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Richard ArmitageOn October 15, 2016, Richard Armitage spoke about Love, Love, Love with education dramaturg Ted Sod as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s lecture series.

An edited transcript follows:

(There are spoilers below)

Ted Sod: Thank you for joining us, Richard. Are you having a good time playing the role of Kenneth? It looks like you are.

Richard Armitage: Yes, it’s something very different from what I’m used to doing. I’m known for being quite a somber, moody person, but I have loved every single day walking into the rehearsal room with this cast and Michael Mayer. I have to say this show is a tonic and I think it has something to do with the speed and energy and Mike’s writing.

TS: This play forces us baby boomers, I’m one of them, to contemplate whether or not we screwed things up for subsequent generations, and we’ll discuss that a bit later. You are playing a boomer in this play, but you are actually a Generation X-er, correct?

RA: Nirvana. That’s how I remember it. We did this fascinating thing on the first day of rehearsal with every member of the cast and crew. We put ourselves in groups based on our birth year and one of the defining things apart from technology and politics was music, the kind of music that was around at the time we came of age. One of the first bands that came into my head was Nirvana. I’m Generation X, but I do think that I sit somewhere in the middle.

Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

TS: I read on the Internet that you got your British Equity card by joining a circus — is that true?

RA: Yes, it is. It was a time long gone, just before Thatcher ended the 'closed shop', where you had to be a member of the union before you could even go to an audition. I remember going to an audition and there were two rooms: one with Equity members and one without and I thought I was never getting through to the next door. I went to a vocational school and they somehow set up this contract in Budapest where I was working in the circus for six months doing some unmentionable things with hula hoops.

TS: Fascinating. I read that you played the cello and studied the flute as well.

RA: I started with the cello and it was too big to take on the school bus and I used to get squashed trying to find a seat, so I decided to choose the smallest instrument I could possibly find and I picked up the flute because I could put it in my bag.

TS: I understand that you convinced your parents to allow you to go to a school to study theatre, but it was mostly musical theatre.

RA: It was a combination of three things: it was primarily dancing and singing classes and then a bit of drama class as well. My mother took on a job specifically so that I could go to this school because it was a fee-paying school and every single penny of her wages went toward my education. It has become a driving force throughout my whole journey as an actor just thinking that my mom went to work to purely pay for my education.

Richard Armitage and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage and Zoe Kazan
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: The last thing I’ll bring up from reading about you online, is that you fell out of love with musical theatre and decided you wanted meatier roles, so you went to LAMDA.

RA: That’s true. A lot of the time when I was working in musical theatre, I was being told, “Smile and look like you’re enjoying yourself!” I got to a point where I thought well, if I was enjoying myself, I’d be smiling my face off and clearly I wasn’t, so I just wanted something more. I did a year in the West End production of Cats understudying and I saved money and paid for myself to go to LAMDA. I spent three years rejecting the whole physical musical theatre thing, but actually it has become very useful to my work onstage in non-musical plays.

TS: The discipline and stamina that you have to use to do musical theatre must become valuable when you’re doing all kinds of theatre.

RA: It is, for sure. I worked with a movement teacher, the late Christian Darley who studied at Lecoq, in Paris. She worked very much from a mime based place. And that work really makes sense to me the kind of physical language onstage between actors and the way characters physically move through their spine according to the "temperature" in the room I think the work I did with her really lends itself to playing in this type of comedy.

TS: I want to talk a little bit about Mike Bartlett who wrote Love, Love, Love. He’s been doing television work as well as stage work since 2005. When did you first become aware of Mike’s work?

RA: He still feels like a new writer to me, but I became aware of his work through Cock, which I think started at the Royal Court.

TS: Yes, it played there in 2009 and it played here at the Doris Duke Theatre in 2012.

RA: I was also aware of his play King Charles III, which unfortunately I didn’t get to see because I was playing in The Crucible around the same time. I flew to London to see his last play, Wild. I was already onboard with this production and it galvanized something in me. I realized we’re actually from very similar backgrounds: we’re a similar age, we grew up in a similar place, our music tastes are very similar, which is why this play resonated with me. It wasn’t until about the third week of rehearsal when somebody told me Mike was a drummer that suddenly everything fell into place. His work is so much about a rhythm and speed. There’s something in the music of his writing that I also saw onstage in Wild, which is, incidentally, a play about Edward Snowden. He tends to write verbal tennis matches among his characters, which is just phenomenal to play. So, I came to this production with an enthusiasm for his writing.

TS: Mike has this ability to write epic stories, as he did with Earthquakes in London, which is a play about climate change among other things — and then a play like this one, which has an epic theme, but is more or less a domestic drama.

RA: Yes, from the inside out, it definitely feels like a domestic drama. I had no concept of how funny the play was until we put it in front of an audience. I didn’t know if it would resonate with an American audience because a lot of the references are very British, a lot of the temperament in the play is very British. Clearly, we’re not that different.

TS: Let’s talk about your process as an actor, if that’s okay with you. I once said to Alan Cumming, “What’s your process?” And he said, “I’m not a cheese.”

RA: I’m a ham.

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan and Alex Hurt (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan and Alex Hurt (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: Good to know. I’ve read that you like to make a journal for your characters. Did you make one for Kenneth?

RA: I didn’t. Every piece that comes to you, you somehow figure out a different approach. If you try to apply the same rules for everything, it doesn’t always work and you find yourself trying to force a square peg into a round hole. I did background work on this. I looked at the periods that Mike was writing about. I wasn’t alive in the ‘60s. I was just being born around the early ’70s, so that process was really fascinating and it came in the form of a picture diary. I just gathered a photo album of as many images as I could, which I shared with Michael Mayer, our director. I figured there were things that Americans wouldn’t have necessarily seen, like the poll tax riots. When we got into the rehearsal room, the work was immediate. There was not a lot of talking about background, it was very much about the text and the texture of the text and trying to get it up on its feet as quickly as possible. It was a very fast process, something I normally resist. I like to spend a lot of time doing background work, but we were on our feet on day three. I think it was great to be on our feet that quickly. It was really liberating.

TS: I’ve watched the play twice and I’m not sure what kind of work your character is retired from. Are you?

RA: I decided that he ended up in publishing, probably for something like Time Out. No offense to Time Out, but it’s sort of the box that he probably didn’t want to get into. The thing about act two is that the characters are locked into this suburban box in Reading. I don’t know if anybody knows Reading here. It’s got very nice houses with nice gardens. It has a train station. Sorry, Reading. It’s a slightly disillusioned place compared to the expectations Kenneth and Sandra have. It’s a little bit like wanting to be an actor and ending up teaching acting in a comprehensive school. It’s a noble pursuit, but it’s not the dream.

TS: When you speak about Reading, I wonder if the comparison here would be somewhere in Connecticut or New Jersey.

RA: Scranton.

TS: Scranton, Pennsylvania. Well, I’m from Wilkes-Barre so I know Scranton.

RA: There’s nothing wrong with Reading. It’s just people live there because it’s a little bit cheaper. You can commute into London if you want to, you usually work in publishing or a bank and then you go home and it’s 2.4 children. There was a British sitcom called 2.4 Children, which really was the inspiration for act two.

TS: Talk to us about Kenneth and all these freedoms that we boomers were privy to. How did you find your way into that?

RA: Kenneth and Sandra both feel like they’ve been part of a revolution, which really was a movement there was suddenly a push forward in female emancipation, the sexual revolution, the pill. Really it was an ability to listen to the music you wanted, to dress the way you wanted, to actually not just leap from childhood into adulthood. Then, of course, they grew up. They were probably stoned out of their heads for most of that period of time and then they hit 30 and found themselves in this suburban, mundane box. We didn’t really fill in the gaps between the first act and the second. I like the fact that we walk into act two and Kenneth and Sandra barely look at each other. He doesn’t know she’s not in the room when he’s talking to her. They really don’t make eye contact until they’re pulling their marriage apart. It’s really a fascinating experiment to let yourself be in that situation you’re suddenly only 'in the moment' at the moment, your family is being torn apart.

Richard Armitage (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: As a boomer, I’ve lived through some phenomenal changes: the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement and the gay rights movement — everything that’s changed since 1967 — for better or for worse. For me all these changes felt like they were caused by the repression of the ‘50s.

RA: There was a woman called Mary Whitehouse in the UK and everything about the arts, writing and television was censored by her. She was described as a 'social activist' but she really suppressed a lot of voices. I think the Sex Pistols come out of pushing against that suppression. There was a shift between the ‘50s and into the ‘60s that felt like things were moving forward. It’s amazing to stand onstage at this time and say things like, “The laws are constantly being overthrown, the boundaries of what’s possible, the walls are coming down.” Those words resonate with me because I feel like we’re on the edge of the walls going back up, which is just terrifying.

TS: I’m also feeling that this play deals with capitalism and what happens when capitalism doesn’t work for you.

RA: There was a study that The Guardian, quite recently about adults living in their parents’ basements. I believe Secretary Clinton has mentioned it in her Presidential campaign as well. Women are delaying having their children and it’s causing a certain level of psychological dysfunction. They’re putting their lives on hold. Men are being infantilized by having to go back to live with their parents right through their 30s. It’s becoming a pressure cooker of violence because they’re not able to live fully rounded adult lives. And it’s not just one or two people, it’s quite a large chunk of a generation that is not economically well off. The other thing that I never considered before is the simple size of the baby boom generation. It’s probably about twice the size of Generation X. Their voting power is something that’s discussed in the play. Their ability to put politicians in place who will provide them the best benefits is something real. I don’t think Mike Bartlett necessarily answers any questions about how capitalism works for some and not others, but he gives the audience an argument and hopefully they’ll go home and have a good chat about it.

TS: I think it was Chekhov who first said, “As a playwright my goal is to ask questions, not to answer them.” Kenneth is so blunt when says to his daughter Rose, “No, I won’t buy you a house.”

RA: I struggle with that every night because I look at my daughter who I genuinely love and think she’s right, but we worked hard for 40 years, we waited all this time and now we have this pension. If we relinquish that, we have no security and then what do we do? I haven’t quite decided just how wealthy we are. There were questions that came up in rehearsal about this Birmingham house that they have. The buy-to-let scheme where property prices were thrown up in value because people were buying a second property to rent out. We talked about the fact that they could release that house for Rosie to live in, but it’s not quite what she’s asking. As a father, Kenneth is still in that position of thinking and saying, “Well, you have to carve your own path as we did. My parents didn’t give me a handout so that I could go further.” What he doesn’t consider is that the political system was manipulated so that there was free healthcare, there was comprehensive school education, grants that no longer exist. Kenneth and Sandra have benefitted from those things, but I think, at this point in his life, Kenneth isn’t considering those things, he’s just being quite pragmatic. He thinks that he’s doing what’s right for Rose by telling her to “Fight harder, go further.” And, again, this is Mike Bartlett at his best. He hasn’t made Rose destitute. She’s making a living at her profession; it’s just not enough. That’s what these situations are like. Younger people may have a job, but it’s out of balance. They literally can’t afford to live in a city like London. I think it’s like that in this city as well.

TS: Definitely. Young people in New York City are sharing apartments because they cannot afford to live alone. I have a sense Kenneth and Sandra are going to go on that world tour together at the end of the play, do you?

RA: I think he’s just saying that to melt her a little bit. I don’t know he necessarily really means it. I don’t think he knows what’s going to happen next. He hasn’t got it all figured out. They’re living in the moment still.

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Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Audience Member #1: Hi. So, our country and yours have both gone downward. Where do you see it going? Are we going to restore some of the things that allowed the earlier generations to thrive? Does the play make you think about that?

RA: I do think about it every night. I am glued to the news cycle both here and in my own country. I feel like there’s no one to blame. I wouldn’t blame an older generation for the vote in the UK for Brexit. I feel like that’s a gross generalization. But I do think a Pandora’s Box has been opened. We can’t go backwards and that’s frightening. Britain is going to leave the European Union that’s for sure but what that price will be, I don’t know. What are the options really? Where are the inspiring politicians with voices that make us feel like they’re going to help make change and find a balance? I come from a country where we vote for the party, not a single individual, and I cannot believe we have a conservative government that I’m actually nodding my head at. Politics in the UK are in meltdown after Brexit. There really was not a plan in place and I just wish that they considered fully the implications of what that exit means. I know I am digressing, but I just despair at current politics and the lack of planning that’s happening everywhere.

TS: I think many of us are going through election fatigue right now and just wish it was over.

Audience Member #1: It’s terror. It’s not fatigue, it’s terror.

RA: I feel like if you keep people frightened enough and if you split them, then you’ll give yourself leverage as a politician and find people to support you. I just spent five months in Germany where this is not the case. There is a sense of peace and ease and actually feeling positive about things, which is probably also a generalization. At the moment, there isn’t an awful lot of positivity floating around here in the United States or back home either and that needs to be changed.

TS: I feel like what you’re talking about is divide and conquer, which has been a winning formula for a lot of people. I also find it interesting what you say about Germany. Merkel’s feet are being held to the fire right now because of the immigrant situation.

RA: Yes, and she’s standing by it.

Audience Member #2: I really liked your character as a person in terms of your values in act one and act two, but then in act three, I thought you were blind to your son’s problems.

RA: I feel my character is definitely in denial about his son. It’s interesting when Jamie comes in at the end of act three. It’s just at the moment that Rosie says, “You’re supposed to take care of your children!” I feel like saying to her, “I’m taking care of my boy, he lives here at home with me, we garden, we go the pub, he’s happy, I see him happy.” But he is a difficult child who is having to live at home because he can’t really function otherwise. Mike has written Jamie based on a friend of his who, after smoking a certain amount of marijuana, was just less sharp. It left him slightly disconnected from normal social interaction. I don’t think Kenneth is unaware of it, I think he’s just riding on top of it. It’s almost like he can’t look too closely because otherwise it would be difficult for him to accept.

TS: Isn’t it Jamie that says they’re like mates?

RA: Yes, I took him to see Wicked. It’s a simple life and it’s obviously not ideal. I feel like Kenneth is propping Jamie up and it possibly has something to do with Rosie’s attempted suicide. They clearly haven’t really dealt with that. I don’t think Sandra or Kenneth ever faced their demons and what they’ve done to their children. They’ve just done what British people do, which is to look away when someone starts to get emotional and then say, “Would you like some tea?”

Ben Rosenfield, Amy Ryan, Richard Armitage, Zoe Kazan and Alex Hurt (Photo by Walter McBride)

Ben Rosenfield, Amy Ryan, Richard Armitage, Zoe Kazan and Alex Hurt
(Photo by Walter McBride)

Audience Member #3: I was wondering what is was that drew you to this character?

RA: I rarely get to play comedy. People don’t come to me with offers to do comedy. I love the challenge of playing different ages. Also, I’ve always been into Harold Pinter and Alan Ayckbourn and it felt to me like Mike’s fashioned a cocktail of writing styles in this play and I was really excited about trying that out.

TS: I’m so glad you brought that up because when I watched the first act, I thought this feels a bit like Pinter. The relationship between Kenneth and his brother Henry is so bizarre. It has a Pinter-esque quality in that I sense that Kenneth is afraid of Henry.

RA: Act one has been through a change. We pushed it a long way since the rehearsal room. It was extremely exuberant at first and we’ve slowly pulled it back because it needs to sit in that place of danger. Kenneth has to be provocative and press Henry’s buttons because essentially it is the baby boomer generation pressing the buttons of Henry’s generation. Mike’s writing uses elements of Pinter and Osborne, which I love, and then in act two there are elements of Ayckbourn. In the rehearsal room, act two felt very steady and as soon as we came into the space, Michael Mayer wanted us to elevate the style. He said, “I want you to imagine that every time you make an entrance, there’s applause like a television sitcom.”

Audience Member #4: Hi. My parents are baby boomers and they are stable, dependable people, but I know they weren’t always that way. I feel that your character and Sandra’s character never really developed emotionally. I’m wondering if Mike Bartlett is making a statement that people can’t change?

RA: In my personal view, I think our personality is probably solidified somewhere in our youth. You either develop ways to navigate through life with a certain level of fluidity or you are somebody with concrete boots on who really can’t change and move around. I just let Kenneth be taken with the current in a way. Until act three, when he’s really forced to make a decision and potentially make a change and he chooses not to.

TS: Richard, there was a remarkable documentary made in England by Michael Apted called Seven Up

RA: Yes, I studied it for this and it’s so fascinating.

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Ben Rosenfield and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Ben Rosenfield and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: Because it tracks people from the age of seven on at seven year intervals. It quotes a Jesuit motto: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

RA I feel like it tracks that moment when a child leaves the home and finds themselves in society, interacting with other people and you can see their personality developing. I’m sure it’s different with everyone, the point where your personality is fixed and maybe that’s the thing about Rosie. Because of her suspended situation, she feels she can’t solidify her life. It’s an admission to say, “I’m 37 and I don’t have anything.” She’s talking about material possessions, but she goes on to say, “I don’t have a child, a car, a house, I can’t start my life and I’m 37.” Whereas the baby boomers were probably well embedded into their lives by their early 20s and beginning families.

Audience Member #5: One of the things that was very good about the play was the author’s ability to empathize with each of the characters. But in my view, he identifies most with Rosie. What do you think?

RA: Having not explored what it’s like to be Rosie, I don’t know. I’ve always struggled with act three, even from reading it. I feel like my character was at his most alive in 1967 and there’s something fading about him in act three, which I fought a little bit. He says, “I just can’t concentrate anymore. There’s no need to. I love it. Freedom at last.” I think that is the place that Kenneth sits. I remember saying to Amy Ryan, “Which character do you think is Mike’s voice?” I just couldn’t figure it out. Everyone gets a point of view that is relevant and sharp, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a playwright who was able to do that. But, certainly in terms of what we’re seeing and feeling in the world now, Rosie’s voice is the most relevant particularly in act three.

TS: The younger audience members were cheering Rosie on during the third act of the play. They were with her 100%. But I think Mike really wants us to feel for all the characters and understand them all.

RA: I think he wants to press our buttons and get us to think. It’s been fascinating to try to figure out if we have a boomer audience or a Generation X audience every night. Sometimes Amy will come up to me after a scene and say, “Oh, they don’t like me tonight.” And sometimes you think the audience is going to start throwing things at us both. It’s been fascinating to understand who we’re performing to on any given night or matinee. It will be really interesting to be performing in front of a student audience.


Love, Love, Love is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, A Conversation with, Love Love Love


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Amy Ryan

Amy Ryan

Ted Sod: Why did you choose to do the role of Sandra in Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love?     

Amy Ryan: Mike Bartlett described Sandra to me before an initial reading of the play. He said, “She is technicolor.” That mesmerized me. I’ve never played a character like her before onstage. I’ve also never taken on the challenge of playing someone over a 40-year time span. There was no way to say no.

TS: What do you think the play is about?

AR: I think the play is about the consequences of never really growing up. The passions and selfishness of Sandra and her husband, Kenneth, have a deep impact on the children. How can such bright ideas warp others?

TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do before rehearsals begin in order to play Sandra?

AR: It’s a couple of weeks before our first rehearsal. I read the play mostly every day. I look for language that is repeated and try to absorb Mike’s rhythm’s. I just saw an interview online with Judi Dench. She said, “Don’t always believe what other characters say about you.” That is great advice! I’m keeping that in mind as I work. I’m watching films and Youtube videos to get an accent that is right for Sandra. Richard Armitage, who is playing Kenneth, is sharing photos of London with me and has been guiding me towards some films that are very helpful.

Amy Ryan and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Amy Ryan and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: How is this character relevant to you? Can you share some of your thoughts about Sandra with us? What do you find most challenging/exciting about this role?

AR: This may sound silly, but a big challenge for me is the smoking. I hate cigarettes and never smoked. But Sandra LOVES it. I think that’ll be hard to pull off. She is very different from me in many ways, so I think it’s best to just get out of her way. Mike’s script is full of everything I need. I will let it take me for the ride. I will also not judge her as I play her.

TS: Can you talk about the relationship between Sandra and her husband, Kenneth, as you currently perceive it?

AR: It’s love at first sight. They share a deep connection from the onset, and it never really matures.

TS: What do you look for from a director when working on a stage role?

AR: I look for a sense of humor. I look for a safe environment where we can disagree with one another and not have a falling out. Mostly, I look for trust that a director will be honest when something is not truthful or working well. I don’t want a babysitter or a hand holder. I don’t want to be told something is “good” when it’s not. To me that is not encouraging. What’s encouraging is when a director can see through nerves or laziness and tell me, “You can make a stronger choice, so do it.” I like when a challenge is laid out before me.

Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

TS: Where were you born and where did you get your training? Did you have any teachers who profoundly influenced you?

AR: I was born in Queens, N.Y. and trained at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. I was trained in the Stanislavski Method. I believe the best part of that training was learning to observe other people. Taking one bus and three trains to get to school every day provided that opportunity. New York City is one of the best acting teachers an actor can find. At the High School of Performing Arts, I was influenced by my teacher Roz Schein. After graduation, my biggest influence was Cicely Berry from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was lucky to spend time with her through Theatre for a New Audience. I learned how to make text active from her.

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

AR: I’m inspired mostly by New York. I’m inspired by my daughter. I’m inspired by good theatre.

TS: Students reading this interview will want to know what it takes to be a successful actress. What advice can you give to young people who say they want to act?

AR: I remember being told by a teacher, “If you can think of something else you’d be just as good at or would enjoy better than being an actor, do THAT!” I think that is very good advice. If you can’t, I’d say challenge the person who tells you “No.” Or feel sorry for them that they don’t see your talent, and move on. Write to directors and writers you admire. Research a theatre’s upcoming season, see if there’s a part you’re right for. Write to casting and share your passion for that play/part. Save your money. Share information about auditions with fellow actors.

 


Love, Love, Love is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Love Love Love, Upstage


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Playwright Mike Bartlett

Playwright Mike Bartlett

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When and how did you decide to become a playwright?

Mike Bartlett: I was born in a small town called Abingdon, just south of Oxford. I was very lucky in that my secondary school had a big theatre and a really good drama teacher. I started off by acting in school plays, then directed a play or two. I went to Leeds University, studying English and Theatre Studies, and it was a fantastic course that allowed us to really experiment and explore the possibilities of making all sorts of work. By the time I left I was pretty sure I wanted to be a director, but I found I would write brilliant cover letters to get me the interview for the assistant director job, then get an interview and mess it up. There’s a skill a young director must have: to be able to communicate your vision in person, without actually having any work to prove what you can do. I wasn’t great at that, so when I wasn’t doing any directing, I started writing instead and found I was much happier. I wrote some short plays, and I went into the Young Writers Program at the Royal Court Theatre, taught by Simon Stephens. I had my first play produced in 2007 at the Royal Court Theatre, entitled My Child. The Royal Court did a brilliant thing. They said, even before My Child was staged, “We’re also going to commission another play from you straight away.” That was a turning point for me, being able to just focus on writing. From then on, I’ve written plays and, more recently, television.

TS: What inspired you to write Love, Love, Love?

MB: I was feeling that my generation I was born in 1980 was scrambling around in London, not able to make ends meet, living in terrible flats, struggling to pay rent, trying and often failing to do what they wanted in life, but at the same time being hit over the head all the time with stories about how great things used to be. Stories of the ‘60s and early ‘70s and the amazing lifestyles that young people had then. My generation would go back home from their tiny flats to visit their parents, who were living in huge houses with big empty rooms and lots of money. And it occurred to me that so many aspects of the culture in Britain preferred that particular generation over young people now -- and because there are more of them and more of them vote, it’s going further and further that way. And then, the other side, which I think is equally important to the play, are the criticisms of the older generation towards my generation: If you care so much, why aren’t you more politically active? Why don’t you do what we did? Why don’t you fight for these rights? Why don’t you protest and vote, and get involved and change things? And they’ve got a point. Are we the generation that moans, but does nothing? Those two opposing views made me think that it’s a great subject to explore through a family over time.

TS: This play spans the years 1967 through 2011. What type of research did you have to do on the time period in which you weren’t yet alive?

MB: I remember as a child my grandmother’s flat felt like it was still in the ‘60s. My parents and grandparents would talk about what it was like in 1967. For instance, one thing that surprised me was that very few people had telephones in 1967. More people had televisions than telephones, and that sort of thing makes a huge difference to what it feels like to be in a room or how you would meet someone. I think all those details are fascinating. A bit of that 1967 scene is my own experience, in terms of the places I’ve been. And importantly a lot of it is imagination.

TS: In the early 1990s, you were just coming into the tween years. You must be an astute observer of behavior.

MB: I think most 12-year-olds are very astute observers of behavior. Many parents underestimate how much their children know and see, and how much they remember. I think that’s why childhood memories are so vivid. You’re just like a sponge. You soak up places and smells, and definitely behavior as well. I think, as a child, you’re particularly fascinated by what adults are doing and why they do it. The trick is actually maintaining that as you get older. It’s being as open, observant, and sponge-like as you can into adulthood.

Zoe Kazan and Ben Rosenfield (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Zoe Kazan and Ben Rosenfield (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: I listened to a BBC interview you did, and you said once you have an idea for a play and you’ve decided it is worth writing about, you put yourself in hibernation. Is that true?

MB: It depends on what it is. But, yes, broadly speaking, I think that’s the case. I’m not like a monk. I don’t lock the door and not see anyone. But I do try and  stay in the zone as much as I can, until I’ve got to the end of that first draft. With this play, I wrote the first draft very quickly in a week or two. Because once you have a sense of the setup, what you want to do is let the characters loose. The state I want to be in with the characters, if I get it right, is that I’m not in full control of them. They are driving the drama forward, through what they want to do - through their emotions and psychology and desires. All I’m doing is transcribing what they tell me. I know perhaps that sounds a little unhinged, but it’s a bit like when you dream. Everyone creates stories and characters who want things and have goals and overcome obstacles when they dream.

TS:  Many of our audience members are Baby Boomers, and they’ve lived through the very years portrayed in the first act of your play. What is it about that generation that intrigues you?

MB: You can’t deny the cultural, social, and economic impact the Boomers have had in Britain and, I suspect, in America. As young people, they completely revolutionized the culture. Then in middle-age, they revolutionized the economy and the entire country that they lived in. Now, they continue to change the dynamic and to define where their countries are politically and economically. As part of a younger generation, I can criticize that and I do find fault with many things that happened, but what I can’t do is deny that they are an unusually influential generation. If you look at what it was like in the mid-‘60s, in terms of the establishment and the country, when that generation came through, to where we are now, it’s an astonishing story. There’s nothing more boring than a one-sided play. And that’s not my aim with this it’s an honest and sincere exploration of the dreams that that generation had, which ones came true and what they managed to achieve. And, also exploring the ways in which this generation has been a failure. The best audience members for this play are Baby Boomer parents coming with their adult children.

TS: Are there specific things in the text that you have to change for an American audience?

MB: We are making some changes, but they’re more changes that I’ve wanted to make since the play was last on. I’ve got unfinished business with some sections. I found with King Charles III, when we brought it across to Broadway, I made all sorts of changes, because I was advised to be concerned about, in quotation marks, the American audience. Once we were on, I found the audience understood everything easily, and all the changes reverted back to the original version because I didn’t need to spell things out or explain things. The audience was just really smart and got it.

Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: What do you look for from a director? What type of actors do you need for this specific play?

MB: The main thing I look for in a director is a real collaborator, because I come from a background of making theatre, not just writing for it. I love to be part of everything: design, performance, rehearsals. I need a director who understands that we’re making this all together. I love a director who is engaged with the text. And I don’t mind them questioning lines or pushing to make the play as good as possible. And then with actors, I think my work has a rhythm to it. I love the sound of a line. I love punctuation. I like hitting the full stop. And I love using dashes, ellipses, interruption points, all to convey intention. Rhythm conveys intention in English. So, I need actors who are really up for that.

TS: What advice do you have for a young writer?

MB: The main thing that I found is if you worry about quality, you’ll just get stuck. You’ll write three lines and say, “Oh, God, it’s not as good as Shakespeare!” Whereas, really what you need to do is let yourself go and give yourself permission to write absolute rubbish. Just write, write, write. See lots of plays and read lots of plays, but write huge amounts, because you’ve got to get the practice in. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. And if you’re tempted to start chasing agents and networking in theatre bars and going to lots of play development type things, question whether you’d be better off spending those hours writing something new, rewriting what you’ve got, or just practicing. What I have discovered is, all the time I spent trying to artificially further my career or “networking” was a complete waste of time. As soon as I could actually write something of any worth, it did the work for me. That’s how you get a career as a writer, by writing something that means something to an audience.

 


Love, Love, Love is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


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2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Love Love Love, Upstage


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