Performance (Working In The Theatre #288)

Performance (Working In The Theatre #288)


(APPLAUSE) (UNINTEL) A warm welcome to the
American Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 27th year,
coming to you from the new Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These seminars provide a keen insight into
what it’s like to be professional, working in the theatre. Today’s seminar is devoted to performers. We will learn something about how, and perhaps
why, they chose to be performers, their work ethic, and why they work in the theatre. I know that you will enjoy and learn from
today’s panel. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing. So now, let me introduce our moderator for
the seminar, distinguished playwright Peter Stone. Peter? (APPLAUSE) I’m delighted to be a part of today. Playwrights don’t get to formally discuss
things with actors, and I promised Isabelle, and Roy [Somlyo], that I won’t (LAUGHS)
get into too many controversial subjects, although we’ll set the ball rolling. We have six very – Isabelle used the word
“professional” – six of the most professional actors one is apt to run into in New York,
all of them very currently and well-employed. And it’s going to be interesting to discuss,
because they are also vastly different from one another. Adam Pascal is now playing Radames in AIDA,
and he has done RENT both in New York and in London. Tonya [Pinkins] who is now doing WILD PARTY
II – what do we call it? Just WILD PARTY. WILD PARTY. (LAUGHS) It’s the extra-wild party. And we know her from JELLY’S LAST JAM. John [Shea] we know from everything. He has been in every form and medium. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were a stilt-walker
at one point. He’s now Off-Broadway in a play called THE
DIRECTOR. Cherry Jones needs no identification, nor
Patrick, but she is as successful a stage actress as there is in the New York theatre,
currently now in the O’Neill MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. and her performance – to choose
just one – which won every prize they offer, in THE HEIRESS is a legend. Patrick Stewart is known perhaps the widest,
because little children know him. (LAUGHTER) They know him twice. They know him because he’s constantly on
their television sets, but they also know him because of his one-man production, appearance
in THE CHRISTMAS CAROL. He is currently doing Arthur Miller’s latest
play, THE WALK [sic; he means RIDE] DOWN MOUNT MORGAN, where he has gotten remarkable reviews. And finally, Jennifer Ehle, least known in
America, a very temporary condition. (CHERRY LAUGHS) Her performance in the Tom
Stoppard revival – I hate the word “revival.” It’s like it’s been dead. It’s not dead! It’s a reproduction of Tom Stoppard’s
THE REAL THING, and she has received, justifiably, raves. And she’s a beautiful (JENNIFER LAUGHS)
and remarkable actress, and we welcome her here and hope she stays! So here we are, and we’re going to start
to talk about something. One of the things I think that everybody is
always curious about, especially anyone who has ever tried to act in school or in amateur
productions or whatever, there’s something that actors do which is very difficult for
other, normal people to understand. And that is, how do you sublimate self? How do you literally drive yourself out of
your insides and invite in the part you’re playing? How hard is that, and how happy is that, is
what I’d like to start to do. Let me start with people who have been doing
it longer than some of the others have. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And then we’ll
go around. (LAUGHTER) That’s why I turned to Adam first. Hey! (LAUGHTER) Well, why don’t we just go in order? I think that’s the fairest way to do it. Adam, you’re doing musicals more than the
rest of us, although Tonya also does musicals. What is the process for negating self? Is that a fair way to put it, or isn’t it? Sure. Yeah, absolutely. And I would equate it to sort of taking off
your clothes. And for me, the longer I do a show, the more
layers of clothing I’m able to take off. My intention is to be able to take it all
off at once, but I can’t do that. I’m just not capable of doing that. I need the experience of an extended run. I need years and years! No, but I need lots of performances and lots
of work to be able to take those layers off. So, you know, for me it’s just about the
continual process of doing it night after night and being able to expose myself just
a little bit more and making that performance just a little bit realer, bringing this character
a little bit more to life and making him less like me and more like himself. Tonya, how much of you now is Kate and how
much of you is Tonya? Does Tonya go? Is Kate “it” while those two hours are
up there on the stage? My process is probably the opposite of his
process. I think of it more as living truthfully in
imaginary circumstances. So I don’t try to get rid of “Tonya.” I might try to make Tonya more than Tonya
is in her own life, in the process of creating a character. But I sort of begin the work by looking at
a script and imagining it as I would want the greatest actor of all time to do it. And then, over the course of rehearsals, taking
chances, risking, falling on my face, and trying to get myself to reach to places that
maybe I couldn’t do it in my life at all, but if the character has to do that, then
I have to do that there. So in that sense, I don’t think I negate
myself. I actually expand myself, through the work
that I do. John, you’ve appeared in all of the media,
really. You’ve done a tremendous amount of television
and film and stage, and God knows what else. What I want to know is, becoming the character,
how would you define the difference between doing it in front of a camera, where you are
sometimes out of context, where the people around you are all technical and are all staring
in at you under lights, and you have to get kind of a jump start on each time they call
“Camera!” as opposed to finding that character on the stage? I had to think about this some time ago, Peter,
so this isn’t a glib answer. I’ve thought about it for a long time. And it boils down to this kind of metaphor
for me, that working for film is like oil painting, because every take and every gesture
in every scene, every day over a period of shooting, four or five months – or three
or four months, three or four weeks, whatever it might be – you can add things very very
quickly and you have a length of time to do that, the way in canvas, with oil paints,
things set very slowly and you can change it, you can adapt it, and the portrait begins
to take shape over a period of time. In television, you have to work very quickly,
and so I think of it as watercolors. The thing’s set very quickly and you have
to make your decisions very quickly about the portrait that you’re painting of that
character, because oftentimes you may have a day or a scene or an hour to come up with
something, and so you have to work very, very intuitively and very, very quickly. But the greatest thing about the theatre is
that it’s also a process that happens over time, but a much longer time than film. So I think of it as sculpture. And I think of it as a kind of carving away,
out of a big block of granite or something. That somewhere there inside this, there lies
an ideal performance, an ideal portrait of this character that I’m trying to play. And the thing that sustains me night after
night is knowing that if I keep chipping away, I’ll find this ideal form somewhere within
this large block of time. And that’s the thrill of it, chipping away
and discovering. Cherry, more than almost any real actress
I know, you are not easily typed. I mean, normally producers, directors, so
forth, they say, “Oh, I know, that’s a part for So-and-So” – They’re usually unmarried, I’ve noticed
that. (LAUGHTER) But somehow, the parts you have played, unmarried
though they might be, are so vastly different in personality and character that it’s very
hard to type you. So that the person who’s appearing now in
the O’Neill has nothing to do with the person who came down the stairs in THE HEIRESS and
so forth and all the other parts that we’ve seen you do. So how do you inhabit a character, or is it
the other way around? Well, first of all, you are so good at this! I mean, here you are, asking the same question,
and customizing it for each of us! But I think there’s a reason for that. It’s not un-appropos. I’m “Me”! Yeah. For me, I’ve never been able to act, because
I couldn’t stop being me. I like being me, and I can’t stop it! (LAUGHTER) You know, so I couldn’t do what
you folk do, because I can’t for a minute – I don’t want to be anybody else, right? Yeah, yeah, right. (LAUGHS) I mean, yes, of course, Warren Beatty. (LAUGHTER) But nevertheless, so it’s easy
for me, I’m not trying to be anybody else. And that’s the part that’s mysterious
to playwrights, and really, very much so. It’s a mysterious process. Yeah. Well, I guess it is for us, too. I mean, as I’ve had three people to think
about my answer, I know that with each role, it’s completely different, the way I go
about it. I know that when I first read THE HEIRESS,
it was such a wonderful fit, that I remember I was reading it thinking I was going to be
playing Aunt Penniman, which Frances [Sternhagen] played. (LAUGHTER) My agents told me that I was reading
for Aunt Penniman, and I remember thinking, “Damn, this girl who’s gonna play Catherine
is so lucky!” And I pored over it, and I could feel the
way she breathed, as I turned the pages, and I could feel the way this young woman breathed. And you know, the way you breathe is the way
you stand and the way you stand … and it was both emotional and physical at once, because
those things do go together, the way we are emotionally and the way we breathe. I remember when I played Hannah Jelkes [in
NIGHT OF THE IGUANA], I was so overcome by the brilliance of this woman and the enlightenment
of this woman that I was sure I could never get anywhere near it because of that. She was so beyond anything I knew in my life. So I thought all I could do was show her the
greatest respect by trying to build her a physical home that was worthy of this woman,
and hope that then her soul would come and inhabit this home that I lovingly built physically
for her. She was from Nantucket. And I knew there were some things I wanted
to [do]. So I approached it more physically, in the
hope that the spiritual would come to inhabit the house I had built. You know, each role demands something quite
different from each of us, and at different points in our lives, I think. So I have absolutely no answer! (LAUGHTER) No definitive answer. Patrick, you have a problem different from
the rest of the panelists, in one sense. It’s a happy problem, but it’s nevertheless
a problem. And that is, you come out in front of audiences
having to, in a sense, overcome their knowledge of you in this one startling part that everybody
has seen [Captain Picard on “Star Trek”], popular coast to coast (PH). So the fact that you are an actor of enormous
accomplishment who has played vastly different roles and have done Shakespeare, have done
Shakespeare here, in THE TEMPEST, I think – and having done all that, but it seems
to me that the first thing you have to do with an audience is somehow – or is it not
in your mind at all to say, “I am not Picard, I am Patrick Stewart playing this role tonight”? Yeah. It’s very much in my mind, and in fact,
I had an ongoing battle with Gerry Schoenfeld, one of our producers, because I had worn a
hairpiece for this role when we were at the Public Theater, and Gerry was passionately
opposed to me wearing it on Broadway because, he said, “People won’t know who you are.” (LAUGHTER) Gerry wanted me to be identified
as the actor who was in a successful television series. It’s obviously good for business, I guess. So yes, a lot of what I do is often based
on removing myself as far as possible from my spacesuit (LAUGHTER), because I want the
audience to see me as an actor and not as a kind of television iconic space figure. But I’d like to go back and just quickly
address the original question, because my feeling about this has changed significantly
over the years. I started out believing that acting was a
form of disguise, and I spent years, decades, elaborately concealing myself. And it took me years to discover that didn’t
work for me. It was not allowing me a voice to speak. My voice was concealed. So something happened and I changed all of
that, and now it comes right down to the selection of the work. I look now for work that resonates for me. Not necessarily for great roles or great plays,
but something that is pertinent to my life now. And then I put that into the work, and putting
self into the work has become almost the whole process now. Jennifer Ehle, you are undergoing this remarkable
success in this play, and being here. First of all, I want to ask you two questions,
one unrelated to the original question, and that is the difference between playing in
London and in New York? Is there much of a difference? There is quite a difference. The first few days, when we started, we played
for about five months, on and off, over the last year in London, before we came here. We started at the Donmar, which is 250 people,
and then we moved to the Alberry in the West End, which was – I think it’s 900, 850. And then came straight here to the Barrymore. The first few previews we did here at the
Barrymore, it felt sort of as though the audience felt like they had been invited to a party
and nobody was talking to them or offering them a drink or anything. That they were just sort of there. And they seem now to be responding to a sort
of generosity of playing, an emotional generosity. They sort of called that from us. And the play is really shifting, and we’re
sort of opening up. And in a way that I don’t know if English
audiences in England would respond to. I don’t know. Well, I think they’ve seen a little more
serious theatre lately than we have been treated to. This has not been a particularly rich three
or four years for very, very serious theatre. I mean, there’s more on right now, [TO JENNIFER
AND PATRICK AND CHERRY] given the three of your plays, and with COPENHAGEN arriving,
you know, than we have seen in quite some time. And the audiences, I think, are starting to
respond to ideas rather than to some live version of television. But they always did, I think. I think they did, they just didn’t have
a chance. They didn’t have the material available
to respond to. And I think our play has benefited from that. I’m sure it has. It’s just benefited from it. It’s less snobbish. So let me now ask you, Patrick brought up
a very interesting idea, and that was that how much of it is assuming another character
or how much of it is it wanting to be somebody else? In other words, burying [yourself], that’s
really the question. How many actors try to hide who they are,
rather than become somebody else, by insertion? I have a quick answer I’ll throw in. Good. I sometimes have a hard time speaking. I come from a family of great storytellers
in Tennessee, and I was never able to do that. I was very – you know, the actress, was
meant to be shy. And I know that’s the stereotypical thing,
“Oh, actors are Really Shy.” But I am, kind of, and I am not particularly
articulate. And to be able to go out on stage and speak
O’Neill or Chekhov or Shaw or Paula Vogel or Tennessee Williams for two or three hours
every night – that’s why I’ve stayed in the theatre, because you don’t get to
do that in film, but you do get to do that in theatre, night after night. And to be as articulate as you ever dreamed
of being! So that’s it for me, I know. Let me ask you, you brought up “from Tennessee,”
and just as a thought. You were born in England, but in London? No, I was born in North Carolina. North Carolina? (LAUGHTER) Good. That’s useful for the question I’m going
to ask. Patrick, you were born … ? I’m a Yorkshireman, from northern England. Yorkshire. You’re in Tennessee. Massachusetts. Chicago. Massachusetts, Chicago … The Bronx. And the Bronx. (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) And I was born and raised
in Los Angeles, and I keep thinking of something Yogi Berra said, “If you come to a fork
in the road, take it.” (LAUGHTER) What possibly could have happened
to bring the seven of us together, at this day? In other words, what fork really in your life? Do you remember it? That changed everything? And how close was it that you might not have
taken it? Patrick. I’m Adam, that’s Patrick. (LAUGHTER) I’m so sorry. You’re Adam. And you’re Patrick? Although I don’t mind being mistaken for
him. And the feeling is mutual! (LAUGHTER) Well, you know, this is actually all still
very new for me. You know, I never set out to be an actor. I was always a musician and a songwriter,
and that’s how I ended up getting the job in RENT. And it sort of has snowballed, and I’m now
a part of the theatre community, which I am completely honored to be a part of. But you know, I’m still finding myself as
an actor. I’m still finding my way, what techniques
I’m going to use, however I’m going to manage to continue to have a life in the theatre. I’m still finding what that is. And I’ve learned from every answer you’ve
all given already. (LAUGHS) And I think that, you know, I was fortunate
enough to come upon a situation where I was able to use my singing ability to work, as
a job, and that sort of opened up a lot of doors for me and exposed me to things that
I never thought that I could do and never thought that I even had a desire to be a part
of. And so, that fork for me was actually the
desire to see what it was like to audition for something. I had never auditioned for anything. And I never had comprehended even getting
the job. I just wanted to see what it felt like to
audition for something, to put yourself there. How close did you come to not auditioning
for it? Very. (TONYA LAUGHS) This close. (DEMONSTRATES ABOUT AN INCH WITH HIS FINGERS) That’s right. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Do you remember a decision that you made,
Tonya, that happened to change everything? Yeah. And maybe it wasn’t so automatic a decision. Yeah. I’m sort of shy like Cherry, and I had a
teacher who just sort of insisted that I was going to be an actress. And he would call schools and make them give
me scholarships. And so, I studied at the St. Nicholas Theatre
Company, and then he’d make me apply to other colleges. And I went to Carnegie Mellon, and over Christmas
break I was taking a vacation to Puerto Rico, and he had read in the paper that Hal Prince
was coming to Chicago to audition for MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. And he wanted me to come home and audition,
and I was like, “I’m going to Puerto Rico!” (LAUGHTER) “I’m not coming to Chicago
to audition!” And it wasn’t even for Hal Prince. I had to audition for a casting director,
who then had to decide if I could audition for Hal Prince. And it was like, “No way! I am not missing Puerto Rico, ‘cause this
woman is not going to give me that opportunity.” And he convinced me to give up Puerto Rico,
and Joanna Merlin did allow me to see Hal Prince, and he made a decision on that spot
and flew us to New York the next day and cast me in that show. And I was never coming to New York. I had come and looked at Juilliard and said,
“I can’t live in this city! I can’t do it!” (LAUGHTER) So, it really changed my life! (LAUGHS) It seems to me that before the choice, the
thing that really changed it was going to that particular acting teacher. Well, he was in my elementary school, you
know? He was an elementary school acting teacher. Right. It’s really important. And he just pushed me and pushed me. And I probably wouldn’t be doing anything
if he hadn’t pushed me and pushed me and pushed me. John, do you remember what really changed
[you]? Yes, I do, Peter. I discovered acting in college. I grew up in Massachusetts, in Springfield,
Mass. Nobody from Springfield, Mass, ever went to
Broadway, ever made movies, ever went to television. Nobody in my family, nobody ever. I had never been to the theatre. I had never seen anything on stage. My parents would barely let me go to the movies. I only watched television one day a week,
and then it was like, “The Wild [sic; he means ‘Wonderful’] World of Disney.” (LAUGHTER) So I was, like, totally sheltered,
you know? The first black person I ever met was Bryant
Gumbel, who was my freshman roommate in college. You know, it was like so stupid! So then, suddenly I was in this college up
in Maine, Bates College, and I was going in to sneak in to where I had left my backpack
to get a fake I.D. to buy some beer. (LAUGHTER) And the acting teacher – who
reminds me quite a bit of you, Isabelle, a wonderful woman named Lavinia Shafer (PH)
– and she saw me come in to sneak in the corner where I had left it, because I was
on the debating team. Debating and football, I had gone there on
a debating/football scholarship. (LAUGHTER) Your usual debating/football. And I went to grab my I.D., ‘cause the guys
are waiting out in the car to go get the beer, and she said, “No, sit!” And I said, “What?” And next thing I know, there’s a script
in my hand, she goes, “Read this!” So you know, there are all these other people,
and the next thing I know I’m reading and at the end of the reading, she said, “Okay,
you got the part. I’ll see you tomorrow!” I said, “What are you talking about?” It was MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I had just gotten the lead, to play Benedick. You mean, the play, not the moment (PH). (LAUGHTER) The play! The play by Shakespeare. And the next thing I know, I’m in military
uniform on stage, speaking poetry and being amazingly articulate in front of a couple
hundred people and it’s opening night, and you know, it’s so thrilling! And I always loved Halloween. It was always my favorite time, when you put
on a mask (LAUGHTER) and you become somebody else. And now I’ve got a sword! And I’m with this beautiful woman saying,
“Are you yet living?” You know, saying things that I would never
say. And I fell in love with it. And from that time, it’s like football and
debating came together in the theatre. Because it was a team sport, and you got to
speak, you know? (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) It’s interesting, because this is a successful
response to that. When I arrived at college, my first play,
I was seventeen or whatever, and I cast it from this very small college. And there was one terrific looking guy, who
I wanted for the leading man. And you know, he was studying economics and
not in the slightest interested in the theatre. And I worked and I worked and I worked on
him, and finally he played it. It changed his life, he became an actor, spent
his whole life as an unsuccessful actor! (GASPS AND MOANS FROM THE AUDIENCE AND PANEL)
And I felt so terrible! (LAUGHTER) I felt so bad. But you know, you six are sitting here because
it worked out, you know? (LAUGHTER) Do you remember the moment that
changed everything? Well, you know, I think I was headed so much
in the acting direction my whole life. Oh, really? Little tap dance recital when I was five,
the end of my dancing career, but I remember the applause and all of that. And then I had a wonderful creative dramatics
teacher, Miss Ruby Crider (PH), in my hometown. She always moved me – in fact, there’s
a friend here who remembers Miss Ruby! And then, well, I saw Colleen Dewhurst and
Jason Robards when I was sixteen in MOON, in a summer program at Northwestern, which
was incredibly influential. And then I went to Carnegie Mellon, and that
was very influential. Were you a cherub (PH), too? I was a cherub! Were you a cherub? I was a cherub, too! (LAUGHS) We’ve got to talk! But I think probably what led me here was
I came to New York, and I got into the Brooklyn Academy of Music Theatre Company, which I
was really lousy in. And I was twenty-three and I didn’t have
an idea in the world what I was doing. But a crazy Romanian director named Andrei
Belgrader saw me in the show I was doing there and cast me as Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT
and took me up to the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I did rep
for six out of ten seasons. And that’s where I grew up as an actor. And that’s where I, finally, I think at
the age of thirty-three, felt I could hang my shingle as an actor, ‘cause I finally
had the experience I needed. And I guess it was getting the part of Rosalind
and going to that rep company that was the fork in my road. Because I don’t know that I would have survived
as an actor if I hadn’t had a home where I could be nourished. Do you think there are any sane Romanian directors? No, not a one! (LAUGHTER) I found the fact that you studied tap – now
I think, with Tommy Tune, you did STEPPIN’ OUT on Broadway. Uh-huh. That was the first class I’d had since I
was five. Yeah, yeah. Really? That’s fascinating. That play was quite interesting, incidentally. It didn’t work, but it was really pleasant. (LAUGHTER) No! I mean, it didn’t work on the audience for
some reason, but I found it really quite compelling. We had a good time! Yeah, I’m sure. Patrick, tell us about when it happened that
you made this decision in your life. I think there were three separate forks. The first one was when, at twelve, my English
master. And you know, at least in the classical theatre
in England, there’s invariably an English teacher lurking somewhere in all actors’
backgrounds. He cast me in a play. And the first time I walked on stage, I knew
that I was in the safest place that I’d ever been in. Life wasn’t too safe for me when I was growing
up. The stage was absolutely home. And then, at fifteen I left school. Not because I dropped out, the rumor got around. I didn’t drop out. I had finished the minimum that the State
required then in England. I was working on a local newspaper and doing
a lot of amateur acting, and this conflicted with my duties as a newspaper reporter. And the editor gave me an ultimatum, which
was to give up all my amateur acting and become a reporter, or leave his newspaper. How hard was it? It was so easy! I packed up my typewriter within the half
hour, and I was out of the building, with my friend hanging on my heels, saying “You’re
making a terrible, terrible mistake! Don’t do this!” Then I went to try to find out how to become
an actor. And then, I guess the most significant other
one was lecturing at U.C.L.A. in 1986, and finding that a man called Robert Jussman (PH),
who was to be one of the executive producers of “Star Trek” was attending this course
of public lectures. And I was talking about Shakespeare, and he
said to his wife, “That’s the Captain.” So I guess that was a terrific change for
me. Jennifer, first of all, how did you get to
England? You’re American-born. Or was your family simply on holiday? (LAUGHS) No, no, my parents live in North
Carolina. And I went to drama school in England. And my mother’s English, so I always went
back and forth a lot. And I changed schools eighteen times, so I
sort of got teased so much for having an American accent when I was there and having an English
accent when I was here, that I just became bilingual, literally. Well, you don’t get teased any more! No, I don’t get teased! And I wouldn’t work there if I didn’t
talk like this. So when did the decision happen? To be an actress? I don’t think it ever did. I’ve done everything in reverse, I think,
because I think probably the only reason I do it is I’ve got some chromosome glitch
where I really do passionately want to be someone else and don’t have a very strong
sense of self in some ways. So I always wanted to do anything I could
to be somebody else, but I was always too shy to ever stand up in front of anybody and
do it. So actually, the training side of things was
very painful, because it involved doing that. But something kept driving me through it. And it wasn’t actually until I first started
being in front of a camera, after I had left drama school, that I began to really feel
that nobody was watching me when I was doing it and that I could actually sort of go through
the wardrobe. And the last two years is only when I’ve
begun to feel that on stage. So I’ve sort of done it all in reverse. And now I’m passionate about it! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I love it! Well, you bring up an interesting question. I was about to start some controversy. But there’s an interesting question before
that, and it has to do with craft. In the past generation or so, in the past
twenty-five, thirty years, craft has been waning a bit, in terms of development of artists. It’s not just in the performing arts, it’s
in the creative arts, the painters and the musicians and so forth. They’re impatient. And part of that, I suppose, is that it’s
very hard now to work, especially for performing artists. It’s very hard to work out of sight, because
television and all, you’re very visible. And I’ve noticed that craft keeps getting
downplayed. Now all of you seem very well grounded in
it. There’s talent, and there’s craft. But my question is, does talent need craft? That’s what I wanted to ask, because you
all make it sound so natural. It all came so easy, and that’s what it
was, and all of a sudden you’re an actor. But I know that it wasn’t like that, and
so what did you bring to it? How did you know? Adam, you say for more performances and more
audience looking at you, you’ll know how much to take off. Right. And each one of you have said, in some form
or other, that you will know, when you get that beat, that this is the right thing for
it. How do you know that? What do you bring to it? What went before, to bring you to that stage
that you can do this? To either take off the clothing, put it on,
or to know how to react to the audience and bring a craft to play? Where does that come from? I mean, a tennis player spends five hours
a day hitting a ball, hitting a million balls a day, you know? It has to be the most stultifyingly boring
thing for an athlete to have to do that. And yet, because of their expertise and their
talent, and you do it, because you can’t win without it. And does craft pose – again, I’ll start
with Adam – was it a bother? It’s not a bother, but I think that there
a definite lack of craft in the people of maybe my generation who are coming up. Because, you know, entertainment and the media
is the dominating driving force on this planet. More than money, more than sex, more than
anything. It’s entertainment, it’s getting your
face out there, it’s becoming a star. And so much of it is focused on youth. You know, the eighteen-year-olds, the twenty-year-olds,
and that’s what’s happening now. I guess it was always pretty prevalent, but
I think it’s extremely prevalent now. And people want to get out there and they
want to do it immediately, and they don’t have time to go to school and study, because
look at all the people that have become [famous]. All the famous twenty-year-old movie stars
who never went to school and studied. They never studied acting. They just smiled, and they become huge movie
stars. (LAUGHTER) So everybody, you know, kids and
people who are growing up who want to be actors, they don’t look at people such as yourselves
who have studied and really put time into your craft and really worked at it to make
yourselves the best artists you can be. They look at the peers, the people of their
age, who’ve never studied, who’ve never done anything, other than smile and look pretty. And so, that’s what their goal becomes. And that’s the more attainable goal, because
you don’t have to do anything for that. So I think that that’s where the lack of
craft comes from. And I know for myself, I need to study, but
that doesn’t mean that I’m gonna study. (LAUGHTER) Because I’m a very undisciplined
person when it comes to certain things like that. I feel that I have a certain amount in me
that I’m able to do, and I know that there’s vast amounts that I need to work on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I
have the motivation to go out and work on it. And that’s just a flaw in myself. You know, it’s a flaw in my character and
it’s a flaw in my professional motivation. But I think that a lot of people maybe suffer
from that. But then, you know, on the other side of the
coin, I know a lot of people who spend years and years and years studying. They’ve gone to acting school, they’ve
dropped out of high school, and they’ve been in acting school for years. And they get on a stage, and they choke and
they can’t say a word and they can’t keep their eyes open and they can’t look at the
audience and they can’t do anything. All they can do is work in the classroom. And working in the classroom and working on
a stage are completely different things. It’s two different animals. So, you know, there’s my long, convoluted
answer. (LAUGHTER) Tonya, you – Thank you. But is there a craft that you all use, in
acting? Acting in the theatre, is there a craft that
each one could say, “Well, I do this, but I don’t do that.” What is it? You were going to finish your question? No, I was just going to say, doing musicals,
you have more disciplines. Sure. In other words, to accomplish. There’s singing and there’s dancing. I’m not saying it’s more difficult than
that, but there are disciplines involved, and disciplines require craft. Well for me – I want to get to your original
question, which was about talent versus craft. And I don’t mean this in an egotistical
way, but I think that some people are, like, anointed in a certain way. There are people who are just – they’re
special. And you just can’t take your eyes off them,
or they have something that is exciting about them. And sometimes, I’ve gone to the theatre
and I’ve seen those people, and I’ve wished they had some craft! (LAUGHTER) Or some direction! Because it’s like, there’s all this fabulousness,
and it’s just kind of spraying everywhere, and you wish they knew how to take it and
focus it into a moment, so that we could see that. And for me, I think with my teacher pushing
me, and me always being able to get these scholarships, it’s like I had this talent
thing. And people were always responding to that. But I felt completely inauthentic, because
I wasn’t doing anything. I was just standing up there and reading these
lines, and they were like, “Ahh!” And so, for years I had this incredible fear,
like, “Well, what if that doesn’t show up one day?” And someone gave me this role, I got to play
Billie Holiday one day, and I botched it completely. But it was like, I needed to know what it
was like to fail, because I did not trust this talent thing. You know, I knew it was gonna let me down
one day, and I just botched this part. And then, after I got married and had my first
child, I went back and studied with a man named William Esper. And his work was not about – in college,
at Carnegie Mellon, they were like, “You’re talented and nobody cares!” You know, “People who work hard are gonna
get more work than you!” and it was just about beating me up for having this talent
thing. And Bill’s work was about bringing all that
was me into the work. And it wasn’t bad that I had talent. He just wanted to teach you how, if a day
came where you didn’t feel like even being at the theatre, there were steps you could
take so that you’d still be doing the behavior that the audience knew was necessary for the
role. And I studied with him for two years. And his belief is, you know, you study for
two years and then you go work and maybe it takes another seven, and then you’re an
actor. And so, after leaving that, I felt like, “I
got craft! And I have to worry about being talented!” And I could go in and I knew how to conceive
the behavior that would convey to the audience what was necessary in the moment. And so, that gave me a level of security that,
when I got JELLY’S LAST JAM, which was a show where I had an audition on a Saturday. I was the last person of all people, and they
gave me, like, four lines. And I went in, and they were funny lines,
and I read ‘em. I went, “Buh-dum-bump! Buh-dum-bump! Buh-dum-bump!” And then they gave me the script, and it was
like, “This is an amazing woman! Oh my God! Can I live this?” And I went to rehearsal, and I was so afraid
to apply all these things there that I didn’t for lots of rehearsals (LAUGHS) and people
sort of looked at me like, “Why did she get this job?” And then I did this runthrough and I, like,
risked being all this stuff, and they hated it! (LAUGHS) Because they weren’t looking for
that. And it was my struggle to say that I was more
interested in doing this craft thing than just being my talented, fabulous self, and
you know, ultimately that was successful for me, but it was a struggle. John? Well, Peter, I went the old-fashioned, classic
way. I don’t know, Peter, how [others did it]. Did you go to drama school? Yeah. (TO THE OTHERS) And did you go to drama school? Did you go to drama school? Right. You went to Carnegie. I didn’t finish. Yeah, I went to drama school. So a lot of us went to drama school, and that’s
the one thing that maybe you’re asking about, where do you get the craft? Yes, it was one thing to do it sort of instinctually
on stage at Bates, but then, like, you’re in Maine. And how do you get a job? How do you become an actor? You’re in Maine, you know? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Boston, you know? New York? I mean, New York was like Oz. Hollywood, forget about it. You’re not even thinking in those terms. You can’t get there from where you are. So then I was in the library one day and I
read about the Yale Drama School. I thought, “Yale Drama?” I didn’t even know they had a drama school. I didn’t know what a drama school was. I sent away for the brochure, I read it, I
thought, “Wow, that sounds cool!” I applied to Yale and I got in. And I spent three years there, learning craft. Starting every single day with yoga, an hour
of yoga, learning stretching and movement, the body, and learning that your body is your
instrument. Then going to vocal exercises and singing
classes and fencing and mask work and scene class, and you know, for three years! Then after the end of our first year at Yale,
I became a director, and I got a double Master’s, in directing as well. And now, I find myself, you know, almost twenty-five
years later, doing a play Off-Broadway called THE DIRECTOR. And we’ve done now, 85, 90, 100-something
performances. And I’m sometimes really tired, like you. How do you show up at night? I know how difficult it is. We call it emotional mountain climbing, to
come on stage every night when, you know, you’re suffering personal whatever pain
at home and your life is falling apart a little bit, yet you have the responsibility of going
on in front of an audience. How do you do that? Well, what I do is I go back to my Yale craft
days, and I go backstage and I do yoga. And I start every night before I go onstage
– I mean, our director Evan [Bergman] is here, he’ll tell you – I’m back there
doing yoga, stretching. And then I go into the shower, because there’s
no other place to do it. It’s a little theatre, right? So I close the door to the shower and I do
vocal exercises. You know, I’m saying (DEMONSTRATES, WITH
ROLLED R’S): “Ra-ca-ca, ra-ma-ma, ra-pa-pa, ra-ta-ta, ra-da-da, ra-ga-ga, ra-na-na-nah,”
you know?” And “Eee,” you know, scales, and they’re
boring. And what happens is that tired, battered,
you know, self that arrived at the theatre thinking, “Oh my God,” suddenly it becomes
energized and becomes gigantic inside. And the energy is released with the vocal
exercises and your imagination. I start doing lines from the play. And by the time they’re knocking on the
shower door, saying, “Places, Mr. Shea!”, (GROWLS) I’m ready! (LAUGHTER) And I come out, you know? I am! I don’t know, it’s magic. It’s like, the adrenaline pumps. And then I go out onto the stage, and I enter
in the dark and I go up into my little space before the lights come up. And I actually do a sign of the cross, in
front of the audience, because we’re under an old church and I think it’s like a holy
space. And I remember that the roots of acting are
spiritual in nature. And that we’re all, in a way, you know,
like priests on the stage, and priestesses. You know, like telling stories to congregations
who are there to be uplifted, and that we have a spiritual responsibility to become
those characters. And so, anyway, when you start thinking about
those things, that’s the craft. Then it allows you to go on even when your
talent is waning. But suppose the audience doesn’t react to
all that energy and everything that you’re giving. (LAUGHTER, ESPECIALLY FROM THE PANEL) Then
what do you do? If the audience doesn’t react – Do you have something that you call upon? Well, why don’t we ask somebody else that? (LAUGHTER) What you call upon is your agent, I think! (LAUGHTER) There has to be something that you have within
you. I think you’re always going to run into
such-and-such audiences. And I think there’s nothing [to do]. It’s not your fault. Do you take it as your fault? No, no. Well, I mean, listening to all of this, I
– when does this air? When does this first air, seriously? Do you even know? This show, no. We don’t know. You have no idea. Well, it doesn’t matter. Oh, oh (POINTS OUT FRONT) – I think you’re
getting some information! (LAUGHTER) You see, that (UNINTEL) was exciting! That’s the craft I’m asking about. If you have been discussing and thinking about
being on the panel and answering the question, and one eye of you is looking at this and
saying, “Look what’s happening over here,” and then go right back into character again. That is craft. That is craft! That’s right. (APPLAUSE) I have undergone the first severe stage fright
of my career. You know, I’m now middle-aged, and I’ve
had some wonderful successes and things that fit me really well. But for various and sundry reasons, when I
began rehearsals for MOON, I had a confidence crash. I had none, less than. And so I had to build a structure for this
amazing role and this most remarkable play, with no confidence. And I had seen Colleen do it when I was sixteen
and it had changed my life. So I was dealing with the ghost of Colleen,
I was dealing with … things that I don’t need to go into. But I was left with a structure that doesn’t
serve me as well as I would have liked to have created. And in Chicago in particular, it took every
amount of courage I had to get on stage every night. I was completely constricted and paralyzed
and terrified. I would literally go on stage and pose in
this position and say this line, and walk over here and pose in this position and say
that line. And I’ve said that if I could have broken
my leg neatly – my left tibia, you know? – so that I wouldn’t be lame for the rest
of my life, I would have done it in Chicago (LAUGHS). Because I knew I had to come to New York and
open in this Broadway show. They weren’t going to fire me. I was (LAUGHS) one of the stars, you know? (TONYA LAUGHS) If I would have been the son,
they just could have fired me, I would have been out of [my misery]! I mean, that’s the terrible thing about
success. When you get successful, they don’t fire
you, because you’re part of the money. You know, you’re why [the show is happening]. But when it’s before success, they just
fire you, you’re out of your misery, and you can go beyond it and you can go on to
the next thing. Yeah. But there was no way out, you know? I was trapped! And it was so humiliating, because I’m a
decent actor, you know? I have pride in what I do, and I just wasn’t
being able to do it. So I had to call upon all that craft that
I have built up over the years, just to get out there. And opening night in New York was one of the
most terrifying [experiences]. I thought, “If I can get through this, then
there are few things in life professionally that I will not be able to handle.” Because I was really convinced that I might
not make it through the night. I was in that kind of panic and terror. Now it has subsided, and I’m starting to
breathe again, and within the structure that I have to work with, I go to work every night
and it feels like salvation for me to have another chance to grow within this structure
that will only ever be this big, because we can’t go back and start rehearsals all over
again, you know. But it’s been tremendously humbling, and
I’ve learned. I mean, it’s been a personal failure for
me, but one that I am learning from, because we must allow ourselves to fail, and that’s
what I’ve learned from this, ‘cause we don’t let ourselves fail in this business. My mama used to always say, “Never confuse
your self-worth with your professional success or failure,” and it’s something that’s
impossible to do in this business or any business that people are passionate about. But as long as you know it in the back of
your head, that that is the truth and that is the goal, it helps you get through it. And also, when I was at my lowest ebb, I would
think – you know, we’re not meant to play every role. And I would think of Colleen Dewhurst coming
down the stairs as Catherine Sloper, and it would make me laugh so hard! (LAUGHS) That I would, you know, [cheer up]. That’s wonderful. Yes, in THE HEIRESS, that would be remarkable. (LAUGHTER) She probably could have done it, but it would
have been funny. Yes, it would have been a larger staircase. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) Patrick, you and Jennifer both come from a
slightly different system, or maybe not. In other words, English actors, Americans
think of a much more formal education. I mean, the Royal Academy [of Dramatic Art]
is legendary, and the other schools there. Was that your experience? Yeah. Also, I was getting some kind of formal training
from the age of twelve. My local authority – it was unique in England
– provided professionals to train amateur actors. And so, I was getting a lot of that, a lot
of verse, a lot of movement and speech, from the age of twelve. Someone once defined to me craft, or technique
as I’ve always thought of it, as being “what you use when you don’t feel it any more.” But what Cherry said just now about failing
and the right to fail is really important. Because I grew up when the repertory system
in England was still so huge. Every, really, small town had a permanent
repertory company. And so, I suppose in the first four or five
years that I was an actor, I probably appeared in sixty or seventy plays. Maybe more. And I failed in a lot of them, because I was
miscast. You know, you make use of the permanent company
to do anything and everything. But also, nightly, you’re learning a discipline. For one thing, in weekly rep, the discipline
of learning and the discipline of showing up and of being entertaining and different. And also, the ability to fail and acknowledging
what lies behind that failure. My son is an actor here in New York, and he
doesn’t have that opportunity of doing play after play after play. He looks for one play. He had one play last year, one play this year. It’s so hard to acquire these skills now! I’ve found, Jennifer, that here in New York,
that actors, successful professional actors, take their craft, it seems to me, much more
seriously than I experienced in England. I remember my first time here in 1970, the
MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, meeting an actor who had just won a Tony. And I was at a party with him and he told
me the next morning he was starting a class. And I said, “Class? Why do you need to go to class?” He said, “Well, I don’t do tap, and I
want to learn tap.” Now, one of my two leading ladies in Mount
Morgan, the morning – what am I saying, the morning? – the evening that we opened,
went to a rapier and dagger class. I don’t think that happens quite so much
any more. (LAUGHTER) Here, people seem to take that
craft, even when they’re successful, more seriously. Did you go through a formal, formal theatre
education? I suppose it was supposed to be. (LAUGHTER) I don’t think it really was. I don’t think any of us really learnt much
at all at drama school. (LAUGHTER) And I don’t know whether that’s
the school’s fault or not, and I’m not going to say (LAUGHS) on television that it
is. But I don’t think we did. I think we were at a school that was going
through a strange time. And I’m sure I have some craft … (LAUGHTER)
I survived fifteen months at the Royal Shakespeare Company, I must have some craft somewhere! (LAUGHTER) And I didn’t think I would, but
I did, so it must be that. But I think it’s come about from doing things,
I think all of it. And I think it shifts from part to part. I mean, a bit like what Cherry was saying,
about going about sort of absorbing yourself into a character. I think the part teaches you and the play
teaches you. And what I’m doing at the moment, sort of,
you feel really awful if you bring any craft on stage, really, because it sort of feels
like [it’s wrong]. And so we don’t, really, and that sort of
has become the craft of this particular piece is that there isn’t any. (LAUGHS) So there’s no blocking, there’s
no anything. We just kind of do what we want to do. And of course, things have emerged that are
important to tell the story, and you think, “Oh, that sort of works more often than
not.” But the freedom of that is a craft in itself,
to stay that open. But it’s a thrust. I mean, you’re out in the audience, isn’t
it? Well, we’ve only gone about three feet into
it. I mean, when we first did it, it was three
sides. Yeah, right, that’s what I mean, the change
from that to a proscenium theatre. Yeah. I mean, we want the audience to see us – Of course. — so you know, you’re generally open. But you really are improv-ing? A lot of it. I mean, we can do whatever, because there
are two actors on stage for most of it. And Stephen Dillane and I are sort of the
ones in most of those scenes, just the two of us, and we sort of just trust each other
and do what we want. What they do is extraordinary. Have you seen it? Yes, I have, and it’s quite remarkable. It is extraordinary, because when the play
began, I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be there watching. There was something so private and exclusive
about it. Oh, God, we didn’t offer you a drink at
the party! I had plenty to drink at your party! (LAUGHTER) I don’t know if we do let the audience in. But what you did was you drew us – at least
me, speaking for myself and my companion – you drew us into your experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company
working quite the way that this company works. It’s as though you’re permitted to be
a little tiny fly on the wall, observing what’s happening inside these rooms. And it’s thrilling. Well, you’ve brought up a very interesting
thing, and Cherry hit upon it first, and now you kind of sideswiped it right then, and
that’s this. [What] most people, even playwrights and people
who are in the theatre but don’t perform, find mysterious is how can you go out there
eight times a week, week after week, month after month, playing the same part. Now, you talked about the fact that, at this
particular play, you are using it as a development, or it’s happening to you that way. I once wrote something that Julie Harris did
on the stage, and she told me that she looks at a long run as a chance to keep getting
better in the role. Well, you know, but how do you face [it]? In other words, you’ve all had long runs,
all of you. And what is it, after five months, six months? Are you bored? Are you exhilarated? What is it that you go out there and do the
same thing you did, that you’ve done already a hundred and eleven times? I think for me, the challenge is definitely,
obviously, to keep getting better with each performance. But definitely, having done long runs before,
at some point, that kind of fizzles and the boredom sets in. It’s inevitable, it happens. So you just have to call on what you’ve
learned, in all that time that you’ve been doing the show, up until that point. You have to call on all that experience and
all that character growth that has accumulated underneath you, and you have to use that. And you have to go out there and give that
same performance. And inside of you, you may not be feeling
the same thing that you felt five months earlier, that same exhilaration. It’s just impossible, you can’t. But you use what you’ve learned and you
use the growth of that character to give that same performance. Tonya, you were in JELLY’S LAST JAM a long
time. Do you go into overdrive at a certain point? For me, I think I discovered I am not meant
to be a nine-to-fiver. (LAUGHS) So I don’t think I’m ever finished
with a role at opening. I mean, it’s sort of like, in a way, you
just start to work, because if you’ve been rehearsing all the way up to your opening,
you haven’t even done it enough times to even synthesize it, and then it just takes
time to start thinking. And then, as you’re playing it, more ideas
come to you that you couldn’t think about, because you were worrying about other things. So that usually will last me about a year,
and then it’s time for me to leave. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I’ve got to leave! Well, yes, I was thinking of that, because
of CATS. There’s one lady who’s been in it the
entire run. And Marian Seldes is famous for staying with
plays for their entire run, and it’s a remarkable discipline. John, what happens to you after a long time? Well, what happens is that you go through
peaks and valleys. I think anybody who’s been in a long run
will know that there’s a period of discovery at the beginning, which is exhilarating. Then you plateau into a period of repetition
and sort of boredom. And then you break through. If you stay long enough and you’re still
searching, you break through into another period of discovery some time into the run,
which is really exciting. And a well-written play, if it’s got depth
to it, and if your subtext – that craft thing that the actor provides, the thoughts
– is rich, then it’s infinite in its possibility. And also, every audience is different. Some audiences just sit and listen. Other audiences laugh and applaud. And so, you learn what the audience teaches
you about the play. Also, other actors come and go from the production. That’s a good point. If you’ve been there for a long time, new
people come and go. And they give, and they bring completely different
things to the production. They wake you up! They wake you up! And so you may have been complacent, doing
(LEANS BACK IN HIS CHAIR) “I’ve been sitting like this for six months, talking to this
person,” you know. And then a new person comes in and for whatever
reason, you can’t sit like that any more. You have to figure out (SITS UP) a new way
to sit, and a new way to do it, you know? And so that kind of, you know, lights a fire
underneath. I think it was on one of these seminars that
Marian Seldes said, in discussing long runs, “I won’t hear it!” She said, “And what would you think if you
were lying in a hospital room, and the doctor said, ‘Oh my God, this is the fiftieth appendectomy
I did today! (LAUGHTER) I am so bored!’” And she said, “No, you have taken an oath
to the audience. You are an actor.” Yeah. And the audience is different every single
time. And so with that, we have to now stand up,
stretch, and think a little bit about what we want to ask these wonderfully gifted people. And don’t go far away, because we’ll be
right back. (APPLAUSE)
MALE VOICE This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) Welcome back to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” Before we return to this wonderful group of
panelists, I would like to remind you that the Wing is more than a sponsor of seminars
and more than our famous Tony Awards, [given] for excellence in the theatre. The Wing is an organization whose year-round
programs are dedicated to serving the theatre and the community. And since one of our goals is developing new
audience for the theatre, we have created meaningful programs for students, like “Introduction
to Broadway,” which began eight years ago and has enabled more than 80,000 New York
City high school students to attend a Broadway show, many for the very first time. And through our “Theatre in School” programs,
theatre professionals like these on our seminars go directly into classrooms to work with and
talk to students about working in the theatre. In addition, we have a hospital program, which
dates back to World War Two, when we operated our legendary Stage Door Canteens. And today’s version of the program brings
talent from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the cabaret world to entertain patients in hospitals,
senior day and nursing facilities and centers and child care facilities in the New York
area. They all bring the magic of theatre to those
who are unable to get out to enjoy the theatre themselves. We are proud of the work we do and are delighted
with the wonderful working relationship we have with the theatrical community. We are indeed grateful to our members and
everyone who makes possible all that the American Theatre Wing does. So now, let’s continue the seminar with
our moderator, Peter Stone, the only writer to win a Tony, Oscar and Emmy award. Peter, congratulations on all three of those,
and please start work! (APPLAUSE) Let’s do something a little closer maybe
to an acting exercise, in one sense. I mean, no one’s going to have to act! But what I want to do is throw out a question
that’s maybe a little more controversial, editorialize something, and then why don’t
you argue with each other? (LAUGHTER) And basically, it’s this, that
writers, one of the things that they’re most confused by and have opinions very strongly
[about] are things such as “the Method.” In other words, the Actors’ Studio approach
in New York, which is a kind of modified Stanislavsky approach to creating a part, as opposed to,
perhaps, we’ll call it the Royal Academy school, where a part is created and you set
it and you reproduce it every night, don’t produce it every night. And writers find film – I’ve done a lot
of film – and you love the idea of the Method or the Actors’ Studio idea, because your
concentration has to be immediate, as we spoke with John about, having to pick up a scene
in the middle before you’ve done the scene before it and the scene after it and so forth,
and that concentration in front of all that technical stuff. But it seems to writers – I’m speaking
for a group I talk to, at least – who don’t like it much in the theatre, because every
night becomes kind of a gamble. Is the person going to feel like it that night,
rather than you watch the great classical actors coming from England who reproduce it,
have done it, have set it, and they go out there. I’m not saying they set it on overdrive,
but they have that character already. So I mean, has any of you been trained Method-wise
and feel that as being something that’s valuable? In other words, would you rather have your
character totally set by opening night, despite the fact that you’re, in this particular
one, growing in it? Or is something that you want to, every night,
come out and recreate? Not reproduce, but recreate. Hit it, gang, I’ll sit back. I’ve had this experience once where a director/writer
was unhappy with my performance because the way I said the lines every night was different
and he wanted to hear the rhythm of his words a certain way every night. Well, of course I won, because (LAUGHS) the
bear is gonna do what the bear is gonna do, when I get out on the stage. I actually find that when I fall into a rhythm
of saying things, I’m being bad, you know? And I will make myself come up with any other
way, a meaning that might not even be appropriate, just because I know I’m not really in the
moment if I’ve kind of fallen into, “Buh-dump-buh-dump-buh-duh! Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh?” You know? So that’s how it is for me. I try to just be present with the people that
are there. And I don’t think I ever change the content
or the intent. But you know, for a writer who’s used to
a rhythm, I am not able to give that. Do you practice a Stanislavsky approach, as
opposed to a more classical acting approach? Have you ever been in that position, to try
either or depend on either? I suspect that these are questions that interest
the general public more than they do actors. Ah, that’s an interesting point! (LAUGHTER) I have a feeling, something I’m getting
from all of my pals up here, that we really don’t know what to say to this question,
because I have no answer to it. In my formal training at Bristol, yes, Stanislavsky
was taught. And his textbooks were set text for us. But then I had a director who had his own
wacky ideas about how acting should be taught. And I don’t know any more what I do. There’s certainly no method attached to
it at all. I guess it’s pretty much hit and miss! Stewart Method, you ought to call it. When I was at Carnegie Mellon, we had four
different Acting Heads, the four years that I was there. And they would march in and say, “Our way
is the one way, the true way, and the only way, and forget all else that you have been
taught!” And then that regime would march out at the
end of the year and the next one would come in and say, “We are the one way, the true
way, the only way!” And of course, it made us very jaded, cynical
seniors, (LAUGHS) by the time we were graduating! But it also was marvelous, because we had
all these different techniques at our disposal. And you steal from this one and that one,
and whatever the hell you can to come up with, you know, the role. The Jones Method! The Jones Method, right. A mish mash! Is that it? Do you ultimately rely on everything that
you’ve learned, to put it together? I was just going to say – it may be more
about playwrights than the actual question – but when we were rehearsing THE REAL THING,
and Tom Stoppard was there for the first few weeks of rehearsal, certainly, and then sort
of came and went. And I think he found it extremely frustrating,
because it is done in a different style than I think he’s seen his work done before. And he obviously has heard a rhythm. He had heard a rhythm twenty years earlier,
when he wrote it, and remembered that, obviously. And we would sort of do a scene and he would
say, “Well, yes.” He’d say, “I don’t understand.” He said, “Well, that was it, but it was
it last time as well, but it was totally different. But why didn’t you just do that again, because
that was right?” (CHERRY LAUGHS) “So why did you do it right
a different way this time?” (LAUGHTER) And we said, “Well, that’s
just ‘cause – “ And basically, it’s just been a process over the last year of
getting to know the text and the story and the bare bones of the story, and then know
where you can put the meat, what night you want to kind of flesh out the bones and do
it the way you want. But it was very important to us to sort of
know all the different ways that you could tell it right. So you’re doing it, also. But you mentioned you’re doing improvisational
things. Blocking. In the blocking. But that’s been done. Is it now as set as it was, or does it continue
to change? No, it continues to [change]. It’s pretty open, yeah. We’ve never [set it]. Yeah, it’s open. And you feel it in a certain – it has to
do simply with how it’s going? Well, it does, because I think with this play
– I don’t want to go on too much about THE REAL THING, because it’s boring – No, it’s not. Okay, all right. Well, the central relationship, if you don’t
have that central relationship in the play between these two people then, you know, everybody
falls down, basically. And so, it is something that sort of has to
kind of happen every night. It has to be alive. Because improvisation is the one word that
scares playwrights to death, obviously! (LAUGHTER) Well, we’re not improvising Stoppard! (LAUGHTER) No, no. It’s more blocking than in words, I understand. Yeah. I thought for a long time about putting together
a little slim volume, and maybe we could start it right here, of instruction for actors. Because there were things that they didn’t
teach me at drama school and there were things that nobody said to me. I had to find them out by trial [and error],
by watching other actors and drawing my own conclusions. And I think many of these are very simple. Maybe it would only be a three-page volume. I think not. I think it would be quite a plausible book. I’ve thought of approaching actors to give
me some of their [tips]. I mean, for instance, one of them I firmly
believe in is never touching the furniture when you’re on stage. Ever! (LAUGHTER) Unless you actually have an action
which is something to do with furniture. But never touch it, because touching the furniture
is weak. It weakens one. Never point on stage, either. Unless, again, you have to say, “No, not
you, you!”, for example. Pointing is also very weak. Everybody on the platform, especially Tonya
(SHE LAUGHS), is looking at me as if I’m insane! I’m thinking of all the moments in my show
where I’m pointing! (LAUGHTER) All the furniture, I touch all night long! You’re furniture touchers! God, I thought this was such wisdom! (LAUGHTER) It might be wisdom! It might be something that you’ve found,
quite revolutionary! What’s number three? (LAUGHTER) I absolutely swear, and I couldn’t do this
for years and years, letting – and (TO JENNIFER) you do it wonderfully in your play! She is terrifically still, for huge sections
of her play. Just letting your arms hang by your sides
and doing nothing with them is the strongest and most potent thing that an actor can do. And young actors, especially, tend not to
know that. They over-gesture and overwork their arms. But stillness is so powerful on stage. Sort of putting your arms on “Mute.” (TONYA LAUGHS) Exactly, exactly! You know, it’s so hard. And you sometimes feel silly standing there,
don’t you? I don’t know. I sometimes think, “Oh, no, I’ve got to
do something! Surely I’ve got to do something, this is
ridiculous.” Especially in a musical. But you’re a great listener. And then I think, “No, no, you don’t,
because if you do something, you’ll look even sillier. So just stand here, maybe nobody will notice
you.” You know, writers see actors, in a way, as
people who, when you give them your sides, they use the yellow marker and do their lines. And then the other person’s lines sometimes
come as a surprise, early on in the production. Sort of “Oh, really? What’s going on while I’m doing that?”,
you know? And so forth. And so what you say is very interesting, because
it’s hard, especially when you are a person – obviously, you must be a person of ego
to do this kind of work – to imagine that when somebody else is talking, nobody is really
looking at you, in a sense, you know? You’re out of the focus a bit, although
not so that you can scratch in bad places. (LAUGHTER) But that listening thing, to contribute
to focusing the audience on the person speaking is [so important]. It also has a terrific dynamic. I mean, I actually always remember Cherry
in HEIRESS. You did a lot of listening, and you were also
incredibly still for much of that. That kind of concentrated listening has a
terrific dynamic about it! It’s very potent on stage. Now, I’ve cut you off. No, it’s all right! What it does, too, is we’re listening to
you speak now, and it also directs the focus to what the story that’s being told is. And that’s the job of the actor as well,
to, you know, help focus the story as it’s being told. But I was thinking back to your original question. I’ve thought about this a lot, too. And I think, if you look back at the twentieth
century, the history of the American acting technique —well, there really wasn’t any,
up until about the 1950’s for us. So let’s say, from 1900, coming out of the
19th century American acting tradition, which was essentially Shakespearean, from John Wilkes
Booth and Edwin Booth and Edwin Forrest and those guys, they were basically guys who studied
in the great Shakespearean English tradition. And we basically had the English tradition
here in American, in the theatre, through the Group Theatre, probably to the forties
and the fifties. With the Group Theatre and with Clifford Odets,
there started to become this new exploration, even in the late thirties, of naturalism. And the concept that, you know, you didn’t
have to be a king to have your story told. You could be a guy who works in a kitchen. And so, people started behaving different
ways. Instead of sitting regally, you know, you
could pick your nose. You could chew gum, you could smoke cigarettes,
you could have holes in the soles of your feet. And there was a kind of real person that was
on stage for the first time. And then, that kind of exploration, the work
started to become you had to teach a bunch of actors then how to act that way, because
everybody thought that speaking with a British accent, you know, being royal and whatever,
was the right way to do it. But suddenly, there are guys from the Bronx
who are on stage, writers who are writing characters in the Bronx, and it was okay. They’d be an actor from the Bronx. As a matter of fact, it was better than an
actor who spoke with perfect diction. And so the American techniques and the Stanislavskian
techniques that incorporated that into Strasberg’s work and – Meisner. Meisner and, you know, all the other guys
who were exploring a kind of American naturalism became embodied in what we call “the Method.” And then, there was an exploration in the
Method. But now I think that what’s happened at
the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century is that what we have is
a synthesis of the two things. We have the English technique, which I think,
I remember when I was in drama school was summarized as “working from the outside
in.” I remember with Olivier and those guys who
we were studying, they would build a nose, they would build an ear. They’d build a character and they’d have
a speech or they’d have a limp or they’d have a hump, and from that would come the
character. And so, there was an outside sort of mask
that was put on, and then the internal character started to emerge. And then, for the American technique, it was
“working from the inside out.” What were your emotions? How do you relate to the play? And what kind of memories and things can you
bring to this character, that brings it alive? And now, at the end, I think all of us would
probably – I don’t know, I would think that we would all agree – that we work both
from the inside out and the outside in, depending on the kind of character, and maybe with every
character, you use a little bit of both. I know that when I’m on stage right now,
in this character, if you ask me how I brought it to life, it’s “the play’s the thing,”
definitely. I read that character. I read the play over and over. Every night before I go on stage, I’m looking
at the lines, I’m discovering something new. And I discover that by doing it organically,
by reading it and then rehearsing it and then slowly doing it in the course of rehearsals
and performance, things start to happen to you from the inside out. I knew from the outside in that the guy wore
a certain kind of boots and he wore a certain kind of clothes. That makes me behave a certain kind of way. But I also know that, inside out, I find myself
doing gestures that I’ve never done in life. It’s not quite pointing, but at one point
I say to the guy, “You can either sit or go.” (DEMONSTRATES, WAVING HIS HAND) Now, I never
do this in my life! (LAUGHTER) What kind of gesture is that? “Go!”, you know? I say, “Go!” But I find my character does that twice in
the play. And I’ve kept that character. I’ve decided that that’s a character gesture,
that’s what my character does. It’s different from what John Shea would
ever do in real life, but for some reason, you know what I’m saying? So by doing the play, the character makes
you do things, and you discover this, and then you decide what to keep. I think “You can go!” is good. Pointing, however, is not good! (LAUGHTER) He’ll tell you! Also, I was really intrigued by you talking
about listening and people being really good listeners on stage, ‘cause I really believe,
in my little instructional book of acting, that that’s the number one thing you do. And that if you have a really fine actor that
you’re working with, they give you your performance. That’s the thing that’s the hardest thing
to do. Because if you listen to them and respond
to them, and they’re good, and you just behave, you don’t have to work! And that’s, to me, why a playwright gets
a different performance, because every night that wonderful person you’re working off
of is different and your response to them is different. So it’s an improvisation in the moment with
the same material. And just to reiterate, I think that to listen
really is one of the most important, if not the most important, things to do. And I find for me the most difficult thing
to do is to [listen]. Because are you listening or are you acting
like you’re listening? And I think it’s very clear, the distinction
between the two, and to actually listen to what the other person is saying and not be
thinking about my line and what my response is going to be. You know, I find that sometimes I’m trying
to listen, but at the same time, I’m saying their lines in my head, because I know them
so well. I’ve heard them every night. I’ve heard them eight times a week. So it’s a challenge to still try and listen
to what they’re saying, as opposed to saying the words in your head and then respond to
that. So it’s that distinction, between listening
and acting like you’re listening. And listening as the character and not the
actor. Right, that too. Well, mostly, yeah. There’s got to be that little tiny percentage
of the actor at work, too. Otherwise, disasters would happen. (LAUGHTER) Before, we were sitting talking, and Patrick
and Cherry were talking about being disconnected. Suddenly, something happening in the audience
that disconnected you momentarily from what you were doing. And how did you get back into it? I mean, what do you mean by “disconnect”? Well, a cell phone moment. (LAUGHTER) Horrible thing. You talked about a program suddenly. Oh, a woman placed a program in the middle
of the second act of THE MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN right there (PLACES A PIECE OF PAPER DOWNSTAGE
CENTER). (LAUGHTER) And Gabriel Byrne is in my arms,
on the floor (JENNIFER GASPS) about two feet from that program. And I spent a great deal of the second act
that night trying to figure out how I could politely go and (GESTURES FIERCELY) kick it
right into the front row! (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) And I actually finally positioned myself where
I could, I had my foot almost on it. And I thought, “One, this is going to be
more distracting that the program is, but it’ll be out of the way, but it will be
more distracting. And two, I might, you know, with a major paper
cut, decapitate the poor lady who put it there, and I don’t want to do that, you know?” (LAUGHTER) So I chickened out, and I didn’t
do it, and then I had to just forget about it and concentrate! I saw Laurence Fishburne one night, the cell
phone moment got to him and he was finally was in his penultimate scene, and he just
finally broke. And has any of you ever broken and turned
to the audience. Oh, yeah, yeah. What? I’d love to hear it. Three or four times. And it’s always been a mistake, and I’ve
always regretted it. I have yelled at audiences. (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Sometimes they deserve it! Yeah, yeah … Well, they must. They must, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. What did you yell? I told them to shut up! (LAUGHTER) That’s brave! It was at the Barbican, in HENRY IV. And the HENRY IV begins, “So very whatever,
so wan with care” [SIC; he means “So very shaken as we are, so wan with care”], the
opening speech. And the audience just weren’t ready for
the play to begin, they were still having conversations. So I said, “Shut up,” at them. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” (LAUGHTER) So I said, “I’m going to start
again.” I went back to the speech and began again,
and it was a disaster. And also once, in a small theatre, like the
Donmar, a girl was taking notes on the front row. She had a huge notebook and one of those jumbo
pencils, you know? (LAUGHTER) This was during THE MERCHANT OF
VENICE. And she was in my eyeline in the trial scene. So I went over and I snatched this thing out
of her hand and I broke the pencil. (LAUGHTER) And it wrecked the evening! Well, it might! (LAUGHTER) Put this in my little instruction book. “Don’t shout at the audience.” “Don’t do it!” That’s number three. (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Best advice you could possibly give! Jennifer, you nodded when it came up. What did you do? Oh, just the cell phone thing. There was a night – or two nights, I think,
maybe – at the Alberry in London when a cell phone would go off. And each time, I thought it was just me that
looked. Then I realized actually that Stephen and
I would actually look (LAUGHS) at exactly the same moment. Because there are times – there was no reason
to go on. Both times, it was at a moment in the play
when everybody is aware of the cell phone, and – You can’t. You can’t ignore it. You just sort of wait for it to come back. It also had been broken down very early at
the Alberry, because we had the audience shout the first night that they couldn’t hear
one of the actors. And so, the audience had called out, “Speak
up, we can’t hear you,” and had got a round of applause! Because we’d come from this little 250 seat
theatre, and we sort of were hoping we were going to buy ourselves a couple of weeks to
gradually expand. And on the first preview, we got this. And so then, sort of for the next couple of
weeks, it did feel as if that wall, that membrane was not there. None of you has ever just inadvertently yelled
out “Gesundheit!” or anything like that? (LAUGHTER) No. But this, what we’re talking about is a
really important thing, because what we try to do on stage is create a cocoon of concentration
that kind of weaves a spell over the whole audience. And if we’re really focused on each other
and we’re listening, you know that feeling in the theatre where you can hear the pin
drop? And everybody’s in that world and the story’s
being told and there’s some magic, this energy that is communicated between us. And if something shatters it, like a phone
going off or something, that program or whatever, what it does is like somebody has taken a
dagger and he’s gone right into that cocoon and he’s torn it. And it’s an act of violence. And what happened to me, I was on stage the
other night doing this, and working with a great actress named Tasha Lawrence. And as Tasha and I were standing there, somebody
spoke in the theatre, a woman rustling and something in her bag. And suddenly the cocoon was broken for a moment
and the magic was gone. And I stood on stage with her and I thought,
“I’m naked here on stage. We’re in a tacky little theatre, you know,
like under a church, telling this story, you know, that was only being kept alive by our
kind of will and spirit and blood. And this is a set and I’m in a costume,
and why was I born and why am I an actor?” (LAUGHTER) You know? It was like this kind of awful existential
moment where I felt completely vulnerable and completely naked. And for a moment – like, O’Neill has that
– you know, for a moment, the curtain is drawn back and you see. And it’s like you saw the falseness of the
theatre, you know, and the fact that we’re all just up there weaving this fantastic lie. And then suddenly I thought, how do you get
back? And it was exactly what Tonya said, which
is go back (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) into the other person’s eyes. And I lost myself in Tasha’s eyes and listened
to what she had to say, and suddenly it sealed itself again magically and we were back on
stage and back in the play. But it’s a dangerous moment. Could I get back to the nitty-gritty? We have had so many questions that want to
be asked by the audience that we can’t possibly get them all in. But one of the most important ones is how
did you get an agent? You started from the very beginning and how
did you get your agent? Could we go around quickly before? She saw me in a show at drama school. That was it. I didn’t have one for years. I worked in provincial rep, and you don’t
need agents there. I guess I had been an actor for about seven
years before I got an agent. And I’ve had lots since then. Although I’ve got a steady now, I’ve had
a steady for thirteen or fourteen years. I was at Carnegie Mellon and they had a summer
Equity program and I got to work with the Equity actors. And an agent of one of the Equity actors came
and saw the show and told me that when I came to New York he would be interested in representing
me. I lost an election bet. No! (LAUGHTER) I worked on stage in New York. My very first play was called YENTL, an Isaac
Bashevis Singer play. And agents came to see the play, and I was
asked to sign and I did. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been seen
in things and people have seen me, but I think if you don’t have work that they can see
you do or you’re not coming out of a drama program, the best way is always for someone
you know to make that introduction. My agent saw me in a preview of RENT at the
New York Theatre Workshop. So, the answer really is that you have to
be seen, and so you have to work. Yeah, unfortunately. It’s a double-edged sword, yeah. It’s the Catch-22 of the theatre. You can’t be seen without an agent, and
you can’t get an agent till you’re seen. Yeah. And we don’t have an agent, but we do have
to close this seminar. And it’s gone so fast I can’t tell you. I can’t believe that it’s the time for
me to say this is the American Theatre Wing 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 Performance Seminar has been simply
wonderful. I can’t tell you how much has come out of
it and how much I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve listened to every word that you’ve
said. I’ve not pointed a finger once. (LAUGHTER) Thank you very much for being here. Thank you, Peter. (APPLAUSE)

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