Overheard at the American Theatre Wing

Overheard at the American Theatre Wing The American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony® Award and sponsor of many programs that promote live theatre, holds seminars in the fall and spring called Working in the Theatre. The seminars, chaired by ATW President Isabelle Stevenson, invite students; members of theatre unions; the casts of Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off Off-Broadway shows; and theatre lovers in general to hear all-star rosters of actors, directors, playwrights, producers and other theatre artists discuss the problems and rewards of working in the theatre. Below are excerpts from the fall 1996 seminar, compiled by ATW's Alan Hemingway.

The American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony® Award and sponsor of many programs that promote live theatre, holds seminars in the fall and spring called Working in the Theatre. The seminars, chaired by ATW President Isabelle Stevenson, invite students; members of theatre unions; the casts of Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off Off-Broadway shows; and theatre lovers in general to hear all-star rosters of actors, directors, playwrights, producers and other theatre artists discuss the problems and rewards of working in the theatre. Below are excerpts from the fall 1996 seminar, compiled by ATW's Alan Hemingway.

ON THE PLAYWRIGHT/ DIRECTOR RELATIONSHIP

DAVID HENRY HWANG (M. Butterfly, Golden Child, FOB, The Dance and the Railroad) The first meeting of a director and playwright many times is like a blind date, especially if they have never worked together before. If it works, it becomes like a marriage, a collaborative effort. The director has to be able to yell at the playwright and the playwright has to be able to cry in front of the director and have it be okay.

NICKY SILVER (The Food Chain, Fit to Be Tied, Pterodactyls): The first tenet of creative freedom is that the writer gets to pick the director. One Off-B'way theatre wanted to do one of my plays and assigned me a director. We met to discuss Pterodactyls, and he had all sorts of high-minded ideas on how the play should be done. To begin with, cut the dinosaur‹which is a difficult thing to do, since the play is about dinosaurs.

NICKY SILVER and DAVID HENRY HWANG Henry: Rather than sit down with a director and just talk about a play to see if we have similar ideas, a prospective director and I will read the play out loud together, each taking half the roles. That way I can hear how the other person "sees" the characters and the play.
Nicky: I can't find out anything about a person or their views by doing it that way. Since if I'm not talking, I'm not listening! NICKY SILVER I started in some dingy garage/theatre over on 11th Avenue, where the audience was mostly hookers and hobos‹but, lovely hookers and hobos they were, and they actually wanted to see my plays. Later, I got two commissions at the same time. The commission from Playwrights Horizon was twice as much as the one from the other theatre‹guess who got their play first, and guess who's still waiting?

TIM SANFORD (Artistic Director of Playwrights Horizon): Nicky was a screeching voice ten years ago and then became a writer we needed to listen to. Nicky's plays have a lyrical quality to them and are screamingly funny.