Performance (Working In The Theatre #277)


(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their twenty-fifth year,
coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These seminars offer an insight into the realities
of working in the theatre. And today’s seminar is devoted to performers
who have arrived on Broadway from four different countries, yet share a common bond, love of
the theatre. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing, and I hope that you will enjoy and learn from today’s
seminar. So now, let me introduce our moderators. Pia Lindstrom, theatre critic and author,
and George White, Chairman of the Board of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Pia? Thank you so much, Isabelle. Next to me is the Scottish actor, Iain Glen,
who reminded me he was Scottish. This is an important thing, because we have
quite a group here of international actors. He is starring with Nicole Kidman in THE BLUE
ROOM, but he’s had many other parts before that. Studied at RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Art. He’s been in musicals, in Shakespeare, HENRY
V, MACBETH, HAMLET, films, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Mountains of the Moon,
Gorillas in the Mist. And we don’t know what has prepared him
for the sensation of THE BLUE ROOM. (LAUGHTER) Next to him is the lovely Lea Salonga, who
appeared as Kim in MISS SAIGON years ago, and she’s back. She has been on the stage since she was seven
years old, so although she is very young, she has a vast experience in the theatre. We’ll be talking to her shortly. Next to me is George White. (LAUGHS) And next to me is Anna Manahan, who like me,
is from Waterford. But I’m from Waterford, Connecticut, and
she’s from Waterford, Ireland. (LAUGHTER) And she studied with Rea Mooney
(PH), at the Gaiety School – School of Acting. School of Acting in Ireland, and who was also
from the Abbey Theatre. And the wonderful thing is that she was nominated
for a Tony for LOVERS in 1968, where she costarred with Art Carney, and then all these – well
– Thirty years! Thirty years later, she won the Tony! (LAUGHTER) For Mag Folan in BEAUTY QUEEN OF
LEENANE. And it’s delightful to have her here. And next to her is Nicole Kidman, who is starring
in THE BLUE ROOM at the moment, who is from Australia. And has also been a lot in film, and I will
just tell you some of the things that she has done. We will shortly, I hope, see you in Eyes Wide
Shut, directed by Stanley Kubrick, which I guess is in the editing process, even as we
speak. And has also won the Golden Globe Award for
the Best Actress in To Die For, and it’s delightful to have you here, all the way from
Sydney, Australia. (NICOLE LAUGHS) Thank you very much. I’d like to, if I may, start by talking
about training and how you got started. Actually, let’s talk about how either of
you got started. What is the madness (LAUGHTER) that made you
start this way? How did you? On my father’s side, I come from a theatrical,
musical family for generations. In every generation of the Manahan family,
there are actors and musicians. Very normal for me to become an actor. I’m very glad, for my own sake, that I grew
up and was trained in Ireland, because we have a deep ingrained love of playwrights
and of the text. That was honed for me in England, particularly
during my sojourn with the National Theatre in England, because in Ireland, the text is
very important, but we played the mood and the passion. And I find in America, they do the same thing. In England, they do that, but they’re intensely
interested in the text. And I learned there how to investigate the
text, and that is one of the greatest riches of my life. And I wish I could give it to young American
performers, who act before the line, after the line, but not on the line! (LAUGHTER) If I were young enough, I would
start a crusade. I feel there’s great talent in this country,
but oh, I want so very dearly to impress that upon acting students. Please, please, play the play. Play the text. Play the character. Stop acting all around the lines. (LAUGHTER) That’s good! (APPLAUSE) Well, that’s it. That’s the end of the seminar! (LAUGHTER) Yeah! Thank you, Anna. We should all go home! Nicole, what about Australia? Your traditions, of course there are many,
many Irish traditions in Australia, but also, obviously British traditions, English traditions. Were you brought up with that when you trained? I know you trained at, what is it, the National
– Australian Theatre for Young People, is where
I trained. And were you trained like Anna? Or do you play differently? We basically studied all sorts of techniques. When I was at drama school, you studied the
Meisner, you studied the Method, you study everything. And I think out of that as an actor, you come
up with your own craft, whatever it is. For me, I could take a little from everything. And somehow you manage to do it. Well, of course, Australia has a different
– I mean, it’s like the United States, a colonial society that took from everywhere. The tradition of Irish and British theatre
and American, it’s all there. Yeah, we have [them]. It wasn’t ingrown. Or is it, in terms of a tradition? Is there an Australian theatre traditions,
as such? No. I mean, I think Australia as a country is
made up of so many different people from so many different nations. And therefore, we accept many, many different
things. You said you just went to Sydney prior to
coming to New York, didn’t you? I did, yes. We have a lot of traveling theatre companies
that come through Sydney. We have a festival in Adelaide, which is in
South Australia, which is a wonderful theatre festival. It’s sort of on a par, I think, with the
Edinburgh Festival. And I think there’s a great acceptance and
a great love of the theatre and of actors in Australia. Is that true in the Philippines, as well? Well, the Philippines, it seems to be more
of a moviegoing public than a theatregoing public, so there isn’t exactly a theatre
tradition. But there are a few theatre companies in the
Philippines. That’s where I was trained, when I was seven. And I think it’s more of you’re trained
with the work ethic, you’re trained with the discipline. And whatever show that you’re pushed in
or audition for, that’s what happens. Is there a style of acting, Stanislavsky or
Meisner? I think it seems to be more American than
it is British. That’s what it seems to be. At least in my experience, that’s what it
felt like. And in Scotland? Well, we’re always dominated by the English! (LAUGHTER) Or did you break free? I don’t think we entirely did. But no, there’s a prospect now of an independent
Scotland! Yes! So no, our tradition’s very tied up with,
you know, the British. You studied the traditional styles of acting? Yeah, yeah. I mean, the connection with what you were
saying is really the British training at drama school – I went to RADA – is very language
based. You know, it’s all about studying the text
and finding your performance from the text. I agree wholeheartedly with what you were
saying. I think you especially get that from Shakespeare. You know, Shakespeare wrote such articulate
characters, such articulate people. And there’s a tendency now, especially with
the influence of film, that people become less and less articulate, you know. Oh, Iain, I so agree with you. I saw a production in Dublin of one of the
Shakespearean plays, TWELFTH NIGHT or something. And it was so highly praised. It looked so wonderful and the gimmicks and
everything. And the critics said, “But if you want to
hear the text, don’t go.” That’s right. And I thought, “Why would you put on a Shakespearean
play if the text wasn’t worth hearing?” It is the word that lasts. Directors come and go, different styles come
and go. But the text remains. Shakespeare has remained for hundreds of years. Why not put on something else? Why destroy his text? I don’t agree with it at all. Isn’t the American argument that the American
style is more emotional? Well, I think it may be. I think it’s a desire for spontaneity, really. I mean, the Method was, you know, something
that tried to insist on a reality and a spontaneity, which I think is absolutely valid and really
useful. And all that can be fed into, you know, the
British training. If the British have a tendency, it will be
towards too much demonstration, you know. And over-respect. You can have over-respect for the language
as well, so that kind of gets in the way and you lose a kind of presentness, which is really
what is fundamental to empathy from an audience watching a play or watching a film. They want to be transported into the present,
into a different relationship that’s happening, that they can, you know, sympathize with. And I mean, Shakespeare wrote his subtext. People spoke in soliloquy, in monologue, and
shared their subtext. The whole Method is about looking beneath
the line, and the danger in that is that people, as I say, become less [articulate]. You know, you just kind of grunt and groan. You can’t simply ask for, you know, a cup
of coffee without an “Ay—“ You know, like – (DEMONSTRATES) It’s like what David Mamet calls huff (PH)
acting. (LAUGHTER) You know, it’s kind of like that. (DEMONSTRATES) Well, that’s hearing you push it. Yeah, “Could —- could you — can I — do
you have like – do you have coffee?” (LAUGHTER) And you think, “Say the line! Just say it! Ask for a cup of coffee! Be articulate!” And people are. People, I think, are much more articulate
in real life than they are on film. That’s true. I mean, look at us, we hum and haw a bit. But basically, our sentences roughly rhyme, we express ourselves. But there is a big difference between film
acting and stage acting. What was the difference for you? I don’t think there is a huge difference. I mean, I think that acting is acting. Acting is truth. And so, what you’re trying to achieve is
truth. So once you say, “Oh, well there’s a huge
difference between film and theatre,” then I don’t quite know what that means. I think ultimately you’re aiming for truth. Well, because you know, in a closeup you just
raise an eyebrow. On the stage, don’t you have to do something
big? Yeah. I mean, obviously, technically, there’s
different things, because on a stage you have to be heard. And the concentration that’s required is
different to, say, film. Because on film, you’re required for a certain
amount of time, for maybe half an hour, where it’s very intense and everyone’s focused
on you. And then you have to go away and you have
to sustain it for another, say, six hours, while they light another scene. And then you come on and you do it for that
particular amount of time. So it requires a different energy and a different
concentration. Whereas on stage, the minute you step on,
you’ve got to be completely concentrated until the minute you walk off. And technically, that’s fantastic, to be
able to both, because I think it challenges you both ways. You can become very lazy when you’re working
on film. But I do think that ultimately, acting is
about truth and about text and about all those things, whether you’re on film, whether
you’re on stage. And I think once you start saying, “Well,
we’ve got to be bigger for stage,” then it starts to become “Acting,” which is
not something that I enjoy watching. I think you’re looking to believe. And whether that’s on film or whether that’s
on stage, you have to believe. Yeah. I think the great thing is that they complement
one another really well. I think there are really useful things that
you glean from film that you can bring to theatre and vice versa. And it is dangerous to kind of create a divide. And as I say, spontaneity is a really useful
thing to bring into the theatre. I see too much dead theatre. You know, I see stuff that seems archaic or
seems remote or looks like it was said exactly the same way yesterday. And that, as I say, doesn’t transport you
as it should. In the same way that I think theatre and training
for theatre, doing theatre shows gives you a structure as an actor. Through a piece, you get used to looking at
text as a whole, dealing with it thematically, looking at where your role falls within that
and shaping it, creating arcs for your character. And for a film, you’re in this very kind
of sporadic, bitty process. And it’s really useful to kind of have the
objective sense of the whole, do you know what I mean? Yeah, well, exactly. Because one, obviously in a stage piece, it’s
linear, you go from A to B. Yeah. And of course, film, they’re shooting all
over, and you say, “Wait a minute, oh, this is the scene in which I do – “ That’s right. “– and what happened before this, which
we shot three days ago?” Exactly. Also, on film, you are at the mercy of the
editor and the director. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And on stage, you’re
not. Yes. That’s a very good point. I think one of the wonderful things about
theatre is, at some point, the audience become one. They come in as different people. And the great thing is that the point where
they become an audience, and the thoughts that you’re thinking, they’re thinking
with you. The tears you shed, the laughter you feel,
that this is with you. And in that dead silence they’re with you. And I have a feeling, in my own belief, that’s
a little touch of eternity. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) There is that union. And you’ll never get that in a studio. That’s true. Which is an experience you live through each
night, with people. That’s what theatre means to me. That’s wonderful, special. You went away from MISS SAIGON and now you’ve
come back. Yeah. How has it changed for you? It’s more fun now for me! (LAUGHTER) Why? Okay, when I first did the part in London,
I guess I had lived not exactly a sheltered life, but certainly not a very experienced
one as a person. I was eighteen when I started in the part,
and I’d never had a serious love relationship at the time. (LAUGHTER) And it affected everything I did
on stage! I was the stiffest thing in rehearsal. You could sweep the floor with me, if you
held me upside down. (LAUGHTER) So I had a leading man who said,
“You have to trust me! You have to trust me!” I have a director telling me, “You have
to do this, you have to do this, you have to do this.” And it seemed to have carried all the way
when I came here, although I got more used to doing things on stage. But now, it’s just every night, anything
can happen. And you just don’t know what kind of chemistry
you and your leading man and everybody else in the show and even with the audience. You don’t know what kind of chemistry is
going to, you know, pop up in this pressure cooker on this particular night. But I had a question for you! (LAUGHS) Oh! Because I didn’t do as many straight plays,
say, as you have. It’s mostly been a musical theatre experience
with LES MIZ and with SAIGON. Do you find that when you sing every day,
in the same tempo, the text falling in the exact same spots every night, how do you find
your own spontaneity within the very set rhythm? Yeah. It is quite rigorous, you know, the constraint
within singing. And it’s quite hard. I find it difficult to do. And it kind of got in the way my imagination,
really. But I think there is room still within music,
within singing, to find spontaneity, in the same way that Shakespeare has a kind of rigorousness
to it as well. There’s a text that you have to really respect,
and the iambic pentameter kind of insists on certain things. But even so, within that, I think, you know,
if the thoughts are fresh and the emotion is real and present for you, then it will
come out differently. It will kind of – Can I ask a question of my fellow actors? In this particular role I play, much of the
time, I’m deeply hated by the audience. (LAUGHTER) And I find it has an effect on
me. I do not believe in going out and playing
a part like this looking, you must not look for the sympathy of the audience. If they give it, fine. But I find sometimes, people come on the street
and they say, “I hate you!” (LAUGHTER) “I haven’t hated anyone since
I hated Iago!” (LAUGHTER) And I mean, my friends tell me
I’m quite a pleasant woman. (LAUGHTER) I find it hard to take, in my own
persona. Right. I feel I want to go out and say at the end,
“Look! I really am not like this woman! I’m not like this woman.” Well, but that’s what happens! That’s the first impression you get. Yeah, but the waves of hate come in. Yes, yes, I know, I know. But you must feel reassured at the curtain
call. It must kind of take the sting out of it. When you smile and everybody claps. When you go out on the street, there’s someone
waiting for you! (LAUGHTER) Waiting for you with a cleaver! With a poker. With a poker, yeah. Yeah, a sort of mixed feeling, you know. It’s very complimentary, as well, in a way. Well, yes, it is. But it does hit you sometimes. I know, I know, it kind of eats away at you. What did I do wrong? (LAUGHS) Well, you’re playing heroines, and Nicole’s
playing heroines. That’s true, but I’m dead in my show. And you’re dead, too! They’re all dead! Dead at the end of the show! Could I ask how you work with an English audience
or an Australian audience or an American audience? How do you change your craft, or is the craft
always there and you just adjust to the audience’s reaction? I don’t think you really adjust to the audience. You just play it as truthfully as you possibly
can, and then just hope for the best! (LAUGHTER) Would you say that’s it? That’s it, that’s it. Yeah. I think there’s a danger in trying to assess
what is going on with an audience and affecting what you get up to. Kind of, film have gotten into that, haven’t
they? They will present a film to the audience and
the audience will write notes about what they thought it was like, and then they will kind
of go back and re-edit or change things according to that. So within that, I think you can’t, kind
of. But that being said, you know, when you feel
that, that’s the whole thing you mentioned about every single night. There’s a new audience and they create a
different impulse in you and they’re telling you different things on a moment by moment
basis. They’re bored, they’re getting restless,
or they really enjoyed that. They let you know. What do you do when you feel that they are
bored and restless? Subliminally, it does affect you. And it can affect you in bad ways and it can
affect you in good ways. Sometimes, in bad ways, you start to feel
they’re going, so you work it too hard. You start overstating. You force things. You know, for us, especially, we have a fair
amount of comedy in the show that we’re doing. And we always try and remind ourselves, however
the audience, whether they’re very openly responsive to it or quite subdued, to try
and stay true to what it is that we’re up to, you know, and not feel [pushed]. We always say to each other before we go on
stage, it’s our thing, is “Listen!” (PULLS HER EAR) Listen. We always say that, just before we go on. How do you do it? Because you’re, in a sense, playing so many
different characters, which is sort of fun, rather than the same. I would think that would help you keep it
fresh for yourself. But does that help you? I mean, moving from character to character. Each one has a different dynamic, which makes
both of your performances so rich. And that must be fun. Yeah. I mean, there’s benefits to it. There’s also things where I am now craving
to do one character! (LAUGHTER) To see her all the way through,
because you’re getting just snippets. You’re just getting a tiny moment of each
person’s life. And I’m dying now to do something like MISS
JULIE, where you get to do the whole, follow her all they way through. Because even though it’s very exciting as
an actor to constantly be changing and we’ve been doing it now for almost six months, now
we’re both sort of saying, “Okay!” It would be so interesting to explore one
of these characters all the way through. And of course, when you’re preparing, for
both of us, we had to prepare their pasts, for the five different characters, so that
we knew exactly who they were and where they came from. And you never get to see that on stage. And did you create that with the director,
the past with the director? I mean, with that guidance? We did it separately, and then we all came
in and we sort of talked about the characters and we worked on them. We had a six week rehearsal, which is a week
longer than what you usually get. On a play like this, usually you get five
weeks. And I begged for that extra week! (LAUGHS) Is there a value to your film career, having
appeared on Broadway and in London? I don’t know. (LAUGHS) I mean, I would speculate that it is. I would think, but I don’t know. The reason is, I’ve seen theatre since I
was three years old. I was taken to pantomimes in Australia by
my parents. You don’t really have pantomimes in America,
do you? No, no, we don’t really. But as a child, they’re extraordinary, because
you go and you sit, and I was never taken to films, I was always taken to theatre. And I was taken to ballet, because I started
off doing ballet, and then taken to pantomimes. And I loved them. And I remember sitting there watching, you
know, all these men dressed up as women, pretending to be Cinderella, and there’s such wit and
enjoyment. I think that’s why I wanted to become an
actor, is because I saw them all having so much fun. Did you study in Australia? Yes. I actually studied in mime, because my mother
worked my whole life, and so did my father. So I was what you call a “latchkey kid.” You know, I’d take my sister home from school
and let myself in and wait till my parents got home from work, which was usually around
five or six o’clock at night. And instead, my mother enrolled me in this
class across the way from our school, which was a mime class, when I was ten. And we would do mime, and then we started
doing street theatre. And then that segued into me begging to go
to a drama school on the weekends. And that’s how I started. Marcel Marceau is coming to town. Yeah, I know! One of the heroes. Going back to what you said, I think that
in a case like THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, in which Martin McDonagh has created his own,
what we call “McDonagh-speak.” His father was a Gaelic speaker and his first
language is Gaelic. Therefore, Martin, I think, heard English
spoken by somebody whose language was not English. So that he has this particular kind of dialect
that is Irish, but is peculiarly his own. In Irish, we would say, “Tomana yasev (PH),”
which means “I am standing,” but the literal English translation is “I am in my standing. Now, I say in the play, “Another bit o’
turf on the fire, push (PH)!” which is the literal translation. Now, we were instructed, and this is the difference,
in coming to England, Australia, the United States, to remember that it’s a difficult
dialect and to be clearer in the way we spoke it and to cut down our accents. Because people had to listen to this. How do you know how to do that? I think you think it. I think if you think clarity, you will be
clear. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Would you agree with that? That’s it. It’s a mental thing. You don’t actually do anything, you just
think it. There is one thing I wanted to get into, which
is about emotion, too. And Lea, you having so much experience in
the musical realm. Any musical, I think you would agree, that’s
worth its salt only has songs where things get so exciting and so difficult and so emotional
that you cannot speak any more, you must sing! I would hope. (LAUGHTER) And better sing well, too. Oh, yeah. I mean, how do you deal with that? Obviously, if you’re so emotional, you can’t
sing. Exactly. But how do you deal with that? I mean, projecting that emotion in a song? Oh, I don’t know. I really don’t know how. We just, here’s the text. So I try to think of the lyrics, not so much
as they are sung, but how they are said. So I try to also, consciously and unconsciously,
work against the beat of the music. For example, there’s one line in SAIGON
where it’s like (SINGS) “No, no, he’s coming to us tonight. Pack your things, get yourself, (BEATS OUT
THE RHYTHM) wadda-dadda-dadda-dadda-dadda-dadda-duh.” And the rhythm is just there. So I try to not say it that way! I try to say it first and then try to fit
it into the melody. Because whenever I saw the show after I left,
I would be like this. (DEMONSTRATES, SINKING IN HER SEAT) “Just
–“ And I’d feel like strangling whoever was doing it up on stage, thinking, “You
don’t have to sing on the beat all the time.” Because sometimes then it sounds artificial. It sounds too “sung.” And in a through sung musical, where the delineation
between the lines and the songs is not huge, it’s not like a book musical where you burst
into song and then you talk again. Here you talk and sing at the same time. I think I learned a lot of that from Jonathan
Pryce, when he was doing the show, seeing the way he would work, as an actor doing a
musical. Because he’s not a musical actor. Yeah. And then watching the singers work in a musical. So it’s easy to get the emotions. I think you get really lazy though, once the
songs start. Like, “You are some –“ Everything is
just on the beat and the music just carries you. How do you react to the different audiences? How do I react? Well, there are some audiences that are so
“Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” every night. (LAUGHTER) And then just standing ovations
like water, you know. Obviously, you react well to that. And there are some nights when a lot of the
company feels that they don’t work as hard, but the reaction of the audience is just overwhelming. And there are some nights when we feel that
we work a lot and we’re exhausted at the end of the show, and then the audience is
just so (CLAPS SLOWLY). (LAUGHTER) You know? It happens. How do you account for that? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s our fault. (LAUGHTER) I’m sure not. I do not take responsibility! A bad audience! (LAUGHS) Sometimes it’s the weather. Sometimes you’re like –- (LAUGHTER) I’d
like to think that people’s coats are stuck in the seats, that they can’t get up. (LAUGHTER) But sometimes, it’s just, you
know, a bad day that affects everybody, both on that side of the stage and on this side. I think it’s a wonderful mystery. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, you just don’t know what it is. No, if you could answer that question, then
you’d kind of lose the whole nature of theatre, why audiences are different and why they react
in different ways. And the makeup can be so subtly or radically
different. Yeah. Friday night at LES MIZ, though, is like – What do you do when you don’t get the reaction
that you normally do with an audience? Well, in LES MIZ they called Friday night
– was it “Steak and Beer”? It was Steak and Something night. So they couldn’t get up, because they were
just so full of dinner. I want to know about you. Just, as I say, you just try and stay true
to what you’re doing. There’s a very healthy influence that an
audience has on you, but there’s an unhealthy influence as well. And if they’re very quiet, then you can
try and force things in the wrong way. So the instinct is basically just to keep
listening and keep the reality. How did your training at RADA prepare you
to do a naked cartwheel? (LAUGHTER) That was the second term we did naked cartwheels. (LAUGHTER) So I was suitably prepared. But you were very brave! Yeah, you could get badly hurt that way. Yeah, we did naked handstands. Did they tell you that when they cast you,
that you’d have to do this? No. He improvised that. Really, is that it? You made it up yourself? Yeah. It wasn’t in the script. That was his input? All that RADA background, eh? But it’s effective. (LAUGHTER) So all that classical training
does it. But that comes from having a great rehearsal
process, actually, because I think it’s so daring of Iain to do that. Yeah. And I think it’s so important, and it’s
awful when people try now to say, “Oh, we can rehearse it in four weeks. We can rehearse it in three weeks! Quick, quick, quick.” So rehearsal is meant to explore the text,
it is meant to explore each other, it is meant to discover the play together. And it’s also about discovering your director,
your other actors. And that’s the beauty of being an actor,
is that you become very close to people in a very short amount of time. And in that rehearsal process is when it happens. And if you try to, and I think it’s the
same on film, where they say, “Oh, come in and we’ll work.” And you say, when you’re talking to your
agent, “Well, how long are they going to plan on rehearsing this?” “Oh, no, no, well, they’re going to rehearse
for five days.” You go, “Count me out, I’m not interested.” Because unless you have that rehearsal time,
I don’t think you find the magic. Umm-hmm. And it affects you, you know, subconsciously. If you’re in a four week rehearsal process,
and I don’t know if I’ve really thought about this before but I’m sure it’s true,
that as an actor you know there are certain things that you have to go through to be ready
to be roughly in the right place at the end of the day. If you’ve got four weeks’ rehearsal, you’ll
start learning those lines that bit quicker. You know, just a forced memorizing of the
text, forced learning of the lines. It affects the way you do it. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Really, you know, I hate
learning lines. I like to read it. Well, isn’t it true that Judi Dench, she
doesn’t learn a line before she goes to rehearsal. No. I don’t doubt it. I read that. That’s right, that’s right. I don’t either. Because I think that it depends so much on
your fellow actors, what’s going to be fed to you. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You can’t get any sort
of preconceived idea. Yes. But I wonder if you have this experience,
which I find terrifying. When I go to do a new play, I’m very anxious
to know about the people I’m going to work with, because I want to know if I can share. If they’re people who are generous, we can
share emotions and feelings. It’s a very painful time, the early time
in rehearsal. You’re with, maybe, strangers — Or not. (LAUGHS) — and you’re trying to communicate and
to know about this. And I find this quite frightening, after the
thrill, maybe, of “I want to play this role.” And then, “Oh, my God, who’s in it?” (LAUGHTER) And you keep asking your friends,
“Are they nice? Are they nice people?” (LAUGHTER) I know! “She’s a bit – oh!” (LAUGHTER) You know, and then some people
you heard are (GESTURES) are the nicest people! I mean it. They’ve had a bad scene off (PH) with somebody. I know. It is funny, that, because you know in training
and preparation for it, you kind of really focus on, you know, the way you can prepare
as an actor and different methods, and you know, things you can sort of focus on. And actually, the best thing to get good work
out of yourself, out of the people around you, are just people whose taste you really
trust, who you really believe in. To be in a relaxed atmosphere with a director
who’s coming up with ideas that are better than yours, someone who you look at and you’re
acting with and you think, “I just believe everything that you’re saying.” You know, “You can go anywhere and I trust
what it is.” And then, good things will happen. That’s true. Now, did you two know each other before BLUE
ROOM? We didn’t. We met for dinner with Sam Mendes, the director,
the night before we had to start rehearsals. (LAUGHS) But I mean, Sam was wonderful like
that, because the way he cast it was, he just cast me and he cast Iain separately, neither
of us having a say in who was going to be playing opposite. And we arrived, and he said, “Don’t worry,
you’ll have great chemistry.” And that was it. And I trusted him. But he knew. He knew. Yeah, he put it together, which I think you
have to trust the director to do. And I remember, we sat at dinner that night,
and we both went, “Five characters?!” (LAUGHTER) I think I’m suited to one, but – Yeah! (LAUGHS) And I said, “Have you learnt any
of your lines?” And I, of course, I’d learnt everything. And then as soon as we got to the rehearsals,
I went, “Forget it! I can’t remember a thing!” (LAUGHTER) And then we rewrote a lot of it
anyway. During rehearsals. So next time, I will not learn a line before
I go into rehearsal, because it actually proved to be more difficult, because I had to unlearn
stuff. And it’s constraining. That’s true. But the reason I did it was because, I’m
obviously Australian, I had to play French and a number of different English characters,
and so I had a lot of attention on the accents. And I wanted to make sure that if I was going
to appear on the London stage that I was going to be credible with my accents. With a success in it! And it’s quite terrifying to appear on the
London stage. Accents, yes, it is. I mean, it’s terrifying to appear on Broadway,
too. Equally terrifying. (LAUGHTER) It is! I found Broadway far more terrifying. It’s terrifying. Why is it terrifying to appear on stage on
Broadway? Why is it terrifying on Broadway? Not the audiences, the audiences are wonderful. They love actors. It used to be the Six Butchers of Broadway
(LAUGHTER), but they can close shows in a night! That’s true! You know this. It’s quite frightening. Well, when you’re talking about terrifying,
let’s talk about real terror. Because we began to talk about this before. Oh, yes. Let’s talk about, da-dunh! Stage Fright! And how do you deal with that? You know, you are subject, aren’t you all,
to stage fright? Which is a real malady and a real virus. And we talked a little bit before the show,
about it was Larry Olivier who helped you get over that. We all have it. I think if actors talk to one another, they
will find that there’s been a period in their lives in which they’ve suffered stage
fright. And mine hit me in 1979, and it was painful
and it was terrifying. And I would break out in a perspiration on
stage. And it was Laurence Olivier, it was an hour
long program he gave about his life, and he described how for twelve years, he suffered
stage fright so badly. Some of the great performances of his life
were performed during that time. It was so bad he had to have friends standing
in the wings that he could look at, so that he knew they were there. And when I heard that, it helped me. And when I got over it, it was somewhere in
the mid-eighties. I was doing a solo performance at Harvard,
in New York, wherever. Terrible place. (LAUGHTER) And I had very difficult stuff, including
a lot of James Joyce. FINNEGAN’S WAKE, which is incredibly dense. And as the music started, I thought I was
going to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize. I can’t perform this evening.” But the light hit me and the music started
and I started, and I kept on for two hours. And that was the beginning of my road back. So I don’t know if any of you have any stories
like that. I’ve not really. Well, you’re years younger than me. (LAUGHTER) I know. I know it’s coming around the corner. But so far, I’ve not really had stage fright. You get petrified. Everyone gets scared, don’t they? (SHRUGS) What’s the difference, in the English audience
and the American audience? You’ve done the play both there and here
first, quite a time. Do they laugh in different places? Because usually [they do]. Can you describe the difference in reaction? They laugh differently. Yeah, it’s different. I mean, obviously, the humor plays differently
in the different countries, doesn’t it? But also, I think because we’re on a different
stage, the Donmar was very small and very intimate and it had three sides to it. And then the Cort Theatre here on Broadway
is obviously much larger, and it’s pros-arch [proscenium arch]. So I mean, it plays differently, just in terms
of the actual theatre, which you kept telling me, “Oh, it’ll be different. It’ll be different because it’ll be a
different theatre,” and I never [knew], but now I’ve experienced it. But back to stage fright, I mean, I haven’t
had “Stage Fright.” Before, on Broadway, I was far more terrified
than I was in England. I think that was to do with the capacity of
the audience. But also, it just hits you at different times. But I do think, there’s something, I love
the adrenaline. I love the fear. If I’m not frightened before I go on, I
usually don’t give a good performance. There’s something about it. But you’re talking about nerves. Nerves are different to terror. No, no, I know. Yes. No, I haven’t had the terror. But just in terms of going off on a tangent
— Oh, yes, that’s fine. I think there’s something wonderful about
the adrenaline. It feeds your performance. Somehow for me, I can access my emotions more
easily when I’m in a state of [nerves]. I think that’s part of live theatre, is
the exhilaration. Yeah, and it helps me. So I prefer to get nervous and to have a problem
before I go on (LAUGHS), so that it will feed into the performance. Somehow, the older I got, the more it was
there. Because when you’re like seven years old,
you just go on, you do it, and you get off and you don’t think about it. You don’t think about the audience. But especially doing this, with a lot of pressure
that was on MISS SAIGON when we first opened and even now, once the music starts and it’s
like “Euhh!” and it starts and it’s like, “Oh, God, I hope I remember the first
line out of my mouth!” (LAUGHTER) Once the first line comes out,
usually I’m fine. It’s the first one. And it’s really funny to say now, at my
age. “I’m seventeen. And I’m new here today.” (LAUGHTER) All of us get a little giggle out
of it now. Maybe this is a moment, Isabelle, for you
to tell us a little bit about the American Theatre Wing. Oh, you’re talking about my absolute favorite,
favorite suggestion. (PIA LAUGHS) Thank you, Pia. The American Theatre Wing is an organization
whose year-round programs are dedicated to serving the theatre and the community, and
exciting young people’s minds and hopes, ultimately developing new audiences. You, no doubt, are familiar with the Wing’s
prestigious Tony Awards, which we present each year on television, with the League of
American Theatres and Producers and CBS. One of my favorite Wing efforts, though, is
our “Introduction to Broadway” program, which we started seven years ago, and it has
now enabled more than 70,000 New York City high school students to attend Broadway shows,
many for the very first time. The American Theatre Wing is a wonderful organization,
and its “Theatre in Schools,” where theatre professionals like these go directly into
the classrooms to work with and talk to students about working in the theatre and the wide
range of job opportunities they will find is another part of what we do year-round. In addition, our hospital program brings talent
from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the cabaret world to brighten the lives of patients in
nursing homes, veterans’ hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers in the New York area. We also have a grant and scholarship program,
which helps Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatre companies. The qualification for these grants is the
same as for our Tony Awards, excellence in the craft of theatre. Our scholarships help talented students continue
their studies at accredited drama schools. We’re very proud of the work we do and are
grateful to everyone who supports the activities of the American Theatre Wing, such as the
people that are on the seminars today. And so now, having let me say that about my
favorite subject (PIA LAUGHS), the American Theatre Wing, please, George, start talking
a little bit more about it. Well, we were thinking of audiences, and the
only thing I can do is also leave you with a famous statement by our humorist, Don Marquis. We were talking about audiences, and there
was a boastful playwright who once said, “I had that audience glued to their seats!” And he said, “How clever of you to think
of it!” (LAUGHTER) But there is something else, which
is interesting, from all of you, that is a little bit intriguing. Because here you are from four different countries,
and so much in the last, in some cases twenty, in some cases thirty, some cases ten years,
so much has changed politically within your countries. When you mentioned about Scotland, of course,
now there really is a movement for Scottish freedom or not being linked. Lea, you grew up under the Marcoses in the
Philippines. And of course, fortunately, you’re too young
to remember Australia before the Whitlams (PH), but it was a very, very, much more rigid
society. And Anna, you grew up in Ireland before Bishop
O’Casey was caught, shall we say, so the Church was very, very strong in your society. I wonder if you might all talk a little bit
about what it was like before and what that freedom has done theatrically, artistically
for your countries. You know, because the Marcoses perhaps were
the most rigid. Well, I guess they were quite rigid, but being
very young and working in a theatre company where the productions were mostly Western
productions anyway, it didn’t seem to affect me so much growing up, because you know, we
were too young. And I was only fifteen when they fled to Hawaii. However, there were productions that Repertory
Philippines wanted to do. They wanted to do EVITA. Unfortunately, though, it was not allowed,
and only after the Marcos regime were they able to finally stage it, and they staged
it twice in the Philippines, much to the audiences’ delight and contentment, much to the actors’
getting their wishes fulfilled. So I think now there’s more of an artistic
freedom, in terms of the films that are being produced. But some people tend to take the freedom a
little too far. As in what? Well, some of the films that have been coming
out in the Philippines have been on the more lascivious side, which I think under more
strict supervision would not be allowed to come out. There’s artistic nudity, and there’s lascivious,
you know, stuff. And the lascivious stuff, I can’t take it. Interesting. What about Ireland? Because we were talking, you know, there’s
been a tremendous explosion of Irish theatre. Yes. And you think that is because a kind of letting
up of the Church? No? No, no, no, no. I don’t think that at all. The Church and state have separated in Ireland,
but Ireland was always rich, with the Abbey Theatre, the Gate. We never had restrictions like that, unless
it was something like – it was nothing to do with the Church – I played in THE ROSE
TATTOO, and when the condom dropped on the stage, a woman complained to the police it
was an obscene act and we ended up in the courts. It was nothing to do with the Church. What has changed in Ireland, there’s a great
burgeoning of writing and talent and that. But I think that comes also from subsidy by
the Arts Council, by the encouragement of young talent. What is changing in Ireland is it’s a prosperous
country now, the Celtic tiger. And hopefully, the north of Ireland the Republic
of Ireland are coming closer. Those are the big changes. Artistically, we were always growing. I think that’s true. Nicole, you appeared in London. And as you know, in New York, there’s a
great deal of discussion about foreign actors coming here, with Actors’ Equity taking
parts. Did you notice anything like that in London? Was there any question about not using a British
actress? No. I’m Australian, so I actually have dual
citizenship. I have American citizenship and I have Australian
citizenship. So I fall into a very odd category. (LAUGHS) You’re lucky that you can do it. Yes. But no, I think that the Donmar agreed to
have an American come and appear at the Donmar. That was part of the exchange. Now, here we are facing here, we have all
of you coming here, taking part, so of course there are American actors who say, “It’s
not fair!” Well, somebody has a year and three months
in which they can play in England, in exchange for me. I don’t know who’s got it. (LAUGHTER) But somebody has the freedom to
do that. Same as me, as well. Yes, same with Iain as well. What is the difference in audience reaction,
from London to here? And then, Anna, I’m going to ask you that,
as well. You answer that, Iain. (LAUGHTER) Just, well – I saw you in space looking blank. So I have to pass it on to him. Yes. I suppose, with the — (LAUGHTER) I think
probably – I’m not asking about the cartwheel. No, I think the Americans seem to love the
narrative. That’s what David Hare said. Yeah, that’s what David Hare said. And you can see they’re very bright and
sharp to that, so any reference within the play about something that’s sort of taken
place, refers back to something the character’s been involved in or refers forward, they love
that. They’re very sharp to the narrative humor. And certain kind of British ironies. You know, a student has a completely different
sort of sense to an American public. An English student is different than an American
student. Yes, and I play – Or the aristocrat. You’re an aristocrat. They have different associations. And so, some things improve and some things
[don’t’]. It’s very interesting. I think it would be fascinating to do a tour
within a play of the world, you know, and see the reaction. Change the sensibilities as you do it. Yeah. Do they have to tell British audiences not
to unwrap their cough drops, like they do in the theatre now? I keep hearing that announcement! No, no. I think that’s quite clever, isn’t it? Are the audiences quieter in England, do you
think, better behaved? I think they probably are, slightly. But we were in a small theatre. But we were in a very small space, so literally,
so literally our space was two rows, and that’s it. What about coughing? And people could reach out and touch us, so
you felt like you were in the room with us in London. You think in sort of previous centuries, audiences,
you know, they would be much more – They were on the stage. They were on the stage, vocal and chanting,
and there would be other people going through selling things. There’s something quite nice about that,
really. Well, I’ve heard about conductors stopping
concerts because the audience was so noisy, coughing. Really? They want them too reverential. Well, I cut my knee once in one of the scenes
on the stage, and I heard the woman in the front row say, “Oh! She’s bleeding!” (LAUGHTER) I thought, “Oh, they’re going
to hand me a tissue or something.” (LAUGHTER) It was pouring down my leg, I just
kept going on. Oh, no. You had to pretend it was part of the act. But we did have some people – usually on
a Friday or Saturday night we get our raucous audiences, and we’ve had men (LAUGHS) coming
and yelling out. Yelling at him! Yes, yes. (LAUGHTER) Men yelling at him? Do another cartwheel! (LAUGHTER) No, no. Not to do that. Or to put it on! No, they can’t understand why the student
isn’t able to consummate his love for the married woman. So they go, “Go on, get on with it! Aw, is he okay? Get on with it!” (LAUGHTER) They think they’re watching television,
they can just talk to the screen. That’s right. Please, I’m going through trauma here. Don’t cheer me like that! I think, “Oh, my gosh, help!” What is the difference in the audience’s
reaction, from London to here? Can you tell? Have you changed pace at all? I find this is a very unique play. It’s been a great success worldwide. It’s been translated into twenty-two different
languages. It’s been done in Iceland, it’s been done
in Japan. Wow. Hungary, Germany. And the thing that I found extraordinary,
because I’ve never found it in any other play, they’re all the same. Everyone is gasping. It’s not done. You’d think the West End, you’d think
that Broadway, but they’re saying, “Ooh, no! Don’t give it to her! Stop! Oh!” (LAUGHTER) And this is going on! And the basic thing, of course, is the mother
and daughter, and everyone has a mother, so the theme is universal. It has made Martin McDonagh, who I met at
twenty-five years of age without a penny in his pocket, a millionaire. Wow. That’s wonderful. Good heavens, good heavens. We actors haven’t become millionaires! (LAUGHTER) Somebody, somebody. I got the Tony, though! (LAUGHTER) But you know, and of course, that was full-blown,
in a sense, from Martin McDonagh’s head. Now, we go to THE BLUE ROOM, have you seen
the Schnitzler? Have you seen LA RONDE? How much were you influenced or how much did
you try to negate that? I didn’t really look at it. I remember looking at the film of it about
three-fourths of the way through rehearsal. The Offels (PH) film. But David and Sam, I think, discouraged us
from looking at the original play. I read the original. David writes very distinct characters. He’s very good at giving different voices
to his characters. And you know, I think it was one of those
projects where really everything was contained within us. I think it was possible to not really read
around it that much, not read background. You know, certain amounts of research to do
with the kind of different occupations of the characters that one was playing, but I
didn’t feel obliged in any way to look at the original. I mean, he had released the – the original
had a notoriously bad track record, especially in Britain. Really? I didn’t know that. Yeah. And certainly, we weren’t encouraged, and
I didn’t feel the urge to study it, to see if there would be anything. Do you dislike any of the five men you play? Umm — no. Do you always have to find something you like,
even if they’re hunters? Yeah. Yes, I think there are probably certain human
beings who go around despising themselves, but I think on the whole, your actor’s relationship
to the character you’re playing is the same as a person’s relation to himself. And on the whole, I think people have to believe,
otherwise they’ll go insane, that there’s nice things about them. And of course, do you like your character,
despite what people say to you in the street? Oh, you must like the character you’re playing. And I feel very defensive on her behalf. You have to defend your character, yes. I kept thinking, “Who on earth are you talking
about?” I mean, you’re personally dislikable? What is your defense? Quick, what’s the defense? For the mother. She’s an old, possessive, lonely woman,
who wants to keep the daughter by her side. She is selfish, but also, there’s the vulnerability
of old age and of living in this bleak cottage in the wilds of the west of Ireland. I wouldn’t like to be seventy and living
there on my own. It’s so wild, like parts of Scotland. So yes, I can [like her]. Thank you so much. There never seems to be enough time to say
all the things that need to be said and all the things that these wonderful panelists
have to be able to say to you. But unfortunately, it isn’t enough time. And so, I just have to tell you that this
has been the American Theatre Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” and it’s
coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. I want to thank this wonderful, wonderful
panel, who have shared their knowledge and their experiences and their time, as they
come from such diverse backgrounds and countries. Pia Lindstrom and George Whit, I want to thank
you for your very kind participation. And I am so happy that you are all here, and
I am delighted that you have come to watch “Working in the Theatre” seminars, which
are coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Thank you very much for coming. (APPLAUSE)

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