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Love, Love, Love: The Boomers and the Xers

Posted on: November 25th, 2016 by Roundabout

 

Boomers and Xers
Google “Generation X vs. Baby Boomers,” or “Millennials vs. Generation X” and you’ll find results that, true to the “versus,” bring to mind a boxing match. Not just in the comments sections (Millennials and Gen Xers urging Boomers to retire or die; Gen Xers and Boomers scolding Millennials for participation-ribbon entitlement), but in the articles themselves. “Who’s worse off financially – Baby Boomers, Generation X or Millenials?” asks Canada’s Financial Post. “Baby Boomers: Five Reasons They Are Our Worst Generation,” trumpets a Philly Mag listicle. “Generation X has it worse than baby boomers,” laments the Boston Globe. “Crybaby millennials need to stop whinging and work hard like the rest of us,” admonishes London’s Telegraph. The stakes of the match seem not to be a victory, but an admission of defeat: who’s been hit the hardest, and how much have they lost?

The answers aren’t easy – but they also aren’t qualitative. Though we love to throw personal accusations around (the Boomers had no foresight, the Xers were slackers, the Millennials are narcissists), the real roots of the generational divide can be traced back to hard economic truths. In Rose’s words, “It is all about fucking money.”

Baby Boom and Bust

THE MONEY EQUATION: INPUT ≠ OUTPUT

One of the most controversial issues between Boomers and their descendants is that of government support for retirees. In 2015, a significant portion of US Government spending went towards Americans of retiring age. 24% of the federal budget went towards Social Security, and another 16% went towards Medicare. That means about 1.4 trillion dollars, or nearly 40% of the nation’s $3.7 trillion spending, went towards Americans over the age of 65 (generally speaking; 17% of Medicare beneficiaries are younger Americans with disabilities). As more of the nearly 75 million Baby Boomers age, this percentage will only increase. The rising costs are compounded by the fact that healthcare has gotten exponentially more expensive in the United States over the past century. In 1964, health care spending was about $197 per person per year, which would adjust to about $1,450 in 2012 dollars. But in 2012, health care spending per person per year was actually $8,915. The massive cost increase is the result of multiple factors, most notably waste (a 2012 Atlantic article, citing an Institute of Medicine report, estimated that the US spends about $750 billion on unnecessary healthcare costs each year). As aging Boomers encounter more health problems, their monetary strain on the system will continue to grow, and younger generations will be left paying the price.

Of course, if Gen X and the Millennials could count on similar government support in their old age, they might not mind paying their taxes towards Boomer-benefitting services. But unfortunately, younger generations can’t count on the same safety net. Workers born in the 1960s and onwards (a group that includes Rose and Jamie) have paid a higher percentage of their incomes into the Social Security tax than the Baby Boomers before them, but will receive less Social Security benefits in retirement. Baby Boomers didn’t just get their tax dollars back – they actually got more money in benefits than they’d paid for. A 2012 Urban Institute study estimated that a typical (Boomer) couple retiring in 2011 would draw about $200,000 more from Medicare and Social Security than they’d paid in taxes towards the same programs. Millennials and Xers will be lucky if they see their contributions come back at a 1:1 ratio.

Education Attainment Levels through Generations

THE MOBILITY TREND: UPWARD → DOWNWARD

The problem with Social Security benefits isn’t just about payout – it’s also about what higher contribution taxes, plus a myriad of other negative economic factors, means for the ability of Gen Xers and Millennials to save for retirement. When early-wave Baby Boomers (including Kenneth, Henry, and Sandra) entered the workforce, they could expect a steady upward climb in salary. They did better than their parents, and they also did better than their younger selves, seeing salary gains throughout their twenties, thirties, and forties before a wage peak (of 60-70% above their starting salary) in their early fifties. This lifelong rise allowed early Boomers to save for retirement and buy wealth-accruing assets (like stocks and houses). In retirement, Boomers could expect to live off of their accumulated wealth, in combination with employer-sponsored pensions and government-supported services. As a result, the net wealth of early-wave Baby Boomers in retirement is essentially the same as it was pre-retirement.

Richard Armitage and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage and Zoe Kazan
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Now, compare that to the state of mid to late Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. While early Baby Boomers enjoyed a lifetime upswing, the following generations (those born in the late 50s and onwards) experienced downward trends across the board. A 2015 Washington Monthly article, “Wealth and Generations,” neatly lays out the contrast: “Today’s fiftysomethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience this kind of lifetime downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before. Yet these mid-wave Baby Boomers shouldn’t feel too sorry for themselves. That’s because, as we shall see, they were far better off as twentysomethings than were subsequent cohorts of Generation X twentysomethings, and especially better off than today’s Millennials.”

Unfortunately, it’s true. Gen Xers and Millennials have had many obstacles to overcome: lower starting salaries than their predecessors, fewer wage increases in their 20s and 30s, earlier and lower earnings peaks (early Xers saw a 50% increase at their peak; later Xers and Millennials may see only a 20% increase), fewer employer-sponsored pensions, and lower rates of asset ownership. As a result, these generations have a limited ability to accumulate wealth – and a more precipitous drop in post-retirement income. While early Boomers enjoyed nearly 100% of their pre-retirement income in their golden years, Gen X will subsist on about 50% of their pre-retirement income. And even that has come at a personal price. While the typical Generation X household makes (when adjusted for inflation) about $12,000 more per year than their parents’ household did, they also do more work and have less wealth; more families have two wage earners, and the hours worked by those wage earners have increased over time. In the past, more work meant higher wages; from 1948-1973, the productivity of American workers went up 96.7%, and wages followed, increasing by 91.3%. Productivity also increased from 1973-2013 (by about 75%), but, in contrast to previous decades, wages lagged far behind, increasing only 9%. As a result, American families are experiencing downward mobility. Nearly one-third of Gen Xers born in the late 1970s to middle-class families fell out of the middle class in adulthood. And fewer than half of Gen Xers (in every income bracket) are wealthier than their parents were at the same age.

Hot Button Issues through the Generations

THE COMMON VARIABLES

So what happened to cause this downward spiral? Two major economic shifts are significant to the story: the 1990 Recession, and the 2008 Financial Crisis. The first occurred just as Gen Xers were entering the workforce and the latter in the midst of what should have been their peak earning years. The results were catastrophic for the total financial narrative of Xers, causing them to have low starting salaries, lesser savings, and major savings losses. Generation X lost 45% of their wealth during The Great Recession, 2007-2010 (Boomers lost only 25%). And those difficult years have had reverberations for every generation: Boomers have stayed in the workforce at unprecedented rates (keeping jobs that, in other circumstances, would have opened to Xers and Millennials), asset values have decreased, and wages have stagnated. As a result, many younger Americans have opted to delay their entry into the workforce (and up their appeal as a job candidate) by going to college – an ostensibly wise move, considering that high school graduates today make only 62% of what college graduates make (as compared to 77% in 1979).

Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

But college, of course, poses another set of financial problems. In the best-case scenario, college delays earnings but ultimately pays off in a more skilled (and higher-paid) job. In the worst-case scenario, which is currently playing out for many Millennials, you graduate with mounds of student debt (college costs more than doubled between 1982 and 2012, and the average student borrower graduating in 2016 will owe some $37,000) and no job openings in your field. Many Millennials are choosing to bide their time (and pay their debts) by working jobs unrelated to their degrees. What will happen when jobs return (some 30 million are estimated to open as Boomers retire over the coming years) and these Millennials haven’t been building their resumes – and a new batch of graduates is ready to hire? We’ll see.

But while Millennials are looking at an uncertain future, Xers are living in a tenuous present. Often called the forgotten or neglected “middle child” between the Boomers and Millennials, Gen X is also currently a “sandwich” generation, meaning they are paying for aging parents as well as dependent children. The results are dire for finances. A 2015 survey found that nearly 40% of Generation X respondents reported that they do not feel “at all financially secure,” and nearly as many (38%) reported having more debt than savings.

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

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

THE SOLUTION

It’s important to remember that the factors above don’t exist in a vacuum. The economy, the job climate, and the college system are maintained and shaped by policy decisions. And for the past twenty years, those decisions have been made by Baby Boomers. Boomers make up only one-third of the American voting-age population, but they the hold nearly 2/3 of the seats in the House and Senate. The Congressional Boomer legacy still has some time to change; it’s estimated that Generation X won’t gain a majority in the House or Senate until at least 2018. But the generation’s record thus far has been, in a word, contentious. Jim Tankersley, in a 2015 Washington Post article, offered a harsh view of the Boomers’ achievements: “…they cut their own taxes, they deficit-financed two wars, they approved a new Medicare prescription drug benefit that their generation will be the first to enjoy in full. Partly as a result of those policies… Boomers let federal debt, as a share of the economy, double from where it was in 1970… Every generation wants to leave a better world for the ones to follow. I truly believe that boomers had no idea, for a long time, that the sum of their choices — of their quest to make life as good as it could be for themselves — might be a worse world for their children. But it’s apparent now.” Apparent, and illustrated onstage in Love, Love, Love – though, at least in the play, the Boomers aren’t watching.


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, Education @ Roundabout, Love Love Love, Upstage


1 Comment

 

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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