The City That Never Sleeps
by Ted Pappas
Friday, May 17, 2013
I've had the most amazing several days and I'd love to share it with you, diary-style, if you don't mind -
Tuesday, May 7:
Welcomed cast and director of Other Desert Cities, the finale of our "Made in America" season. A fabulous group of people all working on a terrific play. I couldn't be happier, especially with Clybourne Park already onstage in a hit production. Flew to New York City in the afternoon on company business, coupled with a mini-vacation with my dearest friend Debbie. Even when I'm on break, I'm still working. But that, my friends, is Show Business.
Wednesday, May 8:
Bought a subway pass - the easiest way to travel in New York. Saw a matinee of the Broadway revival of Pippin (fabulous) and an evening performance of Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, featuring a very witty performance by my college chum Kristine Nielsen. Dinner at Joe Allen's (326 West 46th Street, 212.581.6464). Great Bloody Marys to start and a perfect banana cream pie to finish. Spotted friend and Tony-winner Judy Kaye between performances of Nice Work and said a quick hello.
Thursday, May 9:
Full physical at doctor's office. All good. Told to vary my aerobics routine in order to protect my knees. Good advice. Lunch at Artisinal (2 Park Avenue, 212.725.8585). They are famous for their cheeses, but I ordered the lobster salad and thought it was perfect. Stopped by MOOD, the fabric store featured on "Project Runway" (one of my addictions). Had photo taken with Swatch, the company pooch (yes, I'm tragic). Cocktails at Sardi's (234 West 44th Street, 212.221.8440), followed by an evening performance of Lucky Guy, Nora Ephron's play starring Mr. Tom Hanks, in a super performance. A lot of Hollywood in the house. I sat near Tony Danza, who looks great.
Friday, May 10:
A full day (9:30-5:30) at Actors' Equity, holding auditions for PPT's new season. Saw 147 splendid actors. Back to Joe Allen's for dinner, and then to a performance of the musical Matilda. Wow, what a great show. It's playing the Shubert Theatre, and it brought back memories of seeing the original cast of A Chorus Line in that same auditorium.
Saturday, May 11:
A matinee of The Nance, starring Nathan Lane. I loved it. Wonderful cast, design and direction, and an impressive Broadway debut for actor Jonny Orsini. We'll be hearing more about him, no question. Had a Japanese dinner on the Upper West Side and then back to the theater district for an 8pm performance of Kinky Boots, featuring an exuberant and star-making performance by Pittsburgh's own Billy Porter. The audience went wild. I spotted Mark Power (from City Theatre) in the crowd and caught up at intermission. Also chatted with Broadway director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who staged our recent Around the World in 80 Days.
Sunday, May 12:
Columbus Avenue street fair. Matinee of Ann, the play about Texas governor Ann Richards, written and directed by the divine Holland Taylor. It's playing the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. I love one-person shows (The Chief, The Lady With All the Answers, Thurgood - you get my drift). Dinner at Molyvos, my favorite Greek restaurant in Manhattan (871 Seventh Avenue, 212.582.7500). I ordered the stuffed cabbage.
Monday, May 13:
Two PPT production meetings - costumes for Our Town and scenery for Company. Dinner at Cafe Angus Bistro (formerly Angus McIndoe) at 258 West 44th Street, 212.221.9222. At this point in my trip I needed energy, so I had a delicious pasta dish and something chocolate. Then off to the Barrymore Theatre to see a MAGNIFICENT performance of Macbeth, starring - and I do mean starring - a startling Alan Cumming in a performance for the ages. Smartly supported by the actress Jenny Sterlin, who played Lady Bracknell for us in Earnest as well as the matriach, Fanny, in The Royal Family. If you know Macbeth, this production will be a profound revelation. Drinks after (HAD TO!) at Lillie's a superbly over-decorated bar at 249 West 49th Street, right next to St. Malachy's, the Actors' Chapel, don'tcha know.
Tuesday, May 14:
Am I still able to function? There's more. Spent the morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, taking in an extraordinary exhibit of photography of the American Civil War. Profoundly moving. If you are a history buff or a photography aficionado, do not miss this. Walked all over New York, taking in Madison Avenue, the Waldorf, and everything in between. A happy encounter with man-about-town Mr. Richard Rauh, looking quite dapper in a grey suit. He was there to see some shows as well. I look forward to comparing notes with him at some point. Richard, as you know, is an actor and teacher and generous supporter of the arts in our fair city of Pittsburgh. Dinner at a terrific eatery called Rosa Mexicano (south of the border cuisine, needless to say). Lincoln Center at 62nd Street, 212.977.7700. Spied Mr. Peter Martins there, the great ballet star, who now runs the marvelous New York City Ballet company. Made me want to see a dance that night, but I got to see the next best thing - a play about George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky. No kidding. It's called Nikolai and the Others, and it's lovely and very special, and there are 18 actors in it, including two gorgeous ballet artists. It's at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater. Chatted with composer/friend Stephen Flaherty at intermission. He and writing partner Lynn Ahrens wrote The Glorious Ones, which we premiered a few seasons back. Their new musical, Rocky, opens on Broadway next season, and I can't wait.
Wednesday, May 15:
A two-show day. A performance of The Big Knife, a rarely produced work by Clifford Odets, at the Roundabout on 42nd Street. A big play, well-produced. Dinner at Sardi's, and then a performance of The Assembled Parties, in a moving performance by the Manhattan Theatre Club. A starry audience, including pal Christine Baranski, looking GORGEOUS. And good buddy, Mr. Van Kaplan, of our CLO.
Thursday, May 16:
A walk in Central Park for people-watching and to clear my head. A deli sandwich for lunch, and then a flight back home. Read Shaw's Candida on the flight. Now, there's a helluva play. Can't wait to stage it in 2014. Made a stop at Giant Eagle en route to Downtown, and stocked up. Pamela Berlin, the director of our Clybourne, is coming back for the show's closing, and I want to fix her a nice meal. Paid bills. Did laundry. Read the performance reports of PPT's week of shows, as visions of my Adventures in Manhattan danced in my head.
Friday, May 17:
Back in the office and very happy to see all of my friends and colleagues. Busy at work wrapping up Clybourne Park and getting Other Desert Cities ready for the spotlight. I adore New York, but quite honestly, I love Pittsburgh and the Public Theater even more.
See you at The O'Reilly.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
by Ted Pappas
Saturday, March 31, 2012
I am sitting in my office on a Saturday morning, looking for a bit of quiet time and a chance to catch up with you all. “Quiet time” in a theater is actually a misnomer and most likely an impossibility. As I walked into The O’Reilly today, the box office was action-packed with phones ringing off the hook for last-minute purchases to FREUD’S LAST SESSION, as well as season subscription renewals. The cleaning crew and the front of house staff were prepping the building for a two-show day, the costume shop on the 4th floor was abuzz with activity and heavy-duty sewing, and on the 3rd floor, actors rehearsing a new production (in this case AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) were happily filling the hallways with their exuberant sounds, in multiple international accents, I hasten to add. So much for quiet time!
Still, I am happily ensconced at my computer, remembering some of the bits of news I wanted to share with you. As many of you have told me, this has been an outstanding season at the Public Theater. We’ve had one hit show after another, culminating in back-to-back productions of AS YOU LIKE IT and FREUD. Both shows have entered the pantheon of top-ten plays in our history. I am referring to attendance and ticket sales in this case. Who could have imagined that a simple 75-minute encounter between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis could cause such a stir? We have rarely received so many e-mails and letters of thanks and congratulations as we did for those two productions, and all of us at The Public are grateful for the imprimatur and support.
As I mentioned, AROUND THE WORLD is in rehearsals, and let me be the first to announce, it is terrific. There are five actors in the show, playing dozens and dozens of roles. The play is based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name, and a big part of the excitement and the fun is watching the director unleash this epic tale of Phileas Fogg circling the earth while being pursued by a fanatical detective, in our intimate auditorium. The director in this case is the brilliant Marcia Milgrom Dodge, a close friend of mine and a treasured veteran of Pittsburgh Public Theater. She staged our versions of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND, and although AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS is not a musical, she is once again bringing her trademark flair and bravura staging skills to our stage. For those of you who were fortunate enough see the recent Broadway revival of RAGTIME, that was Marcia’s production, for which she justifiably received a Tony nomination as Best Director of a Musical. And now, she’s here along with her astounding actors and design team. Lucky us!
Much of my March was spent auditioning performers for our upcoming production of Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES. Unlike the casting in recent Broadway revivals, I wanted to honor the playwright’s intention of populating the play with younger actors in all of the roles. After all, the characters of Amanda and Elyot are supposed to be 28 and 30 years of age, respectively, not 60 and 65 as we have seen in previous outings of this hilarious play. The search for the perfect cast was made easier by The Public’s close association and long-time collaboration with top casting director Pat McCorkle and her team in Manhattan. I describe to Pat the types of actors I am searching for, she contacts agents, hunts through her own voluminous files, puts on her thinking cap and comes up with a superb list of artists for me to audition and consider. A few days in a studio hearing them read, singly or together and voila, it’s magic time and the play is ready to go into rehearsal.
While in New York, I took full advantage of my free time and the good weather to attend several Broadway shows and unique exhibits: Athol Fugard’s THE ROAD TO MECCA was a fine production of a wonderful play, starring the luminous Rosemary Harris. Friends, never miss the chance to see Miss Harris on the stage. She is theater royalty, no question. Also saw the revival of GODSPELL, directed by the talented Daniel Goldstein (I call him Danny). Mr. Goldstein staged two shows at The Public---the one-man FULLY COMMITTED and our Young Company’s version of Goldoni’s THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS. Also, I had the privilege of seeing Audra McDonald and her gifted colleagues in a fabulous revival of PORGY AND BESS. Ms. McDonald already has four, count them four, Tony awards on her mantelpiece. With this astonishing performance as Bess, she just might make it five.
I got to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in the revival of Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALEMAN, directed by Mike Nichols. It was sensational, and featured the original set design by Jo Mielziner, as well as the original musical score from Elia Kazan’s 1949 premiere. DO NOT MISS THIS PRODUCTION. You’ve been advised and warned. On the same day as SALESMAN, I had dinner with Hayden Tee (our CAMELOT’s King Arthur) at my favorite theater district haunt, Joe Allen restaurant on 46th Street (phone: 212.581.6464). Ordered two of their specialties, the calves’ liver and the banana crème pie. Never disappoints. Then we went off to see the Des McAnuff/Stratford production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Neil Simon Theatre. The audience went wild for the show, which is exceptionally well-sung.
In between play and musicals, I caught two terrific exhibits. The first was STAR QUALITY—The World of Noel Coward, which runs through August 18 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. So much fun, and rather touching. I do believe that no person ever loved the theater as much as Noel Coward. It was his whole life, since childhood. Playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, director, producer, memoirist---you name it, he did it, and in high style, too. The show features everything from the typewriter Mr. Coward used to write his plays, to the robes he wore onstage and backstage during performances. His make-up kit, his toupee, the opening night gifts he received (a lot of silver cigarette boxes!), videos of him in performance, posters from his plays and films, and much, much more. It all gave me great inspiration to tackle PRIVATE LIVES in a few weeks, and if you happen to be in New York before the end of summer, catch this display. It’s free of charge, and thoroughly charming.
Another must-see is THE STEINS COLLECT---Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, which is on display until June 3 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alongside the numerous Matisses and Picassos (my favorite) the exhibit includes masses of works by Bonnard, Renoir, Gris, Laurencin, Lipschitz, and Picabia. The whole thing is mind-boggling. This is a virtual recreation of the art collections of the three Stein siblings, including Gertrude Stein and her two brothers. Canvas after canvas after canvas, filling the walls of their apartments and homes, some purchased for $100 before any of the artists became well-known. Some were portraits of the Steins themselves, others commissions. This is one of the great collections of 20th century art. PLEASE go see this show if you get to New York before June 3.
Finally, let me say a couple of words about The Public’s upcoming 2012-2013 season, our 38th. We call it MADE IN AMERICA, and for good reason. Each play in the season is by an American writer or composer; every play is set in a different American city; and all the works deal with the American experience---who we were, who we are, and who we are striving to be. Some are classics, like Garson Kanin’s comedy tour de force BORN YESTERDAY. Others are the latest and greatest works of Broadway, such as GOOD PEOPLE, OTHER DESERT CITIES (currently knocking ’em dead in New York), and CLYBOURNE PARK (which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and opens in New York in April.) THURGOOD is a fascinating and entertaining one-man play about our nation’s first African American Supreme Court justice. And 1776 is a great musical, and the biggest show The Public will have ever produced---26 actors, plus crew and orchestra—truly an event in the theater. On top of that, we are staging a revival of THE CHIEF, and building a new set to support it. THE CHIEF, as you must know by now (because I never tire of saying it), is the highest grossing and best-attended play in our history. And yet, there are still several thousand people aching to see it either for the first time, or again and again. Hence, the barrage of requests to bring back the one-and-only Chief, Mr. Tom Atkins, in his legendary portrayal of Arthur J. Rooney.
So there we have it---a little bit of reminiscence, some travel and entertainment advice, and a pitch for next season’s subscription series (plus THE CHIEF.) Please stay close to Pittsburgh Public Theater. It is your company and every play and event needs you in the audience to make it come to full life.
I will see you soon at AROUND THE WORLD, and a few weeks after that at PRIVATE LIVES.
My best to you and yours.
UP, UP AND AWAY
by Ted Pappas
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
I am writing this to you from over 20,000 feet in the air (not metaphorically, but actually.) I am en route to Greece for my annual family visit. Officially, it’s my vacation, but as you can see I haven’t been able to quite relinquish my focus on all things Public. I will in time, I hope, take a breather and find some distractions. I have a suitcase full of best-sellers and acclaimed novels. This is my best opportunity to read something that doesn’t begin: “ACT ONE, scene one. The butler enters.” But before the plane lands and I take the taxi to the port, the ferry to the island, and the car to the village (no kidding!), I have a few hours to reminisce, bask, and remember some of the highlights of our recent Royal Season.
For me, the new theatrical year began with an appendectomy---right smack-dab in the midst of rehearsals for THE ROYAL FAMILY. I missed two and a half days of work (not bad, right?) while the valiant cast and our brilliant stage manager, Ruth Kramer, reviewed scenes, ran lines, and attended costume fittings (oh, those gorgeous costumes designed by Susan Tsu, and those spectacular wigs by Sherry Deberson!) When I came back we were right on schedule, and perhaps a few hours ahead. A well-oiled machine. The show is a personal favorite of mine, and one that I had wanted to direct since I saw the Broadway revival in the mid-70s. Grand, opulent, and full of fabulous characters (Wait, am I talking about THE ROYAL FAMILY or CAMELOT??) Anyway. A happy experience onstage and off, a stunning group of actors, and an amazing set by James Noone, aka “Genius.” And now I can cross off “Remove Appendix” from my To Do List!
Next up, The Public had the privilege, as well as the exclusive rights, to produce Lanford Wilson’s TALLEY’S FOLLY, an absolutely essential work of the American theater, and a play which proved extraordinarily popular with long-time subscribers. It didn’t hurt that we put together an A-list team of designers, cast, and the estimable Pamela Berlin as director. The success of this project was especially poignant for me since the great Lanford Wilson passed away a few months after our production, the last major revival of this play during his lifetime.
Hilarity reigned supreme during December and early January as we welcomed back The Second City troupe, as well as that marvelous trio of madmen, known as the Reduced Shakespeare Company. I’m proud that both of these esteemed laugh-machines consider Pittsburgh Public Theater a home base. They contribute a sizable luster to our season with their unique and wholly legitimate forms of theater, entertainment, and shenanigans. For those of you who were experiencing withdrawal this winter, aching to see THE CHIEF again, we offered instead the beautifully produced film version of our show, now on DVD. I personally hawked and sold hundreds of copies during our pre-holiday run of TALLEY’S, and we plan to do so again this fall. I consider it my duty as your host and your friend to make your Xmas shopping as easy as possible (You’re welcome!) And remember, when you buy THE CHIEF at The O’Reilly, you’re helping The Public, too.
OK, what can I say about CAMELOT that you haven’t already told me through kind and enthusiastic letters, postcards, e-mails, phone calls and assorted pats on the back? Admittedly, it’s a sprawling and challenging musical to produce, but I believe that the show fit beautifully in our auditorium, and that the story and emotional through-line of this epic work found a new focus and intimacy in our setting. Please allow me for a moment to thank the design team of CAMELOT: James Noone (again!) for his remarkable settings, Alejo Vietti for the beauty of his costumes, Kirk Bookman for his ravishing lighting, Zach Moore for his clear-as-a-bell sound design, Dan DeLange for his exceptional orchestrations, and Maestro F. Wade Russo who conducted a superb live orchestra, all nestled beneath the stage floor. Kudos, too, to the brilliant cast led by Hayden Tee as King Arthur, Kimberly Burns as Queen Guenevere, and Keith Hines as Sir Lancelot (each of them making their debut with our company.) It was a big hit for us---one of the biggest, in fact, in our 36-year history. CAMELOT was the third in a series of classic American musicals which I have recently staged for The Public, the others being MAN OF LA MANCHA and CABARET. With your kind indulgence, and the support of sponsors, we hope to continue this series of great American musicals over the next many seasons. Stay tuned.
During the run of CAMELOT Rob Zellers, our Education Department, and many of our city’s leading talents, helped to organize and produce one of The Public’s signature initiatives: The Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest. It was another great year, with superb performances by 1,200 area students, grades 4 through 12, from 100 different schools. BRAVO, one and all! You inspired this middle-aged director mid-way through a hectic season with your enthusiasm, discipline, and talent. I cannot thank you enough, kids. And let’s not forget the parents and the teachers for all the support, advice, nurturing, patience, and non-stop “schlepping.” BRAVO to you, as well.
THE SECOND HALF:
What followed was a trio of productions by three of the finest writers working, nationally and internationally, in the theater today, namely: Annie Baker, Tracy Letts, and Yasmina Reza. Baker, who writes in the shorthand of everyday conversation, created CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION while still in her twenties. Not surprisingly her play attracted a young crowd to The Public (the audience of the future!) as well as play-lovers who are energized by the detours and surprises of the Off-Broadway theatrical scene. In SUPERIOR DONUTS, Tracy Letts’ overt theatricality was displayed in his extravagant characters, the inset monologues delivered directly to the audience, and the generation-gap encounters which were filled with deep feeling and raucous humor. Anderson Matthews as the owner of the donut shop and Brandon Gill as his young protege gave definitive performances in a play which was unfairly overlooked by critics in its Broadway outing. At The Public, on the other hand, SUPERIOR DONUTS had the critics cheering and the audience on its feet at the conclusion of each and every performance. Most gratifying.
Reza’s GOD OF CARNAGE was that rare alignment of stars in a theatrical season: a prestige event, a “hot” play, a box-office hit, a magnet for new audiences, and a thoroughly happy adventure. Four bravura performances unleashed this production which boasted a sleek and witty setting by Anne Mundell and the sophisticated lighting we’ve all come to expect from Phil Monat. Since The Public’s move to The O’Reilly in 1999, no play in this tricky and crucial June time slot has ever sold more single tickets than GOD OF CARNAGE. What was the lure? The provocative title? The award-laden pedigree of the play? Word of mouth? When a show is this big a hit, we all huddle around the water cooler, trying to explain it, but sometimes it’s just good timing or good luck.
Beyond the 230+ performances we gave this season, this year was filled with a multitude of special events. Best example: our May fundraiser, entitled A RED HOT GALA. This swell party was attended by hundreds and hundreds of Public Theater fanatics, all willing and eager to support this company which is renowned for the diversity, beauty, and consistency of its productions, as well as its extraordinary community outreach programs, classes for adults and youth, its newsletters, post-performance talk backs, cabaret nights, and so much more.
Where do I begin to thank every donor, all subscribers, the many corporations, foundations, and government agencies (RAD!!) which believe, and believe deeply, that Pittsburgh Public Theater is a local, regional, and national treasure? You all show it through your gifts, your advice, your attendance, and your palpable communal embrace of this indispensable organization. I will NEVER take this support for granted. None of us at The Public---staff, artists, board---ever will.
Well, the plane is about to land and the flight crew have told us (in two languages) to put our trays away and our seats upright. Time for me to sign off, but before I do, a reminder: The Public’s RED HOT Season, surely our biggest and most thrilling, will begin in a matter of weeks. We will open in grand style with a classic masterpiece, Sophocles’ ELECTRA. This will be immediately followed by the most acclaimed play to hit Broadway in many a year, John Logan’s RED---a must-see.
You and I will hook up and chat again in a few weeks. See you in the lobby.
MY SECOND DECADE BEGINS!
by Ted Pappas
Tuesday, August 30, 2010
I hope you had a restful summer, with at least a bit of diversion and play-time.
After a big, big season here at The Public, and a very successful spring Gala, I spent a few days in June auditioning actors for our upcoming Royal Season, as well as finalizing design plans for THE ROYAL FAMILY and CAMELOT, two of the grandest and most ambitious productions in our 36-year history. Then I started my summer vacation, my first in two years.
I flew to NYC in late June to catch one of the final performances of the sensational Tony Award-winning play, RED, starring Alfred Molina in a dazzling tour-de-force performance as the painter Mark Rothko. Mr. Molina's co-star, Eddie Redmayne, winner of the 2010 Best Supporting Actor Tony, was also compelling and charismatic. After directing ART, the play about a white painting, I found it fascinating and entertaining to experience a play about an artist, in this case one who was creating a massive canvas entirely in the color red. They splashed so much red paint about the set and on themselves that both actors had to virtually bathe themselves onstage in mid-show. What a production!
While in Manhattan, I took in two superb art exhibits, both featuring the work of Pablo Picasso. The Metropolitan Museum had its entire Picasso collection on display for the very first time, and the Jan Krugier Gallery displayed some lesser known works of the artist, from his family's vaults, which were also for sale if you had a few extra million with which to decorate your house. Both shows were knock-outs. The Met also unveiled a splendid costume exhibit of American women's fashions of the past two centuries. I have to say, the Met costume exhibits are must-see events. When I first moved to Manhattan after college graduation, I got a temporary job at the Metropolitan Museum, in the Egyptian Department of all places. The legendary Diana Vreeland was still running the Costume Department there, and as the museum was closed to visitors on Mondays and that was one of my work days, I spent every break and every lunch hour walking alone among the mannequins and brilliant costume designs---everything from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes to the Golden Age of Hollywood. No wonder I'm obsessed with stage costumes!
Then I went to Greece! I enjoyed three weeks with my sister and mother, later joined by my best friend, Debbie, on a lovely island that we call home, being spoiled rotten. Yes, there were chores to do, but frankly they only asked me to pitch in so I wouldn't overdose on naps. I am completely unmechanical, so my specialty became trimming hedges and cleaning underbrush. Great fun after a year of studying plays, being in rehearsal, and spending every free moment raising funds and support for our beloved Public Theater. My sister nicknamed me Farmer Ted. Still, I have to admit, the ground underneath all the trees, bushes, and cacti looked pristine when I was done.
Most of my time was spent at the beach. When not in the water, I could be spotted playing cards with my fabulous mother, who is 88 and never loses a card game. Or perhaps I was doing one crossword puzzle after another. I won't say "completing" the puzzles, but I sure gave it my best shot. And then, of course, reading. No plays, but lots and lots of novels, memoirs, and essays. My most exciting discoveries this summer were the novels of Edna Ferber. I have always known and admired her plays. I'm doing one this fall, THE ROYAL FAMILY, co-authored with Pittsburgh native George S. Kaufman. But the novels are stunners: detailed, character-driven, and quite moving. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel SO BIG, and I can see why. From there, I moved on to SHOW BOAT, the novel on which the epic musical is based. Amazing, and obsessed with the theater. While I was reading those, Debbie was reading Ferber's GIANT. Evidently, another triumph. So, may I be so bold as to recommend the work of Edna Ferber, surely one of our finest novelists, and a great playwright, as well?
I also read James Shapiro's CONTESTED WILL-"Who Wrote Shakespeare?" about the controversy surrounding the authorship of the world's greatest plays. Was it Sir Francis Bacon? Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford? A resounding "NO" on those. It was William Shakespeare himself, as the book makes eminently clear and irrefutable. I devoured THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman, which I highly recommend. It's a series of interrelated stories, forming a novel, about a group of journalists working at an English-language newspaper in Rome. Also read FIFTH AVENUE 5 A.M-"The Dawn of the American Woman"-about the making of the film BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Fun summer reading, and the book gives the address of Holly Golightly's apartment as seen on screen, in the East 70's. Back in NYC, I hightailed it over there on a bus, and hung out if front of the building (being a TIFFANY'S fanatic from way back), which I' m sure irritated the current residents to no end. Read, too, a harrowing account of Bill Klegg's (he was one of New York's hottest literary agents a few years back) addiction to crack cocaine and how he overcame it and saved his life. Not fun, but hard to put down. It's aptly called DIARY OF AN ADDICT AS A YOUNG MAN. Another terrific novel was THE REHEARSAL by Eleanor Catton. She's a new writer, wildly original, with a fabulous career ahead of her, I am certain.
While in New York, after Greece, I took a day trip to The Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, located way uptown in Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan. I went there ostensibly to do research for CAMELOT, but found myself swept away by the beauty and majesty of the sculptures, and the tenderness of the gardens. Exquisite, and definitely worth the trip on the subway (IND Eighth Avenue A train to 190th Street.) Exploring The Cloisters made me all the more excited about directing CAMELOT, always one of my favorite musicals, and one which I have never staged. Gosh, I wish we could borrow some of their Unicorn Tapestries (just for a few weeks) to decorate our stage, but I imagine James Noone (our genius scenic designer) will come up with something fantastical, just the same. Finally, in NY, I saw that wonderful Off-Broadway revival of Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, directed beautifully by David Cromer. It starred Michael McKean as the Stage Manager. Mr. McKean, who is one of my favorite American actors, also starred a year ago in the Broadway production of Tracy Letts' SUPERIOR DONUTS, a play which The Public is producing in Spring 2011, as part of our Royal Season.
As I write this, I am happily ensconced in my office at The Public, working through the pyramid of deadlines and scripts on my desk. I am beginning my 11th season as Artistic Director of the company, and I couldn't be happier. Pittsburgh has the finest, most discerning audience in America. Rehearsals happily begin soon for THE ROYAL FAMILY, followed by TALLEY'S FOLLY which has a superb cast and an equally amazing director, Pamela Berlin (PPT's recent A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, TEA, and more.)
One more thing: Many of you have asked me about the film of THE CHIEF. Yes, it was turned into a movie, starring Tom Atkins (naturally!). It will premiere in October of this year, right here in Pittsburgh. Another proud moment for all of us who love The Public.
That's it for now.
See you at the theater!
LET'S CATCH UP!
by Ted Pappas
Friday, May 21, 2010
Well, I'm either the laziest blogger in the universe, or I've just been too preoccupied and wrapped up in the business of Pittsburgh Public Theater to actually sit still long enough to jot down my thoughts. I imagine it's a bit of both. But hey, I'm back, and I appreciate that you're taking the time to catch up with me as well.
Let's begin at the beginning, shall we? The season started off with gusto as Tina Fabrique and her incredible band took the stage with ELLA. This was a show which had made the rounds of regional theaters across the country, directed by Public Theater favorite Rob Ruggiero. I wanted it to open season 35, and fortunately Tina and the gang were all available. We built a brand-new production to fit the physical specifications of The O'Reilly (there really isn't a theater quite like it anywhere else, you know) and had ourselves a grand time. Big hit for us.
We then produced our very first play by Lillian Hellman, The Little Foxes. I chose this work for many reasons: first and foremost, it's a terrific play; it's an American classic (a genre, I believe, in which The Public excels); and there were great parts for many of my favorite actors, including Helena Ruoti who played Regina, Deirdre Madigan as Birdie, Ross Bickell as Ben, and Michael McKenzie as Horace---in fact, I thought every single player in the piece was spot-on perfect, truly one of our strongest casts and a beautifully designed production, as well.
The holidays brought us a record-breaking run of The Second City and, after six previous sold-out runs, the farewell performances of The Chief. Of course we were all sad to see the play finish its astonishing run, but to be blunt, The Public is not a museum. It's a living, breathing entity, and we must make room for new projects and new audiences. The great news is that The Chief was filmed, with Tom Atkins recreating his signature role in the movie version. I've seen the completed film, and it is absolutely wonderful. I believe that it will be released sometime in the early fall of 2010. Undoubtedly, we will be selling the DVD in our lobby (great holiday gift!!)
January and February brought us massive snow storms, and one of the most successful productions in our history, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. We lost three performances due to weather, but were still able to break box office records with this extravaganza/comedy. Another super cast, with John Ahlin giving the performance of a lifetime as Bottom the weaver. It was also a chance to reunite with Harris Doran, who portrayed Puck. I'm sure you recall Harris' amazing performances as the Emcee in Cabaret and as Mozart in our Amadeus. Many of you have asked about the forest transformation sequence. We used 6,000 artificial tree leaves, released by six giant "drop boxes" suspended above the set, for a cascading effect over the stage, the actors, and the audience. Quite a clean-up after every performance.
The season continued with more surprises and excitement, as the Public Theater welcomed Tracy Brigden, artistic director of Pittsburgh's City Theatre, into its family of artists. Tracy is a fabulous director, very tuned into the power of American realism. So, she was the perfect person to helm our revival of Arthur Miller's The Price. FYI, Tracy and I are very close friends, fans of each other's work, and our only competition is over who will pick up the check at dinner.
Another great director, John Tillinger, joined the company for our next project, Alan Ayckbourn's Time of My Life. As anyone in the business will tell you, great directors attract great actors. Hence, the superlative cast, led by Broadway veteran Paxton Whitehead. What an odd, funny, touching play, right? By the way, Sir Alan, who is a good friend of ours at The Public, is receiving a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement on Sunday, June 13.
I am currently in rehearsal for ART, the Broadway and West End mega-hit by Yasmina Reza. We begin performances on May 27, and I am hoping for, and anticipating a hit to close the season. This play is REALLY funny, and REALLY smart. A terrific cast, once, again, by the way.
In the midst of the mayhem and excitement of creating all of these productions, the heroic staff of Pittsburgh Public Theater produced the annual Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest in February and a Gala on May 1, with me as the Guest of Honor. This was a gorgeous affair at the new Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, and was attended by almost 450 people. It was an evening of highlights: 25 talented students from Point Park and beyond recreated scenes from some of my biggest and flashiest PPT productions, we unveiled previews of the new Chief film, a Greek band played throughout cocktails, scenes from PPT productions were projected on three giant screens in the dining room, there was a video tribute with such luminaries as Art Rooney, Jean Horne, and Chris Rawson toasting and roasting me, Roger Humphries jazzed up the evening, Harris Doran sang "There's No Business Like Show Business" (naturally) and the divine Tina Fabrique serenaded us into the night. My good buddy David Matter made a moving (and hilarious) speech to introduce me, and my cousins from Florida and my best friend from Houston were all in the crowd. It was a big night for me, certainly, but a big night for our Public Theater, as well. We raised over $400,000 and had a swell time doing it. My thanks to the amazing co-chairs of the evening, David and Nancy Malone and David and Colleen O'Brien----what wonderful friends and supporters of the Public Theater they are. And my thanks to the fantastic Public Theater staff for all their hard work and dedication. It was a grand night for our theater company, and the most exciting night of my career.
As I put the final touches on ART, work has already begun on our brand-new, upcoming season, The Public's 36th. Most of the casting is completed for The Royal Family, and as soon as it's all in place we will make the big announcement. This is a play I have wanted to stage ever since I saw the splendid New York revival in 1975, and I am bringing together stars from my many and various PPT productions to create our own "royal family" of artists. It's a huge cast, and a big undertaking, but wow, is it ever worth it. James Noone, who designed our versions of Amadeus, Metamorphoses, The Little Foxes, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (among many others) is designing the set.
In fact, all of the new season feels exciting and splendid to me. The first half features three American classics, the above-mentioned The Royal Family, as well as the magnificent Camelot, and one of my all-time favorite American plays, Talley's Folly. The latter is being directed by Pamela Berlin, who staged The Public's productions of Tea and last year's A Moon for the Misbegotten. Part two of our season is an electrifying roster of new and thrilling works, by three of the most exciting writers working in the theater today: Annie Baker, Tracy Letts, and Yasmina Reza. Ms. Baker's play, Circle Mirror Transformation, which recently won the coveted Obie Award as Best New Play, will be directed by Jesse Berger, who staged our production of I Am My Own Wife. That is followed by Mr. Letts' Superior Donuts. He is best known as the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County. Rob Ruggiero, who staged our versions of ELLA, Rabbit Hole, and Anna in the Tropics will serve as director. And finally (may I have a drum-roll, please?) the Public Theater acquired the rights to Ms. Reza's Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, God of Carnage, as the grand finale of the season. It will be directed by your truly.
So, there we have it. We are completing a big, successful season, and embarking on a new one. I am looking forward to a few weeks off this summer to visit my family in Greece, swim, catch up on my reading, and come back refreshed and ready for my 11th season (otherwise known as The Second Decade) as artistic director of our beloved Pittsburgh Public Theater. I hope you enjoy your summer, too.
See you soon.
ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH, DEAR FRIENDS, ONCE MORE!
By Ted Pappas
It's been a few months since my last "blog" entry but this has not been due to a lack of things to write about. Quite the opposite! Life has been so busy, that there has been little time to reflect or to organize my experiences in clear paragraphs.
The spring was happily productive with pre-rehearsal groundwork for the premiere of Harry's Friendly Service by Rob Zellers. With the cast in place, we concentrated on the creation of a perfect physical environment, and refining the text. James Noone (the genius set designer) created a terrific universe in which the action would occur. All grit and grime, surrounded by yards and yards of signage and rust: honest, exciting, and absolutely perfect for the world of the play.
Then a few weeks before the show was to go into rehearsal, I learned that I required major surgery. My operation was scheduled for within a day of Opening Night. Theoretically, I was available to stage the premiere, which is exactly what I set about doing. Frankly, it was comforting to have the distraction of a new play to deal with, amidst the myriad tests and doctors' appointments on my calendar. I don't think I have ever been more focused or more disciplined during a rehearsal period. Every work session was a gift. Every minute was valuable, necessary, and momentous.
Added to this was the timing of The Public's annual fundraiser, the VIP Party saluting our 24 premieres. The party took place a mere hours before I was due at the hospital. My friend Marlo Thomas served as Honorary Co-Chair of the event, and created a wonderful taped testimonial, speaking glowingly of our beloved Public Theater and its value to the cultural profile of our nation---very kind and inspiring words. Her Co-Chairs were the fabulous writing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, of Ragtime, Seussical, and Once On This Island fame---not to mention their gorgeous musical, The Glorious Ones, which had its premiere here at The Public. They were on-hand at the festivities to greet the party-goers and give me courage as I unveiled Rob's latest creation. I introduced the play and went directly home to pack my bag and head to the hospital. All in a night's work, as the saying goes.
I am happy to report that both the play and the surgery were great successes. My only regret was that I had to cancel my annual family visit to Greece; the journey was just too much for me. Instead, I stayed home, was babied by my friends (Thank You Debbie! Thank You David! Thank You Monica! Thank You Everyone!), and caught up on my reading.
Usually, my summer reading list is all the novels I don't have time for during the season. This time the roster was strictly theatrical: fun, often moving, and full of colorful anecdotes. For those of you who are sweet enough to express an interest in what book is on my night-stand at any given moment, here's the list from Summer 2009 (in no particular order), read cover-to-cover, and sometimes more than once:
- THE LETTERS OF NOEL COWARD, edited by Barry Day. Superb.
- PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ by Peter J. Levinson. This is a biography of the great Fred Astaire.
- DIAGHILEV AND FRIENDS by Joy Melville. Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Ballets Russes.
- MARY MARTIN, BROADWAY LEGEND by Ronald L Davis. Did you know that she was Larry Hagman's mother?? Yes, Larry Hagman from I Dream of Jeannie and Dynasty.
- A STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY by Michael Holroyd. This is a massive biography of the actors Ellen Terry and Henry Irving (the first actor to be knighted), and their families.
- LILLIAN HELLMAN, THE IMAGE, THE WOMAN by William Wright. I read this in preparation for our upcoming production of Hellman's The Little Foxes. What a life she lived!
- READING DANCE, edited by Robert Gottlieb. Thousands of pages of essays about all forms and styles of dance. Mesmerizing.
- CONTRADICTIONS by Hal Prince, the great director and producer. These are his early theatrical memoirs and include stories about producing such shows as The Pajama Game, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof, and directing masterworks such as Cabaret, Company, and A Little Night Music. This is a book I read again and again for inspiration and guidance.
- Several research books on William Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night's Dream, for obvious reasons.
There's nothing more deliciously self-indulgent than sprawling on the couch all summer reading book, after book, after book (with some gossip magazines, crossword puzzles and classic movies thrown into the mix). But all good things must come to an end. Before I get back to the pile of work on my sagging desk, here are a few other tidbits:
Things of Dry Hours by Naomi Wallace, which had its world premiere at The Public a few seasons back, opened in Manhattan at the renowned New York Theatre Workshop on
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the director and choreographer of The Public's Ain't Misbehavin' and The World Goes ‘Round, went directly from our Kander & Ebb production to the Kennedy Center where she staged a major revival of Ragtime. That production was so well-received that it's opening on Broadway in November. Bravo Marcia!
Our good friend Brian Murray, The Public's Prospero in The Tempest, recently co-starred in Mary Stuart on Broadway, opposite Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. He was fantastic in the play!
I am directing and choreographing a new production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, as the Fall show for Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut. I am following Rob Ruggiero's summer production of Camelot, at the same theater. Rob is the director of The Public's productions of Rabbit Hole, Anna in the Tropics, The Subject Was Roses, and Lobby Hero. I am thrilled that he is returning this fall to direct the musical Ella for us.
My friend Tracy Brigden, artistic director of Pittsburgh's City Theatre, will be a guest director at The Public this season, helming a brand-new production of Arthur Miller's amazing play, The Price. Welcome Tracy!
So that's a quick run-down of what's been going on with me on the personal and professional front. I am beginning my 10th season as artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater (which is celebrating its 35th!) I am very excited about our upcoming productions and the wonderful artists who will be part of The Public Family this year.
And I look forward to seeing each and every one of you soon, and often, at the theater.
Until next time,
BUSIER THAN EVER
By Ted Pappas
I recently returned from a week in Manhattan on company business and actually found the days away from my office in the O'Reilly Theater restful and relaxing. Can you imagine that - NYC restful? But compared to the schedule that we keep at Pittsburgh Public Theater, a week in the world's busiest city seems (and sometimes is) a walk in the park.
For instance, on March 23rd we held our 15th annual Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest, with a packed house of students, families, friends, educators, and fans of Shakespeare. Forty finalists performed that night, but in the weeks preceding this event, 1,000 students from 100 different schools traipsed through our hallways and lobbies, aiming for the stage, to perform their Shakespeare pieces for the preliminary judges. It's a gargantuan undertaking, but certainly one of the defining events of the Public Theater season. This year's event went beautifully, I am relieved to report, with each and every student a winner. I want to thank Ken Rice from KDKA for serving as host of the evening and our region's drama, speech, and English teachers for spending countless hours advising and preparing their students for this extravaganza.
The week before, we "workshopped" Rob Zellers' new play, Harry's Friendly Service. The entire cast met for a marathon weekend of scene study, discussion and readings of this terrific new work by the co-author of The Chief. There was no audience, just Rob and the actors, our resident dramaturg (The Public's literary specialist) and myself, holed up in a room studying the text. Rob created some amazing re-writes during these sessions; entire sections were cut, new speeches were written and then re-written, dialogue was added for clarification. He even wrote a couple of great laugh lines and scene-closers. The actors ate it up, jumping into their roles with abandon and ferocity. We were able to test the new material instantly, because of the performers' zeal and focus. A real gift to Rob, and to me as the show's director. At the end of that weekend, all of us were spent, but felt confident that the new play had taken a giant leap forward. Kudos to the cast for their fine work.
A few days before the workshop of Harry's, we opened the musical The World Goes ‘Round, featuring one show-stopper after another, performed by a world-class group of Broadway veterans. I am in awe of these talented artists. Their skill is stupendous, their stamina miraculous. (During the final dress rehearsal of the show, The Public once again hosted the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force for their annual fundraiser. This is the longest association between a theater company and an AIDS service organization in the country.) I am delighted that our production of this jewel-of-a-show has been so rapturously received. By the way, it runs until April 5.
Working on a new script is uniquely challenging. So is putting on a musical. But just think back a few weeks and remember that 19 tons of water filled the theater, serving as the "stage" for Metamorphoses. Not only did we have to install and fill the pool and perform this once-in-a-lifetime play, but then we had to drain the pool, reassemble the floor and all of its supports, and load in the scenery for the next production, a musical. Patrons have often asked me how we supported so much water so safely and beautifully. Here's the secret: the entire pool structure, all of its water, and the whole cast were held up by the scenery of our production of The Importance of Being Earnest. That's right. We re-cycled all that steel from Oscar Wilde's play and used it to support the design of Mary Zimmerman's monumental exploration of Ovid's masterpiece. Hey, these are tricky times financially. You've got to be smart about how and where to invest your resources. As a director, I am so happy that audiences found Metamorphoses to be a ravishing production. As a producer, I am over the moon that it came in under budget. Special thanks to the technical staff of Pittsburgh Public, surely one of the finest in the American theater.
After the run of Metamorphoses we announced our upcoming season, The Public's 35th, and my tenth year as Artistic Director. The unveiling of the next year's programming is always a big moment for any arts organization. Months of studying scripts, budgeting, and negotiating go into this enterprise, even before graphic designs are created, and brochures are printed and mailed out. It's make-or-break time for any theater company, so it is especially gratifying that the new season has been met by such a positive response by veteran subscribers and theater professionals. (As long as we're on the subject, if you haven't renewed your subscription yet, stop reading this blog and call the box office immediately. 412-316-1600. We're opening the season with Ella, a musical about the legendary Ella Fitzgerald directed by the wonderful Rob Ruggiero, and then I'm staging back-to-back productions of The Little Foxes and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the rest of the season is just as exciting and varied.)
Anyway, from this partial list of events and performances at The Public, you can understand why a few days in Gotham City seemed like a week at the seashore. Not that I wasn't busy and booked solid from the moment the plane landed. I auditioned 185 actors for next season, I had a very good meeting with a major arts foundation which supports our beloved Public Theater and really believes in our mission and our programming, I worked with the set designer of Harry's Friendly Service because we have to start building that show in a couple of weeks. I even caught some Broadway shows, including Richard Greenberg's The American Plan starring the fabulous Mercedes Ruehl, Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations starring Jane Fonda (she looks AMAZING), and Billy Elliot featuring a terrific cast and some thrilling choreography. I predict a lot of Tony Awards for this musical, so if you are in New York in the near future, I highly recommend it. It's long (almost three hours), but it packs a wallop.
In the meantime, let's keep our theaters filled with great audiences and great performances right here in Pittsburgh. Our town is miraculous. Everywhere you turn there is talent, enterprise, imagination, and quality. And the best is yet to come.
See you soon and often at The Public.
TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE HAVING FUN
By Ted Pappas
I just snuck out of a technical rehearsal of August Wilson's Radio Golf in order to answer some pressing e-mails, make a couple of phone calls to Los Angeles (three hours earlier there), and jot down a few thoughts for this column. The actors and the director think I'm still sitting in the auditorium, but what they don't know won't hurt them. Frankly, the beginning of each new season has so many deadlines and surprises, so many new staff members and new ideas, so many emergencies and solutions, that it's often a relief to simply sit and muse, and mull, and meditate.
As I survey the season-to-be unfolding in front of me, I am struck by a powerful realization: this is my ninth year as artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater! I can still remember, and most distinctly, packing up my vast collection of theater and dance books, all my old playbills (I'm an archivist at heart), dozens of sweaters (heck, every guy has a few obsessions), and my cat, and climbing down the four flights of stairs of my New York apartment. My little cat Archie is in heaven now (I'm absolutely positive of that), my Pittsburgh apartment building has an elevator (my knees are middle-aged now), many of the sweaters have been replaced, the books and playbills have multiplied, and I have helped produce over fifty plays in the interim. Still, I feel as if I've just arrived, and as if the next show is my very first in The O'Reilly space.
In point of fact, I began directing for the company 16 years ago, as a guest artist. My specialty at the time was musicals: Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Gilbert & Sullivan. In the intervening seasons, The Public has given me the opportunity to expand my repertoire. Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Schiller have become part of my daily vocabulary, and I have never been happier. In return, I pledged to this company and to my adopted city, that I would use every ounce of training and talent that I possessed, every single connection and private phone number in my arsenal, to attract world-class professionals to this theater and to promote the careers and talents of our local artists.
My first directing assignment as the company's new artistic director was George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart's You Can't Take It With You, featuring 20 actors, 13 of whom hailed from Pittsburgh. Each new season brought more large-scale projects, often starring a multitude of local artists, including last year's The Comedy of Errors, which was virtually an all-Pittsburgh production. This combination of Pittsburgh actors working in tandem with performers from Broadway, LA, Chicago, Toronto, and London has become one of the trademarks of Pittsburgh Public Theater, and I am exceedingly proud of the results of these collaborations. Some of our more elaborate successes, such as Cabaret, and Amadeus would be much more difficult to produce without the versatile acting pool which our region offers its theater companies. Certain productions, such as The Chief starring Tom Atkins as Art Rooney, Sr., and our upcoming The Lady With All The Answers, starring Helena Ruoti as Ann Landers, are hand-picked to spotlight the dazzling talents of two of America's finest actors, who just happen to live in Allegheny County.
Let me be clear. I don't offer contracts to actors because they live down the block. I'm too picky and proud for that. Each actor we choose to perform at The Public is here because of their unique gifts and because he or she is the person best suited for a particular role. Someone's address is not a testimony to their talent. At the same time, I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn't use every iota of energy and persuasion in me to convince actors like Elizabeth Franz, Hayley Mills, F. Murray Abraham, and others to make The Public their artistic home, even for a brief time. The same applies to writers and directors.
And speaking of writers, Pittsburgh has produced many great playwrights over the years, the aforementioned George Kaufman and August Wilson being the two most inspiring examples. But, let's not forget that The Chief was written by two "home boys," namely Rob Zellers and Gene Collier. And as the grand finale of our current season, Pittsburgh Public Theater is producing the world premiere of Rob's new play, Harry's Friendly Service. Rob was actually born in Ohio, but he has lived and worked in Pittsburgh for so long, that we can legitimately claim him as one of our own. With this year's revival of The Chief, our new production of Radio Golf, and Rob's premiere, our current season is book-ended by Pittsburgh playwrights. What better way for the region's flagship theater to celebrate our city's 250th birthday? Surely there is something in the water here, something in the air perhaps, that has helped create, nurture and attract so much talent to a city this size. I'm not going to try to analyze it. I'm simply going to enjoy it, and be inspired by it.
As we move forward into the new season, The Public's 34th, there are many exciting events waiting to be experienced, onstage and off: the completion of Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle," Ms Ruoti in the role of a lifetime, The Second City in Pratfall of Civilization, Mary Zimmerman's amazing play, Metamorphoses, featuring a multi-ethnic cast and a pool of water where the floor used to be, the songs of Kander & Ebb, my absolute favorite play by Eugene O'Neill, and a world premiere. All this, plus our free lectures (the first of which is October 6), readings of brand-new plays (beginning November 17), exhibits, free performances for underserved or disadvantaged audiences, wonderful newsletters, our annual Shakespeare contest for students, some kind of amazing fundraising gala in the Spring, and more.
Stay tuned. And please stay close. Now, more than ever, our cultural organizations, big and small, need your support and your attendance. Bring friends with you the next time you come to see a play. Introduce a group of teenagers to the work of Eugene O'Neill or August Wilson. Give tickets as a holiday gift. Buy Dad a copy of The Chief, recently published in hardcover and on sale in our lobby. Be an ambassador for the Public Theater and I guarantee that it will be here for a long, long time, making beautiful theater and making a difference.
Thanks for listening. I've got to get back to rehearsal now. See you soon at the theater.
SPRINGING INTO ACTION
By Ted Pappas
Today is the first day of May -- a rainy morning in which I arrived very early to the office. Rehearsals begin in a few days for The Public's new production of THE ODD COUPLE, and there is so much activity in the building right now, so many projects and deadlines, that I wanted to carve out a little private time to write this "blog" entry for anyone who is kind enough to read it.
The past few weeks have been very exciting and hectic ones for me and the team at The Public. We closed AMADEUS in a blaze of glory, and then had another phenomenal experience producing and performing Caryl Churchill's magnificent two-hander, A NUMBER. How about that set? Hundreds upon hundreds of boxes piled on top of each other, floor to ceiling, like a series of skyscrapers. At the annual Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force benefit performance of A NUMBER, I joked that somewhere in all those containers I had hidden the winning Power Ball ticket. Big laugh from the crowd, but I'm still surprised that they didn't storm the stage looking for it! Who can resist so many unopened boxes? By the way, the scenic designer's name is Beowulf Boritt (no kidding). Watch for it in programs, because he is one of the hottest young designers in America, and everyone in New York and around the country is clamoring to work with him.
As soon as A NUMBER opened, we began rehearsals for RABBIT HOLE, directed by my good friend, the incredibly gifted Rob Ruggiero. What a fabulous cast, and what a wonderful, moving, and very surprising play! David Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright, has managed to get the audience to laugh and cry in equal doses, all the while creating a very real world, with real people and dialogue, and very real issues. The play is a triumph. No wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama last year.
I have taken three trips to New York City on company business since February: casting and designing shows, negotiating contracts for future productions, meeting with directors and other artists, attending union meetings, etc. I am also a Tony Awards voter this year, so I took in lots and lots of shows during those days and nights in Manhattan, including Mark Twain's IS HE DEAD? (cleverly staged by Michael Blakemore), Pinter's THE HOMECOMING (still a revolutionary play), Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (star-studded), William Inge's COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA (with a terrific set design by James Noone, who designed many sets for The Public, including THE COMEDY OF ERRORS and AMADEUS), AUGUST; OSAGE COUNTY (which is going to walk away with all of the awards), THE LITTLE MERMAID (take the kids), THE 39 STEPS (for Hitchcock fans), THE SEAFARER (which our own City Theatre is producing next season), GYPSY (featuring Pittsburgh's divine Lenora Nemetz), MACBETH (starring Patrick Stewart - three hours and I loved it), and my very favorite show of all, IN THE HEIGHTS (a new musical, with fabulous dancing and a very sexy and talented cast), and more.
Pittsburgh friends often ask me where to get a bite to eat while visiting the Big Apple, and I usually give the same suggestions, over and over. I am, alas, a creature of habit. But, if you are taking a trip to New York City in the future, may I suggest a few places for lunch, or dinner, or a drink? First, my absolute favorite spot is JOE ALLEN restaurant at 326 West 46th Street. It's a real show-biz hangout with a versatile menu and the best banana cream pie in the city. It's also three minutes from any show you are attending. Their phone number is 212-581-6464. Also, on that same block is the insanely over-decorated FIREBIRD, which specializes in Russian cuisine. Fun, and different. Address: 365 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-586-0244. For really good Greek food go to MOLYVOS at 871 Seventh Avenue, near Carnegie Hall. Phone: 212-582-7500. Another wonderful theater restaurant is ANGUS McINDOE at 258 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-221-9222. There are plenty more in New York's theater district, but these I can guarantee.
While in the district, stop by Saint Malachy's Church at 239 West 49th Street. It is a Catholic Church, also called The Actors' Chapel, for obvious reasons. It's a very special Broadway landmark---still a beautiful functioning church, but with a dazzling theatrical history. I'm not a Catholic, but I often go inside and light a candle (particularly before a play of ours goes into rehearsal). If you find yourself a bit farther uptown in Manhattan, try BARNEY GREENGRASS for lunch. It's located on Amsterdam Avenue, between 86th and 87th Streets. It's an old-style deli (and I mean old-style). Peeling wallpaper, but great sandwiches, and a New York tradition since the Great Depression. It's been featured in SEX IN THE CITY, so don't take my word for it, take Sarah Jessica Parker's!
In mid-March I was in Washington, DC, touting the importance of arts education to our Senators. While in the capital, I had the pleasure of attending a staged reading of August Wilson's FENCES, as part of the Kennedy Center's celebration of this great man's work. I ran into my good friend, Marcy Metelsky, there. She never misses a big theatrical event, whether in NYC, DC, or opening nights at The Public.
Back in Pittsburgh, the hard work continues. The company had six full days of Strategic Planning meetings. What?? You thought working in the theater was all Opening Nights and glittering performances? These meetings were intended to create a solid five-year plan for the company, to keep it producing work at a high level, bring in new audiences, expand our education offerings, create new works, and keep us debt-free, as we always have been and continue to be. They were good, productive meetings, and exhausting mentally and physically, but a solid plan is in the works to keep The Public front and center as Pittsburgh's flagship producing theater company.
Some big news: We were delighted to learn this week that THE GLORIOUS ONES, which premiered at The Public last season, was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards in New York, including Outstanding Musical. My thanks to everyone who gave us extra financial support to make that show a reality. You gave this company a big boost, and helped produce a hit musical at the same time!!
I had some interesting days away from my desk and the rehearsal hall recently, when I gave a series of lectures to various groups around our region, including the Ladies' Philoptohos Society fundraiser in Canonsburg, Longwood at Oakmont, and at the Arts Education Collaborative at Soldiers & Sailors, where I introduced playwright Edward Albee as the keynote speaker. I love giving these speeches and meeting new people, and I hope these talks help spread the word that the arts in Pittsburgh are ESSENTIAL, not a luxury. The arts define and shape us as a civilized society. Just as importantly, art fills our lives with delight, something that is in woefully short supply in modern life. And speaking of delight, as I mentioned, in a few days I begin rehearsals for Neil Simon's amazing comedy, THE ODD COUPLE, with a superb cast, and a marvelous team of designers.
I'm going to say goodbye, for now. I have a fundraising meeting in 20 minutes, and then a production meeting for the Neil Simon play. And then I have to proof-read the brochure for next year's roster of plays. It's going to be an amazing season, our best ever, and I hope to see each and every one of you at The O'Reilly soon and often.
HERE WE GO AGAIN...
By Ted Pappas
Our production of AMADEUS has entered its fifth and final week of performances, but I think this will be a show that many of us will remember fondly and with pride for many years to come. My thanks to all of you who sent me letters and e-mails recounting how the show moved you, how beautiful it looked, and how splendid the cast was. It had the same effect on me, and all of us here at The Public.
Next up is another stunner, A NUMBER, a work by one of the greatest playwrights in the world, Caryl Churchill. She is a writer of tremendous range, who never ceases to amaze and thrill. For those of us excited by the myriad possibilities of the theater and the many forms which storytelling takes, this will be a one-of-a-kind dramatic experience - a play which lasts a little over an hour, yet has the impact of a punch to the solar plexus. It is harrowing, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking, and an event which no true lover of the theater should miss. It actually scared me while I was reading it. After the performance, I guarantee that you will discuss this play with your friends and family for a long, long time.
It has been, I think, an exemplary and varied season thus far - THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, THIS WONDERFUL LIFE, AMADEUS, and now A NUMBER. The only thing that excites me more than the current roster is the line-up for next year, Season 34.
As you have probably already heard, we will open the new season with August Wilson's final play, RADIO GOLF, which is set Pittsburgh in the mid 1990s. We started producing August's plays in 1989, beginning with FENCES, followed by JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, TWO TRAINS RUNNING, and the world premiere of his definitive version of JITNEY in 1996. We then produced SEVEN GUITARS, a new production of FENCES, followed by the world premiere of KING HEDLEY II which unveiled our current home, The O'Reilly Theater. Since I arrived on the scene as artistic director, the company has produced THE PIANO LESSON and GEM OF THE OCEAN. RADIO GOLF will mark our 10th Wilson play, making us one of only three companies in the world to have produced all the pieces of the 10-play cycle. It is an indescribable honor to have had such a lengthy and intimate relationship with one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century. It is a bond which has helped establish The Public as one of America's leading theater companies.
While RADIO GOLF is onstage, I will go into rehearsal with a true Pittsburgh treasure, my friend Helena Ruoti. Helena has a long, illustrious history with The Public. Like many great actresses, she constantly surprises her audiences and her colleagues with her humor, humanity, and an infallible instinct for truth. I have had the pleasure of directing her in two masterpieces. The first was the Sophoclean tragedy OEDIPUS THE KING, in which she took our breath away as the queen/mother/wife, Jocasta. She next ventured into Shakespeare's madcap universe as Adriana, the unhinged bride of one -or more -Antipholus twins in THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. As I watched her bring the house down every night in a comic performance of epic proportions, I thought: "I want to work with her again, and soon. And the audience adores her. I've got to find her a new show, something completely unexpected". I first considered a musical, and then it hit me--- a one-woman play, the ultimate test of theatrical virtuosity! And so, my friends, Ms. Ruoti will transform herself into the cultural icon and advice guru Ann Landers, in THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS, by David Rambo. David is a terrific playwright who also writes for such television programs as CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION. We first met when he came to The Public to participate in our Public Exposure play reading series with his new work, THE ICE-BREAKER. He wanted The Public to stage his Ann Landers play and I was looking for a new project with which to challenge and spotlight Helena. It was kismet.
We have scheduled the third production of our subscription series with additional time before rehearsals and performances begin in order to open up the stage floor of our theater and install a pool. Not a pool in which to do laps, but a pool in which to do a play, complete with water and a pump, filtering, heating and drainage systems, auditorium dehumidifiers, offstage hot boxes to keep the actors warm between scenes, decking surrounding the pool, and all sorts of extras that one does not normally associate with putting on a play. I have to believe that it will be worth the extra research, effort and expense, because there is no more appropriate and evocative space in which to create a new production of METAMORPHOSES than our very own O'Reilly Theater. Mary Zimmerman's play is like a series of beautiful dreams. It is based on the mythological tales of the Greeks and Romans as written by that master storyteller, Ovid. But it all feels and sounds surprisingly modern. Great myths are eternal, after all. This is a huge project for The Public, and a daunting one for any theater company. But it will be an undertaking which will expand our expertise in technical areas, and as a visual and aural experience, it will be a new and unique experience for our audience. I am nervous about it, the way I was about AMADEUS, but immeasurably curious. By the way, in the New York production the front row audience members were each given a towel, just in case. Some of you will be sitting closer than they were.
The Public has a stupendous track record of producing musicals. Our production of BY JEEVES went directly from our stage to Broadway, and was filmed for television and DVD. Last season's world premiere of THE GLORIOUS ONES made a bee-line to Lincoln Center this past fall and garnered excellent reviews. In between those two productions we've had a wide assortment of musical offerings, including THE MIKADO, MAN OF LA MANCHA and last season's CABARET, which broke box office records. While researching and preparing CABARET, I drenched myself in the music and lyrics of John Kander & Fred Ebb, the songwriting team responsible for that show, as well as CHICAGO, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, and the film NEW YORK, NEW YORK. There is a brilliant musical revue celebrating their prodigious accomplishments called THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND. I consider it one of the most fabulous revues ever devised, loaded with showstoppers and touching moments, lots of dance numbers and star turns. Happily, we will produce a new production of this musical show, staged by the highly regarded director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who helmed The Public's version of AIN'T MISBEHAVIN'. Hold on to your hats!
We are hoping in upcoming seasons to produce some of America's monumental masterpieces, and by that I mean the best plays of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and writers of that caliber and pedigree. We will begin this journey with my favorite play of O'Neill's, A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. I have seen it performed many times, by different actors and companies, and it invariably moves me. As a young man, I had the privilege of knowing the incomparable actress Colleen Dewhurst. When she was appearing in this play on Broadway, opposite Jason Robards, I could sometimes be found in the wings, soaking it all in. Even then, from the vantage point of a backstage voyeur, I realized what a significant work of art I was witnessing. Also, this was the last project produced here by one of my predecessors at The Public, Bill Gardner, before his untimely death. That was 18 years ago. It's time to see this play again.
And now the grand finale: a brand-new play by Pittsburgh's own Rob Zellers. Rob is the co-author of THE CHIEF, the biggest box-office success in the Public Theater's history, and a truly special night of theater. His new play is called HARRY'S FRIENDLY SERVICE, and it's a winner. Full of heart, twists and turns, surprise entrances, tears, jokes, marvelous dialogue, and charismatic, expansive characters. The script was developed through our Public Exposure play reading series, something I am especially gratified by. The only thing which matters as much as developing the audience of the future is giving birth to the plays of tomorrow. As The Public's Director of Education, no one has done more than Rob to make sure that the young people and the students of our region are exposed to the very finest experiences in the theater -from actual productions, talkbacks, classes, and our one-of-a-kind Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest. During his 20 years with The Public he has helped create a new and appreciative audience for the theater, and, in fact, for all the arts. During those years, Rob observed veteran as well as fledgling playwrights hone their skills on our stage. Then he started writing himself. First quietly, secretly. Stories, and then plays. Pittsburgh Public Theater will produce the world premiere of Rob's latest work at the close of the 2008-09 season. I am honored that Rob has asked me to direct.
It feels a little odd talking about next year while still in the midst of the passion and planning of the current season. A NUMBER is in rehearsals. The final set plans for RABBIT HOLE are in our scene shop. And next week we hold auditions for THE ODD COUPLE.
I'm the luckiest guy in the world.
FULL SPEED AHEAD!
By Ted Pappas
Well, the season is off to a grand start. First came the revival of The Chief, then our production of The Comedy of Errors which seemed to hit the mark, then a reading of Rob Zellers' new play Harry's Friendly Service, and now a terrific performance by Mark Setlock in This Wonderful Life. You'd think that all of us at The Public could finally catch our breath. But with the holidays upon us, the new Second City show, Three Rivers Runs Through It, about to be unveiled, and next year's season to plan and announce, these days there's no such thing as "down time at the O'Reilly". It's just as well. No one likes to stop a fast-moving train!
In the past month alone I've taken three weekend trips to New York City on company business. Most of my time there was spent in auditions for our upcoming production of Amadeus. The show has 19 actors in it, and it has taken me almost a year to get everything just right. This includes understudies for all the major roles. While in Manhattan, I met often with James Noone, the brilliant scenic designer, to make concrete decisions about the set for Amadeus, and then I flew back and shared the information with our costume designer Susan Tsu, and the rest of The Public's production team. I returned to New York for the opening night of The Glorious Ones at
Lincoln Center, with a major stop at the Drama Book Shop to peruse new scripts and research books. If you are ever looking for play scripts and musical librettos, a call or a trip to the Drama Book Shop is essential. They have everything, and if for some reason they don't, they can tell you where to find it. FYI, the shop is located at 250 West 40th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Their phone number is (212) 944-0595 or (800) 322-0595 toll free, and they are open 7 days a week.
Every trip I take to Manhattan includes a visit to the Drama Book Shop and a journey to the playhouses, because the search for new plays, fresh translations, and ideas for the next season never, ever stops. Programming and planning what appears on the stage is the central responsibility of every artistic director. It's what makes us toss and turn in our sleep. If you stop by the O'Reilly late at night after a performance and the lights are still on, I'm probably in my office reading a script, counting the characters and scene changes, comparing editions and translations, cross-referencing what's been produced over the past few seasons locally, and trying to figure out which artist might be attracted to which project. At the same time I am studying the published manuscripts of veteran writers, I am reading rough drafts and treatments, unfinished scripts, and third and fourth tries at getting it right by lesser- known playwrights. And, of course, Sophocles, Shakespeare and Schiller, and fellows like that---the canon of great works that are always a part of The Public's offerings.
I never travel without a briefcase full of scripts. The airport lounges are my reading rooms, and I do some of best work 20,000 feet in the air. I have planned many productions while en route to Greece to visit my family. You can stage a lot of scenes during a 10- hour flight. Even a relatively brief excursion from Pittsburgh to Manhattan affords me the uninterrupted luxury of total focus on a play. That moment when the flight attendant says, "Turn off your cell phones" is music to my ears. It's me, the play, my red pen, and away we go!
Returning to Pittsburgh after finding a brilliant Salieri to star in Amadeus (Tony Abatemarco), opposite an equally brilliant Mozart (Harris Doran), I plunged headlong into technical rehearsals for This Wonderful Life. The director, Martha Banta, had everything under control, but no producer worth his/her salt absents themselves from the grind of tech rehearsals without getting the reputation of being a snob or a slug. I like to think of myself as trouper and a problem solver, plus I'm a control freak, so there I sat for 14 hours a day watching someone else direct a show (and rather beautifully I am happy to report). On breaks, I would go into my office and work out some traffic issues with all t