Growing up on Long Island, she and her family often made trips to nearby Broadway. Like other aspiring modern show folk, she used to watch the Tony broadcast and wonder — maybe me, one day? Kaller was hailed in summer 2009 for her Off-Broadway staging of Next Fall for Naked Angels. It moved to Broadway by spring 2010, with few changes and its cast intact. The day after she learned of her nomination, Kaller — whose directing credits include Off-Broadway's Adrift in Macao and new works for many companies including The New Group, Primary Stages and New York Stage and Film — talked to Playbill.com about the joys of ensemble acting, playing hooky to visit Broadway and more.
Playbill.com: How did the Next Fall production change between Off-Broadway and Broadway?
Sheryl Kaller: Aesthetically, visually, we "flew" a couple of things in, 'cause we couldn't fly [Off-Broadway]! But we kept the set pretty much the same. I call what we did to Act Two a shaving of Act Two. From having the Off-Broadway experience behind us, we were way more aware of what this play was about. The Off-Broadway production was the first production ever, so we shaved parts. What [the Broadway production] reflects the most is this ensemble cast getting three more weeks in rehearsal and tech and three weeks of previews. We were able to really deepen everything, based on what we learned and also based on how well we all know each other.
Playbill.com: Is it frozen, the staging? Has Geoffrey changed things during the Broadway run?
SK: One of many wonderful things about working with Geoff is that we really believe that theatre — this is gonna sound dorky — but theatre is like a living organism, and it changes. So, for instance, Geoff hasn't seen the play in two months, so we're working with the cast on Thursday. …We're not rehearsing. We're gonna just sit around and do like a two-hour note talk [of] what they've been experiencing. Geoffrey hasn't seen them in a while. But Geoff is also a great director in his own right, so we really did this together. ...It's not a film, you don't have to really freeze it. I mean, the writing is frozen — although we threw in a couple of new lines, like, two weeks ago.
Playbill.com: There should be a Tony Award for Best Ensemble, and Next Fall should win it.
SK: Yes, there should, and that's why I'm standing here [as a director nominee], I think, because there isn't [an Ensemble Tony]. Yeah, thank you. Thank you for saying that. I really feel that I had the privilege of working on a brilliant, beautiful play. I think I did a great job with it [but] I also think that I represent the best ensemble that I've ever had the privilege of working with.
Playbill.com: It's so great to see people really listening to each other on stage…
SK: And pauses, and silence, and they're still active!
Playbill.com: You are a Long Island girl?
SK: I'm a Long Island girl! Don't I sound it? Valley Stream.
Playbill.com: Did you watch the Tonys on TV as a kid?
SK: Oh, my God! My mom died 20 years ago, and the Tonys used to fall out around my dad's birthday a lot. His birthday was June 4. So I just remember my father being kinda curmudgeon-y a little bit about us being home for his birthday on the Tonys and, yes, I watched them every [year]. The test for a boyfriend was whether he was gonna stay home with me for the Tony Awards and not go out. Only one passed the test! [Laughs]
Playbill.com: Did you start out as an actress? Did you act as a child?
SK: Again, another dorky thing, my parents were involved in community theatre. My dad was in the auto-seat covering business, when people owned cars. So he did the costumes, and my mom used to sing and dance. And I remember as a kid always loving rehearsal and never loving performing. So when I got [to be] 15, 16, I kinda realized [that] I wasn't good at it at all. So — at 15, 16 — I started writing a little bit and directing in high school.
Playbill.com: When you watched the Tonys, did you imagine yourself up their, accepting a prize? And as what — an actress? Director?
SK: Probably an actress in high school. And then once I got to college, it was different. This is a dream come true. This is a true "pinch-me-I-can't-believe-that-I'm-here" moment, and not because of lack of belief in that play or lack of belief in our production because I really believe in it more than I believe in anything, almost — [which is] particularly [nice] because the play's about faith. But when this kind of stuff happens, it's amazing! [Laughs]
Playbill.com: Did you come into the city as a kid to see Broadway shows on weekends?
SK: My mother let me cut school. I went to a matinee one Wednesday a month. My first show was 1973, Pippin, directed by Bob Fosse, original cast. I saw the original cast of almost everything. I remember as a kid I didn't not see the original casts: Sweeney Todd, original cast. Chorus Line, original cast. Amadeus, original cast. I stood in Shubert Alley and I looked at [the Next Fall] poster and I was with my 18-year-old who was home from college, and I started weeping. I remember seeing A Chorus Line as a kid, and saying, 'Oh, one day I'm going to have my name in this alley,' and I do. And I cannot make believe that it doesn't mean the world to me, because it does."
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Write him at email@example.com.)