Category Archives: Interviews

JONATHAN MILLER, BOLD DIRECTOR OF THEATER AND OPERA, IS DEAD AT 85 ·

(Benedict Nightingale’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/27; via Pam Green.  Listen to a BBC interview with Jonathan Miller.)

Known for his radical restagings of classic works, Mr. Miller was also a doctor who periodically left the stage to practice medicine.

LONDON — Jonathan Miller, the British theater and opera director known for his radical restagings of classic works, died on Wednesday at his home in London. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by his son William Miller, who said his father had had Alzheimer’s disease.

Although he was best known as a director, Mr. Miller was a man of many talents and regularly called a Renaissance man, although he disliked the term, which he said was almost invariably used “by people unacquainted with the Renaissance.”

He first achieved fame as an actor in the anti-establishment revue “Beyond the Fringe,” a hit in both London and New York. He went on to win acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for his productions of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” and other works. He also produced and hosted television shows.

Most unusually, he was a medical doctor, with a special interest in neurology; he occasionally left the theater to practice medicine. But his absences — as, for instance, a research fellow in neuropsychology at the University of Sussex in 1983 — never lasted long.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

 

POWER PLAYS: THEATRE AND EAST GERMANY, 1989 (BBC RADIO 3) ·

POWER PLAYS

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As East Germany crumbled in 1989, actors were centre stage. Andrew Dickson discovers how had theatre had survived under communist rule, with its censors and secret police spies. Focusing in particular on the playwright Heiner Mueller he explores the brilliant creativity and unique relationship with audiences that made theatre so important. But there were compromises and setbacks too. And after the end of communism actors and writers struggled for relevance – though Mueller’s work on global themes is enjoying a revival today.

Producer: Chris Bowlby

Editor: Penny Murphy

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EXTREME ACTION MEETS ELUSIVE LANGUAGE? ·

(Gia Kourlas’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/20; via Pam Green.)

In Elizabeth Streb and Anne Bogart’s “Falling & Loving,” dancers and actors share the stage with the Guck Machine, which emits a waterfall of food and other objects.

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The choreographer Elizabeth Streb has found herself in foreign territory. First, she is collaborating, which is not her usual way of making art. And in teaming up with Anne Bogart, a director of the theater group SITI Company, she has something else to contend with: words.

“I don’t really work with words,” she said between rehearsals at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University here. “I don’t know how to do that.”

Ms. Streb has built a repertory and a reputation creating action works that strive to defy gravity. Give her and her company, Streb Extreme Action, a platform 30 feet in the air to leap off, a sheet of plexiglass to crash into, or a mat to land on, face forward, with a splat, and they’re right at home.

But in “Falling & Loving,” which begins on Tuesday as part of the series Peak Performances, Ms. Streb isn’t the only one in charge. She has teamed with Ms. Bogart to direct the production, which features six SITI actors and six Streb dancers, who do not speak.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

SUSAN SONTAG’S AGAINST INTERPRETATION ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3  

Lauren Elkin, Lisa Appignanesi and biographer Ben Moser debate Susan Sontag’s life and ideas with presenter Laurence Scott, focusing in on her 1966 essay collection, which argued for a new way of approaching art and culture. Ben Moser is the author of Sontag: Her life and work which is out now. Lauren Elkin teaches at the University of Liverpool and is the author of Flâneuse: Women Walk the City. She is researching Sontag’s time in Sarajevo in 1993 when she staged Waiting for Godot during the Siege following the declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence from Yugoslavia. Lisa Appignanesi is a Visiting Professor in the Department of English at King’s College London and Chair of the Royal Society of Literature Council . Her books include Everday Madness, Simone De Beauvoir, Freud’s Women. You can hear more from Lisa including her BBC Radio 3 interview with Susan Sontag if you search for the Sunday Feature

Afterwords: Susan Sontag

Producer: Luke Mulhall

 

FIONA SHAW AND KIRSTEN SHEPHERD-BARR ON ELEONORA DUSE (BBC RADIO 4) ·

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Fiona Shaw, BAFTA award-winning star of Killing Eve, joins Matthew Parris to explore the life of one of history’s most remarkable actresses whose name has slipped from public memory. She inspired Stanislavski’s ‘method’, changed Chekhov’s mind about acting, and took Chaplin’s breath away – the nineteenth-century performer, Eleonora Duse. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, professor of English and Theatre Studies at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps Fiona and Matthew uncover the drama of Duse’s life, both on and off the stage. Producer: Camellia Sinclair.

 

PHYLLIS WHEELER INTERVIEW ON “THE LONG SHADOW” ·

Author Phyllis Wheeler talks to Bob Shuman, at Marit Literary Agency and Stage Voices, about her YA novel The Long Shadow, a Huckleberry Finn story for the 21st century.

A white suburban, contemporary 14-year-old moves from racism to empathy as he travels through time. He is saved from hypothermia by a black man, and then, finding himself in 1923, works to prevent the lynching of the black man’s grandfather.

Praise for The Long Shadow

“A book that can make a difference . . . a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.  I like the friendship that blossomed in the story. . . .”–LaShaunda Hoffman, author of Building Online Relationships and also publisher of SORMAG, Shades of Romance Magazine, the award-winning online magazine for readers and writers of multi-cultural literature (sormag.blogspot.com)

“Full of interesting characters . . . [The Long Shadow has] heart, humor, and a great overall theme. . . . Complex subject matter, woven into enjoyable fantasy. . .”–John HendrixNew York Times bestselling illustrator and author of many children’s books, including Shooting at the Stars and John Brown: His Fight for Freedom 

Wheeler runs her own editorial firm in St. Louis and has written for daily newspapers, been a deacon, and worked on airplanes as an engineer. 

Phyllis Wheeler, phylliswheeler.com
Bob Shuman, BobJShuman@gmail.com

 

TOM HIDDLESTON ON ‘BETRAYAL’ AND THE ART OF SELF-PROTECTION ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/21; via Pam Green.)

The screen and stage star is making his Broadway debut as the bottled-up husband wearing a “mask of control” in Harold Pinter’s romantic triangle.

“I’m protective about my internal world now in probably a different way,” says the actor Tom Hiddleston, making his Broadway debut in “Betrayal.”CreditCreditDevin Yalkin for The New York Times

Tom Hiddleston was posing for a portrait, and the face he showed the camera wasn’t entirely his own.

That had been his idea, to slip for a few moments into the character he’s playing on Broadway, in Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal”: Robert, the cheated-on husband and backstabbed best friend whose coolly proper facade is the carapace containing a crumbling man. And when Mr. Hiddleston became him, the change was instantaneous: the guarded stillness of his body, the chill reserve in his gray-blue eyes.

“It’s interesting,” Mr. Hiddleston said after a while, analyzing Robert’s expression from the inside. “It gives less away.” A pause, and then his own smile flickered back, its pleasure undisguised. “O.K.,” Mr. Hiddleston announced, himself again, “it’s not Robert anymore.”

(Read more)

Photo:  The New York Times

GETTING THE GUTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” DIRECTOR, DON ROY KING ·

By Tania Fisher

So how does the son of a mailman, from a small town near Pittsburgh, end up directing more live network television than anyone else in the history of the medium–and being one of the most versatile and experienced directors in the television industry today?

Actor/Writer Tania Fisher sits down with Don Roy King to find out exactly how it all happened.

Mr. King is about to embark on his 14th season as director of Saturday Night Live (“SNL”), and he couldn’t be happier.  He’s experienced network assignments that have taken him to 20 countries and 38 states and has a lengthy resume that incorporates productions for nine networks that include directing morning shows, documentaries, telethons, sporting events, concerts, and musicals.

But when he talks about “SNL,” he can’t help but grin.

With 10 Emmy’s (and 28 nominations) and 5 Directors Guild Awards, it’s an understatement to say that Mr. King is a vastly experienced producer, director, writer, and composer.

In addition, Mr. King is the creative director for Broadway Worldwide, a venture that brings theatrical events to theaters and international television. The company has produced four major productions, all directed by Mr. King.

For those who have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. King in real life; he is small in stature, but big on work ethics and generous with his advice for those entering the industry.  In fact, it was his father who taught him to use his small frame to his advantage; sitting his eight-year-old son down one day, he explained, “You’re probably going to be short.  I’m short.  Your mom’s short, but you don’t know how lucky you are.  Why?  For some reason people in general expect less from short people, and when you play ball, the coach will put the tall kids in first, and the teacher won’t call on you first to answer questions. But when they find out you can run as fast and throw as hard as the others–and when the teachers find out you can answer the questions, everyone will be doubly impressed.”  Mr. King says he has never been bothered by his size ever since.

Growing up in the tiny little town of Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, he was always an active athlete, as well as doing lots of acting, and directing his fellow classmates in small plays. He is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, with a degree in Broadcasting, and he has been honored with an Alumni Fellowship, in 2001, and a Distinguished Alumni Award, in 2017.

He was blessed to have loving and supportive parents, which is evident in his self-worth and attitudes about growing up.  Case in point:  I asked him (what I thought was going to be a lighten-the-mood, insert-of-humor type of question), “What did you want to be when you were growing up?”  Expecting the standard response of fireman or doctor or astronaut, I was pleasantly surprised with his response:

I felt I was going to be somebody important; like playing center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates or President of the USA.  I just knew I wanted to be someone important and do something valuable.  I was the all-American kid.  As I was growing up, there was always the thought that I’d go to West Point.  Dad was in the Army Reserves all his life, and he kind of encouraged that aspect, and I really felt I was headed to West Point right through high school.”  Mr. King finished top in the state and entry seemed certain, until a medical exam found something wrong with his back, and they couldn’t take him: “In retrospect I’m glad they didn’t.”

Mr. King explains that he went to Penn State and studied Theater and Broadcasting, but he really didn’t have the guts to move to NYC and become an actor.  “Penn is where I discovered I had a talent for TV directing, and I thought I’d get in the back door that way; to get to my dream of being an actor.”  Mr. King became a director at a local station, then at a bigger station, and then another bigger station in Pennsylvania.

Interest in his theatrical affinity began when he was in the eighth grade.  He was in The Curtain Call Club, run by Miss Boden, and Mr. King fondly recalls, “This club was her whole world, and she devoted her life to these little productions.”  Miss Boden took the young Mr. King under her wing and every Easter vacation she would take a few of the students to New York to see shows.  Mr. King convinced his parents it was worth going, and they somehow scraped together the money to send him to New York to see The Miracle Worker and The Sound of Music.  As it turns out, Miss Boden had written to Mary Martin, and they went backstage to meet her.  “I was this little eighth grade boy who subsequently developed a crush on New York City.  I flew home thinking:  I can’t wait to get back here. I’ll do anything I can to get back here!  There’s such an electricity, and wonderful artists and productions, which changed lives every night.”  But Mr. King confides that as deep as the dream was, he still didn’t have the guts to try it as an actor in New York.

In fact, he explains that the reason he became a Broadcasting major was because he didn’t have the guts to tell his parents he wanted to be an Acting major!  “They had allowed me to go to New York.  Dad was a mailman; they couldn’t afford that weekend trip to NYC and yet they found a way.”  Mr. King proudly tells me that his parents always showed interest and went to everything he did–whether that be football or theater, “I’d be at a junior track meet at the away team, and Dad would rush his mail route to see my 50-yard dash.  They were so supportive.  Mom was strict, and we had chores to do and were encouraged to get good grades and all of that, but they were just so supportive. I was blessed.”

After college, Mr. King kept his focus on New York City.  He maintains he used his TV career to get back here as soon as he could.  He worked at a bigger station in San Jose, and then went back to an even bigger station in Pittsburgh, finally getting an option to direct at Channel 5 in New York:  “Maybe I got here too fast but it worked here.  Getting to NYC was a dream come true.”

What led him to become the Director for Saturday Night Live?

Mr. King explains that by this time he’d had thirty-seven years of experience as a TV director behind him, although he still enjoyed work on morning shows: “But they were more about what to wear, or a cooking segment, and there were moments when I felt like I’d sold out on my dream; that this wasn’t really show business.”  Then, out of nowhere, he received a call from a man he’d worked with way back when.  His friend had gone on to be the Associate Director of “SNL” and the woman who had been directing the show for ten years was moving on, and so his friend asked him if he was interested.  His immediate response was: “There is no show I’d rather direct!  I’d always had great respect for what seemed like a difficult production to do, especially because it’s live.  But once I got involved, I was even more shocked.”

Even though Mr. King had directed every type of program, he admits that he’d never directed sketch actors, and he couldn’t believe they’d take a chance on someone who hadn’t done that type of thing before.  But he met with them, and sure enough, they were looking for someone who had done comedy and had sketch comedy experience.  Then on Labor Day, in 2006, while he was standing in line at Disney World with his daughter, he received a call telling him that Lorne Michaels wanted to meet with him and could he be back in NYC in two days?  “So my daughter and I flew back and I met Lorne.  I sat there for about an hour just listening to him talk about how he didn’t want to start over again with a new director, but that he had no choice.  As I recall, I’m pretty sure the only words I uttered throughout that entire meeting were at the start, when I said nice to meet you.”  But a telephone call the next day clarified everything for Mr. King, when he was told they’d take a chance on him and give him six shows to see how he handled it.  “It was an incredibly steep mountain to climb.  I started to question myself.  I was comfortable, successful, why take this risk?  I hadn’t had butterflies in my stomach for a long time; why take this risk?”

The answer soon became evident. “What I realized is that regret is a wasted emotion.  I thought to myself; if I don’t do this, if I don’t try it, I’ll regret it.  I can always come back, and if I fail, I fail, and you don’t know until you try.”  Three weeks after that meeting he was directing his first “SNL” show.  Indeed a steep mountain to climb!  “I found myself saying I don’t know how to do this, how do I set this up? Which camera where?  I really struggled.”  But Mr. King insists he is glad he took that challenge, claiming he’d never had more fun climbing a mountain, or received more reward or exhilaration from doing what he’s always dreamed:  “The show is designed to make people laugh and clap and think.  I play a small role in that and I’m proud and thrilled to be a part of that–working with brilliant people and telling stories that offer healing and hold people accountable.  I’ve never had a job that is as rewarding and important and as close to that dream I had as an eighth grade boy.”

Mr. King was fifty-eight years old when he finally made that childhood dream a reality.

He laments that there is a panic in college kids nowadays to make a definite decision about their careers: “The fact is you don’t have to decide today what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.  Your passions can change; you can find a whole new set of challenges much later down the track.  I was so glad I took that risk late in my career or I wouldn’t have what I have now, which is pure satisfaction of a professional life worth living.”

And though it’s true that many young people starting out in this industry think it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and contacts, Mr. King advises, “It’s not a race; there is no reward for getting that first big job early–if you get it before you’re ready you might not be prepared and fail.  You know, even if you can’t be working in your desired field and you work at Pinkberry, you’re still developing other skills that will make you ready–work ethics, dealing with people.  It’s all valuable experience.”

What about living and working in New York City and all those awards?

“I love the magic of the city, the electricity, the sense that on this tiny little island so much art is being created and so much money is changing hands and news is being created, and at the same time you can stay home and do nothing if you want, just like everywhere else.  I still have as much excitement about being a part of this place as I did as a kid.”

During the time that Mr. King was directing The Mike Douglas Show, there was a lot of traveling involved, and they would occasionally do a week in LA.  “Mike wanted to move to LA, but I didn’t want to go, and I was offered a new show:  America Alive, in NYC.  So I thought I’d rather live in NYC than go to LA, and it’s a brand-new show that I’ll get to create from scratch.”  Mr. King thought this would be a perfect opportunity to stay where he wanted to stay.  The program was similar to a midday version of Good Morning America, with the same concept; a group of reporters and correspondents.  “That show lasted only eight months!  It flopped, and I was out of work for the first time in my life.  I thought, O.K., this is a sign from God, my TV career has skidded to a halt–it’s time for me to follow my dreams and go back to acting.”  Mr. King was only 27 or 28 years old, and he immediately enrolled in acting classes.  He recalls that he jumped in with his usual fervor and passion, but what was great was that he was no longer a desperate actor saying please pick me.  “I was a professional director who had an Emmy, and I was comfortable and wasn’t desperate in auditions, which I’m sure worked to my advantage.”  Around that time Mr. King was receiving offers to direct independent projects on the side, but then he was given Good Morning America: “The acting dream died again.  At that point I’d had the sense of now what and how to pay the rent?  I’d had this comfortable lifestyle.  It was unsettling.”

When Mr. King directed The Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia he was only twenty-five and, as he describes it, “way too young to be directing it–we had all the big names:  Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Bob Hope–I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was getting to work with them and see them off camera.”  Mr. King won an Emmy, in 1977, for the show with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire appearing together for the first time and talking about the industry.  “I became a jerk the very next day.  Everyone treated me differently, and I treated people differently; I was just full of myself,” he recalls.  Not long after that, Mr. King was asked to serve on one of the Blue Ribbon Panels for the Emmys, and he says it’s then that he realized how hard it is to make a judgment:  “You watch a great show, but how do you know if it was well directed?  I realized it’s such a subjective decision, and it’s a flawed system.”

He has since appreciated the degree to which his profession is a collaborate effort:  “The statues I’ve gotten since . . . if it weren’t for Lorne Michaels making “SNL” the best it can be and hiring brilliant set designers and writers, and all the best people in their fields, then my directing would have no chance of being pointed out for my directing awards, so I’m much more humble about receiving them.  It’s the good fortune of working with brilliant people.”

Is there another skill set you possess that hasn’t been explored that you’d like to explore?

“I don’t think I’m going to be the center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates!  But I grew up thinking I could do anything.  But still, I’m seventy-one, and I may not get a chance to live out all my fantasies.”  Mr. King has recently done public speaking, mainly at colleges, where he talks about the industry.  “But I still have the acting bug!”  Mr. King also consults on movies, like 2010’s Morning Glory (with Harrison Ford), where he ensured that the TV scene was depicted accurately.  He played the role of Merv, the Director, in that same film.  Mr. King also played himself in 2018’s A Star Is Born.

What were some of your favorite TV shows growing up?

Mr. King remembers that he grew up with many kids who were TV fanatics who went to see tapings of live TV shows and even had souvenirs from TV shows.  He claims he was not one of those kids.  He reminisces that he and his brothers watched the TV show Superman with George Reeves.  “Here’s the thing,” he tells me, “We had a black-and-white TV, and I wasn’t allowed to read comics.  So when Mom made us Superman costumes for Halloween, we wore black shorts,  white T-shirts, and some kind of grey cape things.  Then, when I went to see the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, I was shocked and thought they had changed the colors of the costume!  All that time I’d had no idea it was in color!”

Any general advice for those entering the industry?

“There’s an overriding cliché maxim that lots of kids hear, and that’s just get your foot in the door.  Some think it’s a good idea to find a place you’d like to work and get in at an entry-level position, like becoming a receptionist at “SNL” or writing cue cards for The Tonight Show–then people get to know who you are and see that you’ve got a great work ethic and you can move up through the operation.  But I say be wary of that.  Every network I’ve worked at is filled with young, talented, frustrated kids who get stuck in those entry-level jobs.  So this doesn’t always work.  They will hire the people with experience.”  Mr. King cites the example that networks are not going to let, say, a receptionist, have a go at something else because in that position they are not really being exposed to the other position that they want to eventually do.  “So my advice is go where you can get the kind of work you want to do; go to a small station or production company, doing that position. You’ll get the experience and learn what you need to and be able to keep moving up to bigger and better positions.”

Mr. King adamantly expresses that while it’s valuable to be bubbling with passion and new ideas and, as with many young people starting out, wanting to be the smart kid on the block, what should always come first is work ethic:  “It’s so much more important that you show up on time and you do the best you can and you don’t complain–people are always more likely to hire this type of person.”

And what does Mr. King like to watch on his own TV set? 

Baseball and football, of course. Go Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers!

Copyright © 2019 by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved. 

Photo credits: AARP.  All rights reserved.

HAMILTON CLANCY ON THE ROAD: SitPL’S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR TALKS NYC’S DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (DOT), 90% CHUTZPAH, AND THE MOST DYNAMIC ASSOCIATION OF ARTISTS IN THE WORLD ·

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 Shakespeare?

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 ParkGorilla 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?

Hamlet

Why?

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.

The Norwegians.

168 performances.

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.

Magic!

(c) 2019, 2017 by Hamilton Clancy (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Visit Shakespeare in the Parking Lot 

Visit the Drilling Company 

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
FREE
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

PATTI LUPONE INTERVIEW (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3) ·

Patti LuPone

Listen

How loud should you be? Italian American performer Patti LuPone talks to Philip Dodd about why she doesn’t consider herself an American, her politics, unsuccessful auditions, backbiting, corporate entertainment, #Me Too.

Her career has taken her from a Broadway debut in a Chekhov play in 1973 to performances in the original productions of plays by David Mamet and musicals including Evita on Broadway and Les Misérables and Sunset Boulevard in London’s West End. She won a Tony award for her role as Rose in the 2008 Broadway revival of the musical Gypsy. 
She’s currently taking the role of Joanne in the production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company in London’s West End. The show directed by Marianne Elliott runs until March 30th 2019

Patti LuPone: A Memoir was published in 2010.

Producer: Debbie Kilbride

Photo: The Guardian