a technique, a good vocal technique basically
is the same as an opera technique. And it allows you to, it gives you the tools
that you need, so that when the voice isn’t working properly and you are sick and you’re
not well and you feel you can’t do it, you can. You can, if you rely on technique. Yeah. Also, though, I mean, to expound on that a
bit, even if you haven’t been trained, you can develop your own technique, you know,
to get through it. That’s true, too. That’s true. And that you have to rely on and also believe
in, is whether it’s sheer guts or technique, one way or the other, you know, you’re going
to persevere. Sure. I think, also, you know, I think it’s very
important, I believe you need to take everything, not bring your baggage onstage with you. No, no, right. But you need to take everything that has happened
to you in that day or what has happened in the world in that day, and use it when you
go on that stage. I remember when the O.J. Simpson thing happened
and we’re dealing with a show about wife-beating. There was no way that everybody in the audience
wasn’t thinking about the fact that O.J. Simpson was being chased down a freeway at that moment,
and we’re doing a show about wife-beating. We had to use it, you know? I mean, just the same as when you’re sick,
so you bring that reality to your character. Yeah, yeah. But as long as you’re a hundred percent committed
to that, and committed to we’re all having a group consciousness now of what’s going
on in the society or what’s going on with Lonette when she’s sick. So they’re thinking, “Billie, God, she was
so sick. She was so unhealthy, she was drinking so
much.” That’s right. Yep. “And still, look what she was able to do.” I think that is just as important as technique
and a discipline, as the actual, you know, physical. It is. Rosemary, what do you do? Well, there’s a wonderful doctor I know called
“Dr. Theatre.” (LAUGHTER) And the old adage is, however ill
you’re feeling– as an actor, I’m talking, not as a singer– is that somehow, when you
get on stage, you shoot out that adrenaline and adrenaline is a great cure. And somehow, all your aches and pains disappear
for that time that you’re on stage. And you think, “How did I do that?” Because you come off and then you collapse. But you know, there is something that happens. Does the audience help you in that? Do you respond to an audience? If you feel that you really feel terrible
and this is a terrible audience as well, what do you do about that? If the audience is terrible? Well, Edith Evans once was talking to a group
of young students and she said when she was a young actress, she came off stage and she
said, “Oh, the audience were terrible tonight.” And an older actor sort of beckoned her over
and said, “Listen, Edith, have you ever thought how good you were tonight?” (LAUGHTER) “And don’t forget, they have paid
to see you. You have not paid to see them.” (LAUGHTER) That’s right. That’s right. Very good, yes. That’s the truth. An interesting thing has happened. In the Times today, it was announced that
CAROUSEL will be closing. Yeah. So that’s one more factor that goes into the
discipline of acting, “as if,” without regard to whatever, or embracing whatever. Have you known for a week or so that this
was going to be the case? Well, to talk about getting what happens in
your day into your show, they told us at half hour before a show one night. Yesterday? I think it was Thursday night. And they told us before, you know, it was
printed in the papers, but that’s the only time they can gather the entire cast and everybody
together. And everything was relevant that night. Every time Mrs. Mullin said, “Stop the carousel!”
we were like, (SOBBING) “Oh, oh, my God!” (LAUGHTER) But we ended up having a very [good
show]. I mean, everybody’s energy and focus was on,
“Well, we’re not going to be able to do this for very much longer.” And so, we all brought in that to our show
and we ended up having a really wonderful show that night. We had tons of understudies on, but we had
a great show that night, because it was relevant. We have a lot of questions, and so, I’m going
to ask to turn it over to our audience. Do you want to ask your question? Sure. My name’s Shelton Dumenassi. This is addressed to all of you. How did you, as struggling actors before your
break, achieve the visibility to get agents, casting directors, everybody that’s in the
industry interested in you? And how do you maintain that visibility in
between shows? Oooh! Mmmm. (LAUGHTER) You know what I was going to say? My first comment was that when you say “before
the break” or “before the big break”? I find that performance careers are a series
of breaks. It’s a series of surviving from one job to
the next and wondering what you’re going to do next. It never stops, ever. So for me, there was no one break. It’s still a question of, “Now, what am I
going to do after SHOW BOAT?” That’s why I hope it’s going to be more writing,
producing, and directing, because I’m a little more in control of that. Any other? Well, you know, like just finding out that
CAROUSEL is closing, my family’s like, “Oh, well, you got that Tony, so you’ll get a job,
won’t you?” I’m like, “No, that doesn’t mean anything.” (LAUGHTER) No, it doesn’t. You know, it means you’ve been recognized
by your community, but it doesn’t mean anything. So I think what you have to do is just, you
know, constantly keep reworking your craft, and keep yourself out there. Yeah. Right. And the other thing is not expect that you
deserve– no, let me see if I can say this right. The world does not owe you a living. That’s right. You’ve got to go out there and get it. So don’t just say, “Well, I’ve got my Tony,
give me my next job.” You make your own break. And there is one thing to say also. You can get jobs without an agent. And Back Stage, I mean, all of us did at one
point, I did, I went through Back Stage weekly and did everything that I could and that’s
how I got my first job. It took me a couple years, but I constantly
pursued. And you can get a job without an agent, and
you can do it on your own. Yeah, reading the trades and going to all
the auditions that you can. Get your face out there. Yeah. As well as making calls and the networking
is basically what it’s all about. A lot of times, you’ll end up with an agent
that you may not have a good relationship with and it may not have anything to do with
jobs. (HE LAUGHS) It just could be, you know, a
personality conflict. And you have to consider that as well. I think that sort of gives you some ideas. Would you like to ask a question? I’m Linda Satolla, and I really appreciated
all your personal stories. Some schools came up, while you were talking,
so I wanted to ask, I guess Audra and Rosemary, if you make it a point to somehow go back
to your school and do workshops or lectures or anything like that? Well, I’m involved with a scholarship program
at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, because my roommate when I was there was killed in
an automobile crash, many, many years ago. And so, a fund was collected in her name. And it is given to an American student, to
help them go to the British Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, because it’s very, very hard
to survive there with living expenses and tuition. So I’ve sat in on a lot of auditions. I’ve never taught at RADA. Katherine Packer, and my question is for Audra. I was wondering how your experience was different,
working with a British director? Well, I’ve only worked with one other professional
director, and that was Susan Schulman in THE SECRET GARDEN. And I think the difference is Nick Hytner
had this hands-on, hands-off approach, where he would just kind of guide you and then let
you find what was within you. And then if you were way off, he’d say, “Umm,
come back over here a little bit.” But he worked from the actors. He had a vision of the show, cast it the way
he wanted to cast it, and then worked with the actors. The first day of rehearsal, when we started
the mound scene, he said, “Okay, Audra, go.” I had the first line. I was like, “What?” He said, “Okay, go!” And we kind of shaped it that way, and I think
it’s an incredible way to work, because it really is a group effort that way. Thank you. My name is John Francis Fox. My question is for Rosemary Harris. Since you’ve also done a lot of stage work
in England, can you tell us the major difference between American and British audiences? Oh, there’s a vast difference. American audiences are much more outgoing,
much more generous in their applause. And it’s because of, I think, national characteristics. Americans as a people are much more outgoing,
less reserved. English people, you know, it seems like coldness
and shyness, but they’re very, very self-conscious. So they don’t make much noise when they go
to the theatre. They don’t like to draw attention to themselves,
and they don’t like to participate. Whereas playing to American audiences is just
wonderful, really. It makes a big difference. Yeah! As Americans, have any of you worked in England? I did. I did the musical CARRIE. (GASPS AND LAUGHTER) Anyway, so I was in Stratford
actually, we did that in Stratford, and we rehearsed in London. And then we came here. My name is Jed Miller, and my question, I
guess, is for all of you, particularly, I guess, Rosemary Harris. It’s about revivals. You talked about updating the script, and
the themes of an older show for a contemporary performance. What about acting style? How do you deal with the challenges? Is it a matter of training? How do you deal with the challenges, presenting
maybe something that was written to be performed in an older style? Well, Shakespeare, I think, had the answer,
or one of the answers, when he gives Hamlet the advice to the Players and he says, “Give
to each play the age and body of its time.” Meaning, the play can’t be translated into
modern– but my feeling is that unless a director or actor can play the play the way it was
written and in the age and body of when it was written, they shouldn’t then update it. I get rather upset when plays get updated
and made modern, and I feel they don’t even understand what the play’s about in its own
period. But– I’ve forgotten what your question was. (LAUGHTER) I’m sorry We did answer it? Just keep on talking, it doesn’t matter. Sorry about that. I’d like to ask a question, and I’d like it
to be a round table, round panel discussion. How do you deal with auditions? I faint. Faint. (LAUGHTER) That’s what I do. Very clever. That’s me. All right, that takes care of them. How often have you done auditions? How do you prepare for them and what kind
of preparation do you do for them? As much as you [can]. I mean, you really research the material you’re
auditioning for. And the thing is, for me, I try to just go
in there being who they want me to be and doing my work and letting whatever else happens,
that’s fine. You know, if I get the job, that’s gravy. But as long as I’ve gone in there and felt
like I’ve done my work as a performer, I’m satisfied. Charlotte, did you have to audition? Yeah. I don’t think you ever, ever conquer auditioning,
or ever control it like you want to. It’s a struggle constantly, and will always
be, and I think that’s what you have to let go of, because you just never know. And you go in, and sometimes you do well– Do you learn how to do auditions? You can learn to a point, but then, I swear,
sometimes you think you’ve got a handle on it, and you just wake up that morning and
you just don’t. But you can to a point. I mean, you learn as you go. And it’s just, I think that you can learn
to a certain point where you don’t go down that far, you know what I mean? So you’re not that bad. Totally die out there. (LAUGHTER) Like you do, you know what I mean? But you still always– and sometimes you hit
and you don’t even– I don’t know. I know. Michel, you want to take it from here? Yeah, I think a lot of times, if you just
gear into yourself, have fun. I mean, that’s the last thing I realized,
because auditioning is like, you know, midterms. It brings sweaty palms. You start, you know, fainting. You know, whatever, and it just drives you
crazy. But if you can get past all that, take a deep
breath, and just go in and have fun and be yourself as much as you can, you know? Then you can walk away saying, “Well, if they
don’t like me, fine. I’m going on to the next audition.” You know, whatever. Rosemary? Well, it’s a long time since I’ve auditioned,
but I can speak from the other side, especially with the scholarship program. I sat in on a lot of auditions and I learned
a very important thing, that you form an impression of the auditionee the moment they come into
your vision. And all you want them to say is, “Look, I’m
here. Your worries are over. You need look no further, I am who you want.” (LAUGHTER) And I think if you come in with
that sort of attitude, it goes a long way to people saying, “By golly, yes! That is who we want.” That’s my advice. Auto-suggestion again. Yeah. Oh, yes. I think it’s really important to always remember
what an audition is. It’s a competitive situation. Some of us don’t like competing on any level,
in any sense of the word. You’re up against who knows how many other
performers who are up for the same role, and you know, you’re being scrutinized. Many people are walking in the room, before
you and after you, trying to get the same job. And it is what it is. So I don’t think there’s any way to really
make that a comfortable, wonderful, enjoyable experience, unless you love to compete. (LAUGHTER) Unless you just live to compete. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It is what it is and I
think you have to take it as we talked about it, as a challenge, and as an exercise in
some sort of self-discipline, self– I don’t know, something. You know, see how good you can do in it for
yourself. Does it work when you do that? I think it works better. I think it works better, because then it’s
not about “Do they like me? Am I right for this role?” It’s about “I’m gonna do this today for me,
and this makes me feel good because I know I did my best.” Do you ever go back and find out why you didn’t
get it? Sometimes you do find out. I like to know why I didn’t get it. I think it’s important. Was it, did I come in with a funny attitude
that day, because I argued with a cab driver? Is it because I’m too tall? Is it because I’m black? Is it because I’m not black enough? Did I not read well? Did I not sing well? Or none of the above? (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Well, here we are, the end of the program
again. Oh, already? Wow. And I have to say, it’s been just fabulous
to listen to these people talk about what it is to work in the theatre. And this is an American Theatre Wing seminar,
coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. And “Working in the Theatre” seminars are
just one of our year-round programs. These seminars focus on the performance and
the playscript/director, the production, and the set, costume, and scene designer. I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I’m President of the American Theatre Wing. And I am indeed proud to be able to call upon
the people that we do, that tell us what it is to work in the theatre, the work here,
year in, year out in the theatre, and bring us, the audience, such wonderful pleasure
and enjoyment. Thank you all for being here. (APPLAUSE)

One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *