PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Judith Ivey

PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Judith Ivey Meet veteran actress Judith Ivey, the Tony Award winner whose second act includes directing plays and musicals.
Judith Ivey
Judith Ivey Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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For theatregoers who have put in two or three decades of service, Judith Ivey is an actress of note, a two-time Tony winner (Steamers, Hurlyburly) who has played in everything from David Rabe to Noel Coward. Theatregoers of only a few years standing, however, might view her as a rising director.

Recently, when Ivey's name is announced in connection to a coming production, it's as director. Recent behind-the-scenes credits include Kathleen Clark's Southern Comforts at Primary Stages, Lee Thuna's Fugue at Cherry Lane, and Marisa Wegrzyn's The Butcher of Baraboo at Second Stage's Uptown Festival. Now, she's back with another Clark play, Secrets of a Soccer Mom and is preparing to stage the Broadway-aimed musical Vanities. Ivey talked to Playbill.com about her second career in theatre.

Playbill.com: You've directed five or six things in the past two years. Do you consider yourself more a director than an actor now?
Judith Ivey: I'd like to. I had directed some things about ten years ago. Friends would ask me to direct them. I did it, but I never really actively pursued it. About five years ago, I thought, maybe I want to do this more seriously than I have. Fortunately, people want to hire me, so I keep building a resume.

Playbill.com: Does one job just lead to another?
JI: Yes, I think so, even moreso than acting. I can't really credit my agents with going out and finding me work the way they do as an actress. But I think that's true of all directors, that the work begets the work.

Kathleen Clark and Judith Ivey
photo by Carol Rosegg

Playbill.com: Secrets of a Soccer Mom is your second play by Kathleen Clark. I assume you like her work.
JI: I think it's about real people and real situations. Certainly in the case of Soccer Mom. People don't pay a lot of attention to the everyday. And I like that. I like all kinds of drama and comedy, but I really appreciate the way she lovingly writes about these people and hears them, the same way she did with the older couple in Southern Comforts. She appreciates the drama in the everyday, and I'm kind of that way. I'm always more of an observer than a participant. Playbill.com: You are a soccer mom yourself, aren't you?
JI: Yes. One kid is 18 and in college, and the other one is 14 and in eighth grade. I've been all kind of sports moms. I've been a tennis mom, a soccer mom, a swimming mom and a football mom now.

Playbill.com: You were recently announced as the director of a big upcoming project, the musical version of Vanities. That will bring you to Broadway for the first time, as a director. How did you get the job?
JI: I directed Southern Comforts by Kathleen Clark and the composer of Vanities was at a show and looked at the back of the Playbill [where there is a list all the shows playing in town] and landed on "Southern Comforts directed by Judith Ivey," and had this brainstorm. He is good friends with some actresses with whom I had worked and they had sung my praises, so he decided it was worth exploring. I read the script. Vanities was a play that was hugely popular when I was a young actress. I was cast in a production, but I had already been offered another job, so I didn't do it. But I saw I don't know how many different friends in different productions of it.

Playbill.com: Would this be your first musical as director?
JI: No. But we won't talk about those [others]. (Laughs.) That was a long time ago. (Laughs.)

Playbill.com: Do you have your cast
JI: We have two thirds of it. We'll hopefully announce by the end of the month.

Playbill.com: I don't mean to pigeonhole you, but are you interested in plays populated by female characters?
JI: It's kind of a natural, in the way that for plays that are all male, they probably think of a male director first. But I think it's a coincidence that I'm spending this year with casts that have three women.

Playbill.com: We will see you as an actress again soon, when you appear in new production's of Albee's The American Dream and The Sandbox at the Cherry Lane. This project is a bit like time travel. The same plays were first done at the Cherry Lane more than 40 years ago.
JI: It's sort of the Cherry Lane mission, to hold on to its legacy. This is a throwaway society. People remember less and less about where things all began. So, I think it's good to celebrate that, [to] keep it alive. I was not familiar with these two plays as I am with Albee's other work. I did Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Alley Theatre. Edward came down and asked if he could come in an edit it! He cut a scene out that he felt was too on-the-nose now. He said, "Some young playwright wrote that."

Deborah Sonnenberg, Caralyn Kozlowski and Nancy Ringham in <i>Secrets of a Soccer Mom.</i>
Deborah Sonnenberg, Caralyn Kozlowski and Nancy Ringham in Secrets of a Soccer Mom. Photo by Carol Rosegg