As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with playwright Ken Ludwig, a Tony nominee for Best Play (Lend Me a Tenor) and Best Book of a Musical (Crazy for You), whose Broadway credits also include the comedy Moon Over Buffalo (starring Carol Burnett), the book for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and a new adaptation of Twentieth Century. Ludwig's other plays: Be My Baby (starring Hal Holbrook), Baskerville, A Comedy of Tenors, Shakespeare in Hollywood, A Fox on the Fairway, Leading Ladies, and a version of Murder on the Orient Express written at the request of the Agatha Christie Estate. His most recent work, Dear Jack, Dear Louise, seen at Arena Stage, won the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical at the 2020 Helen Hayes Awards.
What is your typical day like now?
The odd thing is, it feels like there’s less time to do everything than there used to be, when in fact there’s more time. There must be more time now, right? We’re not seeing friends or browsing in bookstores—at least not in my neck of the woods. So I feel like I’m on a tighter schedule than I used to be in the good old days. For me this means lots more hours writing, which I love, or I wouldn’t be doing it as my life’s work. But it also means that I’m juggling two plays at the moment, not just one as I used to do. And this has not been un-stressful. So most days are, as usual: wake up early, crawl to the coffeemaker, drink coffee, and write. And when I’m wrung out for the day, I jump on the treadmill to relieve stress and pretend that I’m getting into some semblance of shape so when things do get back to normal, I’m ready for ’em! Then my brother Gene and I talk for about an hour every day, which always helps me laugh and relax. (It’s the day’s highpoint.) Then a nice meal with the family, and then I go read for three hours. If this sounds a little boring, I am indeed ready for some camaraderie, travel, and excitement.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Jane Austen in any way, shape, or form. Reading or seeing Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion are the greatest ways I know of to escape the longueurs of the pandemic. I’ve always loved comedy as an art form, but this is especially true when I’m trying to escape reality. Between all the returns to Jane Austen, I consume other comic novels and movies that I’ve loved so much over the years: all the novels of PG Wodehouse (I’m rereading Spring Fever at the moment, a hilarious tale about a tontine); JB Priestley’s remarkable ’30s comic novel The Good Companions, which is all about finding a good life worth living; Robertson Davies’ little-known first trilogy (The Salterton Trilogy), which includes the classics Tempest Tost and Absence of Malice; favorite classic screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s, like His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, and Libeled Lady; other favorite comic movies, including my all-time favorite, The Court Jester. These wonderful books and movies renew my spirit.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Hang in there. Just somehow hold on with your fingernails, because I believe in my heart that this will end. I’m a huge World War II buff, and the closest parallel to the pandemic I can think of is what it must have been like to live in London during the Blitz. Every single night, for 57 consecutive nights, the Nazis bombed the city ruthlessly, and if you lived in London, you didn’t know whether you’d be alive or dead on the following day. The stress must have been terrible and relentless. As one diarist wrote at the time, they were living “in an almost dreamlike mental state.” That’s how I feel now. But I believe it will end. We’ll be exhausted and worn out, and we’ll all have to rebuild, but we will survive. That’s what keeps me going.
How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Has that been helpful to you? Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
As I mentioned, I write every day, and this has kept me together. I’ve also been able to finish other projects related to my work. After a year’s effort, I’ve finally launched a new website that I’m disgracefully proud of. I’ve also had some web appearances to keep me busy: some lectures and study sessions on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and chats with student groups who are doing my plays via Zoom. I’m also involved in casting two of my earlier plays, one for a projected Broadway opening, the other for a West End opening. Both are exciting, with terrific producers and casting directors. And if things can possibly stay on track, I’m hoping to get to England in six months from now for rehearsals. Every part of my body is crossed in hope.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about to donate to during this time of change?
The Actors Fund, which they appropriately describe as “a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals over their lifespan.” Right now that seems like the perfect place to put extra money, if there is any.