Hamilton Clancy (producer/director/actor/theatre (producer/director/actor/theatre maker) has been making theatre in and around Manhattan for the last 25 years and is the current/founding artistic director of The Drilling Company where he oversees both Shakespeare in the Parking Lot as well as Bryant Park Shakespeare. Additionally Mr. Clancy is the artistic director of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Ridgefield, CT. Mr. Clancy began working with Wynn Handmann at The American Place Theatre in the early 1990’s and was an original member of the interactive experimental Offerings, also at The American Place Theatre. After working regionally and with several other downtown troupes, Mr. Clancy founded the Drilling Company in 1999. With The Drilling Company Mr. Clancy has commissioned and developed over 350 new short plays, producing 21 projects over the past 15 years, celebrating playwrights of social conscience. Brian Dykstra, P Seth Bauer, Eric Henry Sanders, C. Denby Swanson, Trish Harnetiaux, Will Eno, and Vern Theissen are a few of the outstanding writers Mr. Clancy has had the privilege to commission, produce, and direct. Additionally Mr. Clancy has developed and produced 9 world premieres, including the 2013 NY Times Critic’s Pick, The Norwegians, which was originally produced and developed by Mr. Clancy, and now published by DPS. Mr. Clancy is responsible for FREE Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, in Lower Manhattan, offering full productions of Shakespeare plays in a parking lot on the Lower East Side. Additionally Mr. Clancy is responsible for inaugural and current productions of Bryant Park Shakespeare, and for seven years, oversaw the development of new works at The Drilling Company Theatre for New Plays on 78th Street, in Manhattan. Mr. Clancy has written and received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural affairs, Brad and Melissa Coolidge Foundation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Select Equity Group.
His feature film and television credits include HBO’s Wizard of Lies (2016), Billions (2016), Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015), Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, American Gangster, The Better Angels, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Hamilton can be seen as Kowalski in Orange Is the New Black on Netflix, among many others. He was raised in New Orleans, LA and is the proud father of Joseph and husband to the remarkable Karen Kitz-Clancy.
Artistic Director HAMILTON CLANCY tools through Bob Shuman’s SV interview, as Romeo and Juliet, directed by Lukas Raphael, premieres at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, 7/11 (to play through 7/27).
What does the AD of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot–known for plays performed outside during the hottest days of summer–do during the winter?
For many years we’ve focused on new work during the winter months. Last year, for example, we premiered Gabriel, by C. Denby Swanson. We also, customarily, sponsor new play readings. We have a Bare Bard series, too, in which we gather actors to read Shakespeare plays aloud, without rehearsal. Having developed an accomplished company over some seasons, Bare Bard serves as a winter rejuvenation, which can sometimes be revelatory and inspire our choices for the summer months.
Which came first: Shakespeare in the Parking Lot or the Drilling Company?
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (SitPL) came first. Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was begun by the legendary company Expanded Arts, which coined the term. They ran a very active storefront theatre space on the Lower East Side, for about eight years, in the early ‘90s. When the storefront lost its lease, the founder moved upstate, and it looked like Shakespeare in the Parking Lot would be relegated to the distant memory of Off-Off-Broadway, downtown. But a group of intrepid actors decided they would continue SitPL.
The Drilling Company began in 1999. We began and thrived for many years producing short play projects. In 2000, I was invited to be part of the continuing Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. The Drilling Company’s early and continuing mission was to bring diverse audiences together for a common theatrical event. SitPL perfectly connected to this mission.
We began coproducing SitPL in 2001, and, in 2006, we took over producing it completely, despite a complicated gentrification process transforming the Lower East Side.
Describe the most significant challenge for Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.
In 2012, Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) was approved by the New York City Council, which meant that land was suddenly available for development. SPURA broke am almost fifty-five year stalemate between city government and developers, and a feeding frenzy began, which meant that the parking lot, at Ludlow and Broom Streets–where SitPL had been performing for twenty years–would be no more.
How did you find the Clemente Parking Lot, where the company is currently performing?
We literally spent hours and hours and hours walking around the Lower East Side looking for a parking lot. The only other possibilities were giant school yards and school parking lots. In the first twenty years of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, we always performed in a public parking lot. Accent on public. There were no gates. No locks. (The biggest challenge, honestly, has been the lock on the gate.) All of our other options, since then, have been with institutions who are maintaining private property and, as such, our negotiations are more complicated than with the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT). In 2015, however, we knocked on the door of the Clemente, and they welcomed us into their parking lot.
You also direct plays in Bryant Park. How and when did that begin?
Bryant Park came to see Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. They dug it. They read in The New York Times that DOT was hassling us to “pay” for the parking spaces we were using, when performing. So they wanted to reach out to us and invite us to begin performing Shakespeare at Bryant Park. Specifically, the visionary was a man named Ethan Lercher, who had been with Bryant Park for many years.
Part of the history of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in Central Park deals with confrontations with the city of New York. What has your experience been like, dealing with public authorities in Manhattan?
That answer is part of an ongoing story, because we still don’t have our Delacorte Theatre, and we are searching for our Robert Moses (NYC Parks Commissioner). I can say we’ve had the best of times and the most ridiculous of times. Financial challenges, of course, are ongoing, because the idea that something FREE for the public should also enjoy FREE occupancy cost is anathema. Nevertheless, we have been very fortunate on several occasions when city luminaries, such as Council woman Margaret Chinn and former City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, jumped in to save us when we were imperiled.
At the end of the shows, a hat is passed—does your work need funding or do you prefer things as they are?
Our work needs funding.
Over the years–and currently–it has survived on 90% artist chutzpah, 8% public contribution, and 2% government funding. We have also been tremendously fortunate to add Bank of America to our list of supporters, which sounds as if we have entered some rarefied level of backing. Really, our Bank of America sponsorship comes through Bryant Park Picnics–so we are the happy recipients of their generosity towards Bryant Park.
What has really held Shakespeare in the Parking Lot back, though, is our unwillingness to allow it to be anything else but FREE. Corporate sponsors can be unsure of supporting something in a “Parking Lot”–which may not appear glamorous enough for a theatrical venture in Manhattan.
The professionals, who grace our stage, however, are accomplished in theatre, film, and television, even if Shakespeare in the Parking Lot seems an unlikely arena for Hollywood scouts to prowl for new talent to put in their next indie feature or new Netflix series. That is not how our industry works, and I don’t know if it ever really did.
Our shows are a collective gift to the community. One hundred percent of those who are sure about Shakespeare in the Parking Lot have felt our magical nights of theatre, unfolding in the most ordinary of circumstances, where community, in the most simple of ways, comes together.
Always. Some have suggested we branch out. To me, though, Shakespeare is a rock star who still rocks, whom we’re still catching up with, as a culture. Our business is to breathe life into the plays, some of the great wonders of mankind–but we don’t takes sides in the “Who was Shakespeare?” debate. We leave it to others to fight over what’s controversial on the subject.
What do you find are the advantages of working in a parking lot?
Well, the first advantage is the lowered expectations. People don’t think they will be touched. It gives you the opportunity to make magic with very little.
Secondly, there is a surprising intimacy because the audience is so close. Lastly, there is theatricality, because the actors have to speak out to be heard.
What was your first outdoor production, as an actor?
I was lucky enough to be cast as Orlando, in the Rakka-Thamm (RT) production of As You Like It, at Washington Square Park. Gorilla Rep was an offshoot if RT. They were the early “move-them-around-the-park” FREE Shakespeare. In one scene, I would drop out of a tree and ask for food. One night I was doing that, and before anyone could say the next line, a little girl raced onto the stage, grabbed an apple from the basket in front of us, and offered it to me.
That was 1991–and that’s why theatre is special.
How do you get used to working/rehearsing in a public space?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t think you ever really get used to it.
The challenge is to work on discovery in the early part of the process, so you can use the latter half to stage the play.
Do you rehearse outside, during the summer–how does that work?
We start inside, but after about ten days, we find an outdoor space.
How do you personally work with actors, since you are one yourself?
I give actors a lot of freedom.
And I try to listen.
Every actor we work is a famous movie star–to me.
Treat actors like movie stars, not puppets.
Do you think differently when casting Shakespeare in the Parking Lot than you would for a more traditional production?
Absolutely. You need warrior-actors. Big circuits with vocal equipment. But there is zero space for those who are cursed with pride.
When I was first asked to work in the parking lot, I called an actress who I knew had played Desdemona. She told me to not do it. There were no dressing rooms, too little rehearsal, and it was too hot. She had a horrible experience.
Now I had done Baltimore dinner theatre, where you served drinks at intermission and worked for tips. I was still working catering jobs at the time, as a sanitation captain. All pretense of dignity had been stripped away, so the parking lot was an easy lift for me.
Our profession is a rigorous life, no matter anyone’s fortune in it. It bruises the souls of so many. A parking lot actor will know that, but have enough grit to go on.
Your favorite role as an actor?
It’s the greatest role ever written by a playwright for an actor to play.
Other than that, no reason.
Must good stage work be political?
It’s difficult to bring oneself up against reality, in 2019, on the planet Earth, and not be political in some way. Good stage work should reveal current reality–it should reflect the times. I would propose that endeavors to not be political are just efforts to keep the patient asleep. There are many who have this interest, and it is, perhaps, more commercially viable to be an agent of anesthesia, rather than of awakening. Our political gestures, in art, may not always succeed. But our successes, as artists, are judged via many, many vectors and variables. Wallace Shawn says in My Dinner with Andre, “I try to bring myself up against some bits of reality and to share that with an audience.” If we are attempting to awaken the sleeping patient, in our audience, then we are, at least, working in a valid direction.
Do you find yourself working with the same people—either with those who work on the stage or behind it?
Very purposely. It’s an always-evolving family. People come and go, but I’m interested in the products of associations that can last a lifetime, not the run of a play. Here’s what I wrote on a napkin, a long time ago: “The Drilling Company is the most dynamic association of artists in the world.”
Those who attended Henry the Sixth, Part Three, in August, a few years back, would have seen you beating a drum during different sections of the play. From a directorial point of view, why did you decide to do this?
The play was about war–the build up to it and the excitement of it. The drum was a blessed Indian (First People’s) drum.
I wanted the rhythm of war to never leave the audience.
Most important event or influence that prepared you for your work?
Wynn Handmann. I’m definitely a disciple–and, occasionally, I like to hope I’m one of the apostles, but Wynn (Artistic Director of the American Place Theatre) doesn’t think or talk that way.
I would have done nothing, in my life or career, if I had not had the good fortune to stumble into his class. I was fortunate, as a young actor, to score a role in a play at The American Place–actually surprising Wynn himself.
Honestly, Wynn never did anything for me, personally, except to welcome me into that classroom. But I listened. And I met a core of extraordinary artists. I saw that the key to creating extraordinary things was the collection of a group of extraordinary people, seeking a common goal, in a single room or pocket of time.
So, I don’t think I myself am particularly exceptional, other than to have been fortunate enough to have had the gift of the others–who have worked with me on our shows.
What’s the worst job you ever took to keep yourself afloat as an artist?
If you work in catering it becomes more a question of which catering job forced you to swallow your dignity the most.
So I have stories I can tell, but everyone who works in catering has them.
It’s a psychotic industry that is as addictive to the struggling artist as crack cocaine or meth.
And I don’t think you beat it. You endure it .
But my personal mantra is, “All Good Comes From Catering.”
And in point of fact, The Drilling Company got its original 501(c)(3) status through a generous grant from The Great Performances Catering Company, run by Liz Neumark. So, back to you, Liz Neumark. Their generosity helped me learn how to fish.
One piece of advice that you would give an artist trying to break into the business today?
It’s about who you work with. So find people who you can work with well–and work with them, not the others, if you can help it.
Don’t be too disappointed by nonacceptance.
You’re not good or bad. You’re who you are–and trying to get better. If you’re up for doing that for your whole damn life, you’re okay.
Best play you’ve seen in the city in the last year, besides one of your own?
The Ferryman. Hands down.
Irish Rep’s O’Casey Trilogy was the most impressive feat of producing and theatre I’ve seen Off-Broadway in years. Remarkable excellence.
What’s different about being a professional in the Arts than you ever suspected during your training?
The hopelessness of it all.
It’s just how it is. Once you get comfortable with that–and you never really do–but once you make peace with that, well, it’s just something that is antithetical to training.
Why would you train to do something that is hopeless?
I don’t know, but we do.
It’s just that very, very, very few trainers ever, ever say the truth out loud.
One production you were associated with, whether from Shakespeare in the Parking Lot or elsewhere, that you didn’t want to see end.
We could still be running that play.
What’s the first play you ever saw—how old were you and where did you see it?
Peter Pan. I saw it in the gymnasium of Ursuline Academy in New Orleans. I believe I was seven years old. My aunt, who was a senior in high school at the time, was playing Peter Pan. I didn’t know it then, but my father was backstage (her brother-in-law) pulling a rope and making her fly.
(c) 2019, 2017 by Hamilton Clancy (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.
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Clancy bio: The State of Shakespeare
Photos (from top): This Week in Shakespeare, The New York Times; Shakespeare in the Parking Lot/The Drilling Company (Jonathan Slaff, Aifric Chriodain); Shuman; TimeOut; WynnHandmanStudio.com; Lee Wexler; Rob Wilson
Press: Jonathan Slaff
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot will present “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Lukas Raphael, July 11 to 27 at La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street. This popular New York summer institution is now in its 25th year. Its concept–presenting Shakespeare plays with a “poor theater” aesthetic in a working parking lot–is now widely imitated around the US and around the world, with productions as far away as New Zealand. The Drilling Company, Artistic Director Hamilton Clancy, has produced the attraction since 2005.
“Romeo and Juliet” will be performed July 11 to 27, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM. All admission is free. Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. Audience members are welcome to bring their own chairs. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out. No one has ever been turned away and there’s never a wait for tickets.
HOW DO I GO TO SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARKING LOT?
* Performances are at: Parking Lot of The Clemente, 114 Norfolk Street (E. side of Norfolk St. between Delancey and Rivington).
* Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and admission is FREE.
* Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. You are welcome to bring your own chair. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out.
* We’ve never turned anyone away and there’s never a wait for tickets.
* Subways to The Clemente: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street. MAP
WHERE AND WHEN:
July 11 to 27, 2019
La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street
Subways: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street.
Presented by The Drilling Company
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM
Running time 100 minutes