Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated?
Michael Mayer: I was educated at Washington, D.C. public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland; then the University of Wisconsin for three semesters. I transferred to NYU's grad acting program after leaving U of W. When I really couldn't get any paying acting work and I still wanted to make theatre, I decided to try my hand at directing and met with some early success directing showcases with friends. Mike D'anna and Stephen Perialas in junior high and high school were very influential, as were Ron Van Lieu and Olympia Dukakis at NYU. Also, Tony Kushner, who was a classmate and friend at NYU, had an enormous influence on me aesthetically and politically.
TS: For those who are new to Roundabout, will you talk a bit about your history with the company?
MM: My second Broadway show was a revival of A View from the Bridge at the Roundabout. Todd Haimes invited me to be a guest artist, and I directed several shows for him in the next few years, including a Broadway transfer of Side Man, A Lion in Winter, and Uncle Vanya.
TS: Why did you choose to direct Love, Love, Love?
MM: I had seen Mike Bartlett’s play Cock and read King Charles III and really admired them both very much. I was blown away by the range of his skill. My agent sent me Love, Love, Love and suggested it might be my first new play to do after a spate of musicals. I was excited by the themes of the play, the characters, and the writing. I brought it to Todd to do a reading with Amy Ryan as Sandra, and right afterwards, Todd said let's do it. I was thrilled to come back after some time away with this work.
TS: How will you collaborate with playwright Mike Bartlett on the American premiere?
MM: Our collaboration has already begun with Mike and me discussing casting and design. He is also looking at some small but potentially important changes in the third act. I have met with him in London and will do so again before rehearsals commence and, of course, he will be with us for several periods during rehearsals and previews. He has a fairly new second child, so he won't be able to be with us full-time, but he's super easy to reach and very engaged in this process.
TS: What do you think Love, Love, Love is about?
MM: I think the play is about the giant disconnect between what we say and what we do; between who we think we are and who we really are; between what we believe our obligations are to ourselves and the world outside ourselves — be it our children, community, or planet.
TS: Does the play have personal resonance for you and, if so, how?
MM: Growing up in the D.C. area in the 1960s and watching how the shifting tides of American cultural and political behavior changed personal behavior has given me some insight into the family dynamic played out by Kenneth and Sandra and their children. I knew some people who copped to the fact that they went to rallies and sit-ins, etc., just to get laid or to score some weed.
TS: How do you understand the relationship between Sandra and Kenneth?
MM: Some people can maintain both personal responsibility and a socio/political ideology. In the case of Kenneth and Sandra, they see the freedom espoused in the late 1960s almost as a kind of fashion with which they can cloak themselves; it's a way to embrace the style without rigorously investigating the substance. Unlike some true revolutionaries, they were never dedicated to anything other than themselves and are incapable of self-critique.
TS: Can you share a bit about your process: How do you prepare for directing a play that spans the years 1967 through 2011? What research did you do about the world of the play?
MM: We will do a lot of table work and talk a lot about the specifics of the three moments in the play. I'm hoping that this American company will be able to draw relatable parallels with the English events depicted in the play. We will have lots of images and video to look at. The internet has made research like this available in ways I couldn't imagine when I was starting out.
TS: What did you look for in casting the actors? What traits did you need?
MM: We needed smart, emotionally available actors with the range to age several decades and have the right sense of humor. The play is very funny as well as ultimately painful. I'm at the point in my life where I only want to work with good, kind people who love working hard but also understand that some things are more important than making plays. Especially in this crazy time we're in. I think we have an extraordinary cast.
TS: How will the play manifest itself visually?
MM: There will be a different set for each of the acts — almost like traveling through a visual history of post-war theatre.
TS: How are you collaborating with your design team?
MM: We all talked about how Mike has created three different styles for each of the decades represented, so in addition to the clothes they wear and their hairstyles and the music, the physical environment should suggest a different moment in the kind of plays that were popular in that time.
TS: How important will the use of music be to the storytelling?
MM: The title of the play refers to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” and music is used throughout as a way to know where we are time-wise, as well as a kind of subliminal running commentary.
TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?
MM: Of course I try to vary the kind of work I do, but I also do my best to collaborate with great people who are plugged into the world.
TS: What other projects are you working on besides Love, Love, Love?
MM: I'm developing a new musical with Peter Lerman, Lisa Kron and Dmitry Lipkin about the Russian Stilyagi in the 1950s, and I will direct Jake Gyllenhaal in a new production of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This on Broadway this spring. I will also be sending out the national tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
TS: Do you have any advice for young people who want to be directors?
MM: See everything you can. Read new plays and old plays. Make work wherever and whenever you can, but believe in the stories you tell. Don't spend your life on Facebook. Go to museums. Read the newspaper. Look around you. Meditate.
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.
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Love Love Love, Upstage