Performance (Working In The Theatre #298)

(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working In The Theatre” Seminars. Now, in their 29th year coming to you in the
Graduate Center of The City University of New York. Performers are brought together by the American
Theatre Wing for these seminars, and with them, we hope to provide a clear picture of
what it’s like to work in the theatre. Today’s seminar is with leading performers,
the performers that are on Broadway right now. We should hope to learn not only about their
preparation for a career in the theatre, but also about the drive, passion and the temperament
needed to survive for the theatre. I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I’m Chairman of the Board of the American
Theatre Wing, and I’d like to right now introduce our moderator for this seminar,
Pia Lindstrom. (APPLAUSE) Pia, who is not only a board member
(UNINTEL). Thank you, Isabelle. Well, we have people here with temperament. That’s for sure. This is the Performance segment of the American
Theatre Wing Seminar. And first, I’ll introduce Valerie Harper,
Kate Burton, Robert Sean Leonard and Christine Ebersole. (APPLAUSE) All of you are in some ways creating parts
right now on Broadway that have to do with humor. Even you, Kate Burton, because you’re in
HEDDA GABLER. That play that hardly one thinks of as being
funny. An Ibsen play. And yet you’ve managed to find humor in
it. How does an actor go about finding humor? Well, the biggest thing about our HEDDA GABLER
is that it’s a new translation/adaptation. More a translation really by Jon Robin Baitz. A wonderful playwright, in his own right. He wrote a terrific play last year called
TEN UNKNOWNS. And you know he created this wonderful version
of this phenomenal, brilliant, seminal play, and he happens be quite a wordsmith when it
comes to humor. But Hedda Gabler I’ve always found to be
a woman who’s so many things exasperating, wonderful, terrifying. You can think of 100 adjectives. But her humor for me was the key to my playing
of the character. So the humor came from the words? The humor was there. I mean the humor was there in Jon Robin Baitz’s
play version of the play. He’s called Robbi (PH). It’s just too difficult to say three names. (LAUGHTER) And because I also had this hilarious
director, Nicholas Martin, who himself is quite a humorist, between the three of us,
we managed to get every joke out of the play. It’s certainly not a funny play. But what makes it very alive for me in playing
her every night is to find that wit that she has very intrinsically. And what’s wonderful about it is in terms
of the collaboration with the audience, which every play and musical really is, that sort
of window into HEDDA GABLER through her humor is what allows the audience in every night,
I think, from the beginning of the show. And it makes it a much more accessible play
than it has been in times past, although it’s always been an incredible play. Robert, you’re usually associated in my
mind with very serious work. You know? Serious, heavy, complex dramas like INVENTION
OF LOVE and so on. And now, you’re a song and dance man in
THE MUSIC MAN. How did you find the humor in yourself to
do that? I don’t know. (LAUGHTER) Thank you. Thank you. I’ve always thought that sort of the less
talented an actor is the less funny they are, I find. The less intelligent they are, the less funny
they are. No one’s ever really made me laugh on stage,
unless they were very, very good at what they do and very smart. So, that said, my performance is abysmally
unfunny. (LAUGHTER) (UNINTEL). I think that the only way you can make an
audience laugh is if you can surprise them. So, if you’re thinking ahead of them and
you’re making choices that surprise them. I’m doing THE MUSIC MAN right now, and it’s
very hard, because it’s a play that a lot of people know very well. So, I find the laughs that we get together
as a company are usually things that are unexpected, turns the characters make and realizations
they have, and ways that they express that. And that means nothing. I don’t know. (LAUGHTER) I have no idea. No idea. I have no idea. Yeah, I’m just talking. I have no idea. I just try to be funny. Acting is a mystery. Is that it? Funny line readings. We can’t learn? We want to learn something. Christine, you’re in a fantastic musical,
42ND STREET, that is so joyful. Tell me a little bit about how you experience
finding humor on stage. Well, that’s a very good question, Pia. When you were asking all these people, I thought,
“Oh my God, what am I going to say about what makes something funny?” Because I really don’t know. I mean, I think for me a lot of it has to
do with music and rhythm. I think that’s what makes humor. You know it’s like “Badam bamp (PH)!” You know? It’s that kind of thing. You know? It’s timing. It’s music and rhythm. Yeah, because other than that, I really don’t
know. You know? ‘Cuz sometimes I’ll do things that people
will laugh at, and I go, “Why is that funny?” And I honestly don’t know why. And I think also too part of it must come
out of character and sort of the needs of what the character has, and not necessarily
play them to say, “Ooh, this is gonna get a laugh,” or “This’ll be funny.” But sort of out of the actual needs of the
character and that it will just be funny, because of the heightened desperation or whatever
the thing is that the character is going through. You’ve had so many years, Valerie Harper,
playing on television humorous episodes. And now you’re on stage in THE TALE OF THE
ALLERGIST’S WIFE. And last time I was here was because of DEATH-DEFYING
ACTS. And I started in musical comedy. So, all my career, it’s been [part of it.] Is it timing? Is it having an ear for how to say the word? Yes, and I think it has a great deal to do
with recognition, the audience’s recognition of the truth. And that’s funny. You know? In THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE, it’s
hysterical material. So, young people out there, pick a funny playwright. (LAUGHTER) Work with someone who’s good. I was blessed. I wasn’t raised in comedy really. No, no, not really. I mean I studied here in New York City. And I wanted to touch on something that John
said about people. There are people with a sense of humor and
not. You know? Now, the “nots” can sometimes be funny
out of their very stoicness. That can be funny. But it really helps you, young people, to
develop your sense of humor. And I never thought I was funny, but I always
loved to laugh. I really did. So, the first thing that people knew me for,
I was doing comedy ten years before RHODA. But those were wonderful writers. So, there’s a wonderful, old adage If it
ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. Unless you’re doing improv which I also
do. And Second City was a great way to learn comedy. But it has to do with telling the truth. And people say, “Oh, what timing!” or
“That double-take!” If you’re doing it rhythmically or you’re
going, “Oh, look once and twice,” that’s not it. But if I really would look at her scarf and
then look again, I mean, if I really do it, if you’re telling the truth, it will be
funny, I feel. And the thing about rhythm that Christine
said is so true, because when I worked with Neil Simon I remember asking him about a line. I said, “Could I say this?” And he’d say, “Okay, say it the way it’s
written.” And he turned around. He turned his back to me. And I thought, “Uh-oh.” And he said, “No, no, no, say it. I don’t want to see you.” So, I said it. And he said, “Okay, now say it the way you
want to do it.” And he said, “Your way’s better.” Or he’ll say, “No, no, do it as written.” But it was about rhythm and music. And the way the words landed, you would get
the laugh or not. Yeah. I think it was Jimmy Cagney who said something
about acting You should just find your mark. Look the other fellow in the eye and tell
the truth. (LAUGHTER) How important is the truth in acting? Well, don’t ask Kate. (LAUGHTER) What does he mean? Good timing. Good timing. We’ve known each other a long time. It’s everything. It’s everything. It’s everything. It’s everything. That’s it. You know, the truth is. I don’t know. I mean you see bad actors tell the truth and
it doesn’t work. You have to be a good actor, and you have
to tell the truth. (LAUGHTER) I guess. It’s that simple. (LAUGHTER) That simple, yeah. And that’s comedy. Comedy comes out of it. I constantly see actors say something and
I just think, “Okay, you’re either acting cool or like Denzel Washington. I don’t really believe what you’re saying.” And that’s always the bottom line for me. So, it’s how to become believable. Christine, how do you become believable? Oh God. (LAUGHTER) I don’t know. I think so much of it is just either you have
it or you don’t. You know what I mean? It’s such an indescribable thing, isn’t
it? (LAUGHTER) You can’t learn it? But there was something really important that
I was going to say, and I’ve totally forgotten. (LAUGHTER) Well, let’s go to Kate. Is it a craft? Can you learn any of these things? Is acting a craft? You know you can learn something. But I think that just innately you just sort
of have it. Oh, I know what I was going to say. Go ahead. It’s not that big of a deal. But it was about also being able to laugh
at yourself. I think that’s a real important thing. You know, I always like a good joke at my
own expense. (LAUGHTER) But really, it’s being able to
sort of understand your own foibles in a circumstance, I think. That you can see what’s funny. That you don’t take yourself so seriously. I mean you take your work seriously, but you
don’t take yourself seriously. That’s true. Is there a craft? Be a fool. (LAUGHTER) Can you learn this? Can you go to a school and learn this? You know it’s very odd. My experience, I had sort of a classical training
thing. I went to college for four years and didn’t
decide to become an actress until my senior year of college. Went to a drama school for three years at
Yale. And getting back to what Valerie was saying,
I mean, I did not play a comic role until I was in my second year at Yale. And I had never played a comic role. I had always played these tragic heroines. And I thought, “Well, that’s it. I’m Juliet. I’m Desdemona. It’s endless. You know it’s all Shakespeare all the time.” But not funny. And I remember getting my first laugh. I was doing this wonderful playwright, Keith
Reddin, who went to Yale. [He wrote] this Viking revenge tragedy called
FJORDS OF BLOOD. (LAUGHTER) Now, that’s comedy. It was comedy. FJORDS OF BLOOD. (LAUGHTER) FJORDS OF BLOOD. And I was the daughter, and my mother was
played by my best friend, Jane Kazmeric (PH), who’s on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE. And she was my mom, the queen, and I was the
little, dippy princess. And I remember getting my first laugh. We had a cabaret space at Yale which was late
night shows, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And everybody who went there said that that’s
where they learned everything that helped them in terms of the real world. Because you go to class and you do your scenes,
and it’s very delightful. But then about dealing with the audience and
in terms of craft, I have to say that I definitely improved over the time I was in school. But I know from working with young actors
at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, you see it, it’s there. There are certain kids between the ages of
16 and 25 who are in the apprentice program and who are non-Equity actors who you just
see that they have “it,” whatever “it” is. And then there are others who might not have
it quite yet, and they’ll develop into it. But it is interesting. And I do think that you can get better. I do think that with really great acting teachers
and working and performing, you can improve. But there are some kids who’ve got it from
the word “go.” It seems like there are so many acting coaches
now. There used to be scores. Have you run into them? (UNINTEL). Yes. Is this something every actor needs to have,
is an acting coach these days? You mean like private? Yes, it seems to be private or small groups. Hasn’t it become a kind of style? Yeah, I think Montgomery Clift started it,
and it really went on from there. Oh, I don’t know. Yeah, he did. Well, can they help? When I lived in Los Angeles, it was very popular,
because really there’s nothing to do there. (LAUGHTER) (UNINTEL) Not to offend anybody. This may be shown in L.A. But really, what else do you do? You have to go to acting class to feel that
you’re connected and feel a part of a community, because it’s not like in New York. You can feel a sense of community, a sense
of theatrical community even when you’re not working. Out there, forget about it. No way. Unh-Unh (Neg). Even when you are working… (UNINTEL) But, yeah, you just gotta go to
class out there. What about the script? Yes. For young people coming into the theatre who
do not know all the things that we’ve said and they’re given this script, it has to
be funny or it’s not funny, how do they react to that? How do they learn? When you get a script, you get INVENTION OF
LOVE. That would be complicated to read. Or ARCADIA. Tom Stoppard’s a whole other (UNINTEL). Yes. Well, you specialize in this. Don’t you? You’re a specialist. (LAUGHTER) I’m a specialist in script-reading. But when you get this, how do you analyze
a script? I don’t know. I think you find the character. Uta Hagen wrote about it. Every actor will tell you Who are you? What do you want? I remember reading when I was a kid Uta Hagen
saying You have to have a very specific reason behind every line. And I remember thinking, “God, that’s
crazy,” because I’ll sort of generally know what I want in a scene. But I don’t know why I say every line. And now I realize as I get older it’s true. Yes. The only way a performance will be brilliant
is if you know exactly, specifically why you’re saying every line and why you do everything
you do on stage. Everything. And you’d find that in the script. Do you remember the first time you looked
at a script, the first time you worked? You mean I looked at a script as an actor? Yeah. Well, that would be PETER PAN in fourth grade. (LAUGHTER) Let’s go beyond that. His motivations are pretty clear. (LAUGHTER) Avoid Captain Hook. Fly (UNINTEL) I think are the sort of main
objectives. Which is a good way to start, let’s face
it. Right, not bad. Yeah, Richard III’s annoyed. He wants to be king. I don’t really recall. I remember when I started as a kid. I didn’t know how to act when I was acting
in New York. I started at about 14, and I didn’t know
how to act yet. So, note sessions were a nightmare for me. So, I don’t remember. What did you do then? I did a play called SALLY’S GONE, SHE LEFT
HER NAME with Cynthia Nixon at the Perry Street Theatre. Sometimes when people are acting, they’re
either emoting or doing something. When you’re in HEDDA GABLER, you’re emoting
and throwing the furniture around. Always emoting. I’m throwing things around. Whose idea was that? I don’t know. (LAUGHTER) We’ve just started performing. We’re in our fifth week now on Broadway. And we had done it in three other theatres
beforehand. A very, very small theatre, the Bay Street
Theatre, in Sag Harbor was our very first theatre, and that’s a 200-seat house with
a thrust stage, not proscenium. There’s a lot of things that I do in this
show that are really very strange actually, and I’m trying to remember how we came up
with these things. I think, “When did we do that? Did we have a conversation about it? Did it just happen?” And I think actually it goes back to the whole
collaborative aspect. It was such a collaboration between myself
and Nicky Martin that things happened where we didn’t even really talk about it. It just sort of flowed. And there are very strange things that happen
like that in plays. And you know you’re talking about knowing
exactly what you’re saying at every line. And that’s basically true. But I also have to say that when you’re
playing a part the size of Hedda Gabler, a part of me is just staying as free and unfettered
when I kind of arrive on stage. It’s really just about showing up. I mean, I show up. And my very first line in the play has an
attitude towards it that I was very afraid of for a long time. I say, “Good morning, Miss Tesman, visiting
us so early. That’s so very kind of you.” Well, that’s a very straightforward line. But my dear friend, Richard Easton, and I
had been totally avoiding taking kind of an attitude about it, and he said, “Oh, no,
you have to go for the attitude in that line, because that sets it up.” And it’s absolutely true. I mean, I truly credit him with helping me
with my first line in the play. Because she doesn’t really want to see Miss
Tesman. She doesn’t want to see Miss Tesman. So, it has to have a (UNINTEL). And so I say it now [sending] five signals,
as I come in. And it sets it up right every night. And it’s literally then I just have to follow
the path. And I’m amazed at what a collaboration [it
is] obviously with Nicky, but also with the audience every night. We become partners. And because I’m in the whole play virtually,
it’s like, “Okay, are you going to go on this journey with me?” And they pretty much do. Last night was a little touch and go. (LAUGHTER) But most nights are good. Valerie, you have an audience now. But you’ve played without audiences in television
studios. Do you feel a collaboration? Not too much. RHODA and MARY and VALERIE. Of the five series I’ve done, I’ve always
had an audience. That’s what’s great about the three-camera
system. I’ve worked with Christine on one. We did a show together. We did. Did you? What did you do? It later became THE HOGAN FAMILY. But it was VALERIE at the time. I was the first neighbor. You sure were a wonderful one. (LAUGHTER) The one I wanted to keep, and that’s
why I left. Oh, thank you. (LAUGHTER) No, what you had just said about “How do
you find the humor? How do you approach a script?” Well, again, in acting class, as Kate said,
she was trained, and that [Sean] mentioned, and I know it’s true for Christine, you
learn how to approach the written material. How? How do you learn? Well, Mary Tarsi (PH) told me back in the
50s [to] read it right straight through. Just read it. Just read it to just feel it. Don’t start saying, “Oh, I’m gonna do
this or that,” because then your mind is engaged. Then you read it again, and she’d say, “You
try to pick up clues.” What the other characters say about you. And clues that you see. And impulses. You listen to impulses that you get. So, that’s the way I would approach reading
a script. I always read anything as a fan first. Just “Ooh, look, a script.” And then if it’s terrible, you know. But I almost try to always finish it, and
that’s tough sometimes. (LAUGHTER) There’s so many bad scripts. But if it’s wonderful or good, it’s not
that you want to make it funny, you know, muscle it into position, but just allow for
the unexpected. And the same thing is true on auditioning. Right now, you guys are learning. And that’s who we’re talking to. But I was in a cold reading class, and that
was that you just picked something to play. Pick something. Don’t just be there reading the line, and
that’s what [Sean] was talking about. Have an idea of what you could do. Give it a turn. As they say, “Put some English on the ball.” But that’s for a cold reading. That’s getting the job. That’s very different than doing the work. That’s called dazzling people when you’re
one of 300. So, that’s another story. Right now, we’re talking about building
a character. And what Kate was talking about that she could
say that opening line many, many ways. And there isn’t one right way, but there’s
one that gives her a hell of an advantage on Hedda and for the audience. So pick the most nurturing to what it is you
want to do. I don’t know if that’s what you were talking
about. Partly, partly so. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Well, everybody has to find their own way
to work, too. There’s that. The great thing about acting is it’s working
alone together. And I think the TOGETHER is the capital letters,
because my performance is always over there. My listening and what’s going on with her. And if she does a line slightly differently,
go with that. It happens every night at ALLERGIST’S WIFE. We really do. But you stay within the structure of the script,
of course. But you have a lot of freedom to be creative
and that’s wonderful about the theatre. It’s not a frozen form as is film or TV. Forgive me. They’re all kind of children of the theatre. In fact, religion is. Theatre was before religion. Somebody was dressed up like the Sun God,
right? And somebody was the rain to try to figure
out these elements. That was way back in the cave days, so theatre
is profound. And we’re part of it. I mean, we are all, if we’re interested
in it. So, it’s a great endeavor. Anyway, I didn’t mean to make a lecture. That’s all right. Robert, Valerie just mentioned a teacher who
influenced her. Is there somebody who influenced you in your
life? A mentor or a coach? Or somebody that taught you? No, I can’t say there was. There have been a long line of [teachers.] I started so young. I was very lucky that I started so young that
by the time people like Kate came to the city from colleges I’d already been working. You always see the sort of influx of the people
who study in college. And by the time I was 22, people like Cynthia
Nixon and Jane Krakowski (PH) and people I’ve kind of grew up with in New York had already
been around. And when you’re 14 and an actor in theatre,
there are a lot of 14 year olds doing commercials and television and things and soaps and stuff,
but there are very few doing theatre, because why would they? Well, why did you? You don’t make any money and ridiculous
hours. How did you get there? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m crazy. Stage mother? Stage fathers? No, no, I was involved in a summer stock company
in my hometown, a non-Equity summer stock company, and someone saw me. I was always a little embarrassed to be on
stage, because I started with the crew. I helped out with the crew. I was backstage, and then they started putting
me on stage. And I think I was embarrassed to be on stage. I was playing the Artful Dodger in OLIVER. Very quickly, I came on and I just said my
lines as fast as I could. I was sort of embarrassed. And looking at the stage, you know, I never
looked up. And I think people kind of mistook it for
some kind of naturalism. Talent. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, they thought I was talented and natural. You know? I mean, this was like in summer stock and
people were like so performing. And I was kind of just embarrassed. So, you’re sort of on-the-job-training is
how you worked. Right. I had a point to this, remarkably. I learned by doing plays. People like Austin Pendleton (PH), people
like Nicholas Martin, Dick LaTessa (PH), Swoozie Kurtz, George Grizzard (PH), Stockard Channing,
Cynthia Nixon. I’ve been very lucky working with extremely
good actors. And it’s like playing tennis. When you’re with someone who plays a little
bit better than you or much better than you which is usually the case with me, you can’t
help but get better, because you have to. There’s no game, if you don’t. Did somebody influence you, Christine? I think my parents did. My parents influenced me in sort of a way
that was not so direct. But later in retrospect I think when I showed
interest in the theatre when I was 18 and I think that’s when I went to college, and
I was going to originally be a psychologist, but then I flunked psychology, so that wasn’t
going to work. (LAUGHTER) And then there was something else,
I’m sure. (LAUGHTER) But I thought I’ll go into the
theatre, because actually I was trying to choose a major. And I told my mother I didn’t know what
to choose. She goes, “Oh, get into music. Get into the theatre.” I was going to say with your voice. You always sang, didn’t you? All your life? Yes, yes, I actually have a tape [that] my
father sent to me from when I was three years old singing “Jingle Bells.” Oh, so sweet. And it was really one of those Edward R. Murrow
things. You know What you’re hearing is mom on the
piano. (LAUGHTER) And Pop was about to join them. You know? And my mother’s like at the piano, “Let
Christy sing the chorus. Just Christy. Let Christy sing!” You know? (LAUGHTER) I sang “Jingle Bells,” and
it was completely on pitch at three years old. That’s incredible. So, this is not me. You know what I’m saying? It’s like we’re all born with these gifts
that we’re given at birth. We didn’t make them up, you know, and so
I guess our job is to just sort of bring them forward. But that’s actually what happened. My parents were very encouraging of me. They didn’t say, “Oh, Honey, get a secretary
job and, you know, do something you can fall back on.” That’s great. You know? Unfortunately, now I have no other skills. I don’t know what I’m going to do when
(UNINTEL). (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s a good time to take a break. On that note, we’ll take a short break while
we think of what else we can do and say. Then we will continue with the Performance
section of the American Theatre Wing’s seminars in the theatre. (APPLAUSE) (MUSIC) This is CUNY, the City University
of New York. (APPLAUSE) Welcome back to the American Theatre
Wing seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” Before we return to our discussion, I would
like to emphasize that even though our annual TONY awards for excellence in the theatre
are the most visible [part] of our activities, they are only a small part of the work we
do for the community. As a long established charity, we serve both
theatre and the community with our year-round programs. The Wing works to develop new audiences for
the theatre and for a broadening of young minds. We bring the magic of theatre to those who
otherwise [would] not go and not know its power. Programs for students include “Introduction
to Broadway” which in its ten year history has enabled almost 100,000 young students
to visit a Broadway show, many for the first time. The Wing also introduces young people to theatre
by bringing professionals into schools for workshops. It’s a part of our “Theatre in School”
program. Additionally with our “Hospital Program,”
dating back to World War II when The Wing created the legendary stage door canteens,
we continue to entertain patients in hospitals, nursing homes, AIDS centers and childcare
facilities in the New York area. With volunteer talent from Broadway, Off-Broadway
and the cabaret world, we bring live entertainment, hope and joy to those who are not able to
get out and attend theatre. Our “Grants and Scholarship” program provides
essential funding where it is so needed today to help launch new productions in the not-for-profit
world. We take pride in the work we do and remain
so grateful to our members and everyone whose contributions make the American Theatre Wing
possible. (UNINTEL) the community between the theatre
and the community. And we are proud to be a part of that great
effort. And now I’d like to return to our moderator,
Pia Lindstrom. Thank you, Isabelle. (APPLAUSE) Joining us now is Peter Gallagher
who just flew in. From 47th Street. From 47th Street. (APPLAUSE) He’s rehearsing in a play that
is one of the funniest things that I ever saw when it first came out, NOISES OFF. How’s it going? Well, so far so good. We had our second preview last night. It was a packed house, and they laughed. (LAUGHTER) We were talking before you got here on humor,
how you find humor. Well, we haven’t found any in NOISES OFF. You’re in trouble. It’s NOISES OFF/THE DARK SIDE. (LAUGHTER) It’s written by Michael Frayn,
who is one of the great, living playwrights of the English language, and he doesn’t
usually write comedies. He’s written BENEFACTORS, COPENHAGEN or
HAGEN (DIFFERENT PRONUNCIATION), depending on your East Side or West Side, and NOISES
OFF. People say, “How could the guy who wrote
COPENHAGEN/HAGEN or BENEFACTORS write NOISES OFF?” And the fact is he’s the only who could
have written NOISES OFF, because for my money what makes something funny is when it’s
very well-observed and it’s true and it gives the audience an opportunity to recognize
themselves and take delight in other people’s catastrophes basically. (LAUGHTER) When everybody else is having a
miserable time and you’re not, it’s really [amusing.] But the thing about Frayn, the thing that
sets it apart is that he loves the theatre, and his love for the theatre is what beats
through this play. And his powers as a playwright of observation
come into really good play here, because it’s so well-observed. Everything that we say in the play as characters
in the play are things that we’ve said as actors. It’s a play within a play. It’s a show about a company of actors, putting
together an English sex farce called NOTHING ON. I play the director. The first act is the dress rehearsal. Next act is looking at the show backstage
after it’s been running, and the last act is from the stage at the end of the tour when
no one can stand each other and it’s all falling apart. And for me what makes it work is if we had
to do NOTHING ON eight times a week, you’d go crazy. But since we do NOISES OFF eight times a week
and it’s steeped in reality and you can feel the author’s love for the theatre and
not his condescension, it provides enormous opportunities for surprising moments that
the audience so far find delightful. So it’s a marvelous little opportunity for
community. But it’s very hard to play farce and that
shutting the doors and appearing quickly and going back. It takes a lot of special skill and timing,
doesn’t it? It’s not something any actor could do. Well, we’re not very good at it. No. (LAUGHTER) What are the skills that a good actor would
needs to do that? If this was a really excellent production? Right, what would that actor need? I’m really kidding, first of all. I can’t believe I just said that. It’s really great. I saw it. Kate saw it. I did. It was perfectly wonderful. Thanks, Kate. Now I won’t get beaten to death when I get
back to the theatre. (LAUGHTER) Let’s try to keep this on track, guys. (LAUGHTER) Sorry. I feel like I’m back in school. (LAUGHTER) As an actor, what qualities do you need? For what? To play farce. Oh! (LAUGHTER) Well, you know, I don’t draw
much of a line between comedy or drama at all. It’s all the same. You’ve got to understand exactly what it
is you’re expressing at any given moment. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve gotta
listen. I mean, we shed blood generally every night
in this show, ‘cuz it is true, those slamming doors are actually steel doors. They’re welded steel, because there’s
no way a wooden door could withstand that much slamming. So, the opportunities for grievous injury
are ever-present, because we have a very intense 20-minute mime. Mime, it has such bad connotations. (UNINTEL). We do a lot of the wall thing, and I tell
you, boy, does the audience go nuts. (UNINTEL). No, no, it’s not. It’s backstage. Do you know how this happened? Michael Frayn went to see one of his plays,
his serious plays that he wrote, and he happened to be backstage. And he was watching what was going on backstage,
and it was so funny to him and so hysterical and so odd that he thought, “Well, this
is the play I have to write. I have to show the world what goes on backstage,
‘cuz no one would believe it.” And as heightened as what we do is in the
show, it absolutely has its roots in what occurs, the madness. When you can’t talk, [because] you’ll
be heard. And everyone still makes their entrances on
time. The whole point is you do whatever you can
to get the show on. It’s all about getting the show on, because
we all care. And the more you care and the more you want
it, the more awful things can happen. (LAUGHTER) How important is the director, Christine,
to you? Because an actor can’t actually see. (SILENCE) Wow, it must be important. Boy, have you asked the wrong person. (LAUGHTER) You don’t follow the director? That’s not true. No, that’s not true. (LAUGHTER) Robert Sean? You caught me off guard. (LAUGHTER) Am I turning red? Okay, here’s the thing. I think you can count ‘em on hand. Okay? Sorry, but it’s kind of true. Am I right? You’re absolutely right. Am I right? You can count ‘em on one hand. And you’ll still have about two fingers
left. (LAUGHTER) You have two or three leftover. So every once in awhile, you know, you’ll
find somebody who can [direct.] You just sort of have to approach it with
the skills that they have. It might not be what you need or what you
want, but you have to approach it with the skills that they have and try to sort of just
go with what is. Now, in terms of 42ND STREET, I mean, I have
to credit Mark Bramble (PH). [He] did an amazing job assembling 54 people
and putting together an amazing production. This is a guy who is a writer who wrote the
show, and then he was put in the position of directing it. And I think [he] did an amazing job. Also, too, each production that you’re doing,
you have to approach it for what you’re doing. It’s not like I’m doing Shakespeare, and
that’s a whole other story. (LAUGHTER) I had an interesting experience of that when
I was working at The Globe and doing Shakespeare for the first time with Paxton Whitehead. I was playing Beatrice to his Benedict in
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. And the director who shall remain unnamed,
however, he was quite a remarkable actor, but he decided to direct this production. Now, I had never done Shakespeare in my life,
okay. And first of all, he lit it like it was the
Scottish play. I mean, it was all like candlelit, you know,
when it was supposed to be comedy. I don’t think he figured that part out. But the night before opening night, and they’re
doing some kind of tech rehearsal. And we’re playing outdoors, and it’s starting
to rain. And we’re standing out there with umbrellas
over our heads trying to say our lines, and we look out. And he’s not there. The director’s not there. The next day he comes to work, and we’re
going to open that night. He goes, “Oh, could you believe those lights? What were they doing? Those lights, I just went home, you know.” (LAUGHTER) And I kept saying (UNINTEL) “Can
you please come back? Can you please come back? I need notes. I’ve never done Shakespeare before. I don’t know what I’m doing. Can you please come back?” “Oh, Dove, you’ll be wonderful, darling.” (LAUGHTER) You see, I don’t know. I don’t know. To my point of capitalizing on his abilities,
well, I think they were more with acting. They weren’t so much with directing. But I don’t think I answered your question. Did I answer your question? You did. And for those who don’t know, the Scottish
play (I can say this) is MACBETH. Actors can’t say the word “Macbeth,”
because it brings bad luck. (UNINTEL). You didn’t hear me. I’m not an actor. Stand back. Turn around three times, and spit over your
shoulder. See, they can’t say the word. Well, let’s go on with directors. Valerie, you can’t see yourself. Don’t you need a director? I had a fabulous experience just recently
with Lynne Meadow who, of course, started the whole Manhattan Theatre Club. And she directed TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S
WIFE. And she was wonderful with me, putting me
in, because I never rehearsed with the actors that I then played with on stage. So, Linda Lavin was in the show on a Sunday. We had Monday off, and I did a clandestine
fitting. I hope the union doesn’t [disapprove.] I’m sorry, Kate. Don’t tell me. (LAUGHTER) I don’t want to hear it. She’s on Equity Council. And then Tuesday, I had a little short cue-to-cue,
they call it. You don’t do the whole show. You just do it from the changes. And it’s funny about NOISES OFF. And I was on Tuesday night in the Broadway
house. Some people paying $80 a ticket. So it puts a responsibility on you. I felt prepared in terms of knowing my lines,
but it just was incredible. It was like I’d been doing previews while
we were in a run. But the worst part was the changes. The physical clothing changes. Because I would do the scene and I would be
perspiring. And then I was backstage “Lipstick. The jewelry.” And [I was] dying, because they’re very
fast. And then I’d go on. And I’d suddenly be on stage, and “Oh,
I have to do a scene now.” Pouring sweat. So, the worst thing for me, getting into the
show, was backstage. Those changes were so brutal. Now, they’re a cinch. It’s so funny. I’ve been in it two months. Come see the backstage on stage. (LAUGHTER) Oh, oh, that’s what’s so wonderful about
your play. What about costumes? Oh, anyway, so I’ve had good luck with directors,
but they’re few and far between. (UNINTEL). And I don’t mean to be disrespectful. A lot of times what you have to do is [it’s]
almost like you need to protect yourselves. That’s it for me. What they say, you have to kind of translate
it into something that works for you. Yeah. Yeah. Or say, “Oh yes, I understand exactly.” And directors will tell you that they give
a note and say, “I’d like you to do this.” “Yes, yes, that’s wonderful. I’ve got it.” And then it’s the same. (LAUGHTER) Then it’s the same. (LAUGHTER) So, I mean, directors aren’t the bad guy. No, they’re not. It’s just that you have to protect yourself. No. Yeah. Uh-uh (Aff). From bad ones that get in positions where
they’re not cutting it. Kate? I just wanted to say, though, that I agree
with you [that] there are very few directors that work. And one of the biggest things for me, and
it’s something that I’ve only really discovered in the last five years, is that I sometimes
have to change the way I work with different people. And you will also encounter directors who
are wonderful directors who do a terrible job on a show. And you think, “Oh, I want to work with
this director that I’ve always worked with so many times. He’s so great. He’s so great. Oh my god, this show is so terrible.” (LAUGHTER) And you know, it’s really funny like I had
an experience doing a play, ARCADIA, out at The Taper and the director of the show was
someone whom I’d never worked with before. And actually, it was very odd, because at
first, I thought, “Oh my god, you know, this is really not going very well.” But I loved this play so much. I had such a passion about this play and such
a passion about this character. I found a way to make it work for me. And it ended up being one of the happiest
experiences I’ve ever had even with some actors who shall remain nameless, who, you
know, we had a tough time. And I’m like really easy to work with. But it was tough. And yet, you know, you have the passion of
doing the play. And every play that works, every musical that
works, it’s a miracle. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle. (OVERTALK) You just have to know that out
of your 90 plays that you do, there’s gonna be like six plays that are really gonna totally
work, acting, directing, costumes, lighting, you know, the actual play itself. And so, you just keep trying. That’s really what it’s about. You stay in the game, yeah. You just keep trying. And that’s really been my experience. What’s been your experience with directors,
Robert? Absolutely the same. There are very few good ones, and when they’re
good they know how to balance. They have to do 89 very different things well. So, there are very few people who can do that. Some designing. Working with designers. And sensing how each actor works and how each
actor can be helped which is different for all of us. It’s rare. So, yeah, I know how to direct myself, and
I know [that] when I’m with someone I trust, let them do it. But you can’t see yourself. So don’t you need the eyes of somebody else? I know. Yes, for the whole production, yes. For my performance, there are times, as Christine
said, you don’t have a choice. You’ve got to do it. Save yourself. And like you said, Richard Easton. I mean, I’ve had some of my favorite direction
I’ve been given have been my friends who have come to see shows. Yeah. Oh. Which directors would be horrified to know. But, yeah, every now and then, you work with
someone who you completely trust and rightfully so. And it’s great. I’d like to raise another question. Another word Audition. How do you all feel about auditions? Let’s start with Peter. Do you still have to audition for the job? Did you audition? No. How did you get it? Well, Pia, if you looked a little less shocked
(UNINTEL). (LAUGHTER) You told me you weren’t funny. (LAUGHTER) You know that’s like the person who comes
up after the show. You’ve been in the business 25 years. And somebody comes up after the show, “You
were good.” (LAUGHTER) I thought everybody had to audition. No? No! No. Christine, did you have to audition? I did. I had to audition for 42ND STREET. I had two auditions, and then I had to go
to the director’s house. I had to go to Mark’s house, yeah. GROUP
Whoa! (LAUGHTER) (UNINTEL). I had to. (UNINTEL). I met the dog. (UNINTEL). I know people laugh at this. But it’s absolutely true. I think the outfit you wear is very important
to whether you’re gonna get the job. It’s true. Right? Am I right? Am I right? Especially for women. Especially if you’re a girl. If you’re a girl, it’s the outfit. It’s all in the outfits you wear. Don’t leave anything up to their imagination. And I had the most fabulous outfit for 42ND
STREET, I have to tell you. (LAUGHTER) There was no doubt in my mind that
I was going to get this job, because of my outfit. (LAUGHTER) Never mind your singing. Okay, so I sang (UNINTEL). But I’m telling you, it’s like I walked
in the door, and there was like no one else. There was nobody else. And when I left the room, the first thing
they said to me [when] I was about to leave, they asked me about my coat. You see what I mean? (LAUGHTER) It was my outfit, you know? They didn’t ask me about anything else. “Can I borrow the coat?” That’s what they wanted to know. So, would you say that the most important
thing for auditions is what you wear? (LAUGHTER) Well, the other stuff has to be [there] obviously. You know, you prepare everything. But, yes, seriously, you cannot leave anything
up to their imagination. However you perceive this character as who
this character is, how they would dress. If you’re going to be a construction worker
in a play, you don’t come dressed in a three-piece suit. They’re not going to imagine you in a hard
hat. You’ve got to lay it out, go wherever you’ve
got to go. And you can have fun doing it, but I really
think that has a lot to do with it. You, Valerie? Did you have to audition? The young lady asked me a question about— (UNINTEL) why I didn’t get a lot of jobs. (LAUGHTER) (UNINTEL). I had completely the wrong attitude for like
the first ten years. “Listen, if they don’t get it! You know tough!” “How did you do?” “I didn’t get it.” (LAUGHTER) And you know, what you’re saying
is so right. If you’ve ever directed or you sat out in
casting, it’s like you’re swamped. You know, it’s easier to say no than say
yes. And when somebody comes in, you’re delighted. Yeah. You want somebody to come in the door. I mean, sitting on the other side of the table
a few times which I have, it is truly extraordinary. That is literally as the person walks in the
door; they’re either 75 percent there or not. And you know before they even sit down. It’s like “Okay, this is definitely a
possibility. Let’s hope this person can act.” (LAUGHTER) And if they can’t, maybe there’s something
we can do. (UNINTEL). But they want you to be great. I mean, and that’s the hardest thing to
remember sometimes. They want you to be as great as you possibly
can be. As hard as it is as an actor, and there’s
so much rejection, there is, you have to know this. I mean, we all sit here, and we’re working. And it’s wonderful. But, oh my god, I mean, it’s mostly rejection. It so happens that I’m playing this part. And I did not audition for this part, because
the director who I’m virtually related to now, the two producers of the original production
were my mother and my husband. (LAUGHTER) What can I say? I was a shoe-in. (LAUGHTER). But there are other jobs. Oh yes. I replaced which was a fantastic experience. But I had a similar experience with backstage
hysterical changing of clothes. I replaced in THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE
on Broadway a couple of years ago, and it was an extraordinary experience. And I also worked with the director the whole
time, and not with anybody in the cast. And it’s an extraordinary experience. But I auditioned for that twice. I had replaced once before in a very short-lived
play. But this I knew would go on for a while, and
I just loved the play so much that I said, “I will audition. Absolutely, I will audition for this.” And I wanted very much to work with this director
who I very much admired. And I was happy to do that. What about that quiet, young man? Yes, did you have to audition for MUSIC MAN? Oh, come on. I yakked all through the first part of this
thing. (UNINTEL). I did have to audition for THE MUSIC MAN,
because there were skills involved that I obviously had never displayed and to this
day continue not to display. (LAUGHTER) I had to sing, “Trouble.” That song “You got trouble in River City.” In its entirety which was fun. I had to dance and sing and all that. But, yes, Kate’s talking about a director
who I’ve worked with three times and her husband who I’ve worked for three times
or twice really. I mean, the times I find that I don’t have
to audition usually it’s because you know the person casting the play or directing the
play, and they ask you to do it. But there’s always going to be a time when
you have to audition again. Absolutely. Had you been taking singing and dancing? No, no. Just learned it on the stage. Suddenly got out there. No, no. I’m very lucky in that [Harold Hill] is
one of the sort of actor-friendly [roles.] You know, like you said before, MY FAIR LADY
and 1776, and there are certain musicals that are written more for actors than for singers. And luckily, I have Rebecca Luker (PH) who
does all the singing in the show, and then I just bark at everybody. (LAUGHTER) What advice can you give about auditioning? I have two things. I auditioned for a movie last year when I
was in Los Angeles for sort of a Jerry Maguire kind of sports agent in a film. I walked in the audition room, and there were
about six guys there in t-shirts and jeans and sort of necklaces. And I was like, “How odd.” And I had a suit on. And they all had scripts. And I didn’t have [one.] I mean, I was ready. I knew the scene word-for-word. I didn’t even bring the script with me. I just walked in the room, and said, “Let’s
go. Let’s do the scene.” And I got the part. And I guess I have to say I wasn’t surprised,
‘cuz I looked around and I thought, “Why isn’t anyone wearing a suit? We’re all auditioning to play an agent.” And that’s their choice. But I would say, I guess I’ll go out on
a limb on this, I think for me if I haven’t memorized the scene, it’s not really prepared
yet. That’s true. For me. I’m sure there are actors who may not feel
that way and feel that they still need the page. And there’s also the argument that you want
them to still think, “Oh, well, this isn’t quite the performance yet.” And that’s what the paper will give them. But I think if I go in and it’s not memorized,
I haven’t really, really prepared it. It’s not really done for me, and it’s
not the best I can do it. Gee, that’s very interesting, Robert. Yes, but a lot of people disagree. In the old days, that was like a no-no, except
it’s exactly what I did for RHODA. Really? Yes, indeed. And I had props. I had a coat. I was washing the windows, and I brought a
rag. And I was working in story theatre which isn’t
mime. Please, Peter. It’s imaginary objects. Were they there? It’s mime. No, it isn’t! No! (LAUGHTER) No! It’s mime! It’s mime! No, it’s not mime. It’s all mime to me. It’s not mime. And it’s not sense memory. Viola Spolin, Paul Sales (PH) is a whole other
thing. But I thought, “I don’t want to ask that
of them.” So, I took a rag and a car coat, and I used
that, you know, washing the window and “Mary, get out of my apartment,” etc. And I hadn’t done that before, because it
was kind of bad form in the old days, Robert Sean, because the playwright and the director
didn’t want to see that you had memorized it. But Kate was telling that wonderful thing
about auditioning, isn’t it? That you learn it [for the audition.] Neil Simon said to you, “You got the job. Now, forget it. We’ll start over.” Yeah, because what you need to do for the
audition is a different thing that you need to do working on the play. That’s been my experience. That’s what Robert’s talking about. Yeah. And today, I think it is a good idea. Also, what you have to be aware of is we’re
talking about who has “it.” You see a kid with talent or that. I think sometimes “it” is desire and willingness
to get the door slammed and keep going. You know what I mean? Past a certain point, that’s not it. But I have had incredible auditions. I once was asked to read with myself. I swear to God, and I did it, I was young. I said, “Well, how dare you say that to
me?” “Oh, that’s you! You’re the one! You are the older sister.” “Yes, but you’ve always been jealous of
me.” (LAUGHTER) I don’t believe I did it, and
I don’t believe I’m sharing it. But the guy said, “No, no, the stage manager
isn’t here. Just read it with yourself.” (LAUGHTER) And I said, “You mean you won’t
give me the lines?” So, I actually did it. And I don’t think there was a job to get,
because this man was certifiable. But you will run into all kinds of audition
situations. And another key in auditioning is to say to
yourself, “Oh my god, there’s ten actors in this room.” No, it’s not between you and 300 or you
and 1000. It’s between two, you and the one who gets
it. So, it cuts down your odds tremendously. It’s a mind game, but it helps. You don’t sit there seeing all these beautiful
blondes, thinner and better and all. I just say to myself, “Okay, it could be
me or the person who gets it. So, I really have competition with only one
person.” Does that make sense? Yeah. Yeah, it’s a little trick. But you really prepare yourself and go in
there. They want you to be good. That’s what casting is. Don’t be in such fear. “Oh, they hate me.” They don’t. They want you to be “the one.” And so you just keep at it until you are “the
one.” Is there enough rehearsal time now? I’ve heard that rehearsal time has been
cut for Broadway. Everything’s been cut. Everything’s been cut. (LAUGHTER) That there’s less time. Have any of you experienced that? Or you have had enough rehearsal time. I think that’s stock. Okay, stock. (UNINTEL) I’ve always found too that, haven’t you,
you just sort of fill whatever time you have? Yeah. Yes, when they’re doing technical. Oh gosh. Even if it’s two weeks rehearsal, usually
we’re pretty ready. I think it just organically happens that by
the time you’re in tech, [you’re ready.] I don’t think I’ve been in a production
that you weren’t sort of hungry for an audience by the time the audience came. And I’ve had six weeks rehearsal and I’ve
had two. So, it doesn’t get better with more rehearsal,
you’re saying, necessarily? Not necessarily. No, there comes a point when you need an audience
to take the next leap. Yeah, that’s right. You need the audience. Peter, do you need the audience for something
like NOISES OFF? I’d hate to imagine what it would be like
without them. It would be awful. You do. I mean, the audience is great. And in some ways the best performance is your
first preview, especially in a comedy, because what you’re playing is the script. What you’re playing are the circumstances. What you’re doing is it’s you’re working
on the reality that exists in that scene or between the characters. And in the absence of laughs, in the absence
of response, your attention is completely there, establishing that. And then when the audience comes for the first
time, it can be absolutely, [you know], shocking. And then what you have to be on guard against
technically which nobody up here has to worry about is not to then start playing for laughs. In other words, we have a moment in this thing
where somebody drops their contact lenses, and the director aptly said, “Remember you’re
looking for lenses, not looking for laughs.” And that’s the bottom line. But, yes, with the audience, it’s why you’re
there. You know, it’s this marvelous, ancient ritual
that we all are fortunate enough to participate in. And it wouldn’t be the same without one. (LAUGHTER) And you, Valerie, do you find that the audience
controls somewhat the comic expression or you ignore when the laughs are coming? When the laughs aren’t coming and you’re
used to them being there, the key is to go very deeper into your work. You just don’t start playing out, “Oh
god, (UNINTEL). This should get a laugh.” No, you keep playing the reality. Tony Roberts and Michele Lee and I and Cheryl
(PH) and Anneil (PH), a cast of five, we just get more into the living room. (LAUGHTER) And listen. And just keep doing your work. And sometimes you’ll have an audience who
will be silent or small, little laughs. They’re out there smiling maybe, and you
don’t know it. And at the end they’re on their feet cheering,
screaming. And I can say this, because my family is of
this group. I’d go off stage, and Michele would say,
“Are they there?” I’d say, “Yeah, yeah. They’re Canadians.” (LAUGHTER) They’re polite and quiet. And they’re not as loud as Americans, and
they kind of nod. And tell them the funny thing about that guy
with OKLAHOMA!, the audience member. Oh yeah, people get upset when they don’t
laugh and scream. But I think that they’re still enjoying
it. And I’ll never forget when I was doing OKLAHOMA!
in Oklahoma City, and some guy came backstage and we though, “God, that was a bad audience. They never laughed at anything.” This guy comes back, “Oh, that was the best
time I ever had! It was all I could do to keep from laughing!” (LAUGHTER) So, (UNINTEL). Sometimes people just don’t think it’s
appropriate somehow, but they still enjoy immensely. Sometimes they need permission to laugh, you
know? That’s true too! Exactly. Depending on how the show is structured, there
usually is some kind of [cue.] If the architecture of the play or the direction
of it is really brilliant and it’s a comedy, there will be an opportunity early on where
the audience is given permission to laugh. So, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s funny. It’s supposed to be funny.” (LAUGHTER) That would happen in your play. No, I mean, there’s nothing funnier than
Ibsen [or] Strindberg. (LAUGHTER) [Or] Strindberg! Strindberg’s funny. Wasn’t that difficult for the audience at
first? Well, you know, we were so surprised because
when we started performing it. We had no idea what was going to happen. And actually to be honest, our most unlaughing
audience was our very first theatre, was Sag Harbor at The Bay Street Theatre. And I think partially is that it’s a totally
different [house.] It’s not a proscenium house. It’s a thrust stage and 200-seats. But by the time we got to Williamstown, they
were howling. And then Boston, they were howling. We’re like, “Okay, well, that’s great,”
because that’s what we wanted. But we thought, “Oh, you know, again, will
they feel that they have the permission to laugh? It’s HEDDA GABLER for god sakes.” Right, right. You know? And that’s what they do. And I mean I feel like there’s again that
collaboration, that partnership with the audience. I feel like there’s a way to let them know
that it’s fine to laugh. And of course, then we go into some real dark
stuff sort of inexorably throughout the show. But even in the very first act, there are
a few little things that happen that give them a signal of “Uh-oh, you know, what’s
going on with this girl? She’s having a tough day.” You know? But it’s great, because what’s so great
about the writing and these characters is that we turn on a dime. I go from crying to making a huge joke within
three seconds. And I get a huge laugh. Oh god, I’ll never get it again. It’s all over! Oh, there goes that. It’s gone! Say goodbye to that laugh, huh. Yeah. Yeah. But you know hopefully it’ll return in a
few days. Tell me a little bit about your background,
Valerie. Did you study acting in college? Oh, no, no, it was here in New York. I studied with John Cassavetes (PH), with
Tony Manino (PH). And Bill Hicky (PH) was a very young boy. Yeah, I studied at Berghof. And I studied with Mary Tarsi (PH) who was
wonderful. And then I had the great good fortune of getting
involved with Second City and working on that. And that’s when comedy, I guess, started
for me. But I was working on Broadway as a dancer/singer
from the age of about 18, yeah, 19. How did you get to that? I auditioned for LI’L ABNER and I got into
it. It had been the first play I’d ever seen. Had you trained for it? Oh yes, I’d been in ballet school since
[I was] seven, and I wanted to be a ballerina. You see before you, Isabelle, a failed ballerina. Yeah, that’s what I really wanted. I saw Moira Shearer in RED SHOES. That’s what I wanted to be. You studied dancing? I studied dancing, and then I started taking
singing lessons. My first job was at Radio City Music Hall
in the corps de ballet. In those days, it wasn’t a Christmas show. This was the 50s. It was a show that we would do five shows
a day in between the movie. The stage show/a move. A stage show… And there were 32 girls on toe shoes. I was one of them. Not Rockettes. Because The Rockettes were the stars. They were the last. There was usually a dog act and maybe a comedian. Oh, it was hilarious. And the choral staircases were filled with
singers. It was great. That was ’58, ’57. So I’ve been in show business a long time. I went to college. I want to Hunter and to New School For Social
Research, but just as courses. I didn’t do the four-year thing that my
daughter’s now doing. She’s in theatre in Los Angeles. So, anyway, that was my background. And, Kate, you had sort of a classical education
at Yale. Yeah. And so you had? Four years of college? But before that? Wait, no, I had no intention of being an actress
until I was in my senior of college, because I came from a theatre family. My father is Richard Burton, and my mother
had been an actress, but no longer was an actress. And I [was] very much not going into the family
business. “Oh, what an appalling life! I hate all these people. Who are they?” (LAUGHTER) And you know these actresses that
I encountered in my life were [different.] I really think actresses are very different
today in a lot of ways. I mean these actresses were constantly such
personalities. You know bigger than life. The clothes, the jewels! You know? And I just thought, “Oh my god, I’m in
my t-shirt and blue jeans. I do not belong with these people.” But I loved to act. I really enjoyed acting, and I always acted. Even when I was a History major at Brown,
I still acted all the time. I couldn’t stay away from the stage, and
it was finally my History professor who said, “You have a gift. Will you stop it already? You know you have this gift. You really have to give it a try.” And I’m went “Oh.” And then I thought, “Well, I need to go
to drama school.” I had a very weak voice. Oh my god. (LAUGHTER) I know. Thing’s change. Oh, Daddy! (UNINTEL) Everything’s fine now. But it took a long time, to be honest. The biggest thing for me was vocal. Even when I came out of Yale, I would project
and my voice would go up. And it would be strained. And it started to get better my third year
at Yale. And then I was in a musical. I did not a very successful, but a very fun
musical called DOONESBURY on Broadway with Gary Beach (PH). And we did it at the same time as the original
NOISES OFF, I realized, because I was just looking at pictures the other day. And I was like, “Oh my god! There we are!” There was a whole bunch of actors that they
took pictures of. And I started studying singing very seriously,
sang eight shows a week, and right after that, I did a Shakespeare play. And it was like I had areas in my voice that
I had never known were there. And then I’ve always sung ever since then. I’ve been in one other musical company,
but I just love to sing. And I do a vocal warm-up every night before
the show, HEDDA GABLER. I mean certainly the three years at Yale were
great. [I had] wonderful acting teachers and wonderful
classmates. And I was cast very quickly out of Yale. I auditioned for a play at Circle In The Square. George C. Scott directed it. PRESENT LAUGHTER. And I played Daphne Stillington, the ingénue. And it was like I was perfect for the part. I was too perfect for it. And I mean, I was a little ingénue. And I was just so, you know, big, round face. And I was like, “Great!” You know? Everything was great. It was great. And my first show was a huge hit, and I thought,
“It’s great! It’s so great!” Little did I know. (LAUGHTER) I literally was not in another
hit for like ten years. I mean, it was just like that. And that’s the truth. But like I say, I remember when Robert Preston
got his Theatre World Achievement Award. He said, “Let’s talk about the flops.” Because that’s what you remember actually. You remember those more than the hits. You know? So, that was my little trajectory. What do you do before you go on? My vocal warm-up. That’s it. Yeah. Robert, what do you do before you go on? Do you do something? Yeah. (LAUGHTER) In THE MUSIC MAN, I’m surrounded
by the most beautiful 18 and 19-year-old dancers you’ve ever seen in your life, and I go
out and warm-up with them on stage every day. The other day, Tyler (PH), one of them said,
“You know you’re the first,” ‘cuz I’ve replaced in the show, “You’re the
first Harold Hill who ever came out and warmed up with us.” And I thought, “Those morons!” (LAUGHTER) You’re the youngest! “What were they thinking?” So, I do a warm-up with the dancers on stage,
and then I do a vocal warm-up as well. And I grab some coffee and run for the show. Did somebody tell you that you had talent
when you started out? You started very young. But was there somebody who said, “This is
the path?” Not one particular person. As I said when I was very young, I really
didn’t want to act. I liked the theatre, but I liked the crewmembers. I was sort of attracted to the backstage people. And, no, I auditioned. I understudied at The Public Theatre when
I was 15? Fourteen. And then understudied a couple of times. And then I got this play with Cynthia Nixon
called SALLY’S GONE. Do you remember your flops? I mean do they stand out as painful memories? Oh sure, yeah. I’ve been blessed. I’ve only been acting for, whatever, 17
years, I think. But I’ve been in a fair amount of well-received
productions. But absolutely. And the bad reviews. There’s nothing quite like going to the
theatre every night, giving a performance that you’re pretty sure is bad in a production
that’s bad. (LAUGHTER) It’s just the worst. It’s the longest subway ride you’re ever
going to take at 7 o’clock. Yeah. I know it very well. (LAUGHTER) Christine, how do you prepare in the evening? I actually don’t warm-up. I do not warm-up at all. Somebody had once asked Ethel Merman, they
said, “You know, Miss Merman, don’t you warm-up before the show?” “What do you think the first number’s
for?” (LAUGHTER) That’s kind of the way I feel. “What do you think the first number’s
for?” That’s kind of it. And I’m serious. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what
it is about me. You know I get ready when they call five. When they call five minutes to eight, that’s
when I decide to put my makeup on. When do you get there? You know, about five or ten minutes after
the overture. I think that’s how I can get the adrenalin
rush maybe is if I’m going to be late. I guess. I haven’t missed it so far. (KNOCKS ON WOOD) Why do we do that? It’s so nutty! Has it always been that way? That I don’t warm-up and get ready? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s always been that way, I think, from
third grade. “Your bus is leaving in five minutes! Get out of bed!” (LAUGHTER) I don’t know, that’s just the
way I’ve always operated. And that’s not necessarily good. I wouldn’t recommend that for everybody. (UNINTEL) telling the truth. It just kind of works for me. What works for you, Peter? Do you prepare? Do I care? No, do you prepare? Do you prepare? Of course, you care. (LAUGHTER) You know I was just thinking of a story. And I hope this is true, because I love this
story. It’s about Jerry Orbach in 42ND STREET. I heard it from some crew guys. And it may not be true. But Jerry Orbach apparently backstage when
he was off during 42ND STREET played cards with the crew. You often do. And like he never missed an entrance. Never missed entrance! The most professional, extraordinary guy in
the world. One day, he missed the entrance. And I hope this is true. The stage manager comes in, “Jerry! Jerry! You’re on!” “Oh yeah, how am I doing?” (LAUGHTER) Oh my god! Oh my god! (UNINTEL) that? Yeah, but we’re still at a very, very, very
tender stage right now. I’m busy pasting the lines on my arms. And watching the doors. Yeah, and all that physical stuff. It’s the second preview, so what I will
do is I will refresh my memory, in terms of heads and tails of ins and outs of scenes. And I like to be precise with the author’s
language, and I stretch and I vocalize a little bit. I don’t do as much physical stuff as some
of the other cast members, but there are opportunities to get very hurt. And have a cup of coffee and think about [whatever.] And then by the time, I go on, have as little
in my mind as possible and just be available. Do you look at the audience at all before
you go on? No. I have the position of being in the audience
for the first act. Oh, that’s right. So, and that was very strange, because it
was nothing I could rehearse. For the entire rehearsal process, we’re
in a room as big as this with a full-sized set to practice the opening and closing of
doors. But of course, my stage for the first act
is the audience. And so depending on who’s there, I’ll
sit down next to somebody, and I’m still very much discovering that. But I really try not to let the size or the
condition of the audience affect what I’ll be doing. I have confidence, as you were saying, Valerie,
I have confidence that if I do my work and I trust the play and dig deeper in it, that
something is going to emerge. And if nothing, at least I get the opportunity
to spend that time with other extraordinary craftsmen and women, actors that I love very
much and doing a play that I love very much. So either way, you can’t lose. Do audiences affect you? Of course, I mean, they do, but I don’t
ask anything of them. And I’m delighted when they show up. And I have a real deep affection for the audience,
the people who have made the effort to come. And so, it doesn’t affect what I’m going
to do on stage. In terms of laughs, as you were saying, I
never try to anticipate that. If my attention is not where it needs to be
in that show with that person or that activity or whatever it is, then I’m not doing my
job. And everything else is a bonus. I have tremendous affection for the people
that come out. You know? What’s the worst thing that’s happened? You’ve been in many other plays. We hear stories about the prop not being there
or somebody not showing up. Has anything like that happened to you? Oh yeah, so many things. This is not the most spectacular [story.] In fact, I was doing the musical version of
another Ibsen play, A DOLL’S LIFE, based on A DOLL’S HOUSE, when the set never arrived. My set, of course, for my room where I was
going to make love to Betsy Joslin (PH) in a manner of speaking. I was a violinist, and so I improvised naturally
and said something about the rent being late. (LAUGHTER) And of course, it was the biggest laugh that
we got in that show ever, and it was one of the biggest flops in the history of Broadway. You know the important thing about all this
is – I think Woody Allen said it in one of his movies – but 90 percent of life is
showing up. Yes. You know it’s about showing up. You don’t know what’s going to happen,
but you know nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t show up. And in terms of those auditions, it’s the
same thing. You can’t take it personally, and you can’t
abandon your own instincts and your own sense of self in hopes that someone, either a director
or a casting director, someone is going to say, “You’re the greatest, kid!” ‘Cuz it’ll never happen. They’re too busy worried about themselves. That’s right. Too busy worried about what to do with the
show. And the most bizarre things happen. You know? I actually heard once, which never happens,
years after an audition that I had thought I had really been good in, the guy that I
was reading with, it was an actor they’d hired to read with, he came up to me and told
me what happened after I left the room. And look, see how everybody leans in? What did he say? You see how everybody leans in, because this
is the stuff you never hear, ‘cuz you’re constantly lied to. And you expect that, ‘cuz no one’s really
interested in you or your well-being. They’re really interested in their own well-being,
because it’s a tough business and nobody knows what the answer is anyway. So why be mean if you don’t know what you’re
thinking about anyway? But I had given this audition. And I was prepared. It was a very powerful kind of great part,
and I felt like I’d knocked it out of the park. A couple of the producers were crying. And I was like, “Wow, I think I did alright.” And so I left the room, and I never heard
another word about it. And then ten years later, I ran into the guy
who was reading across. He said, “You know I’ve always wanted
to run into you again. I gotta tell you what happened after you left
the room.” And I said, “Oh my god, I’d love to know
what happened!” He said, “Well, you, you were awesome, man! We were like this.” And I wasn’t crazy. “There were people crying. We were all thinking… One of the producers, ‘Well, we found our
guy! We found our guy! This is great!’ They were all like this, this. And the director looks up and say, ‘His
nose is too big.’” Oh, no! No! And then it went from like “We found our
guy!” [to] “You’re right, yeah.” (LAUGHTER) Next. Your nose is too [big?] That’s it. It’s insane. It’s all insane. So it’s about showing up, no matter what,
no matter what. And nobody’s perfect. What you hope is you have the great play. It’s true when it’s a great show, when
it works, [it’s great.] I’ve done so many more flops than hits. But getting back to the things that happen
on opening night, THE REAL THING, I replaced a guy when he was out of town in the original
production of REAL THING in America. Mike Nichols was directing, and Mike was amazing. I had four hours of rehearsal. It was an amazing part. I had been in the original production of GREASE,
company of GREASE which was a hit. I had starred in the Broadway revival in the
70s of HAIR which was a flop, but I left to do GREASE. And DOLL’S LIFE was a flop. CORN IS GREEN was a flop. So, I thought I didn’t care. I was working. I have a job! I have a job! So what? It’s a great play. I’m working. All right, what am I doing next week? I didn’t mind. I never felt more successful and never felt
richer or happier. Well, maybe not happy. But I was… Working. Yeah, I was working. It’s the greatest. But in THE REAL THING, I had four hours of
rehearsal. So it was all very raw before I made my first
preview on Broadway. And it was a turntable-revolve that, you know,
spun out into the audience. So I’m thinking, “Alright, okay.” I’m doing my thing, what I do before I go
on and just thinking, “Badam, bang, bang! Boom-boom.” You know, I’m just thinking, “Alright.” And all of a sudden, I hear these enormous
explosions. (SOUNDS EXPLOSIONS) And this was in the 80s
when there was all sorts of threats and things, and so I go, “Alright, okay, we’ve been
hit, man. There’s not gonna be anybody out there. I can’t believe [it.] There’s no sirens. No one’s coming to get me. And all of a sudden, the turntable starts
to move. I’m going, “Holy.” And the lights come up. And I realize that I gotta do the scene. And I just remember looking out in the audience. They’re there. (LAUGHTER) And for some miraculous reason,
I remembered my lines, and I got through the scene. And I totally forgot what had happened. By the time I finished the scene, I completely
forgot. Next night, same thing happens. I thinking, “I’m losing my mind. I’m losing my mind. Nobody’s running. Nobody’s doing anything. I’m the only one. Explosions in my head!” And I get out and finally I realize Jason
Robards is next door doing YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, and he goes down to the basement
and he has these explosions. CROWD
Oh! So you never know. Oh, that’s fabulous. Oh, you never know. The thing is no matter how long you’re doing
it, you never know what’s going to hit you when. There’s always a new way to be surprised. Anybody else been surprised? Yes, just three weeks ago, I am in the scene
with Michele. She comes in. She’s this gorgeously dressed person, and
I’m schlepping around in a terrible robe. I’m unhappy. It’s THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE. In the beginning, she’s just a miserable,
self-hating, ball of neuroses. And we have this wonderful scene by the bar. And she’s got this fabulous boucle-looking,
beige and brown scarf over her shoulder and her jewelry and red nails and she’s talking. And I walk over. We’re talking about my daughters. “I have two daughters. Joan and Rochelle (PH) is the name. And I’ll show you their picture.” And a roach, this big, is walking up my co-star
and my friend’s beautiful chest, okay? And it is the color of the thing. And I looked. I couldn’t believe it. And so I kept going on with the scene, and
it’s going up and it’s going like this. It’s being a big scene of itself. It’s carrying on and walking slowly, slowly
toward her face. I thought, “If she sees this…” So I walk over to her and I’m talking, and
I say, “Yes, Rochelle, and our two daughters.” I can’t believe her name is Rochelle. (LAUGHTER) Joan and Rochelle. And I just slapped the hell out of this thing. I’m sure it hit the back. I just slapped it. And Michele looks at me like this, and we
carried on with the scene. She said, “I knew something was happening.” But the rest of the scene, I was like this. I had such a horrible aversion to them, and
it was big. But I got it. I think he hit the back wall. Everybody wants to get into show business. (LAUGHTER) But I don’t think the audience saw him. They thought I went crazy. I don’t know what. But I did slap it off of her. I do have a story. Yes? Opening night of CURRENT EVENTS at The Manhattan
Theatre Club about a year ago. It was opening night. In the beginning of Act II, I have this long
monologue describing basically the mysteries, unlocking the mysteries of what happened in
Act I. And it was one of those kind of stages where
the audience is on the same level. So, there’s the stage, and it just goes
right out to the house. And the chairs are all right there and all. So, I’m looking out. [It’s] a serious monologue. I’m going on and on and on about this. And all of a sudden, I look out in the audience,
and I see people going like this. They’re lifting their feet up. And you can hear them going (WHISPERING) And
I look over, and there’s a little mouse that’s on stage with me. It looked like they were trying to trap him,
you know what I mean, with poison or whatever. (LAUGHTER) Oh, he was dazed. He was groggy? Yeah, so he was kind of like “Oh… Where am I?” (LAUGHTER) What am I going to do? It’s opening night. And I’m giving this serious monologue, and
no one is listening to me because they’re all worried about the mouse that’s going
to run up their leg. You know? So, I stopped the show. I said, “We have to acknowledge the mouse
here, because I’ve never worked with a mouse before.” (LAUGHTER) Children and animals. Acknowledge the mouse! But somehow, we acknowledged the mouse. I can’t remember what happened. I
think he scurried off somewhere. He was nominated. He heard his name called. And so he scurried off behind somewhere, and
then we went on with the show. So, they were able to pay attention. So, there’s no business like show business. See, working with animals. Roaches. If you were going to put your daughter on
the stage, what would you say to her? What bit of advice would you give to someone
who wants to go on the stage? Every one of you. Oh, I have that. Follow your heart. My daughter is doing that, and she, a senior
in high school, just has told me, “Mom, I don’t want to be a doctor. I’m going to go in the theatre.” And so I said, “Prepare yourself.” And she’s in school (UNINTEL). And she wants to go on the stage. Yes. What happens? Where does she start? Oh my god. Well, my daughter is going to be an actress. I know. (UNINTEL). She’s three and a half, and I know this
already. She’s a born actor. It’s shocking. She was born in (UNINTEL) American Theatre
Wing. (LAUGHTER) Again, follow your heart. I mean, you know, at the end of the day, if
you need to try, you’ve got to try. Give it a try. But I do say, you know, get some training. I have to be honest. I really do think that that really helps you
persevere. I really do. What would you advise? I really don’t know. (LAUGHTER) I would say I really, really hope
you’re talented. (UNINTEL). You mentioned The Old Globe, Williamstown. There are great places for young actors to
apprentice literally, and that’s a great thing to do, I think. To seek out theatres that have actors around
who apprentice. Christine, would you advise a daughter? Well, I’m a mother of three children, and
I think one of the greatest challenges as a parent is to recognize the type of flower
that has come into your house. That some of them are cactuses and don’t
require as much water and need lots of sun. And some of them are more delicate and need
to be in the shade more. You know? So, it’s sort of being able to recognize
the flower that you have and let them unfold as they are. So, if that is their proclivity and that is
their desire, then they’re going to find that out. You need to encourage that, but also inject
reality. Like you said, they need to get training. That that’s important. They have to be able to have the technique,
you know, to carry through all the rejection and other things. But it’s just sort of being able to know
what they want and be able to encourage that. I think that’s what my parents did for me. The training and studying is important? Yeah, I think so. Whatever that is, whether it’s a drama school
or whether it’s piecemeal. But I think encouragement helps too. You know, I think that as parents, if you
can recognize in your children, that this is something that they have a desire for and
that they have a talent for. And even if they don’t have a talent for
it, you know what? They’re going to find that out anyway. Aren’t they? It’s not your job to tell them. So it’s really sort of what’s in their
heart, being able to encourage and inject reality into that, what the practical steps
are that they need to take, like being in school and things like that. Thank you for very much. We’ve run out of time. They could have gone on. Thank you so much for joining us here to talk
about the performing arts in the seminar on “Working In The Theatre” [coming] to you
from the Graduate Center of City of University. And we thank you very much. (APPLAUSE) (MUSIC)

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