Performance (Working In The Theatre #201)

Performance (Working In The Theatre #201)

Wing Seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” These are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, which is located on 42nd Street, where Broadway,
Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway all come to present the magic of theatre. These seminars
are but one of the programs of the American Theatre Wing, and they are really created
to give you an inside view of what it is to work in the theatre. What it is to work in
the theatre as a performer, as a playwright, as a producer, as a director, as a costume
and set designer. And as an agent as well. The American Theatre Wing is perhaps best
known for its Tony Awards. But it wasn’t established for that reason. It was established to honor
a woman named Antoinette Perry, who strongly believed that you should be prepared for the
theatre and you should be trained for the theatre and there should be quality in what
you do for the theatre. And so, the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Award is given not for
the best, or the longest or highest review, but for the achievement of excellence in the
craft of theatre. All of the programs that the Wing does has
that at its base. We send shows to hospitals and nursing homes and AIDS centers. We support
a program called “Saturday Theatre for Children,” which brings live professional theatre into
their own classrooms on Saturday mornings. We have a program called “Introduction to
Broadway,” which is very exciting. And it has brought thousands and thousands of high
school students, students from the local high schools in the five boroughs of New York. And this is done along with the cooperation
of the New York City Board of Education and the producers, marvelous producers who have
given us tickets for LES MIZ and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE and all
the shows that you can possibly think of that young people should see and expose them to
live theatre. We also had them meet with the cast and the crew afterwards for a discussion,
so that they will take part in what it is in working in the theatre and perhaps have
a role model for that as well. These seminars grew out of the Wing’s school,
where returning veterans were able to come back and learn the craft of theatre, from
one area to another. And our Stage Door Canteen, which is famous all over the world as part
of the wonderful quality that performers have and gave to people who were not in the theatre
but were part of a large group that were going overseas, and it meant a great deal to them
to see live theatre and be with people in the theatre. Out of that came a hospital program.
Again, all the programs came out of the idea that we should serve the theatre through the
community. And we continue to do that to this day. I’d like to introduce our co-moderators, Jean
Dalrymple, who is an author, a director, a wearer of many hats, (LAUGHTER) and a member
of the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing. And Brendan Gil, who is an author
and a critic and believes strongly in tradition and landmarks and is also a member of the
Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing. And they, in turn, will introduce this
wonderful panel of performers to you today. Thank you for being here. (APPLAUSE) Farthest from me on my right is Julie Harris,
who plays the smoldering mother in the play THE FIERY FURNACE. And next is Joe Mantello,
who is both a director and an actor and is now playing in the role of Louis Ironson in
ANGELS IN AMERICA. And directly next to me is Petula Clark, who is making her Broadway
debut in that most vehement play, BLOOD BROTHERS. And on our left bank, we have some very important
and darling people. Stephen Spinella is way down at the end, and he’s making his debut
on Broadway, as well as playing a very important part in ANGELS IN AMERICA. Mr. Spinella, take
a bow, please. (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) Then we have next to him the famous David Cassidy. As opposed to the other one. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. All the Cassidys are very famous. (LAUGHTER)
And the whole family once worked for me at City Center here in New York, and they were
tremendously successful, and I’m so happy to see young David again. Thank you. Next to me … we have a little confusion
because of some of our dear friends being late. And so these are apt to be out of order.
But you’re Mr. Hyslop, is that right? Yes. Yes. Jeff Hyslop … I had a lot of trouble
learning even how to say that … Hyslop, currently playing the part of Molina in KISS
OF THE SPIDER WOMAN. Mr. Hyslop. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) Just to begin with, how many generations of
Cassidys have been on the stage? Is this second, third? This is just the second. My father, in 1953,
I watched … I was three years old at the time … this is true confessions, I’m here
to tell you that I became an actor because I watched my father, Jack Cassidy, in … I
think it was 1953 … in a play called SANDHOG, at the Phoenix Theatre, I believe. I saw him in not every production that he
did. He did thirty-seven Broadway shows. And I was, at the time, growing up. I lived in
New Jersey. My parents had split up and I had felt … like most young boys that are
separated from their fathers, I really longed to see him and I revered him, both as a father,
but also as a performer. He had such tools and such gifts as a singer,
as an actor, as a comedian. He was so skilled, and in fact, was not formally trained. He
was trained through coming up … in the old days, they used to do lots and lots of shows.
He did a lot of work in the chorus. He did a lot of bit parts. And he, I think, learned
from an awful lot of the pool of talent that was here in New York in the forties, when
my mother and he met. My mother was also an actress and a singer and a dancer and she
herself did about thirty shows. From the time I can remember breathing, I
knew I wanted to do this. And, in fact, my parents, after I saw my dad on a stage in
1953 … to make a long story even longer … I decided I would be an actor. And being
three years old, my parents said to me in the car in the tunnel on the way back, “Okay,
but you have to graduate from high school.” (LAUGHTER) So, in 1968, two weeks after I graduated from
high school, fresh out of my drama class, I began working with the Los Angeles Theatre
Company and became an actor. And about nine months later, I got my first professional
job right here in New York on Broadway. So. And now, your brother Shaun? My brother Shaun, who is … Who is in BLOOD BROTHERS with you. He’s also in BLOOD BROTHERS, yes. And you have a couple of other brothers. Are
they professional? Yes! In fact, we were just talking about the
show COMPANY. My brother Patrick has done three or four Broadway shows himself. BLOOD
BROTHERS is, in fact, my third Broadway show. My brother Patrick just did COMPANY at Long
Beach with Carol Burnett. Although I didn’t get to see it, ’cause we were here doing BLOOD
BROTHERS, I heard it was sensational. And he’s talking about coming and moving back
here, and I think the theatre is certainly his first love. My brother Ryan is not an actor. He actually
is in the business, he works for Jim Henson Productions. He’s a production coordinator. He’s the picture that’s turned to the wall
in your family? (LAUGHTER) In fact, we’re all like … we
applaud him for this choice and his direction in his life and his career. It’s a difficult
profession for lots of reasons, but an extraordinarily rewarding profession. And I’m sure that you’ll
hear from my very distinguished cohorts up here in crime about perhaps the process of
doing it, which is really exciting for me to be here and to be a part of it with all
of them. Because I learn every day that I’m on the
stage and on the theatre and working and getting to talk and to share how … what the process
is that we go through to get there, to do it every night, six nights a week, or six
days a week, eight performances. The commitment and the responsibility that we have to ourselves
and to the craft is wonderful, and let me pass the ball to someone else. Well, Miss Harris, for example, you don’t
come from the professional acting family. Did your family … didn’t object to you going
into acting? Well … no, because both … I always remember,
there was an interview Dick Cavett had with Lord Olivier. And Laurence Olivier said that
his mother and father … his father was a minister and his mother loved the theatre
… and he inherited the wish from the two of them. And I think I’ve always felt that I inherited
that from my mother and father. My father, at Yale University, was in the Yale Dramat
and was a tumbler and loved the theatre, loved Shakespeare. And my mother adored the theatre
and always went. And they took my brothers and I to the theatre in Detroit when touring
shows were going through. So I did inherit that wish. And there was something that they
gave me, because when I saw plays … I was reminded, I went to see “Farewell, My
Concubine,” and that is students who are being trained for the Chinese opera. And there’s
a scene, when the little boys come to see the opera for the first time, and they start
to cry because they see something that they feel they belong to, this magic, this … where
it’s just a building, a stage, an actor comes out in a costume … it’s something you feel
that is part of you, that you want to be part of. It’s this storytelling, it’s this communion
with other people. And I certainly inherited that wish, because
I would walk into an empty theatre and start to cry. (LAUGHTER) I’ll sweep the floors,
I’ll wash the ceiling, I’ll do anything to be here. Was your father in Monty Willey’s time at
Yale? Yes, he was, yes. Because he must have been an inspiring figure,
he’d get everybody stirred up in those days. Yes, absolutely. I just … It’s the ideas, it’s the magic, it’s the communication. Dear, when you got the Tony, I had the honor
of handing it to you. Do you, by any manner of means, remember that? It was in 1952. I
think it was your first part on Broadway. It was THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, I think,
then, ’52 … Yes. … I think. That’s right. Yes. It was all a blur. (LAUGHTER) You can deny anything you like. No, it was a wonderful blur, but … Are you really … … those plays, you know, the plays that
I was … I have been so fortunate to have been in something like THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING,
which was such magical writing and a perfect sort of blend of William Hanson and myself
and the great Ethel Waters and Brandon De Wilde, and being directed by Harold Clurman.
I mean that was … it was such a dream. I remember … Harold was a great leader,
and he loved the theatre with a passion, it was just sort of overwhelming. And I remember
Ethel Waters, who I had seen in MAMBA’S DAUGHTERS and CABIN IN THE SKY, as a youngster, and
I thought there was no one like her on the face of the earth. I don’t think there was. And she said to Harold … she had a speech
about Ludie Maxwell Freeman, the man that she lived with and who was the great love
of her life … and it was a long speech about his dying. And she said to Harold, “I don’t
know how to do that,” and I thought, “She doesn’t know to do it.” (LAUGHTER) And she
said, “Would you read it for me?” And Harold put on his spectacles and read this speech.
Now, he said, “You’re telling the children a story from the Bible,” and she latched onto
that immediately. But then it was very extraordinary, because,
to me, watching her, I would say to Ethel, “I wasn’t any good tonight.” She said, “Honey,
baby, you just got to have faith.” I said, “Well, where do you get that? In what drugstore
(LAUGHTER) can I buy a bottle of faith?” And she said, “That’ll come, that’ll come.” But
it was remarkable watching her because she would say, “And I lay on Ludie and I put my
arms …” and the minute she put her arms out, the tears would stream down her face.
And it was so overwhelming. And it … that never … for the year and
a half that we did it together, those arms would go out and the … it was just amazing.
And I thought, “Well, that’s what it … that’s what I asked her …” She was really listening to herself. Yes, and living it. And living it. And living it, as well. And living it. And it was extraordinary. So,
I have been very fortunate. And Julie, the tears ran down your cheeks
that night when you got the Tony. Do you remember that? No. I remember … I remember the opening
night of THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING. That was, I think, the most extraordinary time at the
old Empire Theatre, which was so beautiful. And the curtain came up on us holding hands,
and I was frightened for a moment because I heard such a roar. It was like standing
at the edge of Niagara Falls, which I always felt Ethel possessed inside of her. She was
like a natural phenomenon to me. But it was the roar of approval. And we had just been
in Philadelphia and sort of limped through that engagement, came to New York, there was
no advance sale. And we immediately knew it was going to be okay, somehow. Could I ask a question? You just said something
to me that triggered a thought and the first time I stood on a Broadway stage as an actor,
a professional, I was eighteen. And I can remember, I was in the very first scene, nine
months out of high school. And the curtain went up, and I was concentrating so desperately
on trying to keep enough saliva in my mouth so I could part my lips, (LAUGHTER) so I could
get the first word out, and I thought, “If I could just get the first word out, I would
be able to get on with this piece.” And I found my heart was racing and what you just
triggered in me, I felt my whole body go OH! And I think it’s sometimes that we actors
feel with each other that somehow it’s not okay to be frightened, to be afraid. Other
actors in this play, in BLOOD BROTHERS, said to me the night we opened, “So, are you terrified?
Are you scared?” (LAUGHTER) And I said, “No. I’m really excited, and I’m nervous, but I’m
not terrified or scared because I’ve gone a little bit beyond the terror.” But I was
just wondering if, in 1952, when you were standing there, and if you had felt that sense
of “Oh, my God, I’m actually doing this, this is actually happening.” Oh, yes. Yeah. Oh, yes. (LAUGHTER) But, as you say, the terror
… I hate to be afraid. Oh, yeah. I like to be excited, and a little on edge. Yeah. But I hate the terror. Oh, God, yeah, we all hate the terror. (GENERAL
AGREEMENT) It’s paralyzing. And I am past that. Yeah, thank God. Did you feel the terror or did you feel just
the excitement? I have felt the terror. (LAUGHTER) And that
.. We all have. … that can paralyze you. I mean, I come
out in a rash and … Yes. … spend a lot of time in the bathroom. (LAUGHTER)
But, thank goodness, I seem to be over that now. But it is important to be frightened,
I think, before you go on stage. It’s almost like a dog having a wet nose, you know, it’s
a sign of good health. Sometimes, if I feel that I’m not on edge, I know that there’s
something wrong with me. I’m not on form. But your play is so full of strength and excitement
and that whole thing, so you must all be very keyed up in that play. We’re keyed up, yes, we’re all fighting sore
throats and colds at the moment, as well. But it’s … well, you know, the first time
on Broadway, I was … yeah, I was near terror on the first night, because I also didn’t
think I was right for it, and that was … that’s a strange feeling. This is the first role
I’ve ever played where I really didn’t think I was right for it. Well, then, how did you find the courage to
say, “Yes, I’ll do it”? I don’t know, it was just one of those moments,
you know. I said, “Oh, well, yes, I’ll have a go at it.” You know, I’m sure it’s not very
professional, I suppose, but there comes a moment (LAUGHTER) … there comes a moment
when you have to say, “Okay,” you know, you have to hang on to your nose and do it. And
I was very excited about being on Broadway, of course. Now David speaks of being able to act on Broadway,
right out of high school. Now did you go on to the stage right after high school, or the
equivalent in England of high school? I didn’t go to high school. I hardly went
to school, actually. I was a child prodigy in England. I’m English. (LAUGHTER) Well, yes, you were born there. And … You were born in Epsom, where the salts come
from. Well, yes, and they have the Derby, you know? Their Derby. And I’m not from a show biz family. My father
had always wanted to be an actor. He was a very handsome man. He looked like Errol Flynn.
And he was, in fact, bitten by an Errol Flynn fan. (LAUGHTER) What a fate. (LAUGHTER) I hope … Oh, he treasured it for a long time. He survived the bite. (LAUGHTER) Not a rabid
fan. But he wasn’t allowed to go on the stage.
It was something rather shocking in those days, I suppose. And so, he vowed that if
he ever had a child who did show any sign of talent, that he would encourage that child.
And that was me. But I was just … I used to sing around the house, and I started when
I was about six. I went to see Flora Robson in a play, I think it was MARY TUDOR? And
I came back on the top of the bus (SHE LAUGHS), and I was just sort of in a dream. And my
father said, “What are you thinking about?” and I said, “That’s what I want to do. I want
to be an actress.” But in fact, I started out as a singer. During
the war in England, I was singing for the troops. And then I was put under contract
to the Rand Organization as an actress and I made a lot of, mostly bad, movies. Well,
there were two good ones. Alec Guinness and a few other good people (LAUGHS). But I’ve
done very little theatre. And I don’t know, I feel a bit like an imposter here. Oh, no. I don’t call myself an actress. Oh, dear … You know, I’m a singer who acts a bit. But
… Oh, you’re a wonderful actress. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) A what? (LAUGHS) Thank you, thank you. Wonderful. How do you feel about the American audience?
Did that give you any more terror or excitement at facing them for the first time? Well, I was … As compared to Mother England, for example? There is a difference. I can’t quite put my
finger on that. And there’s a difference in the cast. I have to say that, you know, there’s
a kind of bite to a Broadway cast that you don’t get anywhere else in the world. I don’t
quite know where that’s coming from, the energy level, professionalism … I see you saying, “Yes.” Yes, Jeff. Yeah. Well, you’ve worked in London … Well, I just did four and a half months of
KISS in London and I’ve just come in here to New York. So, it’s … the difference is
quite astoundingly … But what is the difference? Well, we want a lot more, don’t we, here? It’s very, very responsive here in New York.
And there’s an excitement in the community, I think, from the restaurants, from the hotels,
from the people … it’s from, you know, anybody. They’re very proud of this Broadway community.
And that filters down, so that you feel like you’re supported all the time, and that you’re
encouraged. And that’s the hardest thing of being an actor is it’s … You’re also a director. How do you get that
excitement into your performance? I think just because I feel I was born with
this excitement (LAUGHS). I started out as a gymnast and as a dancer and … you know,
so I was very physical early on in my life. And that’s always been a part of my certain
joie, that I love to, you know, get paid for. Also, these stories are very powerful. I mean,
you get caught up in … Absolutely. Yes. … in what you’re feeling about your … And you wonder, though, when you’re playing
… for instance, KISS is many, many emotional levels … Yes. And you wonder how an audience … for instance,
in London, they sit and they’re just absolutely silent, and you think, “Are they speaking
the same language? Am I … you know, what am I doing here?” And then at the end they
erupt. Right. Here, they’re laughing and crying and oohing
and aahing all the way through and then they erupt. So it’s just a different containment.
It’s still the same appreciation level. That’s very interesting. Yeah. Stephen, are you finding that with ANGELS?
The response of the audience … The difference between the British and … I
didn’t do it in Britain, so I … (LAUGHTER). No, I mean in terms of here, of continuous
response. Well, we just … we haven’t played for very
much of October. But last night we played, and we could feel a real marked difference
between what’s happening now and what was happening in August. And I think what we discovered
last night was that in October a lot of New Yorkers start going back to the theatre. And
consequently … I mean, I have nothing against people from out of town, but they’re much
more sedate. They don’t … I don’t think they know that they can respond in the way
that New Yorkers feel like they don’t care whether they’re allowed to or not, they do.
(LAUGHTER) And the thing is that what happens is that
that level of excitement in the audience increases the level of excitement on the stage. And
actors … you know, I mean, perhaps it’s a little bit of the ham in all of us. We rise
to the occasion. Of course. And we give a little bit more, and things
just build. And last night was just an astonishing performance. And after … How long had it been? Before you came to last
night, how long had you not played? Two weeks. Two weeks. Two weeks? Yeah. But say why. You’re also rehearsing … Well, we’re rehearsing the second half … … the second half … … of the two-part play. Yes. And we just did the first preview on Saturday
night. And that was an extraordinary thing … I
mean, to talk about an audience response …. is that, you know, we sort of weren’t ready,
and the play is, like, ten hours long (LAUGHTER) and we were all thinking, “Oh, no, what’s
going to happen?” And George Wolfe and Tony Kushner, before
the show started, walked out onto the stage in front of this huge red curtain, and the
audience erupted in cheers and applause. And they made, you know, a short little curtain
speech, and again, the audience just erupted and we were like … And in some strange way,
it was like it was going to be okay. They were saying, “We’re here . . . if we’re here
till one o’clock in the morning, we’re here.” (LAUGHTER) And they were! Had that kind of reaction taken place in June
and July? In a different way. This was like a soap opera.
This was like people coming to see the second part of a soap opera, so they were really
geared up and they were just like, “What happens?” So … Yeah, I mean, we’re talking about the difference
between the first play and the second play … That’s right. And … I mean, they were incredibly excited.
And July and August were … it’s funny, you know, you do it eight times a week, and you
feel exhausted about doing it eight times a week, and it takes everything you have to
do it eight times a week. But there is nothing like doing it eight times a week. (LAUGHTER)
You learn more about that play … Oh, yeah. … and that character than you will ever
possibly ever even want to know. Absolutely. It becomes … I was talking to a friend of
mine who’s in CATS, and it becomes … and then we went down to four performances a week
after that, because we were in rehearsal for PERESTROIKA and I was talking about the difference
and I said that I think that the important part was that doing it eight times a week,
you get so comfortable in doing it that you feel like it’s almost like jazz, you can improvise.
That there’s a quality of the lines are there, the lines become this superstructure, they
aren’t these minute things any more, they’re this superstructure that you exist very subtly
inside of. And when you do it eight times a week, you have that facility to do that,
and … Absolutely. … when you do it four times a week, you
begin to lose that. And you start … you know, the lines becomes these … not obstacles,
but they become more these objects, these larger things that you have to tackle. And
you don’t have the facility that you had when you were doing it eight times a week. Or the fluidity that … The fluidity, exactly. It’s a desperateness. (LAUGHTER) Well, sometimes it can be. I mean … And
so now we’re … How are you playing now? For now … Well, now we’re doing … well, tonight we
do PERESTROIKA, the second play, which will be the second time it’s done. And now … I
mean, for me, at this point in working on a play, I always … everything I think about
acting becomes about taking what I learned in rehearsal and transferring it into a performance
mode. And you have to go from a rehearsal mode into a performance mode and it really
becomes about very much listening to the audience and having them tell me what to do in a way,
that … I don’t know how much better to articulate it than that. But if you listen to an audience, they’ll
tell you how much they already know and how much more they need to know. And then … sometimes
if you’re lucky, you’ll know how much more to give them and what to withhold, so that
they’ll stay interested. And that becomes about what the performance is, as opposed
to the rehearsal. And that is sort of the mindset that I’m in right now with PERESTROIKA. It’s the first time we’ve really had this
discussion, of how much an audience gives to the performer. Do you feel that way. Joe? Oh, absolutely. I directed a play this year,
called THREE HOTELS, at Circle Rep, … Wonderful play. … which was three monologues. And when the
actors and I would rehearse, there was only a certain amount of work that we could do,
because I would say to them, “Well, essentially, we’re preparing for the first night when your
scene partner shows up, which is the audience, because they will tell you,” because you have
to play the scene with them. Because if you’re talking at them, it becomes uninteresting
at a certain point. So the first two weeks that they were playing it, it was all about,
“Okay, now what is my partner doing?” And it was … they had to learn how to dance
with the audience. So I think it’s crucial. It’s essential. Nice phrase. Wonderfully directed play. Yes, wonderful. Great job you did on that, just great. And
there was all that happening. Of course, the size of the theatre helps. Yeah. But I think with KISS, one of the troubles
is that at the beginning, the audience is perturbed to know where it is … Yes. … in relationship to where its sympathies
are going to go, anything like that. Yeah, yeah. So that’s a very hard thing to get over at
the very beginning. And to understand that we’re trying to create
a certain tension immediately when the curtain … when that iris opens, that you’re in prison,
that there’s something going on. And it’s a wonderful … Like, talk about audiences. One night we’ll
have a large group of bus people come in from … (LAUGHTER) … from wherever, Arkansas,
whatever. And they don’t know how to react. They are totally naive, ’cause they watch
T.V. and they get up and go to the refrigerator and they come back. (LAUGHTER) So you’re dealing
with that. And they sit there not knowing, and they don’t react. And then a New York
audience will come in and you’ll wonder, “God!” I mean … (LAUGHTER) Well, New York audiences don’t need a laugh
track … Yeah. … they don’t need a laugh track to be told
when to laugh. They create their own. But isn’t it also very important, when we’re
talking about the summer … and I’m glad we’re having a chance to talk about this,
’cause I’m getting to hear different … other actors, their take on audiences. I have found
that from time to time, and being in different plays or productions, it being frustrating.
And you become … you expect, in the framework of a play, a certain amount of reaction. Every night you go out and you play the play.
But you were talking about the bones of the play, the skeleton of the play. When you do
it eight times a week, you get so comfortable with it that you be able to become the flesh
of the character. And the lines are really kind of like the bones. So you have an opportunity
to really do a lot with it. I sometimes wonder, when you get used to,
in the beginning of a play … BLOOD BROTHERS, in particular … when we came into it, there
was a lot of support from, I guess people who were excited about seeing us in this play.
And the first week or so, we got used to hearing it all happen that way. It was around summer.
And I guess, a lot of the New York audiences. Then, the people from out of town came in,
and our job changed, because what we heard from the audience was different. And I think you’re absolutely right in saying
because, as Americans, we watch so much television, we get used to seeing it sort of come to us.
And we don’t have to respond. We can go to the refrigerator, do whatever it is. And in
a sense, a lot of people have said to me they’ve come to the theatre for the first time in
New York and didn’t know … “Well, what is BLOOD BROTHERS? I mean, I’ve heard that it’s
really funny … it is funny. I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, am I supposed to laugh,
or is it all right for me … should I be quiet?” Somehow or another, being in New York,
seeing a play for the first time, I think, enables those people you’re talking about
to get a sense of what the experience is, which is the audience does participate and
contributes greatly to what we do. And it’s really important. I sometimes have a tendency, which is … I
think, it’s not a good thing for me as an actor, and as part of this company … I tend
to push a little more when … it’s like you hit a ball against a wall and if it doesn’t
fly back at you, you hit it harder. (LAUGHTER) And then it doesn’t fly back at you, so you
hit it harder again. And in the end, you’re screaming. (LAUGHTER) That doesn’t work. What actually is a very important thing to
learn … and I’ve learned this in playing this character, ’cause I come out as a seven-year-old,
in Liverpool, with a Liverpudlian accent … and a lot of people who know my work from something
else, either from television or films or other things I’ve done … Have been surprised. (SHE GIGGLES) .. are a little shocked. The first time you
see me, I sense they’re … (LAUGHTER), you know? And it’s important for me instantly
to make them feel comfortable about it being there. I have a … Willy Russell is a very
fine playwright, who wrote the play, enables me as this character, Mickey, to sit down
with the audience after a moment or two as the audience is staring with their mouths
dropped, and I have about a five minute little monologue, which I tell a poem. And it’s in those five minutes that the audience
gets set up for what the play is, and that you have a chance. I either lose them or I
win them, because I either embrace them and do the dance with the audience, or else, if
you talk at them and you try and convince them that this is the way it’s gonna go, you’re
dead. And I have made the fatal mistake. And it only took me one time. But that’s what we’re talking about here,
is that training and being professional. How do you know how to do the dance with the audience?
How do you know … and this is really a … Well, it’s very subtle. What do you bring to it and where do you get
it … It’s a subtle sort of sense … … that you bring to your performance, listening
to the audience and working and knowing that you have to stretch yourself … Well, that was experience. Years of experience.
(GENERAL AGREEMENT) Where does it come from? What kinds of training
have you had to bring it? A lot of these actors are talking as if you
were directors, and it’s interesting that you have done both and are doing both. Now,
is this something new in the theatre or has this always gone on, that actors have wanted
to be directors or have become directors? I was mentioning before, for example, George
Abbott, who is now a hundred and six, has been a director for the last fifty or sixty
years, and he began as an actor seventy-five years ago and then switched over. He’s still directing. Yeah, he is. But Stephen, even your talking, you’re talking
part like a director, as well as an actor. Well, I mean, the director is a new construction.
I mean, directors didn’t come about until the, you know, turn of the century. I mean,
you really didn’t have, you know … in the 1860’s, the lead actor was the director, and
everyone just sort of like didn’t get in his way (LAUGHTER) … and so everybody just directed
themselves. And so, you know, I mean, so it’s still embedded
in the craft of acting that, in a funny way, you have to be a director. I mean, the director
doesn’t tell you every move to make. I mean, you make your own decisions. You decide very
much yourself what you’re going to with your character, unless the director has a strongly
different opinion. You know, you do what your impulse is. And you become your own director, in a way. And you become your own director. If you come absolutely prepared. And Gielgud said, you know, the only way to
direct a play is to hire the best actors you can get and let them do it and … (LAUGHTER)
I mean … How do you feel about that? Well, I feel in order to … what you were
talking about … to bring something that the audience will participate in in the first
place … The first time I ever did the poems and letters of Emily Dickinson, before THE
BELLE OF AMHERST was written, by William Luce, I did a play of my own, putting together in
chronological order the letters and the poems. And I did it for a church benefit at the Booth
Theatre. And I had no idea how it would go, except that I know that I was so excited about
saying these words. And it was a little like evangelism for me
in that moment, because I wanted them to love her as much as I did. And I knew they would
if they just heard these … “I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there’s
a pair of us!” I mean, just knocks me out. (LAUGHTER) And I always thought that it would
knock somebody else out. And so I had my own vision of this lady, and that was the first
impulse. I mean, it was this strong desire to make someone else aware of what she was.
And I feel that in other characters, I mean … Did you feel the audience responding to this
desire? Oh, yes. Oh … Had they not, what would you have done? (LAUGHTER) Suicide, I guess. I would have … it wasn’t in the realm of
possibility. (LAUGHTER) What a nice attitude to have. (LAUGHTER) Good
attitude. Stephen, you’re very young. How many years
have you been on the stage professionally? Not many … How did it all begin? I mean, I went to graduate school at NYU,
and then had five years out of graduate school struggling, which means that I didn’t do very
much of anything. And then … What were you doing while you were struggling? Oh, waiting on tables. Ah-hah. And catering and … working with … And acting on the side or …? … working with Tony Kushner, actually Tony
Kushner was … … learning or studying? Tony and I met at NYU and he was writing plays
and writing me parts and that’s … he was my training school after school. I mean, it’s
funny because, when I was at NYU, I came to one of these seminars, and Ian McKellen was
here, and I was telling Joe this. And Ian McKellen said something that I’ll never forget.
He said, “The most important thing is not to have a great part. The most important thing
is to have a great director. And then the next most important thing is to work with
great actors. And then the next most important thing is to do a great play. And then the
next most important thing is to have a great part.” (LAUGHTER) And I thought, you know,
that was sort of what my years with Tony Kushner was like. He is an incredible mind for the
theatre. Very fortunate. And I was working with him, and he was writing
extraordinary roles for me. And you know, I mean, so I had, you know, ten … You had the English experience … Yeah. Right here. And so that was pretty much my training ground
after training school. And waiting on tables and that sort of stuff. And then, really my
career started … my career started! … I mean, I started working before my career started,
but … somebody once said to me, “You don’t have a career until you’re on Broadway and
you get a film offer, and you have to choose. Then you have a career.” (LAUGHTER) And, at
that point, you know, I mean … so by that, I really don’t even have a career at all.
(LAUGHTER) I think it’s interesting to go on with this. But anyway, so I’ve only really been … I
mean, I’ve been an Equity actor, I think, for seven years now. Yes, many young actors and actresses do wait
on tables, and I notice again and again — this is one of my obsessions — that so many of
the waiters and waitresses are left-handed. And whenever I say, “Oh, you’re left-handed.
Are you an actor or you’re an actress?” You know, “How …?” (LAUGHTER) It seems to me
a high percentage of actors and actresses are left-handed. George Wolfe is left-handed, actually. And then when you’re going to the movies,
go on stage, you say, “Look, look! Left-handed, left-handed!” (LAUGHTER) I can hardly watch
anything from being so aware of that particular aspect. Because actors are supposed to, among
other things, intuitive about how things are going from one moment to the next, rather
than … they can’t afford to be analytical on stage, but … how many left-handed people
here? (LAUGHTER) Well, there’s your theory. You should win. There’s your theory. Miss Clark? How do you feel about that? About
this audience reaction and how to find them? Oh, well, I think the audience reaction is
very important. But it’s very delicate thing, because as David said, you know, there’s a
bit of the ham in … well, in a lot of us, anyway. And we mustn’t work too much to the
audience. I think we have to keep some kind of inner discipline as well, you know. And all this is very, very personal. I find
it very difficult to talk about acting, because I’m not a trained actress. I don’t know … are
there … are you all trained? I mean, did you go to school and acting school and things
like that? Well, I never did. I did some. I never did. So I don’t have that basic training,
and I’m learning all the time. And so I have to keep that discipline inside me. I do a
lot of concerts, you know, I’m a singer, and so I’m used to working with an audience. But
working in concerts, of course, is really sort of eyeball to eyeball. You know, I mean,
I’m actually working to the audience and that’s very different from working in a play. You
have to be aware, but not too aware. It’s keeping that sort of balance which is very
difficult and delicate, and I think, very interesting. That’s what I do. Joe? When you — well, Steve has said something
about what you can withhold from an audience, which will then increase the tension. Now,
you as the director, actor, do you try to do that, or do you … you were saying, with
the other thing, with the THREE HOTELS, that you had to marry these two things. But the
art of withholding, now what would be an example of how would you do that? Well, I think that, you know, good acting
is about listening, sort of what Stephen was saying. And if you listen, if you listen to
the people that are around you, and also, you have this sense of what’s going on over
here, they will tell you. They will tell you, “I don’t understand the story that you’re
telling, you have to be clearer.” So the next night maybe, you make it a little bit clearer.
Or as a director, when you’re sitting there in previews, and yes, you’re watching the
actors on stage, but you’re also listening to the audience. And then you start to build
from that. And that’s what I think previews are about.
And obviously, if the audience is going for their candy, then something’s not getting
… you know, something’s not traveling. And if they’re silent, and you can hear a pin
drop, then it’s working. And there are, you know, gradations between that. So it’s about
finding. That sort of balance … And in some ways, especially when you start
dealing with emotional issues, when you start dealing with, “Okay, well, this character
is very upset in this scene,” and “Well, just how upset is this character?” And the lines
let you know, to a certain degree, to what degree of extra-ness they’re in. But you go
out there, and you can produce the affect. I mean, you can produce it. But the audience
will let you know how much they want to produce for themselves. And I have a long speech in the first act
of the first play. And I found that if I present to them too much affect, if I give them too
much of an emotional life, they don’t want to deal with it, they don’t want to hear it,
because the speech is very complicated and very subtle. If I am very simple, and just
do it very simply, they’ll listen. They’ll pay very, very close attention, and they’ll
fill in the blank. They’ll fill in the affect. And that’s what I mean by listening to the
audience, by … that’s … I guess that’s the best … Well, this play, ANGELS IN AMERICA, presents
sort of a unique problem in that now, all total, the play is … I don’t know … Seven. Six, seven hours … Six and a half … (LAUGHTER) Seven hours. And so, obviously, you don’t
want to come out in the first scene and give your entire performance. (LAUGHTER) Long way to go. Yeah. So that’s a unique sort of problem that
I’ve never had to deal with before. So that’s maybe what, Stephen, I think you mean about
withholding a bit. Well, what I was getting at, you were talking
about listening. Anybody can listen to the audience, and anybody knows when to pull back
and not pull back or to give more. I want to know how you know how to listen to the
audience. What do you bring to that? Obviously, the answer is you’re a professional. But there’s
something … another level there, not everyone … What is it … Well, in a certain way … .. that you can pass on and tell me? I mean, David sort of said it when he said,
you know, experience on the stage. I mean, you just … to a certain degree it is experience.
I mean, and I’m sure … Not experience that you learn in school … … Julie can tell us more about that. … but experience that you get through working
on stage … Well, yeah. … and with many parts and with many directors. Failure, also, helps. Once you …(LAUGHTER)
Yeah. Trust me, I’ve had a lot of that. I think that that … my dad told me this. In
fact, he said, “I never really learned anything about all the successes I had. It was all
the failures and the flops I was in, that I really learned what didn’t work and why
it didn’t work. I learned, oh, okay, I know if I go down this road, that’s a dead end.” And emotionally, when … you were just speaking
about … there’s an arc to everything, performance, play. And as actors, we are in a sense directors.
We must … you know, you see the play as an actor. Your character has a thread to tell
the story. We are communicators. We communicate the essence and the body of whatever it is
we’re doing here in the play. My job is to go out and I carry a certain amount of information,
but when the play starts to go, in the second act of this play, when it starts to go down,
when my character’s life starts to go down, it takes everybody with me. My mother, my
twin brother’s family and him and his life, my wife … all of them go down. I’ve experienced going too far too soon, to
where in the last scene, when really the climax of the piece occurs … if you’ve already
sort of spent yourself and emotionally done it, there’s nothing left. The audience can’t
really feel, because they’ve already lived it with you before. So there’s a certain amount
of restraint that occurs, that you must consciously try and kind of like withhold. It’s kind of a little bit what we were talking
about before, where you push too hard if they’re not responding. I found I’ve been more successful
by being simpler, by trying to communicate less emotionally. Also, I think that there’s
something that maybe we can all explore a little bit within each other, because we all
have different methodology. In which, through training, through various types of training,
through … I’ve worked with the LA Theatre Company and done some work with them in my
early stages, and I still go back to class, sometimes. As recently as last year I was
in class for a few months. I think it’s a good thing for me to keep sort of sharp and
I … What kind of a class? Larry Moss is an acting teacher and a coach,
and has now in Los Angeles … and was here in New York for quite a long time … and
is a wonderful … was an actor. And I … you know, you work with other actors and you do
plays or you do monologues. Or if I have a problem with a piece of work that I’m doing,
I’ll call Larry and say, “Hey, I’ve got this piece that I want you to read. Will you read
it and tell me, give me your thoughts on it?” And sometimes he’ll just say something to
me. If he’ll read it and say, “Well, it’s this,” and I’ll go, “Oh, yeah, of course,
I knew that.” (LAUGHTER) And if anything, it’s my own sense of … just
the way I get to it, it takes me sometimes a long time to figure out, get the focus on
the character that I’m playing. Maybe it’s because I haven’t done enough work, or I haven’t
worked in rep or whatever it is. But me, David … I take a while before I really … you
know, I can say the words and I can hear it, but it’s like there’s music in the air. And
you can hear the voice, you know the way he moves, you know the way he … and somehow
or another, I take a while before I see it, kind of like focusing a camera on who the
guy is, or who the character is that I’m playing. And I know that all of us go through it differently,
how we get to it. I think it’s important to see how you all
feel. Jeff? Yeah, very much so. I’ve been doing this for
about seven months now, overall. And just last week, something opened up. And it’s just
a case of, as you were saying, doing eight shows a week. And you … I’m not joking … when
you do get to the eighth show, you’re a little desperate. (LAUGHTER) And that’s good, because
it puts you on … I mean, you’re literally holding on with your fingernails. And you
find stuff because of that desperate quality. And you’re out there, and you’re exhausted.
So when you’re exhausted, you’re … I tend to be very open and very … well, “This what
you’re going to get tonight,” you know, it’s … (LAUGHTER) You know, so … It’s fantastic. … it’s real, it’s real. And I find … like
I have this wonderful scene where I’m eating this food that’s poisoned. Well, I couldn’t
find this way to approach this very funny line to cover my fear, knowing I was eating
poison. And it just went (SNAPS FINGERS), boing! Look at the food, it’s right in front
of you. And it just … months I’d been … (LAUGHTER).. Boing! What brought that, that sudden thing? Well, I just … it was one … Is it all the months … It’s … … that you have been doing it and you find
… And it … at that point, you are so comfortable
with the structure, with the words … so they’re not in the way any more. So I could
just go, “Oh, look, I’m eating poison! Aaah!” (LAUGHTER) And it became … Yes. It absolutely came out of my mouth like I
… I went, “Oh, thank you!” (LAUGHTER) Yes, yes, absolutely. It was a strange … and it just dropped.
And it’s just the repetition … What about you, Petula? Do you feel the same
thing? Oh, totally, yes. Yeah, I don’t have anything
as sort of precise as that, but the more I play this role, the more I know about her,
and the more I know about myself, funnily enough. It’s because it’s all coming out from
very deep inside me. But it’s true, you have to know the words and the moves so perfectly,
so that you can start reaching inside yourself. What’s your method, Joe? Oh, God. Well, I think I have like anti-technique
or something, I don’t (LAUGHTER) And I think it’s specific to … you know, I don’t have
a way of working. It’s specific case to case, to whatever the play is. You know, sort of for a while, I tried to
do that thing where you hold the coffee cup? You know, and you imagine … do you know
what I’m talking about, where you sort of … and I just never got it. (LAUGHTER) I
just thought, “Well, that would be coffee. I mean, I’ll be okay.” (LAUGHTER) So it seemed
like a waste of time for me. So I don’t … I mean, I have no words of wisdom other than
… This is not a waste of time, ever. In other
words, I just have to stop you. And we’re coming back to this, because we’re going to
have to take a break now. And we’ll come right back to more of this. Everybody, stand up,
turn around in your seats, take a deep breath, and come right back in here! Stand up, and
we’ll continue this wonderful discussion. (APPLAUSE) Thank you. (MUSIC) This is CUNY-TV. The City University of New
York. (APPLAUSE) We’re back at the American Theatre Wing Seminars
on “Working in the Theatre.” And these seminars are coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. This is the seminar on Perfomance, and how the performers
react to the audience, and what the audience gives to the performer as they’re working. It’s been a most exciting and interesting
story of the audience and the performer, that the audience is part of the performances,
I think what has come out of this. And I’d to continue this around the table here with
these marvelous performers that are here today. Brendan, would you like to do this? Well, I’d like to ask Miss Harris about the
fact that she probably more than anybody here has criss-crossed the country. You know, more
times back and forth … Yes, well, Brendan, I was going to say … I’ve
always grown up in the theatre with the theory that the audience is never wrong. That if
the audience isn’t responsive, it’s not their fault, it’s mine. And I was in Peter Shaffer’s
play recently on tour, LETTICE AND LOVAGE. And it’s an extraordinary play. I played Lettice
Douffet, which is an extraordinary part. And we came to Florida. Now the first scene is Lettice is a tour guide
in an old house and she comes on, she says, “Now, this is the most remarkable feature
of Fustian House. This is the grand staircase constructed in 1560 out of Tudor oak,” as
if that was going to fascinate everybody. (LAUGHTER) And usually, the speech is so,
you know, she’s trying to make the most out of these dull facts, because it’s really a
very uninteresting house. And what makes that first scene thrilling and amusing to the audience
is that you realize she gets fed up with just these boring facts and starts to embellish
them. But we came to Florida and there wasn’t a
sound. There wasn’t a laugh. And I thought, “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!” (LAUGHS)
“I don’t know why,” ’cause this is the funniest, you know, construction of a … and the whole
idea is so funny. (LAUGHTER) So, out of desperation I said … we called
Peter in London and I said, “Is it all right if I say, ‘Now this is the final room of our
tour. This, we come now to the most remarkable feature of Fustian House. This is the grand
staircase …’?” Still … I thought, maybe they don’t know it’s a tour. (LAUGHTER) And then I realized, I said, “It’s your fault
and you have to make it … Maybe you’re very used to the sound of it and the way you’re
doing it.” And so it became harder for me to think of what I could say to make it more
interesting. And when I made that discovery, when I really did that, “This grand staircase,
the queen tripped, and she fell and he came up and …” In other words, the audience could
see me working to make the whole story more interesting. And then they started to respond. Great actor. Exactly. So I thought, I could go on saying, “Hey,
(LAUGHTER) it’s not me, it’s not me, it’s you, why aren’t you getting this?” No, I said,
“No, it’s me, I’m doing … maybe it’s too facile, I’m used to doing it.” And so I struggled
and struggled, and finally got it. But would you call that adjusting to the audience,
or, you know, adjusting your performance to the audience? Well, not my performance … No? … I mean, not the essence of who she was
… I mean, that particular moment. … But that particular thing was … Yes. … it was so fascinating to me. We’ve been talking about the audiences in
New York being different from the audiences that are made from people who come to New
York … But I find that a funny play is funny all
over the country. That’s what I was going to ask. The line is brilliantly conceived by a wonderful
writer, and it almost invariably gets a laugh. What did Peter Shaffer say when you put the
question? He said, “You’re very bright, you’re very
bright to do that.” (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) How nice of him! Before you go out there … yeah, yeah … “Anything you like,” he said. And I said … there
was another interesting line, “Oh my!” And Lettice had a mother who went to France and
had a French company, all female, doing Shakespeare. So she is bilingual. And the “Oh, my!”, I
could imagine what Maggie Smith, who did the part in the beginning, and did it here in
New York, did with “Oh, my!” (LAUGHTER) I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t find a laugh on
“Oh, my!”, and I felt it should … ’cause it’s a button of a scene. So I said … I remembered, I went to a French
lady to have a massage and she said, “Were you Valine’s mother in ‘Knot’s Landing’?”
And I said, “Yes,” and she said, “Ooh, la, la!” (LAUGHTER) So at the end, I thought,
“That’s what I should say, ‘Ooh, la, la!'” (LAUGHTER) And then it was the right button.
And I said to Peter, “Is it okay?” He said, “If it gets a laugh, it’s fine.” (LAUGHTER) Great. We’re about to go to questions from the audience
now. So, would you please come up with your first question? My name is Cathy Lilly, and I have a question
for Joe Mantello. How has rehearsing PERESTROIKA affected your performance with MILLENNIUM
APPROACHES? What are the problems and advantages? Well, before we … how to explain this? … before
we went into rehearsal for PERESTROIKA, the play only went to the point where the angel
… I don’t know who’s seen it, but the angel comes in at the end. So, your performance
is … like David was talking about, the arc, the arc of your performance is from your first
scene to the moment where the angel drops, and that’s all of the information that you
have. And the day that we started to go into rehearsal
for PERESTROIKA, all of a sudden we had more information and more things to play with,
because there were … you know what I mean, there’s more at your fingertips to call on,
which fed back into MILLENNIUM. And now, it’s like … and Stephen was saying this last
night, that it’s like you feel like a whole person, because now the entire life of the
character was there. Before, though we didn’t know it, it was just half a life. And … Thank you. Thank you. Hello, my name is Alexandra, and I have a
question for Stephen Spinella. ANGELS IN AMERICA, and your role in it, are highly emotional.
How do you keep from taking it home with you and burning out? How do I keep from doing that? You know, keep from taking the emotions home
with you once you leave. Well … I mean, to be completely honest,
you do sort of take it home with you a little bit. I mean, I leave as much at the theatre
as I possibly can. I … well, you don’t take home the tears so much, or the anger, or that
sort of stuff, what you take home … I play a person with AIDS. What you take home, what
you find starts permeating your life are the issues of a person who is that sick. And when
you’re doing it eight times a week, you know, and there are certain parallels with that
character … I mean, I don’t have AIDS, but there are other parallels. I mean, we’re both
gay men and we both live in New York and that sort of stuff, and so AIDS is an issue in
my life. When there are those kinds of parallels, those
start invading. It’s sort of an invasive character, to begin with. And you just try to be as sane
as you possibly can, and recognize that this is the character, and this is life, and I
will leave this behind, and I will take this with me. And … I want to ask another question there. How
do you prepare for this emotionally, the next day … I … One part of the question is you’ve left it
in the theatre there and then you come back the next day … Well, I mean, I actually … Do you do any preparation for it? I actually, every night, there’s a book called,
Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog. It’s a book of poems by Paul Manett that he wrote
in the six months after his lover, Roger, died of AIDS. And every night before I go
on stage, I read just to myself in my dressing room those poems. And they are … well, if
you get a chance to read them, you should read them, they’re extraordinary. And that’s
what I do. And then, of course, I think about the issues of the character.
But that lets me … for me, as an actor, the thing that I have to learn, before I can
go on stage every night, is the seriousness of what I’m about to do. And that’s the most
important thing for me to do, before I go on stage, is the seriousness … Very important. Do you want to talk about
that, too? Well, sure, if you’d like. What do you do? I’ll embellish a little bit on it. I have
to go out in my very first scene and lay down on a stretcher and die. And the audience doesn’t
really see it, because it’s a funeral, and it’s my funeral. I come back a half an hour
later, because the play goes back to the beginning, and how this occurred. And we take the whole
journey. And I start as a seven-year-old. So I have to go out, sort of put myself … and
not really be in that mindset. It’s all during that moment of lying there underneath a blanket
and hearing the beginning of it that I … and the half hour before, because it’s pretty
chaotic. I have to take a half an hour alone and start to focus. And for me, in order for all the payoffs in
the play … as an actor and as the director and as all part of this unit that we do, in
telling the story … I have to bring as much joy and life and his innate energy and zest
for life that this character has in the beginning. So that in the end, when he starts to go,
it’s another complete contrast and color. It allows us to see the arc, so that this
guy, who’s so full of life, gets all of it taken out of him. And I have to find, for
me to focus to where to start, so I don’t start too up here or too down here. And I
think I do it innately in myself, but it really requires me just thinking about my journey. Before we go to our next question, I’m going
to thank Bill and Stephen for being here, and they’re on their way to a rehearsal. And
they’ve been playing the part and rehearsing. Do you want to just say goodbye and tell us
what you’re on your way to? Well, I hope not a nightmare. (LAUGHTER) No. We’re rehearsing, I guess the third act of
PERESTROIKA today, so … And? And the fifth. And the fifth. And the same time, you’re working in ANGELS
IN AMERICA, which is a wonderful play. Go, thanks. (APPLAUSE) My name is John Francis Fox, and my question
is for Julie Harris. Since you are very well known for your one woman plays, can you tell
us the difference between acting in a one character play and acting with other actors? Well, I think that in a one person play, the
audience is your other support. You are engaging them in this particular story. And I never
felt very lonely when I was doing a one person play, and I … THE BELLE OF AMHERST, which
was the first one, I just … it was as if Emily Dickinson had invited someone to come
to tea, and I … In the first place, it was very difficult,
because when she first comes on with the tea tray … I had a great director, Charles Nelson
Reilly, who made it all like a picnic and a circus … I just had to cut the cake, pour
the tea, say, “Would you like sugar or lemon?” and … But the first moment was that I didn’t
know whether … I mean, I brought the tea out and then I saw the person, or the persons,
and thought, “I don’t think I can do this.” (LAUGHTER) “I think I’ll excuse myself.” (LAUGHTER)
So that was my first impulse. And then, when I made up my mind to stay,
and say, “Well, yes, and my name is this, and would you like some tea? And I make this
kind of cake .and..” And then one thing led to another and it was just me and another
person who had come for tea. So it was … and I was telling them about my life. Like, I
would … you know, we could be here all day. I would tell you about my brothers and my
father and my mother and my aunts and my uncles and Christmas and New Year’s and people dying
and people being born, and it was wonderful. Thank you. My name is Rebecca Gallegos, and my question
is for Mr. Hyslop. Molina is a very flamboyant character. What did you do for your audition? Oh, God. I was playing the Phantom in Canada
at the time and Hal Prince was rehearsing KISS in Toronto, up the street at the other
theatre. And he came down to see the first act of a matinee, and he said, “You’ve got
to play this role,” and I said, “Oh, I’m sure.” You know, it’s like, “Yeah, okay.” So a month
later, he flew me to New York for Kander and Ebb and Terence McNally to see me.
But meanwhile, they had faxed twenty-seven pages of Molina’s script and songs, and I
had three days to learn it, and I learned all the material from the show. And then I
did that material for them. I think the Broadhurst was about forty-seven degrees inside (LAUGHTER),
and everybody was wearing their overcoats and running out to pee because it was so cold.
(LAUGHTER) And my wife Ruth was in the wings, huddling with her coat on as well. And I did
all the material from the show, and it was very exciting. Do you find auditioning hard? Pardon me? Do you find auditioning hard? Yeah. (LAUGHTER) I don’t do it well. I don’t
know anybody that really does … I’m the worst. … does audition well, and then is really
a good performer, do you know what I mean? (GENERAL AGREEMENT) I think you either do
one or the other. (LAUGHTER) Thank you. Hi. My name is Larry Weissman, and I’m an
actor as well. This is for David, Jeff, and Petula. How is replacing an actor different
from originating a part? Especially after you’ve seen the other actor perform it? Good. It’s a very good question for, I think,
all three of us, because of the … All three of us came into these productions here in
New York and had rather large shoes to fill. Con O’Neill, who I replaced, originated this
part in the West End, and I think he won the Olivier Award over there and he was nominated
for a Tony here. And I know Jeff came in and replaced Brent, who won Tony. And I know that
Petula, also, replaced Stephanie, who was nominated for a Tony. So this is my … the methodology is very
simple. I came in here and had one job and that is to stay within the confines of what
David can do, and not try to compete with another actor. Even though innately I looked
at his performance … I saw it twice … I stayed away from the theatre purposely so
that I didn’t hear his inflections and try … I saw what he did and it gave me a great
advantage, because I watched somebody who had been playing the role for five years,
who was so comfortable in it, and who had so much confidence in himself doing it … who
originally was born in Liverpool, so his “Liverpool” was like, it just … it fffft! off of his
tongue and off of his lips. And I, being an American, had that obstacle to get over. And then knowing that, you know, he had this
sort of cult thing going for him, you know, people rooting for an underdog … and here,
you know, they’ve hired me to come in here and I’m a name and … you know, oh, he can’t
act ’cause he’s from television … You know, there’s that sort of stuff going on and I
had to forget about all of that. What I needed to do was I had to just focus
on the tools that I have and that I am very much innately like this guy. There’s so much
of me … I have so much that embodies this character in me, that I could never do what
Con did. But Con can’t do what I do. I can only be as good as David Cassidy can be, and
not try and do somebody else’s performance. And … Jeff, do you want to add to that? I agree, totally. You know, it’s really what
other people see the role as, and you’re coming in and you’re trying to live up to what those
people … ’cause they’ve seen Con and they’ve seen Brent and they’ve seen … and you’re
coming in and you’re doing what you are capable of. And I think what we all can bring to a
show … and I’ve seen BLOOD BROTHERS, and this is amazing … is that they’ve brought
their own individuality and charisma, and that’s something that maybe the other person
didn’t necessarily have. And I know what I’ve brought … I’m a very
company person and a company actor, and I love to bring everybody together … from
the crew to the orchestra, everybody, the front of house … so that we’re all doing
the same show … Yeah. … every night, from the front of house,
to my job. And I think that’s the difference. Well, that’s my individual difference. Yeah. Petula? Well, I fought tooth and nail not to do this.
(LAUGHTER) Because I had seen the show in London. And I saw it in New York, ‘so I’ve
seen three ladies play Mrs. Johnston, that’s my part. And I thought they were all great,
you know? I just had never pictured myself playing this role. I didn’t think I could
ever play Mrs. Johnston, because she was so far from anything that I could understand.
I’m also a mother, so I found the whole idea of this woman giving her child away very difficult
to swallow, and … I mean, it’s still a difficult moment for me when I’m playing it. But now that I … (LAUGHS) once I had taken
the plunge and said I would do it … of course, I was excited about doing Broadway. Stepping
into somebody else’s shoes was not easy for me, but now I feel that I do know Mrs. Johnston,
and there’s an awful lot of her in me. And every night I’m learning more about her. And
in fact, there was a question that was asked earlier, in the discussion on what do you
take home … I’m finding out an awful lot about myself in this role. So I don’t know if any of this is answering
your question. I have never seen me play Mrs. Johnston, so (LAUGHTER) I don’t know how I
compare with the other ladies. But I know that I’m giving it everything that I have.
Whatever I have is being given, night after night. And … I think that answers it. … the music seems to fit my voice very well,
and I’m just giving it all I’ve got, every night. That’s all I can do. (LAUGHTER) My name is Bob Green, and I have a question
for David Cassidy and Petula Clark. You’ve both been singers for many years. How do you
maintain your voices? Have you listened to me today? (LAUGHTER)
I have a particularly difficult problem. Thank you for asking. (LAUGHTER) As actors, or as singers, we’re on the stage
in the theatre. It’s your instrument. It’s one of the most important ways that we communicate
what’s going on. And in an emotional role and play, as I’m in, I have to scream a lot.
I have to play seven in the beginning, which, you know … (COUGHS) I probably couldn’t
do it now, but (DEMONSTRATES) I talk up here, you know? And when you put your voice up here,
(BRINGS HIS VOICE BACK DOWN) it starts … you have to … actually, you thin your cords
out. The short answer is, I vocalize a lot. I shut
up as much as I can. And it becomes more and more difficult outside of the theatre, outside
of the play eight times a week. I have to try and baby my voice. It’s difficult, because
if you get angry, or if you want to yell up the stairs, you can’t, you’ve got to go sort
of limping up the stairs. (LAUGHTER) Absolutely. How do you do it? How do you do it? It’s the talking that’s the worst. Yeah. Singing, because you’re supporting it, I hope,
is easy. Is easy. Yeah. And you’re singing with a sound system … hopefully,
with a sound system (LAUGHTER) … And you can place it. And you place it. But for me, a lot, I talk
with underscoring … Right. … so you’re pitching the voice over the
underscoring … Uh-huh. … because you think you have to. Really,
you don’t, but you think … do you know what I mean? (LAUGHS) Well, yeah, yeah. That’s where we talk like this … There’s just a little bit … … we’re really tenors, but we’re … (LAUGHTER) We have just room for one more question.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN What are some of the differences between doing
a show outside of New York as opposed to Broadway? Are there any differences? You mean, like Canada or London or …
UNIDENTIFIED MAN … California? Care to …? Well, it’s the most wonderful thrill being
on Broadway. I was ready for the excitement and the nervousness of being here, but I wasn’t
ready for the warmth and the community feeling that I sense. It’s like being embraced. It’s
… Different from London, though, Petula? Yes, it is, it is. Yes. You know, don’t get me wrong, I mean, you
know, London is my home and I love it dearly. And I’ve worked on the London stage a fair
amount. But it’s not quite the same. There’s something very closeknit about Broadway. And
there’s no backscratching, there’s no nastiness. It’s beautiful. I’m very, very happy here.
And I’m just having the most wonderful time in New York. Thanks to lovely people. Must be you. Must be you. (LAUGHTER) I’m afraid I have a standard phrase here.
Forgive me for interrupting you, and forgive me for cutting this short. But we could go
on and on, because the performers that are at this seminar, the American Theatre Wing
Seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” on Peformance, are so talented and so caring and so giving
of themselves, that I for one would like to spend the day with all of them. And I’m sure
that you would, too, but time has come to an end, and we have to close this. This is the American Theatre Wing Seminar.
It is but one in a series of seminars. We do one on the Playwright and Director, one
on the Production, and one on Design. And they are all coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, located on 42nd Street. I am Isabelle Stevenson.
I am President of the American Theatre Wing, and I am very proud indeed to able to bring
the caliber, the type of people that we have brought to you, as representing today’s performers
on the performance. Thank you all for being here. (APPLAUSE)

6 thoughts on “Performance (Working In The Theatre #201)

  1. Interesting and so nice to see Julie Harris….since now she is gone from us. Petula went on to perform in Sunset Boulevard and is still going strong in song and concerts.

  2. Wonderful discussion from all performers on this stage, notably Julie Harris & David Cassidy, who are deeply missed♡

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