Performance (Working In The Theatre #257)


(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” Seminars, now in their 24th year. They are coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. These seminars offer a rare opportunity to
hear a discussion of the realities of working in the theatre, from the performers, the producers,
the playwrights, the directors, designers, casting directors, press agents, union and
guild leaders, and the many other theatre professionals to whom these unique seminars
have become so important. Since first introduced, more than 800 of Broadway
and Off-Broadway’s best have been seminar guests. And as many of you already know, the Wing
is more than the Tony Awards. These are given for distinguished achievement
in the theatre. However, we are an organization whose year-round
programs are dedicated to serving the theatre and the community, with the goal of developing
new audiences. And to achieve that goal, we have created
audience development programs for students, like “Introduction to Broadway,” which
began five years ago, and has enabled 60,000 New York City high school students to attend
a Broadway show, and for so many of them, for the very first time. And through our newest program, “Theatre
in School,” theatre professionals, like those you will meet today, go directly into
classrooms to work with and talk to students about working in the theatre. In addition, we have our hospital program,
which dates back to World War II and the Stage Door Canteen. Talk about volunteerism! It started a long time ago with the American
Theatre Wing. And from Broadway and Off-Broadway and the
cabaret world, we have entertained more than 75,000 patients in nursing homes, veteran’s
hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers in the New York area, bringing the magic of
theatre to those who can not get to the theatre itself. We are proud of the work we do, and happy
for that wonderful working relationship we have with the theatrical community and are
grateful to everyone who makes what the American Theatre Wing does possible. We hope that you will enjoy and learn from
today’s seminar on the performance. And now, let me introduce today’s panel. From your right, Paul Giamatti, from THE THREE
SISTERS, and Dana Ivey, from LAST NIGHT AT BALLYHOO. And Nell Carter, from ANNIE. And then there is George White, who is President
of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and an esteemed director, both here and abroad. And Brendan Gill, author, critic-in-residence
at the New Yorker magazine, and on the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing. And Willem Dafoe, from THE HAIRY APE, and
Andre De Shields, from PLAY ON!, and Joel Grey, from CHICAGO. And now, I will turn our panel over to our
wonderful moderators, and they will tell us all about working in the theatre and how very
simple it is. (LAUGHTER) Thank you for being here. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Isabelle. I’m going to start, simply because I have
to leap in, due to my sponsor, and ask Willem a question about Eugene O’Neill’s HAIRY
APE. Sure. It’s a must. But we were talking earlier, and of course,
in these particular seminars we talk a lot about how people get started in the business
and we will get to that. But one of the things that struck me about
what you said and reinforced something about when one deals with Eugene O’Neill. As an actor, you deal, obviously, from the
inside, the psychological climb, the character points of view. But you brought up something else, which is
the music of O’Neill. And I’d love to have you talk a little bit
about that for a moment, because we are talking about music here as well today, and why not
start with O’Neill? Sure. Well, first of all, THE HAIRY APE, it was
written in 1922, and I don’t think it’s typical O’Neill. It’s allegorical and he makes a big note
in the beginning that it’s not a naturalistic play. One of the first things that I dealt with,
playing the role of Yank, the title character, was with the text. Obviously, the text as music. And I found that I didn’t even approach
it so much for meaning initially, as there were built-in rhythms that were very, very
strong. And it’s through the music that I found
the meaning. And that struck me as very specific. That process wouldn’t be my normal process,
let’s say. And now I appreciate how beautifully O’Neill
writes, in terms of music. What would be your normal process? I’m a person who prefers doing things, as
opposed to saying things, so I would probably respond much more to actions that I would
to the text. But this is quite verbose, and there are these
huge speeches. And in our production, we perform them at
a very quick clip. Did you read anything about the original production,
in ‘22? I remember there was an actor, Louis Wolfsheim
(PH) who played your role. Right. What did the critics make of that, I wonder? It got very, very, very mixed reviews at the
time, because I think it was a very adventurous play. It wasn’t typical of the things that were
being written at the time. He almost always got mixed reviews, which
was a good sign. He was always doing something new. I was also saying to George, it was funny,
because looking at the old reviews from 1992, they said, “Okay, he’s a good writer. We’ve got to give him that. But clearly, he’s a one-act playwright.” (LAUGHTER) Anyone who’s spent four and a half hours
at ICEMAN! The music of dialogue is critical. I think one of the great things about BALLYHOO
is that that seemingly colloquial language is really extremely eloquent and very touching. And yet, it doesn’t have to be lyrical,
and there’s no sense of artifice in the language. And yet, it is a kind of underlying music. Don’t you feel that yourself in the play? Well, I do. I’m a Southerner, and it’s a Southern
play, and I think we all know that people think of Southern expression as being something
very musical and lilting. And I approached this text very much as Willem
did. I hear things (LAUGHS) when I read something. I sort of hear the way it should be, and then
I can do the inflection and the rhythm and the timing that I feel is correct for what
the character and the situation is, and it leads me back into the meaning in a play like
this. And some of my readings have changed because
going from that initial understanding, which was correct, I have found a way to make it
even more correct, deepening it. But the music was there first, and it shapes
the whole structure of the play. Everybody in the audience always wonders the
degree to which the audience itself causes you to change your readings in a long-running
play. Would you be affected by the audiences’
responses, or is it something you’re finding yourself? Sometimes, I’m affected by the audiences’
responses, but I have to say probably not in a good way. (LAUGHTER) There are moments in the play,
in BALLYHOO — for those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s very, very funny, but it also
has some very poignant things in it, and they’re juxtaposed, as in life, very quickly. But sometimes the audience doesn’t want
to turn on a dime, and it makes it [hard]. So I’ve changed the way that I deliver certain
things, in order to try and stay in control of the audience, so that they don’t continue
to laugh through things that they’re meant to start having feelings about. And it’s very hard to get the audience to
go with me sometimes, and it’s a constant sort of battle, but that’s because of the
way the text has got these things woven together. Brendan, I’m curious about this whole idea
of music that Willem was talking about, because five years ago, I did a production of Ibsen’s
WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN, that Robert Wilson directed. And it was an opportunity to work in a completely
different way than anything I had ever done. It was all about music and structure and dance
and movement, and the acting was like the last thing that you ever came to. (LAUGHTER) And it was difficult, but ultimately,
it was very exciting to be in sort of a new form. And I knew that it spoke in the way that Robert
Wilson, who is a great theatre artist, meant for it to speak, and we were all part of that
expression. But it was terrifying, because it had nothing
to do with anything with any of us had been trained for. That would be even more remarkable, because
what he was working with is a classic play, but also a foreign play. Nobody ever translates Norwegian well. Would you like me to tell you even worse? (LAUGHTER) Please, yeah. We performed it in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (LAUGHTER) And that audience understood only
Portuguese and we were speaking English. Taken from the Norwegian. Because Robert Wilson is a great opera nut. He’s a lover as well. So I mean, we’re obviously sneaking up on
all of you about music here. But I mean, to start from this way I think
is quite exciting, because there is music in so much language, that we tend to forget
about. Is it for you, Andre? Well, this is curious to me, because it seems
to me that it is the music we are trying to hear in whatever effort we make in the theatre,
whether we’re reading the play for the first time or speaking the words for the first time
or it’s the first rehearsal. Or, as I did recently, worked outside of my
visible genre, as a song and dance man. I had an opportunity to work at the Oasis
Theatre in the role of Willy Loman, in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, quite a stretch for me. But the first thing I looked for was the music
in Arthur Miller, the music in the life of Willy Loman, the music in me that matched
this man’s journey. Are you saying the music, as a whole, or are
you saying music, musician’s music? I’m not saying musician’s music, per se,
but I’m saying all of those elements that come together that make a score for an actor,
that’s how he approaches his work, I believe. Accent, rhythm, color, shading, volume, velocity. That’s what the music in a piece is. The fabric? Yes, the fabric, the texture. The composition. And the mistake that people who don’t understand
how to play Shakespeare make is that they think that there’s a formal music in the
rhythm of the iambic pentameter, and they hit that, spoiling the whole intention. That was a formal structure for Shakespeare,
not necessary. So Arthur Miller is providing a subtle music,
an underneath music, all the time. Yes, yes. And that’s what we’re talking about, about
all three of these. So it makes it hard, when you’re accustomed
to speaking a colloquial language, which is, however, musical, to go to Shakespeare, and
we usually bungle that. We do. We call attention to it instead of ignoring
it. And we bungle, also, Chekhov, often, often. Which is not the case in THREE SISTERS, and
I wanted to get into that, Paul. In dealing with a translation, of course,
you are always doing so, how did you approach that? Because Chekhov has a very, very specific
kind of rhythm and he has a very, very specific kind of music. Yeah. Well, we had a new translation that Lanford
Wilson did. Yes, indeed. Which was, I thought, a great translation,
because what is tricky about him is that there’s a seeming kind of banality to a lot of it,
that bursts out into kind of poetic things a lot. And he captured that really well, I thought. It’s tricky stuff to do, because it can
fall into a kind of banal, naturalistic form. And there’s a great deal of humor in Chekhov,
that people tend to overlook. Yeah, completely miss, yeah. And that’s part of the music, too. Absolutely, yeah. And I think we captured that, actually, very
well. Yes, I agree with you. Now, what about a little secret music of yours? What is your secret music? Well, actually, I’m sort of mesmerized that
the, as you would say, legit, as opposed to musical, you listen for the musical. The musical maybe is a choice of semantics,
but it tends to go out as if you’re listening for, basically, what I would call a rhythm. Maybe that’s my way of speaking. For instance, in AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, we
spent no time at first with the music. The original five people, and you know this
is true, we locked the director, producer, and everyone out of the room. (LAUGHTER) And we watched tapes of Fats Waller,
and that is how we came to our interpretations. We watched and we read everything we could. We talked to his son. And that is [it]. And I mean, the things — we never saw no
one slither across the stage. That was him listening to Fats talk and watching
people, from going through his life. So we went just the opposite. Where you listen for the music, we’re going
for what is this person about? What is the story? Yeah. Why was this man like that? Like, “Honeysuckle Rose,” that became
like The Song, I got the night we opened. It was like Ken Page (PH) and I were sitting
there, and Ken said, “I don’t do anything with you,” and I said, “I don’t have
anything with you either.” And one of our ladies, the original lady,
was not there. So he said, “Let’s look through the book.” And we’re reading it — this is true! This is how AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ came together,
before we let the director in. (LAUGHS) No, they did their work. But we went through this stuff, and we picked
what we wanted to do. And then we came back, and they told us what
they wanted to do. It happened to be the same thing. Well, “Honeysuckle Rose,” the reason the
stage, you know that was that? Because Ken and I just decided he was going
to do what he thought Fats to do and I was just going to do exactly what a woman after
Fats was going to do. And all of a sudden, it became a hit, and
we were like, “Uh-oh, we have to do this every night.” That’s a lovely story. So it looks as though those of us who get
the text first look for the music, and then those of us who get the music first look for
the story. (LAUGHTER) Yes, exactly. Well, now, Andre, talking about that — Excuse me, I want to follow up on this. What was your background that could bring
you to know what to bring into “Honeysuckle Rose” and how to be able to take it? What did you call upon? Where did you learn that? Okay, I was very fortunate. I was at the Public Theatre when Joe Papp
was there. And all the young people, I don’t know if
you’re ready to hear this. I was single-minded. I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t want your children. I didn’t want to date you. I didn’t want to eat with you. All I wanted was to learn how to do that step,
to see every play. And that was during the time, back when she
(POINTING TO DANA) was younger. (LAUGHTER) When there was a show on, you would find a
way to get backstage, so you could watch the show. I would follow your Elaine Stritch everywhere. I wanted to see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, I would
watch it. I personally like Greek tragedies. I like Euripides. That is something that I like to do, and I
had a chance to do that. But I found, the more I did that, the more
people wanted you to sing. And that is a part that no longer is really
the problem, but for a while there, that’s all black people did in the theatre. They don’t really think you read and that
you know, you know, different works. I’m more interested in history than I am
in a lot of other things. But so, okay, we go to Hannigan, all right? When they asked me to do Hannigan, I saw several
things, but I explained to them from the beginning, and unfortunately, we did not do a press conference
here, so the critics did not see what we were doing. In 1977, hitting a child was called “punishment.” In 1997, I saw it as child abuse. So, all of that was taken out. So a lot of the audience was saying that,
you know, they miss this. Well, if you want to beat a child, take your
own home. I’m not hitting a child on stage or anywhere
else. So that was gone. But that took me, not trying to copy Dorothy,
but getting into what I thought Hannigan would do. I, in my mind, felt that a woman who has a
sleazy mother, who has slept around, and that’s why her brother is another color — I had
to think these things in my mind. So it’s like he says, we go different directions
to get to the same ending. Because I made the whole story about how I
felt Hannigan was, and I did not see Hannigan as a person who would hurt a child. I still don’t. At the beginning, was Joe Papp good about
letting you in the door? Yes, he was. Joe Papp was very equal opportunity. As a matter of fact, I started out with Madge
Sinclair (PH), Tommy Lee Jones, Andrea Marcovicci, Patti LuPone. Oh, I could name so many actors that were
in the same class with me. What a wonderful training ground. How did you get in that door, for Joe? Well, okay, this is not very nice. (LAUGHTER) Great. It’s not Euripides! Yeah, it’s not Euripides, right. How did I get in? I would buy the paper for casting, and if
it called for a redhead, I would buy a red wig and go. (LAUGHTER) And as long as I had the wig, and
if the stage manager would tell other people, “No!”, I would say, “This is my hair. I bought it. I’m staying.” (LAUGHTER) And that’s how I got into a lot
of jobs. I had a chance when they did THE CORN IS GREEN. I wanted to meet Joshua Logan and Bette Davis,
there was nothing going to keep out of there. And Mrs. Watty (PH) was supposed to be a Welsh
woman with red hair. Well, she turned out to be very black, very
fat, and with some real kinks, because I got that role! I went out there, red wig, and I did the audition,
and he said, “She can have it.” Good for you! (LAUGHTER) Any other wigs around here? (LAUGHTER) Joel, what about you? Andre, when did you come into PLAY ON!? How much did you put into it? PLAY ON! is a dream come true in this industry. I’ve been a professional actor for 27 years,
and we pay those kinds of dues, thinking that one day, a director will call and say, “We
have a role with your name on it, and rehearsals start on this date.” Not that you have to come and audition for
it. Sheldon Epps, who is the conceiver and director
of PLAY ON!, called me one day and said, “I have this idea to marry Duke Ellington’s
music to Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT and I think you can play the parallel character
of Feste.” I was in Buffalo at the time, playing Willy
Loman, thinking, “Why do I want to do another musical, now that I’m doing Arthur Miller?” (LAUGHTER) And now that I consider it in retrospect,
I see that playing Willy Loman and sinking to those emotional depths was preparing me
to play Jester, who’s the parallel character to Feste in PLAY ON!, because he rises to
those effervescent heights. And I did not have to audition. I simply had to read the synopsis, agree to
do the role, having been promised that it was going to come together because of a huge
contribution from my part. Because the adaptation had not been written
by Cheryl West at the time, and the conceit of the idea had not been finished. And Sheldon admitted that he depended on whoever
the cast might be to finish this project. I said, “Yes.” They sent me the ticket. I went out to the Old Globe in San Diego,
which was another dream of mine, to work at the Old Globe. But I’m going to ask the same question of
you now. How did you know what to do, and where did
you get the background to know what to bring to it? Because it goes back to our original debate
concerning music. You said, I’m sure tongue in cheek, that
this industry is easy for us. Well, I think it is. Once you decide what makes your heart sing,
you do it. And the explanation of what was going to happen
with PLAY ON! made my heart sing. An opportunity to show, after having done
THE WIZ, after having done The Viper in AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, after having introduced everyone
to the dark side of Andre De Shields, it made my heart sing to think that I could now reveal
the humorous part, the clown, in Andre De Shields. And that’s exactly what I get a chance to
do in PLAY ON! I act a fool and I get paid to do it. (LAUGHTER) But you know, you were really also the actor/creator
here, too. Absolutely. Which we are all the time. We are always the actor/creator, but there
are very few opportunities that we get when the director puts that label on: “You are
going to co-create with me.” Yeah. And you’re also dealing with a classic,
with Ellington’s music, as well as Shakespeare. Well, we’re dealing with who is arguable
the greatest American composer in the 20th century, Duke Ellington. And certainly, the greatest writer in the
history of the English language, Shakespeare. And it is amazing how the two have married. There are moments in the show when you must
think that Duke Ellington was an Elizabethan composer (LAUGHTER), because the song fits
the story. Or you think that Shakespeare lives in Manhattan
Plaza (LAUGHTER), because the scene fits the music that perfectly. But don’t you feel that every actor, you
really are creating the role, even with the director? When you’re working with the director, it’s
your interpretation of what is coming across. I think this is the perfect example here,
I think Joel, of creating a role. It’s a perfect example of what an actor
brings to a part, because almost everything that he has done, anybody that follows it,
you think of him in that role, and you have to follow Joel Grey, right from the very beginning. And how can one? (LAUGHTER) And you’re doing it today, in CHICAGO. So Joel, how do you feel about this? Well, I think that I agree completely with
my fellow actors in that we do collaborate. It’s just whether or not the director agrees
with that concept and is generous enough to say that this is something that we have to
do together for it to really be right. You don’t have to do a play when you know
you’re going to be in the hands of a tyrant, so actors have that choice, too, to not do
it. It’s a great luxury. Yes. But I’ve been very fortunate, in that in
both CABARET and CHICAGO, they were both parts that I had no idea how to do when I was approached. I had no idea what Hal Prince and John Kander
and Fred Ebb had in mind, and why they would think of me to play the Emcee in CABARET. I just didn’t know what it was, I didn’t
know. It seemed to me to be a dead end, with five
wonderful songs and no acting role. It looked like just a song and dance section
in Act II, which is the way they presented it to me in the first place. And before we started rehearsal, they had
come to this notion of spreading these numbers out all during the piece, and have them comment
on the action before and sometimes tell us what’s going to happen in the future. My job was to find a person. There were no lines. And my soul, and I began it at the age of
nine at the Cleveland Play House, and I always think of myself first as an actor. And who is this character? And how does an audience relate to it? And what has he got to say? And how can I do this? And I had no idea. There was nothing of that indicated in these
five songs. There was this decadent master of ceremonies
who sang and danced. Had you read the book? Yeah, did you go to Isherwood? There was no character in Isherwood. Of course I read everything. And I found my inspiration, oddly enough,
in being around Lotte Lenya, who was in it and who was there at the time. Boris Aronson’s recollections of European
experiences. I looked at Beckman (PH) and Gross (PH) and
all of the great German expressionists. And then I was given this inspiration that
we depend on, we actors, that maybe that day it’ll come to us, through our experience,
through our knowledge. That we’ll find the way into the role. And until you do it, at least for me, until
I do it, it’s terror. And one day, we had been rehearsing for about
three weeks, and everybody was happy and it was fine, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t. I didn’t know who he was. And so, I decided that day to do it like someone
I had seen in a nightclub once who I had such distaste for. (LAUGHTER) I thought, “That is the cheapest,
cruddiest performer I have ever seen,” and it really stuck with me. (LAUGHTER) It was a song and dance comedian,
oddly enough. And I thought to myself, “I can’t bear
what he does!” (LAUGHTER) So I decided that day to do that,
to do everything that he did that I so hated and was repulsed by. And so I just put that overlay on all these
other elements that were in, the musical elements. And I finished doing the number, I remember
very clearly, and I ran off stage afterwards into the corner, and I started to cry. I was humiliated, and I had done it in front
of everybody, and it was so painful to acknowledge that I knew about this. And also, maybe in some way, I was killing
somebody. And there was something dark about what I
was using and putting him in a case of disrepute, which of course, nobody ever knows who this
was. And I was sitting in the corner, and I was
really just devastated and humiliated. And Hal Prince came over and said, “That’s
it.” (LAUGHTER) And I had to live with it! And then, come to love it, you know! But everybody now who does CABARET is doing
your interpretation of that role. Absolutely. So you really created more than just, you
know — But you know, on these seminars, we hear over
and over again, in talking about background, that it’s not only being able to work with
people, but it’s also to know what to draw on. And in some cases, it’s been said, “Go
on with your education, because then it will save you time and you won’t have to go look
up who Brecht was or any of the others. You’ll already know, and then you go on
with the character.” And others, it was, “Draw on every experience,
every person that you’ve ever known, but listen and see.” And this is an absolute perfect example of
doing that. And the exact same thing happened in CHICAGO. I said, “I can’t play this part.” In 1975, he was played by a wonderful actor
by the name of Barney Martin (PH), a 200 pound sort of dumb mechanic. And I said, “I don’t think I can do that.” And when I came to NY, I think the only reason
I said, “Yes,” is it was for four performances at Encores! And it was less literal. It was more abstract. And it was a wonderful song, “Mr. Cellophane.” So I came in to play those four performances
and was lucky enough to have a director by the name of Walter Bobbie who said, “We
have to find a new way into this character for you.” And so we began from scratch, and rather than
him being a secondary, supporting character that you really just sort of thought, “Why
would Roxie ever want to be with him? Of course, she’s cheating on him,” we
decided that what he did, he did for love. And he was the character with love and a sense
of dignity in CHICAGO. And it never had lived that way before. And Walter decided that it was, in fact, now
a play about four people. This was not just another good, you know,
extra song in Act II. So we found a whole cloth. And it was a very satisfying experience. But once again, totally different. The Emcee was in your face and — From now on, that’s the way that’s going
to be. — and Amos Hart, you can look right through
him. He’s not there. He’s Mr. Cellophane. It’s still a very small part, which you
make into a big part. But in terms of number of lines, it’s remarkably
small for that tremendous impact. But are we talking about quality? (LAUGHTER) Yeah, we are! We are! And small parts and small actors?! (LAUGHTER) That’s right. I have to say about Joel, he is such a rascal,
because he can play and he enjoys playing a kind of clown who then knows perfectly well
he’s capable of breaking your heart. And you are going to have your heart broken
by this man, who at the same time is so capable of making you laugh. And this goes back, I suppose, two thousand
years. This is sort of Moliere, my favorite comparison
with Joel. I’ve always wanted him to play Moliere. But that’s what he could do, and that’s
what you do, and you’re always able to do that. And that is in you. It is in you, coming out. But I never, ever, ever think I can do the
things that I end up doing and finding great satisfaction in. I’m usually, “I don’t know how to do
this!” And when I say that, my friends say, “He’s
gonna do it!” (LAUGHTER) Well, the lightbulb goes on at some point. I have to be a rascal now, because I have
to graciously retreat from this marvelous company. I need to get back to Rockefeller Plaza, where
we are doing a great tribute to Duke Ellington. Today marks the 90th anniversary of his birth. Oh, wonderful. And we are, as it were, literally dancing
in the streets. So thank you for the time. We’re all going with you. (LAUGHTER) I’m first, because I know how to dance. Yes, I know you do. So I wanted to be able to do this correctly. Do I just unmike myself and get out of here,
or what? So long as you sashay off. Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you for coming. (APPLAUSE) While Andre’s doing that, I’ll throw a
question in another direction. We’re talking about research, too, and how
you do your homework, to a degree. And homework is different things. Paul, what was your approach to Chekhov? Well, I took this as a great opportunity to
read as much Russian literature as I could, and I read a lot of Tolstoy and things like
that. I did some reading about the period, but sometimes
I get a little wary about doing too much research, and I wanted to see how much I could just
get from the text of it itself, because it can sometimes get in my way, and I’ll be
sitting around thinking too much about specific historical things. So I tried to read a lot of literature that
was evocative of Chekhov and the period, and things like that, so that was helpful for
me. And also, Dana, you also have done two shows
this year. And we talk about music, and you did a marvelous
job in SEX AND LONGING. You know, you really did. And that’s a totally different kind of music. (LAUGHS) It sure is! But you had to find that, and you did find
it, I think, very, very well. That’s an interesting case in point of what
Joel was talking about. I did a reading of that, and it was great
fun to do the reading, and it just kind of barreled out of me. And I thought, “Oh, that’s great fun.” Then I started trying to put it together in
a rehearsal period, and I didn’t know where I was or where to start or what to do, because
in a reading, you’re just kind of skimming on the surface, doing this musical thing we’ve
been talking about, trying to make the sound out there, the pace, everything, just so it
works for a one time thing. Then when you start investigating it and trying
to create a character, it’s like, “Wait a minute, how does this person talk? How does all this sound come out of this person
in a grounded way?” And it took me a while to put it all together
and find a way to use the kind of reading energy that I had had and finally come back
with the same kind of energy that this character needed, having gone through a lot of investigation
to find out where it all tied up, you know, and what she really wanted. You know, trying to find the really positive
things to play, to go for, because so much of what she said, if you sort of deconstructed
it, was negative. So you have to find something really positive
that the person wants and to go after, in order to ride you through all of that. We always ask the same question about how
one begins in the theatre. If you began in the cradle, we want you to
say so, but how old were you when you first decided, “I want to be an actress”? Six. (LAUGHS) That’s a good early age. In the South? In the South, yes. My mother was an amateur actress in Atlanta. But I do distinctly remember sitting at my
grandmother’s kitchen table when I was six, I think, six or seven, and saying I wanted
to be an actress when I grew up, and my grandmother was absolutely horrified. You know, “Oh, God,” you know? (LAUGHTER) But I’ve never wanted to be anything
else. So in school, you were able to take the leading
parts? Well, my high school, we didn’t do very
much. But my mother was the director of plays at
Georgia Tech, a group called Drama Tech. So from the time that I was about thirteen,
I played every maid you can conceive of in the plays at Georgia Tech. And then, you know, we had a senior class
play. But then I went to college, and in the middle
of my freshman year, I finally decided to go ahead and major in theatre. I was thinking about being an archeologist. But I thought, “Well, I’m going to be
spending all my time at the theatre anyway. I might as well make it pay off towards my
degree.” So I majored in theatre. What college were you at? Rollins College. And then I was very fortunate, and I applied
for and got a Fullbright grant to study in London. So I had a year of what amounts to graduate
work at LAMBDA in London. Directly from Rollins? Yes. So that was marvelous. Oh yeah. Oh, it was wonderful. What was the difference that you found? That’s interesting, because of the English
training. What did you learn at LAMBDA that you might
not have here? I mean, a lot of us have different traditions. Well, some of what we’re talking about today. When I was at Rollins, all of our acting classes
were very small, and it was completely a Stanislavsky approach and acting exercises, sense memory,
actions, objectives, you know, beats. All this kind of vocabulary. And I had read Stanislavsky’s “Building
a Character” and thought, “Why doesn’t anybody ever talk about this?” And I thought, “I want to go and get some
technical foundation.” So that’s primarily what I got when I was
in England. The class I was in was considered sort of
[advanced], we didn’t go through the basics. The regular English students were learning
everything I had learned in college. But our class worked on voice and movement,
diction, text, just all of the ways, you know, not working with trying to figure out how
you feel or the way you’re going to show the way you feel, working only on the structure
side of it. And giving us a really strong capability for
using our bodies, our instruments, as well as we could, given any feeling we wanted to
express. So it was primarily a technical instruction
that I got there. And did you come back to Rollins or did you
come to New York? No, I had graduated from Rollins. So you’re here in New York? I came back and I actually went to the Front
Street Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, was my first job when I got back from London. And that’s where I got my Equity card, and
I was there for a season of monthly stock, for seven shows. And then when did you come to New York? Well, I avoided New York. I was very frightened of New York, and I stayed
in the regions. I actually went to Canada and worked up there
for eight years after Memphis, because I loved English theatre so much and I knew that, at
that time particularly, English theatre was more available up there than in this country. So I went up there and became an immigrant
and worked up there all across Canada for eight years. I finally came home, but I went back to Atlanta
for three and a half years. And it was a long time before I came to New
York. I was really afraid the city was just going
to eat me up. Were you working in a resident company in
Canada? Many, yes. I would go and work fall, winter, spring,
for a whole season. Most of them had seasons that were kind of
September to May, and I would do a season with a company. I did a season in Winnipeg, two in Calgary,
two in Montreal. I toured one year across Canada with a bus
and truck, which is everybody’s [dream]. That’s wonderful, wonderful. Everybody should have that experience. (LAUGHTER) You know, I say it after it’s over, but
it’s like being in the Army or something. Afterwards, it’s a good thing to have done. Oh, no. And every young person — I wouldn’t trade
anything in the world for that experience, and I’m glad I did it when I was young. (LAUGHS) But it was wonderful. It was wonderful. You just have to go into a space immediately. You arrive in the afternoon. You even have to set up the set. You go in and you have to, you know, assess
the space and how you’re going to fill it and use whatever your performance is that
you’ve arrived at with your colleagues, and you have to make it work in that space. And the spaces vary wildly, and it’s a wonderful
education in itself, just learning how to perform in a space. Brendan, one of the things that occurs to
me now that I think might be worth talking about is that we’re all in enterprises right
now where the public wants to see what it is we’re doing. But the things that we do in those enterprises,
we have done hundreds before, that make us who we are today in this particular piece
that Willem is in and Dana is in and Nell and myself. And a lot of them were failures. A lot of them were experiments. A lot of them were exactly what she was talking
about. Dana and I worked on a wonderful John Shanley
play a couple of years ago at Vassar. I watched her creative process. It was remarkable. It was exactly, sort of like sitting — you
really knew that then. (DANA LAUGHS) And realizing that that work,
we learned so much there, but what we learned there is in her performance of BALLYHOO. It was the sum of an awful lot of these things. But Willem, how early did you begin? Can you do better than six? Well, I feel a little out of place, because
when I look back on things, I feel like for the longest time, I didn’t decide that I
wanted to be an actor, and I didn’t really train to be an actor. And when I look back on it, the truth is,
I’ve had very, very little formal training. But on the other hand, ever since I was quite
young, I was performing, first as an amateur, and then I became involved with companies,
quite young. First, a company in the Midwest that spent
most of their time in Europe. And then in the Wooster Group, this company
downtown that I’ve worked with for twenty years. So that’s a lot of training. That’s a lot of training by doing. But whenever anybody (LAUGHS) talks about
training, I get a little nervous! (LAUGHTER) I’m gonna be exposed! Someone let me in the door! No, the doing, the doing is the trick! It is, it is. And the failing! Yeah, failing is terribly important. And the wonderful thing with working with
a company and working with a lot of the same people for twenty years, I mean, I think the
Wooster Group was one of the oldest true companies in the country that actually makes original
work. You know, we’re allowed to fail quite a
bit. (LAUGHS) Now, did you go to school? Did you bother with school? I went to school briefly. (LAUGHTER) More exposure, yeah. And basically, you know, (LAUGHTER) I just
followed my nose. I mean, performing’s a fun thing. You know, sometimes, the school of hard knocks
is just as good, okay? The thing is, I know I will not say my age,
but I’m from the South, and all I know is– Why do you keep nodding to me? (LAUGHS) Well, but you keep coming up with stuff that
I can’t compete with you, girlfriend. I am 23. (LAUGHTER) I remember being punished and coming
downstairs and seeing “All About Eve.” And I came down when Margot is from the audience
point of view. And it was not a doubt in my mind, and I was
a child, (TO DANA) same age. And I was a child that knew that was what
I wanted. I didn’t understand it, and I can not explain
to you how people put inferences on where you’ve been and all. Through Joe Papp, I did get a scholarship
to learn at the Young Vic in London, but I do not put that in my resume. A lot of things, I won’t put down, because
most of my failures are my proudest moments. Go on with that a little more, because you
just say, “Failure, failure,” and you did, too, Joel. Failure is important. It is so important, because you get a chance
to see your limitations, and you get a chance to improve. And if you have an ego, as all actors do,
you will find a way to just get at it and get at it and get at it and get it! It’s like going on the day after that review. What do you do? Go out there and say, “Oh, what the hell,
they don’t like me. I might as well not do it”? No, no, no. No, no, no! And if we don’t play together, we just got
bad reviews, if you don’t come on giving it fully, I’m going to come off outside
the stage and say, “If you do that again tomorrow, I’m going to turn to you and ask
you what’s wrong.” Because the whole thing is, to live on the
stage. This is what I want to do. I did not want to work television any more. I wanted to come back to this. And believe me, I now know that you should
never follow in Dorothy Loudon’s footsteps. And that’s why I purposely did not try to
copy her. But I do not regret for a moment, for one
moment, anything I’ve done, from THE DEATH OF A SALESMAN, for trying to get in that,
hey! I don’t care. I never saw myself as black or you as white. It was like, I can do it, I can do it, and
I still don’t see myself that way. When I look in the mirror, I see– I go to
work, I don’t care what hurts, when they say, “On,” I’m on. And I give it my best. I had one reviewer– You’re a wonderful role model, really. No, but I had one reviewer who says that “she
goes on stage to prove that she can out-sing.” And I had to say, “What? Could you read that again? Why am I going on stage to out-sing?” I said, “Well, would I do but go up and
give it my all?” Where did this idiot come from? (LAUGHTER) And he’s a critic. And you think, when I go out there, it is
to give you all. I personally, if I’m going to die, I want
to be on stage. So everyone will see it. (LAUGHTER) If it’s on TV, they can edit
it out. On stage! (LAUGHTER) I wanted to ask, how did you get to the Wooster
Group? After working with this small company, I came
to New York really intending to, you know, have a kind of traditional, commercial theatre
career. And I looked around, and I was seeing all
kinds of stuff on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in lofts. And I just saw this particular performance
at the Wooster Group and my jaw dropped and I wanted to become involved. So I went to them, and I said, “Look, I’m
a pretty good carpenter.” I just insinuated myself in the company, really. (LAUGHS) You didn’t say you were an actor? No, I said I was a performer, too. (LAUGHTER) But it was like an informal apprenticeship,
really. And that’s the way almost everyone that’s
been in that company has become involved. They’ve kind of hung around, and then you
couldn’t get rid of ‘em, because you couldn’t run the place without them! That’s right. And also, because we all, as we make work,
we’re all in the same room with the technicians and our spheres of responsibility overlap. Pretty soon, you know, the guy’s that’s
sweeping the floor starts to do the props. It’s really an old-fashioned way to work. And then he starts to have small roles. And then, before you know it, where is he? He’s got to do that role. And before you know it, he’s doing the lead
role. So when I talk about it, it sounds really
kind of romantic and sentimental, but that’s really the way it works. Well, that’s the way the theatre was. Well, at the Wooster Group, Richard Checkner
(PH) there, you know, was a very– He initially started in tech. Right. And then Elizabeth LeCompte, whose work I
was most attracted to, you know, that’s where the existing work really is. You mean, if I wanted to join the Wooster
Group– Drop by, Joel! — I’d have to sweep up first? Oh, we can work something out! (LAUGHTER) I’d love to go back to those days! I mean, I wouldn’t mind. Floors and windows. You have a very distinctive voice, but there
was no voice training? You can recognize your voice without seeing
you, the particular timbre of your voice. But that just was with you from the beginning,
while you were sweeping floors? Uh– yes. (LAUGHTER) Well, what made you come to New York, from
what, Wisconsin? Wisconsin. You know, basically, New York was where the
theatre was to me. And what interested you in theatre? Where did you grow up in Wisconsin? Was there a regional theatre near you? No. I mean, there was a small community theatre,
and then I went to school for a bit, and then there was this small company called Theatre
X. In Madison? In Milwaukee, actually. I don’t know. I wanted to be an actor. And my idea, at that time particularly, being
an actor was about being in the theatre. It wasn’t about movies. Partly because, just, I didn’t know anybody
in movies. You know, that was something way up there. I mean, I like movies as much as anyone. But I clearly just physically wanted to be
in the theatre. Joel, you spoke of the Cleveland Play House. I was hoping you would get to that. Where was that in your career, the Cleveland
Play House? Oh, well, I was nine and I was in a play called
ON BORROWED TIME. I think I started about five, six. Six! Six is the number here. Playing an adorable child. A brat. Wasn’t your father in theatre? My father was a comedian and a musician, but
he had no interest in the theatre. It was like it was my passion. It was kind of the way in which I identified
myself and diversified myself. Was it his profession? He was a musician, essentially. A professional musician? Yeah, a clarinetist and a saxophonist. And was this in Cleveland? In Cleveland, Ohio, yeah. And I went to see a children’s production. It was a group called The Curtain Pullers. And I loved it, and I said, “I want to do
that.” And so, I started to go to class on Saturday
mornings, and they would do these little things. I played Little Black Sambo. You did! I did. I saw no color lines! (LAUGHTER) I know the feeling. And I was outrageous. They put a Topsy wig on me. I’ll be your standby any day! (LAUGHTER) It was terrible! And then I was found in that class by the
professional theatre for this production of ON BORROWED TIME, and probably the greatest
part a kid actor ever had. Sure. When did you come to New York? I came to New York when I was nineteen. I came for an audition when I was about twelve,
for LIFE WITH FATHER. Oh, for heavens’ sake. And went right back to Cleveland. Save it. We have to break for just a minute now, so
that everybody can stretch and turn around and think about other questions. Are you’re going to stretch, too? I’m going to stretch. I’m going to do cartwheels. (LAUGHTER) And we’ll all come back again. Please don’t go away, just think of all
the questions you want to ask this panel, have them ready and somebody from the Wing
will take them for you. And we’ll be right back. (APPLAUSE)
MALE VOICE This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) We’re back at the American Theatre
Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” And this seminar is on the performance, and
Brendan Gill and George White are our moderators, who will continue the probing of what it is
to work in the theatre, from this wonderful group that we have here today, who have been
so marvelous in telling what it was like, where they started and where they are now. So, George, will you continue? Yeah, I’d like to continue with Joel a little
bit more. I think, as we last left you, you were twelve
years old. (LAUGHTER) Well, I was very, very lucky, in that the
Cleveland Play House was one of the great, great regional theatres in that period of
time. And for me to be nine years old, with a group
of professionals who looked at me as an equal, if I knew my lines, if I was on time, if I
had my makeup on correctly, if I was a responsible citizen in the theatre. It was like heaven for me, and it probably
changed my life forever, and probably formed the way I think and the way I feel about the
theatre as a holy place. And I don’t mean that in a religious way,
but I do mean it in a spiritual way. And I was very, very lucky, because I saw
beautiful work. I saw how it was done. And there was no condescension to my age. As I said, I was an equal, among actors. Was there someone that inspired you, or any
particular people, or were there people? Yes, there was a man, a director by the name
of K.L. Mallow (PH), who somehow believed in me and had this notion that I was to be
an actor in this life. And his wife was a woman by the name of Dorothy
Paxton (PH). They were Southerners and very romantic. And I have a photograph in my dressing room
today, of all the starters of the Cleveland Play House. It is so beautiful. It looks like Gatsby. (LAUGHTER) I mean, they’re so full of life
and hope and elegance and self-respect. That’s what I found in that place, is that
there was a belief that work and the theatre and what happens on the stage can change people’s
lives. The lives of the actors, the lives of the
audiences, the lives of us together. And I’ve always felt that. And when I go to the theatre, I am excited
just before that curtain goes up, when I sit out. Every time, even though I’m told it’s
not going to be good, I still am hopeful and respectful of that experience, and I love
it. Did celebrated actors come through? Were they invited to do any of the productions
at the Cleveland Play House? Or they came through Cleveland, just in road
companies, presumably. No, the Cleveland Play House was its own company,
like the Wooster Group. At its time. And then later on, they brought in people. Did you get your musical training and your
dancing there? I had no musical training. You had none? No. I had some tap lessons when I was about eleven
and I hated it. And I actually wanted to be a ballet dancer,
but I couldn’t take the guff. I couldn’t take the kids at school making
fun of me, because that was really my passion. When did you come to New York? When I was eighteen. And to do what? (BREATHLESSLY) “To be on Broadway!” (LAUGHTER) That’s a line from GEORGE M. I remember
it. No, that’s a line from life. (LAUGHTER) Right. But you know, one of the great things that
you have, and I wonder whether you can learn it– I think I know the answer, but I’d
like to hear it from you– is this incredible sense of timing that you have. Is that just built-in or can you learn that? I don’t know. I thought not. I don’t know the answer to that. I think that there’s a lot of intuition
in what we do, and it comes back to what we started talking about at the beginning, music. Timing is music. You’re clicking with the person you’re
working with. And it’s something you either sense and
you know what the moment wants, and you’re also sensitive to that other actor, so that
together you make a wonderful duet. Yeah, but I think it’s also what Dana said,
that she’s traveled all over Canada, working in front of all different kinds of audiences. And with less and less preparation needed
each time, but just getting on, and making herself honest with the audience. And not just music, but that comes with experience
and how to deal with it. And you, by doing all the different roles
that you did as a child at the Cleveland Play House, was learning the same thing. I think it’s more than intuition. I think there’s experience that has to come,
with how to handle different audiences with your art, in a sense, with what you know,
with your timing, with your music. But mainly, what to do with this audience
today, how to treat it. And that’s important. I wonder if that’s being made available
to young people in the theatre today. Do they have to go out [of town]? I wonder, too, because there are not as many
opportunities for young people to go out and slog away in the boondocks as there used to
be, and learn their craft. Because if you start out with the premise,
and I believe it is true, that to be an actor you have to have some innate gift, whatever
it is. Whether you go through formal training or
not, you have the intelligence and the sensitivity to grasp, to teach yourself as you go along
and learn from other people. So given that you have this ability, then
you do have to have the experiences of working with other people, and just to work yourself,
to have those failures or successes that show you your own parameters, how to accomplish
what it is that you as the individual artist in this teamwork situation need to accomplish
each time and how you serve your team and how you serve the writer and yourself, thereby. But it is something that can only be done
through the training of experience, just as any draftsman may have a gift, but he teaches
himself by doing it over and over and over how to accomplish most efficiently and most
beautifully what it is he wants to accomplish, to draw. And he can’t just do it, first time out. You have to be able to do it over and over
and over again, to teach yourself how to do it. And without the chance to do that, I don’t
know how young people [do it]. Acting schools are great, but that’s not
the same as having to go out and deliver to an audience and communicate with them. And there are not as many avenues for young
people to do that, I don’t think, today. And that sounds crazy, because we had this
huge boom of theatres for so long, and there are probably more theatres now than there
were when I was starting out. And yet, maybe because there seem to be more
young people trying to start out as well, there just seem to be less opportunities. Also, I think that young people don’t really
want to do that work. I frequently talk to young actors who want
to be celebrities. (LAUGHTER) They want to be movie stars or
television stars. They don’t want to do the work, per se. And I think there’s a confusion in their
minds about what we do or what it is that one does as an actor. And they’re not willing to, you know, go
and live in Podunk for a year or two years, if that would be the thing that would help
them to learn how to do what they need to do. Nobody ever told them that that was how it
works. Yes, I guess that is right. You see, it’s another kind of generation,
these enormous stars and television and that quick fix notion. It’s like they’re fed that from age two,
three, four, five, whereas we were exposed to a whole other kind of life. We were exposed to eating Kraft Macaroni and
Cheese, making it stretch, learn how to make soufflés because you could only buy that
box of eggs and that flour. We learned how to walk. We learned how to work for free. We learned how to con our way backstage, so
we could see every play. You know, when I was starting out, we didn’t
stab each other in the back. (LAUGHTER) But you know, I’m going to jump in a minute,
because there’s something else that I learned, too, at the break, that some of you did not
learn, but you have to. And that is that you went on opening night
and have continued to perform with a strangulated hernia. Right. And then, just got it taken care of. So you were two days out with your understudy
and that’s it. Now, that’s not easy. That, you go on in pain. Well, I was in pain the whole time. The pain was so bad that no one could come
near me. I mean, I couldn’t wear my costumes, and
I had to use the woman that covered me costumes. Because under that dress where I look, I have
bindings on that since the surgery. I would have on three pair of stockings, four
underwear, and you would have the truss, plus the man’s hernia belt. Anything to keep the pressure off. And you go out there, and you smile, and all
of a sudden, you don’t feel it. You kick. You do the thing, and if they didn’t like
it, I personally, going back to what you said earlier about being on stage and being intuitive,
if you trust the person you’re on stage with, everything will be okay. I knew that when I was working with Colleen,
no matter how much pain, I would just look at her cross-eyed. I really, like this. And then Jim would come on as Rooster, I just
knew, “I have to do this kick, or they’re going to say I’m not doing my best.” You just do it. And I’m not saying the show must go on,
because I don’t think that is the case. It was more of a thing that I didn’t know
how serious it was, until finally I was just doubled over so much and then I went to the
doctor on a Friday and he said, “You have to have this out now.” And I said, “Unh-unh, I have a matinee tomorrow
(LAUGHTER) and I have a matinee Sunday. I can’t do that.” And he said, “No. You don’t understand. You can get peritonitis. You can do this, or you could end up with
a colostomy,” and I said, “Yeah, but I’d be on stage.” (LAUGHTER) I thought he was joking, so I said I’d come
in Monday. I went in Monday and I sign these papers where
he was really for real about this bag. Then first thing I thought, “Well, where
am I going to put this bag, because I am going to kick?” (LAUGHTER) Well, you asked! That’s great. Well, I got back on stage, and today’s the
day I get the stitches out. So I’m alive! (APPLAUSE) And isn’t it just selfish? The other part, the understudy is so good,
she’ll never go on again. (LAUGHTER) They stood up for her. She’ll never go on. (LAUGHTER) Paul, tell us a little bit about you. I know that your mother is a trained actress. My mother was a trained actress, yeah. And tell me a little bit about your getting
into the business. Well, I kind of came from a sort of theatrical
family. I mean, literally and sort of metaphorically,
very theatrical people. (LAUGHTER) And very Italian kind of (MIMES
THROWING THINGS). So I think that it was always something that
we kind of did. But I think I denied it for a long time, that
it was something I wanted to do, because I kind of thought, “This isn’t something
a serious human being really does.” So I guess I’m not a very serious human
being. Where did you study and go to school? Well, I started really doing it undergraduate
at Yale University, and then I moved out to Seattle. Now, I was going to say, I mean, speaking
as a fairly young actor, I mean, I don’t know if it’s true to characterize young
actors so generally. Because I mean, I knew plenty of people out
in Seattle, where I lived for about four years, and we really worked in little black box closet
theatres, making thirteen dollars a month was what we made. And I mean, there were lots of people out
there. And there are lots of young actors who are
doing that kind of thing. Also, I think it has to be said fairly that
young actors learn on television. I’m always baffled by that. You mean they learn on television? They learn how to become actors on television,
because they need young people playing young parts on television. Where do they get their training? In their teens, I guess. I guess so. I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t done much yet. But there is good work being done by actors
on television. It’s a fact. There definitely is. I mean, there is a lot of it in places like
Seattle and Chicago and places like that. Yeah, the regions have done a lot of stuff. Yeah. So I mean, there is a lot of it going on. Those are the stars, Seattle and Chicago and
Minneapolis. For those kinds of plays, yeah. And Providence. But in between, you need just to go out and
work and go over to sweep the floors and then make whatever happens. I know. I mean, I did that. And also, I think you need to have the opportunity
to work with people who’ve been in the theatre for a long time. Right. So that you can observe them. You know, you can throw five kinds of people
together, and maybe they’ll start coming up, young people, with a lot of good stuff
on their own. But you can learn an awful lot from working
with seasoned professionals. Oh, definitely. And there is a sense of theatre heritage and
what you do and what you don’t do that’s, I guess, sort of unspoken. And not that it’s gospel, but it’s helpful. And you know, there are things that are useful
in the theatre, necessary in the theatre, that are not good in films and television. You know, you want to be totally spontaneous
in films and television. It’s like the moment. But you can’t just be totally spontaneous
on the stage, because you may wreck somebody else’s scene, you know. And you have to learn to do a kind of glorified,
abnormal behavior that looks normal, in order to feed what’s necessary, because you could
be splitting focus and you could be, you know, doing all kinds of things to wreck a scene,
if you’re being totally spontaneous. So there are some things that work in one
medium that don’t in another, that people need to learn about. But I think knowing your craft will help you
go over into another medium. Right. Oh, absolutely. Well, Joel, you mentioned, you know, working
out of Cleveland for so long at the Cleveland Play House, again you really didn’t have
a lot of drama schooling, except for learning by picking up. Later on, I studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Oh, you did? With Meisner? With Sanford Meisner, and then with Wynn Handman. Ah-ha. But starting out, you built that long background
of watching other people do it? I think I get a lot from all the people that
I’m lucky enough to work with, a lot. But I think that the who I am, the core of
who and what it is I do as an actor, I think happened in those years from nine to twelve. I’ll bet it. And because it was so positive and so intelligent
and loving and respectful. And I was thinking, there really were manners
that were part of the theatre life. And there were manners for part of American
life (LAUGHS) once, too. And I sadly miss that. Sort of basic courtesy. Professional courtesy, real courtesy. Yes. Human courtesy. Human courtesy, yeah. That’s amazing. Willem, did you have a mentor? Did you have anybody that you looked to? Not specifically. Basically, these people that I work with in
the Wooster Group, I’d say. So you bounced off each other and therefore
became each other’s mentors, is that it? Right. I mean, they were really making work, you
know? Very articulate, very strong work, when I
was pretty much unformed. So I still look to them. Great. We have so many people that want to ask questions
that I’m going to have to interrupt you now and see if you can answer some of them. Won’t you come up, please, David (PH)? DAVID
Nell Carter had said before about giving the show her all, and as we heard from your story,
you certainly are still doing that every night. And this question relates to that issue of
maintaining the show and consistency and maintaining a fresh show, eight shows a week, especially
in a long run. And I know that must be difficult to do and
bears to the issue of keeping a show alive and not being bored. It must be very difficult. And the second part would be, do you find
it helpful, desirable, or even terrifying for a director to come back midway through
and work with you? So all of them take a stab at that? Oh, I can answer that. I absolutely love it when Martin comes back. No, I know you know his reputation. (LAUGHTER) But you know, we get along fine. He and I get along fine, because we can both
blow at the same time, so we don’t blow. I think it’s very important that the director
comes back, because otherwise, you start getting notes from people that were not there when
you created it, and they’re telling you what you thought at the beginning, and they
don’t know what was in your head. Secondly, I believe rehearsal is very important,
because you start doing things, and (TO DANA) I don’t know how you phrased it, but you
improvise something and it’s funny. And then your fellow actor lets it go, all
of a sudden, it’s a part of the show, and you want to say, “Back up.” So I think rehearsal is very important. That’s my opinion. Does anyone else want to answer that? How about keeping a show fresh? Now, Joel, you did God knows how long in CABARET. Just a year. Just a year in CABARET? That’s a long time. One year in the original CABARET, and then
I did it for a year in the 20th Revival. I actually look forward to being surprised
on stage, by myself and by the other actors, within the form that the director and the
actors have created. And obviously, that has to be respected at
all times. But I love when things are slightly different. Slightly different, but lively and still true
to me. Sometimes my choices aren’t as good, but
I still, for the most part, think that they belong in the play (LAUGHTER) But I do love
to live in the moment. And some of my co-actors, over a long period
of time, really don’t like that. They want to stay strong and steely to the
minute, and they’re afraid to let go of anything. You don’t have to be strong and steely,
but you just try working with children and a dog! (LAUGHTER) You’ve got me. We have another question here. Hi, my name is Annette Salzgard and I came
here from Sweden to pursue theatre, which I have a great passion for. And my question is really to all of you. What advice would you give to someone like
me, who does not have an agent and is non-union and non-Equity (LAUGHS) and that whole spiel? God bless you! (LAUGHTER) Thank you. God bless you for trying and wanting to do
it. I always tell people that I think you need
to find out what it is you do best, and then really work on that, hone that, that special
thing that maybe only you have. Like, how you look. And then maybe, how you speak. And don’t wash that out. Make that more so. Yeah, I would think, particularly if you’re
from Sweden, use it, don’t try to cover it up. That could be very useful for someone, to
re-program it that way. Sweetheart, pick up the paper, and every role
you see in that, go up for it. Buy a red wig. (LAUGHTER) Go up for every role. They will eventually think you are crazy and
let you in, or you will get a chance, but eventually you will get around. They either think you’re so dumb and let
you in for free, or they’ll give you a chance. I’m serious. Just go to all the open calls you can. Go for it. No one can stop you. Thank you. We have another question. I’m Cynthia Lopez, and this is directed
to whoever this applies to. Now, in between theatre gigs, there is the
reality of the bills coming in. So what type of survival jobs have you done
to get over this dry hump? Paul, you want to try it? And be honest! I dressed up in a big blue Styrofoam fish
costume (LAUGHTER) once in Seattle and handed out flyers for a fish restaurant. And that was really horrifying. That’s acting. It was acting. And I’ve done all the others. I mean, dishwasher and all kinds of stuff
like that. Anything you can do, I guess, is the answer
to that. Would you like to ask a question? Thank you. My name is Margo Evan. I’m an actor. And this question is for Willem Dafoe. In regard to your presentation and your performance,
how is it different from theatre and your transition into on-screen performances? Let me understand that. Could you say it again? Well, theatre, as we know, is one medium and
film is a different one. And how do you change gears to get yourself
involved in both productions? Somewhere at the core, it’s all pretending. (LAUGHS) I don’t know, they’re different
jobs. The time factor is very different. I don’t know. I approach any activity always the same, it
seems. Okay, let’s just talk about the differences. The main difference is, theatre is basically,
you know, first you develop this thing and you get a score and then you have to invest
this score, much in the same way that Joel says you know you have to live life into it. You have to re-make it every night. In film, it’s so fragmented, and what you
do is so mediated, that that colors your process so much. I don’t know. You know, each time out the process is different
for me. Isn’t the scale something you do this to? Your performances are scaled differently for
the cinematic or not. Not necessarily. Yeah, not necessarily. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) That’s conventional wisdom, and ninety percent
of the time it’s right, but I think it’s not useful to think in those terms, because
then you’re putting a restriction on you that is not necessarily going to help you. What about the close-up, the very factor of
the close-up? Close-ups are a particular kind of thing,
but sometimes– You can play a maniac so wonderfully, all
that kind of thing. (LAUGHTER) I’d like to ask a question, starting with
Paul and everyone answer. How do you deal with auditions? Well, I generally go in there mostly to please
myself. I mean, I just want to go in and have a good
time, most of the time. And I try not to worry about it, and I generally
go in with the attitude of expecting nothing. (LAUGHS) So I mean, you know, I can’t be
disappointed a lot of the time. (LAUGHTER) But I generally really just try
to amuse myself, have a good time, that’s all, you know. That’s a good point of view. I have varying attitudes towards auditions. I guess I’m a pretty moody person. When I’m feeling in a good mood and feeling
self-confident, then I go and I enjoy myself. And when I don’t, I feel like it’s just
the most horrible situation (LAUGHS) I’ve ever had to put myself through. So obviously, when it’s not successful,
when one goes in with a very negative point of view like that. So it sort of is up and down. Each one is its own thing for me. Well, also, I think, and it’s true, I mean,
here you’ve become a major performer, actor, and you still are auditioning. What about you? I go in there knowing that I’m going to
get it. (LAUGHTER) No, I do. That is my attitude. I go in there, I’m going to get it, and
nothing stands in my way. And if I don’t get it, they’re stupid. (LAUGHTER) I’m sorry to interrupt this. No, you’ve got to ask him, now. I am going to ask him, but I have to go now
and say that it’s been a wonderful seminar, and you’ve been marvelous people. But I have to finish it by saying goodbye
to you and hope that you will watch more of the American Theatre Wing’s “Working in
the Theatre” seminars, which are coming to you from the Graduate Center of the University
of New York, right here on 42nd Street, where we can call on the wonderful people that we
do today. This is the American Theatre Wing, and I’m
Isabelle Stevenson, President of the Wing. Thank you all for being here, and thank you,
especially, to this panel. (APPLAUSE)

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