31 March 2011

Upcoming Play: "The Miracle Worker"

Our local Christian youth theatre, Players of the Stage, will present William Gibson's The Miracle Worker in April.

Players of the Stage is "bringing light to the world of theater" and seeking to disciple young actors in faith, life, and dramatic skills at the same time. Sharon Barshinger, an interviewee in my "Where Are We Now?" series, directs the company.

This spring the show is The Miracle Worker, a great story of one woman's persistent love for a child (Helen Keller) handicapped by both blindness and deafness. This production features experienced actors who are about to graduate; it promises to be an excellent, moving, funny, high-action performance and a wonderful evening! Helen's blindness and deafness provide a metaphor of spiritual blindness and deafness.

Players of the Stage seeks to use theater to raise money for the needy. Your free-will offerings will benefit the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf, reaching deaf children in a Caribbean society which offers them little help.

DATES: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 14-16 at 7 PM
Saturday April 16 at 2 PM

PLACE: Living Hope Presbyterian Church, 330 Schantz Rd, Wescosville, PA.

COST: It's FREE!!! ...but please come prepared to help the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf.

TICKETS: email with your name, date you'd like to attend, and the number of people, or call 610-923-6742. Your tickets will be held for you at the door.

28 March 2011

Interview with Stephen Burdman, Artistic Director of New York Classical Theatre

This is the forty-fourth interview in the “Where are we now?” series. Please take a moment to peruse the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series.

What you will read below consists of selections, slightly edited and re-organized for readability, from my conversation with Stephen Burdman, Artistic Director of New York Classical Theatre. Please take a look at the company’s upcoming performance schedule.

Several points that Stephen makes here are strong themes throughout this interview series, including the idea of the artist as businessperson. As we have seen in conversations with Vivian Doublestein, Diane Wittry, Silagh White, Barbara Crooker, Kevin Sprague, Mia Chung, Andrew DeVries, and others, it is no longer enough to be “just” a talented, skilled, experienced, brilliant worker in one’s medium. In addition to being a musician, conductor, poet, photographer, sculptor, or director, the artist must also be business savvy. He or she must also know how to handle money, audiences, patrons, donors, office work, schedules, unions, and mailing lists. In addition, he or she must be an educator of the local area, of the larger public, and of children. If I were to generalize at this point, I would say my generation (“Generation X”) is the artist-as-leader and artist-as-educator. And yet we still must cultivate technical excellence in our fields. It is a daunting task.

Interview with Stephen Burdman
Artistic Director of New York Classical Theatre>New York Classical Theatre
in his office 1 New York Plaza, NY, NY
15 Oct 2010

IA: Thank you very much! I usually start out with specific questions about you, your work, and your company’s work, and then as we go along I broaden out and ask you other trends that you’re seeing in the theatre world in general. I’ll start out with a quick description of Much Ado About Nothing for my readers. I will say three things that were really remarkable about this production, and they get progressively more unique. The first is that it is outdoors, which is not totally unique, but you do most if not all of your plays outdoors—in Battery Park, in Central Park.

SB: Most of them are outdoors at this point.

IA: The second is something that we’ll talk about in more detail as we go on and it’s what I would call the “directorial concept”: insight into the meaning of the play and how to express that. And then the third, of course, is that the audience moves around: each scene in the play takes place in a particular, real setting and each setting is consistent to a location in the play. The audience follows the play, literally, from place to place. That really brings it to life.
photos by Miranda Arden

SB: Exactly. This is what we call Panoramic Theatre. There are several ways of doing theatre besides traditional theatre.

Here are six aspects of PANORAMIC THEATRE:

(1) One is known as promenade staging, which is one aspect of what we do, which is when the audience follows the play through a venue.

(2) Another form is called environmental theatre, when the audience is in the actual environment. What Panoramic Theatre does, besides putting the audience at the center of the action, is it really melds the two together.

(3) Another aspect of it is that I consider the venue to be a performer, or rather, as important as the performers or as important as the audience. So the venues that I have are fortunately, amazing, and wonderfully dramatic, in a way I could never even envision: Battery Park, Central Park, the World Financial Center! We have to then respond, design-wise, to that. If an actor shows up in Gap shorts, they look like the audience. So the look has to be very specific—dramatic.

(4) All our shows rehearse completely in public. That’s another aspect of Panoramic Theatre. So the audience can watch it; it’s gotten so popular now that we have to post rehearsal schedules on our website because the audience will actually come to see a specific scene or to see a specific actor work on a scene, which is great.

(5) On top of that, believe it or not, the script is adapted. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes changes that you only see the results of. The script is adapted to the venue. The staging is adapted to the venue and to the actors’ projection so that we don’t have to use microphones or amplification. Other things are thought through accordingly to make it customized for the space. That’s what the essence of Panoramic Theatre is.

(6) One part of the adaptation is that we do something called insert scenes and you saw some of this in Much Ado. Every scene that’s referred to off stage happens on stage.

So, for example, in one scene Benedict exits and, talking about Beatrice, says “I will go get her picture.” Well, the next scene you see him in, he’s looking at a picture of Beatrice. We like to present all those things so that you don’t just hear about them. I call that the Godot factor: Godot never shows up, right? I hate that! I’ve done Waiting for Godot; it’s beautiful, it’s a wonderful, wonderful play, but I don’t like that. Our audience wants closure. In Mary Stewart, Queen Elizabeth is offstage and we are told that somebody tried to kill her; regicide. And we staged it. In Love's Labour's Lost, we’re told that Don Adriano de Armado, the Spaniard, weds the maid, Jaquenetta. We’re told this by Costard. The line was something like (I’m paraphrasing): “Look, Don Armado proposed to Jaquenetta.” And so the actor playing Costard interpolated; he said: “Look! NO, LOOK!” and then with his hand he pointed behind the audience, and on the other side of our lake I had Don Armado on his knee proposing to Jaquenetta. So the actual proposal happened on the stage. Those are things I love. There is another good instance in Love’s Labour’s Lost. It’s about three young men who are studying. They’ve sworn an oath to give up women to focus on their studies. Well, the irony is that you never see them study! It’s one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays; it’s a problem. And this is the way we solved it: during one of the crosses for the audience (it’s the longest cross in our Central Park venue, when the audience has to move from one place to another), I had the three men staged at different places, reading. One, of course, was reading Shakespeare and quoting to the audience. One was encouraging children to stay in school. Encouraging them strongly: stay in school! Studying is important! So it was very funny. Here is another example: There’s a scene in Richard III between two servants who talk about what happened between their masters, Lord Hastings and Lord Stanley. I adapted it so that, by simply changing pronouns, by taking the “he’s” and making them “I’s,” I staged the scene so the audience got to see the scene between these lords instead of only “hearing” about it.

IA: Have you done The Winter’s Tale?

SB: Yes. I LOVE The Winter’s Tale.

IA: Did you stage the whole reunion that’s only narrated?

SB: Yes, I did. I staged the entire thing. We had Autolycus and the young shepherd (whose technical name is “Clown”) telling us what happened while it was occurring behind them. While they were explaining what was happening, the actual actors were doing it. Then the audience turned, and on a giant boulder in Central Park, about six feet above our heads, was Hermione. She was able to sneak in behind the audience so that they turned around and they saw what looked like (because we back-lit it) a statue in Central Park.

IA: And then that’s where the Statue Scene happens, right there?

SB: Yes. The audience moved slightly; it was a smaller audience back then, five or six years ago. Today we couldn’t move!

Panoramic Theatre gives me a chance to experiment. I actually did some experiments in the show you saw, Much Ado, including the masks at the masked ball. I want everybody to understand that it’s not easy to watch something through a mask. And I will tell you, everybody wore the mask, and about five minutes later they were lifted up on everybody’s foreheads. These are the kinds of things that get people very involved in the action of the play - what we call “active spectators.” In the gulling scenes, the audience is in on the secret. Not just that you’re in on the secret because the play tells you, but the cast helps you to be even more in on the secret and you feel actually part of the play.

IA: There are a lot of ways that the cast did that without having us move or without changing the text, just with their body language and with their faces: they would look at us and sort of ask us questions with their eyes. We would nod or shake our heads or make a noise.

SB: Part of the Panoramic approach is a face-on experience for the audience—as we’re used to seeing on television and film. We’re used to seeing tight shots. We’re used to seeing an actor’s face directly, when they’re really just acting with the camera. I call this our close-up. Sometimes when you see a love scene on traditional stage, the actors will be facing one another and you’ll only see about a third of it. In our staging, you actually see it full-out because the actors are facing forward—towards the audience It’s harder on the performer, but a professional performer can make that adjustment so you can get the full realm of Hero’s betrayal, for example, in Much Ado, or Claudio’s realization, or how they told each other that they loved each other. And yet, when they were speaking ,they were facing us and not each other. That’s unnatural, but once the audience understands the style of it, it does become natural. Because it opens us up to their world, which is part of the Panoramic idea: that we are really there and they are sharing the moment with us.

IA: Now, how many aspects of this Panoramic Theatre did you invent, personally?

SB: What I can tell you for sure is that no one exclusively produces Classical theatre, especially Shakespeare, the way we do it, anywhere. We are unique, as far as I understand, in the world. We belong to a conference of Shakespeare theatres called the Shakespeare Theatre Association, and having brought this to them, I’m now confident from their response, that no one else does this. So it’s not the invention of the individual parts so much as it’s that no one has ever put them together in this way. The adaptation of the script, the conceptual thought behind the production, all focusing on one point—the audience member—is unique. It’s very successful. One artistic director wrote me an email recently, saying, “I think Stephen Burdman's voice will be an important one as we define the role that classical theatre will continue to have in our world.” How to get somebody involved in Classical theatre, the mode, the way of communicating in theatre is fundamentally changed by this approach. It’s no longer the audience sitting there receiving a play as you watch TV sitting in an armchair: you’re now part of the play. You’re now part of the drama. If the characters are running, you’re running. If the characters are moving, you’re moving. You’re literally following their lives through the play.

IA: This is really essential. What I’ve been hearing from people through this series of interviews is that we need to change our raison d’être for each of our arts to get people to come live. A lot of arts are learning how to adapt technology to make them beneficial for us, either changing the art form or the mode of presenting it, but the arts that rely on face-to-face contact in some way or another, such as a symphony orchestra concert or a theatrical production, are really having to ask that question: “Why should people come out? Why shouldn't they just watch it on YouTube?” So this is one reason.

SB: Yes, that’s correct. Here’s something funny: our productions weren’t designed for children, at all. But because each scene only lasts about ten minutes, it’s actually perfect for a child’s attention span. So I have probably hundreds and hundreds of children around the City who are growing up with our work, because they can see it at seven years old, and see the entire show. Because after ten minutes when they get restless, they get up and run. And then they can sit down and watch another ten minutes. And then they get up and run. So my five-year-old nephew a few years ago saw King Lear three times. It’s an amazing idea! And it wasn’t just the sword fights; he was watching King Lear. He really understood the entire plot, he knew all the characters’ names—and this is not a theatre-savvy child!

IA: And that’s not usually the play we use to introduce children to Shakespeare!

SB: Of all plays! Of all plays, you would think King Lear! I’m not going to bring my child to see King Lear! But for us, it worked out. These characters are real people experiencing real issues in a real way. And that’s part of our panoramic goal: to make it real. You’re there, now. Of course it’s an artificial environment, it’s an artificial play, there are artificial constructs—but how do we make it real to the person experiencing it at that time—in the moment?

IA: Can you tell us maybe one specific technical example of either a script cut or a staging change that you make?

SB: A technical example is that I actually remove from the script, while cutting, all references to time of day and all references to location. Why, you ask? Well, that allows the audience’s imagination to come into play. The theory behind film and TV, of course, is that you never see what’s off-camera left and off-camera right. Because there’s a grip standing there!. What happens is that your imagination fills in the gaps. I do the same thing with Panoramic Theatre. I don’t tell you what time of day it is. I let you decide what time of day it is. Everyone has their own response to our shows; it’s my job to make sure that the movement might mean something, like a time-shift; certain time has gone by. But each scene happens exactly at that time of day in that location. And removing these concrete references (which Shakespeare had to put in because of the nature of the Globe theatre—don’t forget that Macbeth was originally staged in the middle of the afternoon—on an outdoor stage!) helps the audience get even further involved. The greater challenge I give the audience, the more the audiences’ imagination works and the more deeply involved they become with the shows. They are so deeply involved that—I’ll give you a specific example—that my actors in full costume can stand right behind the audience and no one will turn around and see them. Nobody. Unless you’re looking for that. But if you’re not looking for that, you’re just here to see the play, a thousand people (we’ve had more than a thousand people on any one evening performance) will not turn around and have no idea, and be completely shocked when the actors walk in from behind them.

I think a trend in the arts may be that we’re expecting the participant, the viewer, the participator, not to be passive. We’re not sitting there going, OK, here, what do you think? You know, it’s like if you look at a really fine piece of painting. You stand there until you have an emotional response. You are communicating with the painting. My question always is: Where is that line of communication? I don’t want to see the actors talking to the audience; I want to know where the performance speaks to the audience.

IA: This ties into what I said in the beginning about a directorial concept that overarches, or underlies, or is the thread through a whole play. In reading reviews of your plays, a word that kept coming up over and over was “insight.” Reviewers thought that you had a flash of insight, whether you know that it happened immediately as a flash—

SB: --this one actually did. This one did happen as a flash.

IA: I guess that’s what’s necessary for a Classical play, for plays that have been done over and over, rather than world premieres. In a world premiere, you kind of want to stick to exactly what the author has given you, because you don’t know how it is going to come out. But with a Classical play, someone might say, “Well, why do I need to go see Hamlet again? I’ve seen Hamlet three times. I saw that this past season.” Why should I go and see Romeo & Juliet again?—Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival did R & J this past summer, and it was a brilliant concept, and I was so glad that I saw it again. So is it a quick flash of insight?

SB: Well, let’s look at it this way. When theatre started, in Greece, everybody in the audience knew what was happening in the play. Everyone in the audience knew these stories. No one was coming to this for the first time; they were hearing tales that they had known for generations—on stage. Even Shakespeare: most of the stories are not his; except for a couple of plot points, they are taken from a variety of sources.

IA: So they weren’t coming for surprise.

SB: They weren’t coming for surprise. They were coming for how the story was told. And I think that has a lot to do with it. I’m of the belief, via Peter Brook, in his book called The Shifting Point, about having a take, a very specific point of focus, on anything. He says you allow that point to shift until you find the right place. But I always narrow down the play to one word. That’s the first thing I talk about to the cast: This play is about…Much Ado was about trust. Trust of others, trust of yourself, trust in older people, trust in younger people—what is trust? And those are questions I always pose to the actors as they’re building their characters. It is very clear. It seeps across to everybody. It’s not something I hammer home a lot, but I spend the first week asking a lot of questions about these issues. So is it worth seeing? YES. Classical work stays in the repertoire for a reason, because it’s dealing with bigger issues. And in the case of Shakespeare, there are many issues. This is my third Much Ado; one play can mean multiple things. One of the other ones was about trust as well, but my concept of trust in my early thirties, as opposed to my mid-forties, married with a beautiful son, where I am now, was very different. So I try to figure out what the balance is and how I come to it as an artist.

IA: The plays can speak a message over and over again, a different slant or a different visual. That’s why a lot of times a director will choose to use a different costuming—a different time period. They’ll do it “period,” but not necessarily the period in which it was written.

SB: This Much Ado is only one of two in our company’s history that was not “period.” To me, this was a modern production. This one was a very clear-cut period: sailors in white sailor-suits, in New York City—funny enough, talking about zeitgeist, “V-J Day in Times Square” was in the press a lot all summer: did it really happen? who was the woman? --they’ve found the woman, was it really her? was it really that time of day?—people sent me articles all summer long--because now there’s controversy: did it happen before the declaration of victory or after? Who knows. But it’s so iconic to New York, especially here in Battery Park where we’re right on the ocean and there were boats going behind the show on a regular basis.

IA: That’s beautiful. One more question on this idea of “concept,” and I asked Erin Hurley the same question—I mentioned to her that I’ve been a little bit surprised that over the four years I’ve been watching Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, they’ve never done anything with a concept that I thought was extremely radical. So they’ve never done a Peter Brook’s style Midsummer; they’ve never done anything really way out. They’ve set things in funny time periods, maybe: a Winter’s Tale set in Regency, for instance. But it’s pretty straight-forward. I was asking her why. Is it just because there are so many people that don’t see Shakespeare now?

SB: Well, there are a lot of productions of Romeo & Juliet set in post-nuclear-holocaust. There are a lot of those productions, and they’re usually done by young directors who don’t understand that the language is the thing. That’s what I would say. I’m not saying we need to stick to conservative choices, but people who do Shakespeare professionally understand that it’s about the language. That’s where we start. we do things to support the language. We choose ideas and concepts to support the language.

IA: Let’s talk about directorial style. Do you have a particular directorial school of thought? Do you expect Method acting?

SB: Well, no. In the modern world of theatre, in the modern world of unions and things of this nature (I’m also a producer, as many artistic directors are)—you’re asking about trends—there’s a new trend in artistic directors, particularly my age and younger, where most of us have business training and understand how to read a budget and stay on schedule, there’s no longer what used to be called the Two-Headed Monster: The Artistic Director and the Managing Director. The Managing Director keeps the Artistic Director on schedule/budget while the Artistic Director goes, “No, I’m an artist!”

IA: The absent-minded creator.

SB: Exactly. That’s no longer the model. The theatres that are doing very well and moving forward have a much savvier Artistic Director who knows what fundraising means, what the bottom line of the budget means—understanding that in concept, one shouldn’t program two enormous shows right next to each other in the schedule because that would overtax the resources of the production staff, for example. That would be too much. So with that notion, I like actors who are professionals. I like actors who come in and do their work. I do not do exercises. I do not do touchy-feely-method stuff. All that stuff is wonderful for training; it has, in my opinion, no business being inside the rehearsal studio—or, in our case, outside in rehearsal studio! The people who work for me and come back to work with me over and over again (we don’t have a company, but I have actors who are associate artists of the company) can act. They can take care of their business, and I can be free to direct and not play acting coach. There is a place for that, but it’s not in rehearsal for a professional production.

IA: So you cast for each play or for each season?

SB: Each play individually. So actually in our 11th Season, two actors did all three shows with us, just kind of by happenstance. It was great for me, great for them.

IA: You said at the beginning that people have been saying to you, and you’ve been thinking, that Panoramic Theatre is the way of the future, or one way that it’s going—OK, so I have a two-pronged question. First, what aspects of it do you think are really going to catch on? And then second, Well, what other things do you think are going to happen to theatre in the future?

SB: Well, obviously theatre cannot continue in the way it’s been going. And it is changing. Even fundraising has changed radically in the last ten years. Actually, we have a conference for the Shakespeare Theatre Association coming up, and someone just recommended doing a panel on free theatre. The subtitle is: Free theatre doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost anything. Which is a difficult concept to get across fundraising-wise. Our shows cost well more than shows in tiny little theatres, but the fact is there the audience has a seat, there the audience has bathrooms, things like that, and the audience subliminally feels that it’s more worthy, somehow… Probably half of the membership of the Shakespeare Theatre Association are free. What does that mean? Is it any less if you pay for every Shakespeare production you go to, or if you go to every free production? Should that matter? What is the value set on that? So we need to look at that as a trend.

The notion of movement is catching on. We have, that I know of for sure, two companies who have contacted me and done productions in our style, Panoramic Theatre. Specifically one in Israel and one in San Francisco, and they were inspired by us, and I’m actually meeting with the Artistic Director of Theatre in the Rough (Israel) who is coming to town. It’s so much so that we’re thinking of licensing the style because if a professional company picks it up, we don’t want it replicated without permission.

I think the way theatre is delivered needs to be really rethought. People don’t buy subscriptions any longer. It used to be, when I started off the business, everybody bought subscriptions. So there’s a different way of thinking about how it is communicated. Will everybody do moving theatre? No.

But eighty-three percent of our audience is under age sixty; that’s an incredible number—especially for a classical company.

The mission of the company is about creating and reinvigorating audiences for the theatre. I ask myself about that every day, every time we start a new project. I think the mode of communication of classical theatre has to change radically. We are changing it radically in the method of delivery. People are really sitting up and taking notice of this.

IA: And what other ways do you think theatre is going to change, maybe not that you’re doing, maybe theatres that stay indoors?

SB: How about Twitter. Here’s a new thing. We do a Twitter campaign now for every show. Every Tuesday, always, we tweet Shakespeare trivia: at 1:00 the question, at 3:00 the answer. People love it. So you just get a tweet, like “The character Antonio was in how many plays?” (That’s probably Shakespeare’s most popular name; think about that!) Twitter’s a good example. So a Broadway show not too long ago, Next to Normal, which won the Pulitzer, tweeted the entire libretto over the course of several months. Evidentially, they were going to close, and then it turned into this huge box office success, and made a profit while experimenting with that. Richmond Shakespeare (VA) wanted people to come to a certain performance and tweet during the performance. They wanted to be live. It’s a different generational format. Even Actors’ Equity Association, the performers’ union, is now permitting limited video—, there’s a certain cost involved, but even at a lower cost, a blip on a website, because people are very much more visual now. So things are changing. I think people are responding to that.—Look at The Metropolitan Opera (the Met) which is doing a fantastic PR campaign.

IA: Live in HD in movie theatres

SB: Which has been extraordinarily successful too, but look at their ad campaign: this is not Grandma’s opera. They’re sexy and accessible and interesting; all these kinds of things. And I think that’s great. I think theatre needs to go in those directions.

Also theatre needs to stay true to itself. My friend Jonathan Bank at Mint Theatre Company does worthy but neglected plays. So he’s the one at the Lincoln Center Library reading all this old plays like I read Elizabethan and Jacobean old plays, and finding these gems, these diamonds in the rough, and bringing them to the stage.

So we need to think about our method of communication with our audience. We are going to have problem, because theatre requires focus. The way we present does not require the same amount of focus for the same amount of time. Would my nephew sit through a traditional King Lear in a traditional theatre? No.

We also do workshops. Before selected performances of each show we do workshops that are free for children (ages 7 – 11) and their families. And the last element we do in the workshop every workshop is teach theatre etiquette. A lot of these kids have never been to the theatre! And one of the things is: Theatre is not TV. If you talk, they actors can hear you. So the great story goes this summer that my son, whom I love to death, who knows a lot of our actors by name, during Richard III started yelling out their real names, during the show. So we scooped him up, and took him away. One of the actors, JP, a dear friend and a frequent performer with us, said he’s never been shaken and unnerved like that, ever!

IA: Shocked out of character.

SB: Completely!

It’s a different method of communication.

Why is the graphic novel all of a sudden very popular? I just got contacted by Anthony Del Col about a series called Kill Shakespeare. It’s a new graphic novel series about heroes and villains from Shakespeare. It is evidently very popular.

IA: The graphic novel is becoming a real art form, too, not just a quick sketch, not just a comic book, but serous photography or art.

SB: Yes, it’s becoming an art form. So what’s so interesting about the graphic novel? I don’t know. I’m curious about that. Why is that medium so interesting to younger readers who are not going to pick up Bleak House.

IA: Part of it is that they’re the visual generation. They’re not the text-based generation.

SB: It is. Or you know, I’m now reading Twilight (Volume 4). It is written in easy, digestible portions. Right before, I read Huckleberry Finn. I had never read it, so I just decided I was going to read it, something inspired me, so I read Huckleberry Finn. It’s also written in serial format. It’s hard to read straight through. You actually have to put it down. Because it was written for serialization. It was meant to be read every week. Twilight is great, because you can read a chapter on the subway, and you’re done, and then read another chapter, and then you’re done.

The classics take more thought. One project I’m talking about for a future season is creating a new version of The Three Musketeers. Well, you read Dumas, you read the novel, it’s 600 pages or 800 pages. It’s a wonderful novel. And how do you adapt it?

Now, right now at The Public Theatre with “Gatz,” —The Great Gatsby, and it’s the full text. Seven hours. And evidently it’s brilliant.

IA: Is it selling?

SB: Yes, very well, and the reviews have been just incredible. Who’s coming to see it? OK, I’d be curious how old people are who would come to see it, or who would sit down and read 800 pages. It’s like my personal mission for my child, to say you have to have an attention span longer than three minutes.

I think we all need to think about communicating the bigger ideas to an audience that learns in a different way, that’s not going to sit by candlelight and read a book. I think about Tolstoy writing War and Peace or Anna Karenina; Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment; they wrote these by candlelight, by hand! And of course I want my son to be able to read these things. But will he be able to have the attention span, with TV going on, cut here, cut there, quick cut, quick cut, quick cut?

And I think the bigger, overarching question for all art forms is going to be: What is our communication with our audience? As we’ve entered the world of information exchange, the audience wants to be involved. Because there is, obviously, tremendous value in the inner pages of The Three Musketeers. But how do we communicate the essence of it? This goes back to the concept of—what did you call it?—the insight. What is the kernel? What is the germ? What is the idea behind it? And again, in my plays, I get it down to one word. Where does it lie? What can everything point to, so we have a point of focus.

In the theatre, a really well-directed show, I believe, should be a mirror. Basically you as an audience member should be able to bring your baggage, your life experience, to it and see it reflected. So that means everybody has their own experience seeing a show. I did a Hamlet years ago and the review was lovely; it was the best review I ever got in my life. Thank God I got it early and I’m done with that! But the review basically said, ‘Oh, it’s this drama of political intrigue,’ and I thought, ‘That’s not the play I directed.’ But, no, you know what… the reviewer brought his life experience to the play and it was directed tightly enough that he could see a reflection of his life’s experience in the production.

IA: So I’m just going to tie it back into where we started, then: The term “Panoramic,” then, I think has several meanings. One is, from where we’re sitting, we have a 360 degree stage. We don’t have a black box where we’re sitting on three sides of it—

SB: And no darkness—

IA: There’s no darkness. But it seems that what you’re saying is that you’re also leaving open a 360 degree possibility for interpretation on the part of the audience.

SB: It’s a natural set. And we’re continuing to experiment. I know the audience is excited; they’re willing to really participate and make sure this happens! These are the areas we’re going to explore. These are the questions I ask: What is the audience willing to do? What is too much? What’s not too much? What’s almost too much… but not enough to make the audience leave? I always tell my actors, if it’s not good, the audience will just leave. Which is true. But they don’t leave. If it’s not good, no one’s stopping them. t’s a public space. All they have to do is just drift away from the performance.

IA: The other side of that is that the audience grows throughout the play. People hear it, what’s going on over there, and they come to look, and they stay. And then they follow us—I say “us” because I feel a part of it now!—they follow us around.

SB: Yes, the audience and the performance are one.