ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Into the Woods

 

ITW-0003M-StandardArtFiles-150x150pxEducation Dramaturg Ted Sod interviews the Directors of Into the Woods.

Ted Sod: Let’s start with some biographical information: where you were born, where you were educated, and when you decided to become actor/directors?

Noah Brody:  I was born in Bound Brook, New Jersey. I went to undergrad at Colgate University, and I have degrees in chemistry and English literature from Colgate. I performed as a kid and did forensics and school plays in high school, but I got really into performing Shakespeare from my work as an English major.  I moved to New York and started studying in New York, before going to grad school in the Brown/Trinity MFA program, where I got my master’s degree as an actor. It was there that we all met. In grad school we all studied acting, directing and writing and discovered how much we love all those disciplines.

Ben Steinfeld: I was born outside of New York City, in Westchester, and I moved to Boston when I was five, and then I moved to LA when I was thirteen, so I don’t really know where I’m from, but I always feel like I’m from New England.  I went to Brown University for undergrad and also attended the Brown/Trinity MFA program, which is where I met Noah and the rest of the Fiasco gang. I actually came into theatre through the music door. I always sang, I’ve played guitar since I was a kid, and my family was  musical, so music-making was always in my life.  By the time I got to college, I knew that I liked acting and performing as much as I liked music. I dabbled in directing and ensemble play-making in college, but it wasn’t really until grad school when my interest in things beyond acting started to kick in. Noah and I connected because we were both interested in the same sorts of things. I directed a short play in grad school that Noah wrote, Noah directed me in a play at one point, so we had gotten to try on different identities with each other.

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Ben Steinfeld & Noah Brody.


TS: And was Fiasco Theater born in New York? Or while you were still at school?

BS: It was born in New York, but the conversations that led to Fiasco began when we were in school.


TS: What is the mission of Fiasco?

NB: It’s an interesting question because we’re in the process of reevaluating that mission. Currently, the mission statement that we have is to create joyful, actor-driven theatre and to put the actor at the center of the art and to offer training at low or no cost to the Fiasco community.


TS: Why such a provocative title for the company?

NB: We took it on for a couple of reasons. The word “fiasco” because it has theatrical roots. It has to do with a moment that might fail, in which an actor might have to fare fiasco, or “make the bottle” that night at the bar.  It’s also a reminder  that you have to risk a total failure, if you want to have the hope of creating something wonderful.  And it’s a signal to ourselves and to the world that, while we take our work very seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.


TS: And can you tell me a bit about choosing Into the Woods? Because, up to this point, it’s been primarily Shakespeare, correct?

BS: That’s right. Musicals are usually written, directed and staged with a certain kind of hierarchy in terms of the rehearsal process, and so we thought it would be interesting to see what it would be like to bring our process of making a show to a musical. We very quickly came up with Into the Woods as the show that would be the perfect fit for us because it met so many of the criteria that we have when picking a show.  It had to have lots of great parts (because we are a company of actors), and it had to be about something that we care about.  It is such a compelling story, and there’s all kinds of amazing theatrical challenges in it: how are you going to do the wolf? How are you going to do the giant? How are you going to tell this story with this number of people in the cast? How are you going to make all these musical events happen? To pick a line from the show that we’ve often quoted, it made us “excited and scared,” and that’s something that we look for.


TS:  I read in a few interviews that you think the piece is about inheritance.  Is that what you would still say it’s about?

NB: Well, I think it’s about multiple things. But, the idea of inheritances runs so strongly throughout the show, and it was very useful as one of our organizing principles. There are objects that we inherit from our parents and our grandparents, and they can take on great value. Mundane objects can take on a totemic power when they have a story or a past to them. But those inheritances can also be things like curses. They can be ideas. Family stories. Expectations.


TS: And when you say “inheritance,” I’m sure DNA is part of that, too.

BS: That’s exactly right. I think that one of the reasons that we’ve all connected to this story on a personal level, is that we are at the age where we have both parents and children. In all previous points in our lives, we would always see ourselves on the young side. Now, we find ourselves identifying just as much with the parental issues that are in the play as we do with the kids’ point of view.


TS: How do you go about casting yourselves since you are also the co-directors? 

NB: In the case of Into the Woods, we thought that Ben and Jessie would be a great pairing as Baker and Baker’s Wife because of their temperaments, their voice ranges and the acting challenges. Sometimes the casting creates interesting doubling or tripling opportunities that the actors will appreciate but will also resonate with the message of the production. In the case of Into the Woods, Andy and I play the Princes, but we also double as the stepsisters and each play an animal. What we ended up finding was an interesting duo act that is throughout the production. It’s a bit of complicated math, but we’re thinking artistically and creatively as well as like a traditional casting director.


TS: Did you watch other productions as research? Did you reread the original Grimm stories?

BS: As an actor and director, I prefer not to see other people’s interpretations. I had seen the PBS video as a kid, but once we found out we were doing this production, I never went back to that as a reference.

NB: Like Ben, I prefer not to view other productions so I can have an authentic response to the material as opposed to anyone else’s interpretation. I purchased the Brothers Grimm stories and went back and reread all of the tales that pertained to Into the Woods.


TS: Did any changes have to be made in the score or in the libretto for the ten-person version?

BS: Here’s what I’ll say: we made a very, very small number of changes. We never intended to do anything except Into the Woods as written. Almost nothing about the score has changed, and we altered very little about the book. The goal is to make it feel like we’re just doing the show, but those who know the story intimately will recognize that we have tweaked a couple of events in the show.


TS: Will you please  talk about collaborating with the design team and how the show will manifest itself visually?

NB: When we started talking with Derek McLane, our set designer, we knew we weren’t interested in having trees represent the woods. And we were interested in a space where all the physical objects that represent inheritances could coexist with a piano, since we knew one would be at the center of the production.  Derek took that and came up with this idea of expanding and exploding the piano so that the entire production, in some sense, was happening inside the piano. Upstage he has these layers of string that are evocative of the woods. On the sides of the stage are piano harps that are the guts of the piano and are incredibly tactile and evocative, as well. He took our soup of ideas and worked that into a magnificent design.


TS: And how about working with Whitney and Darron?

BS: With Whitney, it was different because she has designed costumes for every Fiasco production. We have easy shorthand with her, and she’s very good at providing Fiasco a base idea for costumes as part of the ensemble  look, and then adds pieces to each person to distinguish when they’re playing their different roles.  At the McCarter Theatre, where we first did the show, we had been proceeding with a design where the base look for each character had been rooted in an era that is basically a hundred years ago. We got into dress rehearsal, and we all came to realize the costuming didn’t match the rest of the production. To her great credit, Whitney agreed with us, and threw out the majority of the costume design. With McCarter’s support, in twenty-four hours, Whitney and her team turned out a new base look for the costumes. The women, for example, ended up wearing essentially what they were originally wearing under their costumes as their costume.

Sisterspaint

Sketch by Costume Designer Whitney Locher.

We loved our meeting with Darron from the first second that we sat down with him. We knew that he understood what it meant to be flexible in the room. What actually excited us both about Darron is that he insisted on being in rehearsals. He sees himself as an active and ongoing collaborator in the room. He wanted to learn the Fiasco vocabulary; not just our production, but of our company. So he observed -- sometimes he would share a thought, but sometimes he would just be there, walking around the room, listening, watching, and then creating. He allowed every sound that comes from the show to come from the stage. Every aspect of our collaboration with Darron has really taught us something.


TS: What is on the horizon for Fiasco beyond Into the Woods

BS: We are actively pursuing musicals, Shakespeare, American classics and work that is company devised.

NB: Right after Into the Woods we will be bringing our production of Two Gentleman of Verona to the Theatre for A New Audience in Brooklyn.

 


Into the Woods begins previews December 18 at the Laura Pels Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Into the Woods, Upstage


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Casting Announced for Into The Woods

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by Todd Haimes

 

It is my pleasure to announce that the upcoming production of Into The Woods at the Laura Pels Theatre will feature the original McCarter Theatre Center/Fiasco Theater cast. These ten extraordinary actors are Jessie Austrian (Baker’s Wife), Noah Brody (Lucinda/Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince), Paul L. Coffey (Mysterious Man), Andy Grotelueschen (Milky White/Florinda/Rapunzel’s Prince), Liz Hayes (Cinderella’s Stepmother/Jack’s Mother), Claire Karpen (Cinderella/Granny), Jennifer Mudge (Witch), Patrick Mulryan (Jack/Steward), Ben Steinfeld (Baker), and Emily Young (Little Red Ridinghood/Rapunzel). As you know, Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (co-Artistic Directors, along with Jessie Austrian, of Fiasco Theater) are also directing this thrillingly imaginative iteration of the musical.

We have several Roundabout alums in this exceptional cast: Andy Grotelueschen and Ben Steinfeld both appeared in Roundabout’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Jessie Austrian appeared in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Jennifer Mudge appeared in The Philanthropist. I am so happy to have them back and to welcome the rest of the company to Roundabout for the first time. As a whole, this group of actors has worked at numerous New York and regional theaters, including Broadway venues, Arena Stage, Theatre for a New Audience, Williamstown Theatre Festival, New World Stages, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Guthrie Theater, Atlantic Theater Company, and of course Trinity Rep (every cast member completed either graduate or undergraduate training at Brown or Brown/Trinity).

The cohesive magic of this group of actors is even more impressive than their individual accomplishments, and I am so excited to see their work on the stage of the Laura Pels Theatre this winter.

Into the Woods 2 McC 2096

Into the Woods at the McCarter Theatre Center. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.


Into the Woods will begin performances at Roundabout Theatre Company on December 18 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Centre for Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, From Todd Haimes, Into the Woods


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BWW Interview: Into The Woods Team

Posted on: August 12th, 2014 by Roundabout

 

The Old Globe is currently presenting Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony Award-winning musical Into the Woods, which made its World Premiere at The Old Globe in 1986. The production is an inventive reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center.

BroadwayWorld chatted with directors Steinfeld and Brody (who also play the Baker and Lucinda/Wolf/Cinderella's Prince respectively), as well as Fiasco Theater Co-Artistic Director cast member Jessie Austrian (Baker's Wife) about the thrills of bringing the show to life, the concept of their re-imagined version and so much more. They have allowed us to re-publish their interview below.


Firstly, congrats on the extension! How have things been going over at the Old Globe?

NB: They've been going wonderfully! As you can imagine, San Diego is a great place to be at any time of year, but the theatre is absolutely spectacular, the staff is amazing, and the audiences have been really wonderful and enthusiastic. It's been such a pleasure all around!


Have you found that the San Diego audiences have been responding similarly?

NB: Actually I had thought that maybe the San Diego audiences would be a bit more reserved or something... but actually they've been VERY responsive, active, vocal, and fully engaged. I also think that the show is better. It's been percolating and gestating within us and we continue to work and think about the show. It's definitely the same show that we did in Princeton, but I think it's a little bit deeper and easier for us, so we're releasing it more fully. So I think that the audiences are meeting that, and responding to that as well.

BWW Interview: Back to the Woods! NYC -Bound INTO THE WOODS Team Reveals Details on Their Shakespeare-Inspired Reimagining, the Old Globe Run, and More!

You are all big parts of Fiasco Theatre, where this started- what can you tell me about the show's journey thus far?

JA: Well it all began about two and a half years ago when we did a production of Cymbeline that put us on the map. That was a success in New York and we started talking about what we wanted to do next. We talked about projects that both excite and scare us. We love making music together, and even in all of our Shakespeare shows we find ways to do that. So we were excited about the idea of taking on a musical, and Sondheim just seemed like a perfect fit because he writes for actors. His writing is so complicated and layered- it's very Shakespearean in nature.

So it all began as a hypothesis, which was "Could we rehearse a Sondheim musical in the way that we would a Shakespeare play?" We did a very brief workshop to pose that question and we fell even more in love with the play and decided to take it on! We were very lucky to have support from the McCarter, who took a big risk in helping us do the show. And we were extremely lucky that it was a success there and that we've gotten to reinvestigate it at another time. As Noah said, we've deepened the show. I'm hearing new things in the material every night, which is so rewarding and such a sign of great writing.


The version has been described as an '
inventive reimagining'. What more can you share about the concept of this version?

BS: This version has ten actors and one onstage pianist, Matt [Castle]. He's also a wonderful musical director. So the whole production is centered around the piano and that is because when we do a show we always ask ourselves what we absolutely have to have to tell the story. Then we give ourselves only those things as a starting off point. So that's what led us to the piano, since it is a musical... then our designers took the concept and our ideas about time, memory and perspective and exploded the piano around the stage. So we have a very abstract environment by Derek McLane that gives us a sense of scale for the woods but also provides a very romantic and atmospheric interior space.

BWW Interview: Back to the Woods! NYC -Bound INTO THE WOODS Team Reveals Details on Their Shakespeare-Inspired Reimagining, the Old Globe Run, and More!

 

The other thing we were interested in conceptually was the idea of inheritance- what one generation leaves the next and what our responsibilities are as parents and children to each other and each generation. That led us to the idea of this abstract attic of memories. So the props and set pieces we use in the show are very simple, but they all look like things you might find in an attic. Everything that we use in the show is that kind of object- old letters, sheet music, rickety chairs, chandeliers, and an old set of curtains. Things like that.

We use all of that to try to engage the audience's imagination. The play is about fairytales and how we tell stories. So that's what drew us to those conceptual ideas.

 

This is one of Sondheim's most widely loved shows. Have you been at all nervous that audiences might be expecting one thing and getting something totally different?

JA: It's funny, even though the show is only twenty-five years old, there are still a lot of assumed ideas about what this show is, based on that original production. We tried to be very rigorous with ourselves when we started rehearsing to strip away those assumptions and really look at the writing as if it was a brand new play and act what we thought the authors intended. What did they want the audience to receive and how could we give that to them?

I was very nervous because a lot of people think they know what the show is supposed to look like because they grew up with that PBS video of the original production. The experience that I've had though is that even with the people who know it very well and are coming in and seeing something very different are receiving the story and seeing and hearing it in a new way. Then at the same time, the people who don't know the play are still feeling it in the way that I think the authors intended.

BWW Interview: Back to the Woods! NYC -Bound INTO THE WOODS Team Reveals Details on Their Shakespeare-Inspired Reimagining, the Old Globe Run, and More!

 

It must be very exciting bringing Into the Woods back to where it all began...

BS: It is exciting! One of the great things is that several people in the audience, who are of a certain age of course, were able to see the original production in 1986 and have now come to see ours. The enthusiasm that they have for our version is really moving and really exciting to think of a theatrical community that has that much continuity. It's something that regional theatres can do. They can have ongoing connections with their audiences over a long period of time.

And then just seeing photos of [James] Lapine and [Stephen] Sondheim in the same theatre that we are in and asking the same questions that we are asking: "How do we make this thing come to life?" Their enthusiasm and support for the production has been very exciting and it has just reminded us that all artists are engaged in the same series of questions. Even legends like them! So it's been very thrilling being back in the place where they did that the first time and I know it means a lot to the Globe as well.


Ben and Noah, you're doing double duty on this... what's it's been like wearing two hats?

NB: It's a challenge, a responsibility and an honor. It's a big piece to be stepping in and out of, but luckily Ben and I don't share very much stage time. So when one of us is in the other can be out. We have an amazing collaborative team including Michael Perlman, our associate director, our music director, our choreographer and our entire ensemble. We have this vocabulary where we define what it is that we are working toward and then we can work as a group towards those things. It allows Ben and I to guide the process without having to be absolutely in charge of everything. That's not really possible with a piece this large. There are so many moving pieces. It's definitely been the greatest challenge of my artistic life and it's also been the most fulfilling.


Is there a part of the show that you're the most proud of?

NB: There's no one thing for me. This piece has been created by sixteen different people, and I think that we are all responsible for all of those moments. What I'm most proud of is how it all fits together. What I think is a great compliment is when people say that they feel like Act 2 is a continuation of Act 1 and that it completes the entire evening. I think a lot of people's experiences in the past have been the challenge of fusing them together and making them one continuous story.

BWW Interview: Back to the Woods! NYC -Bound INTO THE WOODS Team Reveals Details on Their Shakespeare-Inspired Reimagining, the Old Globe Run, and More!

Have you wrapped your head around the Roundabout run later this year?

BS: For me personally, I'm looking forward to doing a run of significant length- we get to do it for three or four months. That creates artistic possibilities that a shorter run of three or four weeks doesn't give you. There's an opportunity to explore possibilities and keep pushing, growing and learning from the audience.

The idea of being a part of the continuum of Roundabout's tradition of these extraordinary revivals of re-imaginings of Sondheim shows is amazing company to be in. I feel like we are incredibly lucky to get to be a part of that tradition that Roundabout has committed to over the past few decades- finding a way to bring Sondheim's work back to a New York audience with incredible vision and excitement.

And there is nothing like doing a show in New York City. Being involved in a show that is so popular and beloved in front of a sophisticated, generous New York audience is going to be a thrill.


I read that you guys chose the name 'Fiasco' to "remind [y]ourselves to brave the huge leaps in the hopes of reaping huge artistic rewards." Do you think you've done that with this piece?

NB: Well, I think we've certainly made the leap! [Laughs] When were in our first previews at McCarter it felt a little bit like we were hanging by our fingernails off of a cliff. Whether or not we have reaped artistic rewards I think is best left to the audience to answer. I will say though that it has been an enormously rewarding undertaking and it has caused a deep and profound artistic growth within our community. We do this for the audience, and I think we all dearly hope that their experience is as rich as ours is. It's been a huge growth opportunity for us.

JA: And I think that we've created a production that each night, both as individuals and an ensemble, can continue to take those leaps. It's a show that relies on the audience being there. It can't happen in a vacuum. Their imaginations are necessary to fill in the rest of the world. So every night is an opportunity to start a fiasco. I'm really proud of the way that the whole company is continuing to do that and I look forward to getting to do that over the long run in New York. It's incredibly exciting and fulfilling.

BS: And in terms of risks, this is what Sondheim and Lapine's work has been about too. From the beginning of their careers they risked everything artistically just to pursue a vision of what musical theatre might be. A part of our inspiration for our version is that we are trying to honor their risk-taking. When something becomes a classic we always think of it as a part of the establishment category of great works. But most of those great works were in and of themselves great risks that pushed the boundaries of what something could be and asked questions that hadn't been asked before. So I hope that what we are doing is very much in line with the risks and rewards that the authors themselves have taken.


Into the Woods will begin performances at Roundabout Theatre Company on December 18 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Centre for Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Into the Woods


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