Playwright and Director (Working In The Theatre #271)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I am President of the American Theatre Wing. And once again, these seminars are coming
to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York City. These seminars offer a very rare opportunity
to hear discussions of the realities of working in the theatre, from an extraordinary list
of performers, playwrights, directors, designers, casting directors, press agents, union and
guild leaders. And since the Wing first introduced these
seminars, 25 years ago, nearly 1000 of Broadway’s and Off-Broadway’s very best have been our
seminar guests, to share their knowledge with us. The Wing is founder of the Tony Awards, and
perhaps best known for it, and we are justly proud of it. However, year-round we work in the community
for the theatre. And our distinguished achievements that I
am very proud of, the way that we service the community through the theatre. Many of you know how much we do during the
year, but many of you do not, so I’m going to go on with it and tell you what it is that
we do year-round, not only to make the theatre so important to the community, but also to
give the Tony Awards a live, active role, beyond the Tony Awards in June. We honor excellence in the theatre for the
awards, but we also honor service. And we try to promote and to educate a discriminating
audience. To do this, we have created audience development
programs for students. And “Introduction to Broadway” is one
of our programs, that began seven years ago and has enabled over 70,000 New York City
high school students to come to the theatre, many of them to come to see a Broadway or
an Off-Broadway show for the very first time, many of them on Broadway for the very first
time. Then there’s our newest program, “Theatre
in Schools.” Here, theatre professionals, like those you
see today on the panel, will meet with the students. They go directly into the classrooms. They work with and talk to the students about
working in the theatre, what is ahead for them as they enter the world of theatre. And of course, there is the Wing’s legendary
hospital program, which dates back to World War Two and the Stage Door Canteen. And through it, performers from Broadway,
Off-Broadway and the cabaret world have entertained more than 75,000 patients in nursing homes,
veterans’ hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers. All of these in the New York area, and bringing
the magic of theatre to those that can not get to the theatre itself. We are proud of our history and the work we
do, and we’re happy to have a wonderful working relationship with the theatrical community. We are grateful to everyone that makes what
the American Theatre Wing does possible. And so, having said all of that, I hope that
you will enjoy and learn from today’s seminar. And this seminar is on the Playwright/Director. And I’d like to introduce to you, from my
left, Lonny Price, Michael Mayer. And then across, I’m going to skip our moderators,
go into Moises Kaufman, Warren Leight, Jeff Baron. And I’ve skipped Matthew Warchus. (LAUGHTER) There he is. And now, I’d like to introduce our moderators,
Wendy Wasserstein, playwright. That’s all I can say here. (WENDY LAUGHS) Wendy. (APPLAUSE) Thank you. And with Wendy is Thomas Cott, who is Director
of Marketing and Special Events for Lincoln Center Theatre. Tom? (APPLAUSE) They, I hope, will tell you how
simple it is to write for the theatre. (LAUGHTER) Thank you very much for being here. Before we start, I thought we should just
give a brief bio about everyone on this panel. Jeff Baron left a successful corporate career
to be a writer. Since that time, he’s written a couple of
operas, a libretto for an opera called ESCAPE, and a comic opera, SONG OF MARTINA. His film THE BRUCE DIET (PH) won the Golden
Eagle award and has been featured at film festivals around the world. For television, he has written for the Tracey
Ullman Show, and one of my favorites, “A Year in the Life.” And he has a new play, VISITING MR. GREEN, his first play, currently Off-Broadway. Jeff Baron. (APPLAUSE) To his right is Warren Leight, whose current
play is SIDE MAN, which just finished a limited engagement Off-Broadway and is about to resume
at another theatre, at the Roundabout Theatre on Broadway. His other credits include THE LOOP, which
featured a pre-”Ally McBeal” Calista Flockhart, and another new play, STRAY CATS, coming to
Off-Broadway in May. He wrote the book to the musical MAYER, which
received a Drama Desk nomination, book and lyrics to THE HIGH-HEELED WOMEN CABARET ACT,
which won the Outer Critics’ Circle Award, and had many one-acts performed around town
at the Atlantic Theatre, Naked Angels, Circle Rep and La Mama. Welcome, Warren Leight. (APPLAUSE) To his right is Moises Kaufman, who is the
writer and director of GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE. He’s also the founder and artistic director
of Tectonic Theatre Project, which I’m sure we’ll hear more about, and he’s directed
a number of plays for them as well as plays elsewhere. He also teaches directing at the 42nd Street
Collective and is the winner of last year’s Joe A. Callaway Award for excellence in the
craft of direction, given by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation. Moises Kaufman. (APPLAUSE)
I have to say more than “playwright Wendy Wasserstein.” (WENDY LAUGHS) I mean, I realize that you’re
co-moderator, but — Cabaret star? (LAUGHTER) Cabaret star. And your new movie is wonderful, THE OBJECT
OF MY AFFECTION. To my right, Matthew Warchus, who is the director
of ART, and soon to come to New York, a new production of HAMLET, which will be at BAM,
which you recently did for the Royal Shakespeare Company. God, you have so many credits! Including things at the National Theatre,
the RSC, the Donmar Warehouse in London, many Shakespeare credits. Also opera, FALSTAFF, TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. And you have an opera coming up, COSI FAN
TUTTE, I’m told? That’s it. And has just finished directing a new play
by the writer of ART, called THE UNEXPECTED MAN, which hopefully will be coming to New
York very soon. Matthew Warchu. (APPLAUSE) And to his right is Michael Mayer, who has
done sort of the trifecta (PH) in theatre this year. (MICHAEL LAUGHS) He’s done a new play, a
new musical, and a revival, all in one season, starting with TRIUMPH OF LOVE, which started
off the season. And then A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, which moved
from the Roundabout and is now playing at a Broadway theatre. And of course, SIDE MAN, which is Warren’s
play. Many directing credits, including the national
tour of ANGELS IN AMERICA and BABY ANGER at Playwrights Horizons. Michael Mayer. (APPLAUSE) And last but certainly not least, my buddy
Lonny Price, who I had the pleasure of working with on ANNIE GET YOUR GUN this year. In addition to being Artistic Director of
Musical Theatre Works, Lonny is directing VISITING MR. GREEN, which is Jeff’s play. And has many directing credits as well: Manhattan
Theatre Club, Encores!, revivals of THE ROTHSCHILDS and JUNO. And had a long career as an actor on Broadway. You may have seen him in MASTER HAROLD AND
THE BOYS, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, BURN THIS and FALSETTOLAND. Lonny Price. (APPLAUSE) Wow! You want to ask your first question? (LAUGHS) Sure. I just wanted to say that it’s very exciting
to be sitting here, amidst such really great talent and just energy and enthusiasm in the
theatre. It’s a wonderful thing. (LAUGHS) But I’m going to ask the first
question to Lonny, and I also hope by the end of this morning, someone explains to me
why so many directors wear black and blue. (LAUGHTER) But Lonny, you are actually one
of my favorite musical comedy performers. And I’m very interested in how you made
the transition from performing to directing. Well, someone gave me a job, essentially. (LAUGHTER) Is that it? Yeah. I was directing [sic] at the American Jewish
Theatre, I had done a play, THE IMMIGRANT. And the Artistic Director, Stanley Brechner,
had this musical coming up and asked me for some suggestions of directors, and I gave
him a bunch of them, and he said, “Well, what about you?” And I had truly never thought about it, though
people who had been in shows with me had told me I had been directing for a long time. (LAUGHTER) I wasn’t aware of it, so they
said it was like no big stretch. Did the directors tell you this? No, no, I was good about that. I was able to make it look it like their idea. Oh, good. And still, I think, they’re grateful for
it. So I got this job. And I was just about to go on the road, actually,
to play Jimmy Durante, in a musical of DURANTE. So I had this window. And I thought, “Well, you know, I’m going
to do this, and then I’m going on the road for a year, so I mean, if it’s terrible,
you know, I’ll be away when everyone’s telling me how terrible it was.” And it was fine. Actually, it was an old George Abbott show,
called THE EDUCATION OF HYMAN KAPLAN, and it ran and extended. And the next year when I came back from DURANTE,
he said, “What do you want to do next?” and I said, well, THE ROTHSCHILDS was a show
that I had always admired and that was in as a kid and thought needed to be [revised]. It was very huge. It had like forty in the cast. And I thought that the story of it was very
remote. And I thought, “Well, what if we did that
as sort of an environmental piece?” And he said, “Fine.” And so we took the forty cast ROTHSCHILDS
and put it on twelve people and had them changing clothes like mad. And it was a success and moved and ran a year,
and then I became a director. It was a great and easy transition, for which
I’m very grateful. I didn’t have to bang on doors and run around
a lot. And I think also, being an actor that people
had seen, they trusted me in some way, because they said, “Oh, well, you know, he probably
knows something about this.” Do you miss performing? Oh, Wendy, what a question! (LAUGHTER) On and off. When I see something good, I miss performing. When I see these gentlemen’s work, I miss
performing. But then I think of the Wednesday matinee,
and then I think, “It’s okay.” (LAUGHTER) “It’s okay that I don’t do
it any more.” But I hope to do it again sometime. I just don’t know when. When the right situation happens. The other thing, too, is that as a performer,
I was the victim of a lot of directors who were not very good, and so I kept being a
good thing in something that was unrealized or bad, and I had three sort of huge musicals
built around me that closed on the road. And finally, I just didn’t feel as though
I could put myself in that position again, without having some more artistic control
over the final product, because acting is heartbreaking. It’s just a very painful thing, I think. So I’m happier in this end, at the moment. Oh, great. Thank you. Well, Michael, you’ve also had a similar
transition, right? Acting to directing? Yeah. He got all the parts that I was up for! (LAUGHTER) You’re kidding! Since I got out of acting school. Yeah. Every one. Really? Every one? Well, many of them. I didn’t have the success that Lonny had. You’re making up for it now, Michael. Perhaps, but I still resent it! (LAUGHTER) Watch what you’re drinking! Can I switch my seat? I’m going to switch. Get your hands off me! No, I tried really hard to do the kind of
work that Lonny was doing. You know, the Broadway musicals, which were
always really dear to my heart. I had the great good fortune of studying acting
at NYU. Olympia Dukakis was my acting teacher, and
Tony Kushner was one of the directing students, and we formed a very close relationship. And eventually we had our own small theatre
company Off-Broadway, we did a lot of political theatre. And that’s sort of what I had really devoted
myself to in the early years out of school. He went on to start writing some fairly important
works! (LAUGHTER)
And I tried for a while to do, you know, the audition thing. And I had a very lovely agent who submitted
me for a lot of stuff, and I got really close to a lot of things and never booked them. And so there was a moment, and I don’t know,
I know so many people in all walks of life that have an idea of what they want their
lives to be and at a certain point you look in the mirror and you go, “I’m a certain
age and I’m a fairly intelligent person and these are the facts and what do you want
to do from here?” So it was actually a very conscious decision
to shift. And (TO LONNY) I had had similar experiences
with the directors that I had worked with (LAUGHS), in the small showcases that I was
doing while you were doing your big Broadway musicals and national tours! (LAUGHTER) But I also felt like, you know,
why am I putting myself into these situations? And God, why didn’t he make this choice
or that choice? And I also just lucked out. I had some friends who had some money, and
they put together little showcases. And bit by bit, people that I respected and
admired came to see this work and encouraged me to keep doing it. It was a very slow process, but a good one. Matthew, I’m always impressed when I go
to London with how many young directors there are. And it seems to me, even from my friendship
with Nick Hytner that sort of there are so many people who get out of school and just
start directing, which I’m always envious for American directors, actually. And I wondered, was that the same for you? Have you been directing since school? Yes, I have, really. I started directing when I was about fifteen
actually. (LAUGHS) Really? But I thought I was going to be an actor,
or a conductor, actually, is what I thought I was going to be. But from the age of fifteen, I was a member
of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, which draws young people from the age of fourteen
to nineteen from all around the British Isles to a season in the summer in London, where
they perform devised work and classics and Shakespeare and musicals as well. And I had been acting with them from the age
of fourteen and fifteen. And I started, once I was at university, studying
music and drama, to direct in the summer during the vacation for the National Youth Theatre. And that meant directing on a very large scale
with forty, fifty people in the cast. And I did three productions for them. And one of those productions was seen by the
Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, who then gave me a year’s contract as a
director with him. And I found myself becoming a director by
default, really. I don’t remember deciding that’s what
I was going to do. That was simply the work that I got. But interestingly enough, there are a lot
of young directors, but there was for a long time a tradition of young directors coming
through pub theatres and studio theatres in Britain, which during the 1980’s, many,
many of those theatres closed down and lost their funding. And what was very unusual about my work is
that because of the National Youth Theatre, I never worked in a studio theatre for the
first six years of my career. Everything was on large stages and on a large
scale, which is quite rare, but I think similar actually for Nick Hytner as well, and Sam
Mendes as well. So the traditional route for young directors
is a route that I never took. And in fact, unfortunately, it has now become
a route which doesn’t exist any more, so it might be that there are less young directors
(LAUGHTER) from now on, unfortunately. Yes, that’s unfortunate. Well, actually, this panel is very young. Yeah. I was going to comment that it’s sort of
encouraging to see that there are people coming up in the ranks here who are going to be directing
the future of us. Moises, your background is not as an actor,
right? You came through as a writer and director
and producer and impresario? (LAUGHS) Well, when I started doing theatre
in Venezuela, I worked as an actor for five years in a theatre company there. Oh, I didn’t realize that. And the more I worked, I was working with
this very brilliant director who had studied with Grotowski and Brook and all these, you
know, great theatre people. And I worked for five years as an actor with
him, and at a certain point, I knew that I wanted to direct and there was no room to
direct in that company, it was his company. And at the same time, I also wanted to come
to New York, for many different reasons. And at that time, at NYU there were some really
interesting things going on. A lot of the kind of theatre that interested
me was being taught at NYU at the Experimental Theatre Wing. People like Andre Gregory was teaching there,
you know, Joe Chaikin, all these people were doing really interesting work there. So I went to NYU and I said, “All right,
you know, I want to direct. So if for two years I can come in here and
direct, you know, that’d be great.” So they said, “Absolutely.” So for the next two years, I was just directing
all the time. And that was great. I had the space, the actors. It was fantastic. And there I met a lot of the people that went
on to become Tectonic Theatre Project, that we formed soon after we got out of school. And it’s been going on for six years. And what’s interesting is that with Tectonic
Theatre Project we were doing work that in the downtown arts scene was well known and
people knew it and what not, but I think GROSS INDECENCY is the first time that it has kind
of reached a broader audience. That’s very exciting. And will you continue to work with this theatre
company? Yeah, absolutely. And what about — talking to a playwright! (LAUGHS) I feel at home again! But did you start out acting or anything,
or was it always your interest? No, although now I see it’s the way to get
to direct! (LAUGHTER) It’s something to consider. No, I got out of college. I majored in journalism and I was just going
to be a writer. And so, I sent an article into the Village
Voice, “Dear Editor, here’s an article,” and they bought it. And I quit my last job twenty years ago. I just free-lance wrote for twenty years,
and I just booked jobs. So I would meet someone at a party, he said
he was a documentary filmmaker and I said, “Oh, I’m very interested in China!” And I would write a documentary about China. Then I’d do a horror movie the next month,
then a corporate speech. I just had sort of a toxic waste theory of
career management. (LAUGHTER) Just let it sort of seep, with
no any control whatsoever. So I just booked a lot of different jobs. I would write an article about cabaret and
then end up meeting some cabaret performers, and I had a couple of years where I wrote,
I think, every cabaret act in New York. Is that right? I wrote the patter for about eleven different
singers. And I just hope they never saw each other’s
shows. (LAUGHTER) So I just did a weird mix of jobs. And I found theatre writing gave me the least
money and allowed me the most expression. Screenplay writing did the exact opposite. Right. And so over time, I hoped to try to find a
way to [balance it]. It’s the coffee/wine theory, you know? If you mix the two, you do okay. It’s difficult to make a living just playwriting,
and screenwriting takes care of that and then makes you miserable in other ways. So I’ve found my mix at the moment. Yeah, screenwriting makes you want to write
a play! (LAUGHTER) Or, like, hope for an earthquake, you know? (LAUGHTER) And Jeff, although you came from a corporate
life, you started off with a degree in film production? Yeah, the corporate thing was a long, interesting
side trip for me. I always knew that I was going to write, and
I guess I always pictured myself directing as well. And I guess about ten or twelve years ago
— after college I needed to make some money pretty quickly, and no one was going to hire
me to write and direct a big feature film, which is what I kind of expected coming out
of college. So I got a job in the corporate world and
I quite liked it and went on to get an M.B.A. from Harvard, worked for Coca-Cola and part
of American Express for a while. And a certain point, I said, “Okay, this
has been great, but it’s time to really do what I planned to do.” So I wrote a screenplay, and I was very lucky. The first producer I took it to optioned it,
and she had just produced THE BIG CHILL, so I was in the film business. And for the next ten years, I wrote three
other screenplays that all got optioned within the first week or two, by Disney and just,
you know, big producers. And I got hired to write episodes of various
TV series. None of the films was ever made, very frustrating. I know all of us who’ve done screenwriting
know that story! And the TV shows, they appeared on the air
saying, “Written by Jeff Baron,” but it seemed as if every other word was changed
and it was horrifying. You know, if you care about what you write,
to see something represented as yours that is clearly not yours. So that’s what brought me to the theatre. Besides which, I see five times more plays
than I see movies. I live in New York City. It was like, “Hello, Jeff?” (LAUGHTER) “You know? Do this.” And again, I was very lucky. This is my first play. And it started in Florida, is that right? Actually, the first production was at the
Berkshire Theatre Festival up in Massachusetts. And the second production was in Aachen, Germany,
in German. “BAZOOKBYE (PH) MR. GREEN.” BAZOOKBYE MR. GREEN is actually playing right now in Stuttgart. And then it was in Miami and we opened last
November here in New York. Lonny, I know that when Gerry Gutierrez gets
a new play and he meets the playwright, he has this ritual. He has “the weekend method,” and you go
away for the weekend with Gerry Gutierrez and read your play out loud to him. But I was wondering if there’s some ritual
you have when you get a new play? Or how do you approach a new text, when you’ve
decided to direct it, with the playwright? Well, I read it a lot. I mean, I read it once and sort of get a first
impression of it and try and go on that as much as possible, just sort of maybe even
write down certain feelings I have about the play, what I think it’s trying to communicate. And then I read it, you know, a couple more
times. And Jeff and I, when we started collaborating
on the play, I was just trying to find out what the playwright really wanted to say and
then see if I could help him focus it. See if we could work together in a way where
I would give him some notes or some thoughts, and Jeff is a very easy communicator. And he would listen — he won’t do everything
you ask him to do, because he needs to know exactly why you’re asking for what you’re
asking for, which was a great challenge to me, to really say, “Well, the reason is
this, this, this and this.” And then once I could convince Jeff and he
thought my point was correct, he’d go off and work on it and fax pages back and forth
and we’d work like that. We didn’t have like a weekend retreat ever,
though I think of, you know, Florida as being kind of almost like a five week retreat, where
we really got to really look at the play on its feet in front of an audience and really
work on it together. Is that answering your question? Yeah, I think so. But also, I’m curious, how do you decide
to direct a play? Oh, wow. It has to really speak to me. I have to feel like I have a kinship with
it, a relationship to either the characters or the theme. It has to affect me in some way. A lot of times I’ll read a play and know
it’s a good play and also know it’s not a play that’s right for me. It’s not something that I would necessarily
add anything to, where I would say, “Call Michael Mayer,” or [whatever]. You know, I mean, this is not what I do best
or it’s not something I feel moved by, although I know it’s good. I don’t know, Wendy, how I choose it. I think it’s really just a feeling that
I can connect the material, and it’s being useful. Can I be useful to this play? Do you meet with the playwright to see whether
what you think about the play is what the playwright had in mind? Oh, absolutely. So that before you make up your mind whether
you’re going to direct the play or not, you have had a meeting with the playwright? Well, I’ll decide before I meet the playwright
if I’m interested in directing, and then I would meet with the playwright to see if
what I think of the play is what he thinks of the play. Right. And if it’s not the same thing, you’re
not on the same line and the playwright says, “No, no, it’s a sad play, really. It’s not a comedy, it’s a sad play,”
do you then reject it? I think that the best thing to do then is
to part company, yeah. You do? Oh, absolutely. I would never want to impose my feeling about
a play on a playwright, really. And that’s I guess why people like to work
in the theatre, is it’s his vision as far as I’m concerned. It’s what he wants to say, and can I help
him say that? Can I translate that on the stage with behavior
and with moments that support what he wants? I think that’s very important. Can you help them say that? I think that’s a very important part of
it. I think so. I mean, I don’t know what the other directors
feel. Do the playwrights feel that way? Well, the process works both ways. When someone is suggested as the director
or whether you’ve had their name on a list or whatever it is, it’s a little bit like
a first date. I mean, the playwright is deciding, “Is
this the right director for my piece?” and you know, “Is this process going to be okay?” Because you know, you’re going to be working
with that person in an intense way about something that you really, really care about, and will
they be protective of the important things to you? Will you get along? Will you be able to argue about it and survive
that? How much arguing goes on between playwright
and director? (LAUGHTER) (LONNY NODS TO JEFF) Well, yeah. VISITING MR. GREEN for me was such a great experience. I hope I have this again. But both between Lonny and me and with the
actors — With Eli. With Eli Wallach. And you know, for me, especially being completely
new to this, I mean Eli Wallach could have thrown his weight around. Lonny could have claimed, you know, twenty
or fifteen more years’ experience than I have, and it would have been right. But no one did that. Everyone really listened to one another. And I think everyone was really open to good
ideas. I think we all felt that no one was suggesting
anything just to be right or just to score points or just “You won the last one so
I have to win this one,” which was great. I mean, everyone really listened to one another. You know, ultimately, there were really small
things that Lonny and I didn’t agree on, but I’d say every important thing, we ended
up at the same place. Sometimes it took, you know, a month for one
of us to see the other person’s point. But ultimately, I think we did on everything
important. And there was a basic respect, and I think
that that’s really the key to all of it, is just respecting each other. You know, I respect his writing, and I know
if he’s written something, it’s not arbitrary, he has a point he’s trying to make. And whether I agree whether that’s in the
right place within the flow of the evening or not is debatable, but I would never question
his integrity in terms of wanting to say what he wants to say. Michael, I’m curious. What happens when Arthur Miller walks into
the room? (LAUGHTER) It’s someone you have so much
respect for. Yes, it’s an amazing feeling. I remember when I first met with him, just
to talk to him about my ideas about the play, because they were different than the usual
presentation of the play, and he was just completely responsive and such a mensch. And so tall! (LAUGHTER) It was kind of scary. He’s like eighteen feet tall. And he was really open and very enthusiastic. He’s very youthful in that way. So, I guess my expectations were that my conversations
with him about his play would have been much more, you know, of sort of, “Oh, Grandfather,
tell me what to do!” And he’s no different from Warren, in the
sense that — He is taller. (LAUGHTER) He is much taller. And older! And he was once married to Marilyn Monroe. (LAUGHTER) Them’s the breaks, right? But his enthusiasm and his real youthful excitement
about seeing his play done at all — I mean, he came to it as though it was a new play,
as well. Having him come to the rehearsals set everyone
on edge a little bit because it’s like, you know — Right. Oh, the great man is in the room! But we’d all sit in a circle and he would
give his notes. And he would act out little parts of it here
and there, say some things that were incomprehensible, some things that were like gold. You know, just like every other playwright
that I’ve ever worked with. How did you get the job? I interviewed with him. I had mentioned to Todd Haimes, at the Roundabout,
when I first met with him about four years ago, he said, “What plays do you want to
do?” And I said, “I really want to do A VIEW
FROM THE BRIDGE.” And as fate would have it, this year they
decided to do it, with Anthony LaPaglia, and I got to meet Arthur. And I told him that I had this concept that
was sort of operatic and huge and simple all at once. And he liked it! And so, he said, “Okay.” It always seems to me that directors come
to it very easy. There’s no waiting on table or all the things
that actors have to go through. Oh, it happens. (LAUGHTER) You all come up so easily and so quickly and
so young! Oh, I had so many jobs, awful jobs. I did all of that stuff. Waiting tables and answering telephones at
a hotel and surveys. Well, I’m glad to hear that. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, thanks. (LAUGHTER) How long was your collaboration going on,
in SIDE MAN? We’re over two years now. Oh, really? Yeah. Let’s talk about the journey of this play,
because it’s had a number of readings and developmental things. It’s been shopped! (LAUGHTER) First, I avoided writing it for
twenty years or so. I wrote everything but the family play. And then when I finally started, I had a nice
group of characters with actually no momentum or arc or forward motion. Everyone liked the characters, but. And I had seen a piece that Michael had directed
at the Atlantic, which I liked very much, and I was pretty sure this was the guy I wanted
to have direct the play. And I think I introduced myself to him then. Yeah, we met that night. It was just one of those wedding night blurs
for him. (LAUGHTER) And then, I’m in a company called
Naked Angels, and they granted me what’s called an “Angels in Process,” which means
a workshop in the basement of the West Bank Cafe, which we all have been drunk at. So I had a four day workshop, and I called
Michael, and he was very busy. And I said, and I meant it, I said, “Michael,
you at fifty percent is better than anyone else at a hundred percent.” So sweet. “Just show up.” And we cast it from our Rolodex, down to there’s
a husband and wife in the play and I said, “I have a good idea for the wife.” He didn’t know who she was. And he said he had a good idea for the husband. I didn’t know who that actor was. And they met at the first rehearsal, and that
was our way of knowing if we would be good collaborators. Yeah. And they’re perfect. It was an arranged marriage. (LAUGHTER) And so, we were in the basement. We had two days’ rehearsal and then they
were going to read the scripts out of their laps. And I think on the day we were going to do
our first audience, I came in with a new second act that I had written the night before. And I said, “Sorry, Michael.” (LAUGHTER) Because I’d heard it for two
days in rehearsal and I saw, “Oh, those confrontation scenes really are a good idea
to have.” (LAUGHTER) And I just handed it to Michael and Michael
teched it cold, put the whole piece in that day, while reading it out loud for the first
time, directed the actors. And we did it that night in front of an audience. We had two more nights. And everyone was sure that this was going
to be the greatest play of all time. And we were basically unproduceable off and
on for the next two years. (LAUGHTER) Every time you hear that, that’s
a warning sign to go back to waiting tables, I think. Yeah. So, I got a very lucky break. New York Stage and Film, which is a company
that goes to Vassar for the summer, was slipped the script and they decided to give me a production. And that’s now two years ago. Umm-hmm. And Michael directed that. And we used the same husband and wife from
the basement. And that really was when the script, I think,
came [together]. That was a great [time]. I don’t recall arguing at all up there. No, it was really one of those perfect marriages
that you hear about. We ended up, even like the second day we were
in Poughkeepsie, finishing each other’s sentences. We were so in sync about the whole thing. And in many cases, where one of our work started
and the other’s ended, it became this blur. We were really like a husband and wife team
up there. We were inseparable. We would have these private little communications. No one understood (LAUGHS) what we were talking
about. We understood what we meant way before the
actors understood what we were talking about. Right. Michael just got it. And we would just do it. It was very comfortable. I don’t think that will happen again too
often. I mean, it was really lovely. And you’re up at Vassar. You’re in Poughkeepsie. You can go bowling. (LAUGHTER) You’re working on a play. You really have a lot of time to focus on
your play up there. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Friendly’s Ice Cream. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, we went to Friendly’s. So we had sort of a blissful three or four
weeks of rehearsing with these lovely actors. And the Poughkeepsie audience was really quite
supportive and told us a lot. And everyone seemed to pitch in. The production manager came to me — What’s the name of the play? Oh, SIDE MAN! Oh, okay. (LAUGHS) And it’s moving, isn’t it? It is. Yeah, it’s moving to the Roundabout in June. It’s a very beautiful play. What Warren won’t say is that it’s a very
personal play, and that the whole process of doing it was, I think, incredibly courageous
on his part. And so, every step of the way, whether it
was those re-writes that we got the day of the first performance in the basement, or
whether it was sort of coaching these actors through some incredibly treacherous emotional
waters, Warren was right there, you know, just baring his breast. And it was that courage, I think, that really
inspired everyone on the production to likewise really give of themselves in the most sort
of selfless and brave way. So I think that was an amazing experience. A lot of these plays have come out of the
non-profit or subsidized theatre. I know in England, you’ve had great experience
with the National Theatre and the RSC. Is that sort of the wave of the future, do
we think? Is this where we are now, that plays really
need to be nurtured in this kind of environment? I know that’s probably more true in London,
perhaps? I think so. There seems to be something happening in the
West End of London at the moment. I don’t know whether it’s happening on
Broadway. Whereby an awful lot of work which normally
wouldn’t appear in the West End, new plays particularly at the moment, there’s a wave
of that work coming into the West End. And I don’t know whether it’s tied in
with this sort of advance of British cinema. Suddenly, perhaps through cinema, actors and
acting are becoming more interesting to a wider public. But there is a bit of a vogue in London at
the moment for seeing serious and provocative work in a commercial environment. I mean, I wouldn’t overstate that, but there
is a glimmer of that. But generally speaking, I think that inevitably,
there’s a level of interest that a practitioner has in ideas that are personal to writers
and people who create drama. Once you develop a hunger and a thirst for
that kind of work and that kind of way of thinking and of viewing the world, then your
hunger goes on and goes beyond what might be an absolutely universal or completely populist
interest. And so, there has to be a lot of theatre that
can, if you like, produce work by and for enthusiasts, which might not necessarily have
a mass appeal. And I think that that’s why crucially an
awful lot of anyone’s work who cares a lot about theatre is going to be in a subsidized
setting, because it allows you an opportunity to explore things that may turn out to be
of mass interest to people, but of course may not, and shouldn’t be less valued for
that. Was ART ever produced in a subsidized setting? No, it wasn’t, and I think that’s actually
quite important. Because the play, for me, seems to have deeper
meaning in a commercial setting. It’s the most commercial piece of work that
I’ve ever directed, by a long shot. And I love the fact that it’s called “ART,”
because of that! So there’s a paradox there, which is alive
in the play actually, because it deals with a philistine response to things of value. That’s a very sort of broad way of putting
it, but it also looks into areas of sensitivity and tolerance and challenging preconceptions. And I think that in some subsidized theatres,
the audience would turn up and love the white painting, for example, in the beginning, and
there would be no story, no journey at all. And in a very commercial environment, in the
West End, certainly, and in Paris — I know it’s true to a certain extent here — there
is more of a journey for the audience to go on with that play. And I think that the lack of preciousness
in the presentation of that play helps the message of the play. Yeah, I agree with you, actually. You’re working with two of my favorite American
actors, with Alan Alda and Victor Garber. Was it different, working with an American
cast than an English cast, in your process of directing? (SIGHS) Umm, golly! This’ll be seen at home. Yeah, where is this going? It was kind of different. There was — they — directing British actors
— (LAUGHTER) I’m so glad I asked this! (LAUGHTER) I’ll tell you, it’s difficult to remember. It’s very difficult to remember, and it’s
difficult then to talk about it publicly. (LAUGHTER) But British actors do arrive for
rehearsals with a newspaper and a cup of coffee and it takes a long time to get moving, really. (LAUGHTER) Which is fine. I mean, I must say that I’ve loved working
with (LAUGHS) all the casts of ART. I honestly have, in different ways. And actors have their different rhythm. Anyway, the American rhythm of work, for the
actors I was working with, was much more, (CLAPS) “Okay, here we go!”, rigorous,
ready to start. And in fact, they found me terribly slow. (LAUGHTER) And I think, sort of vague for
the first few days, which I tried to be. I tried to make the atmosphere feel unpressured. And I think those actors were used to working
a more pressured environment. Alan Alda told me you were the best director
he ever worked with, so. Really? Yeah, he did. That’s weird. All right. If you were to give anyone advice about how
you direct in England and how you direct here, what would you say? I would say, be prepared to appear as though
you know what you’re doing here more. (LAUGHTER) So you are an actor. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. A great performance that I gave for three
weeks. I think that’s important. It makes people feel more secure, I think. That only in certain areas of work in Britain
do you need to appear so confident, that’s probably the main difference. A very good point. Umm-hmm! Matthew, you talked about directing a number
of different casts, because the play ART has had a number of different incarnations. And VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE has had a transfer. GROSS INDECENCY is going to have 8,000 productions
in the next four minutes. (WENDY LAUGHS) You want to talk a little bit
about re-inventing the wheel each time, and how it’s a little bit different for you,
having created it once and then having to recreate it again? Yeah. Well, the first time it was magical, right? Because it was with the company and it was
this new work, and the way that we were creating the play, it took two years, you know, for
me to write that play. And you know, I would write fifty pages or
thirty pages, and we would go into a workshop and workshop just that and see that. And then, we would have ideas from the stage
and I would go back and write. So we did a lot of that, and we tend to work
a lot that way. So that a lot of the text that’s happening
on the stage comes from the stage, rather than me going off, writing it, and coming
back and just staging it. Which creates for, I think, different plays. I think that a lot of the plays that are produced
are a lot, you know, a writer goes, writes a play, gives it to a director, and there’s
this communication that happens that you were talking about. But it’s mostly a theatre that starts from
text, okay? You have the play and the play is the first
thing that happened. And I think that what we’re trying to do
is a theatre that starts from the stage. That we see what happens on the stage, you
know, what happens between the actors and with the material and with the ideas that
we have. And we do a lot of improvising, and from that,
the text happens. So you know, I would say, fifty or sixty percent
of the actors that were in the original productions were in that workshop in the beginning, and
that was terrific. I mean, they had a sense of ownership in the
material and a sense of “We know how this happened” that was great. And then this whole craziness happened. We opened, as you know, in a house of a hundred
people in Barrow Street. My lover went with a truck to get some of
the set pieces from Brooklyn! (LAUGHS) And we were at the Mark Taper a month
ago. And he looked at me, he said, “I think I
like it better this way!” (LAUGHTER) And then, you know, the whole craziness
happened. And then, when I went to San Francisco, that
was the second production. And that was great, that was a challenge because
it was the first time other actors [were] reading these lines. So for me, it was a great, great experience. And then, by the time the Taper production
came about, it was difficult for me. Because I mean, I don’t know if you guys
have this experience, but you go into a rehearsal room and part of what you’re doing is discovering
what the play’s about, you know? But by the time I got to L.A., I more or less
knew what the play was about, and that was a little bit difficult. And I might do it now in England, so I need
to talk to you, you know! (LAUGHTER) When you talk about how “this whole craziness
happens,” I’d love if you tell us. So there you were in this small house on Barrow
Street. What happened? I mean, besides, it’s wonderful? You really want to hear this? I really want to hear it, yeah. Well, we opened on February 27th of last year. And March of last year was one of the busiest
theatrical months in theatre history. There were like three hundred plays running. And Tectonic Theatre Project had a history
of always being reviewed. And as I said, we were somewhat well known
within the art and downtown theatre community. But because it was so busy, not a single reviewer
came. So we run the first week, not a single reviewer
comes. We run the second week, not a single reviewer
comes. We run the third week, and we got a single
review, we’re selling out! Oh, that’s good. And we see people waiting, you know, to buy
tickets and not being able to get tickets, and you know, it was kind of terrific! You know, the sense of “Oh, something is
happening!” There was a buzz, and people were coming,
and there were lines around the theatre, and we got a single review. And then, our press rep wrote the letter that
now has become somewhat famous. (LAUGHS) He wrote the letter to all the critics,
saying, “In my twenty years of professional life, I’ve never written a letter of this
nature. I’m begging you to come and see this!” (LAUGHTER) Really? I didn’t know that. That was Kevin McAnarney, to whom I owe my
life. So what happened was that he sent a letter
and then a couple of days later, we found out that Ben Brantley was coming to see the
show. And of course, I couldn’t tell the actors,
so the next week, I didn’t sleep all week. And the actors kept noticing that I was getting
more horrible (LAUGHS) and more anxious, and they kept saying, “This is great, everything
is going well!” I couldn’t tell them. So then, the review came out and it was a
great review and other people [came]. And the day the review came out, it was very
interesting, because we knew it was happening on Wednesday. So on Tuesday night, the whole company went
to the bottom of the New York Times. You know, it was really magical. And the review came out, and I read the review. And it’s interesting, I think your life
changes and you’re not aware of it until later on. I think there are a few times where something
happens in your life and you see, “Okay, this is where my life has changed.” And I remember that we were all reading the
review at the bottom of the New York Times (LAUGHS). There were like seventeen people, everybody
with newspapers. And there was a sense of “Yes, you know,
our lives have changed, and this is going to be something else.” And we’ve been running for a year and a
half, three productions now. There’s going to be eighteen productions
this year. So it’s just, you know. But when you go back to do a new work, you’ll
go back to that company, to the same rehearsal space? So in a way, it’s changed, and then — Umm-hmm. The basement of a church. Just as a matter of interest, if there was
this buzz and there were lines around the theatre without the review, why was it so
important for you to have it? (GENERAL MURMURING AMONG PANEL) Everybody up here is going, “Mmmm!” What a nice silence that is! If a play succeeds and no one hears it … (LAUGHTER) Well, I’ll tell you, it wouldn’t have
played in L.A.! What would have happened if it wasn’t wonderfully,
favorably reviewed? I don’t know. I really don’t know. If you had these lines, you had the word of
mouth, you had everything that one hopes for. Yeah, I think many times plays have been killed
by a bad review when they’re beautiful productions. Of course. I mean, so I think that, you know, we were
worried. There was a lot riding [on it]. I think it’s so frightening. I mean, we all experience this. But you know, you have a good show, and then
all of a sudden the New York Times likes it, and your lives change. And you have a good show, and the New York
Times does not like it — Then your life is over. It’s over. You know, I mean, it runs its course and you
don’t make a living. I mean, it’s the most — Audiences will stop laughing. Absolutely. You will have laughs the night before. Or conversely, if they’re told it’s great
— They laugh at the curtain. (LAUGHTER) They come in and they think it’s
funny. (LAUGHTER) Well, it is! It’s like they’re sheep. They are totally like sheep. And it’s the most terrifying thing in the
world, I think, to open a play in New York. And it doesn’t matter so much anywhere else,
where the critics are so important. I mean, we opened MR. GREEN and we had two very nice reviews from
the other papers, and we were kind of doing okay. Or not okay, I should say. We were iffy. And then the New York Times did a very nice
piece on us, and it made all the [difference]. I mean, the box office literally jumps threefold
and keeps there. Well, what was interesting for us, the way
we were keeping reservations for our company was that we had an answering machine in our
house. That’s great! Bragger! (LAUGHTER) We are going to just pause for literally a
half a minute, so that people can get their questions together to ask. So everybody, stay in your seats, take a deep
breath. You can talk amongst yourselves and decide
what it is you’d like to say. (APPLAUSE)
: This is CUNY-TV, the City University of New
York. We’re continuing the American Theatre Wing
seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” And these are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. Today’s seminar is on the Playwright/Director,
and we’re going to continue our discussion, going into what it is that makes the playwright’s
words come alive through the hands of the director and how it’s done. It’s all very simple. (LAUGHTER) Wendy, do you want to start? (LAUGHS) Very simple! Well, we were just discussing here how actors
in New York use public phones much more than the ones in England during rehearsal (LAUGHTER),
which I think is a very salient point. I wanted to ask to you a little bit about
casting and decision making about casting and involving the playwright in casting, and
have you ever had an argument with the playwright over casting? Well, I feel like one of the luckiest directors,
because I got to work with Eli Wallach this year on Jeff’s play, and he was a given
when I got there, which I’m very grateful for, because we certainly couldn’t have
done any better anywhere. He’s marvelous. In terms of casting, yeah, the other role
in this play was a rather personal role for Jeff in some ways, and so I think that at
times we saw him a little bit differently. But in general, I don’t think we really
disagreed almost about anything. We actually sat in a replacement call and
his notes were the same as mine, and we were pretty much in sync. But in terms of casting with a living playwright,
it’s a lot different. I mean, obviously, when you’re just the
director of a revival, you can do whatever you want, and that’s wonderful. When they’re dead, it’s the best! (LAUGHTER) You guys prefer dead! (LAUGHTER) We do! Dead is best! Dead is best, so you can cut and move and
paste, and it’s nice. Dead is good. But I think in general, you know, you just
collaborate. I really believe you listen to what the playwright
wants. I try to give the playwright pretty much what
he’s looking for, with the skills available. Is that answering the question? Yeah. As you know, Wendy, I mean, one of the great
things, we were talking about theatre versus movies and television, the Dramatists’ Guild
contract gives us approval over casting. Right. In TV, you know, many times I wrote a show
and just wasn’t allowed on the set. (LAUGHS) You know, there’s such a difference
between the way the writer is treated. So, not in terms of throwing your weight around
in the theatre, but obviously, I mean, it’s something that came from you, and you should
be part of the discussion, at least. And that’s one of the things I really love,
is that you are. I always find it interesting when an actor
emerges, and they’re at a wonderful time in your life, like Allison Janney in your
play. Oh, yes! And she’s in my film, playing a totally
opposite person. And how do you know? I mean, is there a certain sort of buzz or
instinct? I think what happens is that you sort of fall
in love with these actors at that moment, because they’re radiating something, you
know? Allison walked in, she was shooting some film
and her hair was this short (DEMONSTRATES AN INCH LONG) and white. She didn’t even look like Allison. And she just picked up the script and just
read with Anthony, and we knew immediately that we had to look no further. And she’d never done a role like this. Right. It was a complete stretch. She didn’t even, in the audition it wasn’t
even that it was one of those auditions where “I’m going to give it all to you! Just stand back and watch this!” It was really just genuine and conversational. She just read the scene and connected with
him. But we knew that it was dead on. And then, this astonishing performance came
out. And then she’s in PRIMARY COLORS, she’s
fantastically funny in that. And in your movie, and suddenly she’s just
this thing. And it wasn’t like we thought, “Oh, Allison
Janney’s really hot right now, let’s get her!” It wasn’t that kind of thinking at all. I don’t know about the other gentlemen,
but I think it’s essence, mostly. I mean, that’s what I generally find that
I cast from. It’s not a personality or height or weight
in general. For me, it’s if there’s an essence that
seems to be matching that you feel that you can work with, a connection. And I think that gives you the widest variety
of people, that you don’t have to be — I hate the whole type-casting thing, if we can
help it, to really just look for someone who’s connecting in another way. I think also, if you’re casting somebody
who is “hot” right now, then you’ve missed it, because actually, you’ve missed
the moment. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And you’re not going
to actually get their best work, chances are, because they’re probably completely distracted
by the amount of attention they’re getting. So it’s a fluke, I think. And just apply the same criteria, and if you
happen to cast somebody who’s just burgeoning, just about to. I think perhaps different people in their
lives reach a different creative phase as well, and start to find all their aspects
and skills coalesce, in a certain way. And it’s got a lot to do with luck, actually. And chemistry, too. I mean, when you put these people together
in a room, you just don’t know what kind of combustion you’re going to find. And I guess that’s luck, but — It’s intuition as well. Umm-hmm. But it’s very different when you deal with
your own company, isn’t it? Yeah, because you know what they can do and
you know what they want to do. Casting is a very difficult thing. I don’t know if you guys feel this way,
but I always have a really hard time casting at auditions. Because I have found that there are actors
who can audition fantastically, and that’s all they can do. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And I think also, you’re
trying to figure out not only, you know, what the actor can do, but whether you can communicate
with them. You know, if there’s chemistry, if there’s
all of that stuff you’re talking about. I mean, with Michael Emerson, who plays Oscar
Wilde, and who played it in San Francisco and Los Angeles, it was very interesting,
because I cast him in a different role. And then I ended up firing Oscar Wilde, and
this was great, I said to him, “You know, I really would like to read you for this part.” And he said, “Okay.” So he came in, and before he read, he said,
“All right, I’m going to read for Oscar Wilde, but I want you to know that if you
don’t think I’m right, I’m perfectly happy doing this other role.” (MURMURS AMONG THE PANEL) What a mensch, huh? He was like, “Okay!” I think it’s true that, in an audition,
people sometimes think that you have something in mind and that’s what you’re looking
for. And it’s usually the audition that tells
you what you think the character should be like. Right. Someone comes in and you suddenly realize
that you’re completely wrong, that’s what the part should be played like. Yes! You learn a lot at auditions, a lot. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Because you see all these
different textures of different actors doing the same lines, and you learn about, you know,
what works for the part and what doesn’t. It can be wildly frustrating, too, especially
when you get two or three really strong possibilities, and you’re like, “Oh, my God! Do I go this way or this way? And if I go this way, then that person over
there is going to blah-blah!” You know, it’s this house of cards. When I came over to cast for ART here, I met
about thirty-five actors on my first visit. And I found three fantastic casts of ART! All completely different. They would have been completely different
shows. Unrecognizable, different ages, different
types of people, different parts of America, different class. And the play would be wonderful in each version,
you know, any of those versions, which is incredibly frustrating. Yeah, what’s heartbreaking is when you see
an actor who is a great actor and you fall in love with the actor and you know that’s
he’s wrong for the part. Oh, yeah! It’s a killer. How much do you rely on the casting director? You worked with Daniel Swee at Lincoln Center. Yeah. Enormously, actually. I mean, he’s a very, very creative, sensitive
casting director. And so, that’s somebody you want to rely
on a lot. But at worst, it could be someone who just
provides you with something to jog your memory and a list of people you might not have thought
about. But it’s becoming quite an art, you know. It’s not unlike other areas of theatre. Like lighting design used to be a fairly pragmatic
and practical thing, just make sure people can be seen. And now, it is a fine art. And casting is becoming a bit like that. It’s becoming more and more imaginative,
more to do about chemistry and putting unexpected people together. That’s exciting. Why do you think that is so? Why has it become so much more so? Are actors so much more trained and so much
more suitable for roles that they’re auditioning for? What is the necessity for a casting agent? Well, I think one of the reasons is that there
are so many venues for actors now. I mean, there are so many TV shows and films
and independent films and theatres and small theatres and regional theatres, that for a
director to try to, him or herself, really have his or her pulse on all of the acting
pool out there, you wouldn’t have time to even read the play that you’re going to
direct. So you get casting directors like Jim Carnahan,
who I’ve worked with a lot, who’s wonderful. He’s at the Roundabout. Literally, he will see every single play in
New York, and he’ll see it again, when there are replacements in New York. He sees every movie. He knows all the up and coming kids out of
the schools. He knows, you know, who has a green card and
who doesn’t! (LAUGHTER) He knows who’s an up and coming
person in a regional theatre situation who is looking to come to New York for something. And that’s an amazing talent. In addition to, you know, a great casting
director is also incredibly intuitive about the play and, you know, reads the play! (LAUGHTER) That’s really special, you know! They read the play and they understand what
the characters should be and have conversations with you and sometimes even with the playwright
as well. I think what’s great about a great casting
director specifically for theatre is, it’s about the play, it’s not about packaging. Yes. It’s not about getting people into those
seats, it’s about how will this play work best, in collaboration with this director
and playwright. So I find people like, you know, Daniel Swee
or Jim fascinating. They’re wonderful people to show a play
to, just to talk to. Umm-hmm! You know, I like talking to designers as well,
because there’s a sensitivity to the text. There’s also a problem that I don’t know
if other people are feeling, though, that at certain times of years, everybody goes
away — Pilot season! (LAUGHTER) — and there’s nobody to put in the plays! You know, it’s very frustrating. I mean, the whole pilot season is just — Horrible. If you’re casting a young actor, there aren’t
any. We did the scariest thing in the world, we
opened in March, with seven actors. And everyone said, “You won’t hold onto
your cast,” because you have people working in Off-Off-Broadway or Off-Broadway, making
oh, at least a hundred dollars a week, two hundred dollars a week. And they get the call, “Come to L.A. for
two weeks for forty thousand dollars,” in the middle of your run or the day before your
critics are coming. And it’s just an occupational hazard. New York has, I think, a very strong pool
of actors, I think probably much stronger than actors once they’ve moved to L.A. Yet everybody wants to work in New York. Everybody wants to work in the theatre. I think the level of work you can do here
is much stronger and you really get to show something. They say they want to, but then they all go
to L.A.! (LAUGHTER) Well, because they have to make a living. It’s true. It’s absolutely true. Well, they do go. I have a theory that maybe what the theatre
should do is, we should not take the summer off. We should work in the summer in New York theatres,
and our summer should be pilot season. We should have our summer in spring! Isn’t that a good idea? I always thought the worst thing in pilot
season is when their agents tell them not to take a job, in case they get a pilot! Right. Oh, yeah, that’s true! And they don’t even have one! We lost a couple who were going to do our
SIDE MAN, because they were going to L.A. to go fishing, you know? And I think that’s a bad bet. I tell aspiring actors, “Come to New York
in February and March, because you’ll have a much better shot!” You’ll get a job, yeah. It’s very true. It’s the contrarian theory. But you’ll have a better shot. You’ll be seen by good directors, good producers. Because a lot of the people we all come to
know, it’s their one time to go to the casino in L.A. Well, the economics of it are so [hard]. And yeah, I really do understand the actors. I mean, if they’re working for us at one
of those theatres, and they’re making two hundred or three hundred dollars a week — It’s hard. — they can’t do that for twelve months
a year. You know, when the lottery happens, you know,
I totally understand that if they can make forty thousand dollars in two weeks, that
they’ve got to go. At the Taper, when I cast GROSS INDECENCY,
we ended up casting nine people. Three of the actors turned down the play at
the Taper which, you know, I’ll you something, they will be seen by other casting directors. Sure. Not because they had a pilot, but because
it was pilot season and they wanted to remain free. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Three of the nine! It’s amazing. So we think we have it bad here, you know,
in L.A., it’s horrible. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Because really, doing
theatre in L.A. is awful. Also, once they get a pilot, if they get a
pilot and shoot a pilot, then they are basically out of commission — For like a year, yeah. — until you know whether that pilot is going
to be picked up. But Matthew, you said something very interesting. You said you could have had three casts out
of the auditions that you saw. Today, it is not unusual to have whole casts
take over in a play. Why would you perhaps not cast two or three
casts, right at the very beginning, so that you have the opportunity of the actors having
work, everybody there. And also, you can say to a cast, “Two months,
three months, four months, and then you can take whatever you want in Hollywood, come
back and reverse it.” It think this idea of taking over casts is
a very good one. It’s healthy. It’s healthy for the theatre, it’s healthy
for everybody, and it addresses the economic problem of the competition of Hollywood and
television. It’s what we’ve developed in London with
ART, because we don’t call them “replacement casts” at any level, they’re called “new
productions,” even though it’s in the same theatre, on the same set. And they have exactly the same rehearsal time
as everybody has ever had for the play. Wow, that’s great! And they have their complete new costume design. Everything is approached as a new version. I either direct myself or an associate director
directs. And we’re getting actors that you would
put in for a first time cast normally, of that caliber. And this is into its second, and hopefully
through its second year. So maybe, I mean, I don’t know how long
ART would last on Broadway, but a similar approach is possible. The biggest obstruction to that is the agents,
who are stuck with a different kind of view, that the prestige of being in an opening cast
outweighs what they still, you know, insist on seeing as a replacement cast. And that’s something that has to be overcome. And it’s quite a block, really, I must say. Also, this thing that I think needs to be
challenged in actors, and in their agents particularly. It’s obviously a completely different atmosphere
in this country than it is in Britain. It’s that no one really becomes an actor
or works in the theatre to make a lot of money. That was never the primary urge that made
people go into. And anybody who finds himself having to say,
“Well, you know, unavoidably, for economic reasons, I have to go to L.A. and do this
job,” needs to be challenged, I think. Because are they just chasing a sort of spurious
dream about being on a big screen, or is the work they’re doing there actually better? And if the work they’re doing there is seriously
not as good as the work they’re being offered on stage, then it’s an investment of another
kind to work on stage. You know, Michael Emerson, when he started
playing Oscar Wilde, three months after we moved, he’s been doing the play three months. This is an actor, he’s now forty-three,
I think, for years he could not get a single role in New York. He says that he couldn’t be a spear-carrier
at the Public. (LAUGHTER) And it’s true. Three months after he does Oscar Wilde, he
gets a call from a huge movie, I’m not going to say the name, to be one of the leads in
this new big budget, “the-world-is-going-to-get-destroyed” movie, next to a big, big actor. (LAUGHTER) Oh, you gave it away! And you know what happened? Well, it’s interesting. Like, he was thinking about it and thinking
about it, and he would get off the stage and like have these panic attacks about what to
do. He didn’t know what to do. It was all the money in the world, you know,
all these things. And he kept reading the script, and he said,
“This is horrible, this is a piece of garbage.” And he turned it down, and he stayed with
the show. Amazing. So there are cases when what you’re saying
happens. It’ll pay off for him, because at some point,
he’ll get a script which is stunning. Absolutely! And his reticence will pay off in the end. I mean, generally speaking, I think it does
pay off. And to appear in a bad piece of work that’s
going to be seen by millions of people is a real impediment right there. Right! (LAUGHTER) That’s what he said, actually. There are still so many questions to ask,
and so, I have just a few of our audience that would like to ask some of these questions. If you can step up, please. Yes. Ellen Hightower (PH). Question to the directors: How do you approach
an original piece, as opposed to a revival, from a director’s standpoint, a revival
that you’ve seen many, many times, and possibly some of the director’s style has rubbed
off on you? You want to start? Well, I think that you have an obligation
with an old play, which is to not only bring the life and originality of that piece to
a new audience, but to re-invigorate the writing for an audience who’s familiar with that
piece already. So you’ve got a double challenge, which
is actually quite an exciting thing to think about. I mean, obviously, I’ve just done it with
HAMLET. You’ve got a real task there, to make people
believe that HAMLET is a new play and has got the qualities of a new play. That is exciting. I haven’t done masses of work with living
writers, maybe four or five productions out of twenty-five, twenty-six. But the two rub off on each other. I think that I view the new writing scripts
that I’ve worked on as classics, and I imagine I work on scripts that I think will have a
profundity and a relevance over a long period of time. And approaching them as though they have the
status of a major classic. And I work on the classics as though they’re
new plays and as though they’re fresh and surprising, as though they’d just been written. I think that it’s always nice to have a
collaborator, so when the writer’s alive, it’s nice to have an ally. When they’re dead, it can be a bit lonely
sometimes. Do you use a dramaturg ever, on your classic
plays? No, no. Thank you. Hi, my name is Rachel (PH), and my question,
also for the directors, is: How important do you think it is for a director to act or
perform? And how much time or to what intensity should
they spend in the study or the pursuit of that part of the craft? Oh, I’d like to take that one just for a
second. I think it’s a terrific idea for any director
to do a little bit of acting. And I think you can only really understand
the process of what an actor goes through by doing it. I also think probably it’s not a bad idea
for a director to design a little bit and to do all the tasks involved. Because if you’re the vision that’s leading
the team, hopefully, I think it’s essential that you have some idea of what the process
for all of those disciplines is. And particularly for actors, when you’re
dealing with text and trying to deal with an emotional life and behavior and all of
that. I know as an actor, I much more responded
to directors who had acted before, and I found that very helpful and supportive. So for my taste, I think it’s a good idea
to get as much acting training as you can. And I think, in the theatre, it’s extremely
important for everyone to know as much as they can about every aspect of the theatre,
which is one of the reasons why we do these seminars, to take up that gap of having to
be specialized in directing or in playwriting or in set design or in sound. Learn as much as you can about every part
of it, and then you can tell people what to do and know whether they’re doing it correctly. Yes? Hi, my name is Guy West (PH). I was just wondering, what are your next projects? What are you working on next? Start with the writers, maybe? Is that for everyone? GUY WEST
Everybody, the whole panel. Okay. I have a musical that I’m working on, an
original musical comedy. I have an opera that I think might be done
this summer, in the Berkshires. And a new play. Me, too! (LAUGHTER) Well, we’re moving our show in
about four weeks. SIDE MAN is moving to the Roundabout. And I have an evening of monologues going
up in two weeks that I wrote that I’m in rehearsal on now. And I’m hopelessly behind on a screenplay
that I owe to a major studio. So I’m juggling, as usual. Explain a little there about the monologues. What do you mean? Oh, it’s an evening of nine monologues that
I’ve written. It’s called STRAY CATS. And one nice thing about New York is, there
are hundreds of these little places you can put up a showcase for three weeks. And here you get great actors, and since it’s
only three weeks, people are available. So it’s nine monologues I’ve written,
and we’re going to find out if it constitutes an evening. And it’ll be at this theatre on the third
floor of an office building on 43rd Street, All Seasons Theatre Company. And we’ll take it from there. All right. I’m working on the screenplay for GROSS
INDECENCY now. And I think the next thing I do is going to
be directing a pre-written play, rather than write a new one. So, that’s it. I’m not doing anything at the moment. (LAUGHTER) I’m having a rest. The next thing I’ll do is probably in the
autumn, which is probably this film of Sam Shepard’s play, SIMPATICO. When will that be? When? It will be this autumn, filming in Kentucky
and California, for the next spring. Okay. I’ve got SIDE MAN coming from the Weissberger
(PH) Theatre to the Roundabout. And sort of at the same time, and I’m not
quite sure how I’m going to do this, I’m going to tech and preview a new play at the
WPA Theatre, called STUPID KIDS, about teenagers in high school, written by a dear friend of
mine, John C. Russell, who died about four years ago. It’s a really lovely play, and I’m really,
really proud that I’m going to have the opportunity to do that. And then, in the fall, I’m actually doing
a national tour, a fiftieth anniversary production of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of “Peanuts.” So it’s really a cool thing. So we’ll hopefully bring that into New York
in the spring. And then I’m going to do THE LION IN WINTER
at the Roundabout Theatre, in the winter, with Laurence Fishburne, who’s going to
play Henry II. (AUDIENCE OOHS AND AAHS) Cool! So, that’s exciting. What do you do with your free time? (LAUGHTER) Exactly! That’s the problem. Lonny? I’ve just taken over Musical Theatre Works,
which is a developmental theatre, which develops new musicals. So I’m sort of shepherding there four musicals
in our theatre lab by emerging writers. And then we have commissioned projects. David Shire is writing a show for us, among
others. And so there are about eight musicals I’m
supposed to be supervising, so that’s pretty much what I’m doing. And in a year’s time, I’m going to be
directing the first Broadway revival of FINIAN’S RAINBOW (MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE), which
will happen next year. I think we have time just for one question. Hi, my name is Mary Shirelle (PH), and this
question is for Wendy Wasserstein. Can you speak a bit about the differences
between writing for the theatre and writing for screen? Oh, goodness! (LAUGHS) Well, you know, I just had a really
good experience writing for screen. I wrote this movie, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION,
that was a screenplay I began writing ten years ago. I always think of it, that was the Rasputin
of film. They tried to drown it, kill it! And why it was such a good experience was
the collaboration with my director, who was Nicholas Hytner. And that really, I mean, in many ways, we
approached that like a play. We worked together on it, I was around when
they shot it. So I felt very much sort of part of this. It wasn’t like I was the tenth writer removed
from this experience and that movie was rehearsed for two weeks. So in many ways, it was closer to my experience
of doing a play. But the process of, you know, writing a movie
and writing a play, it’s very different. Also, you don’t know, when you write a movie,
you sort of assume — you have no idea if this thing is ever gonna get made. You may well be one out of twelve writers
on it. You know, Chris Durang and I used to joke
that there was a Pinto warehouse in the Midwest, where the guard watched HEAVEN’S GATE every
night, and all our unmade movies were sitting in the back there. I am one of the chief authors at the Pinto
warehouse. (LAUGHTER) But I think it very much has to
do with how the making of the film is approached. Because what I loved this summer was I thought
that the business of making a movie is very different than the movie business. Standing around and watching the cinematographer
and the hairdresser and the lighting people, I thought, “This is fascinating. This is a craft I know very little about.” I have to interrupt you, to say that we have
run out of time. And this has been an extraordinary, extraordinary
panel of gifted playwrights and directors on here. And wonderful Wendy Wasserstein, who is one
of our great playwrights. (LAUGHTER) And Lincoln Center’s Tom Cott. Thank you both for moderating this seminar
on “Working in the Theatre,” which is coming to you from the Graduate Center of
the City University of New York. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *