Holiday Inn: Designer Statements

Posted on: September 27th, 2016 by Roundabout



I have had great affection for Holiday Inn ever since I first saw the movie as a child, and I would watch it every chance I had over the years. It is a remarkable movie of its time because of the tremendous number of seminal songs Irving Berlin introduced, many of which have become familiar anthems for our holidays and inextricably woven into 20th century American culture. Because the black and white movie is so well-known, it was important to distinguish Holiday Inn for the stage by taking my cue from the new script and giving the show a spin that tips its hat to the period of the 1940s. But with a 21st century creative team of collaborators, the use of color and texture, modern stagecraft, and hopefully with some wit and whimsy, we are paying homage to a 70-year-old, black and white, classic movie and giving it a whole new life on stage in living color. My hope is that a new generation of kids will discover the staying power of Irving Berlin’s music and give audiences a chance to see Holiday Inn as a fresh new classic for the stage.

When designing costumes for a piece like Holiday Inn, you automatically start shaping and developing ideas and silhouettes for every character while reading the script. Then you meet with the director and hear his point of view carefully, to make sure you are telling the same story. In this case, Gordon Greenberg is the director, and he is also one of the co-writers of the libretto, along with Chad Hodge. Gordon and Chad want the audience to clearly understand who these characters are from the very beginning. Then I dive into my research, the part I really enjoy, both for history and inspiration. I find all things relevant during this creative process—books, paintings, movies, advertisements, photography—ideas come from many, many things. For example, I scoured candid and fashion photos taken during the post-World War II period, which is when the musical is set. Then, I design the show; I basically sketch it. Once sketches are approved by the director, we are budgeting, assigning costumes to shops, and we start picking fabric. Currently we’re doing fittings in mockups, for which we use muslin fabric and not the real fabric that will be used for the show, to establish silhouette and proportions. Soon we will have second fittings in the real fabric. Those will focus much more on the details and the behavior of the real fabric. Character always comes first, and for me, it's imperative that the audience understands who the characters are before they even talk, sing, or dance. They’ll know because of what the characters are wearing, and how they are wearing it. And because of the makeup or the hairstyle they have. For Holiday Inn, we are creating approximately 450 costumes—it’s a very big show!


As the lighting designer of Holiday Inn, I get to bring focus, specificity, texture, and color to an already rich canvas. In addition to the classic songs, fun and exciting choreography, and beautiful scenery that continuously moves to new locations, designing this show is particularly appealing because the lighting combines a time honored musical theatre style with the excitement and dynamics of a modern Broadway musical. Director Gordon Greenberg, set designer Anna Louizos, and I have worked together many times, and our process is always collaborative from the beginning. Having already designed the show at The Goodspeed Opera House together, we were able to strengthen the visual storytelling in planning for Studio 54. The lighting helps to create contrast between the world of intimate night clubs and the open space of a Connecticut farm. And then turn that old weathered farm house into a dazzling performance space.

Designing sound for Holiday Inn hinges on supporting the orchestration to allow the cinematic components of Irving Berlin’s classic musical to shine through. The true romance of the story doesn’t begin to unfold until the characters leave the city and arrive at the barn in Connecticut. Once there, the music swells into a new level of excitement and lushness, ushering in a sense of anticipation and setting the scene for the heart of the story. Sound is a key component of storytelling and can assist in focusing on certain components of the narrative. Holiday Inn centers on the rivalry between two male characters, a dancer (Ted) and a singer (Jim), both of whom are vying for the affection of a woman (first Lila, then Linda). In the opening number and throughout the show, the tap dancing needs to be treated as a character as much as the vocals, so that the combative nature of Ted and Jim’s talents shines through. The story comes even more to life when the singing and dancing both read with an equal amount of intensity and energy. Studio 54 is a unique theatre. The band will be performing from what originally would have been box seating, making it not only a visual presence but also much more of an aural presence than when it’s buried in a pit. With brass instruments and reeds coming from one side, and percussion and rhythm instruments coming from the other side, the mix requires a different approach to keep everything cohesive, allowing the music to build around the audience without distracting from the show as it unfolds.

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Just Announced: On the Exhale

Posted on: September 26th, 2016 by Todd Haimes


OTE-Announcement_IGI’m thrilled to announce the second production in our newly-expanded Roundabout Underground season: the World Premiere of Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Marin Ireland.

When I saw this solo play in our 2016 Underground Reading Series, I knew we had to produce it at Roundabout. Martín explores the timely subject of gun violence through brilliantly simple and shattering writing – and Marin, who also appeared in the Underground Reading Series reading, is truly exceptional in the leading role.

I’m thrilled to welcome Martín to Roundabout and to have him join the growing legacy of Underground playwrights. And I’m honored to have both Leigh and Marin back at Roundabout. Leigh was nominated for a Tony Award for her direction of Violet at Roundabout, and Marin has appeared on our stage in The Big Knife and After Miss Julie.

On the Exhale will begin performances February 7, 2017. For more information, please visit our website.

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On Albee, Auden and Making Art Happen

Posted on: September 20th, 2016 by Lindsey Ferrentino


Edward Albee and Lindsey Ferrentino

Edward Albee with playwright Lindsey Ferrentino.

I am a playwright because of Edward Albee.

In high school, I found a box of letters and newspaper clippings from and about a relative of mine, the poet Chester Kallman, who was life partners and a co-librettist with W.H. Auden. As an aspiring writer myself, I became obsessed with uncovering the story of their relationship, reading and corresponding with those who knew them, who befriended and peopled their lives. I came across an anecdote about how the playwright Edward Albee, as a very young man and recent Greenwich Village resident, wrote a letter to Auden, asking to meet. At this point in time, Albee still considered himself a poet and had not yet begun to write for the theatre. Auden invited the young, nervous Edward Albee into his Cornelia Street apartment, where the two spent the afternoon talking about writing and what it means to devote a lifetime to it.

When I read this anecdote, I decided I had to read the plays of Edward Albee. Most of this reading was being done while I was gainfully employed as a high school senior, working in our Florida small town mall, in what was called the “African Store,” which sold shea butter and dashikis to tourists. I checked The Collected Works of Edward Albee out of the library, moved all of the shop’s large wooden giraffes in front of the cash register (so that the security cameras wouldn’t see me reading), and sat down to read the entire thing, cover to cover, over my week’s shifts. I laughed out loud, cried, and was completely stupefied by the style, tone, and range of realism to absurdism to -isms I wouldn’t begin to learn about or understand until I went to college. I screamed with a bit of joy when I came across a line from Auden’s poem September 1, 1939:

“Art makes nothing happen
We must love one another and die”

It was buried in what would become and still is one of my favorite plays, Albee’s one-act Counting the Ways. I was reading Albee in the context of the post-World War II literary scene, the rise of the beat generation, and it seemed to me that his plays came out of that chaos: of being optimistic in a world that didn’t want you to be, a world where Auden had said he wrote anti-war poems during World War II but realized that the poems themselves didn’t save a single Jew from dying in the Holocaust. Edward Albee’s plays were a challenge to the times that they were written in, a celebration and condemnation of a world gone mad. And on the back cover of his collected plays, I can still remember, his brief bio read: Edward Albee lives in New York and writes plays.

When I first moved to New York, I tracked down the address for The Edward Albee Foundation. I spent my freshmen year gaining the courage to write and sophomore year wrote Albee a hand-written letter, asking to meet to talk theatre and Auden, to be interviewed for a documentary I was making on the post-World War II literary scene. To my shock, I received a response; an invitation to Albee’s apartment in Tribeca for a conversation.

Albee’s assistant let us in. The film crew set up, and I nervously paced, sweating and reviewing my questions, which I’d dutifully written onto index notecards. What I hadn’t told Albee in my letter was that this documentary was contingent on if Albee agreed to be interviewed. Or that Edward Albee was my first interview subject…literally, ever. At 2pm, when it was officially time for the interview to begin, Albee descended a spiral staircase in his living room, sat in the spotlight that the film crew had set up for us, looked right at me into the blinding bright light, and said, “Alright, what do you have?”

Michael Learned with Rosemary Harris

Michael Learned with Rosemary Harris in Roundabout's production of Edward Albee's ALL OVER in 2002. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I would be afraid to go back today and relisten to the footage of my interview. I’m sure it would be full of my eighteen-year-old self, trying to sound intelligent, well read, and thoughtful as I sit eye to eye with my idol, in his home, surrounded by his intimidating collection of modern art. I remember that afternoon as a blur of trying to stay with Albee’s quick-paced thinking and my own out-of-body excitement, where I’d float above the book-filled  nook of his living room where we were sitting, and say to myself, “Is this really happening?!” I remember regretting having asked Albee to talk about Auden because all I really wanted to talk about was Edward Albee himself. I wanted to ask: how did you obtain all of these books and modern art pieces? How did you become so confident in your voice on the page and in life? How did you go from the nervous, pleading young writer asking Auden for advice to the person staring back at me now, giving it?

I asked Albee why he’d included that Auden line in his play and he said, “I did? Hm. I don’t remember. I wrote that a long time ago.” This was not off to a good start. I couldn’t imagine a life spent, devoted to playwriting, where I’d written so many plays that I couldn’t even remember what was in them. However, we continued to speak about that line and Auden’s sentiment behind it. Did art really make nothing happen? And if so, how can you justify a life in the arts? How had he? Albee felt that Auden had gotten it wrong—it wasn’t about whether or not art makes direct political change. It was about creating a playing space where things can happen, where discussions are raised, and where a deeper attempt at communication is possible. Albee spoke about theatre’s utility. How all you can do as a writer is create a space in the theatre that encourages or challenges the audience to be more useful, to live their lives more fully and usefully, every day.

It was daylight when I arrived and nighttime when I left. He had a show running on Broadway, and yet he talked on with me, an eighteen-year-old NYU student with ideas for plays but nothing of substance completed, who nervously flipped through index cards. I remember thinking that that’s how you knew you’d accomplished real success as a playwright, when you had a play running somewhere and didn’t even bother going to see it; that each time your play was performed, it was wholly for the audience and no longer a special event for its author.

I stammered on, trying to stretch my time in his presence as long as possible, eventually repeating questions, which he alerted me I was doing and so said, “I think that’s it.” He shook my hand, thanked me for the interview, and wandered off into his kitchen while his assistant oversaw the breakdown of our film equipment. I needed a restroom and was pointed towards the back of the house, behind the kitchen, where I passed Edward Albee, sitting alone, socks and sandals on his feet, writing at his desk with a pen, against the backdrop of a black and white tiled floor. He looked up and asked me if I was a playwright myself, to which I nervously said yes. He encouraged me to keep writing and apply to the Edward Albee Foundation when I felt I was ready. I nodded, taking a mental picture of my own life in this moment, and shuffled out of his home, waiting to scream until I got into the car with the crew.

Rosemary Harris in All Over. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Rosemary Harris in Edward Albee's ALL OVER. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I wrote plays. I applied and was accepted to the Edward Albee Foundation a year later as I was graduating from NYU and facing my student loans and the undertaking of a life as a writer instead of a student. Kicked out of my dorm, my first adult home was in Edward Albee’s barn in Montauk, which I moved into immediately after graduation. What I remember about the Albee from that summer was his lack of formality; his casualness and comfort in his Montauk home, as opposed to being in front of a camera. He wore shorts and would drop by unannounced to see if we were working, to discuss at length with the residents what we were working on. It was in Montauk that Albee and I really spoke about the theatre. He told me that most of what I’d see would be bad, or at least I’d think it was, because I’d be trying hard to figure out my own voice for some time, and until I did, anything that isn’t that would be an affront to my sensibilities. We talked about the play I’d submitted with my application, which was populated with obscure historical figures. He talked about what he liked in the play, what made him laugh, but asked quite directly, “How will the audience know who the hell the characters are?” I mentioned the text references and cited that there will be a program note. He said, “You must NEVER rely on those because the audience NEVER reads them.” And I remember how he told me to find my people who believed in my work – something that, as you’re struggling to emerge and get people to read your work, is always easier said than done. And to learn how to talk about your plays and know why you write them.

On our last night in the barn, the other fellows and I made Albee dinner and did readings of what we’d completed. I did a reading of my one-act play that, looking back on it, was actually a cheap Albee knock off. He nodded throughout the evening, smiled, and ate his dinner. Our dinner discussion turned to the subject of films, and Albee said that “movies are an illegitimate art form because the director chooses the frame for you, whereas with the theatre, you have free will and can choose what to look at.” When people challenged this opinion of his, he stood firmly, spoke strongly, and was short and direct in his answers.

I ran into him occasionally in the years that followed – at various plays and once, rather randomly, at a diner on 14th street. He’d always ask If I was still writing, to which I’d reply Yes. And feel even more determined to make that answer true since, in his eighties, Albee premiered a brand new play and did re-writes of older works, and I’d keep picturing him, quietly working at his desk in the kitchen, still writing, always working.

The Albee Foundation’s Fellowship and Residency remained, for some time, my only professional credit, but it was that credit that attracted the attention of my first agent, of Sam French who now publishes my plays, of the people who produced my first reading, which led to graduate schools, and more plays, and now finally, productions. And when I learned of Edward Albee’s passing, I had just stepped out of a play I was seeing with Jill Rafson, the Director of New Play Development at Roundabout, the theatre that gave me my first professional production, and I couldn’t help but see the domino effect Edward Albee had begun in my life – how Albee’s art had actually made my life happen, that carried me from a high school student reading his plays in my hometown mall, to standing on 42nd Street with my producer and friend.

I think of Edward Albee every time I am interviewed. His confidence, direct gaze, stating his own opinions with confidence of fact. And though I am certainly not that self-assured yet, I try to be honest and know, because of him, why I want to write – which is, like the Auden line, to try and make something happen between all of our living and dying. I try, like Albee did, to keep returning to my desk.

I think of Edward Albee when I realize I feel most comfortable and most like myself, in the company of other artists, hearing about their work. And more than anything, I think of Edward Albee in times of self-doubt, to remember how one thing can lead to another and another; that small acts of generosity as a person and artist can set off an entire chain of events for someone else.

And I can say now, without exaggeration, that because of Edward Albee, my own bio reads:

Lindsey Ferrentino lives in New York and writes plays.

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