JOURNAL WINTER 2013
JACK O’BRIEN DETERMINATION A CONVERSATION
THIS PLAY IS CALLED OUR TOWN MICHAEL KAHN, JAMES NAUGHTON, FONTAINE SYER, CHAY YEW + MORE
INHABITING THE SPACE JOSHUA BERGASSE
GRACIELA DANIELE CARL FORSMAN BILL RAUCH + MORE IN THE COMMUNITY
SDC EXECUTIVE BOARD
Karen Azenberg PRESIDENT
Doug Hughes EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Leigh Silverman VICE PRESIDENT
Oz Scott SECRETARY
Ethan McSweeny TREASURER
HONORARY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Pamela Berlin Melvin Bernhardt Julianne Boyd Danny Daniels Marshall W. Mason Ted Pappas Gene Saks COUNSEL
Ronald H. Shectman EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
MEMBERS OF BOARD
Julie Arenal Rob Ashford Christopher Ashley Walter Bobbie Joe Calarco Larry Carpenter Marcia Milgrom Dodge Sheldon Epps Michael John Garcés Christopher Gattelli Liza Gennaro Wendy C. Goldberg Linda Hartzell Moisés Kaufman Dan Knechtges Mark Lamos Paul Lazarus Rick Lombardo Tom Moore Amy Morton Robert Moss Sharon Ott Lisa Peterson Lonny Price John Rando Susan H. Schulman Seret Scott Bartlett Sher Chay Yew
Published by SDC | Winter 2013 | Volume 1 | No. 3 FEATURES EDITOR
Shelley Butler ART DIRECTOR
Elizabeth Miller CONTRIBUTORS
“Mr. Abbott” Award FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN AMERICAN THEATRE
Laura Braza DIRECTOR
Nicole Herrington EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
David Hilder DIRECTOR
Leah Keith 2012 HAUPTMAN FELLOW
Jerry Mitchell SAVE THE DATE
Monday, May 13, 2013 COCKTAILS & CABARET
Kate Powers DIRECTOR
Angela Santillo WRITER
Seret Scott DIRECTOR
Michelle Sokolowski MEMBER SERVICES COORDINATOR
Barbara Wolkoff DIR. OF MEMBER SERVICES
SDC JOURNAL is published quarterly by Stage Directors and Choreographers Society located at 1501 Broadway, STE 1701, NYC 10036. SDC JOURNAL is a registered trademark of SDC. SUBSCRIPTIONS Call 212.391.1070 or visit www.SDCweb.org. Annual SDC Membership dues include a $5 allocation for a 1-year subscription to SDC JOURNAL. Non-Members may purchase an annual subscription for $24 (domestic), $48 (foreign); single copies cost $7 each (domestic), $14 (foreign). Also available at the Drama Book Shop in NY, NY. POSTMASTER Send address changes to SDC JOURNAL, SDC, 1501 Broadway, STE 1701, NY, NY 10036.
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30 16 18
From Keen to Carolina
CARL FORSMAN discusses his move from freelance Director to Dean of Drama at University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Volume 1 | No. 3
A conversation with WALTER BOBBIE on life + career with distinguished Director JACK O’BRIEN.
INTERVIEW BY WALTER BOBBIE
IN THE COMMUNITY
look at how Directors + Choreographers can A foster the “going green” conversation within their companies + productions.
18 Joshua Bergasse
INHABITING THE SPACE Choreographer JOSHUA BERGASSE on choreographing Broadway for the television hit Smash.
INTERVIEW BY BEN PESNER
This Play Is Called Our Town 75 YEARS IN GROVER’S CORNERS In celebration of Our Town’s 75th anniversary, Directors MICHAEL KAHN, JAMES NAUGHTON, FONTAINE SYER + CHAY YEW discuss their take on Thornton Wilder’s most renowned work.
INTERVIEWS BY KATE POWERS
2012 Fichandler Award: Transforming the Regional Arts Landscape.
The World Only Moves Forward BY LAURA BRAZA WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
8 IN RESIDENCE Drew Fracher
@ Cincinnati Shakespeare Co. BY JONATHAN
FROM THE PRESIDENT
FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
IN YOUR WORDS
Two Questions for Director Woodie King, Jr. CURATED BY SERET SCOTT
The Director’s Voice, Volume Two J ASON LOEWITH interviews 20 of
Les Waters @ Actors Theatre of Louisville BY SHARON OTT
Why I Cast That Actor
OUR MEMBERS IN PRINT
American theatre’s most significant Directors in this follow-up volume to the 1980s original.
Northeast BY DAVID HILDER Southeast BY STAFF
Managing Director of Kitchen Dog Theater
Central BY STAFF
If You Do One Thing This Winter, What Will It Be?
Northwest BY STAFF
Our Members Respond
| Walter Bobbie + Jack O’Brien PHOTO CJ Maldonado | www.cirilojerome.com | William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, fight directed by Drew Fracher PHOTO Rich Sofranko
Southwest BY STAFF
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Adventures in Transition An Interview with GRACIELA DANIELE
THE SOCIETY PAGES
SDC’s Annual Membership Meeting, SDCF’s Callaway Awards, LA’s Ovation Awards + SDC’s William Ball
| Jason Loewith PHOTO Adam Nadel | 1 Thorton Wilder playing the Stage Manager in Our Town at the College of Wooster in 1950 Special Collections, The College of Wooster Libraries | 2 John Carrafa PHOTO Nicole Gottwald 3 SDC Executive Board Secretary Oz Scott, Fichandler Award Recipient Bill Rauch + SDC Executive Board Member Larry Carpenter at the 2012 Zelda Fichandler Award Event PHOTO Sherry Burnett 4 Joshua Bergasse PHOTO Will Hart | 5 Walter Bobbie + Jack O’Brien PHOTO CJ Maldonado PREVIOUS
SDC Regional Reports
AROUND THE COUNTRY
JOHN RANDO on Casting Nancy Opel in Urinetown
5 | WINTER 2013
FROM THE PRESIDENT
I am writing on the last day of the year, December 31, 2012, as Volume 3 of SDC Journal prepares to go to print for its first issue of the New Year. 2013 happens to be my final year as President of SDC. Transitions often inspire reflection, and New Year’s Eve, perhaps above all others, is prime for such enthusiastic consideration of future hopes, goals, and resolutions. For SDC, 2012 will be remembered for numerous initiatives that are just now beginning to flourish and succeed. Contract filing has increased, up for a second year in a row from the recession of 2008. We have broadened our national presence, supported by Member meetings and events in cities across the country. We have deepened our involvement with Directors Lab West and Directors Lab Chicago, programs that support the growth and future of our craft. Our relationship with the Actors Fund, an organization dedicated to supporting all performing artists in all aspects of career and life, has been strengthened, as has our evolving relationship with the Dramatists Guild, with whom we hope to continue exploring common ground and aligning our shared goals. HIS SDC FLASHLIGHT—SWAG FROM THE 2009 REBRANDING CAMPAIGN—WAS HIS ONLY SOURCE OF LIGHT WHEN HIS APARTMENT WENT DARK. HE NAVIGATED HIS STAIRWELL TO THE STREET WITH THE HELP OF SDC.
2012 was an election year, with a variety of intense local and national races. SDC’s Executive Board experienced a surge in membership with its November election—we added five new Members, creating a critical mass of fresh energy and bold ideas to better support the increasing and diversifying needs of our Membership, which is now more than 2,500 directors and choreographers strong—a record for SDC. Nationally, our industry continues to face challenges, but we are making great strides as well. We learned that Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, is stepping down from his post, and we thank him for all he has done for our field as we look forward to welcoming the next NEA leader. The Affordable Care Act, which will continue to take shape, will begin to have meaning for our Membership as the Union works to understand its implications to our Funds. TCG recently reported that the nonprofit sector is rebounding—good news for us all—yet we know funding is an eternal battle. SDC works hard to expand its reach, visiting Members and their communities across the country, striving to foster existing relationships and build new ones. Our aim is to listen to and converse with working directors and choreographers about the challenges they face throughout their careers. My favorite Member moment this past year happened during the annual trip to Los Angeles. At the Fichandler cocktail party, Daniel Henning (Artistic Director of L.A.’s The Blank Theatre) shared a story about working in New York during Hurricane Sandy. His SDC flashlight—swag from the 2009 rebranding campaign—was his only source of light when his apartment went dark. He navigated his stairwell to the street with the help of SDC. We exist for you, to support and represent you and your work, and it is on this note that I toast 2013. Here’s to our continued adventure—together and as individuals—in our work on and behind the stage, and within our artistic homes. Here’s to the growth of our Union in strength and outreach, to our Foundation and its goals to support the craft at all levels, to our Members’ participation within the Union and society at large. And here’s to encouraging change and inciting creative rebellion. Happy New Year! And, as always, happy reading!
Karen Azenberg President of SDC KAREN AZENBERG has been a Member since 1989 | DANIEL HENNING since 1997
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
“Our goal is human endeavor.” WILLIAM BALL
FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
FOUNDING MEMBER, SDC
When I was in junior high school, my mom put me on a one-hour Greyhound bus ride to San Francisco from Travis Air Force Base. I was with my friend Liz, and we were headed to the American Conservatory Theatre to see Cyrano de Bergerac. From our seats in the far reaches of the balcony at the Geary, I was mesmerized. Years later I would understand that I had witnessed one of the great moments of American Theatre, a legendary production directed by the indomitable Bill Ball, with a cast led by the remarkable Peter Donat and Marsha Mason. This production would become part of the ACT’s repertoire for several years and would be featured on PBS as one of the specials that Jack Venza and WNET13 produced back in the ‘70s. At the very same time, on the other side of the country, Zelda Fichandler’s shrewd producer’s eye matched the talents of Alan Schneider with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at Arena Stage, starring company member Robert Prosky. This production would tour the Soviet Union in 1973 during the height of the Cold War. Interestingly ACT ended up touring the Soviet Union in 1976 with Laird Williamson’s Matchmaker and Allen Fletcher’s Desire Under the Elms thanks to the success of Arena’s endeavors with Our Town. These tours set a standard for cultural exchanges that exists today. Fontaine Syer served as Alan’s assistant director on that Our Town tour and you will hear more about her experiences with this play in this issue, as we talk to directors about this American classic on the eve of its 75th anniversary. The incredible energy and talent dedicated to the development of new work is thrilling and necessary to our field. So too is the opportunity to see magnificent plays revived over time. We experience these plays like new as directors find seemingly limitless ways to bring these great texts to life. We all know there are timeless themes and universal truths, but when you hear Jack O’Brien talk about having done four Macbeths, two Hamlets, three Othellos and three Twelfth Nights, you can’t help but wish you had been able to see each and every one of these productions. One of the strengths of a great play is reflected in its capacity to allow generations of artists to find themselves inside the stories in ways that reverberate deeply,
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and sometimes unexpectedly. Imagine having the rare opportunity to witness a director revisiting a play throughout the development of his/her career, attesting to their ability to find the resonances of the play for a specific gathering of artists and audience at a specific moment in time. In Seattle in 2004, I had the great pleasure of producing Our Town with Bartlett Sher at the helm and Tom Skerritt playing the Stage Manager. We were not the only theatre seeking opportunities to call together our community to ask questions about what it meant to be an American and to respond to the increased fragmentation of our communities locally and globally, politically and socially. While processing the traumatic aftershocks of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, Washington State citizens were taking their first run at a marriage equality act (it failed at that time but finally succeeded just weeks ago). “People are supposed to live two-by two” Thornton Wilder writes in ACT II for the wedding of Emily and George. He doesn’t write “man and woman.” He doesn’t write “as husband and wife.” In 1938 he writes “two-by-two.” In Seattle the audiences went wild—literally erupting into spontaneous applause during most performances, requiring Tom and the cast to pause. Patrons could be heard whispering, “Did they change that line?” “Was it updated?” No, in plays like Our Town the text doesn’t change to make it feel more contemporary. In the bones of a great play waiting to be brought to life by a director and his/her collaborators in a moment in time, pardon the cliché, but it is all new again. As this issue goes to print, countless productions of classic plays are being imagined by SDC directors and choreographers across the country. Cyrano, helmed by Jamie Lloyd, recently closed following a successful run on Broadway, as David Cromer’s Our Town once again graces the stage, this time at the Huntington.
LAURA PENN Executive Director WILLIAM “BILL” BALL d.1991 | DAVID CROMER since 2004 | ZELDA FICHANDLER since 1987 ALLEN FLETCHER d.1985 | JAMIE LLOYD since 2012 | JACK O’BRIEN since 1969 ALAN SCHNEIDER d.1984 | BARTLETT SHER since 1996 | FONTAINE SYER since 1995 LAIRD WILLIAMSON since 1979
IN YOUR WORDS Two Questions In Residence Why I Cast That Actor Our Members In Print Backstage We Asked Our Members...
TWO QUESTIONS CURATED BY SERET
for WOODIE KING, JR.
When did you know you were a director? What did the moment look like? Feel like? In 1960, I founded a theatre in Detroit called Concept East Theater. As undergraduates a group of us had been doing theatre at Wayne State University. The university only did plays like The Green Pastures, The Emperor Jones, etc. We were trained, but we could not play lead roles; even outside the university we could only play “buddy” parts in the Detroit theatres. (This was the late ’50s, and none of the theatres were black.) Ten of us pooled our money and started Concept East Theatre Club. We wanted to present plays that our people wanted to see, and I found myself directing.
If you wish to contribute to IN YOUR WORDS, would like to respond to any of the articles, opinions, or views expressed in SDC Journal, or have an idea for an article, please e-mail Letters@SDCweb.org. Include your full name, city + state. We regret that we are unable to respond to every letter.
WOODIE KING, JR. since 1976 | LLOYD RICHARDS d.1976
One of the plays written by Rev. Malcolm Boyd became a big hit. It toured to churches and coffee houses across America. We raised funds for the civil rights groups. One of the stops was St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, here in New York. It was a big hit. The critics loved it. As a result I was hired to run a training program in theatre at Mobilization for Youth. That program came at a time when the American cities were in turmoil.
If a mentor of yours were to see your work, where would they find themselves? My mentor was Lloyd Richards. Lloyd not only directed me, he directed at New Federal Theatre, which I founded in 1970 to specialize in minority drama. Lloyd would recognize his influence in my love for the literature, the way I work with actors, the way I select playwrights, designers. It really feels good to stand at the rear of a theatre, whether regional, Broadway, Off-Broadway, or Off-Off, and see the vision realized.
WOODIE KING, JR. is a founder and producing director of New Federal Theatre in New York City. His extensive directing credits include work in both film and theatre. He has directed at Cleveland Playhouse, Stage West, Virginia Museum Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Northlight Theatre, New Federal Theatre, The Ensemble Studio, Arena Stage, GeVa Theatre, American Place Theatre, Jomandi Theatre, Center Stage of Baltimore, Indiana Repertory Company, Studio Arena In Buffalo, New York Shakespeare Festival, Billie Holiday Theatre, and Crossroads Theatre Company. King, Jr. was a visiting professor at Oberlin College, Florida State University, and Ohio State University; he has taught at Yale, Penn State, North Carolina A&T, Columbia, NYU, Hunter, and Brooklyn College School of Contemporary Studies. He is a graduate student of WillO-Way School of Theatre in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Lehman College in New York; and received his MFA in directing at Brooklyn College. Awards and special recognition include: recipient of an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement, an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Wayne State University, an Honorary Doctorate from John Jay College and Lehman College, and a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the College of Wooster. In January 2012, King, Jr. was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
DREW FRACHER @ CINCINNATI
SHAKESPEARE COMPANY BY JONATHAN
While Drew Fracher isn’t formally a resident artist at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, he certainly feels he has an artistic home there. “My relationship with Cincinnati Shakespeare originated as a fight director and sometime as an actor,” he observed. “Jasson Minadakis, who currently runs Marin Theatre Company out in Mill Valley, CA, started Cincinnati Shakes. I worked for him as a fight director and that led to a directing A Midsummer’s Night Dream in the late 1990s.” Fracher has been working as a fight director for many years and came by the profession indirectly as many do. “I went to school to study acting,” says Fracher, “and fell into fight directing. Although I never played sports as a kid, in college I discovered sport fencing and got totally hooked! And then in my sophomore year we got a new movement teacher named Joseph Martinez who had studied at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He and two other gentlemen, David Boushey and Erik Fredricksen, founded the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD). Joseph taught stage combat and there it was: fencing AND acting! I joined the SAFD that year and followed Joseph (who had left my undergrad to teach in Illinois) to grad school and studied with him for three more years. By that time I was completely immersed in the organization and the art form. The rest is history.” Fracher was named as one of SAFD’s fight masters in 1985, and he served as president for two terms and as an officer for 19 years. He continues to be actively involved. Fracher’s relationship with current Cincinnati Shakespeare Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips is key to his ongoing work there. “Since Brian became artistic director, I’ve generally directed one show a season.
Our relationship has developed into a great collaboration. I will occasionally take a project to him and we’ll talk about it. Sometimes he’ll offer me something that I’m not jumping up and down to do and I’ll pitch something else. He’s been pretty great and wide open about it.” When asked what it is like to be a regular but not a resident for a particular company, Fracher replied that he feels at home due to working there frequently, but that the balance between his tenure and work elsewhere gives him an advantage. “I can spot habits that people who work together every day might not be able to see, and I can call them on it.” Fracher is connected to Cincinnati Shakespeare in other ways, too. His wife is a resident actor for Cincinnati Shakespeare and their work there intersects. “We have a shorthand,” he said. “She is my most personal link to the actors in the company. We’ve found a great work ethic together. It’s really a blessing.” “The main reason I’d call Cincinnati Shakespeare an artistic home” continued Fracher, “is that I have true collaborators there, from the artistic director to the designers to the SM to the actors. We’ve all worked together on many productions over the years. I’ve acted, stage managed, choreographed fights, and directed. I always look forward to working here, in whatever capacity, every season. They have grown leaps and bounds over the years and the audience has grown with them. I have friends in the local community. It is a place I can count on plying my trade. And it’s a great place to work!”
William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, fight choreography directed by Drew Fracher PHOTO Rich Sofranko
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DREW FRACHER since 2001 | JASSON MINADAKIS since 2008 | BRIAN ISAAC PHILLIPS since 2011
LES WATERS @ ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS BY SHARON
OTT SDC Member Director Les Waters was born in Cleethorpes, England, where he established his reputation working at theatres such as the Bristol Old Vic, Hampstead Theatre Club, National Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, Traverse Theatre Club, and, most notably, Joint Stock Theatre Company, which developed during Britain’s 1970s counterculture theatre movement. Waters credits his work with Joint Stock as one of the cornerstones of his aesthetic. “Joint Stock means the world to me. I worked with Max Stafford-Clark. I worked with Caryl Churchill. When I’m working on a project, I talk to them in my head all the time. They were my mentors. Probably at some level I’m still trying to please them. Joint Stock taught me about collaboration, curiosity, and that the work we make is serious.” After moving to the United States, while directing at theatres throughout the country, Waters ran the MFA Directing Program at UC/San Diego, where he made a tremendous impression on students such as Steve Cosson and Anne Kauffman, founders of The Civilians. “Steve Cosson and Annie Kauffman were my first directing students at UCSD. I adore them both. They are very talented and taught me a lot.” When asked what would be the most important advice he could give young directors, Waters says, “See everything you can. See plays, films. Go to art galleries, read, look at things, make art central to your life. Do it if you need to do it. Have something in your life that is central and is NOT about theatre.” In 2003, Waters became the Associate Director at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where he continued his work with important contemporary playwrights. His productions at Berkeley Rep included the world premieres of Chuck Mee’s Fêtes de la Nuit, Jordan Harrison’s Finn in the Underworld, and Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). While being recognized widely as a director of new work, Waters’ Berkeley Rep credits also included productions of Shaw’s Heartbreak House, and a well-received production of The Glass Menagerie with Rita Moreno. He chose to begin his tenure as the Artistic Director of The Actors Theatre of Louisville with a production of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Does he see any difference in his approach to the classics as opposed to new plays? “I don’t think I do. Maybe I’m a little more lost when the writer isn’t in the room. I like the company of writers. I worked on a Chekhov last year. I would like to have had dinner with him and talk about Three Sisters. (Not sure that applies to O’Neill!) In the end, everything is new to me.”
Now Waters finds himself in Louisville, Kentucky, where he became the new Artistic Director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville on January 9, 2011, assuming full-time duties in March of that year. “Before becoming artistic director of ATL, I had worked here twice before. Chuck Mee’s Big Love in 2000 and Naomi Iizuka’s At the Vanishing Point in 2004. Both writers, both plays mean a great deal to me. I liked the Humana Festival. I liked Actors Theatre, and I liked Louisville. So here I am. Louisville is both opinionated and vulnerable. I’m fascinated by that combination.” On choosing Long Day’s Journey into Night as his inaugural production, Waters says, “To quote Isaac Newton, ‘We stand on the shoulders of giants.’ O’Neill is a giant. Fact. Long Day’s Journey is his masterpiece. I wanted to do something serious and big and I wanted to work with the best on something challenging.” What’s the scariest project he’s ever tackled, and why? “It’s all scary, but if I have to pick, Wally Shawn’s Marie and Bruce at the Royal Court in London in 1979, because it was my first professional gig. And Long Day’s Journey because it’s hard and toxic and you have to be brave and exposed to work on it with any kind of honesty. It’s a beast.”
STEVE COSSON since 2002 | ANNE KAUFFMAN since 2005 | SHARON OTT since 1980 | LES WATERS since 1987
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
WHY I CAST THAT ACTOR
JOHN RANDO explains casting Nancy Opel as Penelope Pennywise in Broadway’s Urinetown One of my favorite casting stories involves casting Nancy Opel as Penelope Pennywise in Urinetown: The Musical. We were preparing for the Off-Broadway production. Nancy had participated in a developmental reading of the show for potential producers, at which she gave a brilliantly funny and powerful performance, and she and I had worked together on a couple of plays prior to Urinetown. She was a friend of mine. Nancy was at a point in her career when she’d been considering leaving show business and had even gone so far as taking a job in the corporate world. By the time we had all of our ducks in a row, and were finally ready to offer her the part for Off-Broadway, Nancy passed; she felt she needed to really give her new life a try and couldn’t go back to performing just yet. Needless to say, this was deeply disheartening to us. We had already witnessed Nancy’s profound understanding of the show’s tone and suddenly found ourselves in the awful position of needing to replace her. With Nancy’s exceptional acting qualities and sheer vocal prowess indelibly etched into our brains, we began the difficult task of casting someone else for the part. We tried in vain for more than a couple of months, and even though we saw many talented actresses, no one understood and exhibited the tone of the writing as well as Nancy. We were nearing our deadline to finish the casting process. At the end of a long day, and after having had some wonderful luck putting together the rest of our brilliant cast, we all sat down to have a meal and assess where we were in the process. The producers, writers, choreographer, casting directors, and I returned to the topic of casting Penelope Pennywise.
Who could play the part? It became obvious that there was no other choice but Nancy. At that point someone—probably Michael David, one of our producers—said we should just call her right now and ask her again. We all laughed at that idea, thinking it would be hysterical if we rang her up, put her on speakerphone in the restaurant, and had all 10 of us say that we can’t do the show without her. We decided it was a crazy idea and, therefore, a brilliant one, and since I was her friend and had her cell number in my phone, I rang her up—and she answered! I told her that I was putting her on speakerphone, because the entire Urinetown creative, casting, and producing team wanted to speak with her at the same time. Then, basically, all of us chimed in, saying we had to have her and that we were officially re-offering her the part. Nancy laughed, and I believe she was deeply touched by our enthusiasm.
Now, as Nancy describes her side of this story, we had phoned her at a critical juncture in her new career endeavor—she was literally driving home from her corporate job and was considering driving her car right into the cold waters of the Hudson River. Nancy was at a profound emotional low, having discovered that the corporate world was just as horrifying as show business—only in show business, she had more fun. So, to our elation, Nancy said, “Yes!” The next day, she went to her corporate office and asked how soon she could get out of there. It only took a couple of weeks for Nancy to be back working with us on the show. And a year or so later, Nancy received a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. SDC JOURNAL
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JOHN RANDO since 1995
OUR MEMBERS IN PRINT
JASON LOEWITH The Director’s Voice, Volume Two “Directors today are equipped with a larger toolbox than their forerunners,” says Jason Loewith, director, producer, and editor of The Director’s Voice, Volume Two. “And the field has changed radically over the past twenty years. I hope these interviews sketch a provocative portrait of how the art of directing has changed during a time when artists have felt the ground shift so fundamentally beneath their feet.” Printed two decades after the original volume (The Director’s Voice: Twenty-One Interviews, edited by Arthur Bartow), the current Director’s Voice features interviews with twenty of contemporary American theatre’s most diverse and dynamic stage directors, including Anne Bogart, Mark Brokaw, Peter Brosius, Ping Chong, David Esbjornson, Oskar Eustis, Frank Galati, Michael Kahn, Moisés Kaufman, James Lapine, Elizabeth LeCompte, Emily Mann, Michael Mayer, Marion McClinton, Bill Rauch, Bartlett Sher, Julie Taymor, Theatre de la Jeune Lune (Barbra Berlovitz, Steven Epp, Vincent Gracieux, Robert Rosen, Dominique Serrand), George C. Wolfe, and Mary Zimmerman. “It’s time to hear how these directors have gone about standing on the shoulders of the people who came before them.”
are very present across the country. I think this volume can help make that conversation happen, openly and more broadly...Why is art and theatre today being asked to play by the very same rules as forprofit industries? ”
- JASON LOEWITH
The idea for the current volume began in the early 2000s. “I had been writing a lot of articles and a couple of interviews for American Theatre,” says Loewith. “I was an early career professional director, and I wanted to know why people like Moisés Kaufman and Anne Bogart and Marion McClinton hadn’t been spoken to or why there wasn’t a follow-up volume to go with my Bartow book. So I pitched the idea to TCG and, astonishingly, they accepted.” Loewith began interviewing in 2003 and spent the next five years speaking to directors, often more than once over the course of months or even years. In addition to exploring the ways in which the industry has changed since the first volume, Loewith hopes that both professional and aspiring directors “recognize that there is no single path to artistic success” and that they will “take away tips and clues and bread crumbs about what they can do, and should and should not do, and what is right for them.” “I would like for one of the conversations that comes out of this volume to address the biggest difference between the directors who were interviewed for Arthur’s book back in the ’70s and ’80s and the directors who were interviewed in the last decade,” Loewith says. Today’s directors working in nonprofit arenas “are often fighting on commercial turf. The commercial influences are very present across the country. I think this volume can help make that conversation happen, openly and more broadly, and bring it back to the larger question, which is: why is art and theatre today being asked to play by the very same rules as for-profit industries? That’s a huge difference, a huge cultural shift, from what most directors were dealing with when they came of artistic age in the first volume. Hopefully, this volume will help ask that question.”
The Director’s Voice, Volume Two is published by Theatre Communications Group and is available online and in bookstores.
ANNE BOGART since 1990 | MARK BROKAW since 1991 PETER BROSIUS since 1994 | PING CHONG since 2001 DAVID ESBJORNSON since 1987 | OSKAR EUSTIS since 1997 FRANK GALATI since 1987 | MICHAEL KAHN since 1966 MOISÉS KAUFMAN since 1997 | JAMES LAPINE since 1988 JASON LOEWITH since 2010 | EMILY MANN since 1988 MICHAEL MAYER since 1992 | MARION MCCLINTON since 1992 BILL RAUCH since 1999 | JULIE TAYMOR since 1996 DOMINIQUE SERRAND since 2000 GEORGE C. WOLFE since 1984 | MARY ZIMMERMAN since 1994
Jason Loewith has made theatre as a producer, director, playwright, and dramaturg in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., where he now serves as executive director of the National New Play Network. As a playwright, his work includes Adding Machine: A Musical (Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle, and Jeff Awards, co-written with composer Joshua Schmidt) and War With the Newts (co-written with Justin D.M. Palmer), both of which premiered at Evanston’s Next Theatre Company, where he served as artistic director from 2002-2008. Jason directed a dozen regional and world premieres at Next, as well as new plays for Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, D.C.’s Studio Theatre, and Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE, where he also served as associate producer for special programs. Prior to his work at Next, Jason served for two years as artistic administrator for Chicago’s Court Theatre, and for five years as general manager at Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company. His work has been supported multiple times with NEA grants for artistic excellence, as well as the Rockefeller/MAP Fund and MacArthur’s International Connections Fund. Jason was a TCG New Generations grantee and received his MA from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his AB from Brown University.
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
BACKSTAGE with MANAGING DIRECTOR
You were an AEA stage manager for 10 years. What made you decide to transition from SM to managing director?
Elizabeth Kegley is the Managing Director of Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, Texas. She recently received her MBA from Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business and her Master’s in Arts Management from Meadows School of the Arts. An AEA stage manager for 10 years, Elizabeth worked with Dallas Theater Center, Two River Theater, SITI Company, The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival, American Repertory Theater, Atlantic Theater
I wanted to be more involved. I was a freelancer for most of those 10 years, starting as an intern and ASM at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge before moving to New York. I had the opportunity to work and travel with many companies, so I felt like I was getting a lot of exposure to different styles. I was gaining insights into how different companies worked and what could be taken and used in other companies. I felt this particularly at the Dallas Theater Center, where I worked regularly. DTC’s Artistic Director, Kevin Moriarty, is actually the one who recommended that I apply to Southern Methodist University for a combo MA/MBA in performing arts management to make that transition. Also, I was tired of freelancing; I love it, I love all the experiences, and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I was looking for an artistic home, a city, and a company to settle into. Initially I thought I would become a general manager, which is a common transition for a stage manager, but Kitchen Dog Theater was hiring a managing director when I was in my last semester of grad school. I was looking for a job, and we were working together on a project. It all worked out very nicely.
Company, Signature Theatre Company, and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. She recently spent time at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan studying cultural policy and international arts funding systems and previously studied in London and Florence through the Arts in Context program of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.
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What do you miss the most/least about stage managing? The thing I miss most about stage managing is being part of a show from day one. I really miss being in the rehearsal room. Otherwise I honestly don’t really miss it, because a lot of what I did as a stage manager, I still do; I go to first read, previews, and performances. And a stage manager’s job is being a liaison between departments—making sure everyone is on track, setting the calendar, setting the path— and I still do a lot of that. The biggest change for me has been fundraising, which is now a big part of my job. Instead of making sure that the actors are happy in the rehearsal, I’m making sure that my audience members are happy in the house.
How do you interact with directors + choreographers as an MD? My responsibilities have a lot to do with budgets and fundraising, so while my direct interactions with directors are more on a personal level, professionally I’m educating myself about the opportunities to hire union in Dallas, because I need to factor in the cost. I’m pro-union, and between SDC and Equity, I’m learning more about the contracts we can offer and how we can work together. Once the director of our show is hired, I have conversations with them so I can faithfully communicate the vision of the show to donors, patrons, and focus our marketing initiatives accordingly. When director friends stop in my office to chat with me, we’ll talk about grants and subscriptions instead of spike marks and rehearsal breaks. What distinguishes the Dallas theatre community from other places you’ve worked? I have been blown away by the culture of philanthropy in Dallas. For example, the arts district in Dallas opened in 2009, at the height of the recession, and cost $450 million, $340 million of which was raised from individual donors—and 133 of those gifts were $1 million or more, which is just astounding. Here at Kitchen Dog we tend to present edgy, thought-provoking work, and we have still found a strong community of support for our work. I know Texas has a reputation for being conservative, and people don’t associate a conservative state with having a really good arts industry. There are thriving theatres all over the city, and there is room for everyone. I see the Dallas theatre scene as becoming more and more collaborative as time goes on, which is great. We are working really hard to bring in cultural tourism. Describe a formative experience working with a director or choreographer. There are a number of theatre experiences that have changed my life: watching Bill Irwin create Mr. Fox: A Rumination gave me a lesson in drive, attention to detail, and above all, graciousness.
JOEL FERRELL since 1990 | BILL IRWIN since 1989 | KEVIN MORIARTY since 1998
WE ASKED OUR MEMBERS AROUND THE COUNTRY: If you do one thing this winter, what will it be? A show that helped shape my style was A Christmas Carol at Dallas Theater Center. I could never have survived that production without Joel Ferrell, who was such a giving and patient director or without Travis Ross, one of the smartest stage crew heads I’ve ever known, and a cast and crew miles deep that were welcoming and caring even while they kept me on my toes. It was my first major regional theatre work as production stage manager, and I had no idea what I was in for. The adaptation at DTC involves a full-stage turntable, fog, haze, children, and huge flying scenic elements, not to mention a remotecontrol chair that was known for racing at people on stage even when the remote was turned off! I learned two things very quickly: 1) ask for help when you need it, in advance if you can, and ask people who’ve done it before, even if you end up ignoring them; and 2) there is community to be found in every show, but rarely one more cherished than the one you’re performing with on days like Thanksgiving and Christmas. People think stage managers are the bossy types, and that’s true, to a point, but we can’t do it without a wealth of knowledge from others and cooperation from everyone. What advice do you have for SDC Members? It’s important to stay informed and know what people are doing on and off stage. I know managing directors are often thought of as holed up in their offices, but it’s nice when directors or choreographers come and pay us a visit as well. Advice from union member to union member is to stay involved and to learn as much as you can about what is going on in your region, especially on issues that are going to affect your livelihood. I think it is very important to advocate for yourself. For SDC Members, especially in Texas, it is important to take it upon yourself to educate theatres about the SDC contracts, and explain to them that it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to pay more; rather, it guarantees certain things, like health and pension, and your livelihood. If you are advocating for yourself, you are also helping the next union member get their next job and breaking down barriers. Helping everyone also helps oneself, and creates more work for everyone.
If I do one thing this winter, I will make every effort to stay current with my students by listening to and buying new music so I don’t become an old fogey. It’s a good thing winter in Missouri isn’t too long. CAROL ESTEY since 1989 | Columbia, MO Each week I intend to re-read at least one play I’ve admired in past years, and I’ll teach my grandson how to shift gears in a straight shift automobile so when he inherits my 1975 VW convertible bug he’ll be able to drive it! JAY BROAD since 1962 | Los Angeles, CA Run. Running is my psychiatrist and my church; I work out notes on runs and do some of my best writing on the long ones. But in the winter months I wimp out. So if I do one thing (aside from all the theater-making, of course) I will—come sleet or snow or sunset at 4:30—I will do my best to put in the miles. KJ SANCHEZ since 2008 | West New York, NJ Continue collaborating with Los Angeles-based playwright Bill Bigelow on the next draft of his world première script, Leap Year, in preparation for directing his play at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA, for their 2013 season. And most importantly, figure out how I need to manipulate the rehearsal schedule so that I am available to be in Ohio for my son Banno’s high school graduation!! STEPHEN ROTHMAN since 1980 | Los Angeles, CA I will be seeking to get my original play (One Man’s War), first mounted at the Hartt School New Play Festival, into a regional theatre, while also preparing to workshop a new musical I have co-authored with contemporary songwriter Larry Weiss, best known for his song “Rhinestone Cowboy.” I expect it to be an exciting and challenging winter. SAMMY DALLAS BAYES since 1968 | Cooperstown, NY
NEXT ISSUE If you do one thing this spring, what will it be? Respond via e-mail by February 28 for a chance to have your answer published. SDCJournal@SDCweb.org
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
Carl Forsman FROM KEEN TO CAROLINA BY ANGELA
Pierre de Marivaux, Tracy Letts, Katori Hall, William Shakespeare, and Anton Chekhov. This is the season Carl Forsman faces as he begins his first semester as Dean of Drama at University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). “It’s very eclectic, as it should be,” he laughs. “And as I’ve said to my faculty, it will get weirder from here.” A seemingly unlikely list of plays for the former Artistic Director of Keen Company, a theatre whose mission is to produce work that celebrates sincerity, hope, and heart. Forsman founded the Off-Broadway company 12 years ago as an optimistic fight against the cynicism of the late ’90s theatre scene. “There was an intense belief that anything that was generous, spirited, or compassionate was simplistic, and I found that really distasteful and limiting,” he says. “I wanted to champion plays that had a more humanist point of view.” The company received several awards under his leadership, including two Obies and a 2005 Special Drama Desk “for moving and enlightening audiences with plays that build upon our theatrical heritage.” Forsman was still at Keen when UNCSA’s search committee contacted him about the dean of drama position following the retirement of Gerald Freedman after 21 years at the university.
Carl Forsman welcoming the cast at the first rehearsal of Detective Story at University of North Carolina School of the Arts
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A full-time job in academia was a surprising proposition for Forsman; he always assumed that his career would take him to a leadership position at a regional theatre. Still, he took teaching gigs at Middlebury College and theatres around New York, and it was while teaching acting at Primary Stages that he first encountered UNCSA graduates. “These students were saying things to me like, ‘Wow, that is the kind of thing Gerald Freedman used to say to me when I was at North Carolina School of the Arts,’” Forsman recalls. “So when I first got the call to interview, and they said, ‘You know, I think you would have a good sensibility for it,’ I said, ‘I think so, too, because all these students of Gerald’s keep comparing me to him.’” During the yearlong selection process, the more he learned about UNCSA, the more excited he got by this unexpected opportunity. “North Carolina is the only standalone publically supported arts conservatory in the world. There’s nothing else like it,” he explains. “Here we are on a hill in WinstonSalem, five conservatories that operate completely independently and just do nothing but pursue the mission of making great artists. It’s an extraordinary place to be.” As dean, he plans on upholding the nationally recognized, consistently ranked acting program built by Gerald Freedman. “We create artists who are good at telling stories truthfully and honestly,” he says. “That’s always going to be the core of our program.” Forsman also plans to further develop the director training program, as well as create a laboratory space on campus. “All the work we do really is top down. It comes from the faculty. I’m interested in having some bottom-up work as well. I think student-generated work that creatively taps into their interests and proclivities is an important part of producing artists that feel creatively generative.” Moving from professional theatre to academia has taken some adjusting. Leaving his colleagues at Keen has been the most difficult part of his move from professional theatre to academia. “But I knew that Jonathan Silverstein was ready to take over,” Forsman says of Keen’s new Artistic Director. ”There’s someone in place who can take it over and do great things, so I felt comfortable that if I moved on, it would go on.” He now spends most of his time making theatre with his students instead of worrying about Keen’s fundraising and administration, but there are challenges to working at a large institution like UNCSA. “We are a state university so there are incredible numbers of forms and protocol,” he says. “The degree of engagement with the institution as a whole is, for a dean, really high.” As for directing, UNCSA is providing Forsman with opportunities to explore new texts in ways that were not possible at Keen, given Keen’s mission and the realities of working in New York. The classics, absurdism, 19th-century French Romanticism, and Agatha Christie plays are all of interest, and he guarantees that “in the next few years, all kinds of things will start coming across the boards here.” He is currently directing Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story with 27 actors from the junior class. While he is enjoying a seven-week rehearsal, he is adjusting his process to fit the students. “I have to remember to walk them through the process a bit more,” he explains. “I’m answering questions about rehearsal technique, how to use technical rehearsals, all kinds of things you take for granted that professionals know.” In addition, Forsman plans to continue to direct at regional and New York theatres as his schedule permits and is preparing for rehearsals of Glengarry Glen Ross this December at Asolo Rep Theatre.
There was an intense belief that anything that was generous, spirited, or compassionate was simplistic, and I found that really distasteful and limiting. I wanted to champion plays that had a more humanist point of view.
The move to UNCSA is proving to be less dramatic than Forsman expected. “I just love it so much. I love that I am consistently doing work, consistently in there with them struggling with problems.” Only on the job for four months, he confesses, “I’m better at this job than I ever was at being an artistic director. I feel so lucky that it worked out the way it did.”
CARL FORSMAN since 2001 | GERALD FREEDMAN since 1966 | JONATHAN SILVERSTEIN since 2004
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
IN THE COMMUNITY
“Broadway’s cultural influence is social and political, which is why Broadway’s embrace of
environmentalism is important. As President Obama said, Broadway shows
are more than entertainment, they have been ‘shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics.’ And now Broadway, through its work with the Broadway Green Alliance and NRDC, is helping to shape opinions about environmentalism, too.” ALLEN HERSHKOWITZ
Senior Scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, in NRDC’s staff blog, Switchboard
In 2008, producer David Stone invited Allen Hershkowitz to speak to the theatre community. “I hosted a town hall at the Gershwin,” said Stone. “I spoke along with Allen and the company manager of Wicked and a cast member. The town hall was attended by representatives from every other show on Broadway, Disney, all the theatre owners, all of the unions and most of the shops.” Laura Penn, SDC’s Executive Director, remembers the meeting. “It was a real leadership moment and the Broadway community responded,” said Penn. The meeting led to the formation of the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA), an organization dedicated to implementing greener practices on Broadway and beyond. John Carrafa, the SDC representative to the BGA, believes that directors and choreographers have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of the movement to green theatre. “Personally, we can only do little things,” he says. “But as directors and choreographers, we exert a visible influence. If you do a little bit as the director, it’s going to explode through the rest of the production, because people want to support the vision of the show they’re working on.” From printing double-sided scripts and recycling in the rehearsal room to building sets with eco-friendly materials, Carrafa has helped develop a list of green solutions for directors and choreographers that he hopes will become standard industry practice. At SDC Foundation seminars around the country, he encourages directors to start thinking critically and creatively about how to make a difference.
\ JOHN CARRAFA / IAN GARRETT
The movement has grown exponentially over the last few years—and it’s beginning to have an impact. In 2010, a record 84% of all materials from closing Broadway shows were repurposed or recycled. All 40 Broadway theatres now use energy efficient lighting for their marquees. The BGA even consulted on this year’s Tony Awards, bringing eco-friendly ideas to theatre’s biggest night. The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA), an LA-based organization co-founded by lighting designer and producer Ian Garrett, develops special initiatives all over the world to “enable sustainable practices while maintaining artistic excellence.” Garrett hopes to empower theatre-makers to take leadership roles in implementing greener practices and thereby shrink their carbon footprints. “As a designer,” he says, “what we most need is a director who sets sustainability as a core value for the team. I depend on my director to have that vision. Then designers can figure out the practical steps to take. Just articulating it as a priority in a design meeting, presenting a willingness to be educated about new things, and being open to conversations about implementing a change, causes a snowball effect.” Carrafa believes that directors across the country can set an example and encourage a broader cultural shift. “It’s very much about social change. If we had tried to outlaw smoking in airplanes 30 years ago, people would have been outraged. But now a smoke-free airplane is expected. In 10 years, green practices in theatre will become part of how we live.” “That’s why it’s so important to do this in theatre and the arts in general,” adds Garrett. “Affecting the way that people view the world, examining belief systems and shaking those up—the arts have the corner on that market.”
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JOHN CARRAFA since 1994
TIPS FOR GOING
IN YOUR PRODUCTIONS
Garrett and Carrafa agree that a little consciousness can go a long way. “Try to know where materials come from, where they’re going, how your sets get made. Just start thinking about it,” says Garrett. Carrafa adds, “It’s about adding this variable to the other constraints of a production. You have only so much money, only so much time, limitations in the abilities of the people you’re working with, and so this is adding a factor to the process that can in some cases speed things up or make things cheaper (and sometimes not).” While many believe that greener practices cost more money and take up more time, being knowledgeable about greener practices can solve budget and time constraints. “Marketed ‘green products’ are often more expensive, but salvageable items are a great way to be green as well,” notes Carrafa. “If you do a production with secondhand wardrobe or found items from Craigslist, that’s going to be a lot cheaper. One of the big things that Andrea Lauer [Costume Designer for Bring It On] talked about at a recent SDCF Directing Green symposium in New York was not having the exact same shirt built for the understudy. Instead, she found something similar at a secondhand store.” Broadway’s recent smash hit, Peter and the Starcatcher, is a great example of a production where green practices made a play both more affordable and creative. Donyale Werle designed the set to be made almost completely of recycled and repurposed materials, engaging the audience in the excitement of creating theatrical scenes out of common objects. Werle’s set used 366 kitchen utensils, 817 bottle caps, and 3,564 corks—and won the Tony Award for Best Set Design in 2012. Carrafa sees Werle’s design as a tremendous opportunity to educate more people on sustainable practices in the theatre. “I asked Donyale if a director ever requested a green option for design. She said, ‘No, not once. A director has never brought it up.’ If some of that information got out there, directors could reference it, so they’re not just shooting in the dark. It starts as a logistical question, but it can end up being creative as well. This whole thing is not about changing what stories people tell. It’s just about better practices. Practices, from the beginning to the breakdown of a set, that will make a show more environmentally friendly.” “I never thought, for example, about how much energy is wasted by rehearsing in stage light,” continues Carrafa. “If a director is open to their lighting designer telling them that, he/she can ask a designer to make a better choice about the tech time where the full lighting contingent is used.” To facilitate a shift towards more sustainable practices in the theatre, Garrett says that openness and education are key. “There’s a resistance to changing the way we work. We’re working under a lot of pressure and have many things to cover to do our jobs well. No one thinks sustainability is a bad idea, but they do question how that fits within their process.” He suggests including a green expert on the production team as a resource and agent of change. On Broadway, a new program from the BGA does just that; a Green Captain is assigned at the beginning of each production process to ensure that best practices are being performed in rehearsal rooms and theatres across the city. For Garrett, sustainability boils down to a small idea and a big concept. “The small idea is that it’s not hard,” he explains. “If anything, it’s a lot easier. A little consciousness can go a long way. The big concept is if we don’t solve this issue, all that’s going to happen is that we’re going to be gone. It’s a selfish idea; the earth will still turn around the sun regardless of anything we make. This is really about us, our future, and the generations to come.”
SET THE PRIORITY Explain at your first production meeting and first rehearsal that sustainability is a part of the production. START AN OPEN DIALOGUE Encourage everyone working on the production to brainstorm and approach you with ideas. GET AN EXPERT Introduce a Green Captain at the first rehearsal and get him/her involved at the start of the production. PRINT SMART Use double-sided scripts, print only new pages of rewrites, or use electronic scripts. TALK TO YOUR PSM Set up recycling bins at rehearsal and backstage and use mugs rather than disposable cups for coffee/tea. USE RECYCLED MATERIALS Talk to your designers about using repurposed building materials, buying secondhand costumes, and recycling materials after the production closes. CONSERVE ELECTRICITY Rehearse in work lights rather than stage lights. AND DON’T FORGET Mention that the production used sustainable practices in the program! / To contribute your ideas on encouraging greener practices in the theatre, email John Carrafa at email@example.com Check out what designers and shops are doing to green their practices at www.broadwaygreen.com/theatre_ professionals
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
AN INTERVIEW WITH BY BEN
INHABITING THE SPACE
Andy Blankenbuehler rehearsing In the Heights with Lin-Manuel Miranda
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Joshua Bergasse on the set of Smash Bergasse choreographing a scene from Smash PHOTOS Will Hart LEFT
Two years ago, Joshua Bergasse was a working choreographer with a respectable list of credits under his belt, mostly in the regional theatre. Still, despite several high-profile New York gigs, he had not yet broken through—at least in terms of reaching wide audiences. Then along came Smash, the NBC series that turns a bright spotlight on how Broadway musicals come together. Michael Mayer, a director who was a consulting producer on the series, had admired Bergasse’s choreography for a New York University alumni gala. Mayer forwarded his reel along to Smash executive producer Steven Spielberg, and Bergasse was hired. The first season of Smash followed the progress of a show within a show—a musical biography of Marilyn Monroe called Bombshell—from the germ of an idea through rehearsals, backers’ auditions, and workshops, culminating in an out-of-town tryout in Boston. Bergasse staged the musical numbers in Bombshell, and also oversaw movement of every kind for the series, from intimate pas de deux to a no-holds-barred Bollywood sequence. The series was a hit, and Bergasse earned an Emmy Award for his choreography. A native of Oak Park, Michigan, Bergasse got his professional start as a dancer. His credits include the original Broadway company of Hairspray and the national tour of Movin’ Out. He also taught extensively and received certification from the Jerome Robbins Foundation to stage the Robbins choreography for West Side Story. Eventually it became clear he would have to make a choice between performing and choreography. Bergasse, now 39, has returned to Smash for season two, which debuts on NBC on February 5. Once filming concludes this spring on sound stages in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and on location throughout the Big Apple, Bergasse has a couple of yet unannounced theatrical projects on deck. We met on a November afternoon at a café near his apartment in Upper Manhattan.
JOSHUA BERGASSE since 2001
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
Hopefully Smash is getting people excited about theatre, not just Broadway, but in their hometowns, too. Hopefully it’s getting theatre out to these people and educating them...not everybody has the opportunity to come to Broadway. LEFT
Katharine McPhee + dancers in Smash PHOTO Will Hart RIGHT
Jack Davenport, Bergasse + Christian Borle COURTESY NBC
B | Let me start by asking about what you told the New York Times, that even though the medium is TV, you are choreographing for the proscenium.
is filming 12 hours a day, five days a week, he can’t come into my rehearsals. I’ll send him video once the number’s finished so he can get a sense of it.
J | Right. We’re a show about making Broadway shows, so we’re trying to recreate the feeling of a Broadway show in our big theatrical numbers. So when I create a number, I usually create it as if it could be performed on stage. In a perfect scenario, we could run the whole number from start to finish, with no cuts, for the camera. It doesn’t always happen that way, but that’s the ultimate goal for each number.
Then we run the number before we shoot it so the DP can work out the camera angles and lighting with the director. As we’re shooting, we all work together to find the best shots, whether we need more wide coverage or tight or steadicam. Do we need another pass on the crane? Where’s the crane moving, right to left?
B | Does that mean that you choreograph an entire number, even if the plan is to use only a certain part of it on air? J | Yes, I try to. In my mind, the number always has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes it’s interwoven with another story or a montage, so we don’t always see the entire number in the final edit. If we know we’re not going to see the whole number, we sometimes won’t bother shooting all of it, but I’ll choreograph the entire number regardless. It’s hard for me to choreograph just a section of a number. How is a number going to end? I don’t know, unless I figure out how it’s going to begin and what’s going to happen in the middle. I also need to find the story, explore the arc of the characters in the number. That’s the way I have to do it. Then, sometimes when we see the whole number choreographed, we use more of it in the episode than we originally planned on. B | What kind of conversations do you have with the rest of the creative team when you develop the production numbers? J | I conceive the numbers with the writers, songwriters, director, and producers. Because the Director of Photography (DP), David Mullen,
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B | So the director and the DP work from your choreography, rather than the other way around. You’re not in a situation where someone would say, “We’re going to need a close-up here, and a big kick line there.” J | That’s correct. My choreography dictates how they approach the shoot. When you have a little more time, say for a film, you can storyboard a big number, so you know exactly what shot you need for each moment, but we don’t always have that kind of time. We work very quickly. As soon as you make a choice, you move forward, and you don’t look back. As our line producer, Jim Chory, says, “Wait is a fourletter word.” That’s the biggest thing that this show’s taught me: to believe in my choices and go forward. If it’s a bad choice, you’ll figure out how to fix it. But you have to keep moving forward. Between camera setups, I’m already planning the next number. B | A lot of theatre artists love to talk about the discovery that happens in the rehearsal process, which for a musical could be three weeks, six weeks. With Smash you get, what, three to six hours?
J | There’s something so exciting about working this way. It’s always new, and you’re always trying to get to the next step. You’re never just sitting back and relishing the work that you’ve created. There’s no time for that. Tomorrow I have a sixhour rehearsal. By the end of those six hours, I’ll have the new number completely planned out. We’ll rehearse it for a few days this week, and then shoot it next week. Then we’ll be done with it forever. We do it just that one time. By the time I shoot it, I’ll already be rehearsing the next number.
That’s part of the puzzle.
The biggest thing that this show’s taught me: to believe in my choices and go forward. You have to keep moving forward.
B| I presume that you’re rehearsing musical numbers while the principals are shooting what in the theatre are known as “book scenes.” J | That’s correct. One of the most difficult aspects of my job is scheduling and logistics. The principal actors may have a 12-hour, 13hour shooting schedule every day. So I have to find time in there when I can rehearse with those principals. They also spend time in the hair and makeup chair, doing press for the show, recording their songs, doing costume fittings. I have to fit into that puzzle. When you think about putting a number together in just a few days, and not having my leads in every rehearsal, it can be stressful. Most times I’ll set it on somebody else, and then we plug the principal in for an hour or two. B | You’ve worked with the cast long enough to know what their individual strengths and weaknesses are. J| Totally. You know exactly what they can do, what they’re going to be comfortable doing, and how quickly you can accomplish certain things.
B | Besides the big production numbers from Bombshell, you have created dance and movement for other contexts—a bowling alley, out in the middle of Times Square to name two. How do you approach those numbers differently, the ones that aren’t conceived for the proscenium?
J | I think about inhabiting the space. If we’re shooting a number in a bar, then I want people on the bar, I want them behind the bar, I want them pouring beers during the number, climbing the stairs, jumping off the rails. Of course, it’s also really about what the story calls for and how those characters should move. Not just the actor, but how would that character dance? We—the writers, producers, and I—decide on a tone for the number, usually taking the lead from our showrunner, Josh Safran. What’s great is that when it’s not on the proscenium stage, we literally have a 360-degree environment. So in the bowling alley, for example, I got in there and experimented. We jumped around and figured out the choreography, and then we showed it to our director, Paris Barclay, and DP, and they said, “Look at this angle here!” They literally can do 360 degrees of different angles. Obviously, when you see a show on stage, you don’t have that extra dimension. You’re watching something here, and then your eye catches something else, then it pulls you over there. On TV the camera helps to guide the viewer’s focus. It narrates the story, and you always have the best seat in the house. WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
B | Where are you looking during the actual shoot? J | At the monitors. There can be crazy things happening that are not in the frame, but the only thing that matters is what’s on those monitors. Usually, with the big numbers, we have three cameras operating at a time. You have to watch all three cameras and make sure that everything is looking exactly how you want it to look, whether that’s the dancers doing the choreography correctly, where they’re positioned, where the camera’s positioned, the angle, the movement of the camera. B | I presume you’re involved in the editing. J | Yes. I’ll often work with our editors and other producers to really finetune the final edit on the dance numbers. Many times I can catch things they wouldn’t catch, like a dancer being off. I also help them to find the best angles to use for specific moments that I’m trying to create choreographically. Many people love the wide-angle shots in the big musical numbers, because there’s so much to look at, but sometimes it’s too unfocused, like you’re sitting in the back of the house. Conversely, you can also have too many close-ups, and you can’t tell what’s happening with the staging. I try to help them find somewhere in the middle so that we can see what’s going on in the number, but also feel like we’re inside the number, and can relate to the performers. B | How much time do you spend on each episode?
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J | We shoot an episode in nine days. Sometimes we’ll use a full 12hour day to shoot the big numbers, which is great. Usually we’ll only have eight hours, and for the smaller numbers, four to six hours. Then you have to think about the stamina of the dancers. If it’s a physically demanding number, we have to divide it up into sections. But if you divide it, you’re going to lose some of the shooting time, because every time you say, “Cut,” it takes a long time to get the train rolling again. So, it’s ideal to do the whole number all the way through when possible. B | Do you shoot one episode at a time, or are they all mixed up? J | The goal is to do one episode at a time. Sometimes we’ll do what’s called “cross-boarding,” where we’ll put two or more episodes together. Sometimes it all gets mixed and matched. The other day we were shooting three different episodes, totally out of order, on the same day. B | Normally, when you do stage work, you collaborate with the director. In this case, you work with a different director on each episode. J | The reason you have a different director every episode is because you’re always prepping an episode, shooting an episode, and editing an episode at the same time. So you need at least three different directors. Ideally, if we’re prepared well enough in advance, we—myself, the writers, and the producers—have a good idea of what the musical numbers are going to be before the director arrives, and sometimes
we’ll have already begun rehearsals. We fill them in on what we’ve got going on, they make some adjustments, and we work together from there. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we don’t get the music until the last minute. B | The music in Smash includes new theatre songs written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. How does a number typically get from the composer to the arranger to you to the orchestra? J | Every case is different. Often the writers will have ideas well in advance, and Marc and Scott will have plenty of time to compose the song, and I’ll have plenty of time to plan it out in my mind and then get into rehearsal. Sometimes we might discuss dance breaks, tempo, etc., via email. Sometimes Marc and Scott will come into the dance studio, and we’ll work things out together, or I’ll go to their recording studio and hum what I think the drum break should feel like. That’s fun. Marc usually arranges his own music for the orchestra, which he’s so good at. Other times the writers get an idea at the last second. Then they scramble, write a song, and I say, “Okay, let me get the dancers in at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” We shoot it the next day. I’m very fortunate to have these great songwriters writing for me. It’s a great opportunity to choreograph to these Shaiman-Wittman songs. They practically choreograph themselves. B | What stage is the music at when the dancers dance to it? J | Usually it’s a demo. Then they’ll go back and re-orchestrate it to the dance, add some hits and accents in the full orchestration. B | How do you adjust the style of movement to the different story lines within the series? J | This season we’re following several different shows within the story, and each show has a different vocabulary. Bombshell has a specific vocabulary and a specific style to the movement. There’s a new show that’s much more contemporary. It starts downtown and works its way up, like Rent did. It has a much more urban vocabulary. We’re using a lot more street moves, hip hop, and some parkour. Then there’s another show we follow for a short time that has a much more comedic and slapsticky style. Each show has a different style of music and a different setting, and both inform the choreography. B | You sit in a unique spot at the intersection of how theatre and television use dance to tell stories. What have you learned from TV that you can bring to theatre, and vice versa? J | What’s interesting to me is that you can have a show running on Broadway for 10 years, but still not as many people will get to see that show as how many viewers watched the series premier of Smash on just one night. So, first of all, the audience is huge. Hopefully Smash is getting people excited about theatre, not just Broadway, but in their hometowns, too. Hopefully it’s getting theatre out to these people and educating them about it, because not everybody has the opportunity to come to Broadway. Also, I’m finding that video is a great tool. For example, I can record a rehearsal and view it over and over and make notes. I can send a video to other people for approval of a new idea. It’s instantaneous—the speed of light. I don’t have to wait until a producer or our lighting designer comes into town the next week. I can send the LD rehearsal video so he can begin his plot, focus, etc., before he steps into a rehearsal studio. I send video out to designers, writers, producers to
make sure everyone is on the same page. We can play with edits and camera angles with our phones. There are many opportunities like these that I’d like to be able to use as I continue to work in theatre. B | How has working with a camera changed the way you think about your choreography? J | Having the camera creates another dimension to choreography. One of the fun parts is when you choreograph the camera. We have a wonderful steadicam operator, Jeff Muhlstock. First we shoot wide coverage, then we start moving in, and we do some angles. Then we start with the steadicam. Jeff can really get inside the number. We choreograph his movement with the steadicam, and we’ll rechoreograph parts of the number right there on the spot so that the dancers are moving around him and swiping by him. The audience feels like they’re inside the number, and it’s just thrilling. It’s so exciting to watch the dance between the dancers and the cameramen. We’d like to think we’re creating a whole new bar for dance on television. The way it’s filmed—not just straight on, not just at the regular angles. Also, the production values. We go all out. Custommade costumes for every dancer for a two-minute number. Beautifully designed sets. We have one of the greatest lighting designers on Broadway in Don Holder working on the show, then the other day Ken Billington was lighting my number. I was starstruck. B | What can you say about your career journey that might be of interest to your theatre colleagues who haven’t had their big breaks yet? J | It’s really all about getting your work out there. It’s about making up any little dance that you can, and then getting somebody to see it. Even if it’s two people. Just get your work out there. If you don’t get it out there, nobody knows it exists. That’s what I did. I choreographed every little thing I could. Not only did I not get paid, but it cost me money. That’s the only way people know you’re out there. B | That has changed for you. J | Yeah, I think so. With the success of the show and finally getting my work out to a larger audience, people do see me a little differently. I’m getting more opportunities to do other work and to speak up and say what I feel about the work and how other people can help support me. It’s been really thrilling. I still have to pinch myself occasionally. I feel very fortunate, because there are a lot of artists in the city who are still pounding the pavement, trying to get to where they want to be. B | Before we end, can you talk about how the choreography of Jerome Robbins has influenced your work? J | My time with the Robbins choreography for West Side Story informed me as a dancer and a choreographer more than any other experience. It does still, to this day. When you perform that choreography, it’s in your body, you become one with it, and it never leaves. Even when I’m creating numbers for Smash, I always refer to it. When I feel stuck, I always think of some of the moments in West Side and how inspiring they are. That will usually get my juices flowing again. To me, it’s the Bible. B | “What would Jerry do?” J | Exactly.
Katharine McPhee + dancers in Smash PHOTO Will Hart WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
DETERMINATION A CONVERSATION WITH 24
| WINTER 2013
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
Jack O’Brien and I have known each other informally for a long time. Decades actually. It was apparent the moment SDC put us together, that this article was more likely to be a conversation than an interview. I sat down as an admirer, a fan, a colleague. As expected, with Jack’s exuberant personality, I left a better friend. This is a peek into two successive evenings after work. Next visit we promised each other we’d just have dinner. W | I know our Members would benefit hearing about how your career started, but first let’s talk about now. You have just come to the end of taking a year off. What was that like after a long a stretch of one dazzling production after another? Why did you do it, and what happened when you did? J | I think it’s probably a misapprehension to say I took a year off. The year went on without me. What happened in the year of my discontent was Catch Me If You Can closed precipitously, and in doing so, left me without income for a year. For one thing, I am in the development process for a high-profile project about Houdini. And its profile kept getting higher and higher, making it very, very difficult to schedule around high-profile actors’ schedules—for instance, Hugh Jackman. And the other projects being proposed or explored were all casting a leery eye on the progress of Houdini, which is the 600-pound gorilla. I can’t go to this management or that management without due consideration of a musical that, as you know, takes almost two years in development! W | And you’re very publicly committed. J | And you’re publicly committed to it. Yes. So basically, what happened was, I found myself in the middle of the stream without the next series of rocks to jump on. And I just stood there. And that’s when I thought, “Well, okay, I can’t hurry this process along, I think I better concentrate on writing my book—which has nothing to do with anyone but me.” Not bringing any money in—that was the scary thing. And, you know, it’s so interesting, Walter, because we get to a point in our lives when we would assume, well, everything is pretty much established. But guess what, it isn’t! When you’re starting out, you can’t get anybody to notice you. The next phase is, you can’t get anybody who’s noticing you to put any money into what you’re doing. Then suddenly, the connections happen, and you’re on the train. And the train sort of leads for a while. And if you’re lucky, as I have been, and as you and many of our Membership have been, it leads you to the false idea that there is security. W | One difference for you may have been that you were an artistic director. For 27 years you never thought about a year like that. A year off. J | Right. What happened at the Globe was I was either able to accommodate something with a life afterward, or bring one there. Or sprout a project that had legs and suddenly interested somebody. But I had a residency; I had a company that I was responsible for. W | During that period, it seems to me that you, Des McAnuff, and Daniel Sullivan, all on the West Coast, were creating theatre that would ultimately impact the New York commercial theatre. That seemed to me a new phenomenon. There was this whole other force on the West Coast creating work that became viable on Broadway. Were you aware of it at the time?
J | We totally were aware of it. Des was across town from me in La Jolla, and Danny up the street. We were all considered small game, so we had flexibility. We were far enough away in the late ’80s and early ’90s that the New York critical press stayed away. We could say “You cannot come here,” and they wouldn’t. Now they do. You can’t keep them away.
W | You had safe creative homes. Also there wasn’t seed money or underwriting, so you had creative autonomy. | WINTER 2013
WALTER BOBBIE since 1993 | DES MCANUFF since 1985 | DANIEL SULLIVAN since 1971
J | No, we did. But the condition upon which we invited producers was that they could bring in anybody they wanted; they could see it, but we were doing the plays for our subscribers. W | It seemed to me that Zelda Fichandler at Arena had that opportunity as well. She didn’t welcome it, did she? I was in graduate school, in D.C. at that time. J | I think Zelda felt that she was too close to the mainstream, because I think she and Tom, being older than we were, had that much more at stake. She saw the risks of the commercial tail wagging the dog. We were kids out West—we were sort of sassy—and just had the space. The 3,000 miles made it quieter. W | You come from a mentoring tradition that is not available right now, or so it seems. In your early career, you assisted Ellis Rabb. Did Ellis write a memoir? J | No, he didn’t. W | Did Alan Schneider write a memoir? J | No. W | Nor Stephen Porter. All of these great theatre directors and teachers are legendary but relatively undocumented. J | When Ellis hired me, I was the all-purpose assistant. They couldn’t afford anybody but one assistant to take notes. I remember Ellis saying he resented the fact that Harold Clurman and Elia Kazan and that whole generation of men did not communicate with directors younger than them; they did not extend the hand of professional fellowship and say, “Come with me.” And that generation ahead of Ellis, they didn’t do it. They protected their magic as if it was their secret. I think that’s a big mistake. But John Houseman, Eva Le Gallienne, Alan Schneider, Stephen Porter—they told me everything. And when I mean everything, I mean everything; not only professionally but personally. They vented. I was that receptacle. I was eager, I was young, and I was enthusiastic. And I sat at their feet. W | Does that context exist for young directors these days? J | Well, we are besieged with young people wanting to be our assistants; I have a list as long as your arm. And I try to honor it, but I try to honor it as best I can. It’s like casting: you know if you want somebody in the room with you or not. It’s very complicated. You
want to feel a proximity, a safety. You want to feel they get your jokes, that they understand your insights, that they will not blab. You have to make a personal commitment to them, and I’m very, very jealous of that. I guard it carefully. I am not a man for all seasons. W | What do you mean by that? J | Well, by that I mean I am attracted to young men or women who get me, who somehow arrest me with the idea that, not only do they really want what I have, and they get what I have, but they’ve got something I could use. I made myself indispensable to Ellis. I drove the car. I ordered groceries. I walked the dog. I balanced Rosemary Harris’s checkbook. You know, I was determined that I would be irreplaceable. W | My instinct has always been to try to hire assistants who actually want my job and could one day get it. J | Yeah! W | I want the smartest. It’s not just about getting a cup of coffee, if you know what I mean. J | When I look at my list, John Rando, Matt August, Matt Lenz, Ben Klein—the people who have worked for me are now working! They’re all working! And it’s thrilling; it’s very, very exciting. W | Most of your colleagues, a lot of us in professional theatre, learned on our feet. I learned by being around great directors. I never studied directing in college or grad school. J | I don’t think you can teach directing in a class. W | My thinking is you can release the director in someone, but you can’t teach ’em. J | When young men and women are working with me, and they ask me something— “Why did you do that?” or “Why didn’t you do that?” or “Why don’t you say something now?”—I can explain to them what I’ve learned about patience, what I’ve learned about ownership, what I’ve learned about staying out of the process or owning the process by staying out of it. We did an interesting thing, just before I left the Globe. Jerry Patch… W | Jerry Patch, who is now Literary Manager at Manhattan Theatre Club. J | Yes, but he was at the Globe for a while, and he called these young directors to come
MATT AUGUST since 2002 | HAROLD CLURMAN d.1980 | JOHN HOUSEMAN d.1988 ELIA KAZAN d.2003 | BEN KLEIN since 2008 | EVA LE GALLIENNE d.1991 | MATT LENZ since 2005 DAKIN MATTHEWS since 1986 | STEPHEN PORTER since 1959 | ELLIS RABB d.1998
out and spend a week with me. It was at the full height of the Globe’s summer: three plays on stage and three plays in rehearsal. And there were, let’s say, five directors in residence. There were a score of designers in residence. There were several composers. There were dozens of repertory actors. Dakin Matthews was there working on text. There was a phalanx of professional people there, and they would come in, and they would interview these extraordinary professionals who were there working at the Globe. They were all invited to speak in the room. They all had opinions. They were all listened to. And, at the end, they realized that what they had become was my company, which is how I work. And they were watching real professionals work and saying, “Well, I didn’t like that scene.” And I’d say, “And why was that?” And then they’d pop off about what they thought. And sometimes I would bring the director in and say “Defend that.” It was really thrilling. W | Talk about the process of getting a production ready with a living playwright? J | Well, I’m working now with Theresa Rebeck on this play, Dead Accounts. W | And you open soon, right? J | I’m in the second week of rehearsal, and this is a very naturalistic play. I have fabulous actors who really know what they’re doing. So what am I gonna do, block them? I don’t think so. What you have to do is crack the script so they understand it. Then you edit what they do. I find that I begin each of the day’s work sitting with them and doing a line rehearsal. I am literally saying, “You left the ‘so’ out there.” “In ‘if I,’ you left out ‘if.’ You just said, ‘I.’ But if you say the ‘if’ it relates to…” That comes from the classical work; that comes from dead playwrights—respecting dead playwrights. If Shakespeare’s not there, you’ve gotta protect all those words. W | There’s a difference with a new play. Actors question a scene or some dialogue; but they can’t question Ibsen or Chekhov or Shakespeare, but… J | But people do. W | They can edit, but they can’t say, “I don’t know if I’d say that.” J | Exactly, yes. “My character wouldn’t say that.” Your character does say that. Alan Schneider had this wonderful moment with Rosemary Harris; it’s in my book. At one point Rosemary said something about Megara, her character in the Archibald MacLeish play,
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
Herakles, that Alan was directing. Rosemary said, “She wouldn’t do this.” There was a long pause, and from the auditorium, Alan quietly said, “She might.” Rosemary burst out laughing and said, “Yes, she might.” Isn’t that a wonderful way of putting it? W | What I always find admirable about your work is that you are text driven, not a stylist. J | I am text driven. I love the writers. I’d like to say you don’t see my work. I think what I have learned is how to ask a question. When I come to the table to work on a play, I know a lot about the play and about my feelings about the play. But a lot happens on my feet, I must admit, and I get a lot from the actors— but I know how to ask a question. The great thing about where we are in our careers is that we get to work with excellent talent. W | You’ve gotten involved in projects early, even in their development. When do you commit to the long journey of a musical in that unformed phase? J | I think you know basically whether or not it speaks to you. If I find myself moved, that usually means that something in the character or the story is within me. And then I think, “Oh, I could be honest about the piece. I can respond by saying, ‘That seems right,’ or, ‘This seems forced.’” Because, basically, what we’re really trying to do is put the truth on the stage. I have to know why it sings, and I have to wanna sing along with it. But, basically, I want the writers to bring something to me. Then when I make a suggestion or ask a question, I’m free to explore my own creative parallel course, which is usually why I chose the piece to begin with. W | But with a new play, you’re dealing with one voice, a writer’s need to tell a story, grapple with a theme. There is a single idea on the table, if you will. Whereas, with a musical, you’re dealing with at least three writers. And ultimately, when you fold in choreography or sometimes scenic design, there are these additional storytellers rarely part of the development of a play. J | Oh, you better believe it. Look, I have three things in front of me right now. I’m in rehearsal for Dead Accounts, by Theresa Rebeck, which had a production in Cincinnati—and a very successful one. So the play is not untried; it’s untried here and by me, but she’s seen it on its feet. That’s one thing. And Theresa is totally cool with us coming from another angle and bringing new things to the table. But that is a sort of a fait accompli. W | Right. J | In the spring, I’m going to do a play called
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The Nance, by Douglas Carter Beane, on Broadway with Nathan Lane. That one hasn’t been done. We’ve done a couple readings of it, but the paint is still wet. And because of Nathan, and because of John Lee Beatty, and because of Ann Roth, and because of the quality of the people attracted to the piece, there’s a lot of richness in the mix. A lot of really informed, interesting minds are looking at this material, including Doug, who is eager to go further. It’s getting richer and more complex. So there are several voices. So that’s a matter of, I don’t know, the United Nations basically. You’re sitting in front of a group of people, all of whom must be looked at, considered, listened to, and pacified, in a sense. And then, down the road, is Houdini, with a book by Aaron Sorkin, a score by Stephen Schwartz, a set by David Rockwell, choreography by Peter Darling, who’s in London. This is even a wider thing. And these people have never worked together. Never. W | Will it be anywhere before New York? J | We’ll go out of town. I’m not sure where,
“Basically, what we’re really trying to do is put the truth on the stage. I have to know why it sings, and I have to wanna sing along with it.” but, yes, of course we’ll go. You have to. I mean, I need to look at it. You can’t work a big, extravagant musical cold in New York. But listen, that’s worth talking about, because I think young directors coming up now, are too New York-centric. A lot of them wanna work here in town, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway. They’re eager to be seen. And you know what was the greatest thing about what happened to me? I was out there producing as many as 10 to 14 shows a year. W | That is so insightful. There is a concern in SDC about being New York-centric, and yet some of the great directors of every generation didn’t worry about getting to Broadway. J | No, Angus Bowmer or Michael Langham at the Guthrie? Michael was a master! And he was taught by Tyrone Guthrie himself! He was Guthrie’s assistant. What about Guthrie? How many of his shows did you see in New York? The regional market is a sophisticated market that does many more revivals and classics. I remember Bill Ball asked Ellis Rabb, in 1969, to come and do The Importance of
Being Earnest at A.C.T. Ellis said, “Bill, we’ve done it. Have Jack do it; he’s not done it.” And Bill invited me, and I did The Importance of Being Earnest with Peter Donat and Michael Learned. Because he wisely said, “Younger people should do these great plays. We shouldn’t keep doing them all the time.” The young turks, women and men, trying to get into Playwrights Horizons and other places, my advice to them, I shout from the top of the building, “Go anywhere!” W | That’s important to hear from you, because we think of you as a multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway star. We forget the years, decades really, out of town before moving so handily from Trittico at the Met to Hairspray on Broadway to Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center. That dazzling mix of skill and creative spontaneity is not something that happened overnight. J | And a ton of work that no one ever saw. Some of it was really good, and some of it was terrible. W | Did you learn from the things that weren’t successful? J | You only learn from your failures. You never learn from success. Success just feels good. It doesn’t really teach you anything. What teaches you is when you reach for something and fall on your ass. Honestly, I’ve done four Macbeths, two Hamlets, three Othellos, three Twelfth Nights. In other words, I’ve done most of these plays more than once! Most of our constituency hasn’t done them once! And, you know, I’d do any of the Shakespeares again. As I get older, I know more about them, and the thing is, I’m not afraid anymore. My heart was in my throat when I first started directing. Will they like me? Will the company like me? Will I do interesting things? Will I say clever things? Will I know what to say? Now I can’t wait to get to rehearsal, because I don’t know what’s going to happen. W | That’s the amazing place to get to—when you think, I’m completely prepared, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s wonderful! J | That’s exactly right. But there was a year in New York when I did The Full Monty and The Invention of Love, and there were a lot of people who thought, “This can’t be the same person.” W | Well, I was one of them. J | But I was in my 60s. I was not in my 30s or my 40s. I was in my 60s. You look at a conductor, and I do not equate myself with this, but you look at somebody like James PETER DARLING since 2008 | MICHAEL LANGHAM d.2001
Levine, who can go down into the pit, and he can conduct Mozart, Donizetti, Puccini. He has lived in music so long, and you watch him, you watch Jimmy, and what he really is, is moved. He’s waving his hands around, and he’s looking at singers. He’s making decisions, and it means something to the musicians. But basically, he’s pouring his heart out, because he’s completely comfortable. That is a life in the theatre to me. That’s all I ever aspired to. W | I hear that the economy of his gesture is extraordinary. J | It’s his eyes—where his eyes are. He will look at you in the room, in the orchestra, during a passage, and because it’s James Levine, you suddenly understand, basically, I’d better pay attention. And you play better. W | Do you like high-concept re-imaginings of classics? J | Sometimes. A period is all about costumes; people move certain ways if they’re wearing a doublet, or boots, or heels, you know, or a pencil skirt. Society basically is dictated by what people are wearing! But we’ve all loved, hated, been murdered in the same way since the Greeks. Those emotions have never changed. What has changed is what you’re wearing while you’re talking about it. I think we go to the theatre to see how other people did it. To see how Romeo and Juliet did it. And I mean it in every sense of the word. W | You think sex is one of the most important things in a production, right? J | It is to me. It is to the world. I really try to find, in everything I’m doing, the emotional, sexual component. Because you know what? I think that’s what people pay to see. I don’t mean that in a salacious way. All of us are insecure. If you want to go see Hedda Gabler, you are interested because a very well-bred, beautiful woman, who is very sexy, kills herself, and you think, “Why is that?” The play shows you, if it is a great play—and Hedda Gabler is—one possible solution. So you learn. These are rehearsals for our own lives. I think we are all insecure about love, about how to be loved, how to be worthy of love. So we’re drawn to the equations that illustrate other people’s journeys, and without that, without love, you don’t have a story, sweetheart. With it, with the dimension of emotions and feeling, suddenly it becomes juicy. That’s true of Shakespeare; it’s true of everything I’ve ever done. And the more confident I’ve gotten, and the older I’ve gotten, the more that’s the grid I’m looking at. Because if I like the play, if the play is beautifully written, and if I have a good company, well it’s going to be fine. But how do you make blood flow? How do you do that? What is there in the relationship between Brutus and Portia that JOHN DEXTER d.1990 | CRAIG NOEL d.2010
would allow her to say the lines, “I have made a voluntary wound in my thigh” and “You have stolen from me, Brutus.” I mean, it is all there. I realize, after all these years, that we basically have a dry text, and our job is to make the blood flow. W | One of the things I look forward to reading in your memoirs is something we talked about earlier. That group of theatre artists, Ellis Rabb and Alan Schneider for example, now legendary but undocumented. J | One of the last assignments I had as Le Gallienne’s assistant was when she did The Cherry Orchard with Uta Hagen. Donald Moffat was the Lopakhin. Sydney Walker, Nancy Walker, Betty Miller, Ralph Williams. Oh, it was an extraordinary company. Well, it was my umpteenth time at being the assistant; I was yet to get a play of my own. I thought, “I’m never going to be able to concentrate. I just don’t wanna sit there and watch somebody else do it; I wanna do it myself.” So I set myself the goal of writing down everything they said.
“You only learn from your failures. You never learn from success. Success just feels good. It doesn’t really teach you anything. What teaches you is when you reach for something and fall on your ass.” W | Every note that she said? J | No, everything! In the rehearsal hall, what people said, what they were wearing, what they said to each other on the side. What Le Gallienne said to the actors. As much as I could, every day, I wrote everything. And then I would go home and type it up! And I found it! It’s like Boswell. W | Excellent! J | There are 28 pages of what people said onstage, offstage, waiting to go on, the insecurities. Ellis jumping ship; Richard Easton taking over for him. Le Gallienne directing— her techniques, what she said, what she did. W | You have worked with some of the great artistic directors as well. There are many directors who aspire to that. What is your instinct about preparing for that job? J | I think it’s a calling. I felt a responsibility
because, if you look at my relationships with Ellis Rabb, John Houseman, Eva Le Gallienne, Bill Ball, and Craig Noel alone, all of whom had a profound influence on my life and my aesthetic—and all of whom ran companies in which I functioned—I saw basically what they did! And I felt that I had a responsibility to pass it on. There is a company psychology in the theatre, as there is in business as well. Why some companies are happy companies, and some companies are not happy companies. And may I say, in San Francisco, where I did Magic Flute and Abduction from the Seraglio and other things, Adler was a terror! Terror! Insulting. Cruel. Raging. Fearsome. He led by fear. That’s a very European thing. John Dexter did the same thing. John Dexter, God rest his soul, was brutal and cruel in rehearsal. That is a uniquely interesting thing that many Brits do—where they are cruel and embarrassing and humiliating and all that. W | The director cliché from an old movie. J | I remember cruelty was suddenly popular in the ’70s and the ’60s. Ellis wanted to establish the theatre of kindness, but as silly and sweet then as it was, it made sense to me. Because what you do as an artistic director is enlarge your own style, your own personality, and let them operate by your light, not by your intention. You enlarge your persona, in other words, you just expand. And you don’t dictate. W | You release people, basically. J | You do, you really do. What I hope I’m doing as I get older is I’m simplifying. So I have fewer rules. I have one set of rules for everybody: the people I love, the people I get to work with, the people I employ. I think it’s all the same. I don’t have a different persona. When I went to the Globe, and I say this to you as a gay man, Craig Noel was gay, and that was two generations ahead of mine, and he was loved in the community, and it was never discussed. I went there in 1981, and things weren’t as permissive as they are now. So I thought to myself, “Who am I? I’m gonna raise money in a community of educators and religious leaders, and I’m going to be an aesthetic presence there. Do I hide? What do I do? Do I apologize?” And I decided, no. The truth of the matter is I became myself, totally. And I tell you, Walter, I am as comfortable, if not more comfortable, in front of 500 people as I am talking to you, because it never occurs to me that anybody is judging me. Because it isn’t about me, it’s about whatever they’re getting. Maybe the message is better than the messenger, but I certainly never apologized. And I had a great time. W | And the proof is out there.
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THIS PLAY IS CALLED
75 YEARS IN GROVER’S CORNERS INTERVIEWS BY KATE
2013 marks the 75th anniversary of Thornton Wilder’s timeless classic, OUR TOWN. In his foreword to the 2002 edition of the play, playwright Donald Margulies wrote, “OUR TOWN’s success across cultural borders around the world attests to its being something much greater than an American play: it is a play that captures the universal experience of being alive.” From high school auditoriums to the Great White Way, OUR TOWN has been touching the lives of theatre-makers and audiences for decades. SDC Journal asked director KATE POWERS—whose high school production of OUR TOWN starred director PAM MACKINNON as the Stage Manager—–to speak with several directors who have worked on the play, focusing on their collaborations with Wilder, their production experiences, and why they feel this play remains one of the most universal texts in the American theatre canon. Since Wilder’s first collaboration with Jed Harris on the play’s world premiere, countless directors have wrestled with OUR TOWN. Their productions have shaped the history of the play and the play’s perception. I spoke with CHAY YEW (Singaporean-born Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater), FONTAINE SYER (Associate Professor of Acting and Directing at Indiana University/Bloomington), JAMES NAUGHTON (two-time Tony Award-winning director), and MICHAEL KAHN (Artistic Director of Shakespeare Theatre Company) about their experiences directing Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece.
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PAM MACKINNON since 2001 | JAMES NAUGHTON since 1997 | KATE POWERS since 2000 | CHAY YEW since 2002
CHAY YEW directed OUR TOWN in 2008 on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His spare production featured tables and chairs only, no trellises, and he staged the church choir scenes on the theatre’s balcony. Each performance began in daylight and ended under the stars each evening. Stage lighting carved the otherwise empty space.
What felt unique to your experience of directing Our Town? Directors of color rarely get opportunities to direct classic plays from the Western canon, so coming to Our Town for the first time at the age of 40 was a gift for me. I’ve never had 20 actors [to work with on a production] in my life. I could explore/create the town. I wanted to establish class, the rich people, the people across the railroad tracks. Did you have any realizations during your process that affected your vision for the play? Wilder spent time in China. His use of characters with the bare stage, for me, was a sense of going home culturally. The play appears Asian in that the characters don’t speak what they really feel. The gestures are presentational.
OPPOSITE TOP Thornton
Wilder received an honorary degree from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, in 1950, and played the Stage Manager in a college production of OUR TOWN COURTESY of Special Collections, The College of Wooster Libraries OPPOSITE BOTTOM Original
flyer for the Jed Harris production of OUR TOWN COURTESY Wilder Family LLC TOP Todd
Bjurstrom, Mahira Kakkar + Anthony Heald in Yew’s OUR TOWN at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) ABOVE Mahira Kakkar + Todd Bjurstrom as Emily + George at OSF PHOTOS Jenny Graham TONY WALTON since 2004 | JOANNE WOODWARD since 2000
The female characters in Wilder’s play are incredibly complex. All the choices that the women couldn’t make—the notion of hope—every rehearsal, I found more in it. My Emily was Asian. I said to her, “You’ve never belonged. You are too smart. No one is going to marry a smart girl in this time. You can never have all that you want.” She is so willful. The Stage Manager tells her that she cannot go back and immediately she says, “I want to go back.” She’s too smart for George. She thinks he is Brad Pitt, asking for homework help while he’s off dating the cheerleaders. But it turns out to be true love. I told the cast that there are always mountains around you when you live in the valley. The women in Grover’s Corners are more complex than the men, but they are stifled by their husbands. What do they give up? Mrs. Webb wants to go to Paris, but she’ll go look at the Civil War monuments one more time. The suppression is very New England, almost Victorian. We want all our Emilys to climb those goddamn mountains. What was the greatest challenge you faced in directing Our Town? Keeping it surprising. Not being in the shadow of an iconic play, but treating it like a new play, letting each line surprise you, working alongside the playwright, though dead, and listening to him in each line, each space between words. I told the company of actors to discard all preconceived notions and past experiences of Our Town when they came into rehearsals, to create more complexity to the characters and give the world in which they live more potency.
Would you consider directing this play a rite of passage for directors, and, if so, why? [Yes], but only after having lived and worked for several years. I feel the same for most Chekhov plays as well. There are many indelible life lessons in this play that one needs to experience before one can actually stage it, or even act it. There isn’t a false emotional note in the play, and you can’t manufacture them without experiencing love, regret, repression, hope, death, and life in your own personal life. You earn, you grow into Wilder, like you earn and grow into Chekhov. What did you end up taking away from Our Town? It’s a classic play and speaks to longing, wanting, living, breathing, dying. I felt it was so sentimental before I began, but I discovered that I loved the darkness within it.
JAMES NAUGHTON directed OUR TOWN in 2002 at the Westport Country Playhouse. His production moved to Broadway later that year. The set, designed by Tony Walton, consisted of artfully arranged sandbags and a backdrop painted to look like the bare stage of a 1930s Broadway house, complete with heating pipes and trompe l’oeil radiators. “We [set designer Tony Walton and I] tried to do what Wilder wanted for the play. We tried to be true to the intention, but I didn’t see why we couldn’t emphasize the theatricality, all the implements, the stage stuff. I didn’t mean to show it off, but it lends itself to the subject matter, which is beautiful yet stark. We took a chance with that. It enhanced what we did.”
What was your first experience with Our Town? I was probably the only actor or director in American theatre who is actually from America who didn’t spend any time working on Our Town as a young actor or student. When Joanne Woodward called me up and asked if I would consider directing it, I had to say to her, “You know what? Let me read it, because I’ve never read it. And I’ve never played in it or worked on it.” I knew of it, but it was just one of those things that I’d never seen or worked on at all. So I read it and called her the next day and said, “It’s wonderful, and I’d be happy to direct it.” I had worked with her and Paul Newman, and we were very close friends. It was in every single way a terrific experience. Do you consider Our Town a rite of passage? No, not necessarily. I do think it’s wonderful if you are an American actor or director to work on a play like this, because there is something distinctly American about Wilder and his writing. I am very happy that I was able to have the experience that I had. We tried to cast as much of it as possible from our own town, from our Westport community. Frank Converse, Mia Dillon, Jayne Atkinson, Jake Robards, all of whom lived there, were WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
in the show. We went a little further afield with Jane Curtin, who lived up the road in Connecticut, and some of the other actors lived further away in Westchester. And then we filled it up with people and children who are from our community. So it was literally in the spirit of our town. What was your greatest challenge in directing the play? Probably the biggest challenge that we had was to make Paul feel comfortable, because he hadn’t done anything on stage for 36 years. One of the things that we did consciously was to rehearse in a local theatre called the White Barn Theatre, because I thought that he would feel comfortable literally working on a raised stage, instead of a room some place with tape on the floor. I think that did help him. By the time we got to performance, he didn’t have to make a huge adjustment from a rehearsal room to a real theatre. Any reflections on your vision for the play, casting, or rehearsals? If Emily doesn’t hit it out of the park in Act III, forget it. Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut had a jingle at the time: “The wonder of it all.” I spent time with Maggie Lacey on Act III, on what Emily discovers, telling her, “Slow way down, take your time, trust that we’ll go with you.” It took a long time to get there, to the wonder of it all. You have to hand the play off to Emily; she’s gotta bring it on home.
What is your favorite line from the play? There are a couple of lines that stick out. Simon Stimson’s, when he’s in the graveyard talking about—I always took it as a warning not to be blind and deaf to what’s going on every day—his indictment of what life is, and how we go on and we miss what is significant every day. We are consumed by our own blindness. But the line that I find most inspiring, that I quite love, happens just before that. When Emily goes back in time to when she was 12 years old, and she sees her mother and father, and she can’t bear it, because they are so beautiful and so young, and she realizes that people don’t appreciate the wonder of life. And she says to the Stage Manager, “Does anyone ever see what they are going through? Do they realize…” I can’t remember exactly what the line is. “Is anyone ever aware of what’s going on and not make that mistake?” And he says to her, “Well, no. Saints and poets, maybe. They do some.” I always thought that was a pretty special line. Do you have a favorite moment in the play? There’s this wonderful section where George meets Emily. He’s going to carry her books, and she tells him she thinks he’s a snob, and he apologizes, and then they go out for a strawberry soda, and at the end of that sequence they are engaged. I thought it was brilliant artistry by Wilder to compress the development of that relationship into 10 minutes. You go from two kids in high
Director Alan Schneider directs Meg Kelly + Robert Prosky in Arena Stage’s 1972-73 production of OUR TOWN PHOTO Fletcher Drake
school where he’s carrying her books to being engaged—the awkwardness, a reconciliation, and then a proposal. And they get married. That’s really quite something.
FONTAINE SYER directed OUR TOWN at Delaware Theatre Company in October 2001, just two months after the attacks of September 11th. “I went into it believing, or wanting to believe, that we were doing something to reinforce the community in the wake of this horror,” Syer says. “In Wilmington, a lot of people took the train into New York every day and worked in Manhattan. Many, many more than you would’ve thought. The deaths in the Wilmington community were higher than I would’ve thought. Our Town is about life and death. [Wilder] starts [the play] talking about life and death.” Syer’s production had no scenery and no curtain, and her actors generated essential sound effects on stage. “The one indulgence was a full-stage star curtain in the back. We used the star curtain a tiny bit at the end of the first act, just oh so faint, and then, we used it again in the graveyard, at the end, when the Stage Manager is talking about ‘every 16 hours,’ and it was gorgeous.” Tappan Wilder, executor of Thornton’s estate and witness to countless productions of Our Town, came to closing night and happened to be seated next to Syer. “As the faint stars came up behind the choir practice, I heard him say, ‘Wow.’”
What was your first experience with the play? The first time I encountered the play in actual performance was in 1973 at the Arena Stage, directed by Alan Schneider, featuring Robert Prosky as the Stage Manager and Dianne Wiest as Emily. I was 26 and had been spared all gooey, over-simplified, high school productions. I became an assistant director to the production when it later toured the Soviet Union. Do you consider Our Town a rite of passage? Our Town is a rite of passage for anyone, if they pay attention. It is an imaginative reminder that life is a non-stop cycle, and we’re all at different points on the ride. Wilder is so matter of fact and down to brass tacks; many people don’t take in that the Stage Manager is talking about dying and death in the first two pages. What was your greatest challenge in directing the play? Communicating the scope of the play is always a challenge. I think it boils down to: if you’ve had real disappointments and real trouble in your life, you can hear the larger statements in the play. If you haven’t, you’re likely to have those larger statements flow past you. What someone brings to seeing a performance of this play makes a huge difference in what they take away.
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Any reflections on your vision for the play, casting, or rehearsals? I didn’t set out to cast a woman in the role of the Stage Manager; I just knew that I wanted Nora Chester to play the part. Nora is an actor who operates in what I dub the “breathing school” of acting. You cannot see her working. You just see her being, breathing. I said very little to Nora; the best thing you can do as a director is not to get in her way. The actress who played Emily [Rachel Sledd] was talented, committed, and well-trained. Every once in a while she started to fall into too much emotional expression in Act III; all I said was, you’ve got to save that for your trip back to Grover’s Corners. By the time you get to the graveyard, it’s already starting to be something that is no longer causing you pain. What is your favorite line from the play? “It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. O, Earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.” That line made a huge impact on me the first time I saw the play, and those words have kept their power all these years. If we could really learn to realize life, we would all be much healthier—in the broadest sense of the word. A lot of people don’t pay attention to the constant references to our lives fleeting, life being short. You never know when that final moment is going to come into your life. Wally dies on a camping trip, Emily dies in childbirth, the Civil War veterans—it’s about living but very much about dying. If you listen, you have to think about your own life and what you’re doing with it. It’s hugely unromantic, and it tells us things that are common to all of humanity and part of that communication for me says, Pay attention. This is a true thing. The nostalgic, Americana notion comes from people who aren’t paying attention, who think Our Town is all the soda fountain scene. Did the production’s proximity to the September 11th attacks affect the show? While it wasn’t part of our original production design, following the September 11th attacks, I invited the community onto the stage. We had wanted two semi-circular rows of chairs arcing along the back wall of the oval stage at Delaware Theatre Company; the acting company was going to be on stage all the time and come forward as the play required [and volunteer audience members would join them]. I went at it believing that we were going to be giving something to the community by inviting them to participate, to remind us that we live and die together in a community, but what the volunteers brought to this production, the expansion of energies and sensibilities, the expansion of the scope of the play—because you cannot have 10 extra
IN THIS LETTER TO DWIGHT DANA, WILDER’S ATTORNEY AND CLOSEST ADVISER, THORNTON WILDER DOCUMENTS HIS EARLIEST REACTIONS TO THE OPENING OF OUR TOWN ON BROADWAY:
Dear Dwight: Funny thing’s happened. Ruth [Gordon] phoned down it’s already broken a house record. In spite of the mixed reviews when the box office opened Saturday morning there were 26 people in line; the line continued all day, and the police had to close it for ten minutes so that the audience could get into the matinee . . . Imagine that! Friday night both Sam Goldwyn and Bea Lillie were seen to be weeping. Honest! . . .Isn’t it astonishing, and fun, and exhausting? Ever Thornton
The drama that made even Sam Goldwyn cry appears as “M Marries N” in a list of ideas for plays written July 2, 1935, less than two weeks after Thornton’s brother Amos’s wedding in New Jersey. It was there that Wilder first encountered the custom of the groom not seeing his bride on the wedding day until they meet at the church. This precise line survives in the final version, at the end of Act II, when the Stage Manger, as minister, says: “M…marries N…millions of them.” “M marries N” evolved into Our Village in 1936 and became Our Town in 1937. The play was penned on transatlantic steamers, in hotels and hideaways in locales as varied as St. Lucia, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire*, St. Moritz, Sils-Maria, Sils-Baselgia, Ascona, and the Hotel Belvoir in Rüschlikon* outside Zurich. Wilder finally finished a draft of the play at the Columbia University Club on 44th Street towards the end of December, a few days before rehearsals began. Our Town began its journey to Broadway with a one-day stop at the McCarter in Princeton, NJ, on January 22, 1938. The enthusiastic audience was moved to tears, but the show is frequently remembered for a review in Variety that included the oft-quoted line: “It will probably go down as the season’s most extravagant waste of fine talent.” Our Town then moved to Boston for a scheduled two-week run prior to the New York opening. Here, it encountered mixed notices, poor attendance and huge revenue losses. Taking a chance, the play’s producer-director Jed Harris decided to close Our Town a week early and move it directly to Broadway, finding temporary space at Henry Miller’s Theatre. It opened successfully on Friday, February 4, and moved shortly thereafter to its permanent home at the Morosco Theatre. Our Town’s premiere on Broadway marked a momentous occasion. To keep the show going during the difficult summer months, Wilder accepted royalty cuts of up to 50 percent. It helped business a bit when the playwright himself played the part of the Stage Manager for two weeks in September. Our Town closed on November 19, 1938, after 10 months and 336 performances. A three-month, twleve-city, first-class tour followed. But then came the deluge: in the first 20 months after its release to the amateur and stock companies in April 1939, Our Town was performed over 700 times throughout the United States and Canada. From the beginning, moreover, Grover’s Corners has been an international address: by 1943, Our Town had enjoyed legal and pirated productions in neutral, allied, and axis countries as varied as Switzerland, Italy, the Scandinavian countries, Spain, Romania, and Japan. By the year 2000, the play had been translated in at least 30 languages. Thornton Wilder called the theatre “the greatest of all the arts,” and many people have called his Our Town one of the greatest American plays of all time. Seventy-five years after its premiere on Broadway, Our Town is still performed at least once each night somewhere in the United States, and throughout the world. *Locations in which significant portions of the play were written. SPECIAL THANKS TO THE WILDER FAMILY LLC
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people in the graveyard who don’t speak, no one can afford it—made the play so powerful, so communicative, especially in Act III, and the wedding, and in the choir practice. You had a sense of the people in the town. More depth of field. It was kind of a karmic lesson.
MICHAEL KAHN directed OUR TOWN on a bare stage at the American Shakespeare Theatre in 1976. Kahn had the privilege of corresponding directly with Wilder, who sent him a congratulatory letter. “He said that I must be European, because I understood his plays so well.”
What was your first experience with Our Town? In acting class maybe. I think I saw the soda fountain scene or the scene up on the ladders. I’m pretty sure that I did the soda fountain scene in performing arts high school as an acting student. I don’t have any big memories of when I saw it, so it may be that I’d never seen the whole play until I actually did it. Do you consider Our Town a rite of passage? I might have been a little old to be having a rite of passage [laughs]. I was very excited to do it, but, you know, I’d already done some one acts of Thornton’s, so I think I had already felt that I had entered into Thornton Wilder territory and that it was time to do the big one. I think that’s really what happened. I was glad to bring a play like that—an American classic—to Stratford, but I thought it was more of a rite of passage for Stratford, to put on a play like that on a stage that was called a “Shakespeare Festival.” And to say this is a classic equal to a great play by Shakespeare.
David Schwimmer as George in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s 2009 OUR TOWN, co-directed by Anna D. Shapiro + Jessica Thebus PHOTO Sean Williams
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What was your greatest challenge in directing the play? Luckily, having not seen a lot of productions of it, I didn’t have to forget or think about a sort of accretion of ideas. I thought of it as a high school valentine to Americana before I did it. I didn’t feel that way about Americana, and I didn’t feel that way about American Society—that it was all unquestionably honest and true and lovely. When I read that play, I realized that Our Town is a hard-eyed, unsentimental critique of society. For me it was finding underneath the much grittier and more critical idea, in addition to affection, that Wilder had for the country he lived in. It was uncovering that and not letting it get sentimental, which makes it much less of the play that he wrote. And not having the characters all stereotypes—which could easily happen—and getting rid of the “aw shucks” quality that [the play] brings out in people, which I don’t think is what Wilder had in mind. What is your favorite line from the play? When the two kids are in their windows talking to each other. I think Emily says, “George, isn’t the moonlight terrible?” That just paints the whole scene. Not only does it paint the picture when there is no scenery but it also tells you about their romantic yearnings and their age, and I remember that hugely. I also liked watching the mothers stringing beans. I thought that was just wonderful. We had real beans. And just doing work. I found all of that stuff terrific. People were always busy doing something and actually dealing with what life is like, what the chores were. I found that almost as interesting as the lines. Final thoughts? Our Town is certainly one of the four or five great American plays, and I know that this play will always be
done and will probably be done in every country, because there’s something about it that, even though it is about America, it relates to everybody all over the world. It is an extraordinary play about community— representing any community or family relationship. It has themes that every society can see. We all miss the richness of life.
IN CONCLUSION It’s impossible to discuss OUR TOWN in 2013 without acknowledging DAVID CROMER’s astonishing 2010 production of the play, which was such a visceral experience for many who saw it. Indeed, my theatrical Twitter stream was alight with commentary about the production when I asked about the play for SDC Journal: the bacon, the water, the bacon. Cromer’s OUR TOWN was staged in the intimate Barrow Street Theatre in New York, with the audience only inches away from the actors. His actors wore modern street clothes—jeans and polar fleece—as if they were contemporary smalltown New Englanders. That is, until Emily goes back in Act III, when the audience was both visually and olfactorily (did I mention the bacon?) confronted with a palpable new understanding of Emily’s words, “So all that was going on, and we never noticed.” Wilder wrote that, “OUR TOWN is an attempt to find a value above price for the smallest events in our daily life.” Perhaps we keep staging this play because each production— however immediate, however holy, however deadly (in the Peter Brook sense of the words) it may be—reminds us, at least briefly, to realize life while we live it.
Therese Plaehn, David Cromer + Derrick Trumbly in Huntington Theatre Company’s OUR TOWN. 2012-13 at South End/ Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA PHOTO T. Charles Erickson PETER BROOK since 1959 | ANNA D. SHAPIRO since 2001 | JESSICA THEBUS since 2005
JED HARRIS MAD GENIUS Jed Harris (1900-1979), Austrian-American theatre producer, director, and flim writer, produced and directed 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. His productions garnered seven awards, including a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for playwright Thornton Wilder. EXCERPT FROM “BROADWAY’S MEAN MAN,” JONATHAN YARDLEY’S REVIEW OF Jed Harris: The Curse of Genius, BY MARTIN GOTTFRIED, WASHINGTON POST, DECEMBER 28, 1983
Jed Harris was a brilliantly gifted theatrical producer who for a time in the 1920s and ‘30s seemed to own Broadway. He pioneered what quickly became the Broadway style, described by his biographer as “clever, tense, urban, dynamic and, above all, contemporary.” Moss Hart wrote: “…he continued to light up the theatrical heavens with an unerring touch that has something of the uncanny about it. Production after production, whatever play he turned his hand to, was catapulted into immediate success, and his vagaries, his flaring tempers, his incisive way with a script were already a legend and fast becoming Broadway folklore.” As so often happens in show business, Harris came almost overnight to his legendary status. Born in Austria in 1900, Jacob Hirsch Horowitz was the child of hard-working, demanding parents who immigrated to Newark when he was very young. He was frequently beaten for minor misbehavior, to the point that he always regarded his childhood as “blighted” and as result, according to a friend, “He seemed to feel as if the world owed him something. The world was going to pay for some unexpressed hurt it had done him.” Did it ever; from the instant he became a success, with the triumph of his show Broadway in 1926, Horowitz/Harris made the world pay, and pay, and pay. His life story, as narrated by Martin Gottfried, is fascinating less as a show-biz biography than as the chronicle of a man who spent virtually his entire adult life bringing gratuitous grief to others and destroying himself in the process. Show business has had more than its share of mean characters, but there cannot have been a meaner one than Jed Harris.
EXCERPT FROM Thornton
Thornton Wilder Wilder Family LLC
Wilder: A Life
CHAPTER 26, “CHALK . . . OR FIRE”
“Jed [Harris] telephoned from London for 20 minutes the other night,” Wilder wrote to his mother and his sister Isabel on October 28, 1937 from Zurich. “He wants to know if ‘Our Town’ would be a good play for the Xmas season in New York. Would it?!! And guess who might act the lanky tooth picking Stage-manager? Sinclair Lewis! He’s been plaguing Jed to let him act for a long time.” Harris, who badly needed another Broadway hit, had in turn been “plaguing” Wilder for a play. He had promised Harris years earlier to let him have the first look at his first full-length play, and Wilder was a man of his word... It was on the train home from Miami after Christmas in 1928 that Wilder had met that “young wizard in the Broadway theatre,” Jed Harris, who, before he was thirty years old, had produced and directed such Broadway hits as Broadway (1926), Coquette (1927), The Royal Family (1927), and The Front Page (1928). Although Harris and Wilder had overlapped at Yale, they had not known each other during their college days. By December 9 Wilder was back in the United States, where Harris had “installed, or rather imprisoned” him in a cottage in the “swankiest section” of Long Island, with a butler and a cook—and orders to finish Our Town. . . .. By the time Wilder arrived in New York, Harris was thinking of casting the actor Frank Craven to play Our Town’s Stage Manager, and was putting other production details in place, although he and Wilder had no written contract. Wilder was still finishing act 3, and rehearsals were about to begin in New York. He found himself in “such a mess of friendship-collaboration sentiment with Jed, and with the sense of guilt about the unfinished condition of the play” that he couldn’t bring himself to insist on a contract immediately. Soon the play was cast, and the script was finished, with some revisions by Harris— “admirable alterations in the order of the scenes, and some deletions that I would have arrived at anyway,” Wilder wrote, plus “a number of tasteless little jokes” that “don’t do much harm,” although they gave Harris “that sensation of having written the play which is so important to him.”... Wilder quickly learned that in Jed Harris he had to confront a nearly invincible adversary. Constitutionally averse to conflict, Wilder fought for the integrity of his script but internalized much of his anger and frustration. By mid-January he told Harris he had a “whole set of Nature’s Warnings = twitches, and stutterings and head aches.” He was going to have to “retire” from the production for a while, to sleep and rest and regain his “fresh eye” for the play. His perspective, he said, had “become so jaundiced that I can no longer catch what’s good or bad.” At noon on January 22, 1938—before the opening of the Princeton tryout that evening—a deeply worried Wilder recorded his concerns about Harris’s production and sealed them in an envelope that was not opened until 1944, when Isabel Wilder took out her brother’s notes and read them at the time of Our Town’s first revival in New York. That snowy day in Princeton in 1938 Wilder wrote that he was very much afraid certain of Harris’s production elements would “harm and perhaps shipwreck” the play’s effectiveness. He feared that the play was “in danger of falling into trivial episodes,” that Harris had not “vigorously directed” some of his actors, that he had an “astonishingly weak sense of visual reconstruction,” that his interpolations in the text robbed it of “its nervous compression.”... Together, through their contentious collaboration, Thornton Wilder and Jed Harris, the idealistic Broadway neophyte and the hardened Broadway veteran, brought Our Town to vivid life on Broadway, first at the Henry Miller’s Theatre, and then at the Morosco, where it would run more than ten months, closing November 19, 1938, after 336 performances. WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
“When the power of the man or woman meets the power of the moment – opportunity for change opens up before us. The word possibility becomes a word about action.”
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Fichandler Award finalists Dámaso Rodriguez, Jane Jones + Loretta Greco with award recipient Bill Rauch (MIDDLE) PHOTO Sherry Barnett
The World Only Moves Forward BY LAURA
Since 2009, SDC Foundation (SDCF) has presented the Zelda Fichandler Award to directors and choreographers who are not only at the peak of their careers, but who have made significant and unique contributions to regional theatre communities across the United States. The Fichandler Award recognizes prominent achievement in the field, singular creativity and artistry, and places special emphasis on the recipient’s deep investment in a particular place outside of the New York arena. The Fichandler Award does not honor lifetime achievement, but rather acknowledges an artist’s accomplishments to date, and his or her promise for the future. Laura Penn, Executive Director of SDCF, spoke recently at the Ovation Awards in LA about the Fichandler Award. “It is for work that is hard, for work that is necessary; it exists to encourage artists and others who will follow to carry on and ensure that dynamic, extraordinary directors and choreographers can thrive while creating great theatre across the entire country.” Zelda Fichandler, the stalwart founding Artistic Director of Arena Stage, was the ideal namesake for an award of this nature. In her remarks at this year’s ceremony, Zelda stated, “When the power of the man or woman meets the power of the moment—or surrounding circumstances— opportunity for change opens up before us. The word ‘possibility’ becomes a word about ‘action.’ The sun also rises—the world only moves forward.” Given on a rotating basis each year, the award focuses on artists from one of three regions: East, Central, or West. This year, the selection committee—Sheldon Epps, Michael John Garcés, David Ira Goldstein, Rick Lombardo, Tom Moore, Lisa Peterson, Robin Lynn Smith and Jane Unger—concentrated on innovators working in the Western Region of the United States which spans Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Los Angeles area, and everything in between. From subversive 99-seat productions to Shakespeare festivals, Western regional theatres commit to developing new work and reinvigorating classics, as well as exploring and embracing the many different cultures in their respective communities. This year’s Fichandler Committee recognized the remarkable and influential work of their regional peers by naming Bill Rauch, Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the 2012 recipient, with Loretta Greco, Jane Jones, and Dámaso Rodriguez as finalists. These directors have meshed their own vibrant and innovative aesthetics with the central concerns of their region, bringing in new audiences, sparking lively and challenging debate, and laying the groundwork for the next generation of theatre artists. Each of them is an inspiration, and a review of their combined efforts heralds a promising future for theatre in the West. “The [theatre] movement as a whole,” said Zelda, “doggedly keeps on keeping on under the leadership of many good, passionate, and committed leaders.” This year’s recipient and finalists are shining examples of such leaders honored by the Zelda Fichandler Award.
SHELDON EPPS since 1981 | MICHAEL JOHN GARCÉS since 2001 | DAVID IRA GOLDSTEIN since 1987 LORETTA GRECO since 1994 | MICHAEL HALBERSTAM since 2006| JANE JONES since 2005 | RICK LOMBARDO since 1989 TOM MOORE since 1972 | JONATHAN MOSCONE since 1997 | LISA PETERSON since 1992 | DÁMASO RODRIGUEZ since 2007 ROBIN LYNN SMITH since 1995 | JANE UNGER since 2012 | BLANKA ZIZKA since 2000
RECIPIENT: BILL RAUCH
HOW HAS RECEIVING THE ZELDA FICHANDLER AWARD AFFECTED YOUR CAREER
2012 ZELDA FICHANDLER AWARD
“For me, there were two seemingly symbolic but ultimately very real outcomes of receiving the Fichandler. First, the validation of being recognized for a life dedicated to working to make theatre matter in and for diverse communities in diverse ways. Second was the challenge to work even harder, dig more deeply, and expand who participates in theatre and how they participate towards making theatre matter even more to the world in which we live.”
Jonathan Moscone CALIFORNIA SHAKESPEARE THEATER ORINDA, CA 2009 FICHANDLER RECIPIENT
“Receiving the Zelda Fichandler Award and carrying the responsibility that it engendered has been a significant privilege… To receive an award that carries her name has been humbling, and, rather than confining, it has helped to liberate an internal, sustainable, and renewable source of inspiration. Furthermore, to be recognized alongside the unquestionable talent of Jonathan Moscone, Blanka Zizka, and now Bill Rauch is quite simply a gift that keeps on giving and one that provides the little voice inside with a strong and enduring whisper to carry on making.”
Michael Halberstam WRITERS’ THEATRE | GLENCOE, IL 2010 FICHANDLER RECIPIENT
“Only a few months before receiving the award, I told my board of directors that my priority in coming years was to focus on the Philadelphia theatre community… I’d attempt to develop a flexible company of actors around the Wilma, who’d go through the same training and work on projects that would be created over a longer period of time, so that the playwright, director, and actors could experiment and explore how form and content might influence each other in the process of creating a production. Receiving Zelda Fichandler’s Award a few months later, I believe, was a major affirmation of my artistic goals, supporting my mission to remain focused on the art, and I am happy to say that it made a strong impression not only on the Wilma board and staff, but also Philadelphia artists, audience members, and local funders.”
Blanka Zizka THE WILMA THEATER PHILADELPHIA, PA 2011 FICHANDLER RECIPIENT WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
“Inclusion is the air that I breathe as an artist. My work is dedicated to the simple and yet surprisingly radical proposition that art belongs to everyone.”
2012 RECIPIENT | ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL Bill Rauch has dedicated himself to the above proposition throughout his career. During his 20-year tenure as Artistic Director of L.A.’s Cornerstone Theater Company, he and an acting ensemble adapted classics and produced new work that involved and spoke to the challenges of urban communities. He places acting ensembles at the center of much of his work, and has a solid commitment to disabled performers. The new initiatives launched since his move to Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in 2007 further demonstrate his priorities. Mr. Rauch has committed to commissioning and developing 37 new plays about significant moments in American history for American Revolutions: The U.S. History Cycle. He developed a community-based format for The Green Show, a free showcase of multicultural theatre. He also founded the Black Swan Lab for New Work, which places the acting company at the center of new play development. Bringing Shakespeare to the stage always presents a challenge, but Rauch tailors his interpretations to the community in which he is directing. When he excavated Measure for Measure, he tackled the central question of social justice through the lens of 1970s American institutions. Rauch responded to his diverse audience and acknowledged the way culture and race affect social stratums, relationships, and the governing of communities. Frustrated by the tendency towards color-blind casting in Shakespeare, he worked in a way that was “color-conscious,” encouraging his actors to find an intersection between their own cultural roots and their characters. Rauch explains, “It was revelatory to watch a young Latina nun sue for the life of her Latino brother, who was racially profiled onto death row, in a city where the elderly white male leader has passed his power to his elderly African-American female chief aide and his young Latino deputy, a rising political star. With a generous dose of lines and lyrics translated into Spanish, Shakespeare’s text AND the intersections
between socio-economics, political power, and ethnicity in urban America were both illuminated with a shocking clarity.” The Wall Street Journal described his production as “smart, swift, refreshingly unpredictable…one of his finest efforts yet.” When reflecting on his work at OSF and in regional theatres, Mr. Rauch explained, “I’ve been struck by the field-wide bias that often exists against the West Coast, intensified by my current residence in rural Oregon. If I were lucky enough to receive the Fichandler Award, the statement would resonate with many sectors of our field to which I have been privileged to belong: ensembles, community-based artists, Shakespeare theatres, and inclusion activists, among others. An award that affirms my work as a director would also have meaning for my own Southern Oregon community as well as the hundreds of thousands of audience members that come to Ashland. My artistic directorship at OSF is a fascinating, even risky challenge: can my community-based past help me contribute to shaping a new future for regional theatre in terms of truly inclusive work at a large-budget organization?” Zelda Fichandler speaks to Mr. Rauch’s success in this journey, explaining that “he has, in five short years, created a new vision for a theatre for this particular region, and, indeed, a theatre unlike any other that we have in our country. Because of the wide play of his imagination, his attributes as a human being, his political conscience, and his unique sense of what is possible, we want to recognize him as the fourth recipient chosen by SDCF for this award. I am honored to have my name attached to it, and I applaud the young-in-age but wisein-spirit-and-talent Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bill Rauch. I applaud and honor him for what he is doing for his home theatre, the region, the nation, and the everlasting art of theatre.”
Excerpt from Bill Rauch’s Acceptance Speech I am humbled and honored to accept this award, especially meaningful because it comes from my peers in SDC. My admiration for the other finalists this year—Jane, Loretta, and Dámaso— gives this recognition even more weight. And it is spine-tinglingly wonderful to stand here in Los Angeles, my artistic home and community for 15 years, surrounded by old and new friends. But maybe the best thing of all about the Fichandler Award is that it gave me an excuse to spend an hour on the phone with Zelda herself. It was a soul-replenishing conversation, lending insights into my own life’s journey, reinforcing my impatience at how we’ve dismantled acting companies in this country, and fueling me with hope for the future. And a new crucial question has now entered my thoughts and will continue to regularly crop up for, no doubt, the rest of my life: What Would Zelda Do?
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Zelda is, of course, a founder. Not just the founder of the venerable Arena Stage, but one of the founders of the entire regional theatre movement, the movement that is the lifeblood of our Union and that allows us, as SDC Members, to make a living making plays across this country. As a founding artistic director myself, and now as the caretaker of another founder’s vision, I often reflect on what it means to found. Last season in Ashland, on the first day of rehearsal for her stunning The White Snake, a play that did not yet have a single page of script written, the writer/director Mary Zimmerman spoke with great eloquence. The play and the production that the artists and artisans had assembled to create already existed, explained Mary; their job, like the archeologist’s, was to carefully remove the rocks and the dirt to uncover what was already there, buried and
forgotten. The production was waiting to be discovered, a found object. Isn’t that a perceptive definition of our process? Unlike the playwright’s job, our task as directors and choreographers is largely one of interpretation, to find and reveal what lies hidden. Whether it’s a production, an institution, or a life’s work. I’m an optimistic guy. Throughout my career, I have witnessed theatre literally transform the lives of artists and audiences again and again and again. Aren’t we blessed that we get to wake up in the morning, every day, and with our work ponder how we can leave the planet a better place than we found it? With a full heart and limitless energy, I stand ready to join you in trying to answer that existential question. Thank you for this great honor that will certainly accelerate my efforts, and for this chance to reflect on it with all of you today.
BOOK-IT REPERTORY THEATRE
FURIOUS THEATRE COMPANY*
“I’ve worked very hard to create a body of muscular work for the Bay Area based on my expectation of theatre that allows people to truly feel their humanity—with smart yet visceral work of size that offers catharsis, ritual, and metaphor from an astounding array of relevant voices that invite everyone to the table.”
“I used my understanding of dance—weight, space, time, flow—to become a director. I used my classical training and deeply respected sense of process to lead the actors. I found ways to stage this literature, to adapt it, to embrace it, word for word at first—and eventually, with a curious and dedicated company…all collaborating over a number of years, the Book-It style was born.”
“I respond to the text instinctively, building a production with the creative team and the cast, utilizing each artist’s initial instincts. Our shared goal invariably is to create a performance for the audience that involves their surrendering to the live experience: suspension of disbelief, laughter, catharsis, and the complex experience of being ‘moved’ occur entirely beyond the audience’s control.”
A dancer and actress from a young age, JANE JONES had an early connection to the arts world, but didn’t always look to literature for pleasure. Her battle with dyslexia led her to read great works of literature out loud. “I was determined to find a way to tell these stories on stage and, therefore, challenge a 20thcentury audience to rediscover the great art of listening.” Jones began to consider theatre as a vehicle for the educational and literary vitality of a community, and Book-It was born. Jones and her company have brought over 25 productions of classic stories to her community and beyond. Her vast experience with dance gives her a unique lens through which to view literature, giving the audience “the thrill of enjoying the descriptive language of the story and literally seeing a book spring to life on stage.” She champions Book-It’s mission to “transform great literature into great theatre through simple and sensitive production and to inspire audiences to read.” Her tireless work as a co-artistic director, director, choreographer, and creator has led the Puget Sound community to a rich canon of dramatic works and turned it into a devoted audience of theatregoers and readers. Jones has been lauded for her contribution to the education and arts communities, and the Fichandler Committee recognized her for “distinctive, singular, and profoundly important work, commending her for creating a producing model that manages to be both replicable yet unique.”
DÁMASO RODRIGUEZ sees the company model upon which so much of regional theatre has been based as a “weapon for theatrical growth and change.” Always inspired by the Group Theatre, the prestigious ensemblebased theatre collective of the 1930s, his intention was to use a company of performers to bring to bear a radical reflection of society. It is unsurprising that a director of such fervent speech became the co-founder and Artistic Director of Furious Theatre Company in 2001. He saw a gap in the theatrical scene in L.A., and wanted to bring new works and challenging 20th-century plays to the region. Through the auspices of his company, a core group that shares a passion for violent, theatrical performances, he’s been able to develop 24 plays that reveal a shocking side of humanity. Rodriguez hopes for performances that are “visceral first and intellectual afterwards.” In 2008, he was appointed Associate Artistic Director of Pasadena Playhouse, where he directed numerous productions including Orson’s Shadow. Rodriguez’s production showed a darker side of true genius, and the Los Angeles Times called it “a poignant reflection on the insatiable insecurity that goes hand in hand with fame.” The Fichandler Committee noted that he is an “incredibly exciting director, able to work as equally well on a small stage as on a large stage, making things happen for a larger community of artists around him with great craft and humanity in his work.” * As of publication
LORETTA GRECO believes that theatre should be larger than life, “captivatingly unexpected and truly transcendent.” In her early years as a regional director, she became concerned about the smallness of the American theatre; she felt that realism and kitchen sink drama trapped actors and audiences alike in a realistic world, and that “we’d forgotten our charge to lead our culture forward.” She began freelancing in the Bay Area 11 years ago, and immediately became drawn to the culture and the writers. Now in her fifth year as Artistic Director of the Magic Theatre, Greco and her company have developed 18 plays, 15 of which have gone on to other productions around the country. Greco makes leaps of faith when she devotes time and resources to writers, giving them a chance to grow and foster a project in a safe environment. Her commitment to productions for the community and regional theatre at large is evident in the rampant success of the Magic Theatre. Nowhere is this clearer than in Loretta’s longtime partnership with Luis Alfaro, a playwright who asks the universal questions through the lens of California life. Her production of Alfaro’s Bruja, a reimagining of Medea as a modern Chicana Curandera, was hailed for its “masterfully orchestrated stagings” by the San Francisco Chronicle. “My work with Luis is spare. Really, it’s made by acknowledging the sacredness of the thrust space itself and trusting the intimacy of the words, the craft of the actor, and the imaginations of those surrounding the proceedings.” Her tireless devotion to the playwrights, actors, and audiences of her community has brought her critical and audience acclaim. The Fichandler Committee noted Loretta Greco as a “superb artist with great bravery and passion for the work, bringing energy and transformation to her region in only four years. She is on a path to making a brand-new San Francisco; she is that bold and that talented.”
2012 ZELDA FICHANDLER AWARD
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REGIONAL REPORTS | QUARTERLY SNAPSHOTS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY In each issue of SDC Journal, the Regional Representatives of the Executive Board share opinions and profiles, news and events from their perspectives or those of Members they represent. Nominated to serve by a committee of peers living and working in their respective region, they have been elected to the Board by the full Membership to serve the whole, but with particular attention paid to the issues and needs of Members working in the regions. We look forward to these reports telling the tale of the national scene— highlighting successes and bringing forward lesser-known artists and activities that contribute to the great breadth and depth of work across the country.
Connecticut | Maine | Massachusetts | New Hampshire New Jersey | New York State | Pennsylvania Rhode Island | Vermont NE | Members = 288 Associates = 94 (Does not include NYC)
BOB MOSS has been SDC’s Northeast Regional Rep since 2011. For this issue, director David Hilder speaks to serving the Union through committee work, specifically the Tellers Committee, which is responsible for counting ballots for the Executive Board elections.
COMMITTEE SERVICE BY DAVID
On Election Day, I got up early and stood outside in the cold with a hundred or so people, everyone upbeat but serious about the duty we were about to undertake: voting. An hour later—the longest I’ve ever waited to vote—I was leaving my polling place, heart swelling and eyes misting with the sense of having done the right thing. Participating. Contributing in a meaningful way to our particular democratic process. This afternoon, I found myself at SDC, serving on the Tellers Committee, a group that counts the ballots in a different election—that of SDC’s Executive Board. I was a member of the Nominating Committee this year, for the second time, and I love that process, the invigorating discussions about the frankly fantastic Members who want to serve the Union, putting together a slate of passionate advocates to best take our message forward, to best advance our mutual cause. But the Tellers Committee involves no discussion. Rather, it involves sitting and tabulating batches of anonymous ballots, triple-checking to ensure accurate counts, signing paperwork verifying what I have counted, rubber-banding the batch, opening another, spreading out the tally sheet and counting the ballots and determining how the votes in that stack tallied up, and signing and rubber-banding and getting another batch. Glamorous? No. And yet it was a deeply inspiring and moving couple of hours. And in trying to determine why, this is what I came up with: What I did today reminds me
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precisely of why I love both our Members and our work. On a physical level, I loved handling the ballots and the tally sheets. Because I spend so much time in front of a computer, it’s wonderful, always, to hold those written documents in my hands, to feel them and work with them and engage, in a real, physical way, with what the Members of our Union want in their leadership, with what they have actually inscribed, in ink, onto paper. Reading those ballots put me in mind of how much I enjoy putting my directorial book together— assembling scripts, notes, thoughts, pictures, whatever’s going to help me do my job. Handling the ballots felt like getting some insight into the work other SDC Members do. Everyone’s passion was so palpably there, so alive to me, as I counted and checked and tabulated. We are forces to be reckoned with, and that became ever more clear to me as I counted my way through many of the votes.
As of this writing, I don’t know the outcome of either the national election or the SDC Board election. But I know that today I participated in both, in ways that make me keenly aware of the excellence of the communities in which I live and work. I cannot help but be inspired by the passionate engagement of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, embedded in a bunch of cardboard rectangles. If you want to serve on the Nominating Committee, volunteer! It’s a national committee, including Members from across the country; you don’t have to be in New York to serve. And if you are in NYC and want to get a sense of what I’m talking about, serve on next year’s Tellers Committee. Count the ballots. Engage. Get a sense of what really drives this Union—a positive, powerful energy that cannot be matched.
And then there’s the fact that the batches yielded such different results. That knowledge is deeply satisfying, because the Nominating Committee worked very hard to create a slate that would, no matter who might be elected to the Board, yield a strong group of leaders. The Membership must have found the slate appealing indeed, because every single candidate was well represented on the ballots I helped count. I think there’s something powerful in that; it feels like the collaborative effort we all pursue in our work, the coming together of strong, intelligent, informed voices to create great art. In just the same way, SDC Members are selecting an amazing Executive Board. DAVID HILDER since 2007 | BOB MOSS since 1982
Alabama | Arkansas | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Louisiana | Maryland | Mississippi North Carolina | South Carolina | Tennessee | Virginia | Washington, D.C. | West Virginia SE | Members = 166 Associates = 87
SHARON OTT, SDC’s Southeast Regional Rep who lives and works in Savannah, GA, has represented the SE since 2010. For this issue, SDC Journal focuses on women directors working in Washington, D.C.
WOMEN DIRECTORS IN D.C. In the fall, Jacqueline E. Lawton, a Texasraised, D.C.-based playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist, received an email from Eleanor Holdridge, SDC Member and head of the Directing Department at Catholic University. Holdridge told Lawton of an email she received following the publication of the article, “Working Toward Theater Equity” in the Washington Post this past August. The article discussed Holdridge’s production of Body Awareness at Theater J and the dearth of women directors in D.C. theatres, and the email was a rant against women directors and playwrights that included the following: “The probable reason male playwrights and directors are preferred is that they are, frankly, better at the craft than women.”
Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky Michigan | Minnesota | Missouri | Nebraska North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | South Dakota Texas | Wisconsin C | Members = 218 Associates = 109
AMY MORTON, SDC’s Central Regional Rep since 2007, was elected to the Board in 2004. Director Tom Ossowski discusses some of the challenges and rewards of running a theatre in the Central Region.
familiar worlds The Post Playhouse, located in Crawford, NE in the Pine Ridge region on Fort Robinson State Park, will celebrate its 47th season this year. The region is rich with American history—140 years ago the Red Cloud Agency was relocated to White River. The U.S. government established a military camp at the site, and Fort Robinson played a major role in the Sioux Wars. Legendary Native-
In response, Lawton took to her blog and began a series on the Women Directors of D.C. The series included insights on working in the theatre from directors Lise Bruneau, Kasi Campbell, Renana Fox, Lee Mikeska Gardner, Elissa Goetschius, Ty Hallmark, Amber Jackson, Jess Jung, Jessica Lefkow, Heather McDonald, Ali Miller, Toni Rae Salmi, Shirley Serotsky, Lynn Sharp Spears, and Catherine Tripp, as well as SDC Members Karin Abromatis, Eleanor Holdridge, Jennifer Nelson, and Juanita Rockwell. The series explores each director’s origins and influences, their work in the D.C. area, and their thoughts on playwrights, designers, actors, audiences, and critics working in D.C. A question about race and gender parity in the D.C. theatre community provoked fascinating responses. Nelson believes that while D.C. is ahead of the pack in terms of women artistic directors, it’s about
American leader Crazy Horse was killed here, and Calamity Jane is said to have ridden back and forth between the middle of the state and Fort Robinson to communicate messages. In 1967, Nebraska wanted to offer entertainment to visiting tourists, resulting in the Playhouse. The Playhouse, a vacation destination along with Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and the Black Hills, draws audience from Crawford (pop. 1,000), Chadron (pop. 6,000), and Alliance (pop. 8,500). Artistic Director Tom Ossowski, who is also an associate professor at Florida State University’s B.F.A. Music Theatre Program, is preparing for his seventh season and for the challenges of directing and producing theatre in rural Nebraska. One challenge he faces every year is creating a universally appealing season. He tends to “open the newer, more contemporary, less known shows later in the season, and more traditional ones earlier. Because of the tourists, I always try to have one show that has a little bit of a historic, country-western feel. This year we’re doing Annie Get Your Gun. I try to balance our season with things I want to do,
KARIN ABROMATIS since 2009 | ELEANOR HOLDRIDGE since 2002 | AMY MORTON since 2001 JENNIFER NELSON since 2006 | TOM OSSOWSKI since 2003 | JUANITA ROCKWELL since 2005
midrange in other areas. Holdridge states, “D.C. goes down as does the nation: under 20% of women playwrights and directors are represented in the city’s theatrical programming.” Abromatis says, “It’s harder for women and people of color to get work as directors without being slotted into doing ‘women’s shows’ or ‘black shows.’” Gardner notes, “The idea of gender parity didn’t even occur to me until I was hired for a show because someone was looking for a ‘woman’ director.” In terms of impact, the directors had divergent experiences but all saw room for improvement. A follow-up series on Women Artistic Directors was scheduled to appear on Lawton’s blog in December 2012. The Women Directors of D.C. series may be found at http://www.jacquelinelawton.com
that the actors and the designers want to do, and try to push our audiences into an area they traditionally wouldn’t attend. There are a lot of people that travel to Denver to see theatre, so there’s a community of really savvy theatregoers, and then there are people that can’t travel that far to see theatre, so, really, our quality has to be topnotch to cross the whole spectrum of our patrons.” This balance has created a strong sense of community in the small town of Crawford and surrounding areas. “It’s such a community event. The people from all different towns come to the theatre. It’s fun to see them meeting each other; it really is truly a ‘I’ll see you at the theatre’ kind of community.” When a patron approached him before a show and asked if next year he would continue to program the repertory so that all of the shows could be seen in four or five days, Ossowski realized that some people were planning their vacations at Fort Robinson around the Playhouse season. “We were doing triples on some Saturdays, and there were people seeing all three shows.” The community warmly embraces the actors, designers, and musicians, and often returns for more than WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
one season. “The local newspaper actually prints our program; it goes on newsstands in all the surrounding towns,” Ossowski says. “It’s also a summer tourist handout, and all the people at the Fort have their bios and pictures in this, so they step into the post office, or into the hardware store, and people call them by name. It’s really a welcoming community, and they’re so happy to have us here. It really makes it worth our while.”
Another challenge is a lack of space—the Playhouse only seats 162. “When I started, they were doing much smaller shows. They were not doing musicals, and I really wanted to because I thought that was what the community would go for. How do I do these big musicals on such a small stage?” Inspired by the Donmar Warehouse Production of Parade, Ossowski thought, “I’m going to see if I can make these big musicals work with less scenery, with fewer actors, and it has worked beautifully. We’re producing big shows, and our casts are always under 20 actors. The people love it.” In terms of facilities, Ossowski says, “The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission provides us this venue with air conditioning as well as our utilities, along with three houses on the state park. We couldn’t do without that. I had 30 employees last year, and I think
three were local. We were lucky last year to find two houses that we could rent in town.” Ossowski cites funding as the final challenge. While the Playhouse does receive support from the Nebraska Arts Council, and has received funding in the past from various foundations, Ossowski says, “There just aren’t a lot of foundations that cover our area. Some cover the eastern half of Nebraska because of Lincoln and Omaha where the majority of the theatres are. But that’s eight hours away from us and limits what these foundations can do for us.” To combat this, the Playhouse has supplemented limited foundation funding with generous sponsorship from local businesses and corporations, and their support has increased in recent years.
Alaska | Colorado | Idaho | Montana | Oregon | Utah | Washington | Wyoming NW | Members = 75 Associates = 23
NW Regional Rep and Seattle Children’s Theatre Artisitc Director LINDA HARTZELL joined SDC’s Board in 2009 as the first Board Member with deep roots in children’s theatre. This issue’s Northwest report focuses on director Jane Unger’s transition into freelance directing within her region.
familiar worlds Director Jane Unger, founder and former Artistic Director of Profile Theatre Project in Portland, OR, has left her company and entered the world of freelance directing. Profile Theatre Project’s mission is to celebrate the playwright, and, says Unger, “Our relationships with our playwrights have been just great. They love coming to work here, and the talent that Profile has attracted locally is also very high.” Profile celebrated the 15thanniversary season, Unger’s last as AD, by highlighting the playwrights they’d produced in the previous 14 seasons, including Terrence McNally, Edward Albee, Romulus Linney, and Lanford Wilson. After her first season at Profile, Unger’s older daughter asked her how long she thought she’d do this. At the time, Unger, who had not really thought about it, replied, “Oh, maybe five years.” Fifteen years later, Unger looks back on the journey and the adventure ahead. Unger’s transition from artistic director to freelance director began when “the idea entered my realm of possibilities,” something that would have been “outrageous” to her just a few years before. As she spoke with
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her staff and Profile’s board, she began living with the idea more fully, and she decided to take the leap. Next, Unger undertook the busiest year of programming in Profile’s history. Producing 14 plays by 14 writers while juggling the search for a new artistic director took her down many unexpected roads. In addition to managing the season, the search took Unger across the country to see the work of prospective candidates—and ended with the hiring of Adriana Baer. Baer, originally from the Bay Area, was Associate Artistic Director of the Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco during their 2004-2007 seasons. As a founder, Unger felt her transition away from the role of AD was more personal, more bittersweet and difficult, perhaps, than for those who leave an institution they have worked with but not founded. “Let’s face it, this is my third child. I’ve made that comparison, other people have made that comparison, but it’s really true, and so now here I am with empty nest syndrome.” She says that having experienced her two daughters growing up and leaving home and “the process of letting go and letting them have their lives and finding that new balance” was good preparation for leaving Profile. “Adriana may do things differently, will do things differently. Trusting that that is a good
thing is important, because it’s in her hands now. It’s hers to shape differently. I think that was highlighted when I was hired to direct a recent production of ‘Master Harold’…and the Boys; it really required some conscious thinking and reminding myself that that’s not my job anymore. Some of the designers had the same experience, because they were so used to working with me and coming to me for approval, be it budget or whatever, and I had to say, ‘No. Talk to Adriana about that.’” Unger’s last production as artistic director was Fifth of July, a piece that spoke to her year of transition. “It’s so much about idealism and lost idealism and rediscovering or recreating idealism in your life and passion for that. In thinking about what’s next, in relation to Fifth of July, for each of those characters what’s next is accepting some of the cold, hard realities of the world and carrying on. For me, it’s more about finding my own independence and standing on my own rather than as part of a group, and I’m doing that right now but with a great amount of support and much greater wisdom for what I’ve been through.”
EDWARD ALBEE since 1974 | ADRIANA BAER since 2011 | LINDA HARTZELL since 2000 | ROMULUS LINNEY d.2011
Arizona | California | Hawaii | Nevada New Mexico SW | Members = 343 Associates = 81
RICK LOMBARDO, Artistic Director at San Jose Repertory Theatre, became SDC’s Southwest Regional Rep in 2011. In his tenure as Regional Rep he has already traveled up and down the California coast and welcomes the chance to get to know the full Membership in the Southwest. For this issue, director Daniel Banks discusses his work with the communities of the Southwest.
combining culture + community What is DNAWORKS? DNAWORKS is an arts service organization in New Mexico dedicated to furthering artistic expression and dialogue, focusing on issues of identity, culture, class, and heritage. I cofounded DNAWorks co-founded it in 2006 with Adam McKinney What led you to found DNAWORKS? When Adam and I met, our first conversation was about identities that we saw represented and identities that we didn’t see represented. Given each of our experiences and individual heritages, or mixture of heritages, we really didn’t see a lot of theatre in which we felt represented—people who didn’t fit neatly into clearly defined boxes. We knew from our work in the field that there were a lot of other people who felt the same way, both artists and audience members. Founding DNAWORKS was an attempt to tell these stories with a certain level of complexity and to use art to create opportunities for dialogue about these issues. What are the actual processes or methods you use? It really changes according to each community we work with, because we want to tap into whatever already exists in terms of strengths and philosophies within that particular community. A devised methodology tends to really work best, because that is porous enough to allow for these various communities’ strengths to be brought into the room and to flourish. Are there examples of independent projects being created by the community once you have finished working with them? Yes. In just about every site we’ve been, there has been something that has bubbled up from the community. I think it was the confluence of what the community did while we were there that created the excitement and courage to step up and create something on their own.
The best and easiest example is the Hip Hop Theatre Initiative, which is sponsored by DNAWORKS. In every single venue that the Hip Hop Theatre Initiative gave workshops, spoke, and spent time, a project or organization grew; some are still in existence and flourishing. I’m very proud of this. I have always felt in leading or teaching or facilitating that it is best eventually for participants to take things into their own hands, a kind of “planned obsolescence.” How do you measure the success of your work? One of our absolute measures in knowing we have brought value or contributed something to the community is the quality of dialogue afterwards. For example, when we walk out of the theatre an hour after a performance and dialogue, and the street is full of people talking about the show. Or when a dialogue session lasts longer than the performance. Or watching audience members sitting next to each other, reaching for each other’s hands as they talk about their own experiences, and explaining how impassioned they feel about humanity—what they have in common with this person they are randomly sitting next to, or how they learned something about a particular group they didn’t know before, or how they found this incredible point of connection, similarity, or synchronicity. Then we have a sense that our time in that community has been useful. We also, of course, use feedback forms, stay in touch with community organizers, and make our email addresses available to community members. What are some of the challenges you face? The biggest challenge small organizations face is needing to do everything on their own and not having a large enough staff to do it. We have great supporters, but in the best of all possible worlds, we would have a funding structure where we had an experienced, paid employee who was the head of each initiative.
ensemble theatre company in New Mexico. I’m drawn to that proposal, and that obviously would require a huge amount of work. Arts funding in NM is fairly limited. What is unique about doing the work you do in New Mexico? There’s a lot of work happening in the region. Adam and I have this inherent desire to bring lots of people to the table. One of the things we find we’re able to do in both his work as chair of the dance department at the New Mexico School of the Arts and with DNAWORKS is bring as many people from as many organizations together and say, “Let’s work together, let’s partner, let’s collaborate, let’s talk about holes we can fill in each other’s portfolio of work.” I’m on the founding board of a new professional performing arts conservatory initiative called PACS (Performing Arts Conservatory of the Southwest). Already DNAWORKS is starting to co-produce events with PACS. We just did our first event together, a reading of Caridad Svich’s play, Spark, about a young woman returning home from war to her small town and her family of three sisters. We did a reading at Teatro Paraguas, and the small theatre was completely packed, which is not always the case with theatre in Santa Fe. After, we had a dialogue with a panel that included a local woman whose daughter is in basic training, the father of one of the actors who’s a Vietnam veteran, one of the actors and her sister whose father and brother are both veterans—and it was one of those moments where time stopped. The audience was listening to the emotional stories the panelists were sharing, and the play and panel together left an impression. People immediately began asking how they could help and were planning to take action. It felt like DNAWORKS had really landed in Santa Fe.
Several colleagues from around the country are pushing for us to reconfigure as an
8 Do you have an idea for a Regional Report? Want to share provocative, groundbreaking theatre happening in your area? Know an artist you believe deserves to be featured? Let us know. E-mail RegionalReports@SDCweb.org. Include your full name, city + state. DANIEL BANKS since 1995
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FROM THE ARCHIVES
Graciela Daniele ADVENTURES IN TRANSITION On October 10, 1993, GRACIELA DANIELE was interviewed by SDC Foundation Board Member FRANK VENTURA at ArtsConnection. In this conversation, Daniele discusses her life in the arts as a series of transitions, remarking on her evolution from ballerina to musical theatre performer to assistant to director/choreographer. F | I’d like to begin by talking about the transition you made from being a well-known Broadway performer to becoming a choreographer. You were able to work with many great directors and choreographers. How were you influenced by them? G | My whole life has been transitions. I was born in Argentina. I left when I was 15 on a tour of South America as a ballet dancer, then I moved to France at 17 or 18. I worked with choreographers in Paris, and I was very happy there. I decided to come to New York in 1963 to study musicals. So transitions, for me, are not really as difficult as I understand they are for many people. I have an idea that I am like a child inside a house. Somebody knocks and asks, “Do you want to play?” And I come out and say, “Okay.” It’s a new adventure. By the time I was performing on Broadway, I had already worked as an assistant to many choreographers, but especially to Michael Bennett. I was his assistant for four years. That’s when my whole view of the theatre changed, in the sense that I found the creativity behind the scenes so much more interesting than the performing side of it. He opened my mind to incredible internal worlds. When I started choreographing, it was a natural progression. It wasn’t because I was getting too old to perform, although I was already 35. It was because there was a whole world out there that I wanted to travel, just like I wanted to leave my own country and go to Europe, and then leave Europe and come to America. Same thing happened in the theatre. I had an enormous amount of help from Michael, from Bob Fosse, from Alan Johnson, from a lot of choreographers I had worked with. F | Where’d you get your first job as a choreographer? G | Oh god, I can’t remember. One of the first ones was when Frank Dunlop did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which was one of the first productions of Joseph in America. He asked me to choreograph, and I did. But I think the main reason I started working so fast was the Milliken Show. That was a huge textile industrial show
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that happened every spring at the Waldorf Astoria. It hired 30 or 40 of the most extraordinary dancers in New York, and it had the greatest directors and choreographers. The first one I did was with Michael—he choreographed and Bob Moore directed. So I did two Milliken Shows as the assistant to Michael; then Alan Johnson came in, and I started assisting him. By the time Alan left, they asked me to choreograph. I was petrified. Twelve production numbers and all these stars—my god, the stars! They were incredible: Ginger Rogers, Donald O’Connor, Ann Miller, Gwen Verdon, Tommy Tune. Bobby Fosse gave me great advice. He said, “Don’t worry about the stars too much, just do your work. Work with the dancers; they’ll help you. Then leave the center open.” That was a great thing to say. It was more than a choreographic idea, it was a directorial concept that he was giving me. He was saying: use the best of each person. Don’t try to impose yourself on a particular star. Work with them. Present an environment where they’re going to feel comfortable, and let them come up with the things that suit them best. That taught me a lot. Now when I direct, I use a lot of the actor. I remember, “Just leave the center open.” The extraordinary thing about the Milliken Show is that everybody went to see it—producers and directors—so it was a great showcase for performers, dancers, and choreographers. From there I did a lot. The first thing that I did on Broadway was A History of the American Film, which is a wonderful, wonderful musical. Chris Durang wrote the book; it is more of a play with choreography. I had a wonderful time doing it. F | How did you make the transition from choreographer to director, and why? G | The why I think is important. I had been choreographing for quite a few years, and it came to a point—again, I guess—where I needed new roads. I always choreograph in two worlds: I do musical theatre, and I also do dance, concert, ballet. I felt that in musical theatre, even though I was having a wonderful time, and I was being rather successful, there was a part of me that was not being used completely. I felt that I was getting into a rut, or perhaps worse—that the pieces offered to
me were not allowing me to do what I wanted to do. I was getting a little depressed about it. I think it was just that I was changing; I am changing, even as we speak. I find that the musical on Broadway is not something that I relate to anymore. F | What do you relate to? G | Well, that became clearer to me when Max Ferra from INTAR, which is an Hispanic organization, said to me, “What would you like to do?” For the first time in my life somebody asked me, “If you had your choice of a project, what would it be?” One thing was for sure; I wanted to do something about my country, something about my roots. I went to my roots, because it’s what I know best. I wanted to do something with the music of Astor Piazzolla, and because of Piazzolla, I wanted to do something based on Jorge Luis Borges’s writings. Then I just did it. The result was Tango Apasionado. I decided I didn’t need a director, because a director at that point was not going to understand what I was trying to do, which was a form of dance theatre. It was a matter of having the courage to go ahead and do it. I didn’t expect to become a director out of it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that I am a director. In every piece I do, I am learning the process of direction. You learn from each experience. Yes, there are forms and rituals that you have to go through, but it is amazing how you learn.
said, “Why don’t you just read some stuff?” So I reread La Ronde, and, of course, I felt that it had to be a musical. This came back to me so strongly that I went to Ira Weitzman, head of the musical department at Lincoln Center, and he said, “You know, I think I know the person for you.” He introduced me to Michael John LaChiusa, a talented young writer/composer. We started meeting, and exchanging ideas. We worked that way for about eight months. We had two or three scenes completed when all of a sudden I got the Pew Charitable Trust grant as resident director at Lincoln Center. That allowed us to go on to a workshop and into production. F | What is the most important element in your creative process? G | Like most directors, I like to have my own team; there’s something very familiar and comfortable about it. You have to work with people who speak your language. I base a lot on meetings, conversations, and my instincts. It doesn’t have to be about talent only. Talent is craft; it should be there. I expect it. But that other thing—one wants to “play” with that other person for a while. Because collaboration on a play is so intense, there has to be a soul that one can laugh with and really share everything to make the ups and downs of the experience worth going through. F | What about casting?
F | What would you say about the challenges facing women directors and choreographers? There aren’t many of them.
G | The same thing.
I became a director because I took it upon myself to create my own dream; I took the bull by the horns and just did it.
G | I know. I don’t see the difference. The problems are exactly the same. Perhaps in the Broadway arena there might be more problems, because it is a much more male-dominated arena, but I don’t think there is any problem at all for women in regional theatre or any other nonprofit organizations. It’s curious that there are not more women directors, since there are many women choreographers. It has always been a feminine craft. Why haven’t more women made the adjustment to directing? Perhaps the reason why I became a director was because I took it upon myself to create my own dream; I took the bull by the horns and just did it. Maybe that’s what women have to do—just go ahead and do their own projects, and show to themselves and to the rest of the world that they can do it. Because I’m sure they can. F | Let’s talk about creating new works. How do you go about it? Where do you get your ideas? Once you have an idea, where do you go with it? G | Even before I knew I was a choreographer, I had ideas. I would read a book, and I would say to myself, this could make a great ballet, or this could be a wonderful musical, or this would be a great chamber opera, and I just left them in the back of my mind. When the opportunity came to create new things, I went back to these ideas. For example, we start rehearsals next week at Lincoln Center for Hello Again. It’s based on a work by Arthur Schniztler, La Ronde. When I read that play in France, I must have been 20 years old. I thought it was a ballet. Time went by, and a year ago, Mark Lamos, Artistic Director of the Hartford Stage Company, called me to direct something. He wanted me to direct a play, which I was very nervous about. He insisted, and
F | What is your vision or your dream for the theatre, for musicals on Broadway, in the next decade?
G | I should answer one or the other, because there are places in the theatre, besides Broadway, for musicals. I know they’re very costly. I know that regional theatres cannot afford them. But there are an enormous number of young authors out there, and wonderful young directors, and choreographers, who can create the new musicals of the next decade. So the type of musical that is successful on Broadway doesn’t necessarily have to be the only musical in America. We can create our own musicals, and that’s what my dream is—that there will be a voice for all these young people out there waiting, screaming outside the door, trying to get in. F | What do you feel about the responsibility—if there is one—of directors and choreographers to their communities and to the world at large? G | I feel that we can bring the mirror to the community by our work, and by choosing works that affect the thinking and the feelings of the community. I’m not very good at functioning politically within the community. But I try to work a lot, and I think that that’s how we are part of the world, by our work.
To hear the entire interview on podcast, visit SDCF’s Masters of the Stage series at American Theatre Wing. A collaboration with ATW, Masters of the Stage offers free downloadable podcast recordings of SDCF events. Since 2008, more than 250,000 programs have been downloaded. New programs are added twice monthly. Please visit www.americantheatrewing.org/sdcfmasters
MICHAEL BENNETT d.1987 | GRACIELA DANIELE since 1976 | FRANK DUNLOP since 1995 | BOB FOSSE d.1987 | ALAN JOHNSON since 1973 MARK LAMOS since 1986 | BOB MOORE d.1984 | TOMMY TUNE since 1969 | FRANK VENTURA since 1992
WINTER 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
THE SOCIETY PAGES | SDC Members @ work + play
SDC’s Annual Membership Meeting Members at the 2012 Annual Membership Meeting on December 5, 2012, in New York City’s Snapple Center ABOVE
LORNA LITTLEWAY, HOPE CLARKE + SUE LAWLESS, recipient of the 2012 President’s Award for her extraordinary Board service RIGHT
2012 Callaway Award Nominees BELOW JOHN
TIFFANY, KURT STAMM, RACHEL DICKSTEIN, JENN THOMPSON + CHARLOTTE MOORE at the Callaway Awards event at SDC’s office in New York
Enjoying the Callaways DANIEL SULLIVAN + Executive Board Member MARCIA MILGROM DODGE TOP RIGHT
Callaway Committee Members JONATHAN CERULLO + BYRON EASLEY BOTTOM RIGHT
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LA Ovation Awards Member MICHAEL MATTHEWS accepts an Ovation Award for Best Director of a Musical, presented by 2012 Fichandler Recipient BILL RAUCH + Executive Director LAURA PENN LEFT
In 1967, two years after founding the American Conservatory Theater in Pittsburgh,
BILL BALL took his project to San Francisco, where American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)
flourished out of the steadfast principles of its eccentric creator. Ball’s chief conviction was maintaining a positive onstage environment where director/actor barriers could be smashed and where thespians could explore the craft, reaching beyond convention to feel the electricity of a character’s emotional charge. Though considered unorthodox by many of his peers, Ball clung to his convictions, leaving an indelible legacy. 1931—1991
“An actor is a hero.
All acting is praiseworthy if for no other reason than that the actor has the courage to walk from the wings to the center of the stage. For his entrance alone he should be praised.”
HOPE CLARKE since 1990 | JONATHAN CERULLO since 1994 | RACHEL DICKSTEIN since 2010 MARCIA MILGROM DODGE since 1979 | BYRON EASLEY since 2003 | SUE LAWLESS since 1977 | LORNA LITTLEWAY since 1988 | MICHAEL MATTHEWS since 2010 CHARLOTTE MOORE since 2004 | KURT STAMM since 2000 | JOHN TIFFANY since 2011 | JENN THOMPSON since 2010
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A process-based quarterly celebrating the crafts of stage direction + choreography