nytheatre.com q&a preview by Donna Lynne Champlin
October 11, 2012
What is your job on this show?
What type of theater do you like most to work on?
My favorite type of theatre to work on is new theatre. Revisions, rewrites, being a part of the process of creating a new show and the possibility of being a small part of who my character might continue to be long after I've played it is extremely exciting and rewarding. Not that I don't love being in revivals. Lord knows, SWEENEY TODD was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. But even that particular production felt like a new work, as John Doyle created a SWEENEY TODD with actor/musicians that was totally different than any American production prior. Our version of WORKING is also a fresh take on the source material of Studs Terkel's book WORKING, rather than a cookie-cutter re-mounting of the original Broadway show from over 30 years ago. While many of the beloved characters and famous songs remain from the original 1978 production, there have been some adjustments made to the script and score (complete with new songs by the fantastic Lin-Manuel Miranda) to mostly reflect the new technology (and the jobs that employ them) of the world today. As actors, with the guidance of our wonderful director Gordon Greenberg, we are bringing every ounce of authenticity we can to our characters, with great respect to the fascinating people they are based on.
Who is more important in the theater: the actor, the playwright, or the director?
I believe the playwright is more important in the theatre than actors or directors for two reasons. One, because without the playwright, there is no play and without a play there is nothing for the actors to act or the directors to direct (unless of course you're putting up some sort of improved 'experience'). And two, while the memory of an actor's performance or a director's production may live on in people's minds as legendary for a generation, maybe two, a great play can survive in its original form for literally, centuries. I'm sure the original directors and actors in Shakespeare's plays were wonderful, maybe even brilliant, but here we are 400 hundred years later and the playwright is the only one we all still universally know by name, and Shakespeare's plays are still being produced around the globe, verbatim. Obviously, I have great respect for actors and directors but, without the playwright in regards to the big picture of "the theatre"? For reasons of longevity alone, the play (and ergo, the playwright) is the thing.
In your own words, what do you think this show is about? What will audiences take away with them after seeing it?
This show is based on the book WORKING: People Talk About What They Do All Day And How They Feel About What They Do (yes, that's the entire title) by Studs Terkel which is a collection of essays based on over 100 interviews with real people about their real jobs. Waitresses, teachers, housewives, wall street traders, mill workers, truck drivers, retirees, prostitutes and telemarketers (just to name a few), all share what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes. The thing that I really love about the characters in our show and the real people that they're based on is the God's honest truth with which they all speak. Truth is universal, and even though these people were interviewed in the 1970's, because they were so fearlessly honest in their answers, their stories are timeless and remarkably relevant to anyone who works for a living in 2012. I think above all, audiences will walk away from our show with the satisfaction of feeling understood, heard and appreciated for whatever they do to provide for themselves and their families. Their profession of choice might not be literally represented in our show, but they will definitely identify with at least one (if not more) characters in the piece, guaranteed. I also think audiences will feel less alone in their daily struggles and perhaps even find comfort in learning that the secret inner voices of our workers echo their own private thoughts. My sincerest hope though, is that by coming to our show they will leave with a new found compassion for other hard workers and maybe they'll even leave a bigger tip for their waitress the next time they dine out.
Which cartoon character would you identify your show with: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, Marge Simpson?
I think Marge Simpson is the perfect poster gal for WORKING. As a stay at home mom, she is the unsung hero and the very backbone of her American family. She works her ass off all day raising her kids, taking care of her husband and keeping her house in order, and never asks for a medal or special treatment. She doesn't complain because she's too busy just getting through the day. Marge is a good, decent person who doesn't ask for much but a fair deal and a little appreciation at the end of the day. She seems rather normal on the outside, but I'll bet if she had a chance to speak from the heart and with some anonymity, you'd realize that there was a hell of a lot going on inside her than you ever thought.
Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
Theatre is essential in a democratic society because it is one of the last honest bastions of truth telling. Theatre can stir up the collective (sub)conscious of a society, no matter if it's a drama or a comedy, by revealing what's currently happening in the world. It can also serve as a warning by predicting what will happen if we remain complacent, or by reminding us of what has already happened, so we are not doomed to repeat it. The best theatre holds up the clearest mirror possible to a society, and what the we choose to see in that mirror reflects our own personal state of mind. But that's also the true magic of theatre, as it only provides the mirror, nothing more. We, the people can walk away from that mirror having seen what we needed to see and not necessarily what our neighbor saw. Be it good or bad, beautiful or ugly, theatre has the capacity to stir up a wide range of emotions in the masses and maybe even encourage the most timid of people into some sort of action. As long as we have the first amendment, theatre will have the capacity to serve as one of the noblest professions on the planet. And as long as people continue to try to silence productions that they personally don't agree with, they will only continue to prove the point that the theatre is an extremely powerful medium, and a force to be reckoned with.