Interview with Stockard Channing

Posted on: October 11th, 2018 by Ted Sod


Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor Stockard Channing about her work on Apologia.

Stockard Channing is Kristin Miller. Photo by Luke Fontana.

Ted Sod: Why did you choose to play the role of Kristin in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play, Apologia? Is it challenging remounting a play with new people when you’ve done it before?

Stockard Channing: It’s really quite simple: I read the play, I thought it was terrific and that it was a wonderful turn. Todd Haimes came and saw the play in London. It might’ve been our last performance, I don't know, and he fell in love with it. There was no way we could bring the original production or director to New York, so this is a different cast and a different director.

This is not the first time that I’ve done this sort of thing. I did this before, you know, with John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation. I went to London and did it in the West End after the New York premiere, and it was a massive hit. I had to start fresh there, and then I did the film version with all new people. It’s a very interesting enterprise. Daniel Aukin, the director for the NYC production, Alexi, the playwright, and I are starting to get to know each other, and so far, so good.

TS: Did you have to reach to find Kristin’s political self or is that something you immediately understood?

SC: I must tell you that my approach to these things is extremely empirical. I avoid doing any of that until I get with my fellow actors in a rehearsal hall. It’s an interesting piece in that everything takes place in the moment in real time, but it’s all about what happened 30 years ago. And that’s something that is easily overlooked when you’re on the stage. Playing this woman, the most amazing thing I found is that the whole issue of parenting is fraught with people’s emotions. In many ways, this is a memory play. This is about the memory of something that happened years ago and the ramifications of that event. Kristin was forced to make a very difficult decision, and the consequences of that decision were and still are beyond her control. That’s what I have found to be most poignant about this character.

TS: I'm curious about the fact that Kristin is a respected art historian. Is the art world something you feel a natural affinity to, or did you have to do some research on that?

SC: I have a lot of friends who are painters, but it’s not germane to this—basically Kristin found her passion. I was more interested in the chronology of events. I remember the first days of rehearsal in London, I said, “Wait a minute, when did she have these kids? How old are we all now? When did she get divorced?” So, we spent time laying it all out.

TS: Will you share some of that chronology or history you’ve discovered about Kristin?

SC: She was a young woman who grew up in Connecticut. She had a rebellious streak, and after college, she bolted. She went to London. She fell in with a wild bunch. There was lots of protesting and free love. Those were the days. They were fabulous, but they have unfortunately yielded some negative consequences as well. In Kristin’s case, she fell in love with a guy who was dashing—that’s what she says about him. It was probably a bad match, but they had these two boys who she adored. She started working at her passion, which was art. Kristin was a victim, because that husband of hers did what he did. And she was powerless on many levels. I don’t think Kristin’s ex was the nicest guy, but she fell in love with him. No one gets married to get divorced. There’s a point when a couple is splitting up, where you still think, he’s the person I fell in love with! She certainly never thought that he would poison their sons against her. She went to Florence after the divorce. This is the important thing. She had custody of those boys and she took them to Florence and her ex stole them. Literally, physically stole them. And then, after the ex-husband dies at some point, I'm not sure when, she moves back to England and she sees her sons on a regular basis. By this time, they’re grown children and, of course, she has her opinions about what they are doing with their lives, as many parents do about their children.

TS: One of the ideas I took away from reading this play is that some women were and still are vilified for having a career, especially if they are perceived as having prioritized that career over being a mother.

SC: When I was in London and I was doing press for the play, I had to say over and over again that I remember what it was like before. I was raised in the time before women’s liberation. And that’s so important because I know what we were liberated from. It’s a very different world we live in now. And, in my day, it really wasn’t about anger—it was about charity and equal rights. But that’s not the point of this play. This play is about Kristin’s self-determination. When I was a young woman, you had to take full responsibility for your actions. And it was an absolutely delicious prospect. It was unbelievably heavy, and it happened to a large degree for those of us who chose to take advantage of it. Kristin’s not an angel, but she is honest and she took responsibility for the choices she made. I respect that about her enormously.

Stockard Channing and Hugh Dancy. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

TS: I think what you’re talking about is Kristin’s integrity. There’s an integrity to her that I don’t find many people opting for anymore.

SC: Absolutely.

TS: I want to ask you about Kristin’s relationship to her sons’ significant others, Trudi and Claire. What do you think is going on there?

SC: Her relationship with Trudi evolves—she thinks there’s potential for something in Trudi. She respects that Trudi’s not full of shit. At the end of the play, Trudi does emerge as a moral center. Her relationship with Claire, on the other hand, is fraught. First of all, she doesn’t approve of her. She feels that she’s done bad things to her son. She senses a certain kind of phoniness in her that, in her mind, makes Claire a bit of a social climber. But let’s face it, I wouldn’t want Kristin as a mother-in-law—would you?

TS: Kristin’s in a platonic relationship with a gay man named Hugh. John (Joey) Tillinger is playing that role—which is marvelous because I don't know him as an actor at all, only as a director.

SC: I believe the last time Joey was on the stage in New York was when we were acting together in Joe Egg. And we’ve been friends ever since. I think Hugh and Kristin are old, old friends. And he became friends with her when they were in the movement together. They’re about the same age and they come from a certain way of thinking—they take balancing freedom and responsibility very seriously.

TS: They’re companions on some level, wouldn’t you say?

SC: I have a similar relationship with my oldest, closest friend. We’ve been in each other’s lives since we were in our early 20s, and we lived together in apartments over the years, and this, that and the other. I certainly understand the nature of that relationship. Hugh and Kristin know and respect each other inside out.

TS: Are there any special traits that you look for from a director when you’re working?

SC: I don’t respond very well to nasty people. You know what I mean? I really respond to warmth, intelligence—I don’t like being manipulated. As I said, I'm an empirical actress. I like when we discover things in rehearsal together—that’s really the energy that I most enjoy in a rehearsal room. I’ve been pretty lucky most of the time.

Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia

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Hanging on to the “Spirit of 1968”

Posted on: October 4th, 2018 by Nick Mecikalski


Actress Vanessa Redgrave at the 1968 Grosvenor Square protest. Photo by Frank Habicht.

A Protest Turns Violent
In Apologia, Kristin Miller recounts her participation in London’s Grosvenor Square demonstration against American involvement in the Vietnam War. The Grosvenor Square demonstration, which became the most infamous British protest of the decade, took place on March 17, 1968. It began peacefully in London’s Trafalgar Square with a speech from actress Vanessa Redgrave, who then led the crowd of about 15,000 people to the U.S. Embassy at Grosvenor Square. There, demonstrators confronted police who were restricting access to the part of the square closest to the embassy. The encounter turned violent; protesters attacked officers with stones and firecrackers, and officers charged police horses into the crowd. All told, 246 people were arrested by the end of the demonstration, and over 150 people, police and demonstrators alike, reported injuries.

Anti-Vietnam War protestors gather in Whitehall before the march to Grosvenor Square on March 17, 1968. Photo: beedlebumble.

The “Spirit of 1968”
The Grosvenor Square demonstration, though perhaps the most violent event of its kind in the United Kingdom that year, epitomized what would become known as the “Spirit of 1968” -- the counterculture of anti-authoritarian protest that took hold internationally in 1968 and the surrounding years. While the “radicals” who organized and were present at these kinds of events -- of whom Kristin Miller would have counted herself one -- only comprised a small percentage of their generation, their actions defined the political climate of the decade. Underpinning their anti-establishment and anti-war demonstrations were ideals and goals positioned to the left (occasionally far left) of the political spectrum: women’s liberation, abortion rights, anti-imperialism, organized labor, gay rights, demilitarization, and anti-capitalism, to name a few.

The New Left
In the United Kingdom and other countries around the world, these philosophies coalesced into a political movement known as the New Left. In general, the New Left based their positions on the philosophies of 19th-century German political theorist Karl Marx, who was known for the books he co-authored with businessman Friedrich Engels -- The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital -- that launched the far-left political ideology of communism. Drawing from the communist school of thought, those who made up the New Left sought to eliminate the economic inequality created by capitalism. They strove to create a society based on common ownership of resources, rather than one in which economic and political power is possessed by a few. As indicated by its name, however, the New Left was composed of thinkers and activists who supported various revised forms of Marxism that did not wholly agree with Marx’s original writings but acknowledged the economic, political, and colonial realities of the post-World War II era. While not all political activists of the 1960s and ‘70s necessarily identified with the New Left, the resurgence of Marxist ideologies during that time fueled much of the era’s antiwar fervor.

A baby boomer protestor at the 2018 Women’s March at the Iowa State Capitol. Photo: Phil Roeder

A Generation of Sellouts?
Kristin Miller has retained the progressive ideologies of her youth throughout her middle age -- as her guests mention in Apologia, she has a portrait of Karl Marx hanging in her bathroom, decades after her days of protesting against the Vietnam War. But did the “Spirit of 1968” remain alive in the rest of Kristin’s generation as it grew older, as it did in her? Kristin’s generation, the baby boomers, includes individuals born between the years of 1946 and 1964, and it has been widely criticized as a demographic that “sold out.” Much has been written about the generation of young, liberal idealists in the 1960s and ‘70s who grew up to forget their leftist roots, become capitalists, create an economy of vast inequality, and destroy the environment. Whether the baby boomers are, as some claim, a “Me Generation” who rigged the system for their own gain is a larger question. But it can safely be said that by 2009, when Apologia takes place, Kristin is in the minority of her generation both in terms of political outlook and activist behavior.

Boomer Politics and Activism

Socialism is a leftist ideology that, in seeking an equitable distribution of wealth among the citizenry, is more moderate a political theory than communism but a more radical one than the liberalism practiced by America’s Democratic Party. Kristin’s far-leftism is unusual for her age.

Kristin’s activism, too, is unusual. Studies have shown that, across the board, activist behavior declines as people age out of college and into the workforce, and this trend has held true for the Baby Boomers in the decades since the Vietnam era. Activist behavior tends to rise again around age 65 as people retire and have more time for political engagement, but, for a number of reasons, it does not reach the same degree of participation as in any given group’s younger years. The Baby Boomers in particular did not return to their activist heyday; a large and heterogeneous group, Boomers in their old age tend to have fewer common causes around which to rally, especially considering the generation’s relative economic prosperity as their careers come to an end.

The story of Boomer politics and activism, then, is a more nuanced one than some contemporary narratives might have us believe. But by any account, Kristin, a radical leftist who has retained a “Spirit of 1968” into her sixties, is an outlier.

Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia

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Stockard Channing at Roundabout

Posted on: September 27th, 2018 by Leah Reddy


Matthew Risch and Stockard Channing. Photo by Joan Marcus

Stage, film, and television actress Stockard Channing is no stranger to the Roundabout stage, having appeared in revivals of both plays and musicals, and now a new work. Apologia marks her fourth production at Roundabout Theatre Company.

Stockard Channing. Photo by Martha Swope.

Channing and Jim Dale starred in Roundabout’s most acclaimed production up to that time, Peter Nichols's A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. The production moved to Broadway, where it won the 1985 Tony®, Roundabout’s first, for Outstanding Revival of a Play. Channing won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play for her work, in which she and Dale played a married couple whose relationship disintegrates as they deal with a brain-damaged child.

The Lion in Winter (1999)
Channing played Eleanor of Aquitaine to Laurence Fishburne’s Henry II in this revival of James Goldman’s 1966 serio-comic drama about a medieval royal family.

Pal Joey (2008)
Channing showed her musical side singing (among other songs) “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” in her role as Vera Simpson, a bored socialite who has an affair with a nightclub owner in this production of the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical.

Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia

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