ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Interview with Director Terry Kinney

Posted on: March 20th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Terry Kinney

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? How did you become an actor and a director in the theatre? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?
Terry Kinney: I grew up in a town called Lincoln, Illinois, which is in central Illinois near the state capitol of Springfield. There was not much exposure to theatre in Lincoln. I was peripherally involved in theatre until I went to Illinois State. I went in as a psychology major. But on the first day of school, someone told me they were handing out tuition waivers if you had an audition piece. I had one monologue semi-memorized from my speech team days, so I went to the tryouts and I got in. This was a fairly new department at the time. It had about 280 undergrads and 100 graduate students. They were all very serious about theatre, and that’s where I met John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Perry. The training there was really just doing plays. They kept the theatre open 24 hours a day and you could rehearse and put on shows on the weekend, which became the impetus for us starting Steppenwolf Theatre after we graduated. The teachers there were all remarkable and had a great influence on me. Most notably, Calvin Pritner taught me a lot about acting and spoke not only about objectives, but also really stressed “given circumstances.” He had a very straightforward approach toward it. He used a lot of baseball metaphors. I had a directing teacher named Don LaCasse, who was integral in helping me understand how to take apart a play before I started working on it. He also taught me how to do a deep analysis of the architecture of a play and common sense blocking.

TS: Why did you choose to direct Arthur Miller’s The Price? Does the play have personal resonance for you?
TK: Miller has always been my favorite American playwright, and The Price has always been very special to me since the first time I read it. I thought it was so different from many of Miller’s other plays. It seemed more personal. It felt like he was writing about his own life. I had no evidence of that, and in fact Miller has denied it, but it’s what I felt. Having a brother and older parents, the play has become more and more important to me. Every time I read it, it still moves me deeply. It makes me wonder about the aspects of our memories, and how we fashion ourselves into the protagonists of our own life stories. How we assign villains in our lives. How things that we can’t take responsibility for, we assign to others. That metaphor resonates with me greatly and always has.

Photo by Joan Marcus

TS: How did you prepare to direct this play? Can you give us some insight into your process?
TK: When actors get in a rehearsal room, everything changes, and I like to allow for that. I really want ideas to flow, and that will dictate the direction of where we take the story. On the other hand, I prepare a lot. I try to do exhaustive research, you know, the time period, all that entails. I might let go of some of my preparation once we’re all together, but I’ll hang on to some of it. I inform myself by reading the play obsessively. I read it over and over to the point where I really know what’s going to be on the next page. I don’t pre-block a great deal because I don’t want to lay that on the actors. I usually have a clear notion of how I want to stage it, but the marriage of my ideas and the actors’ impulses is what make a production far more nuanced and richer. The design elements — the set, the lights, the sound and composition of music — all of that goes into the preparation of any piece I direct. I would say the preparation I do is thorough, but it’s also open. It’s open to changes that will naturally develop.

TS: How do you understand the relationship between Victor and his brother Walter?
TK: It’s like a lot of sibling relationships. Their perceptions of how their family operated and how they fit into that family — who they were to each other — has a lot of personal stinging truth and also a lot of fabrication. I’m talking about the kind of memories that you fabricate to protect yourself from your own responsibilities. These two guys are estranged because neither of them have the courage to face what really happened to their family. It was awful, and they had opposite impulses of how to deal with it. Victor martyred himself and has never been able to admit that he did it because of how he felt about himself. He was convinced it was his destiny. He sees himself as a loser. Walter, on the other hand, had a great deal of ambition. He wanted to feel free to make his own choices, and he wanted to be free from responsibility for his father and brother. Everything in that part of Walter’s nature aided him until he broke down. After his breakdown, he continues to struggle with his old nature and has a great deal of anxiety because of it.

TS: I also want to ask about the marriage between Esther and Victor. Do you think that it’s a healthy marriage?
TK: I think it’s a complicated marriage as so many marriages are. It’s been a long-term marriage with not a lot of money, and you know how that is. Esther has wanted enough money to feel comfortable and happy, the way she imagines others feel. She thinks that money will fix things, and she’s turned to alcohol to assuage her disappointments. They love each other a lot, and they don’t communicate very effectively anymore because they see the world quite differently. They put a lot of energy into their son, Richard, but now that he’s gone out of the house, what Esther would love is to reform Victor into someone that he had the potential to be before he turned to the police force. Victor thinks it’s just too late. Do I think they are in deep trouble as a married couple? I can’t say. I think the actors will have a better idea of that. I think the way we want to play this relationship is that there is a great deal of love between them and they still wow each other when they look at each other. They still are very attracted to each other.

Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: What about the character of Solomon — do you think he’s in the play to remind the Franz brothers and Esther of where they came from?
TK: That’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think that what Miller’s doing with Solomon — and his name is no mistake — is to bring into the conflict a person who’s seen it all, who has survived it all, who keeps going, and who sees both sides. When you see both sides of an argument, you realize there is absolutely no right or no wrong. It’s all a gray area. I think Solomon knows that. I’m excited about what Danny DeVito will bring to the role.

TS: What type of actors did you need for the rest of this cast?
TK: With Victor, I wanted someone with a quiet intensity who was compelling even when he wasn’t saying anything. A man who makes you want to know what he is thinking. I wanted a good listener and someone with gravitas. I wanted a man who understands personal pain and cost. That’s a tall order, and we are so lucky to have Mark Ruffalo in the role. Walter is a character who walks in and the audience has heard so much about him that they are prepared to dislike him. Well, that’s not the way Miller saw it — he wanted both arguments to be given equal weight. I needed someone who is charming and who can access a deep well of feelings. A person who is gentle and can explain why we choose the life we choose. Tony Shalhoub has all of that depth of feeling. The character of Esther, which sometimes gets short shrift in the analysis of the play, is a woman who is patient and understanding, and yet she bristles against all the misogyny in her world. She is angered by the men in society who parse out wealth to the few that they feel deserve it. She’s a loving woman and yet very frustrated by her plight, and it requires an actress with a great deal of heart and skill. That’s why I’ve asked Jessica Hecht to play it.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who say they want to direct for the theatre?
TK: My advice is don’t let anybody talk you out of it. Hopefully, you are aware that you aren’t going to make money. Making money is not why you should be doing theatre to begin with. If you want to direct, go out and find friends and a room to do it in and direct. Nobody can really stop you from doing that. That’s how Steppenwolf Theatre was born. What we wanted was to just make art together. We were in the church basement, and nobody gave a shit.

TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
TK: I like truth. I like things that take me unaware, things that don’t reflect my daily life but shed light on it through metaphor and image. I’m inspired by music all the time, and I listen to a lot of it. When I work on a play, I listen to music constantly. There’s a musicality to language that’s essential to every play that I direct, and I like to find that musicality in the music I listen to. I’m inspired by everybody who is brave enough to make art because I think it requires a great deal of bravery. Every time I go to see something — whether it be theatre, opera, or the Philharmonic — I constantly find myself filled with the same wonder that I had the first time I ever saw any kind of art. I’m in awe of how they do it. I’m not the least bit jaded when I go to theatre. I’m not overly critical. I am a perpetual amateur. It serves me well to retain that status because I still find wonder in each moment that we build together as artists. When you build something and it works and everybody in the room knows it’s working — that’s just an incredible feeling.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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On The Exhale: Trauma and the Brain

Posted on: March 17th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Trauma is the Greek word for “wound.” In ancient time it referred to a physical wound, but today trauma is also understood as an emotional wound.

Experiencing a traumatic event changes the chemistry of our body and brain. These changes can remain long after the event has ended.

There are two types of traumatic events. In an acute traumatic event, someone experiences a serious injury or the injury or death of another person, or the threat of death or serious injury. Violations of personal physical integrity, like rape or sexual assault, are also acute traumatic events. Chronic traumatic situations happen repeatedly over longer periods of time and include being exposed to domestic violence, living through a war, and some bullying.

The human brain is the most complex system known. It has three main parts.

  • The brainstem, the most primitive part of the brain, controls the basics like breathing, eating, sleeping, and survival instincts.
  • The limbic or midbrain processes emotions and controls how we perceive the world around us. The amygdala, which controls our sense of danger and safety and triggers the release of stress hormones, is part of the limbic brain.
  • The cortex, the frontal and outer parts of our brain, is sometimes called the rational or cognitive brain. It controls language, empathy, learning, organization, and inhibition of inappropriate behaviors.

Fight of flight.

During a traumatic event, the limbic brain takes in sensory information from the body and sends it in two directions, to both the amygdala and to the frontal lobes of the cortex. The amygdala receives the information sooner and makes a snap judgement as to whether or not a situation is dangerous. In a potentially dangerous situation, the amygdala tells the hypothalamus and brainstem to secrete stress hormones. These hormones prepare the body for fight or flight: bronchial tubes and pupils dilate, digestion slows, muscles contract, heart and respiration rates increase. If fight or flight is impossible, the brainstem will trigger a freeze or collapse response. Processes not necessary for survival shut down. The cortex, the thinking brain, is disconnected from the limbic brain and essentially turned off.

Because of this disconnect, the human brain struggles to consolidate memories and emotions into a coherent narrative after a traumatic situation, which is necessary for working through a trauma. The areas of the brain responsible for understanding time and place are bypassed, explaining the woman in On the Exhale’s inability to process what happened in her son’s classroom. Trauma is remembered as disconnected images and sensations.

In some cases individuals experience flashbacks of the trauma, or dissociate completely, unable to connect with either their emotions or their everyday life. The woman in On the Exhale seeks the rush of firing the gun, suggesting that she may be having a dissociating response.

Marin Ireland in ON THE EXHALE. Photo by Joan Marcus.

After trauma, the amygdala, which warns of danger, can go into overdrive and trigger release of stress hormones in non-threatening situations. This can cause emotional and psychological problems, as well as physical symptoms like high blood pressure and digestive issues. In recent years, scientists have shown that trauma symptoms lessen if treatment includes a somatic, or body-based, component. Movement and breathing exercises like yoga, or group rhythm activities like dance or choral singing, send information from the body back to brain, signaling safety and calm. Over time, these practices can help create new patterns and physical responses in individuals who have experienced trauma.

 

 


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box 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, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


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If I Forget: Designer Statements

Posted on: March 13th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Set models for IF I FORGET.

DEREK MCLANE—SET DESIGN
When I first read Steven Levenson’s If I Forget, my brain started to figure out the ground plan or the geometry of this particular house. Basically, my job is to figure out how to solve the requirements of the text scenically. It was very perplexing for me for a while. My ideas kept changing with each new draft of the play. At one point, there was a draft that required a fully equipped and working kitchen. There was another draft where a scene took place on a subway. All that is gone now. The challenge of designing the set for this show is that the text requires that we see various rooms of a two-story house simultaneously. Basically, the locations are a dining room and a living room and upstairs there is a bedroom connected to the rooms downstairs by a staircase. I finally came upon something rather simple and logical. When the action is in the dining room, we will see the living room upstage through an arch and when the action switches to the living room or the bedroom, the whole house will rotate as the various rooms come into focus. The play takes place during the years 2000 and 2001 and the matriarch of the family has passed away—so I decided that the last time there was any substantial remodeling done to the house was sometime around 1975. The décor will reflect solid middle-class taste and the architecture of the house will be reminiscent of houses built in the Bethesda, Maryland area during the ‘30s and ‘40s. Another challenge for me was keeping sight lines in mind. When you design a two-level set, you have to make sure that the audience can see all the action, especially from the side sections in the Pels Theatre at the Steinberg Center

 

Costume research for the character
"Joey."

JESS GOLDSTEIN—COSTUME DESIGN
There are many projects that require a good deal of research and preparation for a costume designer, certainly anything that is set in an historical period. However, most plays that are set in modern times are usually more about getting to know the actors who will be creating the characters they play and providing them with clothes that help them become the characters. Of course, with period costumes, a costume designer is also designing and choosing clothes that define the character and help tell the story of the play. In this case, the actor is often not familiar with the look of the period, and the more knowledgeable costume designer will take charge in establishing it. Contrary to this process, in a contemporary play, because the actor will usually be wearing costumes not unlike their everyday clothes, actors are more invested in offering opinions, and the design process becomes far more collaborative. Usually, all of the clothes are shopped and it's always appreciated when the designer provides several options for each look the actor will wear. The actor tries on the various choices with the designer's advice, and sometimes with the director's input, and the final look is chosen together. If I Forget is set in the year 2000, 16 years ago. What I find interesting is that until about 30 years ago there would have been a much bigger difference in 16 years of fashion history. For example, people generally dressed very differently in 1986 than they did in 1970. But in the last few decades fashion has become far less rigid and more individualized, and all kinds of shapes and silhouettes prevail. There are differences year to year, but they're far more subtle. The clothes the characters will wear in the play, summer casual in Act I and winter casual in Act II, are not appreciably different from what we wear today. The one exception is the teenage character Joey. Teenage fads in clothing do still change rapidly, and we are likely to see the biggest differences in his costumes.

 

KEN POSNER—LIGHTING DESIGN
When I first read If I Forget, I was very struck by how deeply the theme of honesty and truth in the context of sibling relationships kept bubbling to the top. There is a careful dance we do to manipulate our competing agendas within a family, all under the premise that we have what’s best in mind for everyone concerned. The strongest voice in the room wins the argument, but that voice can change and be influenced by outside forces, in this case the spouses of Lou’s children. The lighting reflects the undertone of each scene. In Act I, we meet the family in the hot muggy summer of 2000. Lou’s house is sealed tightly to keep in the air-conditioned cold, and the sunlight penetrates the house through blinds or sheer covered windows. The light is warm, revealing, and inviting. In Act II, as we delve deeper into the family's issues and secrets, the frozen winter morning light carves out the house in a more angular way, creating high contrast and longer shadows. Six months have passed, and the family is once again forced to come together to deal with their father who has suffered a stroke. It’s in Act II that we learn the secret agendas of each of the siblings and watch as the family unravels and the reality of the situation takes hold on them. Finally, as the play comes to its conclusion, Lou delivers his final speech, and the house takes on a surreal and expressionistic quality in complete contrast to the naturalistic light that has defined the space and story up until this point.

The primary challenge with designing the lighting for If I Forget is how to achieve these effects with a low ceiling height. To address this, I have collaborated with Derek McLane to create places throughout the set to hide very small lights to help carve out the rooms. The household lighting fixtures are all thoughtfully chosen and positioned to maximize the drama, as well as providing the major source of light for each of the scenes.

 

DAN MOSES SCHREIER—COMPOSER AND SOUND DESIGN
When Daniel Sullivan asked me to compose music for If I Forget, the first question that I asked him was should the music look forward to the character Abby, the granddaughter, who is on a birthright tour of Israel in 2000, or look backward to Lou, the grandfather, who helped liberate the concentration camp at Dachau in 1945. I will be researching contemporary Israeli folk music in the year 2000 and will also look at traditional Jewish melodies of Eastern Europe as the basis for music I will be composing for the production. The character of Abby is never seen in the play, but there are times when the music can work as a symbol of her role in the production. The character Lou has important monologue at the end of the play where music can underscore the framing of that moment.

As for the sound design, a key “character” in the play is the television set that is heard in the background during many of the scenes. There will be times where that content of what is playing on the television will be important. Bernard Shaw, who was a news anchor for CNN, is mentioned in the play. There are also reference to the second “intifada.” These are keys to beginning to build the sound design for the play.


If I Forget 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, If I Forget, Upstage


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