In the Telling

Directing the Classics

November 19, 2019 Season 1 Episode 20
In the Telling
Directing the Classics
Chapters
In the Telling
Directing the Classics
Nov 19, 2019 Season 1 Episode 20
Liz Christensen / John Sweeney
The director behind the annual tradition of A Christmas Carol at Hale Center Theatre the past 16 years on refining the show and keeping it fresh.
Show Notes Transcript

Insights from the Hale Centre Theatre director who has brought A Christmas Carol to the stage 16 years running, John Sweeney.  John talks about working with adaptable material, refining a show over time, source material for classics, having a vision but not really being a "concept" guy, an appetite for new theatrical works, and how he collaborates with a production team and a cast to meet and exceed audience expectations.

You can find out more about “In the Telling” at lizzylizzyliz.com

Theme music by Gordon Vetas



Support the show

Speaker 1:
0:00
Look at the source material, look at what other, you know, things are available to you, whether it's other productions, whatever it might be, and then come up with your own ideas. Um, based on, you know, your understanding, your reading,
Speaker 2:
0:15
the voice you just heard belongs to John Sweeney, the Hale center theater director who has brought a Christmas Carol to the stage 16 years running. John sat down to talk with me about working with adaptable material, refining a show over time, source material for classics, having a vision but not really being a concept guy, an appetite for new theatrical works and how he collaborates with a production team and a cast to meet and exceed audience expectations on your host bliss Christiansen. And it's all in the telling. Welcome to episode 20 with my guest, John Sweeney. John has directed Hale center theater's production of a Christmas Carol for the past 16 years, but his work on the show began even before that.
Speaker 1:
1:05
Well, I was in it two years prior to me directing it at hail. So I've been involved for the last 18 years and the same version every year. Right. Even though there's multiple scripts, I don't know that I've ever done it the same way twice. Um, I do something different every time starting with the same licensed material. It's in the open, uh, as far as you know, eminent whatever the domain, public domain. Yeah. The reality is is everyone basically writes their own version and the version that the hail uses was based on essentially Richard Wilkins and his wife, Melanie Wilkins writing a version. But like if you look at where we give credit on the front page, it has like everybody's name that's ever directed the show because we've all put our own thing into it. You know, from that point, it's based on that original version that Richard and Melanie.
Speaker 1:
2:06
But like even today, you know, since Richard's passed five years ago, today's version is so vastly different than what even he saw when he passed. The unique aspect of it is it's always trying to keep it to the original text of Charles Dickens. So we try not to create new characters or in very few instances where you see a line that doesn't actually come from the book. So what happens sometimes is I will go through and say, well let's this year, let's expand the Dickens monologue at the beginning of the show and add this piece of text that wasn't used previously and things like that. It's actually kind of been, you know, from that standpoint, very fun to, to deal with. So it sounds like because you've done it for 16 seasons
Speaker 3:
3:00
that you can like kind of hone it and refine it as you go. How, what would you say is the biggest difference in the version that's coming this Christmas compared to the first time you got to touch it as a director?
Speaker 1:
3:12
So over the years there has always been a score that was written for it. So I had mentioned, I have been involved with the production for 18 years. So my first year, or sorry, my second year doing the show, they had worked with a gentleman named Barlow Bradford to score the show. So he wrote, you know, all this music and we had a live orchestra for the first two years. Um, for the first year of me directing it. And the year previous we had a live orchestra. So that my first year as director, I had the live orchestra playing the score. You know, that was very unique aspect to that year's performance. But then we recorded all the tracks. And then for the last, you know, 15 years we've been essentially working from recorded tracks. But what has happened is that as the show has morphed, and especially since we went from, you know, in the round in West Valley to now being in a three quarter thrust in the jewel box theater in Sandy, the show has changed in such a way that the underscoring hasn't made as much sense because in and of itself, the underscoring is telling a story.
Speaker 1:
4:25
It has to be a through line. And what had happened was was we've actually moved songs and we had created new monologues for Dickens and the underscoring just wasn't matching up any longer. And so what we've doing this year, oddly enough, is bringing back a live musician, a violinist, and who will play maybe what are more traditional Christmas carols throughout the show and not violinists will become the transitions between scenes. We may still use some underscoring in what we call the redemption scene, which is basically after he's visited the graveyard, after he seen his name on the gravestone, there is a eight minute piece of music that underscores all his lines as he, you know, wakes up and realizes that he's has a second chance. And that all the way goes through into the town seeing the courtyard, uh, at the end of the show where all the towns people get to see, Hey, this is a different person, you know. So that is probably the most significant change from year one to year 16 for me as a director is live orchestra. The first year, that was the only year we had a full live orchestra and now we've come full circle and now have a violinist at the end. So
Speaker 3:
5:50
is the impetus for that kind of accumulated over changes and it finally collected enough that you're like you what the underscore is a real
Speaker 1:
5:58
mismatch or or was it also logistically like you were in a different space and now what we need for seeing changes is different and yeah, it's a combination of both. A lot of people don't necessarily think of this as a director. I have to think of it this way. Whenever I receive the content from a licensing agency, you know, and then this, like we said, is in the public domain, so it's not your, you're not licensing it. However, there were certain parameters that were given. Parameters such as the underscoring is a certain length of time. And so each actor who's performed in that, in the role of Dickens over the years has had the say his lines in a meter that matches the amount of time that they have for the underscoring now, because of the changes in, you know, the fact that we're going to proceed IOM, the fact that maybe some of the vision of the, of different aspects of the show have changed.
Speaker 1:
6:56
We can remove maybe what I consider somewhat of a stifling, you know, limiting somebody to a certain amount of measures or time to say their lines to me takes away from their creativity. If I do any show that includes underscoring, I often do get concerned about how that can stifle the actor's own creative choices because we don't all speak the same way. We emphasize different words, you know, everything from that standpoint really changes the way things you know may be portrayed in performance. The biggest aspect of the way the underscoring was originally written was the, and, and it's hard to explain unless you actually, here it is, there's some abstract aspects to the way the score was done. So we have an octet that appears throughout the show. The octet did some things where they were in the real world and they were in the ghost world or they were in, in scrooges dreams, ambient Val saying kind of stuff, things like that.
Speaker 1:
8:05
But also in some ways, very dissonant chords were used. There would be a part in the opening monologue where, uh, he would talk about scrooges characteristics. I mean, it's a scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner, and it would be sung and it would be sung in very dissonant tones. Well, a couple of years ago when we moved to the three quarter thrusts, one of my goals was one of my choices was was to remove some of the abstract elements of the, of that, of that song. So not having the octet sing that part of the monologue, just allowing Dickens to say it. There was a song called deck the hall where they would actually be in Scrooge, his bedroom as he's dreaming, as he's having a nightmare and they would sing around his bed, they would sing back the hall. But again, it was a very abstract concept and I said, you know what? Let's not do it that way anymore. Now the way we're portraying the show is much more based in realism. So we have to remove the abstract elements of the underscoring.
Speaker 3:
9:12
Has that transition from abstract to realism been a slow evolution for you or an intentional like did you realize it or did you determine it? I guess, and maybe maybe that's splitting hairs.
Speaker 1:
9:24
I think the thing is is it is a little bit of a, a realization along the way. And I wouldn't say like our entire portrayal was abstract in any way. It was just that these particular moments were in and of itself. The fact that goes superiors abstract enough, right. What it was doing from, you know, maybe an audience perspective of having to imagine that, you know, Scrooge is having these dreams that includes these additional characters. These additional characters are somehow interacting with the narrator who the narrator doesn't interact with anyone. Right. Um, but for some reason these eight octet members were, but sometimes those octet members were in the town, you know? So it was really balancing the worlds of the octet being in the abstract and the octet being in the real world. Now if you watch the show, the octet is simply in the real world the entire time.
Speaker 3:
10:18
So you're just kind of clarifying the rules by which this story has a world.
Speaker 1:
10:22
Yeah. As a director, lots of times I have to find ways in which I can justify as the audience because ultimately that's what I'm doing. I'm representing the audience in the rehearsal process, you know, ultimately, does this story make sense? The way it's being laid out and you know, for this year, I think that you'll find that the way that we present the information present, the story will feel as traditional and wonderful as it always has. But there will be different elements which you'll say, Hmm, I really liked that moment. You know, I really enjoyed this take on things.
Speaker 3:
11:01
The violinist isn't the only new take on things that John has prepared for a Christmas Carol audiences this year.
Speaker 1:
11:07
So I worked as a professional actor back East when I was in my early twenties and I had done an oddly enough, a production of Christmas Carol. And in that production there was, um, a representation of the ghost of Christmas yet to come as the undertaker. And so that's the other big thing that this year, you know, we're going to do a take of it like that. I'm going to see if that works. And the reason which I can't necessarily give away will be that we'll add more magic when we do a reveal of the end of the more traditional grim Reaper. Anyway. I'm excited about that as the second biggest change in the production over all these years that I've been doing it. Yeah.
Speaker 3:
11:51
So interesting to me. Cause if you wrote down paper for me, you're going to direct the same story for 16 consecutive years. My first thought would be this is going to be limiting or redundant at some point, but what I'm hearing from you, it gives me the sense that there is a lot more play, an opportunity for you to make interesting choices because you can always just do it differently next time and go back and fix it.
Speaker 1:
12:15
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean that's, that's the thing there. There are things that we've done over the years. I mean, and certainly some of them are not good, you know, and you and you go back and say, you know what, that didn't work. Let's try something else the next year. And ultimately, as long as you deliver on the overall story of redemption, which is, you know, truly the heart of the story, then you can play with the little elements in between and say, well, what about this take on this, this take on this and just give it a little different flavor. And some of them are very small details, but others, you know, like this, this one with, with, uh, the undertaker this year will be, you know, pretty big. It'll be something people will walk out and say, Oh, you know, over the years it has, it's, it's evolved, but it's also had complete and total revision. And, and that's actually what makes it exciting. And that's why I don't get bored with it because a lot of people could say, well, that, that seems silly to keep doing the same story, but it's not, it's not the same story. We find ways in which it evolves and, and which we can tell the story in a different way.
Speaker 3:
13:34
And it's Hale center theater material. So nobody's over your shoulder saying, you can't mess with that. I mean
Speaker 1:
13:40
that's, you know, that's the biggest thing is that, that it is based on someone else's book and, and there are plenty of other versions. In fact, um, I believe this year there's a version that had been playing in the West end in the last couple of years is going to Broadway this year for this Christmas season. And I'm sure I'll go and watch it and they'll tell the story differently than I have. And you know, maybe there'll be things that they do that I'll say, wow, that's an interesting take. And you know, wow, you know, I've been doing that same thing for, you know, 13 years and I'm not going to do it that way anymore. You know? You know what I mean? It's like you, you learn from every telling of the story. Every night that I go to rehearsal I can hear something said in a different way and I can learn from him.
Speaker 1:
14:29
Even just last night I was watching, we have a new choreographer for the first time and all these years, you know, doing the show and she had a different take on one of the numbers and I was like, wow, that's really interesting, you know? And I was glad to see that new fresh blood brought into it. I mean the reality is is if I wasn't changing along the way, people would get bored. People would sit there and say, well this is just the scene show that I've always seen. And I think in some ways there's something comforting about that and that's why people love the story of Christmas Carol so much. But if it doesn't evolve and grow and try new things, then I'm not doing my job as a storyteller and introducing new elements by moving and utilizing people in different roles. You can actually get fresh ideas and thoughts from that.
Speaker 1:
15:23
And I, that's one of the things I love about the show is, is that there are a lot of people who do come back and they want to play the same role, but they're also willing to play different roles. This year though. That's another thing that is so crazy. I'd say over the years, like every year you have a 50% turnover in the Catholic, you know, 50% of the people are new out of 54 tracks, 54 because we double cast, you know, so there's 27 people in each cast out of 54 only 14 were in the show last year. That's a, that's a significant, yeah, that's 40 new people. That's the biggest change, you know, in my experience from one year to the other. That's refreshing too because all those people will bring in new ideas, new thoughts, new line deliveries. You know, I never tell people you have to, you know, unless there's something comedic that's happening and it's very time sensitive, like lots of times with comedy, it's, as I like to say, it's all in the timing, um, that you have to do something in a particular way or particular beat. And those moments are very few and far between. I love hearing new ways of delivering the lines and the emphasis that is placed because it really opens up your eyes to what, what is possible.
Speaker 3:
16:52
Are the seeds for what's going to change happening for you in the rehearsal process for the next year? Or is it something that happens after the show's closed and it's like February, March, April, and you're kind of thinking about it again.
Speaker 1:
17:04
Always happening. I mean, my wife and I, we joke about how we're, and we're constantly quoting lines throughout the year. You know, we see we're watching some other show and it brings up an idea about something I could do for Christmas Carol. I mean, honestly it's, it's always on my mind. Literally this idea about the undertaker as Christmas yet to come, that was 25 years ago when I first experienced a production that utilize that idea. Like I said, well, you'll still see, you see the traditional grim Reaper, but it'll be more magical the way we deliver it. So
Speaker 3:
17:42
talk to me about the total opposite of this. When you are given a script that you are working on for the very first time, what's your process? Firstly,
Speaker 1:
17:50
you know, if their source material, I try to go to the source material, so I just, you know, directed Phantom. Um, and this is the Yeston more Yeston Arthur Kopit version of Phantom. I go to the original book and you know, I'll read that, that book maybe more than once. And, and this is the third time I've done Phantom. So again, I'm very familiar with that particular, but even going back to the first time I've ever I ever did it, you know, read the book, look at what other source material exists, you know, movies, actual shows, performances, uh, that you can attend. Uh, you know, I'll give an example. I, one of my first big musicals that I directed at the hail was big, the musical. And I had never seen, I'd seen the movie obviously, but I'd never seen the show itself. And so I bought a ticket and found a theater in Missouri that was playing it and flew out there and watch the show.
Speaker 1:
18:48
And what I tend to find, and this, this may or may not seem natural, I typically find things not to do. It's not that I find things that I should do. I typically find things not to do. And the reason that's important to me is I don't want to necessarily be copying what somebody else is doing. I want to do my own interpretation of, of the show. So when I, you know, when I specifically look at big the musical, one of the things that that struck me was that there were a couple of iconic moments from the movie that were missing in the script. And one of them was that it's sort of an iconic moment. You see Tom Hanks and, and the woman, uh, in the, in the movie jumping on a trampoline outside the window. And so I remember going to the designer and saying, you know, I'd love to have a trampoline as part of the scene when he come, when he brings her back to his apartment.
Speaker 1:
19:48
And I'm like, well, how can we do this? Well, it doesn't make a lot of sense. But what if the floor in his apartment was a trampoline? And so we made the floor of his, of a portion of the floor of his apartment, a trampoline, and he would, you know, they play basketball. They jumped on it together. He would go get a drink, he would bounce from one side of the room to the other. And there wasn't anything that had to be added or subtracted from the script. It just became part of the design and became part of the scene. The other thing that I tend to do is I, I like to watch lots of other shows and it doesn't have to be a musical theater productions. It can be, you know, another example is the, the show, uh, love at, um, in, in Las Vegas, the Beatles love.
Speaker 1:
20:37
There was a thing that was used in that that I always thought was so cool and it was the, it's not the entire cast, but the cast is like essentially inside a foam Volkswagen beetle and they're all in there and they're all holding a stick that holds together the bead on it, makes it look like it's an actual car. And then all of a sudden within the music there's, you know, big swell in the music and then they move the pieces and it's almost as if the car explodes, it runs into something and it explodes. And I thought, that's a really cool idea. I'm not going to be directing Beatles' love anytime soon. But a couple of years after seeing that show, um, I was doing Fiddler on the roof and the whole part of, from Sarah coming to life and when I ended up doing was I thought, well, what if a Sara exploded out of a tomb?
Speaker 1:
21:31
And so what we did was we, the same concept, we built a tomb of foam tomb cast members were all inside with their sticks and then she came down from the fly system and swung through the tomb. And as she swung through, all the tune pieces burst apart just like that car did. And so you can see how like you could take something that is really unique and apply it to something else. So it sounds like you're kind of like dual marinating in the story in every way it's ever been told and maybe like a random catalog of just like this was cool. Yeah, I mean it can be. Yeah, I mean I think that's the important part is, is being able to use your own imagination in applying to the [inaudible]. This is my personal belief and I don't suggest that anyone else should go along with us, is this is just me.
Speaker 1:
22:24
I'm not much of a concept guy. I'm not like, Oh, let's do, and this is a literal thing. I heard somebody telling me once, let's do a Hamlet, but we'll all be a costumed in saran wrap. That's not the kind of show I'm going to direct. I tried to do what the audience would expect from based on the original text, but I wouldn't want to ever copy create the same version of a story that somebody else has done before. I still want to apply my own ideas and thoughts to it. As an example, this a go round with Phantom ballet is a part of the script, especially back in that time period of the late 18 hundreds ballet and opera were, they were married at the, at the hip. I decided that I wanted to really expand the use of ballet in the storytelling and so I start off the show actually doing, doing the overture with the Phantom as a young boy with his mother and father, imagining the world that he, the life he could have had.
Speaker 1:
23:33
What I really felt like was when you look at the Phantom content of the Yeston kaput version, ballet is in the show, but I really wanted to expand upon that. So in this version of Phantom, we actually see the Phantom as a young boy when he's deformed and and such. So the, in the overture, what I did was I, I what life could have been for that little boy and I S we have his mother, we have his father and they do a whole ballet sequence in which the boy comes running in. And um, you, you can see a loving family that the life he could have had. And then we get out of the overturn, go into the actual story and we see the life he ended up with that may be, you know, one of those director ideas that not a ton of people are going to walk into the theater and get that. But it's personal to me and it's, it's a moment that I think helps introduce that, Hey, there's going to be a lot of ballet in the show. It's really beautiful.
Speaker 2:
24:32
When you're sitting down with the script and you're thinking, um, you know, in the preproduction process, how are you communicating these ideas to designers in artistic heady ways and also just like practical
Speaker 1:
24:45
a functional needs? That's a great question because there is a concept of a vision and the vision often takes us to places that logistically you can't actually accomplish on stage. You know, I'll use it a very basic example, but if I say, you know what I'd really like for Christmas Carol, is I'd like for Christmas future to fly. Okay, well that, that seems reasonable and you know, theaters can do that. But the particular space that we're in right now doesn't have the tracking system to fly anything. Uh, horizontally. Everything can go up and down but not left the right. Okay. And so I can say from a vision standpoint, I'd like the ghost to fly from a logistic standpoint. We need to find a way to make it happen. Knowing that we have, you know, we have certain restrictions based on the space. That's what I love about the process.
Speaker 1:
25:48
And, and, and talking through these ideas with Casey EUD who is the artistic director at the Hale. It brings up another point of, you know, when I think about a Christmas Carol for many years, one of the favorite moments of the audience members who have come to the theater in West Valley was at the end of act one, the characters of ignorance and want Christmas present would throw them into a hole that would light up with red and have a lot of fog flowing through it. You know, it was a symbol of those children dying and going to hell. Essentially. He would throw them and universally I could ask people, what's your favorite moment of Christmas Carol? Oh, I love when you throw the kids into the pit. Oddly enough, we couldn't do that in the new theater. We can't have, there's no mechanism for us to have trapdoors in the current stage in the jewel box.
Speaker 1:
26:48
We will someday, but right now, and for the first three years at least that we've been in there, we couldn't do that. Casey has come up. He knows what our goal is as far as shocking the audience, that it has to be something that causes us to take our breath away and he's come up with an idea that will accomplish that without having the same mechanism and doing it. So from a design perspective, he is delivering on the vision of that shock and all, but he's just doing it in a more creative fashion. I want to be able to always go beyond what did it, whatever it is. I imagine when it comes to that vision that the execution actually ends up being better because lots of times you settle. I know that the creative geniuses that I get to work with can actually execute better than my vision ever will be.
Speaker 1:
27:47
You know, even with Christmas Carol, there are ideas that I have even for this year that won't happen this year, but I know that they could happen next year when I directed for the 17th year in a row. Take a little more time to figure that part out. Exactly. Exactly. Things will get added to the theater. New new toys. Will, you know that flying system will someday be there? You know, all those things. It has to grow and it's its own living, breathing thing, the space itself. And so that space will allow us to tell the stories in different ways and let us grow. So one of my favorite experiences was doing tail two cities in that particular case. When we did it, this was all the way back in 2011 I think it had only been on Broadway for like a month, three weeks, even back in 2007 I think it was.
Speaker 1:
28:41
Maybe it was 2009 so there was little access to material other than the original book. And there was a recording and it did snippets of the musical. It wasn't a full production, it was like a concert version. Almost was like bridging a concert version with a full production. Anyway, so I remember I put it out on Facebook, you know, I'm so excited about doing this. I, I'm curious among my network of friends, is there anyone who had any involvement with this show? Well, there was a friend of mine, her name is Jennifer Zimmerman, who she had been in layman is in the 90s. She was Fontine, uh, on Broadway. And it turns out she had been in the workshops for a tale of two cities and she put me in touch with Jill century ELO who wrote it, who wrote, you know, her, her adaptation of the Charles Dickens book.
Speaker 1:
29:40
And so I ended up getting to meet with Jill and having conversations right from the beginning about, you know, what were the things that, that you liked that you didn't like, you know, what you know. And we, we had conversations all throughout the preproduction and rehearsal process and here I am talking with the composer and you know, lyricist and uh, and a writer of the book. And so it was amazing to have sort of that access, um, at that time. But I said to Jill, we are doing this in the round. This isn't in proceeding IOM as you used to doing that as you did it on Broadway. And so that even allowed us to come up with new ideas and thoughts. And, and in that particular case, you know we're had direct access to her so if we wanted to make a change we almost got to in a way workshop the show ourselves a little bit and you know, we'd ask her and she'd give us the thumbs up or thumbs down on some of the things and what's, what's amazing is some of the changes we made, you know way back then in 2011 are now part of the licensed product that go out today.
Speaker 1:
30:55
That was really, you know, sort of a fun aspect to be able to work with her to come up with unique elements. Especially because we were doing it in the round.
Speaker 3:
31:04
With there being so many advantages to having a little bit more collaboration with the material or a little bit more flexibility of what you can do with the material. Why do you, why do you think you talk theaters generally remounted stuff or do licensed work as opposed to material that could give them a little bit more?
Speaker 1:
31:26
Well I think we're starting to see a little bit more of that. Some of the colleges, like UVU especially is, is trying to work. They're working with Frank wild horn, uh, in the past on a couple of his pieces to do it in a, in a different way, in a different vein. I think they're doing, um, Dracula or they didn't count of Monte Cristo at one point. And, and, and now there's somebody who is written a, a musical that, uh, Walker has been a part of. And, and, and so I think they're trying to, we're trying to do more of that in Utah. And, and in some ways, even with the hail, one of the ideas, you know, that we're thought of is, you know, what if we did become kind of like a, a good speed opera house or an Oslo conservatory where somebody could bring in a, a new piece and, and working a work at and workshop it and then maybe potentially have it go to an off-Broadway or Broadway run.
Speaker 1:
32:26
I think there's appetite for it. But at the same time, theater is a business and people are trying to make ends meet, let's say. And so I think from that standpoint, sometimes the, the uh, the shows that are being done are sort of the traditional fare that we know people will come to, you know, I'll actually use the house as an example here. They are starting to do some things that are really quite different. I mean, last year they did American in Paris, which I don't think a whole lot of people were familiar with that as a musical and you know, they took a chance on that. Next year they're going to do strictly ballroom, which will be the U S premiere. So again, it's taking a, a show, uh, that people may not be as familiar with and taking a chance that they'll actually come and buy tickets. You know? Um, I think the hail is any unique position to be able to do a little bit more of that than others because some of the other theaters you're, it is difficult to Mount something that could be very costly and then not be able to make sure that you have people paying for the tickets every night.
Speaker 3:
33:38
Do you think it's intentional, the pattern between those two? If you can do a pattern for just two things that they're both musicals based off of movies that have kind of a cult following or iconic.
Speaker 1:
33:48
Yeah, I think there is certainly hope that the name recognition will, will be there in that in those cases or the people may be familiar with the source material, but you know, I, I don't necessarily know that might drive a small portion of the audience. I think the bigger thing is, is if you can, if you can consistently put on quality productions that you can generate a season ticket base that they know, look, I know this season ticket base are going to come to the show. Now I need to expand beyond that ticket base to sell the tickets, uh, to others and hopefully turn them into season ticket holders. Then in that particular case, maybe you hope a little bit of name recognition will help. But ultimately when I think back to the show that that really, you know, really helped the hail in mice Valley was one that at the time not a lot of people had heard of, which was Scarlet Pimpernel. And what it was was it was an a proper execution of good storytelling and you know, thrilling music that ended up starting to cultivate that base of season ticket holders that people started to say, Oh, I know that when I come to this theater I'm going to get quality shows and I'm going to be able to, and in their mission, you know, that it be family friendly. Um, I'm gonna be on, take my kids and it'll be safe for them. And, and that ultimately I'm getting more value than the ticket price.
Speaker 3:
35:24
I'm going to pose this question like it's a stark contrast to duality. Even though I recognize that that is not the case. Are you more of a director in your approach to actors who are in this? Like this is the blocking, I know what I want and how visually I'm going to tell the story through movement in space? Or are you like, get up on your feet and show me what you think and what wants to come out of you and your movement through your objectives and tactics and then we'll go from there.
Speaker 1:
35:47
I think there's definitely a combination the way I like to, and, and this is my, my first meeting, I, I sometimes I direct in many ways in a fashion that is both a combination of the logistics and the creativity I subscribed to as an actor because I'm an actor first. The concept of what is known as practical aesthetics. It was, it's a book called true and false written by David Mamet for years and years. I've been preaching that book to people and saying, you know, here this is, this book is what I am about as an actor. And it's, it used to be the non method method and now it's become a method, which is kind of weird. But, um, but anyway, grounding it in my own emotional baggage from the standpoint of as an actor, that that's, that I'm utilizing my own experiences and life experiences and own emotions to be able to put myself into a particular character and the emotions that they're having, even though the situation is different.
Speaker 1:
36:56
That's where I base, you know, sort of that aspect of it. But then logistically I am a chess player, actually a poker player, but as a poker player, I'm always thinking ahead. I'm always thinking, well, in order for me to get from this scene to the next scene and to the next scene, I have to have these things happen in between. And so what I'll say to an actor is, okay, I need you to start here. I needed to end here. And at some point in the middle, I need you to be in one of these places. That's how I put it together. And I said, creatively, I want you to find the way that gets you from there to there and use the stuff in between.
Speaker 3:
37:42
Is that, are you talking to me about this as like an emotional character arc or is this also like physically in the scene? Look, I need you to hit this moment in this place, but how you get and when you get from here to there.
Speaker 1:
37:53
Yes, exactly that. The latter. Yeah. So, so from that standpoint, lots of times I'll just ha we'll just have constant conversation between myself and and the actor to be able to say, all right, well now that I can see that you can accomplish a and B and you can do all the stuff in the middle. Now what are the questions you're asking yourself as you're going through this particular scene? How are you getting what it is that you want out of that seat? And so from that standpoint, I am not going to be somebody who is, all right now I need you to turn around when you say this word. That's not what I do. Because again, creatively, I can watch somebody else do something and then I can learn so much from them. To be fair. If I get to a point, uh, during the rehearsal process where something isn't working for me, then I do have the tools that I can say, well, as an actor, I know that if I were particular in this particular scene, if I were to do this, this would communicate what I'm trying to communicate to the audience.
Speaker 1:
39:02
And if the performer isn't getting it, then you know, I might go to that end. But for the most part, it's allowing the individual to utilize their own creative tools to ultimately deliver the message of that particular scene and what it is they're trying to accomplish.
Speaker 3:
39:21
And you're having an overt conversation with about with the actor about that as well as a real time experiment in the F in the space and in the text.
Speaker 1:
39:30
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, you have to, I mean, I never tell them what to do. Let's put it that way. What I say is, look, I need you to come in this way. I need you to leave this way and in between hit maybe these one or two spots, but let's walk through it and I'll, we'll refine it as we go along. You know, when I just got done doing Phantom, I remember giving some of those spots in the scene is sort of the pivotal scene between the father and the son. At the end of the story. I remember halfway through the rehearsal process, I just hated what I had done. I just didn't like it at all. And I decided to go an entirely different direction. I apologize to the actors cause I like to be right the first time. But I said, look, these spots aren't working for me.
Speaker 1:
40:18
I want, I want us, you know, we're experienced some grading, great emotions, but I don't think they're going the right places and I, I need it to be, you know, much more connected, much, much more of, you know, you going through each other rather than being too thoughtful. And it was because of the way I had blocked them. And so once we got that all out of the way and you know, really just got down to their own emotions and what they were going through as characters at the, at that particular moment, it became much more based in reality and honesty. And it was, it's, it's good now. So, um, when you're dealing with two casts, how much do you need them to be duplicated
Speaker 3:
41:07
and how much freedom is there for there to be this level of correctness in this level of individualism?
Speaker 1:
41:12
Yeah, that's like, honestly, I don't look for them to be the same. The only thing is you just have to both be in the light, you know? So that's the biggest thing. I think the hard part though is, is there certain elements that you'll find, it's not that you need to be the same from the beginning to the, of a performance, but there are moments in which you need to be the same. So, you know, example, there's a fight that happens in Phantom and I expect that the Phantoms and the Fleeps that have the fight will be the same in both casts so that we don't have an accident. But when it comes to your own script analysis and being able to, uh, interpret the lines in your way, as long as the message is the same, I think, you know, that's the important part.
Speaker 1:
42:04
I think that ultimately as the Phantom, one of the things in this particular telling of the stories that he is more human, but he does have to show sort of that, that he's a bit unhinged and not normal because of the fact that he's been living in, in dungeon beneath the opera house his whole life and not interacting with people. Austin Smith and Preston Yates are the two guys pointing Phantom. Their performances are very different from beginning to end. But ultimately they both show the human side and they show the maniacal side. That is the Phantom that we've come to know.
Speaker 2:
42:43
John hasn't just directed classics. He's read the classics too. And not just plays, I mean, but the books that I remember from my theater degree in college,
Speaker 1:
42:52
I had mentioned the David Mamet book, true and false before he also wrote another book, which is strictly called theater and I think this one goes a little bit too far, but they basically say inside each one of us is a little director and if you allow that instinct to play out, then ultimately don't actually need an actual director. So that's the part that goes maybe a little too far for me, but, but I, I think it, it does make a lot of sense from the standpoint of allowing people to trust their, their intuitions, especially when it comes to simple logistics of blocking and movement. Look, this is where the light is going to be and I need you to stay within that spot. I need you to enter here and exit here. Let's see what you do in between. I think that's a very fair way to allow somebody to represent their own creativity and talents.
Speaker 2:
43:43
Thank you to my guests. John Sweeney. Thank you so much John. You can find out more about in the tele@lizzielizzieliz.com theme music by Gordon fetus in the telling is hosted and produced by me. Liz Christiansen, thanks for listening.
×

Listen to this podcast on