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Picnic

From the Artistic Director: PICNIC

Posted on: December 10th, 2012 by Roundabout

 

"Why have playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller stood the test of time, yet Inge, their contemporary, has failed to enter the modern canon in the same way?" - Todd Haimes

The Pulitzer Prize-winning William Inge play Picnic, directed by Sam Gold begins this Friday.

In the 1950s, Inge was the toast of Broadway, and no one was more pleasantly surprised by his status than the playwright himself. Inge grew up in Independence, Kansas, a quiet town nestled in America’s heartland that seemed unlikely to produce a celebrated author. Inge had a rather ordinary Midwestern life, staying in the region for college and eventually working as a drama and music critic for a newspaper in St. Louis. It was through this work that Inge found himself meeting playwright Tennessee Williams, who invited the critic to attend his new play, The Glass Menagerie. Watching that now-seminal play, Inge knew that his critical days and acceptance of his lot were over, and he immediately took up his pen to begin writing plays of his own.

He would soon write an unprecedented string of hits: Come Back, Little Sheba; Picnic; Bus Stop; and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. All were hugely successful on Broadway, and all would be made into films with some of the starriest actors of the day. I’ve often thought about what it was that made audiences latch on to Inge’s work so consistently during this fruitful period. This was a man who was truly writing what he knew, setting his plays in small towns very much like his own Independence, and writing about the kinds of people he encountered there. The plays stood out in the flashy Broadway landscape because no one else had thought these characters worthy of being put on stage before. But Inge intrinsically understood the beauty of seemingly small lives, knowing that a person who looked simple on the outside might be brimming over with the most complicated of emotions. What holds these people back isn’t the size of their dreams, but the limits of circumstance.

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2012-2013 Season, From Todd Haimes, Picnic


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A conversation with Actor: Sebastian Stan

Posted on: December 7th, 2012 by Roundabout

 

"I don't think there was a real Hal Carter, but I think the character of Hal is the spirit of the future." - Sebastian Stan

Before starting rehearsals for Picnic, Sebastian Stan spoke with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about preparing to play Hal Carter.

Ted Sod: I'm curious why you chose this role in this particular play.

Sebastian Stan: I have been looking for an opportunity to come back to the theatre. It's been about five years or so. I really wanted to work with Sam Gold. And then, of course, this is a great play. It's a classic. I wanted the opportunity to work with a great director on a great piece of writing. I’m also a complete fanatic about the time period and what was going on in the 1950s.

TS: Can you talk about what kind of preparation you have to do to play a character like Hal Carter?

SS: Every process is different for me, a new discovery. I don’t necessarily have one way of approaching the work. But I do always consider the specifics of the script. With the Internet, there's fortunately a lot of material that you can find on William Inge and his intentions. I’ve been looking at information about the shifting thoughts and feelings of the time period: everything from Elvis Presley to Jack Kerouac. There's a lot of research one can do for Hal Carter. That research mixes with your instincts. It’s very important to acknowledge the specific things that jump out at you when first reading a script. I have also been listening to the 1940s satellite radio station. Music was shaping the way that people were feeling at that time. Music is very helpful to me, so I find myself walking down New York streets, listening to jazz and rock ‘n roll. I can already feel a perspective change which may apply to the character. That's the fun of it: being a bit of an explorer and detective.

TS: Do you sense what the challenges are of this role by having read the text?

SS: Yes and no. It's still very early. There’s always a challenge in making dated material relatable, but the themes of restraint and the role of women are very appropriate for today’s audiences. There are universal themes in this play about being classified, having to live your life a certain way and how one follows through with their real feelings. Another challenge is to honor what William Inge wrote, his language, and to make sure it is translated to a modern audience.

TS: Do you feel that the character of Hal is relevant to you and the way you think? Or are you quite different from him?

SS: There are similarities with every character that one plays. I think there are affinities, which is one of the reasons you gravitate to certain kinds of roles. There are also differences and that's where you really have to honor what's in the script. A character essentially is not you. There's an opportunity to be someone else for a while. That's part of the fun. I grew up with such an admiration for the acting heroes of the 1950s: Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Paul Newman, to name a few. Paul Newman was actually in the original production of this play.

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Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, Picnic


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A conversation with Director: Sam Gold

Posted on: December 4th, 2012 by Roundabout

 

"Inge is writing about young people who have a fantasy of a better life. They dream of romance, falling in love, getting on a train and going far away." - Sam Gold

Just before rehearsals began, Education Dramaturg Ted Sod sat down with Director Sam Gold to talk about Picnic.

Ted Sod: Why did you choose to direct Picnic? It seems you have an affinity for 1950s dramatic literature.

Sam Gold: I started my career directing new plays by young writers. I was drawn to writers of the 1950s because I felt that was the last time theatre was a dominant entertainment form. It seemed like a vital time for writers. I especially liked the American and British playwrights from that period because I thought they were an inspiration to the younger writers I was working with and I wanted to go back to the source of that inspiration. Last year I directed John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. That play was of particular importance as it was the original “kitchen-sink drama.” William Inge and Tennessee Williams both defined American theatrical storytelling in the 1950s. We’ve seen Williams’s plays over and over again, but no one is producing Inge’s work as regularly. I think he's underrepresented and perhaps misunderstood. I’ve made it a priority to revive Inge for a contemporary audience.

TS: It seems odd that people have forgotten him. Inge had four very successful plays in the same decade.

SG: I think these things go through cycles. There was a period where Arthur Miller went out of favor. No one did his plays in America. When they started doing his work in London with great success, every Arthur Miller play was suddenly being produced in New York. Inge is due for his revival. These are great plays. They just need to be seen. Maybe they went out of favor based on taste, stigma, or because certain productions that were done made people think about them in a negative way.

TS: Tell us what you think the play is about.

SG: It's a small town play. It takes place in post-war Kansas. Inge is writing about young people who have a fantasy of a better life. They dream of romance, falling in love, getting on a train and going far away. You also see the older generation of characters who had similar dreams that did not necessarily work out. You see what it's like to give up your dreams and face the reality in these Midwestern towns at that time. I think Inge is speaking to the fire that burns in the young and what happens to that fire when you grow up. At its core, it’s a family play about a single woman, Flo Owens, raising two daughters by herself. Her husband's not on the scene. Flo is a hardworking mother raising her kids, fearing that she’s going to lose them.

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Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, Picnic


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