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Awake & Sing

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Stephen Fried
August 8, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Director.

What is your show about?
Awake and Sing! charts the struggles of the Berger family, a Jewish family living in the Bronx in the mid-1930s, to survive, and to live a life that can't be printed on dollar bills.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I grew up down the street from the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ (at that time, it was the NJ Shakespeare Festival), and used to spend my summers there doing whatever they could think of for a 13 year old kid to do. Before they renovated their theatre, there used to be this unused spiral staircase that went up the back of the auditorium. As a kid, I remember spending a lot of nights curled up in that spiral staircase watching the shows -- that was what introduced me to Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Pinter, and a lot of other writers. Ever since then, theatre has been the only thing I've ever really pursued.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I think that there's something magical about being in the same room as a performer and having a real-time experience along with him or her, and the rest of the audience. When we're in the same space as the performers, we become a part of the event in a way that doesn't happen in any other medium. This has political and societal ramifications too, of course -- but it's the magic of that that I think keeps me in theatre.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I've wanted to direct Awake and Sing for a long time. I think it first spoke to me because the Bergers reminded me in a lot of ways of my own family (though my family generally gets along a bit better than the Bergers do). There's a visceral brutality in Odets's writing that I find thrilling, and also a lyricism that's one of the most beautiful things ever created for the stage. Also, his understanding of structure is incredible -- each scene unfolds like this magically constructed box -- it's very exciting to work on.

Which character from a Shakespeare play would like your show the best: King Lear, Puck, Rosalind, or Lady Macbeth -- and why?
King Lear, I think. He had some experience with a difficult family.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I think that human beings bring about societal change, but I think that theatre can teach us what it means to be a human being, and how to do it better.