Category Archives: Uncategorized

SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS: “MOST OF THIS IS NONSENSE, MOST OF THIS IS A LIE.” ·

(Miranda Sawyer’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/26; via Pam Green.)  

For anyone who looks toward their later years with trepidation, Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Tony, please”) is a proper tonic. He is 79, and happier than he has ever been. This is due to a mixture of things: his relationship with his wife of 15 years, Stella, who has encouraged him to keep fit, and to branch out into painting and classical composition; the calming of his inner fire, of which more later; and his work.

Hopkins loves to work. Much of his self-esteem and vigour comes from acting – “Oh, yes, work has kept me going. Work has given me my energy” – and he is in no way contemplating slowing down. You can feel a quicksilver energy about him, a restlessness. Every so often, I think he’s going to stop the interview and take flight, but actually he’s enjoying himself and keeps saying, “Ask me more! This is great!”

We meet in Rome, where he is making a Netflix film about the relationship between the last pope (Benedict) and the current one (Francis). Hopkins is playing Benedict, Jonathan Pryce is Francis. He is enjoying this – “We’re filming in the Sistine Chapel tomorrow!” – and we are both relishing the lovely view across the city from the penthouse suite in the hotel where he’s staying. Still, he declares that the film we are here to talk about, the BBC’s King Lear, filmed in England and directed by Richard Eyre, is the piece of work that has made him truly happy. “I felt, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I can do this sort of work. I didn’t walk away. And it’s so invigorating, because I know I can do it, and I’ve got my sense of humour, my humility, and nothing’s been destroyed.”

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Photo: The Guardian

METROPOLITAN DIARY: A SHARK, 60 YEARS LATER ·

(Ronnie Lee’s letter appeared in The New York Time, 5/14; via Pam Green.)

Dear Diary:

It has been just over 60 years since “West Side Story” opened on Broadway with me as one of the Sharks. I was 19 when rehearsals began.

I had already worked for Jerome Robbins in the original Broadway productions of “The King and I” (as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn) and “Peter Pan.” Working on “West Side Story” was the best of times and the worst of times — the most challenging choreography and, emotionally, the most ego-deflating, at the hands and tongue of that master torturer, Jerry Robbins.

Photo: Times Square Chronicles; Theater Pizzazz (Carol Lawrence and Ronnie Lee)

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TOM MURPHY, REST IN PEACE (1935-2018) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 5/16.)

Murphy gave the Irish canon a series of masterpieces. Peter Crawley assesses his drama

In 2006, during a public interview, Tom Murphy enumerated the three most common questions asked of a playwright: How do you write a play? What’s your play about? Where did you get the idea?

In his meticulous manner of speaking, lending unhurried emphasis to each word, he chose to answer the list in reverse.

“Where did you get the idea?” he began. “I think you might as well say, ‘Somewhere between heaven and Woolworths.’ Which is quite true. What’s the play about? I’d say a reasonable answer is to say, ‘My life.’ It’s not just an autobiographical thing, but it’s how I would apprehend life and in the course of creating a play to transcend that self and move it into art.”

He turned again to the first question – How do you write a play? – and answered, without a trace of flippancy, “I don’t know.”

Over the course of his long and distinguished career, one that gave the Irish canon a series of masterpieces, Murphy found a different answer to the question each time. “The most distinctive, the most restless, the most obsessive imagination at work in the Irish theatre today is Tom Murphy’s,” said Brian Friel, in 1980, before Murphy’s career had reached its midpoint, and the achievements of these two distinctly different artists became comparable.

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Photo: Irish Times

ST LAZARE/BECKETT: ‘HERE ALL NIGHT’ (SV PICK, IE)  ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 4/17.)

“I’ll fix their gibberish for them,” says the speaker of Beckett’s Unnamable, in a defiant mood, even as his mind is slowly dissolving into nothing. “I never understood a word of it in any case…”

The reader of Beckett’s prose works will know something of the feeling, alternately enthused, amused, bewildered and worn into submission by the onslaught of absurdist verbiage. Here All Night, Gare St Lazare’s interdisciplinary bricolage of prose, music, installation art and performance, decides instead that the words are neither gibberish nor fixed; finding in their collaboration the permission to jam.

To some extent you can read the results – fractured and spliced, ascetic and experimental – as Modernism: The Opera. The centrepiece on a bare dark stage is a sculptural installation by the artist Brian O’Doherty, in which a petrified body is suspended, supine, mid air, like someone laid to rest in a display case. That this artwork has been shucked from its original context is more methodology than sin: the production is all about reappropriation.

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SIR BEN KINGSLEY, EARLE HYMAN, LIEV SCHREIBER, JAMES EARL JONES, STACY KEACH, ESTELLE PARSONS, AND OTHERS TALK ABOUT SHAKESPEARE ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

How Shakespeare Changed My Life

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 95

Hear Sir Ben Kingsley, Earle Hyman, Liev Schreiber, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, Estelle Parsons, and others open up about their experiences with Shakespeare’s plays. Actor/director Melinda Hall interviewed these actors (and others), as well as writers, directors, linguists, and even a Holocaust survivor for her web-video series How Shakespeare Changed My Life. On this podcast episode, Melinda talks about the origin of the series, what she’s learned from it, and where it’s headed. She is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

AT FIRST PERFORMANCE OF ‘MY FAIR LADY,’ THE DRAMA WAS OFFSTAGE ·

 

 

(Charles Rizzo’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/13; via Pam Greedn.)

NEW HAVEN — The snow was coming down. The turntables didn’t turn. The star refused to perform. The cast was dismissed, thinking that that night’s show would not go on.

Yet “My Fair Lady” opened improbably, triumphantly, to its first paying audience on that Saturday, Feb. 4, 1956, at the Shubert Theater here, making the night the stuff of theater legend.

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ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON TALKS WITH TANIA FISHER: 40 YEARS OF THE SIMON STUDIO (Part 2) ·

Tania Fisher interviews Roger Hendricks Simon

You have an impressive list of celebrity students, or those that you’ve directed–Do you experience any major differences or difficulties working with acting students who might be new to the industry?

The difference is how to integrate them into the company.  Working with a big name you deal with what they offer you–they might want to be just a regular name in the cast. Others want to be treated as special.  You have to be aware of who you’re working with and be able to deal with them accordingly.

When I worked on Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street 2” as Bernie Jacobs, I was sitting at the same table as Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Shia LaBeouf, and Frank Langella.  We all sat around a table reading and working on the material, and we were all equal.  All they wanted from me was for me to do my job and all I wanted from them was for them to do their jobs.  Oliver (Stone) would give notes; we’d read it again.  The only difference between that project and doing the same work on an off-Broadway production was the tray of Nova Scotia salmon!  Really good actors when they’re working–that’s what they do.

The kid that’s new doesn’t have training or experience–and is working with those that do–is at a disadvantage unless he understands that he can learn from them.  He can get in there and be at the table with them.  It’s more than just having talent.  That’s why you have to train and gain experience.  Someone who’s just talented and not experienced is at a disadvantage–they have to be confident and look like they belong there at that table, and try not to look green.

There’s that old saying “Those that can, do, those that can’t, teach.”  But you seem to be constantly doing both; acting and directing in movies and plays. Where do you find the energy for all of this?

I hated that expression and that was always my fear because I always had a passion for teaching.

But I also felt it was totally unfair to great teachers, even those who were not practitioners, because there are some teachers who are not practitioners.  I just preferred those who were working at the same time.

When I come in to the Studio I’m excited to teach what I did that week—regarding my experience as a director, what I professionally experienced that week. I’m eager to share it and that to me is exciting.  If I was a student, I would want my teacher to come and share with me his experience of what he just got off the set doing.

My teaching reminds me how to do what I’m doing, and it’s keeping me fresh.  The ideas that I’m coming up with, as a teacher and sharing with my students, I’m also sharing with myself—I’m reminding myself that’s what I need to do in the other work that I’m currently involved with.  I learn a lot from my students, too, and from the directors and writers in the studio.  They’re giving me things I can use as a teacher, as well as work with professionally.

I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on one of your classes and I was overwhelmed by the real feeling of respect and genuine support your students have for each other.  How do you manage to manifest that kind of comradery in such a competitive and ego-driven field?

I really work hard at that.  I do know how it happens.  It happens through hard work to try and make it personal with everybody there, and that’s very exhausting, but it’s a positive exhausting, although you have to like it.  Everybody there is actually special.

I happen to think that what we do is very important. I also think, OK, we don’t save lives, doctors save lives, but someone once said to me we do.  If you go to the theater or the movies and come out with an exhilarating feeling, you’re saving a life.  It’s what we do.  It’s what we do as actors and writers.  What we do is a healing thing: mentally, physically, and spiritually and therapeutically.  The whole act of doing what you love:  your joy, enlightening people–that’s special.  You are blessed that you have the talent to do it and thankful that you have the opportunity to do it, but on the other hand, it’s not nuclear science, it’s not medicine.  So part of the atmosphere is it has to be fun, joyous.  It has to be enjoyable and always to be full of pain or suffering.

In terms of the atmosphere, it’s hard work to get a balance–sometimes there’s too much fun going on!  You need to be relaxed to work, and it’s important to create a relaxed atmosphere, but not too relaxed, so people are  able to work.

What do you want your students to get out of your classes?

A respect for the kind of work that goes into what we do. A love of the work that we do.  An excitement, I guess, of what we can potentially do.  An awareness that much of what we do is not always fun–it’s not always even going to be good.  Usually, it’s more likely that it’s not going to be that good because a lot of people expect a great life for actors and envisage it’s all about having fun and parties, and I want people to come out of the studio realizing it’s hard work and frustrating at times; it’s not always going to be smooth. It’s going to be rocky, uneven–it’s going to have some difficult moments.

I want them to come away with respect–just like everything else, any work is not always going to be fun, even if you have a passion for it.  It’s not always going to be glamorous; very few people will end up making a real living from it, so you have to come away just loving the process.  In the end, if you don’t love the process of it, you’ll quit–because the rewards often don’t come.  You have to love it or you’ll be disillusioned.  I like my students to appreciate a realistic point of view–it’s not just an art, it’s a business.  It’s mostly a craft, and it’s mostly a business and very little of that pertains to true art.  The real art is the icing on the cake.

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.  Photos courtesy of the Simon Studio and Tania Fisher.

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ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON TALKS WITH TANIA FISHER: 40 YEARS OF THE SIMON STUDIO ·

Tania Fisher interviews Roger Hendricks Simon

At first glance, the man of no impressive stature seems like any other person on the street.  Simply dressed, in practical and conservative clothing, he strolls into the room seemingly unaware of his surroundings–you might even think he doesn’t remember why he’s here.  Then, when you talk to him face to face–and begin listening to his deep, husky voice, noticing the twinkle in his eyes (which can also bore through you)–you can’t help noticing that when he talks about anything remotely related to the film or theater industry that what he says isn’t ordinary at all.

A graduate and founding member of Robert Brustein’s Yale Repertory Company, Roger Hendricks Simon celebrates his 40th year of The Simon Studio; a renowned and highly regarded New York City acting studio. Roger has taught and directed the likes of John Travolta, Debra Jo Rupp, John Lithgow, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, and John Woods to name but a few.  Elected to “Notable Names in American Theater” Roger has directed across the globe and has an inexhaustible list of impressive credits.

Director Oliver Stone refers to Roger as “that great actor and acting teacher” as Roger also keeps busy as a talented actor who has had roles in such films as Wall Street 2 opposite Michael Douglas.

Australian-born actress/writer Tania Fisher sits down with Roger to find out what it takes to have 40 years of success.

What led you to create The Simon Studio and teach acting?

I always enjoyed the idea of teaching, ever since I was very young.  I was always interested in it as part of my work, too–to do more than direct, or teach, or act.  When I was studying at Yale Drama School, the best teachers, for me, were the ones who were currently working professionally and passing on information about what they were doing that week. I felt I was getting the main line, rather than listening to someone who had done this many years ago.  I gravitated to people who are doing the work now.  What drove me to teaching was the desire first, the love of teaching, but I only wanted to do it if I was also a practitioner.

There’s something to be said for “when you get The Simon Studio you get Roger Simon”–can you expand on that?

Hopefully, you always want to get to the source when you go anywhere. If you go to Princeton, in order to study with Professor X and he or she isn’t there, then you’ve been cheated; you’re getting learning second hand.  I’ve always felt that if you wanted to study Meisner, you should have studied with him–if not, then you’re just getting an interpretation, you’re not getting the real thing. I think that’s true of any teaching method.  It’s a relationship–it’s a personal thing between a teacher and a student.  The instructor shouldn’t be walking in and teaching and walking out of a classroom.   When you are studying with someone, you are dealing with a personality, not just theory.  If someone tried to teach the way I teach they would have to capture my personality as well; it wouldn’t be enough to just talk about what I taught. Teaching is about developing people; you’re not just developing professionals, you’re developing human beings.  That is just as important as the information you give, otherwise you may as well assign a text book and everyone reads the book and that’s it.  And that’s the problem with online courses; you read the paper, take the test, and it’s over.  Teaching is a very personal thing and no one else can really teach the way I teach.  It would be someone’s interpretation of what I said, and it’s not coming through my own personality.

You welcome writers and directors as well as actors into your class mix.  Can you explain why you choose to do this?

A performance is a collaboration of writers, directors, producers, and designers working together with a common language to produce something. Therefore, if that’s the case, why should most training be segregating?  If making art is collaborative, why not make the training collaborative?

With writers, it benefits both the writer and the actor to work together–actors learn how to read, do cold readings with new material that becomes part of actor training, and the writer gets to see and hear his work living on stage.  The writer is alive and here now and you’re creating beneficial relationships with people.

It’s also good for the actors to know that directors are in a room, so that that they can be around them–directors are often looking for talent for their own projects and can also give a different perspective on the actors’ work.  It’s valuable to have input from directors in class so that actors can hear different interpretations and directors who can work on a scene with them.

The directors learn from actors how to talk to them–they’re learning from me regarding how to talk to actors, and how eventually they’ll have to do that, so why not learn how to do that in the class?

It’s also important that the actor think about the other side of the fence when it comes to the work.

The studio becomes a place where projects can be developed and many are cast using my attending students.

For example, the work we did with the National Public Radio and the national endowment we received, went to our own people who were studying with us.  At times the class is like a little ensemble company.  A large part of the concept for the class actually came about from my directing in London at The Royal Court Theater.  There I came into contact with the BBC and impressed them with a radio drama, radio being an important part of their theater culture.

As a Director of Shakespeare Festivals and regional theaters I looked for ways to keep that radio theater alive and, in the 1990s, there was the NPR playhouse in the U.S., and there were a number of us who produced old-fashioned dramas.  Because my studio had writers, it was only natural that I looked to my students to develop plays in class.  Then I would take them and perform them as live theater at the Samuel French One Act Festival where we had quite a few winners.

In New York we’d go right into the WBAI radio station and record and present plays live on the air.  We didn’t have to rehearse, because we’d already been doing them as live theater shows.  We did a whole series of radio dramas.  Then, all of a sudden, NPR got interested in what we were doing, and they picked up a number of these live dramas that were done as new plays with no celebrities–they were just students in our class.  This gave my students terrific voice training.  These were young no-name writers who got national exposure on national public radio as part of The Simon Studio Presents, which went on to broadcast on the Time Warner channel and became a TV show that included interviews on the arts and so on.

There are an array of impressive guests that sporadically attend The Simon Studio classes:  agents, casting directors, producers, and so on.  What do you think the benefit is to your students in doing this?

The business has changed over the last 40 years–it’s all celebrity motivated now and if you pay out money you can get a night with so and so. It’s something I’m a little wary of and have always been careful about doing but, at the same time, I can see that’s how the times are now.

But I’ve always hated that you should have to pay for a showcase to be able to meet current industry people.  You shouldn’t have to pay to meet people–it was not like that when I started, and I really resent that it’s become that way, but I’ve come to realize that this is how things are–and casting agents and agents do make this part of their income.

It’s important that the actors get exposure, but it also needs to be a good teaching experience for them–and an opportunity to get the feedback from current relevant industry players.

The people I choose to come to my classes are required to give valuable and relevant feedback.  I feel if my students pay for the class they should get the experience–it’s not about getting cast or getting a job.

Roger Hendricks Simon’s interview with Tania Fisher will continue next week.

Visit the Simon Studio 

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

Read Part 1 of an article on Simon 

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Photos, courtesy of The Simon Studio and Tania Fisher–from top, Roger Hendricks Simon; Abby Simon, John Lithgow, Roger Simon; Tania Fisher. All rights reserved.   

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: THE FIRST TIME A WHITE PERSON WROTE ‘LOVE’ TO ME ·

(Anna Deavere Smith’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/13; via Pam Green.)

In 1961, there was a widely held theory among educated Baltimore Negroes, many of whom, like my mother, were teachers or administrators themselves, that if you wanted your children to have a good public school education, you should send them to a school that was predominantly Jewish, because Jews valued learning. And so I was sent not to the brand-new junior high that was built to service Negro students who were in desperate need of a better facility, but to Garrison Junior High in the Forest Park neighborhood, from which gentile whites had fled when the Jewish population moved in. I wasn’t “bused,” but I had to take two buses to get there.

Segregated schools taught you where you did belong. Integrated schools taught, in surgical detail, where you did not belong.

That is what junior high is all about. Sorting. I assessed the following as best as an 11-year old-could: White Christians and Jews stayed apart. My Jewish classmates seemed to divide along lines that privileged assimilation. Two Eastern European girls, one of whom had recently arrived in the United States, played a game in which they threw knives into a circle on the ground. (Today, that would get you handcuffed and perhaps jailed.) They were ostracized. But a newly arrived Algerian Jewish girl was welcomed because she was pretty. We Negro kids divided along class lines: where we went to church, by neighborhood and by our mating habits.

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Photo: the Los Angeles Times

 

TONY KUSHNER, AT PEACE? NOT EXACTLY. BUT CLOSE. ·

(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.”

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Photo: The New York Times