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One of New York City’s most respected and notable acting teachers, Roger Simon, offers Stage Voices’ readers insight into the inner workings of an actor’s technique  


(By Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher)

. . . So, as I say, I always say to my actors at The Simon Studio, here in New York City, “That’s why they pay us the big bucks! Take that needed time and make it happen!”  In our wonderful age of sound bites and the quick fix, we are, unfortunately, influenced by pressures to meet demands, particularly commercial demands and deadlines.  An actor or director has to be very careful not to rush the process by going immediately for results.

I offer a case in point: Between 1968 and ‘70 I had made somewhat of a name for myself as a young American director in London, directing premiers of Off-Broadway playwrights, like Sam Shepard, Jean-Claude van Itallie, and Megan Terry at the Royal Court Theatre and other theatres.  I was casting a production of Carl Sternheim’s expressionistic dark comedy Bloomers (or The Underpants, as it is better known in the U.S., and as it was called in Steve Martin‘s recent clever adaptation).  My production of Bloomers, an English translation, was for the newly built Gardner Arts Center‘s first season in their beautifully designed theatre by Sean Kenny (the brilliant innovator, known for his Oliver! and so many other British and Broadway designs). 

I was looking for the perfect actor to play the central role of Theobald Maske, the overbearing bourgeois husband of the flirty Louise, who accidently drops her panties in front of admiring gents at a public parade.  Naturally, the successful West End actor Alfred Marks came immediately to mind.  Alfred, who had already distinguished himself in London, with numerous 1960s transfers of Neil Simon‘s plays, invited me to meet him and discuss the play at his club on Tottenham Court Road. After trading initial pleasantries at the bar, Alfred looked me right in the eye and simply said, “A homburg!”

“What?” I replied incredulously, trying to be polite.  “A homburg, dear boy.  I see the character in a homburg!” Alfred patted his head, as if to visualize the exact angle that a homburg should be worn on his head and the physical life it would give him.  For a moment I was taken aback, being pretty much used to actors wanting to talk about their potential character’s inner life.  Inner life, indeed!  Alfred’s “homburg” inspiration proved that he understood how important that hat would be to the inner life of his character, not just to what was external.

Alas, I never got to work with Alfred, although we did find a great West End London cast, including: Judy Cornwell, James Grout, Ferdy Mayne, and Jack Shepherd.

Alfred Marks, however, instinctively knew what “plastic values” could do for a character, and he reminded me of that for our production.  I updated the play, from the early 20th century to 1930s Berlin, and used George Grosz cartoons for the visual inspiration.  I even had them all over the commedia, like a painted backdrop.  Alfred’s  “plastic values/ homburg” became my private image for the style of the production, though; a kind of Oliver Hardy touch that seemed just right. I later had further success with that play and production concept, bringing Bloomers to New York and then to the Netherlands. 

So thanks, Alfred, wherever you are, and thanks to the late, great, Nikos Psacharopoulos, my Directing Teacher at Yale School of Drama for introducing me to the “plastic values” concept.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email rhsstudio@gmail.com

Visit the Simon Studio 

(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this article 

Read Part 2 of this article

Photos, courtesy of The Simon Studio, Tania Fisher, public domain,  from Top:  Roger Hendricks Simon;  Jean-Claude van Itallie; Alfred Marks; homburg; Judy Cornwell; Tania Fisher.   


(Charles McGrath’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/7; via Pam Green.)

In characteristic fashion, Tony Kushner is doing too many things at once these days, and he’s late with a lot of them. In one more or less typical stretch last month, he was sorting through 60 boxes of his papers, inhaling dust mites in the process; working on a screenplay for Brad Pitt and finishing another, a new version of “West Side Story,” for Steven Spielberg; debating whether to rewrite his first play, “A Bright Room Called Day”; pondering one that might or might not turn out to be about President Trump; finishing the second act of an opera he is writing with Jeanine Tesori about the death of Eugene O’Neill; and vigilantly attending rehearsals of the National Theater’s revival of “Angels in America,”starring Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane, which has moved from London to Broadway, where it opens March 25 at the Neil Simon Theater.

“It’s too much,” he said, sitting in his office in a subbasement in the West Village. Mr. Kushner, 61, is tall — surely the tallest major American playwright since Arthur Miller — and youthful-looking, and speaks softly but rapidly, as if rushing to keep up with a runaway brain. “But it feels to me like my life works this way,” he went on. “The more time feels open and unconstrained, the less realistic I am, and I start to get distracted by a million stupid things. I’ve always gotten everything I’ve done in a sort of terribly pressured situation that I create for myself, usually because I missed three deadlines and it’s clear that if I miss one more I’ll be fired.”

(Read more

Photo: The New York Times



The Art of Now


Composer Errollyn Wallen meets some of the artists working in places of conflict, violence and oppression around the world. She hears their personal testimonies and explores why art and music, poetry and dramacan sometimes flourish in times and locations of danger and violence.

What use is art in a warzone, and what can these individuals and their work tell artists in more peaceful places about making art that helps us question and communicate?

Cartoonist and free improvisational trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj talks about his work during the 2006 Lebanon war and the problem of exoticising art from warzones. Journalist and poet Bejan Matur describes how living as a Kurd in southeastern Turkey has shaped her work. Actor and educator Ahmed Tobasi explains how Jenin’s Freedom Theatre changed his life, and Mustafa Staiti discusses his work as artistic director of the city’s new Fragments Theatre. Composer Matti Kovler explores the impact of his experiences in the Israeli Defence Forces during the Second Intifada.

Featuring music from Mazen Kerbaj and Richard Scott, The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, AWA, Matti Kovler, Rotem Sherman and Suna Alan.

Image: The Freedom Theatre 

Producer: Michael Umney
A Resonance production for BBC Radio 4.


A Sheffield Theatres, English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre Kingston Co-Production
Translations By Brian Friel
(from the Guardian, 3/15)

A gripping story of the Calais camp. A caper about media greed. A pair of startling dramas from Caryl Churchill. Leading playwrights choose their favourite political plays

David Hare

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson don’t yet have the brawn and brain of Sophie Treadwell or Shakespeare. Nor do they have the acumen of Wallace Shawn, a playwright unsurprised by Donald Trump. But in The Jungle, at the Young Vic, these activists told one of the most important stories of the century.

Why did the camp at Calais have to be destroyed? Why did the governments of Europe’s 750 million inhabitants react with such cruelty and hysteria to the idea of just a million refugees coming to the continent? Do the rich really believe, as matter of long-term policy, that they can live indefinitely in gated communities and keep the poor out? Are they never going to share? How can Theresa May call herself “Christian”? How can anyone still propagate free-market capitalism when they are so opposed to the free movement of people?

Murphy and Robertson have drawn the map for a standoff we know is going to be played out many times over. Whenever you next see the dispossessed abandoned by supposedly civilised governments, whenever you watch well-intentioned volunteers struggle with the problems of trying to help, you’ll say: “Oh, it’s just like The Jungle.” And with Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin directing, the play had welcome artistic significance too. The young audience lent forward, catching an exhilarating whiff of the glory days of British theatre before the cult of style threatened to take its soul away.

(Read more)



Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Julius Caesar, and Jason Robards as Brutus in Stuart Burge’s film Julius Caesar, 1970

(Josephine Quinn’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 3/22.)

The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works: Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War

edited and translated from the Latin by Kurt A. Raaflaub

Pantheon, 793 pp., $50.00

Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Julius Caesar, and Jason Robards as Brutus in Stuart Burge’s film Julius Caesar, 1970

When Julius Caesar was thirty-one years old in 69 BCE, so the story goes, and serving as a junior Roman magistrate in Spain, he once stood lamenting before a statue of Alexander the Great because he had achieved so little at an age by which Alexander had already conquered the world.

He had good reason for concern. Although his recent election as a quaestor—one of the officials responsible for finances—had given him a lifetime seat in the Senate, Roman politics were more of a funnel than a ladder: twenty quaestors who had been elected at thirty years old could compete nine years later for eight praetorships, and then, three years after that, for just two annual consulships. To rise, you needed political friends, name recognition, and, in order to buy elections, a great deal of money.

Caesar was already admired as an orator, but he was best known for his debts, and he was good at making enemies, especially among the powerful conservatives in the Senate. Furthermore, while he had ably fulfilled the standard military duties of a young Roman nobleman, he had attracted attention only for his first assignment overseas at the age of about twenty: a trip to Bithynia in northern Anatolia, where he had become friendly—many said extremely friendly—with its king, Nicomedes. Whether or not the rumors were true, this was the first hint of a lifelong tendency to test the bounds of Rome’s unwritten moral and legal codes.

(Read more)


(Pavel Basinsky’s article appeared in Russia Beyound the Headlines, 3/2.)

While the younger Gorky considered Tolstoy almost a god, the great Leo had a strong interest in the new writer, even on the verge of obsessive jealousy. Musings on the very nature of God became a passionate bone of contention between the two extraordinary writers.

This year, Russia celebrates the 150th birthday of one of its most important 20th century writers, the stormy petrel of the revolution, Maxim Gorky. Russia Beyond publishes a translation of an extract from a new book by Pavel Basinsky “The Passion According to Maxim. Gorky: 9 Days After Death,” which is about the complicated relations between Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. The book will be published this March in Russian by Yelena Shubina publications, AST publishing (link in Russian).


Tolstoy’s first diary entries about Gorky were favorable. “We had a good conversation,” “a true man of the people,” or “I am glad that I like both Gorky and Chekhov, particularly the first one.” But from about the middle of 1903 there is a drastic – and even whimsical – change in Tolstoy’s attitude to Gorky.

“Gorky – there is a misapprehension,” Tolstoy writes on Sept. 3, 1903, adding angrily: “The Germans know Gorky, but they don’t know Polenz.”

But Wilhelm von Polenz (1861-1903), a prominent German writer of the naturalist school, could not compete with Gorky, who by 1903 had become famous in Germany with his play, The Lower Depths, which premiered at Max Reinhardt’s Kleines Theater in Berlin on Jan.10, 1903 under the title, Nachtasyl (Night shelter). It was staged by the well-known director, Richard Vallentin, who himself played Satin, while Reinhardt played Luka. The success of the German version of The Lower Depths was so overwhelming that it had 300 (!) performances in a row, and in the spring of 1905 its 500th performance was celebrated in Berlin.

It is silly and ridiculous to suspect Leo Tolstoy of envy, but there was a certain element of writerlyjealousy in this entry, and it’s not accidental that, while calling Gorky a “misapprehension,” he refers to the Germans. The runaway success of The Lower Depths, not just in Russia but also in Germany, had already reached his ears. Tolstoy had heard The Lower Depths in Crimea read by Gorky himself in manuscript form, and already then thought the play strange and couldn’t understand why it had been written. If the play had not been such a success, Tolstoy would simply have concluded that the young author had made the wrong creative choice. Even before then, he had upbraided Gorky for the fact that his peasants talk “too cleverly,” and that much in his prose was exaggerated and unnatural.

(Read more)

Photos: Russia Beyond the Headlines



(Richard Sandomir’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/2; via Pam Green.)

Harvey Schmidt, whose career as a commercial artist took a long, lucrative and unexpected detour when he teamed with a former college pal to create “The Fantasticks,” the Off Broadway romance that became the world’s longest-running musical, died on Wednesday in Tomball, Tex., near Houston. He was 88.

Rachel Scholl, a niece, said the cause was complications of congestive heart failure. He had no immediate survivors.

A love story about a boy and a girl and their feuding fathers, “The Fantasticks,” with music by Mr. Schmidt and book and lyrics by Tom Jones, opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village and ran for 17,162 performances.

A revival that began in 2006 ran 4,390 more times at the Jerry Orbach Theater in Midtown Manhattan, named for the actor who originated the role of El Gallo, the show’s narrator.

Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Jones became nearly inseparable collaborators on a host of shows for more than 50 years. Mr. Schmidt was the quiet one; Mr. Jones, the more gregarious.

Continue reading the main story

Photo: Getty Images



One of New York City’s most respected and notable acting teachers, ROGER SIMON, offers Stage Voices’ readers insight into the inner workings of an actor’s technique 


By Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher

“Plastic Values”–that’s what Nikos Psacharopoulos, my directing teacher at Yale School of Drama, called all of the things an actor comes into contact with on the stage: the props, costume pieces, sets, sound, and lights–the texture and feel, as well as the shape, color, and smell of those things when contact is made with them.  It’s not just the spoken words–and the relationships with other characters in the scene–but also the relationships with those items on stage that give a performance needed texture and dimension.  This means an actor is giving actual life to what otherwise are inanimate objects–and that life relates to the inner life of a character at the moment of contact.

Just the other day, I went to see a one-woman show:  The actor had talent, having not only written the work herself, but she also composed and sang her own songs.  On the tiny stage, she surrounded herself with one or two chairs and numerous costume changes and set pieces.  The performer then proceeded to play various roles from her life.  Throughout the performance, recorded sound effects were heard, which usually marked the end of one section and the beginning of another.  I watched the actor repeatedly take off her costume pieces and replace them, but nothing seemed to be happening, other than that a new scarf or hat was put on to indicate a new character.  The audience began to realize that we were only waiting for a costume change, rather than watching a character transform in front of our eyes.

The feel of that scarf going on–the smell and smooth, silky texture of it–should have conjured up the essence of a new character.  Then we would have been watching something exciting happening:  a transition that had real life to it–not simply a signal for a pause in the action.  How wonderful it would have been for the viewer to actually “see” and “feel” the actor make a transformation happen—to see Dr. Jekyll become Mr. Hyde!  When there was a taped sound effect–of a gavel banging, to signify the entry of the dominating father, for example–the actor failed to let that emotionally move her.  Her dominated, fearful daughter didn’t physically or emotionally grow, as she changed to the father’s role of judge or when she moved into the next scene. The same was true when the recorded sound of the surf took her from an interior setting to a beach.  Yes, we knew we were now on a beach because we heard it, but how wonderful it would have been to have had her actually visualize that beach, with all its sensuality, for a more fully realized and felt transition.

The actor has to do more than just put on new costume pieces or hear sounds, and so on.  He really has to allow himself to take on the new character during the process of giving “life” to that scarf or sound effect. Otherwise, the audience feels cheated.  And we should feel cheated, because the performance has stopped momentarily:  Actors need to find a character’s life in transition, too–not only before and after a scene change takes place. 

And those transitional moments, if fully realized–through the use of those props and set and costume pieces, lights, sound, and more–can be the most memorable and moving moments of a performance.  It’s often scary for actors to do this, particularly if they’re beginners, because they may feel the need not to be boring and to get on with the words–quickly doing the technical mechanics of putting on the new hat, in order to then become a new character.  But the irony is that if performers don’t take the necessary time to fully invest in allowing the “plastic values” to affect them, they truly will be boring!  Despite fears of an audience’s lack of patience, or the time limit of an audition,  it’s entirely necessary not to rush the process of making things happen.  That’s why people go to the theatre:  to see actors make things “happen.”  Particularly in the rehearsal process, taking the time needed to rehearse a scene or transition fully is essential, even if tightening occurs later. The audience will feel the captured life, because the actor has found it in the rehearsal process. If actors fail to be comprehensive, audiences might as well read the play in the library and try to visualize characters’ lives themselves.

So, I always say to my actors at The Simon Studio, here in New York City, “That’s why they pay us the big bucks! Take that needed time and make it happen!”  In our wonderful age of sound bites and the quick fix, we are, unfortunately, influenced by pressures to meet demands, particularly commercial demands and deadlines.  An actor or director has to be very careful not to rush the process by going immediately for results.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email rhsstudio@gmail.com

Check back with Stage Voices next week to read the second part of Simon’s article.

(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this article 

Read Part 2 of this article

Photographs courtesy of The Simon Studio and Tania Fisher; from top:  Roger Simon,  The Simon Studio, Tania Fisher



(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/8.)

As it is so rarely seen, this early play by Tennessee Williams feels like a major discovery. Williams began it in 1945 and endlessly revised it. Now a young director, Rebecca Frecknall, has given it a complete makeover. Eschewing realism, she adopts the expressionist tactics favoured by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove and palpably builds the production around Patsy Ferran, who confirms her status as one of the most exciting actors on the British stage.

Frecknall, designer Tom Scutt and Angus MacRae, credited with composition, join forces to give the action an unusual setting: a circular pit of sandy earth ringed by nine pianos that the ensemble periodically play to create atmosphere. The text tells us we are in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, between the turn of the 20th century and 1916. But here the focus is on the primal nature of a conflict between spirit and flesh.

Alma, who constantly tells us her name means “soul” in Spanish, is a parson’s daughter and singing teacher whose undeclared love for a neighbouring doctor, John Buchanan, has driven her into a state of neurosis. If Alma represents the soul, then John, both professionally and socially, stands for the body. But after a melodramatic shooting, Williams shows their roles ironically reversed.

(Read more)



(Patricia Cohen’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/28; via Pam Green.)

For the American premiere of “The Low Road,” a satire of unbounded self-interest and pitiless capitalism, the playwright Bruce Norris realized he needed to change the last name of his scurrilous 18th-century protagonist, Jim Trumpett.

What would sound like a heavy-handed jab at the businessman-turned-president from a leftist playwright actually wasn’t. Mr. Norris wrote his sprawling comic fable half a dozen years earlier, before few predicted that Donald J. Trump would one day occupy the White House.

“It’s not a play about him in any way,” Mr. Norris said.

Indeed, to describe Trumpett’s contemporary descendant, the bumptious head of TrumpettBank Global, the 2013 stage directions said: “think Mitt Romney,” the moderate Republican and former presidential nominee who is now running for an open Senate seat in Utah.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times