How did you get started in theatre?
My first experience, as far as I can remember, was as the rising moon and as stage manager in a sixth grade play. Also, my brother was a record distributor in Boston and he would bring home Variety and Billboard. I guess that's what piqued my interest.
What hooked you?
It was my speech-drama teacher in high school. I tried out for Night Must Fall but I didn't get a part; however, she was very complimentary. Next year I was cast as Ed in You Can't Take it With You." I also had a crush on her.
What was the first show you ever worked on?
See previous answer.
What was the first show you ever saw?
I'm not sure; it was a very long time ago. Either a road company of Carousel with Charles Coburn (how many remember him?) as the Star-Keeper or Sunrise at Campobello with Ralph Bellamy as FDR and a very young James Earl Jones in a minor role.
WHAT I DO
What is your position on a production?
I am a director. I used to be artistic director at the old and new Studio Theatres and BroadHollow's Centre Stage.
Describe what your job entails. What are the duties of a director?
It is my concept that becomes the spine of the production. Everything I do as I coach and guide the actors, confer with the designers and the producer(s) is intended to develop the show keeping the concept in mind. It is my responsibility to be sure that everyone involved with the creative end of the production is aware of what I see and feel. I assume, then, that the other creative personnel communicate with the technicians and business staffs. Of course, I am responsible for casting, organizing the rehearsal schedule, creating a comfortable and efficient working atmosphere, having productive rehearsals, motivating the cast and designers to use their own creativity and talents, honing and refining the actors' work, and, most important, serving the playwright and the audience.
Did you go to school to learn what you do?
I have a bachelor's degree in theatre, with an emphasis on directing, from Emerson College and a master's degree in theatre education, also from Emerson. I have taken other classes, read a lot, watched other directors and, most important, analyzed my own work in light of the knowledge I have accumulated.
MY THEATER EXPERIENCE
What has been your favorite show to work on?
There have been loads. In no particular order: The Boys Next Door, All My Sons, A View From the Bridge, The Heiress, The Immigrant, Split Second, Poor Murderer, The Foreigner, Cloud 9, Torch song Trilogy, Baby Dance and many others.
What motivates you to keep doing what you're doing?
That all-encompassing term: the creative experience. I love to take what somebody has written and breathe life into it, to work with creative artists to give substance to great ideas and language, to participate and to witness the evolution of an abstract concept into a form that will entertain and/or provoke an audience.
How do you feel about pre-casting?
Ambivalent. I love auditions. It's fun and challenging to gather together a group of people, some of whom I may know and others I don't, to work on a project for several weeks that will culminate in a grand creative experience. I like seeing old friends and meeting new people. However, when I first started working in Long Island theatre over 20 years ago there were only 4 or 5 theatres that produced year-round plus a few community theatres that did two or three shows a year. Today there are at least 12 year-round theatres plus the small community theatres. This makes the talent pool paper-thin. 20 years ago I auditioned a little known straight play called Poor Murderer. On a Saturday morning I had a turnout of 40-50 people. Last year I auditioned Today I am a Fountain Pen. Eight people showed up and I used five. I scheduled further auditions and had to fire an actor midway through rehearsals because he wasn't showing up. Pre-casting allows me to use people whose work ethic and talent I know, and I don't have to go scurrying around looking for actors that I may have to
settle for because I need a body or time is running out I have been lucky 95% of the time working through auditions, but the odds are even better with pre-casting. My intent is to put up a quality production. I empathize with actors who audition for a particular role without having been notified that it is already cast; that is quite frustrating.
What was your worst theatre experience?
Where have been a number of those. As artistic director, I had to fire an actor and director (in two different productions) who were former students of mine. I fired two directors on opening nights and re-directed the shows the following week. As a director, I had someone walk out of a show in the middle of a run (which, actually, was a blessing in disguise.) An actor had a non-fatal heart attack the morning after an opening night. After a director was fired, I took over a musical a week and a half before it opened, with no work having been done on the 2nd act.
What was your best theatre experience?
That's hard to say. I guess the plays I mentioned earlier stick out in my mind because they were pleasant and creative experiences. I think, also, that knowing I've got a good show even before it goes up is a great feeling. That doesn't always happen.
If you could give one message to ALL of the actors out there, what would it be?
Don't stop developing your abilities. Take classes, some more classes and even more classes. Just because one has appeared onstage a number of times doesn't necessarily mean that person has learned the craft and art of acting. If you've watched The It Factor on TV, those people are taking classes all the time. And places like The Actor's Studio, The New Actors Workshop and many others are for the professional actor, not the novice. Read, read, read. Read every play you can from whenever.
If you could give one message to ALL the producers out there, what would it be?
I know producers are concerned with making money to pay for the production and that's why, especially on Long Island, predominantly safe shows are performed. I am not opposed to that, but I would like to see more new plays and shows from outside the mainstream being done. At the Berkshire summer theatres, many of these works are offered and those theatres are constantly playing to at least near capacity. I know it's a summer audience and the Berkshires are culturally oriented, but they, too, have to make money to sustain themselves, yet they do a lot of off-beat stuff as well as very popular Shakespeare productions.
If you could give one message to ALL the directors out there, what would it be?
Learn about directing. Just as the actor should take classes, directors should learn the fundamentals of blocking, pacing, characterization, historical context, etc. I realize a lot of people get a show up on the stage and it is well received; that doesn't mean the play has been explored to its fullest potential or that the author's intentions have been fulfilled. Also, the play is the thing, but the people who are doing the play need your concern and attention as human beings as well as actors or stage managers or designers. The art is important; control of the production is important; productive rehearsals are important, but the people you're working with deserve a creative and satisfying experience. Being a director doesn't mean being an overlord.
If you could give one message to ALL the techies out there, what would it be?
You are part of the production, too. You may be working in a "technical" area, but that prop or light cue or costume or sound cue or set piece contributes to the artistic experience being offered to the audience and for which they have paid money. You guys are often the unsung heroes. And self-centered actors who treat you with disdain should be beaten with a leko.
Why do you work at the theatres you do?
After having been artistic director at old Studio, I have worked exclusively for the BroadHollow theatres mainly out of my personal relationship with the producers and the way they try to satisfy me in regard to what and when I direct. I also find that their staff is generally hard-working and receptive to my suggestions and production requirements.
Do you think Long Island theatre will continue to grow?
To be honest, I think some contraction would be good. The talent pool in all areas is too thin. Fewer theatres would mean everyone who wants to work would have to hone their talents because the competition would be more demanding which would mean the product will be better.
What brings you the greatest joy?
Spending time with my wife; being at our home in Connecticut; seeing a terrific play; being with our special friends.
What irks you?
Societal and social ignorance. I cannot abide prejudice and intolerance; it is destructive and self-destructive. People talking on cell phones while driving, though there is a law against it. Invading someone else's space with noise, loud talking, cursing, etc. On a different plane, those dodos in theatres who rattle papers and Tic-Tac boxes or talk while the show is on. Also, automatic standing ovations are ludicrous; they should be saved for something special, not just because a show has finished. And actors who mistreat technicians should not be allowed to work.
If you won lotto tomorrow you would...
Pay off mortgages for us and close relatives, set aside money for college educations, help needy kids, buy a couple of new cars, and try to live as normal a life as possible.
Is it true you would rather be rich than good looking?
Since some people, especially my wife (who has exquisite taste,) think I am good-looking, I would go for the money.
What's your favorite word?
Assuming there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Oops. You're not supposed to be here. Go back.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like the readers to know about.
'Fraid not. There's nothing on the schedule within my time frame that interests me. I am pretty busy reviewing for CurtainUp.com and some newspapers in upstate Connecticut and New York as well as teaching at CW Post and Elderhostels.
What is your dream theatrical project?
To do Death of a Salesman with my favorite actors in my favorite theatre.