ROUNDABOUT BLOG

2016-2017 Season

 

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.


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


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Susanah Flood, John Glover and Simon Godwin in rehearsal for The Cherry Orchard

Susannah Flood, John Glover and Simon Godwin (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

On October 1, 2016, Simon Godwin spoke about The Cherry Orchard with education dramaturg Ted Sod as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s lecture series.

An edited transcript follows:

Ted Sod: When I interviewed you for the Playgoers’ Guide, you said that your mother took you to see musicals when you were very young and that was probably the beginning of your love affair with theatre. Do you remember a show that you saw with her that had a profound effect on you?

Simon Godwin: I remember going to see a production of Barnum starring Michael Crawford, who at that time was a very popular British actor. He was playing the character of Barnum and I remember very well the extraordinary impression it made on me to see this man learn to walk a tightrope, which he had to do in the production. It was a demonstration of enormous skill and precision and I thought, there’s something miraculous about theatre.  The strength, achievement and the expertise of Crawford made a big impression on me.

TS: In that same interview, you talk about going to Cambridge and reading English and it was there that you decided you might want to be a director.

SG: That’s right. I had actually been a child actor in England, so I was in period dramas when I was a teenager. I was very good at playing a posh twit, but that was really all I could play. I simply had no ability really to transform myself. I realized that I didn’t want to spend my life playing posh twits from England where, of course, there’s a great appetite to see them onstage and in movies. When I got to university, I realized the thing about being a director is, you get to play all the parts without really playing any of them, and so I tried that instead and I enjoyed it so much I’ve been a theatre director ever since.

TS: I believe this is not the first time you have directed Chekhov. Did I read that you directed The Seagull?

SG: A long time ago, I directed The Seagull, yes.

Photo by Joan Marcus

John Glover, Diane Lane and
Joel Grey (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS:  The more I read about Chekhov, the more I’m just amazed by his humanity. Aside from being an author, he was a doctor. Will you talk about your understanding of the man and his work after working on this play?

SG: One of the things that makes working on Chekhov very challenging is that he doesn’t really have heroes and villains. He was a very nuanced writer who was always trying to see the light and shadow in everybody. Chekhov is always saying that a person may be good and kind in one way, but in another way they are a catastrophe. I think that probably stems from his interest as a doctor in looking at human physiology and emotions. You get the sense that he thinks everybody has a wound. A sense that everybody has dirty linen, everybody has dirty secrets and that doesn’t necessarily make them bad -- it makes them complex. His endless fascination with human complexity is what I take away from working with him. It’s sometimes quite hard to  know how to stage his plays, because they are very slippery. They are always one step ahead of you and every time you think you know where you are – there is another surprise or a line or an incident that makes you questions things. He’s a mercurial but endlessly fascinating writer, I think.

TS: Chekhov died about five or six months after the first production of The Cherry Orchard and, for me, there are so many allusions to the end of life in this play. He keeps reminding us how impermanent life is and that we need to embrace that.

SG: Chekhov died when he was 44. I’m 41 – he was three years older than me when he died of tuberculosis. We think of him being a very distinguished, sage-like figure, but he died young after writing only a handful of plays. Of course, he knew he had tuberculosis for a very long time and he lived with a sense of his own mortality. I think in all of his plays you can feel a frustration about what it means to end. I think he explores what ending feels like and what it feels like when you have a sense of your own ending.  I think some of his characters have an appreciation for life because they know it’s going to end. When Lyubov says, “It’s like I never noticed the kind of walls we have here in the house, what kind of celings…and now I look at them so greedily, with such…love…,” I think it means that she has deciphered that she needs to live more in the present than in the past or the future.  I think Chekhov’s sense of realism was very much informed by the fact that he knew he wouldn’t be here very long.

TS: You wanted a very specific American adaptation for this production. Can you talk about the choice to do that?

SG: I discovered that the theatre which originally performed the play, the Moscow Art Theatre, was originally called The Moscow Publicly Accessible Art Theatre and their mission was to do multifaceted plays about the present day. The question for me became how to marry the fact that Chekhov wrote this play in 1904 to the fact that we’re sitting here in 2016 in New York. I could’ve come armed with my Tom Stoppard version of The Cherry Orchard with a lot of English expressions in it or I could find a young American writer like Stephen Karam to do a new, colloquial adaptation. Stephen got to know the literal Russian translation that he worked from, and he saw that in the Russian translation there are a lot of ellipses, a lot of interruptions, a lot of colloquial language. Stephen has adapted the play very beautifully I think. I can’t really tell because I’m not myself an American. But I’ve certainly learned from the actors about celebrating the “speakability” of the play and that “speakability” has opened up resonances that may not always be there in other adaptations.

TS: You’ve done something very diverse with the casting and I know that some people will look at the casting and see a black person and say, “What does it mean that they’re black?” I start with the fact that they’re human and deal with the character’s humanity no matter what color the actor is.  I really commend you for giving all sorts of actors an opportunity to do Chekhov.

SG: Well thank you, Ted. You’ve opened a very good subject. I think everybody in the theatre world is working out how to best celebrate the communities in which we live and how to honor those communities in the most exciting and comprehensive way. I’m based at the National Theatre and we’ve made a commitment there to say that since London has 40% diversity, all our companies on the stage should share a similar expression of diversity. I directed Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is the first time a black actor has ever been employed to play Hamlet there.  I felt like it was a milestone to say Hamlet doesn’t have to be played by an actor who looks Danish. I don’t know the statistics for New York City, maybe you do, but certainly for me casting was about reflecting the fact that we are in one of the most diverse, multicultural cities in the world. It was exciting to think about The Cherry Orchard as a kind of dream. We know that Chekhov had been writing a piece before he died that took place in a boat that was stuck in ice in the Arctic. It was about two men being visited by a ghost of a woman that they both loved. So at the very end of his life, Chekhov was moving away from naturalism -- which is what we all associate him with -- into a greater, stranger, ghostlier vision of what invented stories look like. Once we step away from hard naturalism it means, of course, we can all be much more expressive and playful about the decisions we make casting actors.  Diversity in casting doesn’t want to negate people’s heritage, it wants to celebrate it. Harold Perrineau plays Lopakhin and when we were rehearsing act three, Harold said, “Simon, I have a lot of movement training and I’d really like to express this moment through dance.” That was very thrilling for me. I said, “Well, Harold, I never expected it to be like that, but I’m very excited that you’re bringing some of your expertise into this drama.” So in a way, we are asking the audience not only to be color blind, but we also want them to be color conscious.

TS: So much is going on in this play that I would think, that as a director, you almost need to sit down and map it out.

SG: Well, that scene in which Harold is ultimately dancing is actually fun to talk about because in the original, Chekhov puts a wall between the party and everything that you see as an audience. It ends up in most productions being a party at the back of the stage and occasionally a character opens the door and they have a conversation and then they go back to the party.  I thought it would be interesting to see what happens if you lose the wall and expand the party. That becomes a very, very big act of organization. You have lots of people, you have a band, you have to decide when the band is playing and when are they not, when characters are dancing, when are they not, what kind of dance people would be doing where they can spontaneously sit and spontaneously be involved. The movement direction for that scene did require mapping it all out.

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, John Glober, Chuck Cooper and Joel Grey (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, John Glover, Chuck Cooper and Joel Grey (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: One of the things I thought of watching the play today is that perhaps Ranevskaya and Gaev really want this to happen. They’re just holding on to the cherry orchard because it’s part of their legacy. I found it so heartbreaking that they are trapped into doing what they think they should be doing, instead of what’s best for everyone. Do you feel that way about them or do you have a different understanding?

SG:  I think that each of us sitting in this room right now have something that we wish we could let go of, but it’s just too hard to let go. I’m thinking of my smoking habit at the moment, which has caused a number of Lopakhin-esqe people to say to me, “Simon, please stop smoking. It’s killing you. It’s bad for your health. It’s not going to end well.”  And part of me wants to listen and change and part of me is stuck going, “Well, that’s my habit. That’s what I do. I’m going to stay this way because it helps me.” I feel like I want to be released from smoking and yet somehow I can’t be released from smoking. So this paradox of saying, “Somebody save me from myself because I’m not going to save myself unless somebody helps me,” is very much at the heart of this play and we’ve all got versions of that paradox.

TS: Today I watched Celia Keenan-Bolger as Varya play that moment when she comes in with a big, broad smile thinking Lopakhin is about to propose and he just can’t ask her. Chekhov won’t allow it to happen. Do you understand why that is? Because in a normal play, that would happen.

SG: Yes, that’s right. I think it’s really helpful to compare Chekhov to normal plays because it explains his genius. He won’t reward us in the way we want to be rewarded and it’s really frustrating at times as a viewer because you think, I need some pleasure here, please. I need some relief.  But to answer your question, Chekhov found marriage very difficult. He got married very late. He had many affairs and part of him found commitment really hard. I think there’s a little bit of Chekhov in Lopakhin, who is on one level successful and very good at business, but is frightened of love. You could say he’s in love with Lyubov. There’s this push and pull in him toward these two women: Varya, who he feels he should be with and Lyubov, who’s always been this kind of angel in his imagination. Chekhov is so resolutely unsentimental and rarely rewards audiences in traditional ways.

TS: When the first production of The Cherry Orchard was done, Chekhov had a very tenuous relationship with Stanislavski, who directed it. I read when he saw a rehearsal, he was upset because the actress playing Anya was crying too much and he said to Stanislavski, “You directed it like a tragedy. It’s a comedy with farcical overtones!”  Stella Adler said in her book on Strindberg, Ibsen and Chekhov, that it was from that point forward that it has become the challenge of the director to figure out the tone of this piece. Can you talk to us about tone?

SG: Well, thankfully, I’m still in rehearsals. We’re still in previews, so every day I come in and I work more on the show with the company. Every day we learn more from the audience by doing it in front of you. We learn about what’s funny, what’s not funny. What’s sad and what’s not sad, what’s clear and what’s not clear. Every day we carry on, shaping and learning and growing because I think you put your finger on this, Ted, the tone is really hard. It’s by no means a rip-roaring comedy, but there is a lot of comedy in it. How do we find a way of playing the comedy fully so it doesn’t get in the way of the emotions and how we do find a way of playing the emotions so they don’t get in the way of the comedy? I think as a company we’ve really got to understand how to merge those things together, how to move from one style to another.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Diane Lane (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: I’m in love with some of the choices that have been made by you and the design team. First of all, you create space that is evocative, not literal. At the end of the play, the  characters are dressed in modern clothes. Will you talk us through some of the ideas behind those choices?

SG: It’s a scary process taking this classical play and making decisions like, oh, maybe the costumes do get a bit modern at the end. Because, very much like Hamlet, it’s a play we all know or most people know. We’ve seen it in different incarnations and, of course, what’s fascinating about the play is that it is partly about people not wanting change.  In each of us, including myself, there is a wish to keep things as they are and a wish to do things differently. I think about Sir Barry Jackson, who in 1925 staged the first modern-dress production of Hamlet and how that must’ve felt in the 1920s when audiences saw Hamlet for the very first time in modern dress. I’m sure they were horrified and, of course, ultimately it doesn’t become such a big deal anymore. With The Cherry Orchard costumes and set, I think the negotiation was the same as it was with the dancing scene. We were very much trying to figure out, how can it not be business as usual? How can we try to find a balance that isn’t the fake trees that are normally there? It relates a little bit to a phrase that Stanislavski coined during the first production of The Cherry Orchard, which was the magic “if.” What the magic “if“ meant in his terminology was, if this was happening to you, how would you react, how would you behave? What I’ve realized when I’ve done plays in very strict period costumes is that the actors say to me, “I don’t know how to act this because I wasn’t around then. I don’t know how they behaved so I’ll try to do a historical performance.” And it is difficult for me as a director, too, because I wasn’t around then either — so it’s bit of a guessing — a bit of a making up the moment, which of course is possible because it’s just having and using your imagination. In a way, by making these choices, you’re morphing into something artificial to get to something more authentic.

TS: I know you’re still wrestling with the play and you’re still in rehearsal, but has there been a light-bulb moment for you about the play?

SG:  It’s a much tougher, harder, rawer play than I realized in the beginning and that’s been the learning for me. And I’m excited about those discoveries. Going further, more grief, more intensity, more outrageous behavior, more guts -- I feel the play enjoys it when we go for all of that behavior. So my light-bulb moment is that and I’m really trying to listen and to push everyone to ever greater extremes of emotion, comedy and storytelling.  

 

Audience Member #1: The very talented and beautiful Diane Lane played years ago in The Cherry Orchard; what was her initial reaction to this production?

SG: Diane was in The Cherry Orchard when she was 12. She was in the ensemble and played the ghost of Grisha – Ranevskaya’s dead son. We don’t have a dead Grisha in our production. I don’t want to speak for Diane, but I think it’s a daunting, exhilarating challenge for her to go back to a play that she’s known so well and had such a deep experience with. Diane, of course, is an incredible collaborator. And she is a wonderfully open, generous, playful, brave performer. I think it’s been great for me to work with someone who is so available and so generous. Diane’s been wonderful at embracing the new.

TS: There’s a great interview with Diane in our online Playgoers’ Guide where she talks about being in that production as a child.

Audience Member #2: What was your intent with the mobiles? I am assuming they represent the cherry orchard?

SG: When I was contemplating coming here to do The Cherry Orchard, I was looking at both Russian art and American art and I discovered Alexander Calder, the great American mobile maker. As I got to know Calder’s work more and more, I thought about how many petals and blossoms and branches he was referencing.  I thought, maybe there’s a sense of fragility in Calder’s work that could work for us. The phrase “hanging in the balance” came to mind. The fragility of the world came to mind. I said to Scott Pask, the set designer, “How might we do the images of trees and branches?” I started to show him the images of Calder and he thought the set could be informed by that.

Audience Member #3: When a set is abstract, do you make those choices because you want to set the tone for the play before it even starts?

SG: My initial inspiration was to put the people at the center of it, rather than the naturalistic detail of a house and orchards. So that was my way into it, with my mobiles and different ways of integrating and evoking things.  I think there’s probably a movement now in world theatre to explore moving beyond the confines of traditional naturalism and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. I am very grateful to Roundabout for letting me have a go at sharing a different approach with all of you.

John Glover, Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane and Joel Grey (Photo by Joan Marcus)

John Glover, Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane and Joel Grey (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Audience Member #4: What was the most daunting task about taking on this production at this time — is there anything you feared?

SG: I’m a guest at Roundabout and I am learning about this community, this audience. You realize that theatre is so much about codes, so much about dialogue between all of you sitting here and the actors on the stage -- what lands, what doesn’t, what’s clear, what’s not, what’s funny, what’s not. The daunting thing is finding a transparency between the work on the stage and you in the audience. Do I think I will achieve it in the time that I have left? I think a play like The Cherry Orchard is never fully achieved. Do I think we’ll get closer to something? Yes.

TS: It’s time for us to wrap up. If I’m not mistaken, Simon, you’ll be working again in our country directing Measure for Measure. Will you tell us about what’s on the horizon, so people can follow you?

SG: I’m directing Twelfth Night next at the National Theatre, which will have a modern take in that it’s the first time that Malvolio is becoming Malvolia. And I’m going to do a play about Iraq in London and then I’m coming back to do Measure for Measure for Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. I’m really looking forward to continuing the dialogue with all of you in New York and I hope as I go on, I’ll learn more about how things work here and how I can make meaningful gestures.


The Cherry Orchard is now playing at The American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, The Cherry Orchard, Upstage


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INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR CORBIN BLEU

Posted on: October 20th, 2016 by Ted Sod

 

Corbin Bleu

Corbin Bleu

Ted Sod: Why did you choose to do the stage musical adaptation of Holiday Inn and the role of Ted Hanover?

Corbin Bleu: I have always been a fan of traditional musical theatre and Irving Berlin. When you think of Berlin’s music, it is really the foundation of American musical theatre. Holiday Inn is based on the movie musical that starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire… two legends of that genre. Fred Astaire has always been a big inspiration for me, and tap dancing has been a huge part of my life since I was two years old. So, for me, the opportunity to tap as well as to originate a role on Broadway made it easy to say, “Yes!” I’ve taken over roles on Broadway before, and I loved being part of those shows. I felt like they were exactly what I needed at the time. Those shows gave me the chance to understand a Broadway schedule and what it takes to be in a Broadway musical, which requires every ounce of your being. I am very excited to create the role of Ted from scratch at Roundabout. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

TS: How much preparation do you do for a role like this?

CB: When I first started delving into the character of Ted, I was studying the time period and basing my ideas off of the movie. When Gordon Greenberg, the director, and I started working together, he really wanted to break that down and strip that away. He wanted it to be less about the period and more modern. It was a little bit of a shock
at first. But when you see something through someone else’s eyes, it can be a great awakening. It makes so much sense to approach the work naturally and relate it to our time. That’s the thing with a lot of traditional musical theatre shows. People will go to them and it just doesn’t translate anymore, it doesn’t connect, and it can be very boring or it can feel contrived. Gordon is really trying to do this period musical differently. He is really trying to capture, stylistically, the music and dance of the time, but as far as the tone of the show, he really wants it to feel more contemporary.

Corbin Bleu and Bryce Pinkham

Corbin Bleu and Bryce Pinkham

TS: Can you talk a little bit about your process as an actor? What’s important to you?

CB: It depends on the project. With a show like this, I think that the dancing is going to be a very big part of the equation for me. Ted Hanover is very suave and debonair and full of himself. The ladies love him, and a lot of it has to do with his talent and his ability. So the dancing is a huge aspect of the process for me. I think that when you watch Fred Astaire, it’s mind-blowing. His dancing is so intricate and complicated, and yet he makes it look like it’s effortless. That ease comes with time. It really is just putting in hours, so I’m going to be working diligently with Denis Jones, the choreographer. I know he’s going to be pushing me, but my plan is to also push him. I really, really want to try and push the boundaries as far as I can with the dancing in this show. As far as character and the scene work is concerned, I really just want to pick Gordon’s brain and understand his vision because we all just need to be on the same page. You try as an actor to do your own homework and research, but a lot of the time you’ve prepped something that’s not necessarily what you needed. I think we have to ask ourselves: What’s entertaining? What touches people? It’s our job to tell a story that’s interesting and that people connect and relate to.

TS: A big part of the story is the relationship between Ted and Jim. Do you sense that they’re like brothers and that they’re somewhat competitive?

CB: I think that they’re very competitive, Ted probably even more so than Jim. Ted is about himself; he wants the limelight, he wants to be a star, he wants to be the best, and it comes from greed. With Jim, I think it’s something a bit deeper than that, and that’s why he ends up leaving the business. I’m really looking forward to working with Bryce Pinkham, who is playing Jim. I saw him in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and I thought he was fantastic, and just getting a chance to read with him during the audition process was exciting.

TS: What do you think the musical is about?

CB: I think it’s about how everybody approaches their life’s work differently. Yes, the backdrop is American holidays and the hotel, but I think the audience sees what being alive means to each one of the main characters. Holiday Inn encompasses the entertainment industry through the lens of the holidays we celebrate. It’s wonderful to be in a show that is about celebrating because we’re in a time right now where we could use it. There’s so much uncertainty and turmoil in the world, and sometimes just to be able to experience the joy of characters for a few hours on Broadway is a relief.

TS: What do you look for from a director, musical director and choreographer?

CB: What I love in a director, and I see it in Gordon, is someone who knows what they want. There’s a big difference between a director who knows what they want and is able to trust their actors to find it, and someone who just barks and doesn’t also understand how to communicate. Gordon—I think because of his background—knows how to communicate with his actors, and he has a vision. Denis, the choreographer, is someone who doesn’t just choreograph and teach, he really pays attention to the actors and story to find what can organically flow in the movement. And I think he wants to take the dancing up a notch and showcase it differently. As for the musical direction, I think that’s where our footing is in terms of remaining in the classical world. Irving Berlin’s music is hard to mess with. I know there are certain pieces that we’re speeding up tempo-wise and we’re giving them some zhoosh, but for the most part, the songs are classic and beloved by the audience.

Corbin Bleu and Megan Sikora

Corbin Bleu and Megan Sikora

TS: Where did you get your training? I read that you moved from Brooklyn, where you were born, to Los Angeles when you were about seven, is that true?

CB: Yes! Because I grew up in this industry, a lot of my teaching has been experiential. I was thrust into it at such a young age, and when I say thrust—I gravitated towards it. My father is an actor as well, and my mom used to do it. I have three younger sisters; none of them do it. They’re all interested in the medical field, but from the get-go, I was always drawn to it. I was blessed and lucky enough to be able to start so young. I worked off- Broadway when I was six.

TS: And did you have any schooling prior to Los Angeles, or was all of your schooling in Los Angeles?

CB: All of my schooling was in LA. The high school that I went to is a performing arts school called LACHSA, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. I didn’t go to college, although I was accepted into Stanford. I started working and having a degree of success early on, and I needed to continue to push forward, so a lot of my schooling has been on my own. I’ve always tried to keep myself as well-rounded as possible and extend my work through all facets of the arts. I’ve always done everything from theatre to film and television and music, and more recently, hosting.

TS: Was your father a role model for you as a performer?

CB: Yes, very much so. I still will go and run lines with him and take direction from him. From the beginning, he’s always been there.

TS: I’m curious if you have advice for a young person who thinks that they might want to do what you do.

CB: Know your intentions. It’s important to remember that every choice has a consequence, so you need to know your intentions—know why you’re doing it. If you’re doing it for fame and fortune, the times that that pans out are very few and far between. Do it because you know you can’t live without it and that when you’re performing, you’re happy. Never stay in one place; it’s important to break yourself down and rebuild yourself. You can’t get better if you don’t keep training. Give yourself time to change and grow.

Corbin Bleu

Corbin Bleu

TS: I think that’s great advice, Corbin. I have one last question for you: is there a question you wish I had asked about yourself or about Holiday Inn that I didn’t ask?

CB: I think you covered it. I’m actually about to get married.

TS: Wow! Congratulations.

CB: Thank you.

TS: You’re getting married before rehearsals start?

CB: It’s all happening at the exact same time.

TS: Who are you marrying?

CB: Sasha Clements, soon-to be Sasha Reivers. Bleu is my middle name and my professional name.

TS: Are you going to get to have a honeymoon?

CB: No. I mean it’s postponed at the moment. I feel terrible because of course I want us to go on a honeymoon. I’d love to have time for that, but, you know, she’s an actress as well, a phenomenal one actually, and she’s traveling today to film a movie. So we’re in this crazy business together. She’ll be coming to New York, and we’ll get a chance to spend some time with one another, but I am determined to go on a real honeymoon at some point.

 

Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical is now playing at Studio 54. Visit our website for tickets and more information. 


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


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