Performance (Working In The Theatre #241)


(APPLAUSE)
Welcome to the 23rd year of the American Theatre Wing’s “Working in
the Theatre” seminars. These come to you from the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Theatre Wing”s Antoinette
Perry Tony Awards, I am so pleased to be able to bring you these seminars. They’re a wonderful,
rare chance to see what it is to work in the theatre. This opportunity comes to you to watch, listen,
and learn from performers and producers, playwrights, directors, choreographers, set and scene designers
and costumes and everybody that works in the theatre and makes up the whole of theatre.
We’re discussing realities of working in the theatre. And since we first introduced these
seminars, more than 1,000 of Broadway’s finest and yet-to-be- finest have taken part in these
seminars. As many of you already know, the Wing is more
than the Tony Awards. And this year, there is a lot of talk about the Tony Awards, and
we are indeed pleased that there is a very exciting season, and the Tony is going to
be seen over CBS, and millions of people can see how great the New York theatre is. But
the American Theatre Wing is more than the Tony’s. We are a year-round organization.
And the Tony Award was given for achieving distinguished attitudes in the theatre, the
creative part of the theatre. And we continue to salute that, as we go through our programs
year-round. We bring theatre to hospitals and nursing
homes and AIDS center, so that people who cannot come out yet get to see and enjoy the
thrill of live theatre. We go into schools, and five years ago, we established “Introduction
to Broadway.” And since that time, more than 55,000 New York City schoolchildren, many
for the first time, came to Broadway to see their very first Broadway show. And then,
based on that, we realized that we needed to do more than that. So theatre professionals
went into the high schools and talked to the students to tell them what it was to work
in the theatre. Not only from the point of being a dancer or a singer or a director,
but also, there are other role models for them to see. They could be a stage manager
or a carpenter or an electrician in the theatre. And it was wonderful to see their minds being
opened to the possibilities of what the theatre is all about. You know, the Wing goes on year in and year
out, and it’s a very exciting thing for us to be able to do. These seminars are unique
in the fact that they bring you this wonderful picture of working in the theatre. And I would
like to turn them over right now, because we have so little time and there is so much
to say about it, that I find I’m always interrupting at a very crucial time. So I’m hoping I won’t
have to do that today. And I want to turn this seminar, which is
on the performance, over immediately to Brendan Gill, who is an author, a historian, a writer,
and member of the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing, and above all of those
things, he is a lover of the theatre. And then comes George White, who is President
of the O’Neill Center in Waterford, Connecticut, is on the faculty of Yale University, and
is a director, both here and abroad, has done wonderful productions in both Russia and China.
And they will introduce to you this wonderful panel, this exciting and delightful panel
of performers. Thank you very much for being here. (APPLAUSE) On my farthest left is Michael Nouri, now
appearing on Broadway in VICTOR/VICTORIA. He has also appeared opposite Julie Harris
in the Broadway production of FORTY CARATS, not to mention numerous performances Off-Broadway
and in regional theatre. Film roles include Flashdance, and he has received Best Actor
Award at the Avorius (PH) Film Festival for the Hidden (PH). Next to Michael is Donna Murphy, who is currently
being seen at the Neil Simon Theatre in THE KING AND I, I think the most beautiful production
I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s like having died and gone to heaven! (LAUGHTER) And I
hope there are elephants like that in heaven. It’ s a big improvement on my initial notice
about heaven. Donna’ s Broadway credits include PASSION, TWELVE DREAMS and THEY’RE PLAYING
OUR SONG. Off-Broadway, HELLO, AGAIN, BIRDS OF PARADISE, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. She made
her feature film debut in Jade and has appeared on TV in “Law and Order, ” “‘The Table at
Ciro’s” and “Another World.” Mark Linn-Baker is next, who’s appearing in
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. His past Broadway shows include LAUGHTER ON
THE 23RD FLOOR, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and ALICE IN CONCERT. Film credits include
Woody Allen’s Manhattan and My Favorite Year. Also well-known for TV’s “Perfect Strangers.” And right next to me here on my left is Judith
Ivey, currently appearing in A FAIR COUNTRY. She has innumerable Broadway and Off-Broadway
credits, including STEAMING, PIAF, BEDROOM FARCE. Film work includes Brighton Beach Memoirs,
Compromising Positions, and The Woman in Red. I am privileged to ask the first question,
and I want to ask Donna something that everybody must ask her, of course, in this magnificent
production, with such gorgeous costumes of every kind. You yourself are wearing Victorian
costumes of a voluminousness that staggers the imagination. (LAUGHTER) Before you do that, I’m going to introduce
my side, because you’ve got the power play. (LAUGHTER) You have more people than I do,
so there we are. Oh, I beg your pardon. On my far right, next to Isabelle, is Daphne
Rubin-Vega, currently starring in RENT, which has just moved onto Broadway. Has previously
written songs for album and single releases on the Maxi label. On her immediate left is John Cullum, first
seen on Broadway in CAMELOT, currently appearing in SHOW BOAT. Best known on Broadway for SHENANDOAH,
ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, and ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. Well-known to TV audiences
as Holling in “Northern Exposure,” and film credits include 1776, Karie, Sweet Country,
and The Prodigal. And on my immediate right is Ann Dusquenay,
who is fresh from a Japanese tour of PORGY AND BESS and currently can be seen on Broadway
in the smash hit, BRING IN ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK. And is no stranger to Broadway,
as she appeared in JELLY’S LAST JAM, THE WIZ, and BLUES IN THE NIGHT. And Off-Broadway appearances
include SPUNK and LADY DAY. She can also be seen in the film, The Cotton Club. Over to
you, Brendan. Thank you.
(LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Once a director, always a director. George commonly gets to ask the first question,
which is why I was so excited today about the high privilege of being able to ask the
first question. Back to what I would think of as a problem, your maneuverability inside
the voluminousness. You had some practice in PASSION, but nothing like this. Well, it’s interesting. In PASSION, I played
a woman who kind of abandons the outer trappings of that time. So there were two principal
female characters in PASSION, and one of the women, Clara, wore gorgeous gowns and she
was corseted and hooped. And I was somewhat envious of how beautiful she got to look,
but being on the other side of it, in terms of what you go through physically to wear
those dresses, the weight of them, and constricting your body in a way, I think actually Fosca
had it easy! (LAUGHS) She made a very good choice! To wear a suit today must be a great relief. Oh, it’s great, yes. I mean, I chose to start
using the hoops and the corsets very early on in rehearsal, because it pretty much dictates
much of not only the way you behave individually, but in relation to the other actors. It keeps
people from getting close to you, and I think that that is an issue that is not accidental. Well, I was going to say, too, I was thrilled
and astonished by the way you moved around. Obviously, in the numbers like “Shall We Dance?”
and all. Right. But also, to see you were able to actually
lie on your stomach with that. (DONNA LAUGHS) It’s extraordinary, with the head getting
lower than the king’s and all of that. When did you start with that? Well, I have three different sized hoops in
the show. They get progressively larger. (LAUGHTER) And the largest is the ball gown. Can you describe what George is talking about,
as you go down on the floor and the costume goes all around you as you sink down? Well, the custom in Thailand at that time
was that no one was to have their head higher than the king’s. And in fact, the majority
of people prostrated themselves on the ground when in the presence of the king, which Anna
challenged, because she just said, “I can’t work that way. I can’t think. I just can’t
do it.” Which was, of course, a scandal. But they finally compromised, and she agreed
to keep her head lower than -his. So if he sat, she sat, and if he kneeled, she kneeled.
And within the show, he tests that. And so, in this rather huge “thang” that I’m wearing,
he goes down to his knees and then goes down on the ground and I have to negotiate a way
to get down there myself. And it’s a little different every night, which is very good.
(LAUGHS) What about the difficulty of singing when
you’re corseted like that? Is that technically a difficulty or not? It takes getting used to. Initially, I had
a very hard time with it. Now, I’ve almost come to depend on it, because you use the
corset. The support of it makes you very aware of your back, and you kind of breathe into
it, and you almost need to breathe deeper than where the corset constricts you. So you
end up breathing very deeply. But I had a stomach virus last weekend (LAUGHS), and that
in a corset is a whole other experience (LAUGHTER), which I advise missing and avoiding at all
costs. I want to move over to Daphne for a second,
because in reviewing your credits, did you start as a recording artist? How did you get
going in this business? And then moved into the theatre or how did you go? My first success, I mean, I started to make
money, was recording. But you know, it was much more difficult to make money acting.
(LAUGHS) But that doesn’t mean that acting was not the first thing that I fell in love
with, and my first pursuit. My first success, or experience in professional performing,
was being in a girl group called “‘Pajama Party.” And we made some albums on the Atlantic
label, and that’s how I started really performing. So I put acting sort of on the side. But it
didn’t come later. it was always there, it was just gestating, you know. How did you get into RENT? I auditioned. And how did you know about the audition? My agent. My agent called me, and she knows
that I’m a singer, and she said, “There is a rock opera based on LA BOHEME, ” and immediately,
I wanted to have nothing to do with it. (LAUGHTER) I felt that I wanted to keep my music and
my acting separate. And that was just my choice. I didn’t really question it, I just wanted
it to be that way. And she said, “”Well, you know, it’s a rock opera. The music is brand
spanking new. And Mimi is a junkie S&M dancer with AIDS.” And I said — “That sounds great! (LAUGHTER) “I’ll try it,” you know? And I thought that
I really had nothing to lose, so my attitude was completely different. You know, I didn’t
go in there ravenous. You know, I just went in there giving what I could, and after a
bunch of auditions (LAUGHS), you know how it is — well, I know how it is! (LAUGHTER)
After, you know, that bunch of auditions, I got it. And I think it’s the best thing
that ever happened to me. Have you been to the Met and seen BOHEME,
the Puccini? I haven’t had time. (LAUGHS) Have you ever seen it? I saw it when I was a kid. My dad is an opera
addict. And so, when I was like about nine or ten, I saw LA BOHEME. I don’t base anything
that I do on LA BOHEME, but I did see it once. John, you’re looking very studious here. No, I was just thinking. I was just listening! One of the problems, when we talk about how
people get particular jobs, it always turns out that no matter who you are, seems to be
auditioning necessary. But now, in the case of Donna, surely because of what you did with
PASSION, you were the choice very readily for this? Or not so? I didn’t audition for THE KING AND I. In a
way, though, this may sound strange, I mean, it was a luxury to be asked to do it. But
I have found that auditioning is often the beginning, if you get the gig, of a process,
in terms of it’s almost the beginning of a rehearsal process. And I kind of missed having
that first step, strangely enough. I’m not complaining about the blessedness of just
being asked to do it. But it took me a long time to make the choice and to make the commitment
to do it, and a year later, I was starting rehearsals.
And because I’ve done mostly new shows, I’m used to doing a reading and then a workshop
and then four to eight weeks rehearsal. And so, a process that’s a slow evolution. In
the theatre, anyway, you certainly don’t have that in television or film, but in theatre.
And with THE KING AND I, I didn’t have that. And so I sort of missed those, because when
I’m auditioning, particularly if you have two or three auditions for something, it’s
the first steps. And you’re making choices and you’ re shaping things, so it’s a mixed
kind of blessing, I’ve found. Judith, in auditioning, do you feel the same
sense that you’re learning something from one occasion to the next? I was going to say, I was offered the role
in A FAIR COUNTRY and didn’t audition. And I spent the first week waiting for them to
fire me. (LAUGHTER) And I realized the luxury of auditioning is it’s an affirmation that
what you brought in the room is what they want. Right. And when you don’t go through the audition
process, then you’re sitting there for the first week, if not longer, thinking, “Gee,
I wonder if this is what they wanted,” you know? And if they are maybe not quite as forthcoming
in their compliments, then it makes you terribly insecure (LAUGHS), and you think, “They’re
going to get rid of me! This isn’t what they wanted.” So there’s a plus side and a down
side, I think, to auditioning. That’s true. Because for outsiders, we just think of the
anguish of having to go through the process of auditioning, but it isn’t simply anguish.
Of course, if you’re successful, then the anguish can be forgotten. What is your situation?
Did you expect to audition? Yes, it seemed to me, did they put together
a team or did you audition? For FORUM? Well, FORUM’s been a long time
coming. I originally auditioned for FORUM, and then a year later, I got a callback. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, the penny dropped. Takes a while. Which I declined to go to, and a year later,
they offered me the part. So it was a two-year process. (LAUGHTER) Amazing! Pretty much, “anguish” would be how I would
describe it, yeah. (LAUGHTER) I think there was a lot of concern, because I had just worked
with Jerry in LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR, with Nathan, with Lew Standlen. And then Nathan
was offered the job, I think. I don’t think they made him audition. And Lew Standlen was
also hired, and I think there was a lot of concern that if they hired a third person
from LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR, that that would — I don’ t know what that would do,
but someone was very afraid of that. (LAUGHTER) You would have thought that that was a good
thing to have, because of the ensemble feeling. Yeah, exactly. Well, you could think that, too, that that
might be a good way to go. But someone was very frightened of it, I don’t know who. You always have that sense, you’ re right,
Brendan, when you “ensemble,” it does support this kind of thing. Oh, and one of the great things about FORUM
is that most of the people in that show have worked with each other in different combinations
along the way. And you seem to be having a very good time
together! Well, as it turns out, yes, we’re having a
good time. People were asking during previews, as I’m sure the two of you know, “Are you
having a good time?” And when you’re in previews, you don’t know. (LAUGHTER) It’s at the opening,
you find out whether you have a good time. Now, why was it a long delay? Was that mostly
raising the money? No, originally the production was set to go,
and then Nathan was offered The Birdcage, and he went off and did that and they put
the production on hold. And a year after that was done, they were able to put it together. You wouldn’t think you could afford to let
things slip like that, month after month, and then year after year. But that’s the way
it works! Yeah, always. It never happens the way you
thought it was going to happen. And then, as far as commitments in the future
go, then you all have to plan for what, two years from now? Are there other things hovering
about, including movies? Well, you just never know what’s going to
actually come to fruition when. Michael, what about VICTOR/VICTORIA? How long
did that take to get here? Well, as far as I’m concerned, about a year.
As far as Blake and Julie are concerned, I think about fifteen years. Yeah, it’s a lifetime! (LAUGHTER) And it had its evolution starting on the coast,
rather than New York, didn’t it? Yes. Well, obviously it was first the movie.
And I think that Blake had always envisioned it as being a Broadway show. We wanted to
do that. From the beginning? Yeah. And one thing led to another, and as
Mark was saying, one never knows how it’s going to evolve or if it’s going to evolve
at all. For me, it was just a wonderful case of serendipity. it was meant to be, is my
experience of it. Nobody knew that I sang. A director called
me up and asked me if I sang and I said, “‘Yes, I’d love to sing!” You know, qualified. (LAUGHTER)
“Would you mind coming and singing for us, because I’m going to direct a production of
SOUTH PACIFIC with Sandy Duncan?” And I said I’d be delighted to, because it’s really my
first love, singing. And so, I practiced a bit and I went and I sang for him and for
Sandy and they told me how relieved they were that I could sing (LAUGHTER), because they
didn’t want to have to make their speeches to me about how regretful they were that I
wasn’t hired. And so, I did that at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, in California.
And during rehearsals, I stopped off at a restaurant to get some coffee. And at a table,
I later found out, Blake tole me, that at the moment that I walked thought the door,
he and Tony Adams, the producer, were saying, Who are we going to get to play King Marchan?”
And I walked in the door. And it was just like a lightning bolt to them, and they said,
“Does he sing?” They called me over to the table and said, This is Blake Edwards and
So-and-So, and we’re doing VICTOR/VICTORIA in New York. Do you sing?” And I said, “Yes,
as a matter of fact, I do.” Now, I’m quite confident! (LAUGHTER) I’ve learned not to
equivocate by now. “Yes, I do. I sing.” “Here’s a script for VICTOR/VICTORIA. Would you mind
reading it and get back to us, let us know if you like it? We’ re going to go to Broadway
with it. So I took the script home that night and I
called them the next day, without having even opened the script, and I said, “I love it.
I think it’s great.” And it’s true, I didn’t even read it. (LAUGHTER) “”Great, would you
come and audition for us?” And I said, “No, I won’t.” And I wasn’t being cavalier about
it. It’s because I felt, one, the schedule was so compressed that it would have been
an impossibility. And two, I felt that I would have been shortchanging myself and doing myself
an injustice, and them. And I said, “Look, you’re going to have an opportunity to see
me supported by a wonderful cast and a wonderful orchestra. And I will give you a car to come
down.” And I mean, here I am, offering Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews a car! (LAUGHTER)
Like they need a car. Well, they moved on to somebody else. They
took it however they took it. They offered it to someone else, and it didn’t work out.
And shortly afterwards, I found out that they were coming to the last performance of SOUTH
PACIFIC. And I looked out in the audience and there they were, and they came backstage
afterwards. And Blake said, “‘You want to go to Broadway?” And I said, “Sure.” And that
was it. What a happy story! That’s a nice story. Now,
in the original production, Ezio Pinza played the role that you played. So of course, it
was an older man. Did you play it in SOUTH PACIFIC as an older man? Did you make yourself
much older? No, no, I didn’t. I didn’t feel the need to
do that. Why did you feel that you were shortchanging
yourself by doing another audition? By my estimation, to go into a rehearsal hall
with an upright piano, and to sing a number from GUYS AND DOLLS as an audition piece for
an original piece would have been — it was just a hunch, Isabelle. I don’t know. It was
a gamble. But I was just trusting my instinct. And I wasn’t being cavalier or arrogant about
it. I really wanted to stack the cards on my side as much as possible. I did not, and
I should mention this, that I included in my declining to audition, I made it very clear
that I was extremely interested and excited about doing it. That’s very interesting. Well, also, in a funny way, you were auditioning
by inviting them to come to SOUTH PACIFIC, so in effect — That was my audition. — you say, “You want to see what I can do?
This is what I can do.” Rather than sitting and doing, you know, one song. Right. I just thought, I mean, I’ve been in
the business long enough to be somewhat acquainted with how people think, and it really comes
down to common sense. If I were a producer or a director and if I were sitting out there
looking at a young person that I was not sure about, if they didn’t have a body of
work as a singer, and if they were in an audition room with a piano, I’d say, “‘Yeah, but how’s
he’s going to be with one of the biggest stars on the Broadway stage, namely Julie Andrews?
Will he freeze? Can he carry it? Is he present? What’s he like with an orchestra?” So these
are all the things that went into consideration. Well, you were asking questions of yourself
about them that would frighten me to death. While we’re on this, John, what do you think
about this? Well, my feeling, Mark did say, that’s what
I’ve always felt about auditions. You’ll never know what to expect, I think, as you said.
And serendipity plays a great part of it. And I can’t think of anything that I’d less
rather do than audition. It’s the most horrendous acting situation. Well, John, I don’t think, do you still audition
a lot? Yes. You do, really? You always audition. I just automatically would think that you
would be over that. No, no, no, that’ s not true. And even when
they don’ t, you’ve auditioned. The thing that I think, if I can impart anything to
younger people, is that you’ re always auditioning. And it doesn’t make any difference. You never
stop auditioning. Even the bad auditions finally mount up, and finally, all the things that
you’ve done and all the things that you’ve auditioned for, it’s all — or let’s say,
I can start with anything that I’ve ever done. And it’s all some kind of circuitous route.
SHOW BOAT, for instance. Now, how did that come about? Now, you’ re
in SHOW BOAT and so, what was the start? Well, they offered me SHOW BOAT. But the truth
is that I came a year ago to New York and did a benefit, because I knew that Hal was
going to be there. It was a benefit for Hal, in the TDF thing. And so, I prepared a number.
It’s the only time I’ve ever prepared for a benefit. I did something from ON THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY, which I’d done for Hal. It pleased me to do that. And I had done that role, and
I’d been in it. So I had the same feeling about doing that number that you have about
them coming out there to see it. It’s not like auditioning. It was my piece. And I came,
and I knocked the hell out of that number, just because I wanted to make Hal remember
that I was as good as he remembered me. And I think that that’s what caused me to get
the offer from them. So that when you got the offer, then what
was the next step? They asked you directly to do it? They didn’t
say, “Will you come and sing it?” Yeah. Well, for instance, the number that
I sang was “‘I Rise Again” from ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, because I figured half the people
in New York thought I was dead. (LAUGHTER) The other half was sure that I couldn’t sing
any more. So I thought, “This is an appropriate number to sing.” I figured at least, that
song, “I Rise Again.” Also, it goes back a long way. I had auditioned for Hal Prince
years ago. Hal Prince, it came to me through other people, thought I was the dullest actor
on Broadway. Really? That’s the truth. And truth is that I was
about the dullest actor on Broadway. (LAUGHTER) ON A CLEAR DAY– you see, it keeps going back
and back. I keep going back to my past, but ON A CLEAR DAY, for which I auditioned thirteen
times. The last time I auditioned, I walked up on the stage and refused to say a word,
because they had aditioned me– well, it started out, I’d been in CAMELOT for Alan Jay Lerner.
And then I heard that he had written a part for me, which I was pencilled in for, in ON
A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. And then I heard, I mean, I read in the newspaper that
they were looking for “a John Cullum type.”‘ (LAUGHTER) That you didn’t get! Yes! So anyway, to make a long story short,
I auditioned and auditioned for that part. And then they finally started auditioning
for the lead, and I even had to learn to do a Viennese accent for the lead. Then they
cast Louis Jordan in it. I went out and did a movie, Hawaii. Then I got a call from the
coast to come to Boston, and I thought they wanted me for the part that they had pencilled
me in for. And I said, “What”s wrong with Clifford?” “It’s not Clifford, it’s for the
lead.” So I ended up in ON A CLEAR DAY, and it was
very, very exciting, they tell me, in Boston for the first two weeks. But by the time that
they’d molded me in so that I looked like Louis Jordan and spoke like Alan Jay Lerner,
I truly had become the dullest actor on Broadway. (LAUGHTER) And that’s how Hal Prince thought
of me. And this story goes on and on. (LAUGHTER) There’s no end to that story. You were tainted with that brush of CLEAR
DAY. Yeah, yeah. But you know, I manipulated all
the way through, for ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. I mean, he had been looking all over for the
lead for ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY and he said, “There’s no one.” He was speaking to Alexis
Smith in California, bemoaning the fact that there are no classical actors in America who
can sing and they can’t find anybody who could play the part that John Barrymore played in
the movie. She mentioned my name and he said, “He’s the dullest actor on Broadway.” (LAUGHTER)
The words he used then was, “‘He has no sense of humor.”
And I found out through my agent that held said that, so I sent him reviews that I’d
done out of New York, from CYRANO, from EL CAPITAIN, from Moliere, some different things
that I’d done outside. And all of them comic reviews, for which I’d gotten good reviews.
And then he became very interested, and then he discovered me as a comic talent, and put
me in ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. I felt that says something about Hal being
flexible, too, as a director. Oh, yes, of course. I would only make fun
of Hal because he’s such a giant in the theatre. Well, let’s ask Ann. What’s the story there? That’s right where I was headed. Did you audition,
right from PORGY AND BESS? Well, yes, I did audition for PORGY AND BESS. But no, I mean after that, I mean coming in. To BRING IN ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK?
No, I did not audition. George Wolfe and Savion Glover, I had the opportunity of working with
them in JELLY’S LAST JAM. And they asked me to do it. I was on the road with PORGY AND
BESS, with the Houston Grand Opera. And we had a hiatus of about two weeks, and I had
a call about doing BRING IN ‘DA NOISE BRING IN DA FUNK with Savion Glover. I said, (LAUGHS)
“‘What am I gonna be doing in BRING IN ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK?”
But anyway, George Wolfe’s vision is so fabulous. He had it all planned. I’d take care of the
“older” portion of the show, you know. (LAUGHS) I mean, I do the song styles of the twenties
and the thirties and the forties. And more than that, too. I do character voices and
thirteen quick changes. Once I go down to the stage, I never go back to my dressing
room until intermission. I am worn out. But I’m having a great time!
And about auditions, I hate to audition. My hands get so clammy when I walk into an audition.
I just hate to audition. And sometimes, they can be so disillusioning, because you get
in there and you sing, and there are like nine people sitting at the table. And when
you finish, they’re all applauding! (CLAPS) And you walk out of there, and you’re feeling
so, “Wow, I know I got that job!” And then you wait for the call, and you don’t get it,
you know? (LAUGHTER) And yet, it has to be, apparently. There are
a few cases you haven’t auditioned, once George knows your work. Absolutely. And therefore it was a part that was one that
he knew that you could do. Why is it so terrible? What makes it so awful? Is there anything
that you feel can be done to help the producer, the casting agent, whatever it might be? One thing about I wanted to say about the
up side of auditioning is that there have been situations where I have fought for an
audition for something, where someone has decided, based on what I’ve done, that I’m
not right for something. And the one thing about the opportunity to audition is that
it’s an opportunity to shift somebody’s perspective about the range of what you do. And for that
reason, I like that the opportunity sometimes exists to audition. It’s something you have to do. You still get nervous, but when there’ s a
real sense of purpose in being there to say, “‘I want to show you something else. I want
to show you the possibility of something else.” And something you know you’ re capable of,
but other people don’t necessarily know. And PASSION, it would be, “I have to show
you I can be ugly! (LAUGHTER) Well, that was surprisingly easier than people
think. (LAUGHTER) I want to pick up on that a little bit, and
also what goes on inside the head of an actor a little bit, both for auditions — I mean,
obviously, I was going to pick up on what Isabelle said, because it’s nice to see you
this way because I’ve never known what you really looked like. Right. Because having seen Fosca in PASSION and then
seeing Anna. And I thought, “Well, what does Donna really look like?” “Who the hell is she?” Not because of the face, necessarily, but
what’s going on inside. And it’s the mental mindset of the actor that really changes the
whole demeanor. And I would imagine you both could use that. In terms of auditioning, what
goes on? How do you gear up, beyond the clamminess? That’s what’s tricky, too, and it’s different
for different circumstances. But my dilemma with auditioning or even sometimes taking
a meeting, you know, which happens more in film and television, I like to have as much
information as possible about a role, so that I can make choices about what I choose to
bring into the room. And very often, that information is limited, sometimes because
the people on the other side don’t know yet. They really haven’t made a decision about
what they’re looking for. But if you know that you could go in many different directions,
but want to make an educated choice, I need information to do that. And sometimes, it’s
a struggle to get that. And you want people to meet you, you want
to connect as a human being, and at the same time, sometimes, they will meet Donna or Mark
and say, “Yeah, but he or she has a quality that’s not right for this.” And I want them
to acknowledge that we are actors, and that we can make choices about what seed to isolate
and let grow into a particular character. I realize that there are essences that we
all have that lend themselves better to one thing or another, but I wouldn’t be in this
business to just do one thing. That’ s the beauty of it, is the opportunity to do many
things. What background did you bring, in order to
know, to bring out something else that they did not see? Did you study? You mean, what is my training? I studied with
Stella Adler at her conservatory. I went to NYU, I was in their undergrad drama program
and I studied with Stella. Where did you come from? Born in Queens and lived out in Long Island
until I was eleven, and then a small town northeast of Boston, Topsfield. And then I
came down to NYU. And then I studied at the Strasberg Institute. Because you need to know what to call on,
to bring out another youl or another part of acting, which is your profession. But it
isn’t anything that you do without having knowledge of which tap to draw on. Some of it’s instinctive, and some of it is
really trusting text and what the text tells you about a character. And pictures that are
sparked in your mind, I guess. Ann, George Wolfe’s concept is extraordinary,
because plainly what he needed to make the show work so well is humanity. And you represent
the humanity, a human being, particularly I think with all your gusto and vitality.
Whereas the dancers, in the nature of the skill of tap dancing, it’s almost inhumane
because it is so skillful. It has to succeed on the physical level of sheer skill, rather
than on personality. So without you, the show would be sort of like the industrial scene,
with all its many inhabitants. And you pour on the other thing continuously, bringing
the audience in through you and through your singing. We admire the dancing, but the singing
makes the whole thing human. And what was your background, too? I mean,
all these questions. Well, you know, this is the first time that
I’ve had the opportunity to be a performer in the production and also be on the creative
team. When we started this production, there was no script. I came into the rehearsal thinking
there was a script, and there was not. So we just created it from the ground floor.
I composed the songs from newspaper articles, from dialogue that George Wolfe wrote and
Reggie Gaines, who wrote the text, and that creative process.
I have varied roles in this business. I’ve played everything from Glinda the Good Witch
to Ma Rainey to Lady Day to Maria in PORGY AND BESS, and now I’m bringing in Ida noise
and bringing in Ida funk! (LAUGHTER) So I was able to incorporate this in what I do
in BRING IN IDA NOISE, because I do gospel, I do the blues, I do twenties, forties music.
And then I just did some character acting, which I love to do, different voices, you
know. so it’s all everything that I do. What was your training? I am one of the people that did not have any
formal training. I was blessed with a gift to sing. And listening and looking, you can
learn so much, from people who think that they’re not giving anything. I have learned
so much from people working in the ensemble, from what they do on stage. Just by looking,
and working with fabulous musical directors, working with fabulous directors directing
me, I have gotten to where I am. On-the-job training. On-the-job training is what I have gotten.
And it can be done, you know? I’m an example of that. And I’ve been successful in this
business. I mean, in that I have managed to work pretty consistently. I mean, I’ve had
some down times, we all have down times, but I’ve worked pretty consistently. Do you have an ongoing act that you can do?
In other words, that you can haul out, like a cabaret act? No, I don’t. Although people have asked me
to do a cabaret act. But no, I don’t know, there’s something about being on stage and
having the audience back there and I feel safe. (LAUGHTER) You’ve got between you and the pit. A moat. Yes! (LAUGHS) Cabaret, you know, it’s that
one-on-one kind of thing, and I have to deal with those faces, you know. And I don’t know,
I kind of like it like this. Daphne, what do you think? I mean, as you
say, you supposedly put your acting aside during recording. But it sounds as if there’s
a little similarity here, in terms of being a singer as well, or first. No, I don’t think of it as putting acting
aside or being one thing first. Right now, I’m really lucky because they’re synthesized.
But I’m always writing. I’m always working on my music, and it constantly evolves. And
now, because of the experience of RENT, my music is changing again. But I’m always doing
that. And as far as acting goes, you know, talk
about on-the-job training. That’s really where I’ve gotten my experience, and other actors.
Just the powerful examples that are out there of people, you know, learning that talent
is not a criterion for success and that it’s just, you get it sometimes that, like, it’s
just what you have to do. I realized after a while, though, after auditioning and auditioning,
that being a “natural,” as it were, wasn’t going to do much when there are amazing talents
out there. So I studied with Bill Esper. He probably
doesn’t want me to say that publicly. (LAUGHTER) He actually taught me something. I learned
that there was a technique, that when you couldn’t pull it out of yourself organically,
that there was a technique behind it. I think that somewhere you all have that.
You have to have it. Dana, don’t you have it? What do you do? You. (LAUGHS) Judy. Judith. (LAUGHTER) Excuse me.No wonder you didn’t know to answer. I forgot what you asked (LAUGHTER) I was stunned! You know, your take on it. Your background,
your training, and how did you get to where you got, where you are? Get to where I got. This life of crime. (LAUGHTER) Yes, that’s right. Bears bitter fruit. Well, I always think that, aside from going
to college, I just had the great fortune of starting in Chicago and didn’t put myself
into “‘The Big Time” right away. When I try to share something with someone starting,
I think there’s so much to be said for regional theatre, more so now than ever, more so than
when I started. But there were so many wonderful actors and directors from New York who came
and worked at the Goodman Theatre, which was where I worked quite a bit. Is that where you first worked, after college? Yes, my first Equity job. How did you get into the Goodman Theatre? Auditioned. And they saw a certain amount
of non-Equity actresses and actors. And there was a tiny little part in a play called THE
SEA by Edward Bond, probably the strangest play I’ve ever done, and I got it. And so,
then I became an Equity member. And I also did commercials, because Chicago was a huge
commercial market, and made a great living and joined all the unions.
And so, when I came to New York, I had a professional resume and I was a union member, in all three
unions, so I had a lot of ammunition, aside from the wonderful experience of working with
all of these gifted directors and actors. Not only out from New York, but from Chicago.
I was working in the professional theatre directly out of college. And I think that
was a great training ground. Why isn’t Chicago enough? Why do people have
to come here? Because Chicago is plainly a very great city, indeed, and in architecture,
the leader of the country and always has been, and in writing. But in writing, too, you know,
in the 1920’s, half a dozen of the best writers in America. But yet, they move on to New York. Well, it is Broadway. There is that sparkle
that comes with it. But do you go back to Chicago? Do you still
work? I have, yeah. I’ve gone back and worked. I
will be critical, for a minute, of regional theatre in general, not just Chicago. But
part of the reason I did want to leave was that, if I had been a 45- year-old male, I
could have had a leading role in a play and still lived in Chicago. But because I was
a 26-year-old female, then those actresses were brought from New York. Really? That’s interesting. And so there was a kind of prejudice that
since my address was Chicago, that maybe I wasn’t good enough to play the leading lady.
And I thought I was good enough. Sure. I was ready to go on to bigger and better
things. And that doesn’t happen just in Chicago, because then I did move to New York, and I
became the actress that went to Washington, DC! (LAUGHTER) So you know, there’s something
that a lot of actors who do stay in regions and say, “Oh, this is where I’m going to live
and work Not so many, I think. The majority of them
in that position want to come into New York and then bring their talents back. And it
usually enlarges their position, their importance, when they come back from New York. Yes, that’s what I found. There’ s something about Chicago that is so
intriguing. You’ve got the Goodman Theatre, you’ve got Steppenwolf there. What is it about
Chicago that can spawn these wonderful talents? I think Chicago has less of the pressure of
Broadway. The good thing is, New York has Broadway, but with that comes the pressure
of, “am I having fun?” you know? (LAUGHTER) Therefore, in Chicago, having worked there
for five years, I think it was about the work and that pressure of, you know, “Millions
of dollars are riding on this production,” that simply wasn’t true. So it was more about
telling the story, and all the things that I think we all got into the business in the
first place for. Did you come right out of college or did you
go to graduate school? And were you at Northwestern? No, I went to Illinois State University, in
Normal, Illinois. And it was! Very normal. (LAUGHTER) And then I went straight to Chicago
and started working. There are three cities in America that the
energy is just coming right up out of the street: New York, Chicago and L.A. Those are
the three intensely energetic [cities], and you feel it. Everything is -altered for you
emotionally by that. But you’ve had three of those cities. You’ve had them all. Yeah, yeah. Years ago, the Guthrie tried to be a wonderful,
stable acting group in Minneapolis. And in a sense, it couldn’t be, because Minneapolis
doesn’t generate the kind of energy. You have to have a superior energy. And it’s almost
mysterious where that energy is coming from, but it’s a felt presence, all the time. Now,
Mark, where did you begin? I trained at the drama school at Yale. Where? (LAUGHTER) I had to say that. Where I, unfortunately, did not get to take
George’s Wine Appreciation course. Oh, you know about that? (LAUGHTER) It was sorely missed. I didn’t learn about
wine until much later. Oh now, see, I could have taught you. I had been an undergraduate at Yale. Bob Brustein
invited me to audition for the drama school, and I was accepted. Oh, he did? That’s out of the Drama? Umm-hmm. Now, when you were a little boy growing up,
was that in New York or where was that? – In Connecticut. And my parents were always
involved with theatre. They met doing theatre in college. My mother was dancing in a show,
my father was directing, at University of Missouri. And they continued to do theatre
as I was growing up, and that’s really where I (got it]. It was always something important.
The act of theatre was an important act, that communal act of the communication of image
and idea. And it wasn’t until I got to college that I decided that’s what I wanted to do
with my life. Did you choose Yale because of its reputation
as an arts college, a university? I had been there as an undergraduate and I
had seen — I mean, did you choose Yale as an undergraduate
because of that? – No, no. I didn’t know what I wanted to do
at that point. Wanted to become a professional football player,
so you went to Yale. – That’s right. I gave up the football career. Of course. But now, when you were a little boy, were
you a funny little boy? (MARK LINN-BAKER LAUGHS) Were you a clown? – No, no. Because an awful lot of people begin to assume
the posture of a successful humor, a clown, in their extreme youth. – Yeah. No. Moliere among them. I’m not putting you down. No, I didn’ t think you were. (LAUGHTER) Until
you said that! (LAUGHTER) Mark, you came out of Yale, eventually. And
then what? Attended the drama school and then just started
working, in New York and regional theatre. I think, as you can hear from all of these
stories, there’s no one way to do it. The important thing is to find someplace where
you can focus on the work, if that’s what interests you, if that’s what obsesses you.
To find somewhere, someplace, with people who you admire, where you can just focus on
doing the work. And that’s where you learn. That’s where you put together your own — How do you get to these people? There is no one way to do it. Everybody here
has had a different place, a different time. If that’s what you need, if that’s what you
want, you’ll find it. Michael, what coast did you start on? Or Chicago. Here in New York. Did you grow up here? Or did you go to school
here? I grew up here in the city. Do you feel the same way as Mark, that need,
that you wanted to be in the theatre, and so therefore, you did whatever needed to be
done, to be seen, to be part of a group? Yes. I think there was an element of default
involved in my story, too, because I think so much of it has to do with, Mark touched
on role models. He had two parents who were involved in the business. And my role models
were not involved in the business, and they were not really encouraging of being in the
arts. But I think that if the seed of that passion is in the heart of a being, I mean,
my children, I encourage them to pursue it. I would encourage any human being to just
follow their passion, because as Stanislavski says, it takes everything to create one moment
of inspiration and it takes nothing to destroy it. Have you ever done anything else? Besides acting? Yes, I have (LAUGHS), which
is why I can speak with some authority about — (LAUGHTER) how blessed a thing it is to
do what you love doing! I sold life insurance for three
months. (GROANS FROM ALL) It was so anathema to me that it was just a gift, because I said,
“Never, ever again will I work in a room with neon lights.” (LOOKS UP; LAUGHTER) There you are. Nor nine to five, nor sales, nor let alone,
you know, making money off of people by telling them that they’re going to die someday. (LAUGHTER)
So it drove me out. You know, my first job after that was waiting, and it was clean money.
It was so honest. It was great. I just loved waiting on tables. (LAUGHS) It was great. I’m going to stop you right here, and then
come back to you. And Ann wants to say something, too. So we’re going to come back to all of
that, but we have to just stop for one minute. And everybody’s going to stand up and stretch
and turn around, get any questions that you have ready. And we’ll go to questions and
answers, but we’ll come back and take up where we left off. Yes, well, for one second, I think we should
also acknowledge that this is the 432nd birthday of William Shakespeare. Hear, hear. (APPLAUSE) This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) We’ re continuing the American
Theatre Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” which are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. This seminar is on the performance, and there’s
a group of fabulous performers here, with much to say. I’m hoping that George White
and Brendan Gill, our co-moderators, will bring it out. (LAUGHTER) So start! Well, whatever! Why not? (LAUGHTER) Indeed. That’s right. Well, as we left Michael Nouri, he was waiting
on table in a seedy restaurant. (LAUGHTER) Will he get out of it and go into the theatre,
is the question. Tell me, how did you get out of doing that, and what happened to you? I auditioned. I heard about a play called
FORTY CARATS that Abe Burrows was going to direct and David Merrick was producing and
Julie Harris was acting in. And I went in on this open call, and I auditioned. And I
got the part, and I went back and I tendered my resignation at my waiting job. (LAUGHTER) Most waiters that I find who are young actors
or actresses in New York are left-handed. Are you left-handed? It’s an extraordinary
thing about acting. If you watch on movies or on stage, the predominance of left-handedness
is extraordinary. And I keep mentioning it to people who go to the theatre. – I believe also they’re Communists. (LAUGHTER) But you’re not left-handed? No, I’m not left-handed. Nor a Communist. (LAUGHTER) One night there were seven waiters and waitresses
in the restaurant, all left-handed and all actors, and I did a poll myself, so I know
that it’s true. Well, well, there’s one theory in jeopardy as we sit here today. I wanted to go back quickly, Ann, to your
clammy hands. And what you do to get over that when you go into an audition, and anybody
else who wants to talk about that. (LAUGHTER Well, I just — (BRUSHES HANDS TOGETHER) You dry them off! No, but you know, I did want to say there
is a saving grace sometimes in auditions, even auditions that you don’t get. I have
gotten a number of jobs from auditions that I didn’t get, because people saw me and had
another project going on, and I would get a call and they would tell me that they wanted
me to do that job. So there is a saving grace, you know.
But you’re talking about getting started. When I saw THE WIZ, I remember going to see
THE WIZ, and I said, “‘Oh, God, I would love to do something like that.” And I questioned,
“How do you get into this? How do you do this?” And somebody told me about a trade publication
called Show Business. And in this, I saw an ad for a show called BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR.
And I made up this resume. (LAUGHTER) All right, now! But, prior to that, I also saw in Show Business,
Lincoln Center, there was a concert being held there. Chapman Roberts (PH), who was
a musical director, he was also the musical director for BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR. And I recognized
the name. I had gotten that job. So anyway, I got my first job from Show Business trade
publication. Great! Yeah. Not to go through Yale School of Drama or
NYU, that’s wonderful. There is life outside those institutions, and it’s nice to know. Yeah, and it’s good for people to know that,
you know. I think that’s very important. What about professional training of your voice
and all that? No. Well, I grew up singing in church. My
mom was a singer in a gospel quartet. And when they would travel around, she would take
me. I was about nine years old, and booked me on the program as well. So I started singing
very young, and that’s part of my training, you know. And like I said, from watching wonderful
actors, wonderful actresses, fabulous singers, listening, that’s my training. We hear a lot about networking in corporations,
but I think in the theatre, one of the strongest powers that I can imagine is the network that’s
between performers. As you mentioned, if somebody auditions and doesn’t get the job, then immediately
would tell someone else. I don’t think that actors are
competitive in the theatre. I’m sure they want the part. But if they can’t get it, they’re
very generous for seeing that someone else has a try at it. Oh, absolutely. I’ve recommended people for
jobs, you know. I think we have to do that. Do you all talk among yourselves a little
bit about, “Hey, you ought to go to this audition. You might be right for it.” Or, “Hey, I hear
that they’re doing- ” Oh, absolutely. That’s how I got SPUNK with
George Wolfe. One of my colleagues had gone to the audition. And she said, “I went to
this audition. I don’t understand the script,” and dah-dahdah-dee. And she was telling me
what it was about and she said, “Maybe you should go.” And it was the end, he had been
auditioning for like three months to get the right person. And I went in at the end, the
last two weeks, and I got the job. So you never know. When you network with each other,
you never know what you can get out of it. Well, John, what is your experience? What
is your training, also? I was a church singer. You were? Yes. I was fired from two church choirs. (LAUGHTER) You weren’t the devil singing in church, were
you? No, but I studied music, because I got a job
through nepotism, in a big Methodist church. And when I sang the first time, I always sang
about a quarter of a tone sharp, because I was so nervous. And they came to me and said,
“Look, we’re paying you forty dollars a month for this job, and you can’t sing. But we’ll
let you stay on for a while, if you’ll spend this money to take some training.” So I started
training. And then, about two years later, after they fired me, I got a job at the First
Baptist Church. And after I sang my first song, then they fired me again. (LAUGHTER)
So my first training was as a singer. I don’t want to talk on about that. (LAUGHTER)
It’ s interesting to me that we start out auditioning. And what I’ve observed, this
is not a part of the conversation, but just an observation that I’ve had over the years,
is that actors will work on a scene like crazy before an audition. And when they have to
sing something, if they can sing through the music one time, they’re willing to go up and
go to an audition, thinking that they’re prepared. And a singer who will work an incredible amount
of time on songs and music and intonation and study and vocalizing exercises, will look
at a script, and if they can read through it and they don’t mispronounce a word, or
think they don’t mispronounce, they’ve prepared for an audition. So that’s always been an
interesting thing to me. And also, it kind of ties in with the idea
that I heard from a very good writer once, that most writers don’t write. One of the
shortcomings of writers quite often, even good ones, is that they refuse to write about
the most painful and emotional things. And if they can break through that, they can really
write some great stuff. We seem to avoid the areas where we could really open ourselves
up. That’s just my observation. I think in the past half a dozen years, it
doesn’t tend to be so any more. Well, I hear that, because I’m speaking to
performers that, like me, keep going between doing music and acting. So when you talk about preparing, who tells
you what to prepare for and who do you listen to? An agent? The casting director? What? Well, I have a theory that it’s two different
ways that you approach theatre. One of them is you approach it, the actor uses the material
to express himself, or he uses himself to express the material. And my own training,
I’m much more comfortable getting to know the material, studying it. Like Shakespeare
is a lot of fun for me, because there’s so much I don’t know about it, and there’s so
many different things to learn. And singing, too, I’m not a good singer, I don’t know much
about singing. So there’s a lot to study. Do you continue to study as you work? Yeah, I study everything that I do, but I’m
not a very good student. I mean, I’m okay. (LAUGHTER) But the point is that you can prepare
and prepare and prepare for a role, and then when you do the role, you’re serving the material.
In other words, if you’re doing Shakespeare or if you’re doing a musical or anything that
you’re doing, you’re telling the story that the author wrote. But then, if you’re really
lucky, pretty soon, there are moments in those times when you begin to speak for yourself.
And when you get those, those are the moments of ecstasy in the theatre for me. I don’t
know whether it’s just me. It’s real fulfillment. Yeah. That brings up something else, of how you
bounce off an audience. Is it from within yourself, or do you get it coming from the
other way, coming across the pit, across the footlights? You know, when you begin to affect an audience,
it begins to stimulate you. And you become more centered, you become more focused. And
you begin to reach inside yourself for things that you want to express more. That’s what
I’m talking about. You begin to say things that really are important to you, as a form
through the material. And that’s when you go beyond the material. What do you do when you don’t reach the audience,
when the audience is not with you? What do you call upon? What happens? You do your job. Then what? You just do your job. That’s where the technique
that you were talking about comes in. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) What Bill Esper was talking about. What is that? How do you bring it? Well, it’s an individual thing. What do you do? The audience is sitting there,
what do you do? I basically hit my marks and say my lines
(LAUGHTER) and listen to my partner. And when you’re doing eight shows a week, as the present
company knows, and as all of you might be interested in knowing, you’ re going on with
your life eight times a week, whatever condition your life is. And somebody may have just died
in your family, you may be sick, but you have to go on and you do it. So what happens is,
I just look into the eyes of my partner, and I know that they will save me, that they’ll
pull me through. I listen. I focus. I really, really listen. I pay attention. Is that how you also keep a role from going
stale? Yes, I think so. Because I know a lot of you have been in long
runs, and some of you hopefully will be in even longer runs now. But is that the thing
that you do? Because I would think after a while – There’s nothing more interesting that someone
who’s really listening, I don’t think. John, you said something about that ecstatic thing
that happens when there’s that synergistic thing. Well, for me, that would be if somebody had
died in my family, and I was playing something on stage that that related to, and I suddenly
was able to express, through the material that I have- Your grief. — the feeling that I have about that person
having died. Now that, to me, happens on stage. Some people use that technique in order to
approach the role. I have never done that. I generally let those moments happen after
I’m in a role. I mean, I just don’t work that way, or can’ t work that way. If you’ve studied
with Stella Adler, I’m sure you’ve worked the other way. Judith? Experience, I was trained to jump in and add
to it, what happens in a given evening. One, that has nothing to do with the audience,
and that has, on one level, nothing to do with me and my boredom. I have a two-year-old
and my babysitter didn’t show up on a Friday night, and so, everyone in the theatre said,
“Oh, no, bring him! It’ll be great!” (LAUGHTER) I guess I don’t need to finish the story.
He, unbeknownst to me, had the flu. And I was holding him at intermission, and then
they said, “Places,” and I stood up, in a very grand dress that I get to wear in the
second act, and he projectile vomited all over me. And they said, “Go! It’ll be all
right!” (LAUGHTER) So I kind of wiped the vomit off and ran on. And it was probably
one of the most interesting interpretations of that scene, because all I was thinking
about was my son, which the character I play right now is preoccupied with everything that
possibly goes on in the world. So I had this wonderful preoccupation, plus the aroma. (LAUGHTER) And your fellow actors must have been wondering. Yes, they were kind of [DEMONSTRATES, LEANING
BACK]. (LAUGHTER) So there are all kinds of events that I think inform the scene, that
have nothing to do with whether the audience is responding or not. And I think, in fact,
the scene was better, because there was this other level that had nothing to do with the
scene. Sheer terror. I was on in SHENANDOAH, they slipped a real
baby on stage, which is the end of the first act. And I thought I had always played that
scene so well and so beautifully, until I got to that moment, and unbeknownst to me,
there was a real baby. And what happened to me was so different from anything that I ever
imagined. And I kept trying to recreate that moment. And I had it for a while, but it was
very humbling to me, because I could never get back to the reality of it. I thought,
if I could do that, I would really be a great actor. Did they do that, for that very reason, in
order to show you the difference? Oh, they did it as a joke. You know, here’s
a baby. (LAUGHTER) I thought they were trying to tell you something. They may have been. Trying to improve my performance,
I don’t know. Sometimes, I’ve been in experiences, I haven’t
done a lot of long runs, but six or eight months into a run of something, and you literally
on a line, in a moment, think, “‘Oh, my God, that’s –” That’ s it. And it’s not that that’s, “Now I know what
she should be doing or how it should be stressed,” but it’s like you suddenly know what it means.
That sounds so very basic, and I’m sure I thought I knew what it meant in a million
different ways prior to that moment. And it means many things, and that’s also the beauty
of doing something eight times a week, for a run.
Even in KING AND I now, I feel like I’m still in rehearsal in that, in many ways. And there’s
a letter I read every night, and the thoughts that pass through my mind that are connected
to the play, not connected — I mean, it’s like a collage of emotion and images. And
I think the first time I ever did a principal role in an extended run, it made me very nervous
when I found my mind going in many different places. And I was very quick to judge it,
and say, “I’m not in the moment. I’m not a hundred percent here.”
And then I started to allow that to happen and to trust that, in a way, that was a blessing,
because it was keeping me open to things that might motivate me or move me in other ways,
and keeping things fresh. And if I were looking at John across stage in a scene, would try
to see something new, whether it was the way his button was frayed or the texture of his
skin was different, that those little things open you up to something to new. In addition
to wonderful writing and music, or whatever you’re working with, you know. But you don’t have time for that, Mark, do
you, in FORUM? (MARK LINN-BAKER LAUGHS) The pace is so fast. – No, absolutely. The wonderful thing about
a long run is that you get the chance to relax into yourself and into the role, and allow
things to resonate. It’s not a matter of, you know, how fast you’re moving. You know,
your mind is always going, is always working. And you find yourself finding out about just
what’s going on in that moment. But I would imagine, there’s also terror,
if you’ve once lost one moment, with some of that business going on. I would hate to
think what would happen. – Well, that’s a mistake. (LAUGHTER) That’ s
not being in the moment. If you’ re in the moment, you are able to execute the requirements
of the material and the role and be present, just be yourself. It’s amazing. But there’s a combination of things, too. You juggle. Yeah. I mean, there’s technical things. You’ve
always got to have that technical mind that’s there behind it. And a lot of the theatre
is technical. For instance, Tony Roberts and I were in a show called DOUBLES, and we had
to do frontal nudity. And Austin Pendleton, at one particular point, dropped his britches.
And Tony was complaining to me about having lost the laugh. And I said, “‘If you would
ask Austin to drop his drawers one beat later, you’ll get your laugh back.” So it’s just
a technical thing. It’s true. Everybody was watching Austin and lost his laugh. So even
though he was giving the line exactly the same way, it was something technical that
was going wrong. We’re going to go to questions now. We have
our first question here. Hi, my name is Meredith Paul (PH). I’m a theatre
major at Adelphi University, and this question is for the entire panel. Have you ever been
discouraged by casting agents about your talent, and what made you sure of your talent? (LAUGHTER) Ooh! Anybody. Let’s start from left to right. Very briefly, yes, I’ve been discouraged by
casting people. Yes, it’s been discouraging. And what was the second? What made you sure of your talent? Experience. Doing it again and again and agai Donna? Yes, definitely, I’ve experienced times of
discouragement from individuals. But often, it’s come around, where somebody who years
ago, whatever, didn’t think I had the goods to do a certain kind of work, then had an
opportunity to see me do something else and brought me in again. And in terms of — Mark. Oh. In terms of Mark — (LAUGHTER) I don’t
know. Have you been discouraged, Mark? (LAUGHTER). – There’s always a constant struggle to believe
in yourself, and to understand your own talent, believe in your talent, and to get, you know,
people who hire you and who will help to hire you to also believe. That’s always a struggle Judith. Amen, yes. (LAUGHTER) Are you afraid of being interrupted? (LAUGHTER) We’ll skip Brendan and George. I won’t take offense. I have lots of confidence,
and so does George. Yeah, we do. Well, I think, with this business comes a
degree of pain. You know, I haven’t necessarily had discouragement with casting agents, but
I’ve had some disappointments in a role that I thought I was going to do, and then I didn’t
get, and that kind of thing. But like he said, believing in yourself, there’s a song that
I did in THE WIZ, and I’ve lived by that, “I Believe in Myself.” It keeps me going. John? Well, it’s happened to me so many times and
evokes so many painful memories, I’d rather not talk about it. (LAUGHTER) My turn? I think I can’t stand when casting
directors, they’re not looking at you and you know that they’ve already made up their
minds. But I think that also in that is that I’ve been, like, really devastated, I cry
in the shower. But just knowing that you’re going to show up for the next thing, I think,
is very confidence building. That like, in spite of it, you’ re doing it anyway. After
a while, you realize you’ve reached a level of confidence, and then you kind of get insecure,
but then you’ve reached another level, so it’s like an onion. Great. Hi. My name is Tom Hutton (PH), and as I told
Isabelle a moment ago, I’ve had almost as much passion as she has for the last twenty
years towards the theatre. And I want to preface my question with a very quick tribute. Someone
on our panel here was responsible directly for my passion, for twenty years. John Cullum
was involved in a production of SHENANDOAH in the early seventies that I saw, and he
kind of inspired the magic and the love that I’ve been able to nurture over the twenty
years. And I came back and saw you in the revival and you were just as wonderful. You’re
a dynamite performer. My question! (LAUGHTER) There’s four panelists
on the floor there who have TV and film credentials, between Michael and Mark and Judith and John.
How does the performer reconcile the tremendous imbalance in the revenue that’s available?
I mean, you cannot make a living in the theatre. How do you juggle? How do you juggle? I think, for me, it’s a
matter of doing one, so that I can afford to do what I really love to do. One is more
commercial, and you know, you make more money in television or in film and that affords
me the opportunity to do what I love to do on stage. Not that I don’t love doing the
other. You understand? Anybody else want to leap in on that one? I don’ t see it as a reconciliation. I’m terribly
grateful for the fact that I get to do all of it. But I’m most grateful for the fact
that two of those mediums subsidize the one I love to do. (LAUGHTER) I’ve been fortunate in the past few years
to just be doing more film and TV, along with theatre. And there’s things about each medium
that I love. And the joy is being able to go back and forth, enjoy each for what it
is, and have the blessing of being able to work in the different mediums. Do you have to bring another technique to
camera, to movies, to television, than you use in theatre? There are certain technical things that you
deal with in each, yeah. It’s a matter of scale a lot, isn’t it? Scaling
your performance up or down for the camera as opposed to an audience. And shaping it and dealing with shooting things
several times and out of sequence, that sort of thing. Hello, my name is Helen Johnson (PH), and
Donna, this question is directed to you. I am the mother of an aspiring actress, who
is entering NYU’s drama school in the fall. And she’s not wanted to go anywhere else,
and I just wanted you to tell me what makes the school so special. How old is she? Eighteen. Is she from the New York area? Yes, we live in Bergen County. That’s good. What was hard for me about NYU
was that, because I hadn’t grown up in the New York area, I found the distraction of
the business really hard. And I was taking my academics at the university and studying
at the conservatory, Stella Adler’s class. Right. She’s in the same program. And I was really starstruck, and started buying
Back Stage and Show Business and going to open calls, and got a Broadway show. I went
to an open call for a musical and got a job, my sophomore year in college. And just the
distraction of this business happening was hard. And I found that I wasn’t really mature
enough to just stay focused on being in class. And then I went, later, back, not to NYU but
to class with a different teacher and studied some more. The great. thing about being at
NYU is the very thing that distracted me, that New York is an incredible city. The museums,
the people watching, the libraries, just the city itself and the energy of it is phenomenal.
And the people who teach there are the best. I’m going to have to interrupt again. I said
I wasn’t going to do it at the very beginning of this, but here I am doing it again. There
just isn’t time for all of the information that we can get and that you’re so willing
to share with us. And I would like to add that I think one of the most marvelous things
about going to any university, any college or any school in New York City, is this wonderful
campus that we have here. And everything that’s available to you, including these seminars,
which could not take place anywhere else but in New York City, where we can call upon the
people that the Wing does, to share their knowledge with you on what it is to work in
the theatre. And this is just one of the year-round programs
that the American does, although right now we are celebrating the 50th of our Tony Awards.
We are a year round organization, and saying “theatre” loud and clear, in high schools
and hospitals and nursing homes and AIDS centers, and bringing talent into the schools. And
everything we do is based on servicing the community through the theatre, and in that
way, also saying, “Go to the theatre.” And we hope that we are developing an audience
for the future. I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I’m President of the American Theatre Wing, and
I thank you all for being here. And I thank you, panel, for taking part in this. Thank
you. (APPLAUSE)

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