Performance (Working In The Theatre #233)

Performance (Working In The Theatre #233)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” which are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York, which is located on 42 Street, this magic,
magic street, right in the heart of New York City. As we are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary
of the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards, I am reminded that this is the 22nd year that
we have been bringing these seminars on “Working in the Theatre” to you. They’re brought to you as a look for you
to have behind the scenes of the theatre, from the perspective of the performer, the
playwright, the director, the scene designer, the set designer, the costume and the unions
and the guilds who work for and with the people who work in the theatre. The American Theatre Wing, as you know, is
the founder of the theatre’s highest honor, the Antoinette Perry Tony Award. And it’s given for distinguished achievement
in the theatre. This award is not given for the longest run
or the greatest review, but it’s given with a great deal of thought to those who have
achieved a degree of excellence in the theatre. It’s a very important award and we’re
very proud of it, but it’s not all that the American Theatre Wing gives. It gives back to the community, through the
theatre. From the time of the Stage Door Canteen, we
have been working in the community through the theatre. We have hospital shows, that’s entertainment
that goes out to those who can’t come to the theatre. They go to nursing homes, hospitals, and AIDS
centers. We have a program that is basically to develop
audiences of the future, and that is working with the Board of Education and through the
generosity of the Broadway producers, providing tickets to young people in the five boroughs,
high schools, of New York. We pay a minimum price for the ticket. They themselves pay a very small amount. A large amount to them, but a small amount
to most people. And with that, they independently buy a ticket
that we provide and come to the theatre. And many times, we have also had seminars
after the theatre, a discussion with the people that work in the theatre, from the stage manager
to the performer, so they too can see what it is to work in the theatre. We’re very excited about a new program that
we have, and that’s Theatre in Schools, and it’s exactly that. Under the Wing’s banner, we have brought
in the people that make theatre come alive, the performer again, the playwright, the director,
and the costume designer. And they sit and discuss with the student
the possibility of working in the theatre and the various areas that are open to them. And these seminars are an important outgrowth
of the Wing’s school. I think they’re unique, and they provide
the most wonderful insight into theatre. Today’s seminar is on the performer, and
to moderate the seminar, to co-chair, is Brendan Gill, who is a member of the Board of Directors
of the American Theatre Wing and he is also an esteemed writer and critic to New Yorker
magazine. And George White, who is equally as esteemed
and equally as important, as a director and founder of the O’Neill Center of the Performing
Arts in Waterford, Connecticut, and is a director and a very fine one, in fact. And I will turn the seminars over to them,
and they in turn will interview and introduce to you the panelists on today’s program. I hope that you will enjoy it. I think you will learn from it. And I’m delighted that they are here and
that you are here, too. (APPLAUSE) The first empty chair belongs to Isabelle. The second empty chair– this is sort of like
TEN LITTLE INDIANS in reverse– belongs to Betty Buckley, who will be with us, but who
is not here, as you see, at the moment. She is the star now of SUNSET BOULEVARD, and
she came here to New York to perform directly from London, where she was in the same great
work, and where she received the Laurence Olivier award for Best Actress in a musical. She was the original Grizabella in CATS. Occupying a chair is Brian Murray, currently
in rehearsal for David Hare’s new play, RACING DEMON, at Lincoln Center. He recently finished a long run in TRAVELS
WITH MY AUNT at the Minetta Lane Theatre and last year’s BLACK COMEDY at the Roundabout. And immediately to my right is Frances Sternhagen,
at the present time performing the role of the aunt in THE HEIRESS. She has performed on and Off Broadway in many
roles, including ON GOLDEN POND, THE GOOD DOCTOR, and DRIVING MISS DAISY. There is an old hymn, Brendan, called “There’ll
Be One Empty Chair.” We could probably sing that at the end. (LAUGHTER) Far out on my left is Liz Callaway,
who is currently playing Grizabella, and when Betty Buckley gets here, it’ll be fun to
talk about that, in CATS on Broadway. She has been in many Broadway musicals, including
BABY, and was recently at the Rainbow and Stars with her sister, Anne Hampton Callaway,
in SIBLING RIVALRY. REVELRY, actually. Revelry? Although there was a little rivalry. (LAUGHTER) Oh, okay. Well, there you are, right. And on her right is Roger Rees, appearing
in INDISCRETIONS, and is an Associate Artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company and remembered
for his really landmark portrayal in NICHOLAS NICKELBY. On my immediate left is Valerie Harper, who
returns to the stage in DEATH DEFYING ACTS at the Variety Arts Theatre, is known for
her television work on her own show, “Rhonda”– “Rhoda.” This is my day. And “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “Rhoda Revelry.” (LAUGHTER) There we are! But really is a veteran Broadway performer,
and this production marks her return. So welcome back. Thank you so much, George. (APPLAUSE) Well, I’d sort of like to start with Liz,
because we were talking earlier before the show, and just how she got started. And I gather you trucked in from West Virginia
with your sister. No, actually from Chicago. Oh, with your sister, and set up in New York,
set up shop. What made you do that? What made you leave Chicago and come here? Well, Anne was 21 and I was 18 at the time. And we had both gone to college for a very
short period of time, and it just seemed right. And it was really kind of out of MY SISTER
EILEEN. (LAUGHTER) We really just kind of left together. We didn’t have very much money. We ended up in this little hotel that ended
up being a place where prostitutes lived, which we didn’t realize until we were there! And we both started working. Anne started working in piano bars and I took
classes and I was a singing waitress and did a club act. And then I got my first Broadway show, MERRILY
WE ROLL ALONG, when they were looking for, like, 19 year olds who could sing and dance. So I brought my birth certificate to prove
that I really was 19. (LAUGHTER) And we had a lot of adventures. We just celebrated our anniversary of moving
to New York when we did our show. And it was really amazing to be on stage with
my sister, I think it was 13 or 14 years after we had moved together. It brought back so many memories. And I can’t believe I’m on this stage
with this incredible panel. I really feel like, “What am I doing here?” (LAUGHTER) It’s great. Well, did you just decide with Anne, “Gee,
let’s go to New York”? Well, she was planning on going to New York,
and I was living in California at the time. And she went to visit me in California. We got drunk one night and said, “Let’s
move together.” (LAUGHS) You know, it really wasn’t that
thought out. (LAUGHTER) But our parents totally supported
us. And I kind of came to New York with a three
year plan. I had like a goal of maybe getting in the
chorus of an Off-Broadway musical in three years, even though, you know, it was just
kind of a general plan for myself. But I knew I needed to study and work real
hard. And I actually did a lot better and quicker
than I had thought I would. But I learned a lot. We had a lot of adventures. It’s a tough city, but I was very fortunate. There are sisters who have been able to work
together on stage and on screen, and there were, in fact. But much rarer are brothers. I wonder why that is? Have there been any brothers in history? I can’t think of any. Not that I can think of. The Hines brothers. John Wilkes and Edwin Booth. (LAUGHTER) The Hines brothers, yeah. Because it can be family work. Yeah. And it’s important to hear that your parents
really did believe in you. They totally believed in us. Are they in West Virginia? My mom is a voice teacher in New York now,
and my dad still lives in Chicago. Actually, when I was in high school in Chicago,
I used to take trips by myself to New York, and I’d stay in a little hotel and see shows,
as many shows as I could, for the weekend. And just the fact that my parents let me do
that, I think was incredible. But I was very independent and pretty street-smart
at that age, so when we actually moved to New York, I don’t think they worried about
us so much. They knew that I would take care of my big
sister. (LAUGHTER) We’ll get your father here yet. (LAUGHTER) I know. Get his side of the story. Roger, do you come from London, or outside
of London? And did you make the same kind of move to
move into London? No, I was born in Wales, in a place called
Avaristwith (PH). And we were there till I was nine, and then
I came to London and I lived in South London. I was telling Valerie earlier that really,
(DOES ACCENT) I talked like ‘at, you know? (LAUGHTER) But I became an actor at a time
when actors spoke, I guess, like I speak now. You know, kind of properly, sort of received
English, BBC English. And nowadays, people just speak with their
own accents, and it’s a much more attractive and plausible thing, I think now. But I was so shy as a boy that I retreated
to the art room. And I was very sensitive and artistic, and
I became an artist, really. And that’s all I could do. I was ragged in the schoolyard, you know,
and I just sort of retreated, really. I don’t know what it was, I couldn’t face
things. I was a boy in London at school at the time
when the first waves of immigration from the Colonies happened, you know? The result of our imperialization of the world. Britain was, you know, very important. All the globe was this color at one time. But lots of black families came to England
and there was fear on both sides at that time, very great fear. Especially in the schools, you know, it was
a terrifying time. A fear of the unknown, you know, which thankfully
we’re getting past, every day a little better. So there was a lot of anger and distrust at
that time in London, certainly in the poorer communities. So I retreated to the art room, but I was
very good at art. I guess I’m artistic, you know? (LAUGHTER) And that’s the way it came out
at that time. It was too sissy to say I wanted to be an
actor, really. (LAUGHTER) But I never really was at any other
classes. When there were any other classes, I was always
up in London trying to get into theatres, like creep in the back way or try to go to
museums and things. You didn’t go to RADA or LAMBDA? Oh, not at all. I was thrown out of the Aldwich (PH) Theatre. I crept in the back way, climbed out the top
and watched Peter Brook direct a rehearsal of U.S., which was a play he did there. And a guy found me and they threw me out. And that’s the theatre where I played NICKELBY
eventually. (LAUGHTER) Oh, that’s great. Very nice. So that’s kind of good. So I was at art school, so I didn’t really
talk until I was about seventeen. I went to art school, and you know, you don’t
talk when you’re an artist, you just paint. And I suppose the best example of what happened
eventually was that I went to the Slade School of Art and I painted very large canvasses. The Slade School of Art is on Gower Street
right next to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. And I would, on windswept November mornings,
be lugging my enormous canvasses along the street like this. (DEMONSTRATES; LAUGHTER) And I’d see the
acting students going in with, like, a pair of sneakers and a book of LOVE’S LABOUR’S
LOST or something. And I thought, “Something’s wrong here.” (LAUGHTER) Do you still paint? No, you know what? Painting’s really such a full-time occupation,
so much an expression of my artistic being, that I really am reserving that until I have
a bit more security so I can get a studio and just paint, perhaps for the rest of my
life or something. You know, I have that little secret thing
that I’d like to do one day. It’s certainly a very different form of
expression, as you just indicated, in your own life. Not at all, no. I was going to say, there’s always been
a link between actors and painters. Not so much actors and musicians. But somehow, there’s an affinity. The color and the visual. I find, though, I do the same as an actor
as I do as a painter. As a painter, I used to make a big mess and
then clean it up, and I think I do that as an actor, too. You know, I go wild in the rehearsals and
then define it more and more. So I think I recognize it as perhaps the same
process. Lots of, of course, wonderful actors that
I know were at art school. And perhaps when the expression of your art
couldn’t be the way you wanted it to be, you made it something else, and then turned
it, when you had a bit more power. Well, there’s a theory of all the arts together,
that what they all have in common is that they are ways of solving a puzzle. Yes. Whatever it is, it’s the mentality of puzzle
solving that makes the novelist or the actor or the painter or anything like that. And this is apparently true. Now, what of you? Oh, yes, that’s excellent, wonderful. I’ve never heard it said that way. What were you saying, Isabelle? I was saying, it’s the first time this sort
of technique has been explained, that everything is a mess and then you begin to pull it all
together and you get the lines and connect them. Yes, please God. (LAUGHTER) Yes. Wasn’t it Michelangelo who said that the
statue was in the block? Yes, very good. I like that. And he had to edit out. “Not that, not that, not that.” Yeah, it’s wonderful. Without missing anything vital, in that case. We hope so! (LAUGHTER) Yes. Valerie, tell us about your background. Now, again, it’s great to have you back
from television, not that television is “selling out.” But did you start in theatre? Oh, yes. In fact, I saw Moira Shearer in THE RED SHOES,
and like many girls of my generation, you wanted to be little Vickie. In fact, I told my mother to call me Vickie,
because her name was Victoria in that, little Vickie. I said, “Call me that. I’m going to be Vickie Vale.” Then I found out, that was a girlfriend of
Batman? Yeah! I didn’t realize it at the time, I thought
I was being original. The married sister of Lois Lane, but that’s
another story. Yeah, that’s right! Yeah, alliteration, something with these superheros’
girls. Anyway, so I wanted to be a ballerina and
really went about working to get into the ballet. And I studied, oh, ten, twelve classes a week. And we moved to New Jersey when I was, I guess,
about eleven. From? From Ashland, Oregon, where I was taking lessons. Before that was California. My dad was in the lighting business and we
moved every two years. One of the moves was to escape the bomb. I was of that generation. (LAUGHS) Yes, “Let’s move to Ashland.” My mother said, “But it’s right on the
coast, I don’t get that this is a good move.” (LAUGHTER) Anyway, whatever, the fifties mentality. And I started working. I went to ballet school diligently, at Carnegie
Hall, right next door. It was called Ballet Arts Studio and I lived
many wonderful lifetimes there, sweating in the ballet room. And then at the age of about seventeen, I
was a very good student, and my dad and mom wanted me to go to college. I started auditioning for musicals. My very first job was at Radio City Music
Hall. Not a Rockette. Okay, interesting. A ballet girl, the pointe shoes. I could tap, but not well enough to be a Rockette. And it continued, and I went to Hunter part-time
and the New School, in between classes. And then I got into Broadway musicals. And LI’L ABNER was my first one and TAKE
ME ALONG with Walter Pidgeon. And then we did WILDCAT with Lucille Ball
and SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING. And DESTRY, I was in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, with
wonderful Dolores Gray, a wonderful singer, and Andy Griffith. But I never opened in that, because I got
hepatitis along the way. And then, during this time, I started using
my chorus dancer/singer money to pay for acting lessons. And I was trying to get summer stock. And then finally I realized it would have
to actually end, being in the chorus, much as I liked it, if I were going to become an
actress. And that’s what I did. And then I worked in lots of things. My first job was COME BLOW YOUR HORN at University
of Connecticut, playing Connie, the girl upstairs. Yeah, it was Neil Simon’s first Broadway
comedy, at least. And then, I just continued, working as an
actress. Second City and Story Theatre. You make it sound all very simple and very
easy. Oh, no, no, it was very hard. It was rough. But you were self-sufficient from what? Sixteen? Oh, no. My parents were so supportive. I lived at home. In fact, Stubby Kaye was in LI’L ABNER,
he played Marion (PH) Sam. “Jubilation T. Cornpone” was the big number. And he used to call me his Holland Tunnel
Honey. (LAUGHTER) Because I was coming through on
the bus from Jersey City and my family, Mom and Dad and my sister and brother, and just
out of high school, coming into the show. So I commuted for a long time. Then a girlfriend of mine, who is now Iva
March, and she married at that time this young struggling actor, you know, they tried a while
in California. His name is Ron Rivkin, who has really come
into his own. But they’re old, dear friends of mine, and
Iva was my roommate. She met Ronnie, they got married, and I moved
with other roommates, and so forth. So that was my early life. CHORUS LINE was my early, early life. That show really displays what my life was
like. And then I moved into the acting, and it was
a whole different ball of wax, as they say. Fantastic. And then television. But you see, theatre had prepared me to play
Rhoda. Sure, it did. And I think theatre prepares everyone, and
I tell kids when I do seminars. I did DEAR LIAR with Anthony Zerbe (PH) and
we toured all over the country and would have a master class, and I use the term loosely,
“master,” I don’t know. But they would ask, “Oh, how do I get in
TV?” And I’d say, “Look, do you want to wear
Cher’s gowns or do you want to be an actor?” Because they’re quite different. Not that Cher can’t act, she’s wonderful. But I’m saying, the glitter and stepping
out of limos with lights and stuff and lots of makeup and great gowns, it’s not what
the theatre is about. So get into an acting class, start working,
work with your friends, get an improv group going. Find out if you really like the struggle and
the challenge and the joy of doing that hard work that is acting, if you’re serious about
it. Frances is the one that will go into that,
I think. Yes. Where you start. It’s sort of a different technique. I didn’t really answer your question. No, that’s fine, that’s great. What about family support in your case? Well, no, I had family support. I really admire the people who don’t and
buck through a lot of things, but I always did. And I started at Arena Stage after teaching
for a year, because I was scared to come to New York. (LAUGHTER) You were born in Washington or you lived there? Yes, Washington D.C. And I had no connections with theatre. My family had no connections with theatre. And I went to college, and at the time, everybody
I knew who was sort of going someplace was going into the CIA. (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s an acting job. That’s what people were doing in the fifties! That’s an acting job! That’s right. Well, believe it or not, when I went to Europe,
I was traveling around, and a friend of mine was with what they called “G-2” in Salzburg
and actually wanted me to be a spy in the Vienna theatre, you know, a young student
theatre. And I said I couldn’t ever do that, because
I would start being interested in people and– And telling everything. I’d tell everything! (LAUGHTER) Blabbermouth! Absolutely a blabbermouth. So instead? So instead, I taught for a year. And then I found myself kind of performing
for the students. I mean, I taught everything from, let me see,
square dancing, group singing, dramatics and modern dance, outside of Boston. And the Brattle Theatre, I didn’t know it
was going out of business at the time. But I wanted to get into the Brattle Theatre
because I saw everything they did, so I tried for an audition at the Brattle Theatre for
a young man who was the producer, who was a Harvard graduate, who wore a tweed coat
with the leather patches and smoked a pipe. And in the audition room, where I did five
very different things, he was about as far away from me as those glasses of water. And you know, I did Juliet and I did Margery
Pinchwife and Sonya in UNCLE VANYA, quite a lot of different things. And at the end of it, he said, tapping on
his pipe, “Miss Sternhagen, if you want to be an actress, may I advise you to give
up teaching? You do everything as if you’re leading the
Girl Scouts onto the hockey field.” (LAUGHTER) Oh, oh! And I got so mad that I did! (LAUGHTER) And I went down to Washington and
again tried to get into Arena Stage, and I was rejected. And so I went to Catholic University to see
if I could get into their plays, because Alan Schneider was working both at Arena Stage
and at Catholic U. And Father Harkey (PH) at the time, I said,
“What do I do to get into your plays?” And he said, “Well, you have to take a course.” And I said, “Oh, okay. What do you suggest?” “How about Acting?” (LAUGHTER) “Oh. Okay.” Well, I took a course in Acting. It was very poorly taught. I mean, they didn’t really teach acting
at the time. But I did. They just had lost a lot of graduate students,
and I got into their first two plays, which were THE ALCHEMIST and SKIN OF OUR TEETH,
and was asked to go to Arena Stage, and that’s how I started. Oh, that’s great. Well, that’s pretty hard work. Oh, yeah. But I quite agree with Valerie, and what I
tell students is just get into any plays you can, anywhere! Get up there. Just get up there and do it, and see if you
can stand it. (LAUGHTER) Exactly! See if that’s what you want to do. But what about you? Yes, Brian, you’re now challenged to have
very complicated beginnings. I have to follow, right? (LAUGHTER) And were you supported by your parents? No, no. Okay, there had to be something. And I didn’t ever do anything else. And I was a child actor. Really? I started as a child actor in South Africa,
actually, which is where I was growing up at the time. I was one of those little pink countries that
Roger was talking about. (LAUGHTER) And it just so happened that there
were an awful lot of actors from England who used to come out to South Africa in the winter
and enjoy themselves, because it was a lovely climate. So I got to work with extraordinary people
like Gwen Francon-Davies and Nan Monroe (PH), and you know, people who were directors, Clifford
Williams (PH). And I started as a child, I started in Shakespeare. I played Arthur in KING JOHN when I was eight. And you didn’t have your marvelous register
of voice. That all was to come. I don’t think I had any voice at all. But the extraordinary thing was that I hadn’t
ever thought about it. I was very shy, too, extremely shy and very
frightened. But the moment I set foot on a stage, I felt
comfortable. I felt at ease in myself for the first time
in my life. And it continued to be that. And I was very lucky at that time, because
there were a lot of plays with young people, ingenues, I mean, fourteen, fifteen year olds. And I was in those a lot. And then I went to England. But it wasn’t until I got into the RSC,
which was after I’d been in England for a couple of years, that I suddenly realized
that there was a damn sight more than just the slightly cocky exhibitionist kid. (LAUGHTER) You know, I suddenly was working
with people like Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft, you know, and I was overwhelmed by the very
being of Shakespeare. So that was where I really started to understand
what the real importance of acting was to me. I didn’t believe that it was permissible
for an actor not to feel stage fright. You mean, you never felt stage fright? I felt fright everywhere else, but not on
stage. (LAUGHTER) That’s wonderful. That is an exception, then. Now, it’s different. Now I feel stage fright, but then I didn’t. Now, you’re a serious professional. But your name is Irish. Yes. Were you an Irish family? Well, Scots-Irish. My parents were both British, but my mother
was Irish and my father was Scottish. So you moved to England really as an actor? Yes, I was going to go to drama school, actually. I had been accepted at LAMBDA. And (LAUGHS) I got a job instead. I got a job in a weekly rep company, Barry
O’Brian (PH), which is down on the coast, for about eight pounds a week. And I was learning so much more every week,
by doing a new play every week for fifty-two weeks– Oh, my God. — than I think I could have learnt at drama
school. So I didn’t go, you know. I sort of said, “Thank you very much.” Did you ever go back to school? No. (LAUGHS) No, I never did. You kept learning through the roles, when
you worked. Never had a lesson in me life. Yeah, yeah. (LAUGHTER) Through the roles, through the
people, through the job. And I think there’s nothing like it, as
far as I’m concerned. I mean, I think I have missed being a student,
just the sort of freedom of being a student and learning and not having to think about
earning my living, which I have always had to do. But I’ve never really regretted having gone
the way I went, you know. That’s fascinating. And of course, in the old days, the last century,
that was how people learned. You just apprenticed yourself to something,
got into a company, and worked and worked your way up. Sure. Which is fascinating. Is that your experience, too, Roger? You didn’t go, apart from being blown off
the street? (LAUGHTER) No. What you say about the apprenticeship thing,
I feel very much part of that system that Brian’s talking about. I’m reminded in the eighteenth century,
when you were too old to play Romeo, you would sell your tights to the younger actors. (LAUGHTER) And look round to buy a smock for
Friar Lawrence. (LAUGHTER) The ultimate recycling. Sure, absolutely. But people ahead of me in the Royal Shakespeare
Company were people like Ian Holm and Ian Richardson, who got, you know, more immediately. And they’d gone all the way through from
playing spear-carriers. As I’m sure, you know– They were there when I was there. That’s right, you know. That’s right! Standing at the back watching people. When did you leave Wales? When I was nine, we came. My father was a policeman, so we came to England,
to London. And did you ever have a strong Welsh accent? No, I don’t think so, really, particularly. I mean, they all spoke in that funny way in
Wales, you know. But I mean, yes, and so then I spoke a bit
more kind of like London and then I tidied it up as an actor. Well, when did you change– But there’s such a richness to the Welsh. Yes, oh, yes. See, I feel an affinity and a kind of sense
of that, you know, the Richard Burton-ness of it all, the Dylan Thomas-ness of life. Sure, I associate with that. But I think, yeah, I feel very poetic in that
way. I think there is something from, you know,
being brought up with those wonderful people. Lots of singing in the pubs and things. Well, it wasn’t a slip of the tongue for
you to say, “I went to England.” Yeah, I went to England, that’s right. But Wales and England were always at war,
really. I notice you can pronounce place names so
admirably. Nobody can pronounce really Welsh place names. (LAUGHTER) No, I’m not that clever at that. (MAKES A GNASHING SOUND TO DEMONSTRATE) That’s
so difficult, isn’t it? Very long names. Gogogogoffing (PH). Yeah, rilogleffy (PH) and all that. That’s right. But did you audition? No, like Brian, I never, ever took any instruction
as an actor, save when I did get to the Royal Shakespeare Company, when I had to keep on
going. So I was never educated, really, you understand? But how did you get to the Royal Shakespeare
Company? Yeah, exactly. Well, I was painting scenery at Wimbledon
Theatre, which is in South London. Oh, my God. (LAUGHTER) And Arthur Lane (PH)– Arthur Lane! — who ran Wimbledon. And Audrey Lupton (PH). (LAUGHS) And Audrey Lupton. Yes! I write to Audrey, still. Send her a card at the holidays. And Arthur Lane was one of the last of the
great actor-managers. He really (DEMONSTRATES) spoke like that! He said, “My dear boy!” (LAUGHTER) And he came onto the stage, and
I was painting the backcloth for the pantomime, the Toyland, you know, lots of little teddy
bears and things, jack-in-the-boxes. (LAUGHTER) And he said, “Do you want to
be in a play week after next?” And I was. I was in HINDEL WAKES (PH), playing the lead. It was because I was the only boy around. You know, I was the only kid. And I got seven pounds a week painting scenery,
and I got seven pounds a week acting. He sent me that day to go and get measured
for a suit, up at Charles Fox’s in London. I came back and I was rehearsing the next
week. Did you know this man, too? I knew Arthur Lane, yes. When were you at Wimbledon? I mean, I was an actor at Wimbledon. Oh, yes, with Jasmine Dee (PH) and people
like that. With Jasmine Dee and Ruth Porter (PH). Arthur Lane used to– And Peter Hatton (PH). That’s right, Peter Hatton! (LAUGHTER) Oh, my God. It’s very small. Very small. Probably his suit that you were going to wear. Yes, I was wearing your suit. And my tights. Yeah, your tights. (LAUGHTER) But Arthur Lane did so many plays. He did something like two plays in a week,
you know. Was he a producer or a director? He was an actor-manager, so he was in the
plays, and he produced, fired, hired, did everything. He bought the set and costumes from CAMELOT
when it finished at the Drury Lane Theatre, cut it down and made it into two pantomimes,
which he sent out, you know what I mean? (LAUGHTER) Great, great! But he would take a script, when he played
a part, he had no time to learn it, you see? Because, you know, he was directing the play,
he was hiring everyone. So he would take a Samuel French edition and
tear it up and leave it. Like a bit would be on the mantelpiece (LAUGHTER),
a bit would be over here. So that was his performance, he’d say, “Uh,
well, my dear, I think you should leave this morning.” And then he’d go over to the coffee table. (LAUGHTER) “Because we are expecting …” I love it! That’s fabulous! But he must have been a very good teacher. That’s the only comparable thing that we
have in soap operas. Soap operas, yeah. There are lines very often on the floor. It’s a great education for an actor. No time to be frightened, really. We don’t really have that apprenticeship. I feel like Brian says. I’m only frightened now, really, you know,
when you have time to think about it. No, there’s no time. And you know something about it. I guess that’s right. You know what to expect, yeah. But there’s one gift that actors have to
have that I can’t even imagine possessing and that is to be able to memorize as much
as you do. Now, you can do it by putting it on the mantelpiece,
but that’s only fit for the actor-managers. Did you ever have any trouble memorizing,
as a child, learning? No. I think, you know, that’s one of the things. If you’ve got a head for numbers, you know,
there’s no point in being a mathematician if you can’t add one and one. I think that’s one of the basic things that
one has to have as an actor. Really, it should be the least of one’s
worries, the least of one’s problems. And fortunately, it has been for me. I think a lot of actors are fairly quick studies,
or else you’re going to be in such pain and anxiety. Well, fifty-two different plays. Fifty-two different plays, yes. And you know, you still had time to go to
the movies. (LAUGHTER) This is wonderful. I may have told this. There’s a wonderful story about a lady who
was doing rotating rep and doing a new play every week or something. And suddenly went up one day and the stage
manager tossed her the line and tossed her the line and she didn’t react, and finally
turned offstage in high dudgeon and said, “Not the line, you fool, what’s the play?” (LAUGHTER) Now, Valerie, when do you find out? You began dancing and everything else, so
memorization wasn’t the same kind of thing. Or is learning lines and learning steps the
same? Yes, but I studied here in New York, because
there isn’t a place to work. It’s almost like Mary Tarsi (PH), a lovely
actress who worked at the Actors’ Lab in Los Angeles, she worked. And she’d say, “Look, the thing about
going to class for American actors is a chance to work. You’ve got to think about it as a workout,
like going to the ballet barre.” And I did summer stock. And this is an interesting thing, to keep
body and soul together, I did what you call industrial shows. And as a dancer/singer, that was an opportunity
to really act. And I remember, Jed Horner (PH) was his name,
he was a director, he said, “You know, Val, you have a Judy Holiday quality.” It was a Chrysler show (LAUGHTER) and we walked
around cars. And I played a nurse. It was almost like a little vaudeville, but
the cars were the stars. And you made a lot of money. Oh, my God, maybe 280, maybe 300 a week, touring
around. And what it was, was introducing, for instance,
the 1996 Chryslers to the trade only, the dealers in Detroit and then you go to major
cities. But I remember him saying, “Why don’t
you do this secretary like Judy Holiday?” And I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll try that.” And I started doing it. And it was interesting. It was almost my first, and huge, theatre
and lots of microphones and having to sustain a character, even though it was talking about
the cars, it was very helpful. So as Americans, we didn’t have that same
kind of situation, where it welcomed you in and you work out. So class was a big thing. I studied with John Cassavetes and Tony Manino
(PH) down at Herbert Bergdorf. And Bill Hickey, I was in Bill’s class in
the early days. And then you just catch it as catch can. And then I understudied. Was there a network that went around, that
you were able to go from one place to another, as you’re describing? You read the trade papers. You were invited by choreographers. You heard about auditions, that kind of thing. But I really got it out of Show Business and
Back Stage, the two papers. Oh, hi, Betty! (LAUGHTER) Betty knows about this, and you
just go and read and do and try. And then, Second City was a wonderful opportunity
for me. It was from that the other things came. We’re going to get to you right now. Yes, there’s Betty. Welcome! Betty Buckley, as you well know. (APPLAUSE) And you’ve already been introduced
and praised behind your back and now to your front. Thank you. And we’ve been having a hilarious morning– We’re getting into experience about working
in the theatre now. — with all kinds of educations and all kinds
of wonderful people, so now you can pitch in. Oh, okay. But at the very beginning as always we were
asking how people got started and that kind of thing. And it happened this morning, it was interesting,
that two or three of the people had had very strong support from their parents. It was something where they didn’t have
to fight any conventions in the past. What about you in the very beginning of your
career? Oh, my father was a Victorian fundamentalist
from South Dakota. Uh-oh. And he was very opposed to my being in the
theatre. And my mother had been a singer/dancer at
Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and he had been a cadet there and he’d fallen
madly in love with her. And then, of course, married her up and wouldn’t
let her perform any more. And so, she instantly got pregnant with me,
and they discovered I could sing when I was about five, they had me singing in church. My aunt had been a dance teacher, so I started
taking dance when I was three. And my father, this drove him nuts. And so, they’d have these huge fights as
she would sneak me out of the house for my dance classes. And I started performing pretty regularly
by the time I was eleven, and professionally when I was fifteen. And we lived in Fort Worth, Texas. There was a wonderful summer stock theatre
called Casa Manana. So I had a great deal of professional experience
from the time I was fifteen, working in the summer stock musicals there, and then in college. But it was all a big fight with my father. When did he reconcile himself to it? He really never did. He was, you know, a very stubborn man, and
he felt that actresses and whores were the same entity, you know. And so we used to have these wild fights about
it. But years and years later, after CATS was
on Broadway, he refused to come see it. I did get him to see 1776, because he thought
a musical about the Declaration of Independence was okay. (LAUGHTER) Was worthwhile! And I did this TV show called “Eight is
Enough,” and I thought, “Oh, well, he’ll like this.” But he didn’t even like that. It was very strange. So finally, he refused to come to CATS and
he refused to come to the Tony Awards, but then I got to do my debut at Carnegie Hall,
for a big benefit for Lenox Hill Hospital. And so, I invited them, after all this, and
he was getting a little bit older, so I flew them out. Where was he living at that time? In Fort Worth, still in Fort Worth. And so I flew my parents up for this occasion. And you know, I had a black velvet dress,
a sixty-four piece symphony. It was really a great occasion, to sing at
Carnegie Hall. It was like a real dream come true. So he came backstage and he was his usual
gruff stuff, and I was like, “Well, Dad,” you know. (LAUGHTER) And he’s like, “World class,
Betty Lynn, world class.” Oh, great! That’s great! Yeah. And that was a real sweet moment. And it’s true! Thank you. Well, it took a long time. Yeah, it took a very long time. And what about your mother all the time? She was on your side, wasn’t she? Well, she was almost a classic stage mother,
you know, constantly looking for opportunities for me to perform. You were an only child? No, no. I had three younger brothers who are all in
therapy. (LAUGHTER) When you came to New York, did you study in
New York? Yes. I minored in theatre in my university. There was a wonderful professor at Texas Christian
University named Dr. Jack Cogdale (PH), who had just taken over the theatre department. And there was no theatre minor program, and
he knew that my father would never allow me to major in theatre. So he created a theatre minor at TCU, so that
I could participate in the program. Oh, how wonderful. He observed me from just classes around and
got the situation, and had gone to school with my mother and kind of sussed out the
situation and set this up. So I majored in journalism, minored in theatre. When I came to New York, I studied with several
people, but Stella Adler was one of my most influential teachers. And I studied voice for twenty years with
Paul Gavert (PH), who was a great lieder singer and classical teacher. And those, I think, were my two most important
teachers. What did Stella give you? Many people in the theatre talk about Stella
Adler as a teacher. I never really put my work in front of her,
because she was very terrifying. She was real theatre. She was seventeen times life-size. Yes, indeed. (LAUGHTER) I watched her take these other actresses to
task and learned from their mistakes really well. (LAUGHTER) But I studied her script analysis
classes. And I was so inspired by everything she said. The poetry of the way of thinking about characters
and play analysis really would inspire me and I would take copious notes, you know,
about everything. Every now and then, I’d been sitting next
to some younger students who, you know, were taking the classes with some kind of reticence
or cynicism and would comment about this older woman who was such a grande dame. One day, I turned around, I said, “Do you
have any idea who you’re talking about? This woman is like one of the greatest legends
in theatre!” You know, it’s like, “If you can’t say
something great, just be quiet.” You know, she was so spectacular, really. Her mind was just so rich and so inspiring. And in those days in theatre, I was lucky
to work in some long runs on Broadway, you know, for very little money in those days,
but enough money to pay for my classes and my therapy, you know. (LAUGHTER) So I would stay in shows for, like,
long periods. Like, I was in PIPPIN for two years and eight
months, and I thought I would go nearly– well, I did go pretty crazy! (LAUGHS) But that paid for my classes, and
I would just, you know, absorb everything I could. You didn’t have to wait on table at any
time? No, I didn’t. She did that. I used to go to her home for dinner. She had waiters wearing white gloves and serving. And I once asked her where they came from
and she said, “From the studio, they’re all students.” And I said, “Well, waiting on table here?” And she said, “Oh, yes, they have to learn
to do everything.” (LAUGHTER) And that was part of it. But anyway, her classes for me, and being
in long runs, was about how to constantly re-stimulate your creative inspiration in
a venture that was about repeating the same performance over and over again. And how to keep thinking fresh and alive,
and mining different levels of the material that seemed so familiar, but there was a depth. And so, you know, it inspired a way of viewing
things for me. I think one of the performers talked about
a show that has a long run, that many, many times that you do it, you find new things
in it. It becomes a new vehicle for you, if you just
let yourself work with it, and you learn something about it each time. Yeah. You have to, or else you go mad. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You really have to find
a spontaneity every night. Well, how do you deal with that, Brian? Listening. You just listen. Listening to the audience? Well, you always listen to the audience with
the third ear, you know, that’s part of it. But listening to the person that you’re
acting with. I mean, just making sure that you’re not
thinking about, “What am I going to do after the show? (LAUGHTER) Isn’t this boring? Oh, what do I like for supper?” And you know, you’ve just got to listen
as though you’re hearing it for the first time. It’s a trick of maintenance. But it’s vital. Otherwise, you will go nuts. And I have. I have to say that I worked with an actor
once who had been told that, and he started mouthing my words. (LAUGHTER) Oh, no! I had to tell him that that’s what he was
doing. He was so mortified. He said, “Really? But So-and-So told me that I must listen to
keep fresh. And I guess I’m listening too hard!” (LAUGHTER) So he was mirroring. Which is a good exercise. Yes, but . . . Now, you’ve been in THE HEIRESS for months
and months. But THE HEIRESS has enough content so I can
imagine thinking and listening in that sense through the play. Oh, yes. But if the play that you’re in, by bad luck,
is trash, but popular– I know. — how in the world do you go on listening
to that? That would be very hard. It’s very hard. No play is trash. I’m surprised at you! I beg your pardon. I had a play on Broadway, and I assure you,
it was trash. (LAUGHTER) Brendan! And it died like a dog on the street after
three days, and it richly deserved to do so! So I speak with authority. I wondered, what I’m hearing also, apart
from these moments of revelation, Brendan, is that there are teachers that are inspiring,
like Stella. And you mentioned, almost a legend, which
is Father Harkey, apart from the spy from the CIA, who was a Harvard graduate, so I’m
sure that’s what he was. But what did he teach? I mean, he is a real legend. Well, no, he didn’t– He was a director? Yes. He managed the school. But I got more from Sanford Meisner– Great teacher. — than I ever would have gotten from him. I mean, Father Harkey never taught acting
at all. But Sandy Meisner was, and still is, quite
an extraordinary teacher, I think. Great teacher, yeah. And most of what he is teaching is listening. Really? Yes, using what you get from the other actor. And I loved it when somebody said, “Yes,
but what if the other actor is really bad?” He said, “Well, then you have to imagine
that they’re good.” (LAUGHTER) That’s wonderful. The other, you know, Viola Spolin (PH)– Yes. — is so much of my work, and we just lost
her. I know. God bless her. And Paul Sills. Her son was Paul Sills? Paul Sills, yes, indeed. And that was when I was on Broadway with STORY
THEATRE, working with Paul and also METAMORPHOSIS, the early one, not the Barishnikov recently. I have a history now! The nice thing about getting older is you
have this lovely history, and you can hearken back. You’ll get there, Liz. (LAUGHTER) Anyway,
it was to stay present in the moment and be on the balls of your feet, and much of her
work is theatre games. And they really work for life, but it’s
being ready, poised, able with alacrity to be in the next moment. And I do feel, very clearly, the listening. And also, I feel you owe it to the audience,
and I’ve learned it quite under fire this last two months we’ve been running. We’re just getting the performance to where
it’s presentable in my eyes. I mean, those lovely people that came in August
to see us, this whole brand-new company and we were just trying to remember lines, that’s
the least of what you should be doing. It should be that you get to that point emotionally
and only that line can come out. And they change, and I’ve had a wonderful
experience where I’m in this 500 seat house, and they are in my lap. I’ve done mostly musicals. They are right there. I mean, it’s unbelievable, they’re in
your lap. And when the play begins, DEATH DEFYING ACTS,
actually HOTLINE, there’s a hotline, John Rothman (PH) playing beautifully on the other
side, and I see, like these lovely people, giving us their attention. Here they are, looking, waiting for the balloon
to go up, and how can we disappoint, you know? But I get to see them! And their heads are all turned, some are nodding,
some are smiling. It is so touching. I have to start crying, because I’m ready
to kill myself. (LAUGHTER) But I really view that audience
through the scrim, they are so beautiful! They’re all unified in “What’s next?”,
you know? And so if you get with them. And sometimes they’re quiet. I call them “Canadian audiences,” that’s
my family, because they’re polite and they go, (DEMONSTRATES LAUGHTER) “Mmm, mmm, mmm,”
and you can’t hear them laughing, you know? And sometimes we have people laughing at things
that we can’t imagine why they’re laughing, or they’re silent and then you just dig
deeper into the character. You don’t let them let you run through it
or walk it. I think audiences are so important. Oh, it’s a privilege to be in front of them. You’ve got to listen to them, and they add
so much. Do you find that, too, Roger? How do you work? You’re doing such a diverse kind of character
here. Oh, in INDISCRETIONS. We don’t quite know who you are in INDISCRETIONS. The audience has to sort of catch up with
you. They do, that’s right. Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I mean, it’s good to be ahead of the audience. Oh, yeah, that’s key. I was thinking about long runs, though. I mean, I’ve been in some long runs where
after about eight months, you go, “Oh! That’s what that means!” Yeah, that’s true! You know that moment, you go, “Oh, I see!” Just before you leave the show. Just at the end, like your last week. Really, Liz? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it? You know, one of the things that’s interesting
about long runs is, I’ve worked with some actors and their goal is to duplicate their
performance each time. And you know, everyone has different things
they want to accomplish, but that always seems strange to me, in a long-running show or any
show. I mean, I like to do it different each night,
and try something different. How long have you been in CATS? Two and a half years. Wow! Of course, you’re the successor to Grizabella. Yes, I know! (TO BETTY BUCKLEy) Hi! I think this is a wonderful thing to happen. I did MISS SAIGON for fifteen months. A long run. Which was the longest run. I had never done any. I had been in tons of bombs or short runs. Fifteen months? Fifteen months I did MISS SAIGON. And CATS, now, two and a half years. And I had never replaced anyone before, until
CATS, which is a very different experience, too. But in MISS SAIGON, it was tricky, because
it was a very difficult role. It was a role that was not brilliantly written
(LAUGHTER). I’m not used to that. Watch out for Isabelle, now. I’m not offended. But it was very hard. The American wife, it was an extremely difficult
role. And yet, every night, I tried, you know. But there are some actors, I find, you all
must have worked with people who try to– have you? Yes. Doing the same thing every night is, of course,
what– It’s very hard. Forgive me, a long time ago, people wanted
to do that. You were in a long run of five years, your
career was made, wasn’t it? You were a successful actor. You know, you’re doing the same thing every
night. But that’s a real trap. I mean, I like to feel now that you rehearse
to a certain sort of plateau of, shall we say, excellence or something, on which you
kind of riff every night. Right, exactly. That’s it. You jazz, you know, you syncopate every night. Really, it couldn’t be that way, because
that’s your craft, that’s what makes you a professional. And that’s what makes it fun. Feeling organic, yeah. Although you can go too far the other way
and get to a point where you’re in the middle of a speech and your mind says, “Go on,
take Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.” (LAUGHTER) “Go on, you can do it, you can
say it.” But I think, you know, I think what we’re
discussing probably is the little thing that, miraculously and amazingly, Stephen Sondheim–
all the S’s, Stephen Sondheim, Tom Stoppard and Spielberg, they won’t ever have this
moment. There’s a little crucible the actor carries,
which is that moment of actual performance, when our breath– and you were so excited
about being so near the audience, which is another wonderful thing. But that moment of breath, the intake of decision
and communication, that moment, that’s ours, really. Yes. And that’s the thing that’s very precious. And not to make it brittle or ossified, but
to actually keep it organic is a wonderful thing. And make it live. Yeah, make it vibrate. It must be satisfying. It’s shared by that audience at that moment. Exactly. Yeah, and those famous men, although they’re
great theatricians, they’ll never actually be a performer in our way, when we actually
get to be the person who has that moment, and it’s a wonderful thing. Brian, what does the audience give you? You’re in a very small theatre. In TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT? It’s four hundred, it’s actually all right. It seems small. But TRAVELS is a completely different play
from anything. I’m now rehearsing RACING DEMON, which is
extraordinary. But TRAVELS, one had to play eight or nine
different characters, you know, and in and out of them, and that made it terribly hard
to maintain. Because the character, himself– or in my
case, herself, because I played several young women– you know, normally the character is
what carries you through, ultimately. I mean, if you are feeling ill or if the play
is trash, which sometimes it is, you know, it’s the character that you believe in,
that carries you through. In this case, there were seven, and you were
in and out of them like a revue. An extraordinary performance. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Really, it’s wonderful. It was tricky to keep up. But it was the audience, and more than almost
any other play I’ve known, the audience, who, if they understood what we were trying
to do and were able to use the imagination that was required of them by that particular
form, it became a real match between us and them. It was an amazing thing. You must have been exhausted at the end of
the performance. Yes, it was pretty draining. We’re going to have to take a break now. And what we’re going to do is just stand
up, stretch, and get right back to our seats again and continue talking with these people
about quality performances. No word “trash” in this (LAUGHTER), quality. And what it is to work in the theatre. And come right back again. (APPLAUSE) This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American
Theatre Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. We’re talking about what it is to work in
the theatre, and we have a group of absolutely marvelous performers, all who started in various
parts of the theatre and in various areas of the world in order to come to New York
City. And Brendan Gill and George White will continue
bringing out the best of them in this discussion, as performers in the theatre. Well, I wanted to pick up a little bit on
this “replacement” issue. We have two Grizabellas here, one who won
the Tony Award for her performance, and then Liz who came along as a replacement, although
not for Betty. But I wonder, what goes through your mind,
what is your approach? How are you influenced, positively or negatively,
by replacing, coming in? What do you do? Do you find your own way? How do you deal with the director? What happens? Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Well, I actually didn’t deal with the director,
because he has long since gone. And so I had a dance captain and a stage manager
put me into the show. And I had never replaced before. I saw Betty, of course, do the show. And they encouraged me to do my own thing,
to sing it my own way, to bring whatever I felt I wanted to to the part, which was wonderful. I had about two weeks’ rehearsal. It’s a rather short time. It’s a really short time. Yeah, it was short. Now, the stage time of Grizabella is pretty
short. (BETTY LAUGHS) Someone clocked it at about
fourteen minutes, although I don’t know. That’s a long time sometimes. I think it’s sixteen or something. (LAUGHTER) I do! It doesn’t feel like fourteen to me. Couldn’t you make it fifteen? Yeah. (LAUGHS) But I remember my first show, it
was so strange. I’m so used to everyone collectively being
nervous for a first performance. I mean, that’s the wonderful thing about
the theatre. I think it’s the reason I went into theatre,
because I love the social aspects of it. I love being part of a group experience and
all being in it together. And there I was, a nervous wreck, and everyone
else, it was another show for them. And even though they were very supportive,
and I walked down the stairs going, “I’m in CATS!”, it just didn’t seem like [an
opening]. You know, I didn’t have the six weeks at
890 Studios and, you know, the previews and the tech rehearsals and all that. And so, you know, I previewed for a while,
I think, in my own performance. And it was tricky, and yet, the show has been
running– When the stage manager blocked it for you,
did he block it with the cast? No. I had a rehearsal the day I went in, a put-in
rehearsal, where it was actually really horrifying. I didn’t have to do the makeup at the rehearsal
in the afternoon, but I wore the wig and the costume, and that looks really strange (LAUGHTER),
you know what I mean? With your blonde face? Yeah, with my little blonde face and my cat
costume on. And all the rest of the cast, of course, is
in their jeans. Exactly. They’re going, “Oh, yeah.” And it was terrifying. And I admire people who replace, because it’s–
and yet, because the show’s been running so long, I really am lucky that I didn’t
feel that, “Oh, I have to do it how Betty did it.” Or I replaced Laurie Beechman, and I didn’t
really see her do it much. And I find it easier to just bring yourself
to it. At least this [role]. Are you enjoying it now? I am. You know, I’ve been doing it two and a half
years, which is to me just a long period of time, but I love it. And as Betty will say, it’s a great role. It’s a perfect job. It is a perfect job. You’re in and out all evening and then you
go out and you deliver the killer number, and everybody acts like, “Oh, thank you!”,
you know? (LAUGHTER) Oh, I know, I know! And you’re sitting backstage reading. I feel guilty, though. It’s like the other dancers, they’re killing
themselves, and then you come out and you’re, you know– Yeah, boom! Is there a change in the audiences, the two
and a half years that you’ve been in? It’s actually almost trendy to come to CATS
now. The last year and a half, the audiences have
been amazing. Repeat audiences, they’ve been before? Yeah, and people are bringing their children,
who saw it originally. We have a very large international audience,
a lot of Japanese tourists come. But it’s been incredible. I think we’ve been satirized on David Letterman
so many times that people are really– That it helps. It does help! It really does help, and people are coming
to the show. But it is a wonderful part. And talking about doing a long run and listening,
so much of Grizabella is alone, and reacting to people who don’t want her. Oh, yes, that’s tricky. Of course, yes. You know what I mean? So it’s very different. But I love the role. Now, you were speaking with Fran before about– And have you seen Betty in SUNSET? No. Not yet, I’m going to. Well, that’s what I meant! So am I. Very soon. Good. I’ll give you all my numbers and you can
call, see what the house seats are, set up your tickets right away. What kind of a rehearsal period did you have? What did I rehearse? Oh, in New York, about two weeks. But in London, when they first put me in,
I had eight weeks. So you did have eight weeks to work in? Yeah, in England. Because they broke the show down there and
put in all the changes that they’d made in L.A. They closed the show for a month,
re-did the set, re-did the lighting, just made all the changes. See, they refined the show in England, from
the British production they refined it in Los Angeles. And then, because he got such mixed reviews
in England, he wanted the London audience to see what he’d finally figured out about
the show, so he broke it down. So for me, in England, it wasn’t like replacing
as much as it was getting to do a fresh start on the show. It was really starting over, yeah. Yeah, and so I had the eight weeks with Trevor,
who was wonderful. Who was the director? Who worked with you? Trevor [Nunn]. Trevor worked with you? Yes. And then when I came to New York, I had very
brief rehearsals, because Equity doesn’t allow the cast that’s working very much
rehearsal time. Do you want to explain that? How much time do they have? Yeah, how much is that? What is the rule? I don’t know the exact rule, but there was
only so many hours a week that the two leading men that I work with in SUNSET were allowed
to work. So I got a minimum of time with them. And then, Trevor flew in and gave us about
two days. One really full hard-on day, which was absolutely
necessary, because SUNSET is just a fabulous show and really classic, powerful material. It’s, you know, had such mixed messages
about it as a piece from the critics and stuff, which is odd. But you know, each woman that plays it– I
saw Patti Lupone do it, I saw two understudies, I saw Elaine Page, who took over for me in
England, and then I saw Glenn Close last November. And so I’ve seen all these various Normas. I haven’t seen my own. I saw kind of glimpses of some press footage
and it was horrifying. (LAUGHTER) It was like, “Oh, my God!” And it’s funny how you think you’re–
do you guys have this? Oh, yeah. You think you’re doing something and you
have a sense that it has a certain physical aspect to it, and then you see one of these
video press reels, and you’re, “Oh, my God, I had no idea! I look like that?” And these moments that I think are really
slow or really realized in time, just go by (SNAPS FINGERS) like a slur. And I’m going, “My sense, inside myself,
what my sense of time is and how it manifests itself externally, is completely strange.” You can’t be the show and see the show. Have you had that experience? Yes! Sure. It’s kind of a real truism. That just frightens me. It’s why we need directors. And there’s nothing I can do about it, you
know, except just go back and go, “Oh, well, I can just do the best I can, you know.” Absolutely. At the very beginning, did the stairs bother
you? Was that difficult? Oh, the stairs are just the worst thing about
this show. It must have been frightening. You know, your knees just really take their
toll. But anyway, I had these two days of rehearsal
with Trevor. But what I started to say– I’m sorry, I’m
digressing– is that each woman who’s done it, it’s so fascinating, because it’s
such a powerful role and you really get the accumulative life experience of each actress. And each interpretation is so vastly unique
and vastly different. And why there’s all this sense of competition
and comparison is very, very strange, because one can only be what one is and bring your
own information to it, you know. I think it’s press, don’t you? Oh, it’s hoopla, yeah. It’s something to write about. Yeah, I think Boris Yeltsin is right. (LAUGHTER) Yes, yes, that was wonderful. Now, Val, you were talking about replacement,
and you and Fran, before we got to that. Oh, Fran said the most wonderful thing, DRIVING
MISS DAISY, she was telling me. Oh, God. Tell us that. Oh, well, I just went in in eight days to
replace Dana [Ivey], who really did a wonderful blueprint for the part. And I just asked the stage manager if I could
come in, before Christmas and before my eight days started, to get the blocking. Because I don’t learn things very easily
without moving, without knowing where I’m going. And Daisy had such fast scene changes. I mean, it was just one scene after another. So I got the blocking, and was able to learn
the lines with some cueing. And I only made one mistake (LAUGHTER) on
the opening night. We had a situation with DEATH DEFYING ACTS,
unlike what you were talking about, four of us, actually five, because the Cinderella–
what is it? the bridesmaid– Paul O’Brian (PH), finally got to do the David Mamet role,
and he’d been understudying it. So he was pretty solid. But the four of us, Kelly Bishop, a wonderful
actress from– CHORUS LINE. Sure, CHORUS LINE, and of course, PTERODACTYLS
and many things. And John Rothman and Brian Reddy (PH), the
four of us came in to rehearse. And I thought, “Four weeks, okay, I’ll
learn it in Los Angeles, when I got the role, and I’ll be prepared, at least with the
text, really have it in terms of ideas of what I was going to do.” Two weeks with the stage manager, and then
Michael Blakemore came in, this wonderfully fabulous director, just incredible, for two
weeks. But I didn’t really realize at the time,
these were three plays, and what you rehearsed in one play didn’t serve you in the other. Like, when you do a three-acter, what you
do in the third act serves the first, the character development, you can go back and
you build your evening. This was really horrifying, because we would
rehearse one show on Tuesday, and then we wouldn’t touch it until Saturday, because
of the other two plays and those actors. And limited time, too, exactly, Betty. We could only get on the stage at a certain
time, because the stage crew had to open the theatre and then they had to stay till eleven
at night. We never really had a full tech. It was incredible. And then, there were New Yorkers. I felt like, coming back to New York, there
they were sitting out there. But we just had to say, “These are previews,
and we’re going to get it.” It was amazing. (LAUGHS) And you felt that the audience itself, did
they have any sense of what your feeling was or not? I don’t know. I hope not! (LAUGHTER) But you try your best, but I knew
it wasn’t where it should be. I mean, I said to them, my experience was
I have never been this unprepared in my life, including all the years of “Mary Tyler Moore”
and “Rhoda.” By the way, those shows are a theatre experience. I think, maybe that’s why I took to this
easily. It’s not like a film actress coming back. You have three hundred people there. It’s like summer stock. You rehearse it all week. I don’t know, Betty, yours was single camera,
wasn’t it? Ours was film, yeah. Okay, that’s another story. But these three hundred people are there,
and you want them to laugh for real. So you have cameras between you and them,
but they’re there. That sounds really fun. It is wonderful, and there’s four cameras
and you don’t have to stop and you do a scene. So it’s sort of a step-child of theatre,
but closer than anything else. But isn’t that close to what’s happening
in England, has happened in England, working with the Royal Shakespeare and the repertory
companies? Don’t the English performers more frequently
work with each other doing different plays on the same season, moving from one character
to another? Well, I don’t think any more than in any
other place in the world, but we certainly have– You have more repertory in England. Yes. Yes, I think you’re talking about either
rotating rep or regular rep– Right. — synchronistic rep, where you do one after
another. Yes, I think there’s just a little bit more
quantity, really. I’ve never done that. Is that really difficult? It has to be so difficult, to carry all those
characters in your head. What? Rotating rep? Rotating rep is the best thing in the world. Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s fantastic, it’s great. Why is that? The best thing in the world, because every
time you come to it, it’s fresh. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You know, you’ve been
away from it, you’ve been doing Romeo and Cassio for a couple of nights, and then you
come back and you start to play Edgar and you realize it all over again. You can carry all those people in your head
at the same time? That’s amazing! But you drop the other two. (LAUGHTER) And the night that you play it, you bring
it back. Wow, that’s wonderful, it’s great. I’d love to do that. But we’ve tried repertory so often in America
unsuccessfully. Basically, yeah. APA was as close as we got. Yeah. I was in Pitlockery (PH) once and their advertisement
said, “Stay seven days, see seven plays,” you know what I mean? But when I went to the Royal Shakespeare Company,
the matinee would always be different than the evening, you know? Yes. Wow. But then, when I first joined, I played A
Huntsman in every Shakespeare play. (LAUGHTER) I was always a huntsman. What range! You know, like ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, A Huntsman,
TAMING OF THE SHREW, A Huntsman. So it was not so much fun then, you were just
a huntsman, so you had the same boots on, actually. Same tights! Yeah, same tights. The boots I was given for my first A Huntsman–
of course, they were second-hand, because I was A Huntsman, you know– but they were
Charles Laughton’s King Lear boots. Oh, how wonderful! Oh, my God, that’s marvelous. They were the boots I was given when I first
went at Stratford. However, what happens when you get in the
repertoire system later on is that, eventually, after some, you know, fifteen, seventeen years
in the Royal Shakespeare Company, I was playing in the repertoire system Berowne in LOVE’S
LABOUR’S LOST in the afternoon and Hamlet in the evening. Now that’s when it works great. That’s really stretching! Oh, my God! I used to like it the other way around, actually. I used to like Hamlet first, get rid of that
(LAUGHTER), and then Berowne. Have some fun. Get lots of laughs. It’s really a company’s artistic irony. It’s really wonderful. Yeah. But when it works great, it works like that,
and then it’s fantastic. Actually, even better than that is, there
was a period at Royal Shakespeare Company when people were playing large and small parts,
and that’s fantastic. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) When someone is playing
Coriolanus in the afternoon and then in the evening in your play, they’re playing A
Huntsman. (LAUGHTER) That’s good. That’s real corporate theatre, that’s
really exciting, because there’s a joy in that, a sharing, which is, I find, the thing
that really I associate with the best sort of theatrical experience in my life. We had trouble here, because I remember during
APA, the stagehands’ union had to give so many concessions in order to change the set. That’s right. And over here, we really do have a problem
with that. Mostly what happened was they came down to
using one sort of set at Stratford. You know, a black box, a white box, or an
approximation of some sort of octagonal thing with balconies, which you could use for many
plays, because of that very problem. Yeah. I’d love to do musicals in rep. Wouldn’t that be fun? (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It’d be great. All the American classic musicals, back to
back. Well, they do it in a sense, the Metropolitan
Opera does a little bit, if you’re a chorus member, not if you’re a star. That’s the only place that’s left. God, that’d be a great idea. What did you feel about NICHOLAS NICKELBY,
when you were last in New York? Then after NICHOLAS NICKELBY, here in New
York. Well, NICHOLAS NICKELBY was, of course, a
one thing in my life. It was wonderful, and thank you very much,
I got the Tony Award for that, and it was a, you know, very celebrated moment in my
life. And I do think it’s celebrated, but NICHOLAS
NICKELBY was about acting, you know? And so therefore, it was for lots of actors. It was for everyone, for all of us, really,
a thing like that. But I went back for a week to England, it
was about “Flavor of the Month,” you know? I was the toast of the town. (LAUGHTER) But I came back a week later to
a party and somebody actually did that thing, they did, “Umm– oh, no.” (LAUGHTER) Because I had gone, you know, I
had finished. “You’re not Vidal Sasson.” No, no, that’s right. But I don’t know. What I did, people say that I should have
stayed, but I actually went back and did a musical where I played a rabbit in England,
at the Young Vic, a thing called MASQUERADE. And Sarah Brightman played a daffodil. It was a wonderful story about a hare that
takes the love of a sun to the moon. And it was very unsuccessful. (LAUGHTER) Rather good music, actually. But I just felt that I should do what I wanted
to do then, you know? And perhaps I should have stayed here and
done UNCLE VANYA or something, but no, I just followed my nose, I guess. That’s such a pity, you’ve never achieved
anything because of that. (LAUGHTER) I know. Yeah, we all feel bad. And so then, that brought you up to INDISCRETIONS
here. Well, then I went with Tom Stoppard a lot
and did a lot of Stoppard plays. THE REAL THING, I did for the first time in
England, for a year. And then HAPGOOD. And then HAPGOOD took me to America, where
I was in Los Angeles, playing it with Judy Davis, and then the “Cheers” people came. And using many negatives, they said to me,
“I suppose it wouldn’t be possible that you couldn’t be possibly interested …” (LAUGHTER) They were backing out of the room. Yeah! But I went to see them, and it was the hottest
day of the year and I was wearing a suit. And they said, “Anybody who turns up in
a suit on the hottest day of the year should play the part.” (LAUGHTER) But like you, then I had a wonderful
experience with “Cheers,” with Frances and Valerie, in that you play in front of
a live audience with the cameras on you, and that’s exciting. And really good writing. Great writing, yeah. That makes such a difference, good writing. Oh, the writing is everything, isn’t it? Oh, God, yeah. I hate to interrupt you, but we have some
questions here from the audience and could we do that now? Paula Cave (PH). I’m a student at Mercer County, in an acting
class. And I just wanted to say what an honor it
is to be here today, with such an esteemed panel. Also, I’d like to find out, how do you get
involved with acting? I mean, without having any prior knowledge
or knowing anyone, how do you go about doing that? Well. Can I say something? What I always say to people, I don’t know
if this is helpful, this is a completely spiritual notion. But I think if you really need to be an actor,
you must express your need. If your want is great, you must express it. But if you discover it isn’t great enough,
then you have to step aside and let someone else whose need is the better, more than yours,
do it. I think if you really feel you have to do
it, then somehow you have to do it. How do you express that need? Well, yes, Frances said earlier, you just
have to go everywhere you can to act. You have to act on street corners, in church
halls. You know, we all started off as amateurs. None of us started off as professionals. No one does. You know, you start off performing for your
parents. You do what you can. By your pants, you do what you can. Except Brian, who was a star when he was born. (LAUGHTER) Hi, my name is Sylvia Norman (PH) and the
need to act just kept coming and coming and I couldn’t resist it any longer, so I am
now a working actress. And what I wanted to know, do you still have
to audition, any of you? Yes. I am today! (LAUGHS) And, if you do, do you have any special little
things that you’d like to share with us, that you prepare or that you find works for
you? Wear a suit. I think you have to go in knowing
completely from your heart that you have something to offer. I’ve been teaching acting for years and
years, on and off, when I’m in the city. And I try to tell my students, so many people
who want to act come in and they’re desperate for you to tell them that they’re good. You know, they basically go, “Let me know
by your [reaction].” Give me your approval, in other words, whether
it’s a job that they’re going for or a teacher that they’re going to. And that’s not it. You have to find a place in yourself where
you know that you have something unique to offer and that that’s absolutely inviolable. It’s like no one can violate that, even
if they reject you and they say no. So you walk in, and from a subliminal level,
what you’re communicating is, “I have something very rich and unique to offer. And I’m not here to ask for you to approve
of me. I’m here to share with you what I have to
give.” That’s wonderful. It’s very important. And then, it’s possible that they’ll give
you the job. And if they don’t, if they reject you, then
I think you have to accept that you just weren’t their idea of the part– Exactly. — and not get all upset. Don’t take it personally. Don’t take it personally. Brian, do you want to add to that? Yes. Well, I direct quite a lot. And people audition for me, a word that I
don’t really like, because it’s really a meeting. And I need to know that that actor or actress
is going to mean something to me personally, as well as to the part. So there’s a quality of confidence and warmth
that I think is important to bring with you as an auditionee. And know that the director needs to find the
right person, as well as you needing to find a job. That’s it. Does anyone want to add to that? Because I think it’s one of the important
questions that come up all the time in these seminars. The thing also is, if you can be defeated
by “No,” you really probably shouldn’t be in this business. That’s true. And you get a lot of them. Yeah, and I thought I had. When I first went to Hollywood, I started
to go out for sort of films and things. And I would go into the room, and I’d have
the sides, which is a little bit of script on a piece of paper. And I’d say, “Well, how do you want this? Would you like it, like, tall? Short? Funny? You know, serious?” And they would be dumbfounded by the notion
that I was complex and I could offer them different versions of a character. And what I’ve learned, though this is only
a generalization, is that the best thing to do is to actually look at those. If you can get them the day before, learn
the lines, go in, and give a performance that you’ve decided on. Yes. Right. That’s it. “Today, I’m going to play this part Scottish. I’m going to do it Scottish.” You go and you do it like that, and then you
say, “Thank you very much for seeing me,” and you leave. Because at least that day, even if you’re
rejected, you feel you’ve acted. Exactly. You acted. You exercised your craft, you know. It’s a very important thing. Another trick for auditioning, I think, not
a trick, just a real good technique, is to go in, as Roger just mentioned, and you do
the “successful performance.” You try not to think of the job, or “Oh,
God, I need this job.” It’s more like go in and fulfill, and then
you walk out of there. Maybe you were too brunette or too heavy or
too small or too old or whatever. Or too English, whatever. Never, never. (LAUGHTER) Never, never! There’ll always be an England! The other thing is, when I was a chorus dancer,
a dear friend of mine, used to be my husband, current excellent friend, years and years
ago, Richard Schaal, I’d say, “Oh, my God, there’s going to be three hundred,
four hundred girls, for a chorus of eight.” And he’d say, “Valerie, no, no. There’s only two. You and the person that gets it.” Do you know what I mean? Or one of eight. So if you can walk in, you cut your competition
way down, because it’s between you and one other person for the role. And it’s almost like a little way to go
in and then you’re able to do what you do. I also, like today I’m going to a reading
right from here, and I’ve made specific decisions and I write them [down]. Actions, you know, because I didn’t have
enough time to read the whole piece. And that’s what you do. We have time for just one more question. I’m Karen Caruso (PH). I’m a theatre major at Mercer County College,
and this is to Roger Rees. What problems do you encounter playing a very
stylized piece like INDISCRETIONS or HAPGOOD, and how do you find grounded reality in farce? Umm– God, why is this to me? (LAUGHTER) All right, very quickly. You know, this is a European play, this Cocteau
play. And I think there’s a sort of European flavor. It’s very, very like the circus at the same
time as being very, very true. I was in another play called THE SUICIDE by
Nikolai Erdman, which is a wonderful play, where at one point the poor members of this
Russian family throw their plates around the room. And they only have three plates and two cups
and a vase, but they throw them around the room. And it’s like a circus, you know, when people
throw plates around. But think about it. These are the only things these people have,
their only possessions. And they are almost daring each other to break
them. And I think that’s it. So although these things are stylized, they
are about real, true, grievous moments in people’s lives. And I think any pushing of reality in theatre
is only substantiated by the fact that there’s a truth underneath it. And so I think that’s it. And that’s where you get very different
forms of theatre. Thank you so much, really. I wish we could go on and on with this. And I once more have to be rude and interrupt
you (ROGER REES LAUGHS) and say that this is the American Theatre Wing’s seminar on
“Working in the Theatre,” and it’s coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York. And this is the most extraordinary panel of
gifted and generous people that we’ve ever had on our program, and I thank you all for
being here and sharing your craft with us. Thank you so much. (APPLAUSE)

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