Playwright, Director and Choreographer (Working In The Theatre #282)

(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 26th year. They are coming to you from the new Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. These seminars offer a wonderful opportunity
to explore with the panelists the realities of working in the theatre. Today’s seminar is devoted to playwrights,
directors and choreographers, and we hope to learn something about how they became professionals,
their work ethic, and their reasons for remaining in the theatre. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the Board
of the American Theatre Wing. And I think you will both enjoy and learn
from today’s experience. So now, let me introduce our moderators for
the seminar. First, a distinguished member of the theatrical
community and Chairman of the Board of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, George White. And Pia Lindstrom, theatre critic and TV personality. I think you will enjoy meeting with them and
listening to them. (APPLAUSE) I’m going to begin by introducing the lady
on my right, Kathleen Marshall, who, to my delight and astonishment for one so young
and amazement, is the Artistic Director of the celebrated Encores! series at City Center
and is now just fresh from choreographing KISS ME KATE, which will open very soon. KATHLEEN MARSHAL
November 18th. November 18th, indeed. And on her right is a very distinguished and
marvelous director, who I was kidding by saying he was bi-coastal, but not in the American
sense, the English coast and the East Coast of the United States, Vivian Matalon, who
won the Tony Award for MORNING’S AT SEVEN and has a long and distinguished career as
a teacher, television director, and has directed just about everywhere in the United States
and in England. And next to me is Doug Carter Beane, playwright
is his, WHITE LIES, DEVIL MAY CARE in the regional theatre, COUNTRY CLUB, film, TO FOO
WONG, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR. Never get it right. They never get it right. Is that wrong? TO WONG FOO! (LAUGHTER) TO WONG FOO! That’s right. TO WONG FOO. We’ll get it right. And I just read that your play AS BEES IN
HONEY DROWN was one of the most produced plays of the year. It was, yeah. Across the country. And next to you is Rob Marshall, who is the
brother of Kathleen, which is a story right in itself there! Hi, Kath! Hi! Director, choreographer. He got a Tony nomination for DAMN YANKEES,
THE WAY TO THE FORUM is his, as well. He has a lot of international experiences,
had plays produced in London, and has done an immense amount of television work. And next to him is John Pielmeier. He’s a playwright who wrote AGNES OF GOD,
THE BOYS OF WINTER, SLEIGHT OF HAND. He’s co-written plays and he’s been a producer
as well, and he won the 1999 Edgar Award given by the Mystery Writers of America for the
Best Play, VOICES IN THE DARK. Welcome. In this issue of Variety I was reading, where
I found about your play (TO DOUGLAS) that it was so produced, was an ad for a play,
and it said, “One set, seven actors!” And that was like the Big Deal. (LAUGHTER) It didn’t say whether it was a
good play or anything. They were selling the play. And I was wondering if each of you would address
how important is it, with today’s economics, to have just one set and a few actors? John, we’ll start with you. Well, was it my play? I don’t think it was my play – No, no, no! — because actually, my play is one set and
seven actors! (LAUGHTER) This is good. That’s VOICES. That must be perfect, then! So’s mine. Is it really? One set, seven actors. Does it have to be that? Do you have to do that today, think about
how many sets you’re going to put in? I certainly think about it a lot when I write
for theatre. I mean, if you’re dealing with a naturalistic
play, which I usually don’t write. VOICES being an exception, I was very aware
of it needing to be one set. Actually, an earlier version of the play ended
with a very small scene in a slightly different set, but when it was first done, it was basically
a stool and a spotlight. But it took so much time for the actor to
get into that spotlight, it kind of took all the air out of the evening. So it was also artistically, I think, very
important for me in this particular sense to write a play that was in one set, seven
actors. And you know, if you want a play to be done,
that has to happen. You know, that’s how you have to do it, I
think, today. So producers are looking for small? Sure. I would never write a play with twenty actors. I’d like to. (LAUGHTER) But I can’t. Would you? Well, you know, I’m not that suicidal. (LAUGHTER) But stick around, maybe. I’m Artistic Director of a theatre company
called Drama Department, and we’re doing our first big [show]. A lot of the plays from the twenties and thirties,
early thirties, had big casts. The comedies, especially. We’re doing a production of THE TORCHBEARERS
in February, which has a cast of fifteen, which is impossible to double. And that’s tough. I mean, we know going into it we can probably
only run it for four weeks, because that’s about how long we can afford to pay the actors
on the amount of money that we would have to do the show. It’s just uneconomical to do the other thing. I mean, there are exceptions for major pieces
of [work]. If someone came out with a masterpiece that
was a cast of twenty-five, I bet you it would get mounted. But it’s tough, it’s really tough. See, I think as a writer, it’s important that
we think about where we want the play to end up. Certainly, colleges around this country are
totally capable of doing plays with casts of twenty or thirty. Yeah, yeah. But we never think of that, in terms of the
final end result of where we want our plays to go. We think in terms of regional or New York
theatre, and that obviously, because of the budget limitations of those places, it’s going
to limit, in effect, how we write plays, if we want them to be done in that arena. I mean, even musicals have been downsized. Kathleen and I have done many revivals. Umm-hmm. And when we look at the original cast list,
you know. I did a production of LITTLE ME last year,
and the original cast list was something like, I think, forty-five or fifty. And it was like (HE AND KATHLEEN LAUGH) twenty-four
dancers and fifteen singers, separated. And then, you know, fifteen character actors
and three stars or something like that. It was extraordinary. The original cast of KISS ME KATE had twenty-eight
in the ensemble. We have twenty-five people, total, on stage. Yeah, exactly. And I think LITTLE ME ended up with nineteen,
total. So we had less people than the dancers or
the singing ensemble. But is that necessarily – I mean, I know
on paper it sounds not like a good thing, but is it necessarily a bad thing to force
yourself to compress and to distill the ideas that are in the show? Because it strikes me that a lot of the musicals
that were done, where you had the principals, then you had the singers of Brigadoon and
the dancers of Brigadoon. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I mean, was it not
just an enormous amount of fat on the production? (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know. I mean, I do think that these days, a playwright
is just being practical if he or she says, “I have to restrict the number of people in
this,” because most producers will not take the trouble – and I’m not saying this against
them – to read a play which has twenty characters and ten sets, because they know they cannot
possibly afford to mount it in a commercial setting. You can afford to mount it for your few weeks,
Off-Broadway or whatever, I don’t know what kind of a contract you operate under. But you can find the money or even get enhancement
money for four weeks, but not for an open-ended run. Right. When I ran the Hampstead Theatre in London,
which was, you know, an Off-Broadway house, I was the second Artistic Director there,
and we were really the first Off-West End theatre to which the critics came on a regular
basis. But I used to send out letters when people
said they wanted to send me a play saying, “Would you please bear in mind that we try
to average out the year, doing eight characters in one set?” So if I got a two-character play, then the
next play I could do could have ten or twelve. (LAUGHTER) That’s what we had to do. ROB MARSHALL
Right. And I’m going back to 1970. That’s thirty years ago. ROB MARSHALL
Wow. And just also in terms of fat, in terms of
writing, just on a technical look at writing, if you have forty characters in a two hour
play, are you going to have forty well-rounded characters that we’re going to see? Or are you just going to have different aspects
of personalities embodied in one person? Like, “Oh, that’s the greedy one,” (LAUGHTER)
“Oh, that’s the funny one,” “Oh, that’s the evil one.” That’s the problem of melodramas, if you look
at old American plays of the last century, was that they were one aspect. “I’ve only got time for one aspect, because
we’ve got a lot of people on this stage! (LAUGHTER) So you’re getting My Aspect!” I mean, you want to create people who are
completely fascinating and contradictory, and you kind of wonder what’s going on with
them next. And you know, seven characters in one room
is an interesting way to do that. Or a blank space is an interesting way. But then you have a play like ICEMAN COMETH. Yeah. Which is not done very much at all, I think
primarily because of the size of its cast. The length, John! (LAUGHTER) And the length. The length! I was in THE ICEMAN COMETH, and I quit acting
the day it closed! (LAUGHTER) Well, I think besides one set, seven actors,
I think producers’ other favorite thing is, you know, one act, ninety minutes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) They love that. They’re short now, plays. Well, I heard a thing on the radio the other
day, where they were talking about a play – the same kind of thing you were talking
about, Pia – that said, “And it’s ninety minutes of fun!” (PIA LAUGHS) No, we did AS THOUSANDS CHEER, and we cut
all the fat out, and it was about an hour and ten minutes? It was an hour ten. It was an hour ten, and the New York Times
said, “A breezy hour ten!” And the press people said, “That’s your ad
campaign.” Yeah. Jam-packed (PH) and fun-filled, yeah. Publicize that. They love that. But that’s the audience demands. Yeah. I mean, that’s because we’re used to watching
— But you’re all talking about editing after
the fact, in the sense of cutting down, of looking at it and saying, “You don’t need
that many people and you don’t need that much lines. You don’t need all of that.” That’s editing, in fact, but I’m surprised
at hearing that you write with that in mind. Yeah, well, what we’re saying by saying that
we edit is that obviously, if everyone’s doing it, (LAUGHS) there’s a reason why you shouldn’t
be writing it in the first place! What I’m saying is, if someone does write,
you know, an ANGELS IN AMERICA, that’s a very long play and has a very big cast – I don’t
think the cast of ANGELS was that big – but if someone had written [it], it would get
produced. And it would probably lose money, and it would
be a monumental theatrical event. And if you do write it, and it’s truly great,
it will get done. Even if you have to do it yourself, it’ll
get done! But I think that, I mean, I choose to write
[that way]. My next play has, you know, six characters
in it and one kind of blank space. I just like really getting into the characters
deeper and that’s less time. I mean, I written a musical – Really? (LAUGHTER) — that is one set. Because I really need to suffer more! I thought, book writer of a musical! It was either that or cyanide. He’s the lowest in the room, when you walk
in! (LAUGHTER) I am! I am! Like, producer’s boyfriend, I think, is somewhat
higher above on the scale than book writer. (LAUGHTER) But I mean, it is fifteen characters,
and I have had so many meetings with commercial producers, saying, “It’s an original musical
with fifteen characters. That’s a big gamble.” Yeah. And that’s with a chorus of six, you know? Three boys, three girls. ROB MARSHALL
And doubling, yes. (LAUGHS) Playing several parts! In terms of choreography, having a limited
ensemble, I mean, we have a fifteen-member ensemble in KISS ME KATE and I have sort of
eight “dancer” dancers. And it’s challenging, because you know, what
you really want is you want to sort of fill the space and sort of make it thrilling. But what you do with eight dancers is you
get to know them all very individually throughout the evening. Nobody is anonymous. And that’s the thrill of that, that by the
end of the evening, you know every person on stage, which is great. It makes auditioning hard, though, don’t you
think, Kath? Oh, and replacement. It’s a nightmare. Because everybody has to – I mean, you know,
I just saw the gypsy run of KISS ME KATE, which is spectacular and Kathleen’s work is
marvelous. And the thing is, your dancers all sing! Like, really sing. Umm-hmm. They all have featured singing parts as well,
because they have to, because you only have an ensemble of how many? Fifteen. Fifteen! So they all have to sing. You know, in my production of CABARET, our
dancer-singer-actors have to play instruments! Yeah. (LAUGHTER) I’m mean, they’re in the orchestra. So can you imagine those auditions? You know, you fall in love with somebody,
and then they play the clarinet, like frighteningly. (LAUGHTER) So you go, “Well, bye!” You know, it’s so sad. But that is really what I meant. I think that the loss of size is chiefly regrettable. But I do think exactly what you’re talking
about has been one of the positive aspects, that we now have dancers who can really sing,
singers who can really dance. Exactly. I mean, it must have been in the old days,
that a choreographer said to the singers, “Now, stand there and don’t move!” (LAUGHTER) That was known as a showgirl. Exactly. He takes me off his income tax. That’s right. (LAUGHTER) As they said in NEW FACES (PH), right. I see what you’re saying. But I think that has been one very positive
aspect. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) People are much, much
better trained. Yeah, they’re more versatile. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Because they have to be. I mean, I just also, aesthetically, I happen
to like the smaller casts, because it does remind us that theatre is a very tribal event. You know, when you talk about CABARET, when
those people started playing instruments, I was – I loved it! I was so happy to see people, you know, just
reminding me that this was a story that, whatever, fifteen, ten people were compelled to tell
me. Right. When I see like, you know, tons and tons of
people and really big sets and all that mish-mash, I just see numbers in front of my eyes. When I go to the theatre, I either want to
have an epic experience, or more likely, an intimate experience. And that’s what makes the theatre special
for me, and what I think it can do that a lot of other mediums can’t do or doesn’t do
any more. And we’ve all had experiences where we see
a show in New York that is done in a small theatre in a very intimate way and then is
a success and moves to a larger theatre, and that intimacy disappears and dissipates. And suddenly, the air and life is taken out
of this experience. The reverse side of that is at Encores! at
City Center, since our mission is to explore these old musicals and to do the original
orchestrations, which call for a, usually. twenty-eight to thirty member orchestra, and
then you have to have a singing ensemble to match that, to match that in size and volume. And so, of course, what we’re doing is we’re
producing musicals in a way that Broadway commercial producers can’t afford to produce
them, because we do have an ensemble of eighteen or nineteen, a cast of thirty-two to thirty-five,
an orchestra of thirty. But of course, it’s a different kind of mission. It’s a different kind of event, it’s a concert. But there is nothing like hearing, you know,
a fourteen-piece string section and a singing ensemble of sixteen, singing eight-part harmony
on top of that. I mean, you know, it’s glorious. But it’s not the kind of – and so many times,
when a show is successful at Encores! and there are always these little sort of nibbles
about, you know, will something happen to it in the future, the way CHICAGO transferred
from Encores!? But, of course, CHICAGO was a much smaller
show. And you know, they all come and we say, “Well,
go ahead!” You know, we just sort of sit there like a
wallflower at a dance and say, “Okay, if you want it.” And then they all come back and they look
at the numbers and they say, “Well, we can’t afford it with this size cast and this size
orchestra,” and we say, “Then well, you’re talking about a different event. That’s not what we do.” You know, we do something that can’t be done
in the commercial theatre right now. Right. How do you first look at your Encores! [productions]? When you’re going to do a play, where do you
first begin saying, “This is cut and this is cut, and we’re getting to the bone”? And also, how do you do your research? Right, yeah. Well, we start with the score. I mean, that really is our sort of first mission,
is to sort of look at the score. And we sort of think of ourselves as a kind
of, you know, Island of Misfit Toys for Musicals. (LAUGHTER) Which is musicals that everybody
says, “Oh, you can’t do that, the second act’s terrible,” or “Oh, that book is really dated,
you can’t do that show.” It’s like, “Well, yeah, we can. That’s what we’re here to do.” We’re here to take those musicals that shouldn’t
or can’t or nobody will give them a six million dollar revival on Broadway, and say, “Well,
you know what? This is a glorious score. This is not Cole Porter’s KISS ME KATE, this
is Cole Porter’s OUT OF THIS WORLD.” You know, it’s something that’s not going
to get a – So the score is the first thing? The score is the first thing. And then, you know, we’ve had wonderful playwrights
who come and sort of edit down the book. It’s interesting what you’re saying about,
you know, compressing things. Because of course, without a fully designed
production, you know, our sort of joke is “Three pages and a tune, three pages and a
tune, get to the songs!” (LAUGHTER) You know, and because we only rehearse
for a week, we don’t have time to sort of develop the physical humor and other things
that are a part of some of these old musicals. So we kind of just, you know, tell the story
and get to the next song. Are we hearing that you don’t need everything
that goes around a play or a musical? That if you get to the core or score or bottom
of it, that’s the important thing? Musicals are different in a way. If the book is too fat, then there’s no reason
for the song, you know? Because by the time you’ve gotten to the song,
you’ve heard all the information. I mean, that’s why musicals are so tricky,
because you have to find sort of the right balance and where a song is needed and where
it’s not, you know? And I think sometimes a monologue is more
effective than a song. Not happened yet. (LAUGHTER) Although, for instance, in CHORUS LINE, Paul’s
monologue. I was thinking of exactly that one! Yes, right. That was spectacular. If that were a song, it wouldn’t have carried
the same weight. It needed that moment at that time. So it’s a tricky situation, the whole sort
of structure of a musical. You’ll find that soon, Doug! (LAUGHTER) How many of you were actors, before you got
into your present type of work? Well, I certainly was. Yeah. Isn’t that interesting. You all started out as actors? Failed. (LAUGHTER) And what happened? It didn’t work out? I think for me, it was kind of similar, that
I graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and I couldn’t get work, so I wrote a
play for Annabella Sciorra and myself to be in. And we did it, and I wrote the play and we
put it on, and Annabella loved it. And after the third performance, I was out
of there! (LAUGHTER) I had enjoyed the writing and I
enjoyed the rehearsing, but once it was the actual, like, “Oh, now I get to pick up the
cigarette!” (LAUGHTER) I was like, “Get me OUT of it!” Because I had written it, I started to come
up with better lines all the time. Annabella had no time for it! What about John? You had a long career as an actor. Yeah, I started out as an actor. I left grad school and went right into a professional
acting job, regionally, and worked non-stop for a good number of years. And came to the O’Neill as an actor the first
time, and at the time, I was sort of a writer by hobby, in a way. And I came to the O’Neill and totally fell
in love with that process. And left the O’Neill as an actor, and you
know, the image, although it’s not literally true, is walking back into my apartment in
New York and pulling out a typewriter and starting to write, because I found it so exciting. And that experience as an actor changed my
life. And two years later, I submitted AGNES and
was accepted as a playwright at the O’Neill. But I made the transition because I found
personally I was very unhappy as an actor. I found it emotionally a very difficult life
for me to live. So when the playwriting came along, I said,
“Well, I think this is the way to go.” I remember the day, the moment I got the telegram
from the O’Neill, saying that AGNES had been accepted. It was on May 1st, 1979! (LAUGHTER) I was
out of town. It was a very good moment! My wife called me on the phone, she said,
“You got this telegram from the O’Neill and your play’s been accepted.” And I realized, at that moment, that my life
was totally changed, from then on. Umm-hmm. Wow. I was so aware of the fork in the road, and
the path that I thought I was headed down suddenly became narrower, and a whole other
path opened up. And that’s where I went. I think a lot of people also become actors
first because it is the most visible part of theatre. I mean, I always was fascinated by playwriting
and playwrights. I read every play I could get my hands on. When I was a kid and I’d see a movie, I was
always like, “Who wrote that?” I always wanted to see “Written By.” I was fascinated to know that somebody wrote
ALL ABOUT EVE. More than really the performances or the design
or the direction of it, I said, “Now, who wrote those words?” So I think you just become an actor first,
and then you just kind of do get your calling and you do feel like, “This is it.” And also, I mean, I also have lately just
been saying, “I’m a theatre person.” You know, that’s what I do. I’m a theatre person. I’m an artistic director, I’m a writer, and
also, you know, I’m of the theatre. And a lot of the actors in our company are
writing plays now. And I think that’s great, they should. Well, you know, also – this is a theory
that bears absolutely no scrutiny – but it seems to me that actors, or people who
start as actors, are better writers. For one thing, they can put in the mouths
of their people things that are sayable and speakable. Or, I mean, a word from my sponsor, Eugene
O’Neill, although he was never an actor, he grew up in a family of actors, his father
and his brother. And somehow, you know, ICEMAN aside (LAUGHTER),
it’s easier, because you don’t get these things where people are saying, “That’s impossible. I can’t say it!” (LAUGHTER) You know, an actor has had to do
that. Well, I don’t want to be rude about O’Neill,
but I think that O’Neill on the whole was a really awful writer (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
who had kind of a remarkable and magnificent canvas. And I say that with a lot of respect for him,
but I think that the one thing he couldn’t do was write sayable dialogue. And I think that one of the reasons that you
have to have remarkable actors to really interpret O’Neill is because he’s very, very hard to
speak. And God knows, he will say a thing four times,
unless he can think of a way to say it five! (LAUGHTER) But the broadness with which he
thought is probably unparalleled, I think. Now truthfully, I stumbled into directing. It couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was really, on the whole, a successful actor. When I acted on television in England, my
name was above the title. I don’t think anybody knew who the hell I
was, but I had the billing. And I was in ICEMAN COMETH. And I played a leading role, I played Parritt. And it was, interestingly enough, quite as
brilliantly reviewed as the previous one that came from England, and a lot of people in
that show went on to rather distinguished careers. But we all got crazed from the play! I used to get up in the morning at about eight-thirty,
have a cup of coffee and go back to bed for the rest of the day. (LAUGHTER) And we’d go to the theatre. We went up at six-thirty. I used to get the last bus from Shaftesbury
Avenue at five minutes to twelve. And also, for me, I looked much younger than
I was in those days. And I was in my thirties, playing a teenage
boy. And I thought, “If I don’t grow up, I’m going
to die!” (LAUGHTER) “And I will never grow up if I
remain an actor,” because you have to be somewhat childlike. Again, I say that not disrespectfully. And I just quit. And I went to a drama school, to LAMDA, and
I said, “May I come and teach?” They gave me some classes to do, and I didn’t
think I was very good at it. And then they insisted that I direct a play. And I did a play, and I went from being a
very driven, very ambitious actor, to a very, very unambitious director, and the work fell
into my lap, for many, many years. But it was nothing I ever planned. Amazing. Nor do I miss acting. No. I think it’s the lifestyle. You were saying, the lifestyle. It’s a very different kind of lifestyle, to
walk in front of a group of people and hope that they’re going to say, “We like you.” You know, I’m embarrassed, actually. Many times, when older actors come and audition
for me, I feel odd about it. You know, because I have such respect for
what they do, and I try to make that clear. But “Who is this little upstart who is going
to tell me whether or not I can [work]?”, you know? Sitting behind the table, yeah. I mean, I had an experience – I think I
told you this, Kathleen! (SHE LAUGHS) Where I was directing a production
of CHICAGO in L.A. And Kathleen and I, we began theatre quite young, at the Pittsburgh
Civic Light Opera. We were in a production of SOUND OF MUSIC
together. (LAUGHTER) And our other sister was in it,
too. Yeah, and our little sister, Maura (PH). We were three of the Von Trapps! (LAUGHTER) It was just too cute for words! But anyway, our father in that production,
Steve Arlen (PH), fabulous actor, came in to audition for me in L.A. And so, I’m sitting
behind the desk, and they say, “And next is Steve Arlen!” You know, I thought, “Oh, my God!” “Daddy!” (LAUGHTER) “Daddy! Captain Von Trapp!” You know? And it was sort of overwhelming. And I didn’t say a word. Can you imagine if I said, “Remember, I was
your son? And thank you for coming!” (LAUGHTER) Oh my God! I couldn’t do it. But did you give him the part? What happened? No, I didn’t. Oh! (LAUGHTER) Because he was a wonderful singer, but the
acting, unnhh! (LAUGHTER) But no, he was wonderful, he was
just wrong for this part. This was sort of the lawyer, Billy Flynn. And you know, I’m telling you, to have that
kind of – But the hard thing is that there are people
that you love and you respect and you’re a fan, but your responsibility is to the show
and to the production that you’re doing. And people who are, you know, not just [actors]
but also friends, you think, “These are people I adore, but I can’t [cast them.” You have to do what is right for the part
and right for the play. And it’s often very clear, you know? And I think a lot of actors are going to think,
“But I’m an actor! I’m flexible. What do you need? I can give you what you need.” It’s like “Yeah, but you know what? This person is closer to it.” You know, who they really are, in their real
sensibility. And it’s very hard not to, you know, disappoint
people, and you know you’re always disappointing people. May I ask you, when you’re in that situation,
do you tell the person who’s auditioning that you don’t want them? No. Because I do. I can’t do that. I have done it forever. And over God knows how many years – I could never do it. You’re brave, though. I could never. Brave, yeah. The reason I do it is, I think, as sweet-natured
as it may be to say, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” they’re going to go home
and wait for the phone that isn’t going to ring. And in all of the years that I’ve done this,
two people have said something other than, “Thank you very much for telling me.” Until they shut the door! (LAUGHTER) No, no! And I’ve had mail from people saying, “Thank
you for letting me know.” How do you say it? What do you say? (LAUGHTER) I’ll tell you exactly what I say! You’re wrong! You’re wrong! You’re wrong! ROB MARSHALL
Tell Daddy he didn’t get the job! This is a very American thing. People say, “I won’t say anything that is
going to look like bad news, because people will not like me if I say that.” It’s very much part of the culture in this
country. What I generally say is, “Thank you very,
very much for coming in. You are extremely talented and I enjoyed what
you did very much. However, it is not going to work out this
time for the following reasons, and I hope we can work together – ” Oh, you specifically say? Oh, yes! “You’re too something!” (LAUGHTER) “You’re too short!” “I hope we can work together in the future.” And they go out saying, “Thank you.” That’s actually pretty classy. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And it’s much easier. It’s much easier, because you don’t have to
say, “Did I hurt their feelings? Was I tactful?” It’s a much, much easier way to do it. I’ll tell you what Bob Fosse used to do that
really actually was painful. In a group of people – see, dancers audition
in a group. Umm-hmm. Yes, I know! You know! So there’s forty people there and he would
go around and say, (WHISPERS) “Thank you very much,” specifically to them and why they weren’t
right for it. And it’s embarrassing, in front of, you know,
people that you know. Well, yeah. Yeah, that is. I just found that since I had success as a
playwright and an artistic director, people say, “Oh, now that you’re successful, what’s
the difference?” And the difference is, I say, “I’m sorry,”
all day long. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And that’s fine. And that’s what you should be, “I’m sorry
it’s not going to work out and you’re not right for this. I’m sorry we can’t do that play, it’s too
big. I’m sorry we can’t – I’m sorry.” And it’s tough the first year, you know? (LAUGHTER) Because you actually are sorry,
and it’s very painful, and you’re like, “Oh, wow, I can’t.” And then, you’re just like, “I’m sorry,” and
it’s fine. And it is fine. And know that we are sensitive to the rejection
worry, because we’re getting rejected, too, all the time. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) I’m having plays dangled in front of me, I
go to reach for it and they pull it from me. Happens all the time. Actors drop out of my plays. Actors decide to do a made-for-TV movie instead
of my play. So I’m there, too. ROB MARSHALL
In a way, it’s a business of “I’m sorry”s. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
ROB MARSHALL And that’s the sad part of this business. It’s true. Vivian mentioned going from acting to directing,
and that seems to me like a logical progression or step in whatever direction one wants to
be. But how do you go from acting to choreography,
rather than directing? What inspires and informs that? Well, Robby and I sort of both kind of somewhat
made the same progression. Yes. In that we both started off as dancers, performers,
dancing in the ensemble. Robby danced in, you know, four or five Broadway
shows. But we both were sort of always interested
in what was going on in the rest of the room. You know, sort of “Excuse me, aren’t we all
supposed to be doing this?” (LAUGHTER), you know, kind of thing. And we both started becoming dance captains,
you know, because the choreographers and directors would realize that we sort of were more aware
of what the whole picture and what the whole play was about. And as a dance captain, you know, once the
show is open and running, you’re in charge of maintaining the choreography, teaching
replacements, teaching the understudies and that kind of thing. And Robby became an assistant choreographer
to Graciela Daniele. And then when he went off on his own and started
choreographing, I became an assistant to Robby. And so, all of a sudden, you know, I was still
auditioning and kind of doing ensemble stuff, and then Robby would call and say, “Hey, I
just got a call to go do, you know, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, with Hal Prince and Chita
Rivera, want to come?” “Yeah!” (LAUGHTER) “Yeah, that sounds like fun!” Okay, so what’s your training, to become a
dancer to get to choreography and be a dance captain? How were you trained? Were you trained in ballet? Were you trained in modern? Umm, Marya? At Marya Melodia’s (PH) School of Dance in
Pittsburgh. (LAUGHTER) Mary Melodia, okay. So tell us about that. Well, I mean, I was too sort of mortified
to go to dance class, so Kathleen actually used to teach me in the basement of our house. (LAUGHTER) Because it was just too, you know,
weird for a guy to go to dance class. I just couldn’t, you know. The whole dance belt thing was really frightening
(KATHLEEN LAUGHS), you know, that whole world! But Kathleen started taking class. I started taking ballet first. Ballet first. In Pittsburgh? In Pittsburgh. And tap. We started kind of late. I didn’t start dancing till I was thirteen. Thirteen. And then I started taking ballet and tap,
I was teaching Robby steps. Then a couple of years later, you started
taking jazz class. Yeah, but I think I was about sixteen. I was very late. Wow. Yeah, he was sixteen, he was very late. And then he started teaching me jazz steps. Yeah, you didn’t take jazz. Unnh-unnh. Not at first. That was the cool thing to take. It was sort of the seventies, and it was like,
you know, John Travolta in the class. Jazz is manly and ballet is not! (LAUGHTER) That’s right. It was that pointe thing! You could flex everywhere, but the pointe
was too [girly]. You know, for all the relatives and for all
the aunts, Robby was like, “Dance like John Travolta! Dance like John Travolta!” Yeah, it was about that whole thing, yeah. Oh, yeah. (THEY LAUGH) And so? But it was a natural thing, and very quickly,
both of us were in the advanced class. And you know, we didn’t come from a dance
background in any way, shape or form! Unnh-unnh. But it was just natural, to both of us. And you know, I think I was in the advanced
jazz class in, like, three weeks or something? Three weeks, yeah, yeah. I mean, it was just a natural thing that happened
to both of us. You know, our parents are both in education. And from Pittsburgh to? Pittsburgh, I actually went to Carnegie Mellon
in Pittsburgh, in the Musical Theatre department. So then I sort of had formal acting training
and dance training and voice training. And Kathleen went to Smith College, and actually,
you were in the English department? Yeah, I was not a dance major, but one of
the reasons I went was Jinsey Delapp (PH), who was one of Agnes DeMille’s assistants
and lead dancers, was teaching there. And it was great, because I learned ballet
and specifically, musical theatre dance. I mean, you could learn original Jerome Robbins
and Agnes DeMille choreography and that kind of thing. And we would have classes in musical theatre
choreography. She was Dream Louise and Dream Laurey, you
know? Yeah, we did all those things in dance concerts,
yeah. In the original productions, yeah. That’s great. Hasn’t dance theatre become, in a certain
sense, formalized? There’s something that I sometimes expect
always to see in a Broadway show, the certain movements. And I was wondering, here we’re coming to
the twenty-first century here, is there somewhere else for dance theatre, theatre dance, to
go in its style? Well, I think the success of Susan Stroman’s
CONTACT, that just opened, which I haven’t seen yet, but you know, it’s a whole dance
theatre conceived piece, you know, that dances from beginning to end. Like Graciela’s productions. And Graciela Daniele, her sort of theatre
very sort of interesting pieces. How would you describe this new style? I just want to say that musical theatre is
a style unto itself. It is a form. It is an art form. I mean, I just find it has been a delight
for me to write a book of a musical comedy, and get to know all the rules and read everything
everyone’s written on it. And I have studied it, at ASCAP, in the workshops. And it’s just a great thing, to know that
this is our form. So yeah, I mean, in terms of choreography,
there are, you know, certain steps that you may see over and over again. But they come out of an affectionate knowing
of it. I mean, we haven’t seen a dream ballet in
a musical for a while! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, yeah. And those were pretty standard through the
forties and fifties, that dream ballet. Yes, yes. But it’s very interesting, you just said “musical
comedy,” which is what it was in the forties and fifties. It was, and that’s what I’m writing. But it’s become more integrated. And now you’re saying “musical theatre,” which
is what it’s becoming. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And that’s what Pia was
talking about. Well, I think it truly has become much more
integrated, because instead of the dream ballet, the characters dance and sing within the piece
and somebody doesn’t take over for them. I mean, I even think in OKLAHOMA! in London
that the Laurey and the Curley dance themselves in their ballet. And that’s a revival of an old piece. But I hope that dance has become more integrated
in that way, so that the characters themselves can dance, and it’s not like the people leave
and the dancers come on. I mean, it’s much more integrated that way,
I think. That’s a big change. Well, I guess there’s a new form of tap dancing
coming in. You know, tap – Well, Savion Glover sort of brought – Right. And Gregory Hines, their sort of style of
tap dancing is sort of– The sound on your feet. Having microphones on your feet. It’s about sound. It’s more about sound than about style. I think it’s about time for me to interject. (LAUGHTER) That Savion Glover never tapped
a step in his life, until he did THE TAP DANCE KID. TAP DANCE KID, yes. Yes. And he was taught everything by Danny Daniels
(PH) and by Danny Sum (PH). Yes. And that has never been credited, and I want
to set the record straight here and now. How do you know that? Because I directed it. (LAUGHTER) Okay, I wanted for you to come out with it! (APPLAUSE) Where do you get off with grousing about Savion? (LAUGHTER) And I thought he was a wonderful talent, and
I think he still is. But credit should go where it’s due. Yes. Well, now, go farther with that. Because I was kidding you, we were setting
you up for you to leap in with that. Yes, right. But when he came to you, I mean, he came out
of nowhere basically, right? All of the children who danced in THE TAP
DANCE KID, including the first one, Alfonso (PH), he had never tapped in his life. And Hinton was a great talent. Hinton had never tapped. No. Hinton had never tapped. But Hinton was not, in years anyway, a child. (LAUGHTER) Ouch! But what happened was, they came in, they
sang, they read. And then Danny worked with them, and he said,
“Very well coordinated, we’ll put him in school for three months.” And we had three children. One was Jimmy – he was later Savion’s understudy
in BRING IN ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK – he had done a bit of tap. Alfonso had never tapped and there was a third
kid who had never tapped. And Danny and D.J. Gianni (PH), Danny’s son, they went every
day to school. And finally, we made Alfonso the first, Jimmy
Whatever-His-Name-Was was the second, and he’s actually on the show album. And Savion was the third. And Savion was exactly the same, Danny said,
“He’s very coordinated. We will be able to teach him.” And he was a genius. Amazing. You seem an unlikely choice, perhaps, to have
directed that. What was your background in tap or music? Well, I’ll tell you. I was drawn (PH) very strongly to family plays. And you know, HAMLET is a family play. So is DEATH OF A SALESMAN, etc., etc. (LAUGHTER) Murder in family plays! And I thought there was a genuinely revolutionary
idea in THE TAP DANCE KID. Now, I have to say that what happened on Broadway,
I was not very happy with by comparison to what we got in the workshop. But there was a revolutionary idea about THE
TAP DANCE KID, in that you had a black family that, you know, the father was probably a
liberal Republican. And they were not living next door to people
who didn’t want them. They were affluent. And it was about them struggling to make their
way in the world. And I didn’t think that had ever been done
with a black family in the theatre that I had ever seen. And that’s what I responded to very strongly. I was also very taken with the father’s point
of view, where he said at one point, “We didn’t get off the plantation till we stopped dancing
and started doing.” And I thought that, you know, he was the villain
of the piece, but I also thought he was making sense from his point of view in wanting to
have the struggle for the children. Incidentally, at one point, that character
had a lot of songs. And when I came in, I begged them to cut all
of his numbers, except for the one which was not yet written, that, if you remember it,
seven or eight minute kind of monologue song. And I said, “Because you can not have him
being so uptight about music and musicals when he’s singing all the time.” (LAUGHTER) “Because the act of singing is
itself so joyous, it will not make any sense.” But I don’t know. I mean, I was very glad to have done the workshop. And I regretted, finally, the Broadway production,
and when I got the Tony nomination, I had to be held down by my friends, because I wanted
to write the committee and ask them not to put my name on the ballot. I didn’t think it reflected my work. Hmm! Does that happen often, to people? Not to me! (LAUGHTER) No, it has never happened to me before, and
it will never happen again. I mean, there are times when you’ve done a
production that, you know, for some reason, you’re not happy fully with how it went. And sometimes, it has to do with the producers
and how strong they are. And when they’re very strong, sometimes they
say, “It must be this way!” Or as collaborators, you know, Kathleen and
I are choreographers, you work with a director, you see something very specifically and you
would have done it differently. So you know, it’s a compromise. It’s always compromise. It’s always compromise, negotiation. I don’t have a problem with strong producers. I have a real problem with weak producers,
because they don’t know that they’re weak. Unless they’re weak and they pretend they’re
strong. (LAUGHTER) That’s right! That’s bad! They keep wanting to have input! Yeah, yeah, yeah. But isn’t that what’s happening so much, that
something is wonderfully done, either in a workshop or in a small theatre, and then when
it’s transferred, it loses something that it had there. It has nothing to do with where it’s at, whether
it’s Broadway or Off-Broadway, it’s where it’s in. And taking it away from what it originally
was and enlarging it is what takes away from what you saw that was so good. Yeah. Broadway nowadays has become more and more
almost like a road house. Very sort of –
Branson! Exactly! That you sort of take something that’s already
achieved its success, or it’s as good as it’s going to get, in theory, and then they move
it into a Broadway house, which may or may not be good. But it’s no longer part of the play development
process that it used to be. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Well, you know, there’s almost a kind of contradiction
here, which is interesting and frustrating. The producers want, maybe, the one set, seven
characters, on one hand. On the other hand, you have to have, in order
to make it work economically, a huge theatre, so that economically you can get enough people. So you get a one set, small cast into Yankee
Stadium! (LAUGHTER) And try to be intimate at the same
time, you know? Well, that’s the dream. But also, if I write seven characters and
one set, it’s not just because I want a Broadway production, because I actually don’t want
a Broadway production at this point in my life. Really. I just find the idea kind of irritating. (LAUGHTER) But I like doing it Off-Broadway
or Off-Off-Broadway, and that’s the economics of putting the show on. And also, I want a life for the play. I want it to be done in regional theatres. And talk about college productions, there’s
also a whole movement in colleges across the country where directing students do their
production in their senior year, and they’re picking plays that they can do on the second
stage, a little black box theatre in Missouri. And I want my play to happen that way. I want to get the word out. I want people to be hearing that stuff. So that’s what I choose to do. But yes, of course, the dream would be, you
know, a two-hander at the Ford Center. (LAUGHTER) I mean, that’s like every producer
would get these, like, big dollar signs for pupils on that one! (LAUGHTER) What about that statement that you like to
do your plays for Off-Broadway? At this point, I don’t know what a Broadway
play is, as a writer. As a young – youngish! (LAUGHTER) – American writer, I don’t know
what a American (SIC) play would be for me. I don’t see it as economically or what the
audience is. I don’t see it yet. It hasn’t happened for me yet. What kind of an audience is different, Off-Broadway
than Broadway, or Seattle? Oh, God. Here, the euphemisms fly! I find that just by saying the word, “Off-Broadway”
– and I’m actually Off-Off-Broadway, our COUNTRY CLUB is right now. And BEES moved to Off-Broadway. We aspire to most people’s basements! (LAUGHTER) But my hope is to work with people
who are slumming. The way the audiences are different is, they
are adventurous. It has nothing to do with age, which I know
some playwrights my age have been slamming a lot of older audiences in the press. And I have to protest that. I don’t think it has to do with age. It has to do with an adventurous spirit. I think that some theatre companies in New
York are nurturing rude audiences, and that’s unfortunate. You have to train an audience (LAUGHS). When you have subscribers, you actually somewhat
have to train them, like what is acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Cell phones in a play is not acceptable! It’s not. Talking during a show is unacceptable! (LAUGHTER) You know, it’s like a real problem. I mean, a cell phone in a theatre audience
today is just a modern equivalent of the ice in the glass. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Oh, completely, completely! I know, it’s ice in a glass, it’s candy wrappers,
it’s all that stuff. But it’s also about you want to find people
who are there for that. Right. They’re not there to kill time before they
go to bed that night. Well, I must say, just last spring I was at
a theatre where, obviously, a cell phone rang, and that was bad enough. But then the person went and picked it up
and started talking! (LAUGHTER) I mean, didn’t turn it off! Just carried on. Oh, no! Yeah. And it’s not like, “Oh, that rube!” A very important Broadway producer . . . Name! Name! (LAUGHTER) We’ll find out later! Come on! Wait till the cameras are off, we’ll find
out. And Hollywood producer – okay, short list!
– went to see JUNE MOON at the Ohio Theatre when we did it, and took a call. It was a tiny theatre. Theatre about the size of this stage, tiny,
tiny theatre. Took a cell phone call, in the middle of the
first act. I’m going to talk to Scott Rudin about that. (KATHLEEN LAUGHS) Oh, God. But he did do that! And I thought that was so unbelievable. I thought the only thing that would have been
better is if he had gone like this to the actors, (GESTURES, ONE HAND TO HIS EAR, WAVING
WITH THE OTHER HAND) “Shh!” (LAUGHTER) But he took the call! We thought that was kind of great. I mean, it’s not just, you know – Well, you’re talking about the exceptions. I don’t think that there is a difference today,
between an Off-Broadway audience and a theatre audience, because the price of tickets are
getting as high Off-Broadway as it is, almost, for that normally. Well, I mean, there’s a real transference
happening in that. I just know that – I think – (SIGHS) God,
I’m trying to be so nice here. (LAUGHTER) Go for it! You’re failing! You’re failing! Anyway. All right. What it comes down to is, I want to create
theatre. I want to create theatre without a lot of
pressure. I don’t mind a fight, as long as it’s about
a play. I don’t want to fight about something stupid
like poster size or billing or theatre location, or you know, “What’s that?” I just want to do the play. I want to do the play and get it right and
get people to come see it. And that’s possible for me, because of the
budget, it’s a smaller budget. What’s a Broadway show cost now, a million
dollars? Oh, more. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) One point five? Two? Keep going! Three? No, I mean, a play. A play. No, wait, wait. About one and a half. Yeah. That’s average, I think. One and a half? That’s a lot of money for somebody to shell
out. And by God, if you’re putting that money in,
you’d better tell me what you don’t like! But do you think we’re particularly far away
from the day when there will be no plays done on Broadway? And only musicals will be done on Broadway
and plays will be done exclusively Off-Broadway, other than the imports from the Royal National
or the Royal Shakespeare Company. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Because I think we’re actually there. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I really don’t. No, I think what’s happened is, I mean, there
is a shortage of Broadway theatres, but there’s also a shortage of Off-Broadway theatres right
now. A tremendous shortage, yes. Like, when COUNTRY CLUB got these really great
reviews, we got some producers saying, “We’d like to move it,” and they called around to
the theatres, and the Promenade said, “We have seven people waiting.” Right. Seven different shows waiting for this theatre! ROB MARSHALL
The problem is, you know – This will come about when playwrights like
this young man says, “I want to do Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway and not Broadway.” You’ve got to do a play for whatever audience
you can possibly reach and not say “Broadway” or “Off-Broadway.” And that’s what’s causing the dearth of straight
plays. But I know that there will be a tremendous
– watch, my next play will be on Broadway! (LAUGHTER) But I’m just saying, like, so far,
I said I don’t know what it is. At this point in my life, I’m not going to
lie to you and say, “Yeah, that’s my goal and that’s my dream. That’s my Alpha and my Omega.” My dream was always to have plays done in
New York, and I’m doing that. And I’m very happy with my life now. Now, if something were to come along and it
did have the reviews and it did have the story, and I said, “You know, this really could happen
on Broadway and make it,” I would say, “Go for it.” But without a star, without a big run in the
West End, without all this stuff, it’s not happening. When I saw CLOSER, a play that I thought was
really wonderful. Yes, a wonderful play. It made me quite sad at the end, because I
thought, “If this exact play had been written by an American playwright, it would not be
on Broadway at this moment. It would be Off-Broadway.” I agree with you. Why? Because I think critically, it came into Broadway
with the raves already written from London. The equivalent of that in America would be
what? Regional, possibly having started Off-Broadway. And those, you can have all the regional raves
in the world, and it’s not going to [help]. They’re almost going to work against you critically
on Broadway. I mean, I think it has a lot to do with tickets,
don’t you think? I mean, people are going to spend that kind
of money, and it has to be an event. It has to be a proven quantity of some kind. And so, I’m going to go out to dinner at Orso’s
(LAUGHTER) and then I’m going to go see the show – Park the car. — and that’s going to be a three hundred
dollar night for me. Babysitter. Right, exactly. So it’s a three hundred dollar evening. So, should I take the chance on a play that
I don’t know about? Especially a play, because in a musical, in
a funny way, you feel like you’re going to get your money’s “worth,” in terms of spectacle. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It’s so bizarre, but it’s
true. You know, because it’s less of an imagination,
in a funny way, and more about spectacle. You know, people assume. So that’s the problem, I think. It’s a horrible thing. I think that if CLOSER had been done – and
I agree, I think it’s a fine play – I think if it had been done Off-Broadway, it would
still be running. Could be. Yes. But I think the difference that we’re talking
about is Broadway and Off-Broadway. Right. And as a perceived end goal for any [playwright],
where does a play want to end up? How long did AGNES OF GOD originally run? It ran about seventeen months. That’s remarkable. But traditionally, we’re brought up in this
country, believing that Broadway is the end-all and be-all. Umm-hmm. And in reality, of course, as theatre professionals,
we realize rather quickly it’s not that at all. It has become a bus-and-truck stop, I think,
for the most part, today. I mean, it’s also just, you know, when AS
BEES IN HONEY DROWN got the reviews it got, you do sit at a big round table with advertising
people and producers, and they say, “These are the theatres that are available,” which
they used to do back then, two years ago. (LAUGHTER) Now they just go, “We’re in line!” You’re all in the theatre, though. Yeah. You’re all working in the theatre, working
for the theatre, all of you. That’s right. Yeah, exactly. So you sit there, and they say, “We’ve got
the Golden, and you’ve got the Lucille Lortel.” And everyone, out of an hour discussion, it
was decided the Lucille Lortel, just ’cause we wanted the play to have a nice long run
with an unknown actress, unknown to most people. And that’s what we chose to do. And keep the integrity of the piece. Yeah. Well, you know, also, a lot of us remember,
there’s a whole different breed of producers you’re talking about, too, and I think that
has to be affected. And some of us who remember, there are a lot
of the old-time producers who you might not want your son or daughter to marry one (LAUGHTER),
they were not what you call terrific, model human being citizens. But they were brilliant, in terms of they
were strong. They knew what they wanted. Now, a lot of them – and this is, again,
overstating it – seem to have made a lot of money somewhere else and do not have the
strength or, perhaps, the perception. They’re entrepreneurs. That’s what they are, chiefly. Yeah. Or groups of people. And you see “Producers,” there’s like seven
or eight people! Yes! Talk about seven actors! There’s seven producers! Oh! I see that and I think, “That poor director
and/or choreographer is going to have notes from fifteen people.” Right! (LAUGHTER) And the wives and husbands of fifteen people! Right! And the boyfriends and girlfriends of the
ones who have them. When TAP DANCE KID was in preview, I went
there one night and I thought, “What the hell is that? They’ve changed all the crockery on the breakfast
table!” (LAUGHTER) That was going to make the show
work! (LAUGHTER) But I think there is something which is happening
which is not about, you know, a group of fifteen producers now. It’s now corporations are getting involved. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Because they see this
Broadway as a commodity. This is something that you get the T-shirt,
you get the hat, and you sell it. So it is very interesting to do. I don’t know if anyone’s done it with a corporation
now or recently, but it’s there. Well, it’s funny, because this summer I choreographed
a workshop production of a musical called THE SEUSSICAL, which is by Steve Flaherty
and Lynn Ahrens, who wrote RAGTIME, and Frank Galati directed it. It’s really great! And it was really fun. And we started off, when I first got the call
it was from Livent, saying, “This is happening in this workshop and would you choreograph
it?” And, “Yes, I’d be very interested, thank you.” And then, you know, the spring and the summer,
and Livent’s kind of fading away before our eyes. And literally, in the middle of our workshop
is when Pace took over. So all of a sudden, we had sort of new parents
in the middle of the workshop. But the oddest thing is, of course, for a
workshop, it didn’t affect us in the least. You know, it’s still just the cast and the
director and the authors and me in a room, creating this. Now, you know, what the future life will be,
you know, is now in the hands of Pace. It’s like the days in the White House or something! (PH) (LAUGHTER) Does that affect what you’re doing? No, it doesn’t affect the work at all. I mean, you’re in a room, creating. So that you continue doing what you have been
hired to do. And your expertise comes through. Yeah. I mean, I worked at the Drama Department. Doug hired me to choreograph AS THOUSANDS
CHEER a year ago. And it was really fun, because the motives
were pure. I mean, it was sort of this group of people. I mean, we had this amazing cast. And Chris Ashley directed. There was nothing [in the way]. And we had this great group of people and
it was so much fun, because the motives were absolutely pure. We were all in the room because we wanted
to work with each other, and we wanted to work on this piece. And there was no expectation of “I’m going
to do this job because I can buy a house in the country if it runs for a year.” I mean, it was not that sort of feeling at
all. The only motive to be there was because [of]
the material and the people. And it was great. And it was successful. And there actually was talk of “Will there
be a future life?” And we said, “You know what?” We had a cast who was going on to other things,
we’d have to replace them, we’d have to change it. We said, “You know, we like [this]. We don’t want to let anybody else in our clubhouse.” We had a great little clubhouse, and you know,
“We want to just leave it at that.” If you had your druthers, in the musical theatre,
which is the most difficult to approach on this, because of budgets and everything, how
would you do it? (TO KATHLEEN) You? Rob? Well, I think the ideal thing is to have a
producer – what I feel sad about is people running around trying to get their musicals
produced, and there’s not a person who sort of commissions [them], and says, “You know
what? You’re going to write and you’re going to
do the music and you’re going to do the lyrics. And you’re going to direct and you’re going
to choreograph, and I’m putting this team together, and that’s gonna happen.” And that’s what I miss. I mean, both Kathleen and I worked with Garth
Drabinksy. And you know, he had faults, clearly. But he also was, in that sort of old-fashioned
way, trying to be the David Merrick or the Stuart Ostrow, and that kind of person who
would put it together. And I miss that kind of a father or mother
figure who says, “I’m going to create this world and this is a great team.” Because what happens now is, that’s why revivals
are done so often, too. Because it’s hard to get people together,
in a funny way, you know? And so, that’s what I miss, that kind of thing. But I would also disagree with you, Isabelle,
that if you change producers in midstream, it’s bound to affect the work. It’s like, if you’re on board ship, one day
you have one kind of turbulence, another day you have another kind of turbulence, it’s
going to affect the way you walk on the deck, to use a really mixed metaphor, I’m sorry. (LAUGHTER) But I think it does make a difference. I don’t think any producer should lie down
dead and say, “Get on with it.” No, no. But they should be able, as Rob was saying,
to create an atmosphere in which it is possible to do the work. I mean, I find that a lot of the time these
days, the most restful part of my job is directing. And that should be (LAUGHS) the most difficult
(LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) and the most stressful, in a way. Now, it’s the most peaceful. It’s the meetings I dread. (LAUGHTER) Right. Well, I mean, to be a choreographer in a Broadway
musical these days, you’re the first to go! I mean, it’s like musical chairs with choreographers
these days. That’s true. No, usually the costume designer! (LAUGHTER) And the set dressing. No, if the sets don’t move right, the costume
designer is fired. (LAUGHTER) When did we start having choreographer/directors
in the musicals? That’s interesting. There had been a great division for years. I think, you know, the rich tradition, clearly,
of Bob Fosse. Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion. Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion. Michael Bennett. Yeah, they were the three. Yeah, exactly. Gower Champion, of course, yeah. Yeah. I mean, Agnes de Mille directed a few musicals,
but we know her mainly as a choreographer. Not well. (LAUGHTER) But you know what? I’ll tell you something. I just finished directing and choreographing
this production of ANNIE that’s going to be on television. November 7th, ABC. (LAUGHTER) Thank you, Kathleen! Was that “ABC”? I’ve aired way past this! But I’ll tell you, the one great thing about
directing and choreographing, if it’s something that you enjoy doing or know how to do or
have, you know, an affinity for, is the sort of single vision. I mean, I love collaborating and I’ve done
it many, many times and love it. But it’s great to have the whole vision. So you’re not asking somebody, “How do I get
into this song and out of this song?” “Here’s where I’ll end and you’ll take over,”
and all that kind of thing. Right, exactly. I mean, the best collaborations are when you
can’t obviously tell where the scenes are. And that’s happened, I’d say, a few times
in my life, where I’ve had a great collaborator. Name them. Sam Mendes and I worked beautifully together
on CABARET, I thought. I mean, it was a great experience. And Kathleen assisted me on SHE LOVES ME,
and Scott Ellis and I worked on that, and Kathleen. And that felt very collaborative. And you know, because what happens is, the
great directors that I’ve worked with, the best idea in the room wins, you know? As opposed to (GESTURES) that [rigidity],
you know? The egos are sort of checked at the door,
I find, and everybody speaks and everybody listens. And yes, of course, the director makes the
final decision as to where you’re heading. But I find that that’s a great collaborator,
a great leader, somebody who can let the information happen and not sort of squelch it or bring
an ego into the room and push things away. So those have been wonderful collaborations. And Jack O’Brien, in DAMN YANKEES, loved working
with Jack. Umm-hmmm. But the other side of that, we’ve talked about
this, because Robby’s been directing now for a while and I sort of just started. I directed something at Encores! last year. And we said that as a choreographer, you know,
you have a huge responsibility, but you’re not in the direct line of fire. And you know, you can kind of sit back there
and go, “Well, you know, somebody better do something about that costume!” (LAUGHTER) You know, “Is he really going to
let her do that on stage?” And then, you know, when you’re the director,
you go, “Oh, I guess that’d be my job!” (LAUGHTER) “I’m the one who has to say that.” I’d better get up and do that! ‘Cause you go, “Oooh, well, not my department,
I don’t want to get into that.” Yes. It’s lonelier. Let me say something which probably sounds
a bit insensitive, but I will declare that I am unable to stage a number called “I’m
Sitting in a Swing and Singing as I Swing.” (LAUGHTER) I cannot choreograph! I don’t believe that for a moment. No, it’s true! It’s true, and I don’t try. But by the same token, there are some choreographers
who are thoroughly untrained about directing who say, “I can do it,” and get very stroppy
(PH) if you sort of say, “I don’t think this is what you should be doing.” Yes. Now, the reverse of that is if I go up to
somebody, I say, “You know, I’ve never done this, but I feel a tap number in my brain
and in my toes. (LAUGHTER) Please let me do it!” “Can you dance?” “No.” (LAUGHTER) I would be committed for doing
that. (ROB LAUGHS) But certain individuals do get
away with the reverse, and I don’t understand it. Yes, I agree. And I don’t know why there are egos that need
to collide like that. I think choreographers know how to move a
musical. But that doesn’t mean they know how to work
with character and with book and understand the complexities of what that involves. And I know, for instance, Bob Fosse studied
with Sandy Meisner, to really understand about actors. And he was a wonderful director, he was. Yes. And he worked very hard at it. And I think, you know, I come from a theatre
background, theatre training. And you know, I’m continuing to grow as a
director as well. It’s something that not everybody does well,
and it takes a lot of work and skill. Could we stop for one minute? And we’re going to come back to what we’re
talking about, on what it is to work in the theatre, from all of your backgrounds. And we’re just going to take a quick minute
to stretch and move around and then come back and continue with this discussion, because
there are a lot of questions that have to be answered here. You might think that you’ve answered all of
them (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), but not by half! (APPLAUSE) This is CUNY-TV, the City University of New
York. (APPLAUSE) Welcome back to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” Before we return to these gifted panelists,
I would like to point out to you that the Wing is more than a sponsor of seminars and
more than our famous Tony Award, which is given for excellence in the theatre. We are an organization whose year-round programs
are dedicated to serving the theatre and the community, with a goal of developing new audiences. And to achieve that goal, we have created
audience development programs for students, like “Introduction to Broadway,” which
began seven years ago and has enabled almost 80,000 New York City high school students
to attend a Broadway show, and for many of them, for the very first time. And through our “Theatre in Schools” program,
we have professionals like these on our seminar panels that go directly into classrooms to
work with and talk to students about working in the theatre. In addition, we have a hospital program, which
dates back to World War Two and our legendary Stage Door Canteens. Today’s version of the program brings talent
from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the cabaret world to entertain patients in hospitals,
senior day and nursing facilities, AIDS service organizations, and child care and hospice
facilities in the New York area, bringing that magic of theatre to those who can not
get to the theatre themselves. We are proud of the work we do and delighted
with that wonderful working relationship we have with the theatrical community, and grateful
to our members and to everyone who makes possible all that the American Theatre Wing does. Now, having said that, let’s get back to
our seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” And I’d like to start Part Two with my question
to the panel, which is really not so much a question as a discussion. I want to know the role of the playwright
and the director. How do you work that out at the beginning
of your production? Where do you start, and where does it go from
there? And who has the final word on this? Would you like to start, John? (LAUGHTER) Yeah, it’s the playwright. Well, I know what you gotta say. (LAUGHTER) Well, the ideal relationship, I think is a
marriage. I just had a wonderful experience working
with Chris Ashley, a director which I know Doug has just worked with. And what was great for me about working with
Chris is that both of us quickly reached a point where we certainly were able to read
each other’s minds. I found that in auditions we responded positively
and negatively in almost exactly the same ways to actors who would come in and audition
for us. And we thought very much along the same lines
in working with the piece, and really blended beautifully. I’ve also had nightmarish experiences with
directors, where the ego situation was, you know, the be-all and end-all of this director’s
(LAUGHS) being. You know, “I’m the boss and I’m the artiste,
and no one dare question my taste.” And there are playwrights I hear tell of that
are the same way. (LAUGHTER) There are. There’s one playwright whose catchphrase is
“That’s written in stone.” But that’s different from in film, where they
change the words every [second]. Right, you know that. Right. Well, you’re just below highway sniper! (LAUGHTER) Because the words don’t mean anything. Well, that’s about ownership, I think, too. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) But you own your play. I own the play. I don’t own my screenplay or my teleplays. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Do you ever want to get up and direct a piece
that you think is being done poorly? Sometimes mid-scene! (LAUGHTER) No. No. I mean, I understand the cohesiveness that
some playwrights talk about, but I personally like collaboration. It’s why I chose to be a playwright. If I wanted to just be in total control, I
would write a novel. You know, that would be total control. But I like, I mean, as a playwright, you write
something, you own it. That’s yours. Now, the beauty part is, is in order for it
to happen, you’ve got to shut up and listen to other people and work with them. And in a weird way, though you do say, “This
is mine and I own it,” you kind of have to say, “Go. And let me be there to inform you of what
I was trying for, and you tell me what you’re going for.” And you just keep talking. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. What if you feel they’re ruining it? Completely ruining your piece? Well, I find that often, when I’m in the rehearsal
process, I’m blinded to some degree about whether things are going down the right path
or the wrong path. Because I find that collaboration, for me,
often, is about just totally opening my mind as much as possible to the input that I’m
being given from other people. And I have to trust in my own instincts when
somebody says something and I think, “Whoa! This is totally off-base and wrong.” But I’ve been in situations with a director
that takes the show down a certain path and it’s a while before it takes me to realize
what has been done and what’s gone wrong here. And that’s very scary. But I find that’s kind of a hazard of the
game, in a way. And how can you be totally open and not be
vulnerable on occasion to, you know, sideswipes? (LAUGHTER) What’s your answer? Tell us your experience. Well, I think what both John and Doug have
described is the absolutely ideal and correct situation for a director and a writer to be
in. At Hampstead, where we chiefly did new plays
– we did an occasional revival, but that was a new play theatre – I wrote into the
contract with the authors that they had the absolute, forever right to be at every single
rehearsal if they so desired, provided they respected the etiquette of the rehearsal procedure. What I think sometimes happens that is not
a good idea, I think sometimes writers stay at the rehearsal a little too long. I don’t mean about all day, but there should
be a period at which you go away, because if you stay there too vividly, if you like,
you can begin to mistake the attempt of something with the result. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You can fall in love with
(PH) choices, you can. And it’s very useful to have you come back
and say, “This isn’t so [good].” “Oh, well, I’m trying to do [this].” “Well, you may be trying to do that, but you’re
not achieving it.” I have found, in my own experience, usually
the more gifted the writer, the easier they are to work with. I may be the only person left alive who directed
Noel Coward in his own plays. And I directed the last plays he wrote. And it was absolutely astonishing. One day I said in the rehearsal of a certain
play, “You know, this is really too long.” He said, “Yes, I know it is. Please take it home and cut it for me.” I said, “What?!” (LAUGHTER) He said, “I am far too close to
it to be able to do that adequately. You are more detached. You will do it better.” I cut twenty-five minutes out of the play. And within ten minutes, we had reached agreement
or disagreement on all of the points. He was not so easy to direct as an actor,
but he was the easiest writer I ever worked with. That’s really fascinating. Is that true of you, Rob? Well, I found when I was working in LITTLE
ME, I couldn’t believe it, but Neil Simon came and sat in every rehearsal, all day long. Oh, really? And it was if he were a first time writer. And the great thing about Neil is, if it doesn’t
work, he’ll rewrite it in two seconds. And when something’s going wrong in a scene,
even if it was something that I had done or it’s something an actor had done, he would
start writing! Because he wants to please, and you know,
I guess it comes from his television roots or something, but he just wants to rewrite
it. “Here are six different choices!” And I’ve never seen [anything like it]. It was unbelievable. And he was there every day, and it was extraordinary,
because it was as if he were just a novice writer and sitting there, wanting to be in
the process of it all and make it good. And Rob, is it true? Does he actually say, “Do you want a two beat
joke or a three beat joke?”, which I’ve heard that he does? He didn’t do that, but he had choices, and
they were two beat jokes or three beat jokes. (LAUGHTER) And he’s very into rhythm. Yeah. But you’re talking about artistic security,
as well as experience, too, as a quality. Yes. I’m talking about strong talents. Because the kind of directors you were talking
about, that says, “I am the boss,” that’s a weak individual. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) I mean, very clearly,
a weak individual. And I don’t see a lot of them around. No, I don’t think so. I think it’s an old-school thing. It was a sixties thing. The directors I see and I meet with and I
go see their work and I talk to them later, or talk to actors who’ve just worked with
them. Michael Mayer, Mark Brokaw, Chris Ashley,
they’re all kind of the same kind of easygoing guys who just, like, ask the first time they
meet the playwright, “What’s the story about? Tell me what the story’s about. Great, okay. What do you want this play to be? Okay. We’ve agreed.” And then they go and they do it. Don’t you think choreographers have changed,
too, Kathleen? Oh, they used to be meanies! Meanies! Oh, yeah. Well, yes. I mean, I think that also comes from sort
of the concert dance world, too, when you have, you know, guys like Jerome Robbins who
were sort of in the concert dance world, where the choreographer or the artistic director/choreographer
is the dictator. And I think that, you know, that sort of,
“Okay, kids, five-six-seven-eight!”, you know, that sort of yelling at the dancers – And humiliation. Oh! “Wrong, wrong, terrible!” Because I was around for a few of those choreographer
types. Yeah, you worked with Michael Bennett. I was, like, crossing over about the time
(LAUGHS) that they were really cruel. The other thing, of course, is that, we laugh
about this all the time, that in CHORUS LINE, you know, Sheila says, “I’m gonna be thirty
real soon and I’m real glad,” she’s like, “Ooh, she’s So Old!” you know? (LAUGHTER) And now, I mean, the average age
of dancers in an ensemble is over thirty. Because we want, as choreographers, we don’t
want just sort of anonymous kids. We wants experienced, interesting, vivid people,
and so – Because you have eight. You don’t have eighteen. Right, I’ve only got eight, and so they all
have to be unique and individual. And you know what? I just feel so lucky to have these people
who I really feel are my peers in the room, and working with them and creating something
for them and specifically for their talents. So there’s not this sense of “Okay,” it’s
not the Rockettes. It’s not, all right, everybody in unison and
no individuality and you know, just do it the way I do it and shut up and don’t have
an opinion. I mean, that kind of dancing, I think, is
not [around any more]. What changed that? Could I interrupt you? We have some questions from the audience,
and I think you’ll have to answer them. (LAUGHTER) And then, if we have any time,
you can continue talking. What changed it, is the question. Yeah. Mr. Pielmeier, do you still think there is
a Broadway audience for mysteries? Do I still think there’s a Broadway audience
for mysteries? Yes, I absolutely do. VOICES, for me, was a very interesting experience. Production-wise, it was a delightful experience
for me. Essentially, we had audiences who were really
having a great time. And we hit a critical barrier when the critics
came and were, for the most part, very resistant to that. The heart of the critical response to this
play happened when one of the noted critics came up to a person involved in the show during
intermission, absolutely furious, and said, “It’s disgusting how much the audience is
enjoying this play.” (LAUGHTER) Oh, wow! Oh, my God. And so, yes, I think there’s an audience. Name, name! (LAUGHTER) (SMILES, SHAKES HIS HEAD) I don’t think that
critics are a part of that audience, or wish to be a part of that audience. That’s the problem? Absolutely. I was in Cape May, New Jersey, last weekend. And there was a local professional theatre
company doing a production of ANGEL STREET. And I had a great time! I was there, and everyone in the audience
was having a great time. I was just thinking, “This is such a great
form, and it’s being neglected.” Next question. MARGO EVAN GOLDMAN
Hi. My name is Margo Evan Goldman (PH) and I’m
an actor. This is directed towards Kathleen and Rob
Marshall. You appear so complimentary to one another. Has it always been that way, or are you really
very competitive? (LAUGHTER) I never thought of it like that before! Are you kidding? I am so proud. I went to KISS ME KATE the other night, I
couldn’t be more proud. It’s thrilling for me. Because we do similar work, I guess. We choreograph, and I direct and Kathleen
directs. But you know (LAUGHS), there’s room for everybody,
especially for your really talented sister! (LAUGHTER) So I mean, I am in heaven. And I think our taste is so similar, because
you know, we came from the same environment, and we have so much in common in that way. And the way we work is so similar, because
I learned my way of working from Robby. So I think that in that way, you know, we
appreciate the same kind of things. We have the same sense of humor. We have, you know, the same likes and dislikes. So I love [his work]. Although I’ll tell you, when I went to see
CABARET, I was blown away. I honestly thought – I’ve seen brilliant
things that Robby has done, but to see that and how unique and strong and relentless that
evening that was, and from beginning to end. You know, it took a dangerous tone and it
didn’t let up for two and a half hours. And I was blown away, because I thought, “Oh,
my God!” I honestly didn’t even know that Robby was
capable of that kind of intense, intense work, and it was beautiful. Thank you, Kath! (LAUGHTER) Do you ever hate each other’s work? What do you think his weakest piece was? (LAUGHTER) Uhh . . okay! Okay. That didn’t go over too good. Tell us when he dropped the ball! The most intense fights growing up were always
about what to watch on TV and where to sit to watch it. That’s right. That was sort of the extent of our fights. That was it. That was always the extent of our fights. Yeah. And they were big fights, too. (LAUGHTER) Where was the cool place to sit? Not the itchy couch. Not the itchy couch. The big, comfy chair. The big, comfy chair, yeah. Yeah, we had knock-down drag-outs about that. (LAUGHTER) I don’t know if we have time to get into this,
but John mentioned before, when did this choreographer, this whole attitude change? Do you know when or how or why? Everybody died! I think actually, in the seventies, with the
dancers, especially in Fosse shows, like in PIPPIN and CHICAGO and DANCIN’, when individual
dancers like Ann Reinking and those people became stars, I think people began to see
dancers differently. Donna McKechnie, you know, and with CHORUS
LINE and those things. Kathleen, you’ll have to come back! Okay! (LAUGHTER) You’ll just have to come back, because it’s
time to say goodbye. Oh, I’m sorry. And thank you very, very much, this wonderfully
gifted panel of playwrights, directors, and brother and sister choreographers. (ROB AND KATHLEEN LAUGH) I can’t tell you
how grateful I am to you for being part of the American Theatre Wing’s “Working in the
Theatre” seminars. Thank you so much for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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