PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Anna D. Shapiro

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24 Jun 2008

Anna D. Shapiro
Anna D. Shapiro

Anna D. Shapiro made theatre history on June 15 by becoming only the fifth woman to win a Tony Award for Directing, for her work on Tracy Letts' August: Osage County.

Her company is pretty choice: Julie Taymor, Garry Hynes, Susan Stroman and Chicagoan Mary Zimmerman. Prior to this season, Shapiro was primarily known only to New York theatre people who kept one eye trained on the regions — particularly Chicago, where the Yale-trained Shapiro has spent most of her career. At Steppenwolf, where she has been a member since 2005, she has directed 17 productions, including Letts' The Man From Nebraska. She has also directed at the Lookingglass and Goodman Theatres there. Talking from her home in the Windy City — where she flew the day after winning her Tony — Shapiro talked about the trials of award season, the generosity of Disney and why she won't be director of Tracy Letts' new play.

Playbill.com: In the week leading up the Tony Awards, you were busy directing replacement cast members in August: Osage County. How did that go?
Anna D. Shapiro: The learning curve for me was pretty steep. I've done remounts before. In a remount, even though there are new people and old people and you're rehearsing, you're not trying to recapture anything. My job is to say, "I know that certain things need to happen [in the play]. I don't know what those things are, but I'll know when they're not happening." Just kind of figuring out a way to give five people a really good, solid rehearsal period where they feel like they have organic ownership of the thing — that was challenging. I learned a lot.

Playbill.com: You tapped a couple Steppenwolf actors to come in.
AS: Yes. Molly Regan and Jim True-Frost. They were great. They wanted to go in. And Frank Wood, he and I did Side Man together. Estelle Parsons has a history with Steppenwolf. And Robert Foxworth, he was an actor that Tracy and I both greatly admire and he thankfully shared that admiration of the play.

Playbill.com: Your Tony acceptance speech was very memorable and very emotional. What was going on in your head? Did you plan the speech? Was it all written out or did it just tumble out of your mouth?
AS: Wouldn't it be great if I could say it all tumbled out of my mouth? I had a really strange experience during this whole award season. I consider myself a pretty good extemporaneous speaker. Even though I don't like speaking in front of people, I don't think I'm bad at it. So I was a little taken aback at the Drama Desk Awards when I won and I hadn't prepared anything. I always felt it was bad manners to prepare a speech when you didn't know you were going to win. I really realized that this was a completely different situation and words failed me. I didn't like that feeling. So, I did write something for the Tonys. And in the course of the week before the Tonys, it changed in my mind. I never wrote anything additional down. So some of the speech had been prepared and some of it hadn't been prepared and some out it just came out while I was standing there. It was a combo platter.



Playbill.com: What about the lines about your nephews and nieces, that they didn't really care about August: Osage County or the awards — they just wanted tickets to The Little Mermaid, which you got for them.
AS: That's stuff that I just felt. I had not thought of that at all, but suddenly they were there in my head. They give me a great sense of balance, so of course they'd show up in that context.

Playbill.com: I'm sure the Disney people were happy to get a shout-out for their show.
AS: You know, I never even thought of that. But I have to tell you what was really funny was the next day, after we got home to Chicago, a gigantic box came. And I said, "What is box from Disney?" I opened it up and there was this very sweet note thanking me for the shout-out, and a box filled with swag for my nieces and nephews. It was so sweet. What a rube I am, Robert. I never thought of it as anything remotely like a plug. I've got to tell you, of the six nieces and nephews, four of them are girls, and they're going to go nuts when they see that box.

Playbill.com: Tracy Letts' new play, Superior Donuts, is being directed by someone other than you. I read an article where Tracy Letts said you and he agreed that it was a good idea not to stay in constant collaboration, but to take breaks.
AS: I totally agree with that. I feel like, also, one of the things that playwrights have to be smart about is, if they have any kind of breadth to their work — and I think Tracy does — different directors are better for different projects. Quite honestly, I don't think Superior Donuts is my project. I think Tina Landau, who is his director on it — it's so much more in her wheelhouse. It would be silly for me, just because of the insane event that's occurred with August: Osage County, if all of a sudden Tracy or I would be blind to what it is I do. It felt natural for us. It's not a play for me. I like it very much. I can't wait to see it.

Playbill.com: And now you're going to go to London this fall with August.
AS: I've never done a play in London before. We're going in November. We're spending Christmas there.

Playbill.com: How very Dickensian. How much of the original cast are you hoping to bring?
AS: I know that I've got commitments from 99 percent of them, so I'm hoping for 100 percent. I think pretty close to the entire original company will be there.