Playwright, Director and Choreographer (Working In The Theatre #213)

[MUSIC] (APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing Seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” These are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, which is located on 42nd Street, the heart
of Times Square, the heart of the theatre. These seminars are offered as both an educational
and an entertaining point of view, of what it is to work in the theatre, from the point
of view of the performers, the playwrights, the directors, the press agents, and the unions
and the guilds and the set and costume designers. They stem from the Wing’s school. Many, many years ago, the Wing had a training
school for returning veterans who came back and learned what it was to work in the theatre. And that was all out of the concept of a woman
named Antoinette Perry, for whom the Tony Awards are named. And we are known for our Tony Awards, they
are a wonderful award and they are one of the most prestigious that can be given in
the arts. However, they are given for the achievement
of excellence in the craft of theatre, not the longest run and not the best reviews,
but having achieved a degree of excellence in their craft. The Wing was started a long time ago, and
all through the years, we have maintained our commitment, the commitment to serve the
community through the theatre. We do this through our year-round programs. Hospital shows, we go to hospitals and nursing homes and AIDS
centers to bring the magic of theatre of theatre to those that can’t go out to it. We have these seminars, in which we hope to
give you an idea of the importance of the theatre and the people that work in it. We have had the very best. We have had the youngest and we have had the
newest, and we’ve had the legendary ones on the program, all sharing their knowledge with
each other and with you. I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I’m President of the American Theatre Wing,
and I am very proud to be able to present these seminars at this time. I would like to turn this over now to Brendan
Gil, who is a critic, a writer, and a legendary figure with the New Yorker magazine and around
town, and George White, who is President of the O’Neill Theatre Center. Between the two of them, I think they will
get wonderful, wonderful nuggets of information out of this seminar, which is on the playwright
and the director. Thank you for coming, and it is now up to
you, Brendan. [APPLAUSE] (APPLAUSE) On my farthest right, geographically, and
I’m sure not politically (LAUGHTER), is Larry L. King, who with Peter Masterson wrote this
IN TEXAS. There’s a hint of echolalia there, in part
I think because of the great success of the earlier work, and why not? Larry is a well-known author in many, many
forms of literary endeavor. Next to Larry is Lonny Price, who is the current
director as well as co-writer of SALLY MARR AND HER ESCORTS. And my little card says he’s enjoyed a long
career as an actor on Broadway and in film. It’s not possible for someone so young to
have enjoyed “a long career,” but whatever it may be called. And then, next is Martin Charnin, director
of the Roundabout production of THE FLOWERING PEACH. No, the National Actors Theatre. It’s not the Roundabout. Oh, well, I’m sorry for the mistake. It’s been made here. Naturally, I am blameless. (LAUGHTER) Absolutely! I’ve had almost eighty years of life, always
blameless! (LAUGHTER) Anyway, of THE FLOWERING PEACH,
and is a lyricist, composer and librettist. Now, you can’t do better than that. And then I hope I am correct in identifying
Robert Jess Roth as making his Broadway directorial debut with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. And he co-wrote and directed a TheatreWorks
USA production of THE SECRET GARDEN. There you are, George, take over. Thank you, Brendan. On my downstage left is a gentleman who is
representing the fraternity of dramaturgs– that is not a dirty word, actually. We will hear more about that– is Ernest Schier,
who is the director of the National Critics’ Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center,
and was one of the most prominent out-of-town critics, was known as “Schier of the Bulletin,”
back when there was a Bulletin. And next to him is Peter Masterson, who has
acted and directed extensively in stage and film, and is the director and co-writer of
IN TEXAS. Isn’t it nice we can even say the title nowadays
in this maturic society on television? Thank you very much. And on his right is Erin Sanders, who wrote
SALLY MARR AND HER ESCORTS, and has for the past four seasons been the literary manager
and dramaturg– again, that word– for the Second Stage Theatre. On his right is Tazewell Thompson, Artistic
Director of the Syracuse Stage and adjunct Professor in Drama at Syracuse University,
and is former Artistic Associate and Resident Director with Washington’s Arena Stage. And on my immediate left is Rob Marshall,
who is a choreographer, who is represented this year on Broadway with three shows, KISS
OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, the revival of SHE LOVES ME, and the revival of DAMN YANKEES. Well done. Isabelle found herself astonished, and I think
dismayed, to discover that this is first time we’ve had an all-male cast up here. And as I glance around, we look rather like
a rogues’ gallery or some kind of criminal lineup. And although as I said a moment ago, “I’m
blameless,” I have the strongest sense that I’m guilty of something, looking on all these
faces. (LAUGHTER) Brendan, Martin said this should be called
LES BOYS. (LAUGHTER) I think that this is a wonderful opportunity
to see what the men can do without the women. (LAUGHTER) And so we expect them to just go
out full force. Yes, be intensely competitive. Well, one of the things that is true about
this whole group is the degree to which they evince the fact that theatre is a collaborative
enterprise. And at an earlier gathering last fall we had,
on the one hand, Edward Albee, and on the other, Tony Kushner. And there was Edward Albee, who believes in
the playwright solely at work, finishing his manuscript, not letting anybody have any effect
on it whatever until the last possible moment when it goes into rehearsal. On the other side, Tony Kushner, equally distinguished,
equally gifted, who believes that a play is a collaborative effort all the way long, building,
slowly accumulating into something. Now, I’d like to start with Larry L. King. That “L.” is a critical matter, which he may
go into later in our program. This is a formal collaboration between you
and Masterson. Right. And how does it work? Well, it worked fairly well, because I tend
to lose my temper and shout and curse. (LAUGHTER) And Pete is a very calm fellow,
and what he teaches me by example is that all my anger goes to waste on him. So I learn not to do it. (LAUGHTER) But collaboration is an unnatural
act. Someone once said it’s like three people getting
together to make a baby. (LAUGHTER) And it seems to me that I enjoy working alone
better than I do working with other people, although, you know, I love you, Pete. (LAUGHTER) But I’m more at ease writing my
nonmusical plays, which my lawyer, who is also my wife and agent, calls my “three hundred
dollar plays,” bless her heart. (LAUGHTER) So I’m in musicals for money, and
Pete helps me and Tommy Tune helps me and Carol Hall helps me. Can we have Pete pick up on that? What about your side in this collaboration? How is that working? Can you tell us about that? Well, I think there are so many disciplines
involved in making a musical that for one person to try to do it all seems to me very
difficult. And we’ve tried to use the expertise of a
lot of different people. Carol Hall writes the music and the lyrics,
and sometimes she asks us to tell her what the song’s about or sometimes even write down
ideas for the songs. And Larry and I will make a collaborative
outline for the entire piece. And then he’ll write a scene, I’ll write a
scene, I’ll rewrite his scene, he’ll rewrite mine, and we just pass it back and forth until
we realize we’re getting somewhere. And Tommy Tune’s been very involved in the
overall production of the thing, with ideas for the script, too. So it’s been a very big collaboration, very
wide collaboration. It’s been two or three years of work? Again, a musical takes a long time. Three and a half years. October 1990, however long ago that was. (LAUGHS) A long time. A long time. That’s when I called Larry to see if he wanted
to do it. Is that for each one of the WHOREHOUSEs or
just … (LAUGHTER) No, just the new WHOREHOUSE. This is going to be one of those days. The other one took two years, I think, two
and a half years. Have you worked with anyone else, either one
of you? No, I haven’t, no. In musicals? No. I’ve worked with Horton Foote in films and
plays, and other writers that way, but I’ve never written with anybody else. I haven’t either. In the case of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, for example,
how long has that taken to engender? About two and a half years. We started on Thanksgiving of ’91. And how collaborative an effort is that? Oh, extremely. And interesting for me, because my collaborators
were spread out. Tim Rice, who wrote the lyrics to the new
songs, lives in London. Alan Menken, the composer, lives in upstate
New York. Linda Woolverton, the book writer, lives in
Los Angeles. So we would come together in a city for a
time, you know, a week or ten days, and work very intensely and make big lists of things
and all sorts of stuff. Then we’d split up to the corners of the globe
and then do a lot of faxing and a lot of talking on the phone. So it was an interesting, different way for
me to collaborate. I’ve not done long-distance work like that
before. And then actually, faxing, I would think,
would be indispensable, because along with everything else, a scene design or actual
blocking, you could do it with faxing. All the designers, thank God, were here with
me in New York, because I don’t think you can fax the number of blueprints and design
drawings we had. But yeah, it was totally indispensable. The scene designer was who? Stan Meyer. And talk about a collaboration, we’ve been
working together for ten years. I met Stan at Rutgers University, where we
both went to school, and this is like, I don’t know, our seventeenth or eighteenth thing. So that’s an interesting thing, too, when
you work with someone that long. We have real shorthand and, you know, no ego. Really my whole team is pretty great [about]. We were good about commenting on each other’s
work in a nice, free way, which I think was very beneficial. If you have no ego, you should give your bodies
to the Yale Medical School (LAUGHTER) and find out how that happened! Oh, my God. There is one thing I wanted to pick up, too,
Brendan, because also when you were doing this, and I think it will come up more probably
in other of our seminars, but you had– and I don’t think it is the “specter- but you
knew the cartoon or the animation was out there. Yes. And how did that affect both the collaboration
and what you did in it? Because there was something that was already
a success and was up and going and this is new work, obviously. Well, it didn’t really affect the collaboration
any way that I can think of, really. We knew when we started that we had this immensely
popular story with characters that are loved the world over, so we knew we didn’t want
to change that. That is Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, so
we knew that. We also knew that we had to have a lot more
dimension to the characters and a lot more songs to make it a full evening of theatre. So I know Linda Woolverton, who was the book
writer, she wrote the screenplay as well, she relished the opportunity to kind of go
back in there, because animation is all really shorthand. I mean, if musical theatre book writing is
shorthand, animation screenwriting is really shorthand. And so she was really excited about being
able to delve back into her own thing, kind of expand it and flesh out the characters
some. And I know that Alan and Howard Ashman, who
wrote the original six songs for the film, really wanted to find a way to have the Beast
sing in the movie and they tried a couple of things and it just didn’t fit in an eighty
minute animated film. And so .. did I answer the question? (LAUGHTER) That’s right. Fair enough. When we were talking with Burke Moses and
Susan Egan, they were saying one of the oddities of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is you have two kinds
of audiences. Yeah. You have the matinee audience with all the
children, and then you have the adult audience at night, and that the children tended to
take charge of things, that they often interrupted, identified things and so forth. A lot of little girls end up sitting right
behind our conductor, Mike Cosra, and they want to talk to Belle very, very badly. (LAUGHTER) And so they try to, you know, “Belle! Belle!” They try to get her attention. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, it’s interesting, they’re
a very different audience. And it’s going to run for what, ten years? Oh, please. That’s what it’s meant to do, it should do. Thank you. How long has CATS been running? I don’t know. Nine years? Eleven years. Eleven, eleven. T.S. Eliot never had any money in his life. And somebody said that his widow has received
so far seventeen million dollars in royalties. (LAUGHTER) And it’s perfectly wonderful. If only we were in heaven and Eliot was looking
down and saying, “Am I a rich man!” (LAUGHTER) Not the way it is. But now, tell me about your “long career”
in the theatre. How can you have had a long one? Well, I guess I started pretty early. Gosh, when I was fifteen I worked for Hal
Prince in his office as an office boy, when they were preparing PACIFIC OVERTURES. So I kind of feel that that’s kind of the
beginning of my career. And then I went to the Performing Arts High
School and Juilliard, and I started acting when I was very young, when I got out of school. And I played Master Harold in MASTER HAROLD
AND THE BOYS, and the Prince-Sondheim MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, and a musical called RAGS. Let’s see. I replaced in BURN THIS, Lanford Wilson’s
play. So I’ve been acting for quite a while, and
doing films and television and that sort of thing. And then you will embrace more and more activities
in regard to the theatre besides acting? Do you have a program? Yeah, well, I started directing. I was working for the American Jewish Theatre. I was acting in a play called THE IMMIGRANT,
which is quite a lovely play, actually. And they had a musical which they were scheduled
to do next, which was a revival of George Abbott’s THE EDUCATION OF HYMAN KAPLAN, which
was an unsuccessful musical in 1968. [It] had the misfortune of opening the night
Martin Luther King was shot and the critics apparently ran up the aisle in the middle,
you know, had gotten word. Anyway, I don’t necessarily think that’s why
the musical didn’t do very well. However, that was the legend. And I gave some suggestions for directors
and the Artistic Director, Stanley Brechner, said, “Well, what about you?” And I had truly never thought about directing
before. And immediately, I thought, “Well, why not? How exciting!” I was about to do a theatre piece down the
road, so I had a commitment later, so I had this window of time. And the first reason I kind of liked directing
was I was onstage at a dress rehearsal and one of the actresses came onstage and wore
one of the ugliest dresses I’d ever seen. And I said to the costume designer, “That’s
the ugliest dress I’ve ever seen.” And the next day it was gone! And another dress appeared. And I thought, “Oh, I could like this. I could like this!” (LAUGHTER) As an actor, you’re always going,
“Excuse me, you know, please! I really hate this.” And you know, six weeks later the show closes
and nothing’s been done about it. But as a director I really enjoyed that kind
of power. (LAUGHTER) So I started directing and was
fortunate to do THE ROTHSCHILDS, which became a hit, and that made me a director. And I feel very grateful for that. It’s nice to be on the other side. Erin, tell us about that collaboration. Because you’re working together here. Right. Well, Lonny and Joan Rivers and I met, actually,
through Second Stage Theatre, where I had pursued the property in my capacity as Literary
Manager and the dramaturg there. And it had a very brief time that it was sort
of housed there and then left, and I left with it. We stole you away. (LAUGHTER) That’s right. I had worked with Lonny and Joan as a dramaturg
and helped Lonny to shape the material somewhat and had gone as far as I could without putting
pen to paper and kept dropping hints here and there that I was also a writer and would
love an opportunity to try writing a few scenes. And that led to just that, to writing the
first couple of scenes, and future involvement until we were a full-blown collaboration,
the three of us, working very tightly together on the script. All face to face, in your case, right? Right, we were all here. It started [because] Joan had acquired the
property. She acquired the rights to the woman’s life,
Sally Marr, who’s Lenny Bruce’s mother that the play is based on. And it was going to be a film for a long time. And then she had the notion to make it into
a play. She brought me into it at that point, after,
I think, probably offering it to every director in town. And every writer. Probably. Now, the gestation of that was two or three
years, probably. It sounds like it. Yeah. It’s about two and a half years for me, and
Erin’s on it about two? Almost two years, yeah. But she’s had the material for what? Seven. Seven years. Is that normal? I mean, here it is, two and a half, three
and a half years. Is that normal for the development of a play,
from the beginning, the first draft, to the stage? I would say it’s probably different for everybody. But it seems like musicals need to evolve
longer than the plays, because generally, you don’t see straight plays with the same
kind of collaboration on the script itself. This is a different kind of piece that way,
and the play itself, like Lonny has pointed out, often is like a musical in the way we
have structured it. It’s very flowing. It’s, hopefully, very seamless. It’s what? Thirty-eight scenes now? Thirty-eight scenes. Yeah. And a lot of transitions, and a big part of
the work has been to make it flow and feel as if we’re not going “Lights down, lights
up,” with a new scene. The conceit of the play is it’s a one-woman
play, she’s the only one who speaks, but there are three “escorts,” we call them, because
the woman had a comedy act called “Sally Marr and her Escorts.” And there are three other characters who play
every other character in her life, but they don’t speak. So she relates to them, and yet they are ghost
figures through her life. And there’s a live band on stage. So it’s a very kind of strange hybrid sort
of thing that we’re doing. I don’t know if it works. It sounds like it’s working. Well, I hope it is. And it just has to keep moving, but it does,
it does. She does a wonderful job in it. Yeah, she’s terrific. We are putting in three new scenes today,
so I hope she’s busy back there learning them. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, she’s terrific. And her control of the amount of energy required
from changing the character, the different ages and all the rest of the things like that. It’s a very subtle thing to have to do, as
well as, I would think, exhausting. Oh! She’s got more energy than … (LAUGHTER) More energy than anybody. But that was one of the challenges that we
faced working on it, was we knew who was going to star in it. We figured out how to work with her and create
a piece that showcased her strengths, and I think we were all, you know, happily amazed
at her abilities and energy. It really is like tailoring a suit for someone
very particular. Right. And other scenes would have been written differently,
but when you have Joan, these are her strengths. How do we capitalize on those? And as Erin said, she has many of them, so
it gave us a lot of options. That’s a very old-fashioned thing. In the nineteenth century, “vehicles,” so-called
were always being written– Yes, that’s right. –for particular stars, for their strengths
and avoiding their weaknesses. And then that went out. And I think the playwrights began to become
rather haughty about it, as if they should do a work of art that wouldn’t require, you
know, tailoring to anything. Yes. But I believe in this other principle. I think it works fine. It’s probably more focused, in playing to
their strengths. I wanted to bring up [something], since we’ve
been bandying about the word “dramaturg” for a bit, and preface this by saying Edith Oliver,
the critic and Brendan’s colleague at the New Yorker, once defined dramaturg like an
old-fashioned washing machine that had a wringer which had a crank on the side, and Edith once
said, “A dramaturg is the crank on the side.” (LAUGHTER) Well, anyway, that being the case,
I wanted Ernest Schier to talk a little bit just about the dramaturgical function. I know the phrase goes back to Bertolt Brecht
and the literary manager. But it’s mutated over the years. So Ernie, if you could just talk a little
bit about the function of a dramaturg generally. It’s not logical. All right. And there’s no aspect that’s logical. It varies from theatre to theatre, situation
to situation. I don’t think a literary manager is quite
a dramaturg, or a dramaturg is ever quite a literary manager. My broadest definition, worked out simply
for myself in terms of my own work at the O’Neill and at Pan Asian Repertory, [is that]
a dramaturg is an advocate for the playwright. And sometimes he needs to be actively that,
or he’s a mother, or he’s an emergency medical service. (LAUGHTER) Almost any kind of supply side
human need is called into play. But what I’d like to emphasize is that a dramaturg
is not a play doctor. He is not concerned with writing or rewriting
the playwright’s work in any situation. He can be interpretive or analytical. Mostly, I work by asking questions of the
playwright and try to support the playwright and help him get on with his work and to achieve
his own vision. And that’s very early on you do that? You do that at the very beginning or all the
way through? I work mostly with new scripts, either in
development or translations or adaptations. Yes, and then you disappear. I mean, one of the descriptions of a dramaturg
is that the dramaturg is the last one hired and the first one fired. (LAUGHTER) And that, I think, is generally
true throughout the country. But I’ve mostly worked with new scripts, Brendan. And Erin, that’s true for you, too? Yeah, mostly with new scripts. The dramaturg will be different on every production,
depending somewhat on the needs. But the short definition I use is sort of
the theatrical equivalent of an editor on a production. You give suggestions of cuts or suggestions
of changes. But again, it’s very clearly you’re not a
play doctor at all. You’re not there to fix something. You’re there to give insight into what the
playwright is trying to achieve and if the play is achieving that goal. I take both titles at Second Stage, Literary
Manager and Dramaturg, because I see them as very different. The Literary Manager manages the literary
office, handles the submissions and does play development. And a dramaturg works in production. As George said, I think there’s going to be
a lot of that later on and a lot of questions for you, because this comes up in almost every
seminar. I know this has been wonderful explanations
of it. It’s not quite [all], there’s still more we
want to know about it. But here is Martin here, all by himself. And Tazewell all by himself, too, Rob all
by himself. So how do we start them talking about what
it is to work together? Well, Martin’s so shy. We’ll draw you out. (LAUGHTER) You are doing a play written by, sadly, a
ghost, Clifford Odets, who died in 1962. Yes. On Day One of rehearsal, I said there are
no “Cliff notes,” and very little information. A lot of very anecdotal material about that
play, THE FLOWERING PEACH, which was the last play Clifford wrote before he went back to
Hollywood. And it was a blessing in one instance to be
able to manipulate the material to some extent, to make certain cuts without having to collaborate,
in the short, brief period of time that we had to get the play on. But it was disastrous when many mysterious
lines surfaced, or moments or beats, and I would have to confront Eli Wallach or Anne
Jackson or any of the other actors on the stage with eleven answers for “Why am I doing
this? What does he mean?” And it is a mystery play. It’s a very strange play. I’ve had a long association with that play. It was the first play I ever saw, back in
1954. I had seen only musicals up until that time,
and I had seen Menasha Skolnick — Oh, fantastic. –do the play, and I saw it nine times. I’d ask why? Well, mostly because he reminded my of my
father, Skolnick’s performance. I mean, my father was feisty and intractable
and spoke with an accent similar to Mel Brooks’ Two Thousand Year Old Man (LAUGHTER), and
was violent and passionate and docile. And my father was crazy (LAUGHTER) in the
same way that Skolnick was crazy and in the same way that Odets’ portrayal of a patriarch
in a Jewish family was crazy And his motives, his actions, his behavior was unexplainable. And I really identified with this character. As I said, I saw the play a great many, many
times, and it just stuck with me. And then, in the sixties, when I started to
write and direct musicals, I went to Richard Rodgers and Peter Stone and we optioned THE
FLOWERING PEACH and turned it into a musical, which was written specifically, tailored for,
Danny Kaye. TWO BY TWO. TWO BY TWO, which got us into the worst kind
of trouble, in terms of exactly the problem you guys now confront, in terms of tailoring
a piece of material for an individual performer. Because TWO BY TWO is the least performed,
by virtue of the fact that it was so tailored to the specific madnesses of Danny Kaye, that
the stage directions were printed that way. There’s material in the script, there’s stuff
in the score that invariably made it impossible for anyone else to do it. And so, when one now does TWO BY TWO, they
extrapolate all of that stuff that is simply, only things that belong to that very special
and unique character that was created for Danny Kaye. I then came full circle to direct the play
upon which the musical had been based, and Eli Wallach was now playing the play, in an
entirely different way. And my ghost was not Menasha Skolnick, not
my father. It was Danny Kaye. (LAUGHTER) And it was a very difficult, difficult
task. I mean, I needed five thousand hours of rehearsal
in order to finally solve this play, especially given the fact that there was no collaborator. I’m desperate, always, for a collaborator. I mean, it is the most satisfying experience
in the world to be able to sit in a room [with a collaborator]. You’re right about egos. There have to be no egos. You have to be able to sort of be a sponge. I also started out as an actor, and I just
will very quickly talk about where ideas can come from or should come from. I did two shows in my life. I was in the original company of WEST SIDE
STORY, and then I was Dick Van Dyke’s understudy in a show called THE GIRLS AGAINST THE BOYS,
which starred Bert Lahr and Nancy Walker, Shelley Berman and Dick Van Dyke. Those were the four principals in the show. And we ran three weeks in Philadelphia and
a week in New York. It was not a successful revue. But Bert Lahr was a great teacher, even in
the brief period of time that one had to work with him. And I remember once going into the men’s room
of the Earlanger Theatre and he was washing his hands and talking to the janitor, or whoever
it was who was filling the soap receptacles, and saying to him, “Well, do you think I should
make the exit from the left side of the stage?” (LAUGHTER) And the guy was saying, “Well,
Bert, I think it would be funnier if you didn’t cross Nancy Walker.” (LAUGHTER) And the next night, or that night,
that did go in and it worked and it was better. (LAUGHTER) So, the only point I make is that
collaboration is really collaboration. And indeed, the orange juice salesman can
sometimes point out something to you that you have absolutely lost total sight of, or
control of. That’s very interesting. Tazewell, picking up on that, how do you tend
to work, collaboratively or not? Or dead playwrights versus live playwrights? Do you want to talk a little bit about that? I love having a live playwright in the room
and a dramaturg, and the designers and the actors. Have you been an actor? Yes. I started out as an actor, and I was terrified
as an actor, constantly. In the middle of the day when I knew I had
to do a performance at eight o’clock, my entire day was ruined. (LAUGHTER) It was something that I always
felt I wanted to do. My grandmother was an actress. She was in the original company of SHUFFLE
ALONG and BROWN SUGAR on Broadway. And so I heard all kinds of wonderful stories
growing up. And I was attracted to the theatre early on. My father was a musician. But as an actor, I just never enjoyed it,
and I was always getting work. So I was in constant pain. (LAUGHTER) Maybe that’s the key. That’s right, seriously. But I’m very happy to have gone through that
process as an actor, because it’s very helpful in working with actors, I think. Are you scared of directing actors? No, I love it. I taught for a while after I left acting,
and that was great, also. So I think the main part of me now that’s
the director enjoys having to act the roles with the actors and to instruct them, to teach
them, to be there for them. But I love the collaborative work with all
the elements. And I don’t particularly want the actors to
speak to the janitor or the orange juice salesman (LAUGHTER), but I agree with Martin that you
can get all of that stuff from anybody. And I love that. At Syracuse Stage we have, unfortunately,
very few weeks of rehearsal. So I think having a dramaturg early on, when
you know what you’re going to do in the season and the dramaturg does all of that wonderful
research and gathering of music and magazines and books and poetry, and anything that can
influence and help [you]. What kind of plays are you doing at Syracuse? Well, this past season I did three new plays:
a new play by Joanna McClelland Glass, called IF WE ARE WOMEN, and a new play by Cheryl
West called HOLIDAY HEART, and a new play by N. Scott Momaday, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
novelist, his first play, a Native American writer, called THE INDOLENT BOYS. And we did also the Woody Guthrie musical,
have AVNER THE ECCENTRIC at the theatre. Boy, that’s a big program. It’s tremendous. Yes. And our subscribers were right with us. We had a hundred and seventy eight inches
of snow. (LAUGHTER) Yes, that’s right. And they just plowed through and came through. How long do they run? We run a month for each show. Unfortunately, we only have three weeks of
rehearsal. That’s a system that started, I think, five
or six years ago. Do you use local performers? No, we cast out of New York. Do you also, as a director, picking up from
what Lonny had said, enjoy a certain amount of that power, having been the actor with
the rotten costume? Well, what I like even more is I like running
a theatre, and I never thought I would like that either. But I really do. I started as Artistic Director. This is my second winter. I look at it in winters. (LAUGHTER) And I love it, I do. And yes, the power feels good. But I think I have good taste, and I think
I’m strong in that I know what I want and I like shaping things and changing things
and I like effecting change. And so, I’m having a good time. That’s very important. And I’m responsible not only for what’s on
stage, but for whether the theatre’s too hot and too cold, and whether the toilets are
overflowing. (LAUGHTER) And I answer every letter that
a subscriber writes, whether it’s a complaint or praise. So I like it. I like the producing side of it very much. That’s the body that should go to Yale. (LAUGHTER) Exactly. Rob, when you collaborate, of course you have
lots of people with whom you have to collaborate. I mean, obviously, your dancers, your performers,
but also your director. Tell us a little bit about the interaction
between the choreographer and the director, and I guess the playwright to a degree, too. I assume that comes into it. Plus all the people that you have to marshall
and drill, literally. It’s interesting. Some people, directors and so forth, don’t
know how to use a choreographer, I think. A lot of people think that the choreographer
does the steps or does the entertainment and isn’t connected to the play in some way. And what I find, of course, the better directors
and the better collaborators are people who involve the choreographer from the very beginning. Because good choreography, you know, I don’t
know how to do the sort of show choreography that doesn’t connect to character and the
story and the development of the piece in some way. And so, those are the directors, obviously,
that I like to work with, and people that understand how that happens. I was lucky enough to work with Jack O’Brian
on DAMN YANKEES, for instance. And you know, whoever has the best idea in
the room sort of wins in that sort of situation, you know? There is no ego. You know, you sort of check it at the door
and you can play. I mean, I really think that when you can go
into a situation where you can literally play and be children and let everybody sort of
speak, it’s a very different situation because you can really have the best product happen. And you know, there have been directors I’ve
worked with who say, “Okay, so what are the steps going to be?” Or I’ll go to an interview and they’ll say,
“So show me what you would do, you know, what steps you would do.” (LAUGHTER) “What are you talking about?!” You know, “What do you mean? Get up and do a big six o’clock kick? I mean, I don’t know what you want me to do.” (LAUGHTER) And so what you want to say to
them is, “This is part of the whole piece, and you know, we’ve learned that.” I mean, I think that’s sort of an old-fashioned
idea, of how shows stopped and you danced and then the story continued. And that doesn’t really work any more. And this goes back to the eighteenth century
or nineteenth century opera, where you had to have the ubiquitous ballet– Exactly. –in the middle of the story. It’s the same attitude. Yeah, and ever since Agnes De Mille, you know,
things have changed. And it’s still hard to connect that to some
[people]. But isn’t it still part of the whole piece? Isn’t it still part of moving the play along? Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, that’s what a good choreographer can
do to a piece. It can reveal character. It can further the plot. Did you come in right at the beginning? With DAMN YANKEES, yes, and SHE LOVES ME. SPIDERWOMAN was interesting because I came
in after they had already played in Toronto for quite some time and before it went to
London. And they were struggling with the same kind
of situation, how does the dance connect to the piece? And it really hadn’t been solved. And it was the last thing to sort of fit into
place. We worked very hard at trying to connect it. I mean, I think they did a production in Purchase
where there was one specific story that was being told with the movies that the character
of Aurora was in. And then they decided, when they had Chita,
they said, “Well, it’s Chita, so Chita will take care of it, and we’ll just do a big number
for Chita! Ba-da!” And we’ll go back to SALLY MARR a little bit
with this. I mean, here, you know, when you have in a
sense a superstar choreographically– Yeah. –and it’s not like you have a corps de ballet. When you have Chita Rivera, I imagine a lot
of tailoring had to go in. And you have the double thing of having a
superstar to work with, dancer, and the story line as well that had to mesh. It’s interesting, because Chita is a superstar,
but she wanted to be an actress. She wanted to be part of the piece. And she would say, “I don’t want to go out
and do my club act. I don’t want to go out and just dance.” And because they had Chita, they said, “Well,
we’ve taken care of that part of the show.” And it hadn’t been taken care of. And we had to connect her to the rest of the
piece. We had to give her something to play as an
actress. We had to further the plot in some way with
what she was doing and find a persona that connected to the world, you know. So this is what I was able to do when I came
into the show, and that’s all I worked on. But it’s funny, even with these brilliant
people that were working on that piece, that was one of the hardest things to sort of find. How many different shows can you be at work
at at the same time? (LAUGHTER) It’s amazing to me. I don’t know how that happened. I mean, SPIDERWOMAN was previewing at the
same time I was in rehearsals for SHE LOVES ME. And the only way that was able to happen is
that Hal Prince decided we weren’t going to be doing any changes really between London
and New York. So New York was really just about teching
the show. We didn’t have much to do besides that. We were just repeating what we had done, it
was the same cast. So that was the only way I was able to do
that. Now, have you got a couple of shows that you’re
already at work on that won’t be here for a year? (LAUGHS) I’m developing a new piece with Hal
Prince now, a new show. That’ll be for ’95 or ’96? You know, who knows when it will be for? I mean, we’re doing a workshop now, and so
you never know. You sort of hope that it can be developed
and move at its own pace. Rob said something I thought was interesting,
about playing, about everyone getting out to play and collaboration. And I think the most important thing is being
able to fail in front of people, and giving up that idea. Joan and Erin would sit in a room and we’d
look at each other and we’d go, “Okay, just say it! Just say it! It’s terrible, say it! Say a terrible idea!” (LAUGHTER) And we had to get past the idea,
because most of [the time], the first idea’s not going to be good. But that would lead Erin to say something
and me to say something and Joan to fix something. We’d often start by saying, “Okay, this is
completely the wrong idea.” Good, say it. Yeah, right. But I think that takes a long time, to be
able to be in a room with people and to be terrible. Yes, it’s a kind of trust is what you’re saying. Exactly, and for an actor, too. When I’m directing, you know, I’ll say to
John, “Do it badly. Now, I know it’s going to be terrible, just
do something really terrible.” But then we get past the first one, and then
the second one’s better. But it’s the fear of starting, I think, sometimes
that is difficult. I was going to say I think that’s really important. We ended up having such a good time. We’d go rehearsals and it would be, you know,
like going to play, all these fabulous actors with lots of ideas. And you never know where a good idea’s going
to come from, and definitely one thing leads to another. [That] game plan works. I mean, it just happens that once you start,
everyone starts talking, everyone starts contributing ideas. And then as a director, I think, your job
is to edit all these ideas into a cohesive thing. But it’s not your job to have all the ideas
(HE LAUGHS). I was very relieved when I discovered that. (LAUGHTER) You know, that it’s not your responsibility
to make everything up. It’s your responsibility as a group of artists. Well, that was a concept in LAUGHTER ON THE
23RD FLOOR, for example, the writers all sitting about, everybody just spouting out anything
that they could think of. And from that came the idea that one thought
would work for a play. And I guess you need all of that. Is there enough of that now? You need it unless you’re Edward Albee, unless
you’re Lillian Hellman. There are a handful of playwrights who work
in absolute isolation and bring in a finished piece of work. That could never happen in a musical, for
instance. No way. But in a straight play, yes. But I wonder whether Edward Albee, whose play
Martin and I saw last night, his THREE TALL WOMEN, which is astonishing. I don’t think he’s really alone, because when
you see THREE TALL WOMEN, the other collaborator in that play is most definitely the experiences
he’s had with his mother. I mean, he watched [her]. Well, his mother’s in the play, all right. And the behavior, and all of that is there. So there’s this unseen collaboration that
I think some writers are not owning up to, and I think that’s a very important and powerful
force. He’s not really in that room alone. I was just thinking, though, in the world
of the arts, the idea that you can suggest, “This is terrible! This is a rotten idea, but let’s try it.” Well, if you’re a poor devil of a novelist,
you don’t have that liberty. In fact, if you say, “We’ll do something wrong
now,” and it gets into print, you’re done for. And the same way, it’s unimaginable that an
artist painting a canvas could be sharing that canvas with anybody else, or even taking
advice from anybody else. And you’re right to say that of course, in
fiction, there’s an army of ghosts who are being represented, either on the stage or
in a novel or short story. But the other forms of art are so lonely,
in terms of the single person of talent trying to produce a work of art that will be a finished
accomplishment. And what is great about the theatre is, of
course, the collaboration is all so loving, affectionate, and whatever else it may be. But even if you fail on Broadway, as I did
once many years ago, I always figured because I had failed, at least I got there. And now remembering, we all hug and kiss each
other, all of us who were in involved with it, Robert Whitehead and [everybody]. And we think in some strange way, out of the
failure came the success of our relationship, and that you have always. I remember when I was in MASTER HAROLD and
it was Manny Azenberg producing it for New York, and he was also producing a Neil Simon
plays at the same time. And Athol Fugard writes without a collaborator
and it’s in longhand and it’s his own script and when he puts the period in the play, that’s
the play. It is not workshopped, it is not rewritten,
it is perhaps with the actors a little bit changed, but minutely changed. And he was hearing Neil Simon had one of the
BROADWAY BOUND trilogy and scenes were going in and out and he was totally perplexed by
this. He could not fathom that they were changing
the play in process, that it didn’t come out. Athol’s just come out the way they are. And by the way, I think that’s very much a
function that I have seen in other countries. And I think, whether it’s South Africa, I
see it certainly in Russia. I’ve seen it in other societies, maybe not
so much in England. But that’s what, you know, it is. The playwright writes it, it’s there. Then it’s up to the actors and the director
to do it. Blackout. Yes, yes. Nothing else, no collaboration. Going back, I think this collaborative thing
is a very American theatre way of working. And also, the one element that has been just
hinted at, but I think is really vitally important in terms of the process is you talk about
the ability to fail in the living room where you’re chucking ideas across at one another. The need that we all have, I think, is the
ability to fail anonymously, someplace other than in New York (LAUGHTER), which we are
rarely given an opportunity to do. So that now the process becomes one of a reading
which ultimately is spoon-fed to somebody who may do a workshop who would then theoretically
take it to its next stage. And so that process has changed so dramatically
in the last twenty years. The first show that I did went into rehearsal,
went out of town, came into town. I mean, that basically was how it went. But your changes are made out of town. Well, but also, your changes were made publicly. Your changes were made with Ernie seeing us
and reviewing us. Ernie, fortunately, was one of the few critics
that we would go to Philadelphia and get reviewed by who understood conceptually that we were
not done. Now, you could go to another town and get
creamed on your first performance as though you were ready, after having only been in
rehearsal for four weeks, and [the reviewer] did not take the concept of the fact that
you were working toward [a finished product]. It’s what you must do as a director. You must say on Day One of rehearsal, or even
on the first day of the preview, “This is not the opening night, folks. We still have a long way to go.” We don’t have the luxury often of a long way
to go. Well, they should be more responsive to other
things. Well, they should understand, and many of
them now do. I’m talking a while ago, [they] did not understand
[that] it wasn’t finished, it didn’t come full-blown off the page and was ready, you
know, to be seen, to be heard. The audience gives us back much more than
I think the audience realizes. And it’s not individual. I think it was Moss Hart who said, “The audience
as singular individuals are fools. The audience, as a collective body, is a genius.” And the truth of that statement is very, very
much in evidence. You put something up on its feet and two hundred
or two thousand people are going to tell you something, and you’re going to behave based
on that [information]. You know, even after the writer says, “Well,
let’s just try it one more night, it didn’t work.” So after the third night, you have to turn
around and say, “Yes, it has to be fixed.” But the audience is a vital collaborator. So you’re talking about the value of the preview
audience? I’m talking about the value of any kind of
an audience looking at your work. Let’s talk for a minute about preview audiences,
what does it teach you? What does it give you, a preview audience? How much do you listen to it? I listen to it a lot. You’re both in previews now? Yes. I think we all listen a lot. If we don’t, we’re silly. And you sit amongst them and they tell you
something. Right. Like you say, it really doesn’t help to talk
to individuals that much. I mean, you really sit there, and you know. I mean, if they all go, “Unnh!” (HE LAUGHS), you know you’ve got to get rid
of that line. (LAUGHTER) Which we did yesterday. (LAUGHTER) And you have to learn to read if they’re quiet
because they’re attentive– Yes. –and getting information, or are they quiet
because they’re bored and about to go to sleep. They’re usually not just quiet. I listen for coughs and rustles. If too many people are talking, then you know
they’re bored. They’re not being attentive. And you started previews in New York? You didn’t go out of town? Right. And you? No, same with us. But see, that’s again one of the [problems]. I mean, we’re going to end up talking about
money and how wonderful it would be not to have a panel discussion where you end up talking
about the impact of the buck on how you can get a show on today. But one of the most difficult things in the
world to be able to do is to throw out things that are working for other reasons. One of the traps is you can have an enormously
successful moment, a laugh, a joke, what have you, but it’s not the right tone. It’s not the right level, it disturbs the
moment that is coming. So you have to be really [careful]. Who is it? It’s Emlyn Williams’ great line– I suddenly
sound like Robert Kennedy (LAUGHTER), calling all of these references to mind. But I collaborated with Richard Rodgers and
one of the first things that he ever told me about how he worked with Oscar Hammerstein,
which I guess was his need to tell me how he was going to work with me, was that he
said that Emlyn Williams, who was a great friend of Dick and Oscar’s, came to see SOUTH
PACIFIC, which was in terrible trouble, wherever it was, in Washington or Philadelphia. And ultimately, [he] began to help Josh Logan
make changes and fixes in the project. And Emlyn Williams’ line to all of them was
“I will take this assignment on if you all agree to drown your favorite children.” That’s right. And it’s one of the great lessons. It should be Whitman’s Sampler for all of
us in the theatre, because that is one of the great lessons that you learn. Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, who nobody reads
any more– Who? See? (LAUGHTER) Brendan knows who it is. I pronounce it “Cooch.” (LAUGHTER) Okay. Well, almost that same thing in “The Art of
Writing,” where he says, “Murder your darlings.” Same thing. I think that’s William Faulkner, too. (LAUGHTER) Well, he probably wrote, “Kill your darlings.” I don’t think he read “Cooch.” I don’t know about anybody else, but the problem
I’m having in previews, or one of them, is being fresh to the material. Is watching it night after night and just
kind of not numbing out to it. And really needing someone going, “You know,
that really is terrible,” instead of, “Oh, it’s getting better.” (GENERAL AGREEMENT; LAUGHTER) “You know, it’s
going to be great tomorrow,” you know? And I don’t know about how the other gentlemen
feel about this, but I get kind of [tired]. That was one of the hardest things for me. We had the good fortune to go out of town
to Houston, Texas, and did fifty performances of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST down there. And it got to the point where the producers
one day bought me a ticket to the movies and they said, “Guess what? You’re going to the movies right now,” you
know? And just had me be away from a matinee and
an evening, skip a couple. And boy, best thing I could have done, because
you come back and all of a sudden you’re seeing a little bit of the bigger picture of what
the audience is seeing and not that her shoe has a crack on the heel and that the scenery
doesn’t– you know, I got so focused on– The whole thing. –all the little details that I didn’t get
to see the whole experience. So when we came to New York, I actually took
some days away, which was really hard. It was like I’d be in my apartment climbing
the walls– Yeah, I’ll bet. –knowing that they were doing the show and
just, “I’m not going to go back! I’m not going to go back!” You know? (LAUGHTER) We were lucky in DAMN YANKEES, actually, to
be out of town at the Old Globe Theatre. And we did a full run there. And then had time before we came to New York. That’s great. And it’s fabulous, because you can really,
then, during that time, re-evaluate everything you’ve done and really see how you can shape
it and make it better for the folks. And we went back into rehearsal and you know,
that’s the way to do it. That’s really the way to do it. You need a couple of chances at a musical,
even an old one. Larry and I do that. We switch off backstage, “Who’s driving tonight?” (LAUGHTER) And make sure one of us is there. Well, this is interesting, too, because you
know Tommy Tune is a choreographer as well as a director and I think we should– We’re going to have to hold that, hold Tommy
Tune until we come back, because we’re going to have to stop now for just a minute, stretch,
and come right back again and continue this panel. And there are lots of questions that you haven’t
answered. You might have thought that you’d answered
all of them. But believe me, there are. (APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American Theatre Wing
seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” Today’s seminar is on the Playwright/Director. And I’m not going to say anything more than
just that, so we can go right back to where we left off, with Brendan talking about the
role of the collaborator or working alone. Do you want to continue? Yes, well, during the interval, a member of
the audience asked me, “Tell me, do directors audition to become directors?” Now, Lonny, you were invited to do so by a
fortunate circumstance. But how do most directors get started? Well, I don’t know. Now, scripts, luckily and happily, come to
me, and so I’m able to, you know, read them. But I think there’s an inevitable audition
process anyway, when you meet the writer just to see if you’re compatible and if your ideas
are, in a way, enhancing of what he wants, his vision, or if you’re not seeing things
the same way, in which case you’re probably better off parting company. But do producers often bring a writer and
a director together? Or how does that happen? In my experience, the days of producers having
a property and then, you know, calling directors, or you know, the David Merrick [thing] of
buying a property and calling a song writer [are gone]. I don’t experience that from the position
I’m in. I don’t know if it exists any more. It doesn’t. I don’t assume that it does. It doesn’t exist any more. Usually, it’s an author who has a reading
scheduled somewhere, you know, that they want your input on, and then build a collaboration
with them, and then it goes on. Or a theatre calling, or sometimes a producer
calling with a property that they want [a director for]. It’s an intensely personal thing, though. Yes. We should talk about Larry and Peter. How about Tommy Tune, and how did that [happen]? Well, the first show we did together, we had
actually done the show at the Actors’ Studio and developed it there. And Tommy came to see it. I actually asked him to do it with me at the
Actors’ Studio and he was busy doing a show out of town, which I think he left. And he got back in time to see what we put
on, and he said, “Yeah, this is great. I’d love to do it.” What made you to ask him to do that with you? Not just because he was from Texas? Well, yeah. Really? Very much so. (LAUGHTER) He was the only choreographer I
knew. (LAUGHTER) No, really, he and my wife went
to high school together, and they were the co-presidents of the Thespian Society at Lamar
High School. And so, Carla saw Tommy on a bus as she was
carrying one of our babies and she said, “Tommy, we’ve got this new show. You’ve got to do it with us.” And so, we ended up doing it together. And it was a very good collaboration and so
we decided to go back. And meantime, I went off and made movies and
Tommy became– Mr. Broadway. (LAUGHTER) –a very big deal on Broadway and has been
very successful. So we decided we’d get back together and do
this new show. And he was more involved in the early parts
of the show this time, although he had a tremendous influence on the other show after he came
in, in the musical parts of it. And I would just [agree with] what Rob was
saying about working with the choreographer and the music department. One of the toughest questions, from a writer’s
point of view, director’s point of view, to the choreographer, seems to me [to be], “Well,
here’s the musical. We think this should be musical.” And they would say, “Why? Why should they sing and dance? Do they have any reason to sing and dance?” (HE LAUGHS) And so, you have to prove [it]. You have to write it into the power of the
musical. You get to the point where you can’t talk
any more and you need to express yourself in a more vivid way. And I think that’s when you get into the musical. But we spent hours, drove Larry crazy, you
know, trying to get into the last number of the first act of this new show. Yeah. Where we’d do it and Tommy and I would look
at you and say, “Well, that’s not right. Can we add a little word here? What about another sentence? Would that get us up to that point?” At what stage did Tommy say that? Well, when we were first writing, first putting
it together, you know. And after the musical number had been built
by the composer and the idea was there, we’d [do] what he calls the “guzinta.” The what? The guzinta. It “goes into.” (LAUGHTER) How do you get into the musical
number? And so it’s the hardest thing. And I see so many, especially old-fashioned
musicals, they talk up to a certain point and suddenly the music starts and they start
singing. That’s it. And you say, “Hey, wait a minute! How did you get here?” And it’s literally hours of, “Well, let’s
add this little thing. Maybe that’ll kick it up to another notch.” Also, is a musical number going to further
the plot or not? If it doesn’t, it’s not a very good musical
number, it seems to me, and the audience tends to tune out, just sit there and look at it. We had a number in our show which everybody
just kind of sat there and watched. You know, waited until it was over and got
to the next thing. And we said, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” And one day I finally said, “There’s no plot
in it. There’s no story in it.” Tommy said, “Great! Okay, that’s the answer.” So the composer wrote, we wrote all new lyrics
for this number and put it in the next day. And it makes a big difference. The audience is saying, “Yes, I see what he’s
saying. He’s talking about this character and he’s
moving on to the next plot line.” Martin, you were very positive when you picked
up and said, “It doesn’t work that way any more,” the producer getting a property and
going out. I want to go back to that. Well, again, the old days, when there were
producers who functioned, who had offices, whose prime responsibility was to wake up
in the morning and say, “I am going to get this play on and that’s all I do. I don’t care whether or not I sell three thousand
pairs of jeans today.” (LAUGHTER) Or whatever it is that their other
job is. Or they would go about the business of raising
money. It just does not happen that way any more. David Merrick, good, bad or indifferent, simply
would option properties, and he would then put Hal David and Burt Bacharach together
and he’d ask Neil Simon to write the book and THE APARTMENT became PROMISES, PROMISES. And he did the same thing through, I would
say, practically every single [project]. He optioned PANYULL, he got Harold Roehm,
it became FANNY. I mean, it was as simple and elegant as that. Yes, life was simpler then. But those guys, with the possible exception
of one or two people, don’t do that any more. Musicals are generated, more often than not,
by the composer [and] the lyricist who are working together as a team, possibly. Or if it’s a Jerry Herman who gets an idea
and does both and instigates the entire thing. Or a director who instigates a property, or
a book writer who comes and makes a collaboration. You come with formed collaborations now, much
more so than the producer making the collaboration happen. That’s interesting. And that simply has turned us all around. So we who are making shows happen have to
now go out and find somebody to produce the work that we have written. It wasn’t that way. It was the other way around. But also, [there were] producers in the old
days, like Winthrop Baines or Gilbert Miller and people like that, for whom this was their
natural career and their entire life. Exactly. And they made money out of it. Right. And they lived very well, and they had a kind
of aristocratic presence, and they were benefactors of the theatre as well as entrepreneurial
in the theatre. But apparently it didn’t work altogether differently
in the old days, too. Because I was interested when you said that
Bert Lahr came in and it lasted one week on Broadway. It’s a big star and a most talented man, and
yet [it didn’t succeed]. It still didn’t have an impact. I mean, you can’t make them go and see it
if they don’t want to see it, in the final analysis. Right. But constantly we hear today old stars that
are not treated with respect on Broadway or an no star who will come to Broadway because
they’ll open and close in a short time. Well, I don’t think that’s true. You guys have a star. You certainly have somebody whose TVQ in the
world is one of the twenty most recognizable human beings on the tube. Now, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to
get “stars” in the bankable sense of the word, motion picture stars. Let’s put it this way. I don’t think you can name five producers
who can get five stars to fund a show. If you said today– We haven’t got enough time for that. Seriously, if you said today, “I have Carol
Channing,” maybe you could instantly capitalize, without having to go through the trouble of
saying– if I had Barbra Streisand, I could capitalize a show. (LAUGHTER) Right. But how many of those [are there]? I mean, when I think of a star, Katharine
Hepburn, no matter what she ever brought to town, sold out for the amount of time she
was in it. That’s a star. Good reviews, bad reviews, good play, usually
bad play, doesn’t matter. That’s a star. But also, the other thing is that they don’t
want to commit to the length of time to– Yeah, that’s tough. To get the money back. –to return the financing. George, what were you going to say? Well, I wanted to get back a minute, because
something has been going through my mind since we were talking about that, in terms of auditioning
directors. And I wanted to get back to that subject a
little bit more because I do understand the “star” issue, God knows, and it’s a big one. But it’s a whole other seminar, I think, in
a funny way. I wanted to know what makes a choreographer? And I wanted to refer to Rob, because there’s
that [idea] in my head. I mean, Tommy Tune is a director and a choreographer. It’s kind of a funny hybrid. We were talking a little bit at the interval
about that. How did you become a choreographer? You were a dancer? But what is the mindset that moves a dancer
into becoming a choreographer and not just a pair of legs? Fear. (LAUGHTER) Fear of losing the legs. Losing the legs. No, I started in the ensemble, you know, in
the revival of ZORBA with Anthony Quinn. And then the following show I did, I was the
dance captain. And I think that happens a lot with choreographers,
you’re involved as a dance captain. Well, wait a minute. What’s a dance captain? It’s the person who takes care of the show,
represents the choreographer. Once the show opens and the choreographer
leaves, the dance captain becomes the eyes of the show and keeps it intact and teaches
replacements and so forth and so on. So you’re part of the team as it’s running. And I was the dance captain of a show called
THE RINK, with Liza and Chita, so it was like baptism by fire, really (HE LAUGHS), because
I was this twenty-three year old kid, you know, knocking on Liza’s or Chita’s dressing
room, saying, “You know, you really screwed up tonight, you really should be doing this
instead.” (LAUGHTER) And Graciela Daniele was the choreographer. And I assisted her on THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN
DROOD. That was sort of the next step.
I think I sort of took the natural progression. I don’t know if all people do this, but that’s
sort of what happened for me. I was the dance captain, then assistant. And then I choreographed a piece down at the
Coconut Grove Playhouse. I choreographed THE RINK, sort of my own stuff,
because producers say, “Oh, you did THE RINK so you can choreograph it,” kind of thing. And I began. You know, it’s interesting, with choreographers,
you sort of in a strange way have to be an author in some ways, you know. Well, it’s interesting, you from dancer to
choreographer, and from actor to director, here in this. So that you’re talking about really working
your way, whether it’s up or working your way in. And you know both sides. It’s usually with another choreographer. It’s somebody who’s teaching you how to [do
it]. And Graciela Daniele was really sort of the
woman who taught me the process and how it works. And that’s how you sit in the theatre, you
watch something being lit and you find out how things progress. And that’s how you learn, you know, sort of
my route. I had an opportunity. I was an assistant for a long time to Gerry
Gutierrez and Thommy Walsh and Jack Hofsiss. You know, invaluable experience, just for
that very thing. Even if you’re just sitting there with your
notepad, you can, if you’re so inclined, learn a lot from just watching and listening. You talked about auditioning and does a director
be auditioned or is auditioned. And I’ve repeated it several times in our
seminar. A very well-known actor who came out of Yale
and said that when he was up for an audition for a show, he would insist upon auditioning
the director after having read the script, so that he would know that the director had
the same feeling for the part as he had, and if they weren’t on the same wavelength, he
felt there was no use working with this man. He was an independently wealthy man, right? (LAUGHTER) Right. He was a very lucky young man. He could lose a lot of work. But how fortunate to have that luxury. Yes, indeed. I would say it works in reverse, also, somewhat
in that when a playwright is auditioning, so to say, the director, the director is also
[auditioning him], and I know I am. I mean, I’m talking to a writer, whether it
be a playwright or a film writer or a producer, I’m feeling them out to see if we see this
the same way. Because there’s nothing more miserable than
getting into a situation where you want to make one move here or one play and everyone
else wants to make a different one. So if you see it’s not going that way, it’s
best just to say, “Thank you very much,” and go your own way. We have so many questions to be asked here,
we’re going to start right now with them. Hi, my name is Mohammed. I have a question for Mr. Price. How is directing a one-woman show different
from directing a full-length play, and what are some of the logistics involved? Well, my gosh. As I said, we are a one-woman show in that
Joan is the only one that speaks, but there are three other characters who, as I say,
portray the ghosts of all of the other men and women, in fact, in her life. It’s very tedious. I found that I worked best working five hours
straight, instead of a seven out of an eight and a half hour day, because Joan has more
energy than probably everyone in this room put together. (LAUGHTER) She will do two shows for us today,
having come from two television shows. And she does that several times a week. But just to watch out for how tired she got. And I’m trying to think of what else is different. Unfortunately, we don’t have the relief of
other characters coming in and speaking so that they’re inter-relating. So you have to be very careful about getting
the story across in a way that varies it enough in terms of the performance from the actor
so that it doesn’t get monotonous. I can’t be any more specific than that. Erin, I don’t know, is there anything else
you can add to that? Well, just to add, on the writing end of that,
part of the difficulty of structuring a play like this is that you don’t have dialogue. You have to convey a lot of information– It’s all exposition. She has to do all of it. –by cleverly hiding the exposition in monologue,
and using her role in multiple ways. You can’t talk about her before she gets on
stage, you know? And then she comes on and we have some information. You know, it’s all her. She’s the only one who can do it for you. MILDRED CLINTON
Mildred Clinton, actress, low one on the totem pole in the presence of the gods. (LAUGHTER) When we’re out there under the
light. Who really gets the final word in the choice
of the performer? Because we have the director, the producer,
the writer, and they’re all important in getting this together. You mean, in casting? MILDRED CLINTON
Yes. In the final choice of the casting, once we’re
there. Well, I mean, the answer is, there is a collaboration,
there’s no question about that. But in the final analysis, there has to be
some aspect of deference to the director who believes that he or she will be able to get
the kind of performance out of that individual actor that he or she expects to get. So you have to assume that somebody is indeed
steering the ship at that particular moment. But it comes down from consensus. I don’t think it’s an arbitrary decision that
you make the minute somebody walks in. We go through the process. I think it’s very important to find what it
is you need from that character, as a director, with your playwright, and the producer, to
really make a very specific decision as to what’s the most important thing you need out
of that part before you make that decision. But you also have to be really open, because
sometimes you say, “I want a six foot blonde who can tap dance in this particular role.” And a three foot brunette who just blows you
away at the end of the day comes in. Yes. So you have to be smart enough to make, I
guess, your second choice look like you meant it all along. (LAUGHTER) I mean the soul of the character has to be
in that actor, is what I’m saying. Oh, absolutely. That’s what I’m saying. You really have to know what that is. I also think there’s something when there’s
a lot of cooks in the pot making decisions. And I think sometimes what happens is when
I see shows where a dull person has been cast, and I’m coming to believe that anyone extraordinary,
if there are eight people choosing, someone will hate. Yeah, that’s true. If someone is truly unusual, you’ll get someone
like, “I just can’t stand them.” So where you sometimes wind up is the blandest
choice. Everybody goes, “Well, I don’t really [mind]–” We call it the “blender” choice. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) Everybody puts it in, it’s the blender choice. Right. And it’s sometimes not the most interesting
choice. And I feel sorry that I wind up with something
colorless, as opposed to something extraordinary that maybe some people wouldn’t like, but
that might ignite or galvanize the night, because too many people were scared. In 1963, I did a disastrous musical called
HOT SPOT with Mary Rodgers, Dick’s daughter, and had seen a wonderful girl in a cabaret
downtown– I think it was the Blue Angel, I’m not actually sure– and worked with her
for two weeks, as did Mary. And Morton De Costa, God rest his soul, was
the director. And we brought her into the audition and she
sang three of the songs, learned them, did five of the scenes with the stage manager. And at the end of the audition, De Costa said,
“Thank you very much,” and just sent her off. And we had to go and apologize to her manager,
who was Marty Erlichman, to tell Miss Streisand (LAUGHTER) that Mr. De Costa did not believe
that anybody would want to kiss her. (LAUGHTER) Ouch. And that was why HOT SPOT didn’t have Barbra
Streisand in it. (LAUGHTER) What a story. What a story. My name is Jean Golden. I’m here as part of a sabbatical program for
teachers, from part of La Guardia Community College in Theatre Experience. And we’re really glad to be here. My question is for Mr. Marshall. I’d like to know how much influence Mr. Abbott
had in terms of his direction in DAMN YANKEES on you. Well, I guess you all know that he’s a hundred
and six years old, and he’ll be a hundred and seven in June. And he’s smarter than you can possibly imagine! And he had a lot to do with it, actually. He lives in Florida, for the most part, and
he came and saw the show out in San Diego and had a lot to say about the show before
it came to New York. It was tricky because we were revising his
book. I mean, this is a “revisal,” they’re calling
them now, as opposed to a “revival,” because there’s a revision involved. And he’s unbelievably lucid. I was summoned (HE LAUGHS) to his room to
talk to him and he had some very specific questions that he wanted answered, and we
spoke about them. Such as? Such as? Okay, he wanted to know specifically why,
in this production, “Two Lost Souls” was done with the Devil and Lola as opposed to with
Joe Hardy and Lola. He wanted to know why that was done. We explained to him a series of reasons, one
being that originally they had Ray Walston, who was not a musical performer. We were looking for a place for Victor Garber
to sing more. We were also, in terms of the story, concerned
about the fact that Joe Hardy, after having a romp on the town with Lola would go back
to his wife. Is that sort of kosher these days? And so forth, a series of reasons. And he listened and he said, “Hmm. Okay. Well,” he said, “you know, I don’t necessarily
agree, but show me,” kind of thing. So he listens. He’s unbelievably smart (HE LAUGHS). He had a lot to say. He said to us once, “You know, I’m too old
to fight, but I’m not too old to help.” And that’s what he did for us. Wonderful, wonderful. I’m Phyllis Robinson. This is directed to Martin Charnin. When you had the opportunity to bring ANNIE
WARBUCKS into the Variety Arts Theatre and you had to do some very severe cutting, how
painful was that for the creative team and how did you handle it? Well, it wasn’t painful at all, because it
was the end of a very long five and a half year process that started with our musical,
ANNIE 2, which in effect, I suppose you could call the Exxon-Valdez of musicals. (LAUGHTER) That ended up costing a mess of
money. But we then went back to the drawing board
and knew that it was too big and overproduced and had to be reduced and reduced further
along the way. So the first production that we had that reconnected
it to what it ultimately ended up being was one that we did at Goodspeed. So we were living in a sort of Sharper Image
version of the show under any circumstances, from the time that the first production ended. It was not difficult to cut it at all. The actual physical problems that the theatre
presented [were worse]. It’s a black box.
That’s basically what it is. It had no proscenium, no pit.
We had to construct a theatre along with that. That was the hardest part of it, making all
of those little pieces come together. But getting rid of characters and getting
rid of orphans (LAUGHTER) and getting of rid of [whatever], it was just the numerical choices
that had to be made. And kill off all those darlings that you had? (LAUGHTER) Kill them all. And this is the time when I again have to
say it’s the end of the playwright/director seminar of “Working in the Theatre,” which
is coming to you from CUNY. And we haven’t touched on dramaturgs. We’re going to have to take even a whole seminar
on the role of the dramaturg. It’s not enough, just those little tidbits
that we got. And everything that is being done here, as
we said, is part of the Wing’s all year-round programs. We not only have the seminars that you have
seen today on the playwright/director. And the wonderful men here show that the American
Theatre Wing has absolutely no bias about anyone, and that we find talent wherever it
is, even though it might be just all male. (LAUGHTER) They’ve been simply splendid here. And one of the other programs that the Wing
has, of which I’m very proud, is our “Introduction to Broadway” program, which brings students
into the Broadway theatre. This is done with the cooperation of the Board
of Education and the producers. They’re marvelous. And the cast that meet with the students afterwards. The American Theatre Wing is proud to present
all of these programs. Thank you for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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