Performance (Working In The Theatre #333)


Thank you, and welcome to our performance panel today. It’s the cliché, but it is a panel that
needs no introduction, so I will introduce them only by their most recent credit, because
they all have so many. Beginning on my right, Billy Crudup, currently
appearing in THE PILLOWMAN. (APPLAUSE) Marsha Mason, from STEEL MAGNOLIAS. (APPLAUSE) David Hyde Pierce, from MONTY PYTHON’S
SPAMALOT. (APPLAUSE) Cherry Jones, from DOUBT. (APPLAUSE) And Raul Esparza, from CHITTY CHITTY
BANG BANG. (APPLAUSE) It strikes me that so often, when there’s
discussions of theatre, we hear from our fellow audience members. We hear from the critics what they think. But when we look at performances, we look
at considering what we look at on a stage. We don’t often hear from actors themselves
about what impresses them. So with a couple of ground rules, I want to
start off the panel today by asking what is the last performance that you all saw, other
than a performance in a show that you were in, one of your co-stars or yourselves (LAUGHTER)
– sorry! What is a performance that you saw recently
that particularly impressed you, and why? What is it that you look for in a performance? So, I’m going to go in order, and start
with Billy. Well, there was a play called SHOCKHEADED
PETER that’s still out now, I think. And forgive me, but I can’t remember the
actor’s name who plays the Emcee. Does anybody know? FEMALE VOICE FROM THE AUDIENCE
(UNINTEL PHRASE) [JULIAN BLEACH?] There you go! It was – I think what I appreciated about
it was its level of extravagance, and its level of theatricality, married with some
kind of comprehensible understanding of human behavior. So it wasn’t so outlandish that you kind
of go, “Is this a caricature?” There was some grain of truth in it that made
me think of a very specific time and place, but it wasn’t necessarily of this world. And I appreciated the fact that he had created
this entire character, for which there was no explanation needed. He came out on stage and stood for about a
minute and a half, and you were entirely filled in on his history. And I don’t know, that’s one of them. Marsha? Well, I preface this – because I haven’t
seen anything since I came to New York to start rehearsals, with one exception. Well, we should say, one of the great challenges
of seeing performances is that when you’re in a show, you very often can’t see anything! That’s right. Until we see the Actors’ Fund benefits. But fortunately, we opened on a Monday night,
so I went to the theatre on a Tuesday night, which is dark [for us], and I saw a play called
DOUBT. (MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE) And I was extremely
impressed, for a lot of reasons. Obviously, because it’s a beautiful play,
and it’s really about something, in a very complex way. But it’s so incredibly and beautifully acted
by four actors, and there’s something that happens when – I’m in a “prop city”
play. (CHERRY LAUGHS) I mean, we have props galore. I’m in a play about a beauty shop! So I don’t think I have to say anything
else. (CHERRY LAUGHS) But this play is very spare in that area,
in terms of what the environment of the play is. And here are four actors who then have to
create this world of a very small period. You know, it takes place in a period, in a
very specific locale, which is Brooklyn [SIC; SHE MEANS THE BRONX] and then create this
world for you. And the thing that struck me was how vulnerable
the actor is, when you’re on a stage and you just have to stand there and say the lines
and interact with each other. You don’t get to hide behind anything, even
a habit. (GESTURES TO CHERRY; LAUGHTER) But there is also a moment in the play that
struck me enormously, too, and this goes to the direction of the play, which is, there’s
a moment where Cherry is having a confrontation with the priest and she chooses to stay seated
in a chair while he is standing over her. And it’s a very confrontational moment in
the play. And I was stuck because she’s in the sort
of submissive position and he’s in a very strong position over her, and yet, she has
all of the drive to confront him. And she never moves off of the chair, which
normally another person might want to stand up, you know what I mean? But she stays in the chair and she just hits
him with what the moment is really about, and these two actors are fully engaged with
each other. So for all those reasons, you know, you look,
but – and also, too, because I’m taken in by the drama of it. I’m taken in by the place and the time and
the event. And then, the actor part of me then gets to
appreciate the artistry on the stage. I want to come back to something you said
there, but let’s finish going around, because you raised an interesting point in the midst
of that. David? I, for the same kind of scheduling reasons,
got to see WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, this new production. And the whole cast is incredible. But for me, specifically, I so responded to
what Bill Irwin did, because first of all, he had the cojones to do that part opposite
Kathleen Turner! (LAUGHTER) And also, he’s not known for
that kind of performance, that kind of acting. You know, he has established himself in this
completely other genre. And the thing that I loved so much about it
was that he simultaneously played this part, played George so beautifully, so differently
and interestingly, and yet he still brought, as any good actor does, who he is, his innate
sort of whimsical nature [to the part]. And really, that’s true for everyone in
that play. They all managed to bring, clearly, and were
encouraged by the director to bring their own instincts, who they are, which made it
a completely fresh experience of the play and a complete real interaction of those people,
as well as those actors on the stage. And that was like watching a new play. Cherry? I felt so much the same, that sort of quirky
failed academician, you know? That you could just imagine him in that college,
with that weird – he was fantastic. Yeah, yeah, I loved that production, too. I haven’t gotten to see that many things,
either, but I have two or three performances that just – any time I’m asked this question
– which we’re never asked enough, by the way, so thank you for asking it! – Pamela Gien in THE SYRINGA TREE just always
pops to mind. I have just never seen anything quite like
it. It really stands out as one of the top three
performances I’ve ever [seen], that will live on in my memory forever. And it took place in South Africa, and she
must have played about twenty-five characters, every single one of them alive and real and
true, and the beauty of the story. And how she did it, night after night, I will
never know! And you know, this incredible range of accents
and ages and experience, and there was no question but that the stage was peopled with
all of those people. And so much love and such, you know, just
the complications of life. And oh, it was just – it left me breathless. And the other one – well, the next one that
I can think of, just immediately, is Elizabeth Marvel’s Blanche DuBois – Anything! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Anything Elizabeth Marvel does! But her Blanche in particular. It was that Ivo van Hove production down at
New York Theatre Workshop, and it was just – ‘cause that wasn’t a play – I don’t
know, it’s maybe ‘cause I’m Southern or something. But I sometimes have a little trouble with
Tennessee Williams, except, of course, for NIGHT OF THE IGUANA! (POINTS TO MARSHA; LAUGHTER) Which Marsha
and I did together, so that’s why I had to [say that]! (MARSHA LAUGHS) But that production made me
understand STREETCAR in a way I’d never understood it before. And Liz Marvel was – as an actor, just purely
as an actor watching another actor, it was like grading an Olympian. She was, like, ten! Ten! Ten! Ten! All the way across the board. I couldn’t believe it. And just physically, they did unbelievable
things, because he’s a European director. At one point, she disappeared into a tub. I mean, literally disappeared into a tub. She just went pyoonh! (GESTURES WITH HER HAND) and was gone! Like, thirty minutes! In the tub! (LAUGHTER) I don’t know how she did it. And then she re-emerged. It was – she was just unbelievable. Those are my two that first come to mind. Well, for me, I haven’t really seen very
much this season either. And it was that evening at the Dramatists
Guild, where you guys performed stuff from DOUBT. And I always answer this question the same
way. It just happens to actually be Cherry Jones
over and over for me (LAUGHTER AND MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE), so it’s a little embarrassing. (LAUGHTER) But – Thank you. Because when I was in college, we went to
see OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, and I had never seen Cherry Jones on stage. And out walks this hulking brute of a monster,
basically, this tough sort of dumb, slow lumbering woman, and I thought, “Oh, so that’s Cherry
Jones!” But the performance stayed with me. Then I moved to Chicago, and I saw Cherry
Jones in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. And out walks Katherine Hepburn, light as
air and completely sort of separate – this soul that seemed completely separate from
what was happening in that Mexican town. The heat of that production, the suffering
of the people around in that production, the storm that was blowing through the Goodman
Theatre, all of it seemed to disappear when Cherry and Billy Petersen sat down on the
edge of the Goodman stage and began to speak to each other. And I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation
and I thought – I’d just never seen anything like that in my life. I’d never seen a performance that I felt
I shouldn’t be listening to, that I felt, “Oh, this is private and I shouldn’t be
here. There’s something about what they’re saying
that is not for me.” And yet, you can’t tear yourself away. And it was exactly that thing that they always
talk about, being so totally private on stage and yet in a public format, so that the audience
feels like they’re invited to something, and that was happening! And then, out you walk again to do just a
scene from DOUBT, and I was standing backstage, and there was another kind of woman on stage,
a tougher, more frightened, intellectually powerful woman who was rigid in a certain
way. And everything about your body was changing. And I know you now, so every time I see you,
there are so many versions of Cherry Jones, every time you come on stage. And that’s the kind of actor I always wanted
to be. Ever since I saw that first production of
OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, I thought, “I know who she is,” and then, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA,
“Oh, no, I don’t know who she is.” And that’s acting to me. That’s acting in a nutshell. I don’t think I need to put Raul Esparza
on stage. I want to put whoever that person is on stage
and somehow disappear. Somehow – I mean, it’s obviously you,
every time you get up there. So I’ve actually said that many times. It’s just sort of embarrassing to be sitting
here on stage with you. (LAUGHTER) But it’s true! Well, as you talk about what you put on stage,
I want to jump back to something Marsha said, and it may have just been in the phrasing,
but it’s an interesting question. You said, in referring to the scene that Cherry
has, “where you chose to stay seated.” How do we know, as an audience member, somebody
who’s looking at a play and trying to understand, how it’s come together? How do we know whether Cherry Jones made a
decision to sit still or Doug Hughes said, “Cherry Jones, sit still!” Or John Shanley. Sometimes the playwright says that. Or John Shanley said to sit still, for that
matter. So not about that specific moment, but when
you perform, are there things you’re given to do by the director that may not be natural
to you, that you have to find your way into? Or are there things that are your invention
that you have to fight with a director to say, “I want to do that”? Well, I think for me anyway, my experience
is that it is this combination of all the minds coming together – the playwright,
the director and the actor, and your co-actors – that you come together to find the best
way to service the material and the moment. At least, that was the way I would like to
work and would like somebody to work with me. And I like the idea of trying something that
may not be so comfortable. If a director says, “Would you try not to
do that?”, you know, instead of immediately arguing with him – it’s a very interesting
– it’s a fascinating thing, because everybody’s process is a little bit different. And you gain a respect for the director if
you direct at least once. I mean, I think every actor should direct
once and write once. I think every, you know, writer should act
once and direct once. Absolutely. Because you gain a sense of respect for the
process when you do that. Have you had a chance to do that? Has anybody here had a chance to direct, or
have any of you written a play? I directed things in school. I remember learning more from directing classes
than I ever learned from acting classes. Mmm-hmm. Me, too. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Because when you try to articulate – I’m
very inarticulate about acting, and you have to articulate something to an actor when you’re
directing. Without saying too much, actually! That’s right. Because it can be very damaging. Directors who talk for hours end up hurting
me. Yeah. So it’s that skill of a director who knows
how to (LAUGHS WITH CHERRY) say just the right thing. It’s an impossibly wonderful skill. It’s also kind of difficult for an actor
sometimes, to be a director, because all they really want the other actor to do is to do
the performance they have in their head! Exactly! (LAUGHTER) And that’s not what directing is really
about, you know? You have to let go of something! Yeah. Or they do, as actors, and they’re so respectful
of the actor’s process that nothing happens. Yes, exactly. Right! (LAUGHTER) They don’t help you at all! (LAUGHTER) That’s true! (CHERRY LAUGHS) I was also going to say, just on the topic
of who does what in a production, I immediately – when I read a review, I know that the
reviewer has no business writing reviews about the theatre when he says, “Well, the director
did this in this moment,” or “the actor did this in this moment,” because you don’t
know. And, it’s the least important question you
can ask as an audience member, because the whole point is that we have done this together. And you know, whether if you doing a new play
and someone comes up with a line reading, it doesn’t matter, because the entire process
created the fertile ground for whoever happened to say at that moment, “Ooh, sit in the
chair!” So. (SHRUGS) It’s a good question for actors and practitioners
of the craft, how the creative moment is established and what’s the best way for you to work
in a collaborative way. But it’s not the question that I want the
audience to ask. Exactly, right. I want every moment to appear as though it’s
happening for the first time and it was not planned at all, that this is the only way
it could happen in that moment. Also, I mean, just on a side note, if you
ever see anything that I’ve done that’s good, that’s probably me, and if you see
— (LAUGHTER) If you see anything that’s kind of off and uncomfortable, it’s always
the director. Or maybe one of the other actors! (LAUGHTER) Good point, good point! Good point, yes! It’s very true. Or maybe David! (LAUGHTER) No, we’ve never worked together! No. But still, you’re close by me. Or it could be someone in the audience that
really spoiled the performance that night. Hey, I could have felt something! Yeah. If it’s really bad! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Talking a little more about the relationship
with a director, I’m curious, Raul and Billy, you’re both in shows that had previous incarnations
under the same director. Mmm-hmm. How much freedom did you have, in going into
those shows, to find your way, or were there times where it was about hitting marks that
the director knew worked in a prior production? Surprisingly, not a lot. One of the reasons I took CHITTY CHITTY BANG
BANG is because I’d never done anything like it, and I thought, “Oh, this’ll be
fun, to try this kind of role.” I’m not known for playing sort of charming
leading men. It’s just not the way I see – it’s not
where I gravitate, it’s not what interests me. And so, I thought, “This will be real challenge.” Our director is a marvelous director! Adrian Noble is considered one of the world’s
great directors. But there is a pressure that happens on a
massive musical like this that has almost nothing to do with performance. It turns into trying to control a locomotive
going downhill. And you start to function with, like, eight
or nine people, out of fear! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) As opposed to, like,
“We’ve got to make it to five-thirty (PH) – yah!” (LAUGHTER) And so, in rehearsals, Adrian was
very willing about, “Try this! Try that! Let’s try this! Oh, Raul, I love you, this is great!” “And I love you, Adrian!” (LAUGHTER) We got to tech, and it’s like,
“Cut that, cut that!” “No, I want it! “No, give it back!” (LAUGHTER) You know, so you start to go, “No,
I know this works, because it worked in London!” I say, “No, I know I can do this, because
you hired me!” And you find a happy medium when all those
voices stop screaming in your ears. That’s been a – it was a real learning
experience for me in that sense, because it is such a big show that oftentimes things
that I created had to go. And things he was used to had to go, because
of our relationship. And then, there are things that he just knew
worked. And as you were heading for that deadline,
there are things – Yeah. You just – you have to land it, and that’s
that. That’s it! So– Bottom line, yeah. So that is the bottom line. I mean, that’s what’s different about
working on Broadway, I think, as opposed to working Off-Broadway, working on a play as
opposed to a giant musical. These musicals are huge! And the money involved is massive. And it does start to feel a little bit like
you’re not in control any more and you have to hit the bottom line, unfortunately. It doesn’t mean it’s always gonna – it
doesn’t mean it’s bad! But sometimes a deadline like that can really
– Is it fun to ride in the car? It’s a ball! (LAUGHTER) I feel like a five year old! Actually, I remember trying to come up with
some kind of interesting way to enter. The character didn’t really have an entrance
at all in London. He just sort of came out from behind a machine
in the second scene. And I said, “I want something interesting
to do at the top!” I said, “I want to come in and then I’ll
be like Charlie Chaplin and get sucked into the windmill! And go – ” And, “Okay …” We tried
that, and they were like, “You’re gonna break your legs.” And then I said, “Well, maybe I’ll float
by!” And then I was floating by for a while, and
now I have a window washing machine and I go by. And they lift me into the air during the overture
– What do you mean, “float by”? I’m sitting in a swing. (LAUGHTER) You’re sitting in a swing? You just – “You know, I need a harness
here!” I need a harness, yeah. That’s what I want! “Can somebody build one of those things?” Yes, yes, that’s been part of the fun of
it, is like – I want to do that! It’s like a toy store. You go and you’re like, “I want a window
washing machine (LAUGHTER) and I’ll go floating by in it!” (LAUGHTER) Yes! And then one of the actors, Frank Raiter,
who plays the Toymaker, he goes, “You just got yourself one hell of an entrance there!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And it’s like,
I just kind of made it up. But I go floating up into the air, and the
overture’s playing, and I feel like a five year old! Oh! It’s like, “Yeah, look what I’m doin’
tonight!” (LAUGHTER) And then, every night we get in
that car, and you have these two little kids behind you, and they’re like, “We’re
gonna fly!” I start crying, we’re like, “We’re gonna
fly!” (LAUGHTER) So all your cynicism just goes
right out the window. (MIMES DRIVING THE CAR) “I love my job!” (LAUGHTER) Veering from CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG now – (LAUGHTER) In my play we butcher those kids! (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Not quite as fun. No! I found John [Crowley, the director] – the
play is really tightly constructed. Martin [McDonagh, the playwright] has done
a pretty extraordinary job creating a piece of work that is fantastical and outlandish
and really follows a rigid logic. So, in order to allow the audience into that,
you have to know how to shape it. And you know, when we started off, I didn’t
come with any preparation. I don’t like to start the process being
fully prepared. I like to create it with whoever I’m creating
the piece with. And there was quite a bit of text to deal
with and stuff. So I was really grateful for somebody – Did you see it in London? No, I didn’t see it in London. And I was so grateful for John, who had this
intricate understanding of how to just get the play across. It wasn’t a question of interpretation. It wasn’t a question of the kind of character
I was building. It was a question of making sure the audience
could follow the story. And so, to that end, the process of creation
and the process of John’s direction was focused entirely on the play. And there is a kind of rigidity, because that’s
the piece. That’s what the piece demands. And again, it doesn’t have to do with anything
that you impose on top of it, in terms of creating a character that works for you logically. It has to do with the play itself doesn’t
leave a lot of room for you to impose things. Isn’t that kind of freeing, though? I mean, when you’ve got room to – It’s fantastic. Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s fantastic. I mean, but by the same token, there was just
an enormous amount of material. And it has taken a long time to learn how
to focus it in a way that communicates the story of the play. But I had an interesting experience with Cherry,
because THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA was done in Chicago first, and I was brought into the
company when they came into New York. And almost everybody came from Chicago, with
the exception of me. So I learned a really painful lesson, actually,
which was that my enthusiasm for the play, the part, Cherry, the director, Bob Falls,
and the rest of the cast, and the idea of doing that particular part was so exciting
to me that I didn’t ask some really important questions. Which was, “What is the director’s interpretation
of the character that I’m about to play?” (CHERRY SMILES) Right. And stepping into a production that’s already
constructed, right. Exactly. And where people have decided certain basic
relationships that are antithetical to what (LAUGHS) I thought the play was about! Right. And there came this moment, and I’m going
to tell it on myself, but there came this moment in the rehearsal where I stood there
for a moment and I turned to Bob Falls and I said, “You just want me to move around
this stage to make your pretty picture!” And so, he said, “Yes.” (LAUGHTER) And I had a moment, at that time, right then
and there, what I really actually – looking back, of course, not at the moment, but looking
back – I should have said, “You know, I’m not right for you.” Because the rest of the experience was so
not fulfilling for me. Because we had a very different point of view
about what the character was about and what the play was about in relationship to the
character. So, and then I had to then proceed to play
out the remainder of the run and everything, in a very frustrating [situation] and it really
was painful. The director can help you in a situation like
that, I’ve found. Two experiences that I had, going into a massive
musical, my first big musical was EVITA. And when I was learning the show here in New
York, the people putting it together had an idea about what EVITA should be and how Che
functioned in it. That every time I tried to do something, and
I’d never done a major musical like this before, every time I tried to do something,
they’d say, “No, that’s not right!” And at one point I was told, “Go upstage
and do this!” (WAVES HIS ARMS ABOVE HIS HEAD) And I said,
“Why?” and they said, “Well, Mandy [Patinkin] did that.” (LAUGHTER) And it worked! (LAUGHTER) And it worked, by God! And I said, “Okay,” and I said, “Well,
what is he doing?” and they said, “Well, you’re summoning the set,” and I thought,
“ … oh!” (RAISES HIS ARMS; LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
And I said, “All right. I’m summoning the set?” Summoning the set, yeah! Summoning the set! (LAUGHS) Okay, and there was this flag that sort of
came billowing down, and it was supposed to be triumphant. And sometimes the flag would fall on floor
and I’d go … (CURLS HIS ARMS DOWN, COVERING HIS HEAD; LAUGHTER) But I said to the team,
I said, “I’m not the man for you. I don’t understand this.” And then Hal Prince came in, because he was
working on PARADE at the time, and he said, “Let him do what he wants.” Yeah, that’s [it]! And boom! And the other time that that happened was
going into CABARET, replacing in CABARET. The production exists. It is what it is. You can’t do much inside of it. You think – and then someone like Sam Mendes
will come around, and Sam actually gave me a note that said, “What you did last night,
when I saw it, throw it away. I loved it! Tomorrow – if you give the same performance
tomorrow that you gave tonight for me, you will have failed yourself and your talent. I want you to walk out on that stage and break
all the rules that they taught you when they asked you to replace in this.” Because he kept saying, “You’ve been so
inventive inside the confines of what the show is, I want you to go further.” It was terrifying! I walked out the next night, going, “I have
to go left instead of right! Go right – go from – ” What are you going to do? So you just stood there! I was thinking, “Ahh!” But it doesn’t mean that all my choices
the next night were good. But when a director like that comes and says,
“No, you’re not making pretty pictures for me. I love you and what you’ve done,” it’s
– Well, that’s what a great director does,
too, is he tells you how you can function in a safe space. He says, “This is what we’re doing. This is how the play is focused. This is how the musical is focused.” You, as an actor and an interpreter of the
craft, then understand, intuitively or logically, what space you have to grow in that so as
to not divert the story, so as to not divert the style and the form. And then you can become a real participant. And a good director will do that, because
then you can take it further than he could imagine! Yeah. So consequently, if you have a number of artists
doing that, then the play is something that nobody ever anticipated, the playwright didn’t
anticipate, and it can become a production that, you know, really thrills and invigorates
an audience. And I want to say, about THE NIGHT OF THE
IGUANA, ‘cause it was painful to witness what was going on, not only with you, Marsha,
but with the entire production, because – and I’m crazy about Bob, but he failed us all
on that production. Because any good director, I don’t care
if there’s one replacement or six replacements, if you’ve had a few months off and you’ve
come back to something, it is your responsibility as the director to start from scratch. You start over! If you’ve got a reasonable amount of time,
you start over. We had a month off with DOUBT, four characters,
and we all came back. And we – I won’t say that we started from
scratch, but we were there to learn every new thing we could in the amount of time we
had before we went before the next audience, you know? Well, that’s a really important point, this
idea of taking time off and then coming back to something. I mean, the English get to do that a lot,
especially in Shakespeare. They’ll play a part over and over in different
productions. And I had that opportunity with a play called
AMAZING GRACE. I premiered it in Pittsburgh, we did it there,
and then a year went by, and then we brought it in to a little Off-Broadway theatre here
in New York. And the smallest amount of time off brings
– you come back with so much more information, in some weird way. Mmm-hmm. (NODS) It’s a really exciting process. Yeah. But I think that, in all fairness to Bob Falls,
what I was also referring to is that I think the actor has to ask the tough questions. You can’t be just so enthusiastic, even
if you’re dying to do the part, because you can really hurt. It can hurt after a while, if you’re not
on the same page at the get-go. Because you have this pre-conceived idea of
how you want to do it, perhaps, or what the play is about. Can I ask – has anyone worked with Romanians? (LAUGHTER) Yes! Yes, lots of ‘em! (LAUGHTER) Okay, because I have done a lot of plays directed
by Romanians. And they would not understand this conversation. Liviu … Liviu Ciulei. (LAUGHTER) Liviu Ciulei! (DOES THE ACCENT) “Yes, when you come to
zis part, you put your hand up like zis, and you grumble, ‘Rah-rahhrr!’” (LAUGHTER) Exactly! But the reason I bring it up is, having worked
with them and having done – and also with Peter Brook – productions that they had
done before, with an entirely new cast and being told every move – Wow! Every gesture! And loving it! And loving it? (BILLY NODS) Because it is an entirely different process. And if you are able to give yourself over
to it, and discover your own creativity within those confines, then they back off a little
bit, because something happens that, you know, is spon[taneous]. But it’s just a different way of working,
which they’re very used to, and it’s anathema to most of us. But I’ve given some of my best performances,
that were in fact my performances – I wasn’t doing, you know, Radovich (PH), whatever it
was that did it in, you know, Slovenia – but – (DOES THE ACCENT AGAIN) He’s good, though! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, I liked it! I saw him in RED NOSES! But it’s just – you have to – it is
a discipline. And some people, temperamentally, are just
– I did Kevin Kline’s HAMLET, the first time he did HAMLET, and Liviu Ciulei directed. And Kevin is absolutely temperamentally not
able to work that way, and that’s a perfectly valid thing, and so it was a very conflicted,
unpleasant, really interesting process (PH). (MUCH LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It’s what Marsha is saying too, about knowing
what you’re getting into. If you under[stand] – because, and I feel
this, and I say this without trying to diminish it – but I feel as though I’m a secondary
artist, maybe even a tertiary artist in many respects, because there’s the playwright,
and then there’s the director. I thrive when I know what I’m supposed to
do as a tool in the production. That’s when I really feel confident and
comfortable. That’s, at least, when I have an experience
that I enjoy and feel like it’s the most successful. Right. (NODS) And that could come from many different ways
of working. It could come from being – I went – when
I was doing ELEPHANT MAN with Sean Mathias, the entire company created the production. For better or worse, it was our production. And that was a thrilling environment. And then I went and did THE RESISTIBLE RISE
OF ARTURO UI, with Simon McBurney. And Simon works in a completely different
way. He’s sort of from the Romanian school. And I remember the first time I opened my
mouth – and I was playing a supporting in that – I remember the first time I opened
my mouth, as a member of the company, to express a point of view on the play, a play that I
had done before, there was a long – I said, “You know what? (CHERRY LAUGHS) It’s sort of as though blah-blah-blah,”
and I went into some crap. And Simon looked at me and he was like, “Ahem. Yes, right. Of course. Now!” (LAUGHTER) And I slowly melted back, and I
had to readjust my sense of how I was going to be a tool in this production. And once I did, you know, it was fine, but
that’s the catch. When actors find the balance inside those
kinds of productions, it can be thrilling. There’s this actress I love named Jenny
Bacon, who I saw do a lot of work for Mary Zimmerman in Chicago. And Mary’s productions are structured to
within an inch of their life. They are so visually stunning! Some actors don’t really fly in there, but
Jenny can! And she calls it a sort of soul-erasing experience. It’s not about Jenny coming on stage and
giving the performance of her life. She understands how she fits in Mary’s world. And the visuals are so stunning. And the experience, I think, is being completed
in the audience, is what’s happening in a way with those kinds of directors and those
kinds of productions. There’s that third element of the audience
is now going to fill in all the blanks, and the audience gets to have the emotional response
to the show, and maybe the actor doesn’t. And Jenny was saying it was a hard time for
her to learn that, but she ultimately did. What I want from a great director – I mean,
there are not that many great directors. I’ve worked with a few people that I think
are extraordinary. The best, probably, was Frank Galati. And Frank Galati was so thrilling because
he does that thing that I want all directors to do. As I said earlier, he doesn’t talk very
much, if at all. His enthusiasm is boundless, when he’s first
putting the production together, and you spend two weeks around the table. And you’re all in the same room, and it’s
like going to the best school you’ve ever been to! And he’s weeping over the play, and all
it can be! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And he says, “Oh,
it’s so great, you know?” He’s like a giant, wonderful teddy bear. And then you contribute and contribute and
contribute. And then (CLAPS), he’s in charge! That’s it! You get up from the table, and he’s like,
“Go here, go here, cross there. And you remember that thing we thought of
there? You do that here.” And you just – and he’s creating a world
that you know you’ve helped invent. But the world is happening around you. There are rules and regulations. And the space is functioning to help you tell
the story, but it is so structured. I was working on a new play with him, that
he was adapting. It’s so structured that you feel – that’s
why I said that you feel like you can’t do anything wrong, because the rules are so
clear. And you kind of helped create them with him. But he is so completely in charge. And he doesn’t say very much. By then, he will just sort of – He’s a painter. Yes! Yeah. He’ll just articulate, very simply, what
he needs you to do. And what you need to focus on, as an actor. I found that very helpful. I can intellectualize far too much, and he
got me right out of my head, you know? This issue of freedom and structure and editing
– David, almost everybody that talks about SPAMALOT makes it sounds as if you guys are
just up there havin’ a good time. I can’t imagine what those rehearsals were
like! (LAUGHTER) But how much — (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL) how much do you have freedom every night to do things in that show? How much was there of you got to try everything
you wanted in the rehearsal hall, and then suddenly, as we talk about great directors,
Mike Nichols finally coming in and saying, “Nope, sorry!”? The rehearsals were a lot of fun. (MUCH LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And the performances
are a lot of fun, and we stretch the bounds of what you would call professionalism as
far as we can get away with it. (LAUGHTER) But it was – the great thing
about it is, it is completely structured. It is, absolutely – the audience’s experience,
and our experience doing it, is one of spontaneous combustion and joy and fun and ridiculousness. And with very exceptions – in fact, really
one exception, which is a single speech that Hank Azaria has, where there is called for
an improvised line, and he changes it every night, and we all look forward to seeing what
the hell he’s going to come up with and we (LAUGHTER) either laugh or don’t! The pressure! But the process was very similar to what you
describe, Raul, as the ideal process, which was a lot of sort of free-forming – we had
a script, but the script changed a lot, because it was a new piece, finding a story line. Playing around a lot, Mike not saying “Nannh-annh-annh,”
encouraging here and there. Get to Chicago, get to sort of up on its feet,
suddenly he’s saying more and starting to cut and starting to do all that stuff. But the thing that I most remember is when
we were in performances, his note which was, as he calls [it] “killing babies,” which
is your favorite moment, “Don’t do it.” He said, “If you take it out, you can put
it back.” But as he also called [it], “that little
squeak and turn that you know if you do it, you get a laugh, don’t do it.” And that’s the thing that gave us the freedom
to know we don’t have to turn our head on this moment because that’s how you got the
laugh on that moment. Maybe that is how you got the laugh. Maybe if you don’t do that, you won’t
get the laugh. Who cares? There’s a million laughs in this show, that’s
not why we’re there! (MURMURS OF AGREEMENT FROM THE PANEL) And
so, he created this atmosphere where the play is, every single night, and often on matinees,
totally alive! (LAUGHTER, ESPECIALLY FROM THE PANEL) Is there a natural competitive nature amongst
all of you for those laughs? Thank God, no! Because a lot of time, actors do do that,
you know? Is there competition amongst the women of
STEEL MAGNOLIAS? Well, no, interestingly enough, no. But there is that – I could sense, periodically,
especially when we first started the performances, there was one conversation, and I won’t
mention names, where somebody was getting a laugh because of the way they were saying
a straight line and the person that had the, quote unquote, joke or the laugh wasn’t
getting it. And that was a very interesting dynamic. (CHERRY LAUGHS) Yeah, that happens, yes. So much for the Lunts! (LAUGHTER) But it’s fascinating, because comedy is
really timing. It’s sometimes not the joke, the line itself. So as we – the thing that I was curious
about was because as you get comfortable with the material, you find your way through it. You start to feel your wings. You start to feel your character more and
more, and so, all kinds of new stuff starts to develop. And I would think for a director it would
be fun to come back and see how a show has grown. I mean, that was my experience when I directed. You come back after three or four weeks and
see what they’re doing. And sometimes, you gotta rein ‘em in, but
other times it’s a whole wonderful thing, because you just had time to do it. And you don’t always know what you’re
[doing]. I remember, when I was doing THE HEIRESS,
I was trying so hard to keep it simple and pure and nothing baroque. I was just, you know – and I was so sure
I was doing that. I was sure! And Gerry Gutierrez came back, and I had a
line in the final scene of the play where I would turn to Franny Sternhagen, Aunt Penniman,
and say, “Let us have some lemonade.” And it was a line that was a put-down to her,
basically to say, “Shut up” was the line, but I could do it in a very civilized way
and the meaning was very clear. And Gerry came back, and I was sure he was
going to sweep in and say, “Oh, my pure darling, my little angel,” you know? (LAUGHTER) And he came in and he said, “You
know that line, ‘Let us have some lemonade’?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “It sounds like you have Barbara
Stanwyck in your throat with her hand on her hip.” (LAUGHTER) You know? And it’s so strange that we can’t always
– You don’t know. You don’t know. It’s so frustrating, yeah. That’s so interesting. We think we know, we just don’t! No, you don’t know how you’re coming across. You do it that many times, it’s just – yeah! Well, it is that thing – And sometimes you think you’ve given a great
performance, and the people out – you’re like, “This is exactly what I want to do!” And people come backstage and say, “What
were you doing tonight? That wasn’t – ” Yeah. And then you think you’re lousy, and the
director says, “That was wonderful!” and you have no idea why. Exactly, yeah. And you have no idea why. Comedies, you stand there and if somebody
breathes at the wrong moment on stage, it can kill a laugh, and you don’t know why! And then, but if you try to hold on so that
nobody breathes, then everybody’s frozen on stage and that kills that laugh, too. I can’t imagine a show that should be as
wild as a Monty Python sketch, you know, which needs so much freedom, and how structured
that obviously has to be. You know what it really, I think, needs and
has, and it goes back to what you said about competition, is we have, I would say, no competition
on stage. It is the most mutually supportive – not
the most, I’ve been actually, fortunately, with a lot of mutually supportive casts – but
it is a group of people who understand when it’s their moment and understand when it’s
someone else’s and love as much to pass the ball as they do [to shoot it themselves]. Right. So you never get into that, because that,
especially in this kind of context, just turns ugly and it’s a pain in the ass, and people
start doing the crabwalk upstage to see who can get further upstage from everyone — (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) Yeah, right, right, right! We don’t have any of that. Just the lean! (LAUGHTER) You kind of go – (DEMONTRATES
A SLOW LEAN) So we keep talking about the directors, and
earlier on, Cherry pointed out, “Or was it John Patrick Shanley’s choice?” In the process, how much do you hear from
the writer directly? When do you go to the writer to talk about
what you’re doing, or do you? Or does it all flow through the director? Especially in cases like (TO CHERRY) yours,
where you are playing – while this exact story may not be an incident from John Shanley’s
life, certainly it is based on people and experiences that he had. So how deep do you go with the author, versus
just taking the director’s interpretation? Well, the only real active connection that
we had with Shanley – Brian had to know his back story, to be able to play the priest. And so, Shanley – Do you know the back story? Oh, you’re gonna get there! I’m getting there! Oh, you’re gonna get there! Oh, okay. Shanley and Doug and Brian sat down one day
and sequestered themselves in the sacristy, and they decided absolutely the entire back
story. Oh, cool! And then of course they wouldn’t tell us. Oh, that’s wonderful! And they can’t tell us. I mean, we can’t know. And it’s so cool that we don’t know. Uh-huh. Because you can play with complete honesty
every night. It doesn’t – you know – Yeah. Yeah, your character wouldn’t know. Yeah. And I have a final line at the end of the
play, which is completely ambiguous. It can be taken any way. And I have a feeling, in talking to Shanley
about this line, it’s like talking to Pinter about certain lines of his. It doesn’t really matter to him what the
actor plays, because it’s so actor-proof! Because of course – Because it’s so ambiguous. It allows the audience to take away– That’s true. That’s so true. It’s stunning, that last line, yeah. And so, I can do whatever I want to, and it
may be exactly opposite to what Shanley thought as he wrote it. But it doesn’t matter. But also, it creates this immediate dialogue
for the audience. Yeah. Because I went with friends, and we spent
the rest of the evening talking about what that line meant, which then played back into
what the whole play is about, which I thought was quite brilliant playwriting on his part. Yeah, yeah, yes. You think you know something about a play
when you read it, and then it turns out to be different, also, in the performance of
it, watching another actor interpret it. PILLOWMAN was like that for me. When I read it, because I was just curious
about it, and then seeing it, I had one opinion about what had happened when I read it. And when I saw it, I had an entirely different
opinion. And for days afterwards, I was like, “Wait
a minute!” And I said, “Is it the actor who came up
with that, or is that in the play and I missed it when I read it?” Was it good? Yeah, it was good! It was great! (LAUGHTER; POINTS TO HIS NOSE, SO BILLY CAN
PUNCH HIM) I like it on the nose, here! (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) Yeah, sure! Opened it right up for me! But doesn’t it depend upon the playwright? There are playwrights who are very specific
about their plays, to the point where they can be anal-retentive about it. And then – I mean, I remember – whether
it’s apocryphal or not – there was a famous playwright who literally, when somebody said,
“We’ve got to cut this big section,” he brought it back in the next day and it
had no punctuation. (LAUGHTER) But you know, I think it depends. I mean, having worked with Pinter to Neil
Simon to then, of course, dead playwrights you can’t really talk to (LAUGHS) so you
just have the director. Or somebody like Chuck Mee, Charles Mee, who
literally doesn’t really want to say too much, you know? You know, where they kind of sit back and
they don’t really want to say too much. Pinter certainly doesn’t want to say too
much, and yet he knows when he sees it what he thinks is right or what isn’t working. But he doesn’t really get into any discussion. And especially with OLD TIMES, I mean, which
is one of the most enigmatic – or certainly, one of the most enigmatic. Well, you get the other side of that, where
we had Larry Kramer in rehearsals for NORMAL HEART, and Larry won’t – he’ll let – he’ll
say, “I’ll be quiet! I’ll be quiet!” (LAUGHTER) And he’ll sort of sit in the
back of the room. And you’ll be rehearsing a scene (LAUGHS)
– I remember there was a day one of the producers came in, who he didn’t like. And we were rehearsing the scene, and all
of a sudden you hear, (SNARLS) “Will you please leave! (BILLY LAUGHS) You’re spoiling the scene! You are, you are!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And we were, “What’s
going on?” “Leave, leave, leave!” And everybody just sort of stopped, and David
Esbjornson went, “What? What’s going on over there?” Or he’ll watch – we’ll be doing the
scene, and you think, “Oh, Larry’s really into it.” And he’ll go, (POINTS) “That chair squeaks. (LAUGHTER) Change the chair!” And there was a preview performance where
the chair was still squeaking, and he ran down in front of the audience after the show,
during NORMAL HEART, took the chair and said, “It squeaks! It squeaks!” and threw it on the floor and
jumped up and down on it. (DEMONSTRATES; LAUGHTER) No kidding! No wonder we love what we do! That’s not milk! (PH) Okay, so let me ask for volunteers. Don’t you want to go up to Martin McDonagh
and say, “Do you talk to your folks?” (LAUGHTER) I met his mother! He was there every day during rehearsals. And he was there for clarification, which
was really useful and constructive. But a writer creates in a completely different
environment. It’s a solitary environment, mostly. And so, what they know how to do is talk to
themselves about what works and what doesn’t work. A director works in a collaborative environment. So even if the writer knows precisely what
the problem is and what the solution is, the manner in which you communicate that is relevant,
particularly to an actor. It’s relevant, because you get things in
your head that sometimes you can’t get out of your head. Sometimes they might be commenting on something
that’s a particular problem of yours as an actor that will stir a kind of self-consciousness. So a director is privy to all of the things
– a good director, and most directors, really – are privy to the ways that you communicate
issues. So I’ve found, in terms of discussing character
development, in terms of discussing the way specific things are played, it’s not as
constructive for me to hear precisely what the writer thinks. It’s better for it to go through the filter
of the director. And they were great at that relationship,
John and Martin were. And Martin’s notes were very precise, about
the text and about what worked and what didn’t. And he was there to remind you about all of
the punctuation, about the precision of the language. And I was going to say something – oh, yeah,
I met his mother! Yeah, (LAUGHTER) I did. And I think Martin feels like – there’s
a line in the play where I say, “I think people who only write about what they know
only write about what they know because they’re too stupid to make anything up.” And I think there’s a spirit of that in
Martin. I think he really enjoys the imagination. I think he really enjoys the construct of
this box that he can tell any kind of story he wants, that he can really poke and prod
people in the most provocative and exciting ways. And he happens to be very crafty at it. He happens to be a very good craftsman as
well. So once you meet him and get to know him,
you’re not so concerned for your own well-being (LAUGHTER) and the well-being of his immediate
family. To change gears now entirely, there’s always
a sense, as actors go along in their career, that we start to believe we know the roles
they can or should play. And how do you make sure that people continue
to think of you for as many different roles as possible? I mean, I’m going to give an example using
David. David mentioned earlier that he had done HAMLET
with Liviu Ciulei, and it’s very easy for someone who’s been on a sitcom for as long
as you were for everybody to suddenly believe you are that person! (DAVID NODS) And yet, you’ve done several
Shakespeares. You’ve done an extraordinary amount. You’ve worked with all these Romanians,
apparently! (LAUGHTER) How do you now get back out into
doing the same breadth of work and make sure that you still can get the challenges that
you want? You know, for me it was to come back to New
York. Because fortunately, there are people in the
business now who knew me then, knew me before, understood that I could do other things. And it’s part of what makes me feel like
I’m back home now, that the TV image is very powerful, you know, in the film world,
in the television world, you know, across the country at the mall. But to come back here and just have people
who know I can do other things – I mean, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m doing this show. And I’m working in this show, like with
Mike Nichols, who I’ve worked with over the years in theatre and in film, doing other
kinds of things. And also, sometimes you just have to beat
down doors and audition. I mean, that’s what I did for STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Because, you know, if friends of mine are
out in Los Angeles and they hear that I’m doing STEEL MAGNOLIAS, they think I’m doing
another part in the play than the part I’m doing, because that isn’t how I’m seen. Because this thing that you’re talking about
is so prevalent in film. And basically, the issue was, “Well, Marsha
is such a nice person. How can she possibly play Ouiser?” And that’s not to say that they didn’t
have an imagination. They were open to the idea, but I had to come
in and convince them. And was it even tough getting seen for the
part? Did your agents really have to work? No, fortunately I knew a producer. (LAUGHTER) But I didn’t know – and I knew
the playwright, but socially. I didn’t – you know what I mean. But I didn’t know the director and the director
didn’t know me, and so, I said, “I’ll come in and audition.” And I had to make a case for it. And then I got Shirley MacLaine [who played
the role in the movie] to call them. (LAUGHTER) She didn’t use a phone! (LAUGHTER) That’s right! (LAUGHTER) Cherry, do you – you’ve done a wide array
of roles, but are there still things out there that you have to convince people you’re
right for? Well, I don’t know who in the hell thought
I could do this one! I mean – Well, except it’s not your first nun role
this year. You also were on a TV series. Shhh! I don’t want people to think that I’ve
got something going (LAUGHTER), that this is going to be the new thing. Well, exactly! In fact, I was offered a third nun this year. I said, “Get out of here!” (LAUGHTER) But you know, an acquaintance called
and said, “You know, I so admire that you took this role, not thinking a bit about your
career!” (LAUGHTER, ESPECIALLY FROM MARSHA) Yeah, yeah! And I’ve just never – you know, I don’t
know how Doug Hughes thought I could do this role. And I read it, I loved it, I was like, “Yes,
I want to do it!” And then we got about a month before rehearsals
started, and I thought, “There is no way in the world I’m going to be able to pull
this off,” you know? But because it was Doug Hughes, I was able
to, because he just spoon-fed me so much of the character, and made sure that I became
increasingly appalling (LAUGHTER) as the weeks of rehearsals went on. But you don’t – I think, as an actor,
you don’t think about – I’ve never thought about “my career,” ever. I’ve just depended on the kindness of artistic
directors (LAUGHTER), you know, and the network that you build through a career of just knowing
people who think, “I’ve seen this glimmer in her eye!” or Doug knowing, “I’ve
seen that righteous anger when she talks about George Bush!” (LAUGHTER) Or you know, whatever it was, you
know, that people realize that you can – they see a spark that they know will work with
the role. And so you can’t – I mean, maybe now I’ll
be doomed to playing prison matrons for the rest of my life (LAUGHTER), but you know,
I’ve gotten to play a lot of heroines, and I bet there are some pretty fun prison matrons
out there! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next,
but I would like to think it would be, you know, a very tight, 1950’s silhouette with
some nice stilettos. (LAUGHTER) And Raul, going into light musical comedy,
after roles like CABARET and TABOO and NORMAL HEART? Well, that was part of the reason I was attracted
to it, was that it was so different. But was it something that your agents had
to push to get you seen? Was it something that you sought? No, they called me. They called me, they wanted me to come in
and meet with Adrian. And I actually was the one who went, “Oh,
this! I’m not right. No, no, this is not me. I can’t do this, it’s silly.” And I kept seeing Dick Van Dyke in my head,
and then I said, “Oh no, that’s not me!” And the secret, I think, to CHITTY CHITTY
BANG BANG is that it mostly requires a great deal of innocence and a lot of joy in the
playing in it, and we can all find that in ourselves. When I got past what my own conceptions were
about what the part should be, and how complicated or whatever it should be, and the things I
had to get rid of, I thought they were a little crazy for calling me in the first place. And then, I went, “Oh, well, maybe there’s
something I can do here that they see that I didn’t know I had.” There are parts you get drawn to – for myself,
sometimes I find myself drawn to parts that live in extremes of either joy or sadness
that I don’t in my life. I’m not saying it’s therapy, it’s just
really kind of fun to get up there and run the gamut of emotions that you would never
wish on anyone you knew or yourself in your life. That’s sort of wonderful! That’s the whole point that we go to the
theatre sometimes is to live in that sort of dangerous and fearful place. But generally, what attracts me to a role,
and what attracts me to any real theatre and what I think should be the standard is, something
that’s good. Something that moves you, something that you
feel like, “I absolutely must get out there and do this!” And you can’t do – as Cherry says, I’ve
been very inexperienced in terms of “my career,” because I’ve never been able
to sit down and say, “Well, the good career move would be to do this next, because I just
did that.” And it seems to have happened, but it really
was because I was attracted to the idea of a part, or what might be challenging, or what
seems so good about the piece, or the people you’re going to be working with. And then I think – and then, the other side
of it, too, is that after having done TABOO and NORMAL HEART, and then I did a Sidney
Lumet film where I played a crack addict murderer. So after that (LAUGHS), after we wrapped on
that on December, and then I thought, “I need to do something where I don’t leave
work (LAUGHS) thoroughly depressed about my life,” you know? And you do. You leave CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG in a great
mood. And there’s something to be said for that,
too. You do carry these characters – (TO CHERRY)
I know I’ve said this to you before – you carry these characters around with you a little
bit, the world you live in in the play. Or at least I do. It affects my life a little bit! And it’s nice to go to work and leave in
a good mood! (LAUGHS) How do you get the theme song out of your
head? You can’t! (LAUGHTER) I’m singing it right now, actually. (LAUGHTER) I think we’re all singing it right now! And the other killer is a song called “Posh”
that Phil Bosco does. Now that is a – seeing Philip Bosco running
around on stage, you know, singing this song. (CHERRY LAUGHS) There’s a song called “Posh”
that they play in the curtain call, I would say seven thousand times (CHERRY LAUGHS),
over and over. And you leave the theatre going, (SINGS) “Posh,
posh, traveling life, the traveling life … thank you for coming to the show! And where’s my car? I need to have dinner!” (LAUGHTER) It just sort of takes you around! It just takes you through your life. It wakes you up in the morning and puts you
to sleep. (LAUGHS) Okay. But to pursue now, something you said, that
when you do a show, you take some of it home – Billy, do you take the show home with
you? (LAUGHTER) And I don’t mean this show, specifically,
but when you’re doing – whether you’re doing a play, doing a film, how much of it
do you get it all out when you’re doing it and you’re free? And how much of it do you internalize? And does it become a part of your life for
as long as you’re doing it? I really haven’t found a solution to that. It changes from thing to thing. And sometimes I’m surprised by the extent
to which something affects me, and sometimes I’m glad when something doesn’t affect
in some sort of negative way. With this piece, specifically? There’s a kind of hope in it, and I don’t
know precisely what it is, but there is a kind of hope in it that is the last moment
that I experience onstage. And for some reason, the last moment is relevant. And there’s an exuberance in doing something
that I really like, that I appreciate, and that I’m – you know, I feel tremendously
grateful to be doing this part in this play. I think it’s my great good fortune. So I carry that with me a lot. But in general, do any of you find yourself
otherwise taking the role home? Yeah, a little bit I do, yeah. I remember a playwright that I knew who very
often would write plays with his girlfriend in mind. And it was very interesting to notice how
many times he was writing parts where she played a femme fatale or a prostitute! (LAUGHTER) And she took her work home with
her! Well, you know, I wanted to add something
to that. The process of doing theatre is different
for me, in this respect, from doing a film, in that I get to complete that journey in
an evening. The play typically has a life of its own. And so, there is a gratification to finishing
it that I typically leave it there. Not during rehearsal. During rehearsal, all the pieces are kind
of, you know, painfully floating around. But then once you’re doing it, you know,
in the regimen of doing eight shows a week, every night I complete that journey and that
leaves me pretty well exhausted of the material. When I’m doing a film, it’s three months
of constantly living in whatever temperature setting the screenwriter has made for you. And that can be really debilitating, I’ve
found, the difficult ones, the emotionally difficult ones. Marsha, how about you? Yeah, I find that I do wind up taking stuff
home with me, and I’m not even fully aware of it. Not props! We’re not talking about props. (LAUGHTER) No, no! She’s opening her own beauty salon! It was a problem, yeah, but she cleared that
up! (LAUGHTER) Miss Klepto here! I have an entire beauty shop in my living
room! Oh, come on, you have to take something from
every show you’re in! I don’t know where that brush went But most of the time, I’m unaware of it
until somebody says something to me. Like, when I was married, you know. Or before I start a project, something starts
to happen to me. And it was, you know, my husband that said
to me, I freaked out in Ireland, of all places. And he said, “Oh, please! You’re just – it’s two weeks before
you start working. You’re always like this.” So it’s like, “Oh! Oh, okay. I don’t have to worry so much,” do you
know what I mean? And then just yesterday, I (LAUGHS) got a
massage between shows, which I had never done. Usually I just kind of chill. And I got a massage between shows, and the
massage therapist knows me well and said, “You seem a little down.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m a little
down. Not too tired, though.” And he looked at me and he said, “Well,
does it have anything to do with the idea that you’re – ” and I said, “I just
feel really bad about, you know, everything.” And he said, (LAUGHS) “Well, don’t you
think it has something to do with the fact that you’re playing somebody who’s ten
years older than you are and she’s in a no-win situation?” (LAUGHS, AND SO DOES CHERRY) So I thought,
“Oh, yeah!” You know, I hadn’t [thought about that]. (LAUGHTER) So I woke up this morning feeling
much better. (LAUGHTER) So I know I take some of it home. I did a series of three things, back to back. I can’t even remember – I was sitting
here thinking, “What were they?” and I can only think of two. But I know there were three! But I’ve just blocked the third one out. But three very grim plays, back to back. And at the end, I was deeply depressed – I
was depressed! And finally, I thought I have got to – I
remember Jack O’Brien said, “Honey, we can take care of that depression!” I said, “How?” He said, “A comedy! (LAUGHTER) That’ll do it!” Right, it does. And it really did. And I did do something much lighter and silly
and frivolous afterwards and it was just – it was heaven! Yeah, much better. Because you do just – because it became
a chore to go to work at night. Because where I had to go every night was
so – to such a dark place. And you just get tired of killing off everyone
you know and love! (LAUGHTER) And you know, all the things you
– Yes, if you’re in a good mood, you don’t
want to abandon that! Right! Right, yeah. Yeah, yeah. The hard part seems – and I don’t know
how you guys feel about it – the hard part for me is a matinee to an evening of a particularly
powerful thing, like NORMAL HEART. And even tick, tick … BOOM! to some extent,
which was interesting for me – to go from what Ned Weeks does not know at the beginning
of the play [NORMAL HEART] to all the horrible things he learns and lives through at the
end. And then … to do it again! Yes. And so, you have to forget what you just experienced,
and you can not hold onto those emotions, and you can’t – you can just (BREATHES
OUT) back to a place of total peace. What do you do to do that? I go for long walks. I buy myself a book. I eat something I really like. And I listen to music. And I sit and laugh with friends, like just
to clear my head. That’s what I’ll do. I won’t think about the play. It’s also, to me – not only is it probably
one of the biggest challenges we have, it’s also perhaps the greatest pleasure of the
theatre, which is you must – if you’re really going to have it happen again that
night, even though you know it happened earlier that day, you actually have to be in that
moment. You aren’t always. You can’t always be there. But it’s such pleasure to have that imaginative
act that for you and them and between all of you, “Yeah, we know we’ve said this
before, but not this way! Not – ” That’s just – that’s the
magic. And if you find other actors who want to run
with you in that capacity. I’ve also – I like – I don’t – no,
I like to change up every show, I really do. And some people really hate me for that, and
some people like it. That’s true. I’m like that also. There are actors who enjoy it, and actors
who don’t. Within the confines of the blocking, the character,
everything that’s been described, everything that you’ve worked on, I still like to come
out and see what – What tonight is. What tonight is. Yeah. Whereas some actors get really thrown by that. They’re very frightened by that. I think it’s a road map. I’m trying to get from Miami to Chicago,
but I could go by way of Tennessee. You know, it’s okay. It’s not the fastest! No, I know! (LAUGHTER) Maybe stop in Atlanta for some
food, you know. I just – it’s that. And some people really are frightened by that,
but that’s the only way I know how to pretend I’ve never done it before is that I even
trick myself to imagine that I have no idea what the next line is sometimes. Just when someone else is talking, I find
that helps me a lot, particularly at the beginnings of plays. Yeah, ‘cause anticipation – do you find
that anticipation is a big issue for all of us, right? Mmm-hmmm. Just to keep it new, because pretty soon I’ve
found myself – and especially, I think, in a comedy, because so much of it is about
timing and everything. So you find yourself starting to look at the
person who’s about to speak, as opposed to waiting until they speak. And then I have to have that serious talk
again when I go back, you know what I mean? It’s like – so it’s new every time. Mmm-hmm. And you also find yourself, as I said earlier,
not moving in a particular way, or being aware of the things that you did last night that
will get that laugh that you know is in the line, and then you have to throw it away. You have to, have to. And I say I trick myself into pretending I
don’t know what the next line is, but the best thing for me about the little film experience
I had was that I felt so relieved that all I had to do was listen to the other actors. If they were good, I didn’t have to make
a choice. I could just simply listen to them and it
would just happen. That was a shock to me because on stage (LAUGHS)
you hear the same line over and over every night and it starts to lose its meaning, and
you have to play a little game with yourself so that you really don’t know what’s coming. And you don’t know what tonight will be. I don’t know what the audience will give
us. I really believe that the audience completes
that performance every evening, in a way. Mmm. I do, too. If they’re going to sit there, and sometimes
they do and (SINKS LOWER AND LOWER INTO HIS SEAT, LOOKING REALLY BORED; LAUGHTER) And
then their feet go up on the edge of the stage, and you can’t – I get so angry! Because it’s like, “You want a good show? You have to participate! Because you’re going to tell me where to
go tonight. I don’t know. It’s the only way we can keep it fresh.” And then they leave, saying, “Oh, that wasn’t
very good.” Well, you weren’t very good, either! (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) But – but – but! The opposite is also true, when they’re
wonderful and they laugh at something you never imagined was funny, or they respond
emotionally to something, then that helps guide you again through the play in a way
you never thought. Now no one will ever come see me do anything
ever again! (LAUGHTER) Are you belligerent at the curtain call? “Boo!” “Boo!” “Boo!” I think I did! There was one performance of CHITTY CHITTY
BANG BANG recently where the audience was absolutely just dead quiet. And I came out to bow at the end. And you know, I mean, there’s confetti! And there’s streamers! And there’s someone who got shot out of
the sky in a flying car! And there are dogs! And the entire audience was like (CLAPS FEEBLY,
ROLLS HIS EYES; LAUGHTER). And I came down to bow, and I came up going,
“Oh!” (LOOKS AT THE AUDIENCE WITH HORROR AND DISGUST;
LAUGHTER) And I felt it! I went, “Oh, my God!” (PUTS HIS HANDS OVER HIS MOUTH TO PUSH IT
BACK; LAUGHTER) Sort of help myself from going, “What is the matter with you?! I mean, (POINTS TO THE SHOW BEHIND HIM) that’s
all we got! (LAUGHTER) That’s as good as it gets, people!”
(LAUGHTER) Oh! So we’re talking about keeping the performance
itself fresh, but it’s worth noting that for any actor, it is a very physical experience
as well as an emotional and intellectual experience. And every night, at a certain moment, you
have to summon this! And I sometimes hear actors talking about,
“Oh, my God, it’s six thirty, and I have to do this again!” How do you – what’s your process as you
roll into it? What do you need to do for yourselves, to
get yourself ready to start hitting those moments, and to indeed find those emotions
on cue? Do you need to chill out? Do you need to do activities? What’s the run-up? I have just a real quick one, ‘cause mine
is so quick! Oh, okay. I get there almost at half hour, every night! (LAUGHS) I’m always just within, you know,
a couple of seconds of being late. But I never am, ever! (LAUGHTER) I really am not! The understudy’s waiting in the wings! Yeah! But I never need – for Sister Aloysius,
I need absolutely no prep, because Sister Aloysius would not sit in her dressing room! (LAUGHTER) You know, so the less time I have
to get ready, the more time I – it’s a better use of my time in preparing for her,
because she is on a schedule, and she has no time. She’s a principal of a school. She’s in a very strict order of nuns. And so, I just breeze in there. I brush my eyebrows down. (LAUGHTER) I throw on my habit, and tie my
bonnet, where (LAUGHS) I have a callus on my chin now! And off I go. But I learned very quickly that that was gonna
be my prep for her. Other roles, I’d be there, you know, an
hour, an hour fifteen before. I’m not one of those people who ever gets
there at an hour and a half, because (LAUGHS) I love my own life too much to go that early
to the theatre! But it’s been wonderful to just sort of
breeze in. And it’s only ninety minutes! So, you know, I mean – (SNAPS HER FINGERS;
LAUGHTER) You’re upstairs at Angus McIndoe before
we know it! That’s right! (LAUGHTER) Other people? It varies from performance to performance. This show in particular requires a lot vocally. And so, the way that I achieve that is by
a physical warm-up. So I give myself twenty minutes and just try
to find as much comfort and relaxation in wherever I am that day, and make sure my voice
is in the best possible place it can be. But I don’t do anything in terms of psychological
warm-up until I get on stage. I really just want to be poised. I know the play. I know how it works. I know typically how to tell the best version
of the story. I can’t always do that, but the best way
for me to achieve that is to simply participate in the first moment in as poised and relaxed
a way as I can. And I do that with a physical warm-up. Yeah, I usually go to the theatre about an
hour, forty-five minutes to an hour before curtain time. Even if I don’t come on right away, which
in this play I don’t. But I find that I have to sort of put the
day away. But the question that you asked, which was
really interesting to me, which is if you have the feeling of “Oh, God, it’s six
thirty and I have to go to the theatre,” then I think you should quit that job. Because I don’t think that’s gonna do
you any good and I don’t think that it’s gonna do the play any good, do you know what
I mean? You’ve got to then take a look at why have
you lost your passion for [the play]? Go back to what it is that excited you about
it. I mean, if you’re doing it for the paycheck,
which I know we all, you know, have to do. But still, there’s got to be a way for you
to be able to celebrate the event and to treat it – It’s really hard. It’s hard to be an actor, and it’s hard
to find good work. And so, when it comes along, the biggest lesson
I ever learned was, early on when I was doing those films and suddenly became really successful
and all that kind of stuff, I wasn’t really prepared for it. So in some ways, I never gave myself permission
to really enjoy it, ‘cause I was still sort of stuck in the struggle of it all, you know? ‘Cause that’s what I was familiar with,
was struggling. So now I’ve come to, you know, a ripe age
where, by God, I’m just going to enjoy absolutely everything that happens to me, even the tough
stuff, do you know what I mean? Because otherwise, you’re gonna miss out. So I wipe the slate clean every night. You don’t know who’s gonna be in the audience. You want to do it, ‘cause somebody’s feeling
really low, and you’re gonna make them laugh. When I look out in the curtain call, and I
see a grown 375-pound man who’s squooshed into a seat sobbing his heart out (LAUGHTER),
you go, “Oh, I’ve made my night!” (CHERRY LAUGHS) You know? “That made my week! (LAUGHTER) I got him to feel something!” And like Raul, too, I think it’s the engagement
with the audience, do you know what I mean? It’s filling that air. It’s feeling. It’s the stuff that gives you those goose
bumps, you know, where you know you’re taking this kind of spiritual trip, if you will,
do you know what I mean? Without it being – You start to feel like, “Ooh, I can’t
wait to show you this, what comes next!” Like, “Now we get to do this!” You feel like a little kid going, “I’m
gonna tell you a great story, and I get to do this part of the story now for you.” And there’s something wonderful about not
starting a play. Most of the time, I’ve always started a
play, and then this time, there’s twenty-three pages. But what’s really interesting is, I listen
for the first response from the audience, and I know exactly the kind of audience that
I’m gonna go out there and deal with. Mmm-hmm. And somebody asked me once, they said, “Isn’t
it really hard to come into the scene twenty-three pages later?” which is true. You have no idea what it’s really feeling
like and you just have to go in there. So I use all of those experiences to keep
my enthusiasm, you know, up. We’ve talked a lot today about audience. And I’m curious, inevitably you are – you
maybe get letters, you have people at the stage door, you’re stopped in the street. What are the most meaningful things that audience
members [say]? What have you heard from people that really
means a lot to you? It’s easy for people to just come up and
say, “I love you!” or “I’m your biggest fan,” which of course now gets scary because
of Stephen King’s MISERY. (LAUGHTER) But what are the things you hear
from an audience, not that we want them now all to come up to you on the street and say
this, after watching the seminar, but what does touch you individually? Because we’ve talked about a general response. David? Well, I know on this show something that I
wasn’t expecting, which we hear in different forms all the time, which is, “God, we needed
this!” People come to that show, and we sometimes
will have a very quiet first act. We have never had a performance where we had
a quiet second act. The audience, by the end of that show, just
goes insane. It’s just – it’s the combination of
elements, but it’s also that thing of having this piece at this particular time. And in some cases, it’s a very personal
reason. They needed it because – we had a couple
in Chicago that their son was killed in a car accident, you know, six months before,
and it was the first time they’d gone out and laughed. Things like that, that are that specific. But just more generally, that idea that not
only did people have a good time and enjoyed themselves and they thought it was funny,
but that they needed it. Cherry? I think that – and speaking personally,
it’s when students come up, that’s always the thing that I’m most pleased about. Just because I know how much people – the
few professional actors I ever got to speak to when I was a young woman, how much watching
their work or – I did get to ask Colleen Dewhurst a question when I was sixteen of
“How do you keep it fresh?” And I just remember, she threw back her head
and did that huge amazing laugh of hers and said, “You don’t! (LAUGHTER) You learn to fake it really well!” But that, to me, it’s whenever a young person
comes up, and I quickly realize that they’re in acting school or a young actor and we have
a talk, that’s sort of – I just sort of live for that. It’s marvelous. Yeah, I find that for me, the thing that’s
interesting about this play is we don’t have the sort of normal New York audience
that I think goes to DOUBT or PILLOWMAN or SPAMALOT. We’re getting a lot of people from outside
the city. And the marketing people realize that that’s
sort of where this play goes. So consequently, when I come out the stage
door, there are any number of people who go, “This is my very first play!” (MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE) You know? And it touches me so much! And I’m so relieved it was us (LAUGHTER)
that introduced them! Because they got to laugh and they got to
cry, and grown men saying, (DOES A SOUTHERN ACCENT) “Well, ma’am, I just don’t know. I never seen a play before, but boy, I just
was bawlin’ by the end!” (LAUGHTER) So it makes you, you know, you
think, “Well, thank God that there’s a few people,” because then they’re gonna
go back home and they’re going to read that the community theatre’s doing something
or a road show is coming in. And our ability to be able to continue to
work (LAUGHS) is surviving! Yes! You know, by dribs and drabs, I grant you,
but it’s still out there. And it gives regional theatre a strong sense
that maybe they’ll get another person to come in to the theatre. I like that idea. Yeah. So as we’re talking about people coming
into theatre and students, we’ve just got a couple of minutes left. So I just want to ask you all quickly, as
you were coming into the business and as you were learning your craft, either educationally,
specific training, or just coming along the way – quickly, what is probably the single
thing that you didn’t expect to learn, but when you discovered it, it was eye-opening
for you? Billy, I’m going to put you on the spot. About the business? About just what you’ve had to learn as a
performer. I think that discovering where I’m at in
my life, discovering what’s available to me now, what I’m feeling now, what I’m
thinking now, what is the closest approximation of some kind of, you know, core to me at any
specific moment, whatever it is, is probably one of the most constructive tools I can have
as an actor. Trying to be a specific way, trying to mimic
something that’s worked before, trying to fit into somebody’s idea of me, are not
going to help me to be successful in the way that I would like to be, most frequently. Marsha? If I understand your question correctly – say
it again? Just the one thing you learned as you were
starting out that was perhaps the most eye-opening or most important lesson. I think the most important lesson I learned
was, I didn’t know why I was doing it when I first started. I didn’t. I just wanted to do it desperately, and I
had this passion for it and I just had to do it, so much so that I was reckless in the
sense of coming to New York and I didn’t see any of the negative aspects or the scary
things. And then, somewhere along the line, I realized
that I had to do it for that reason, for the passion, but at the same time it couldn’t
be about my ego. And that was a big lesson for me, because
if I got hung up on the ego part, then for me, it’s so weird. It’s like as if they always know. I somehow can’t hide if I’m coming from
an ego place or a truthful place. And I always do better when I’m coming from
the truthful place. I don’t know. Somehow it just works. And then, when I come from an ego place, or
I’m coming from that place, then it just never works. So I think those were the two – that was
the most important key thing, you know? David? I think it was the thing that scared me most
about trying to be a professional actor was most of the acting books that I had read,
even the books by the greatest acting teachers, had the line in it, “Don’t be an actor
if you can do anything else.” (LAUGHTER) They all said that! They all, that was their advice. It was like, you know, “If you can choose
any other profession, do it. Don’t be an actor.” And my discovery was, that’s bullshit. That when I meet my colleagues in this business
and realize what complete human beings they are, and that the more they have to offer,
the more able [they are]. They could do any job, almost, except business
related. (LAUGHTER) Physics! We bring all of that to what we do. And that was a big revelation to me, that
it was okay for me to be in this, even though I might have been able to do something else,
had I chosen to. And I regret that unfortunately, we don’t
have the time for me to get to the answers (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) from our other panelists! I want to thank everyone for joining us today. The American Theatre Wing’s “Working in
the Theatre” seminars are brought to you from the CUNY Graduate Center by the American
Theatre Wing, in association with the CUNY Department of Continuing Education and Public
Programs, as well as our long-time partners at CUNY-TV. If you’ll all join me in thanking out panelists
for being with us! (APPLAUSE) Thanks, everybody.

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