DirectorSpeak

Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors

Festival Shorts: Neil LaBute

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F E S T I V A L   S H O R T S

Neil LaBute

Neil LaBute

Neil LaBute

This series is about the people in and around the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Last year I interviewed PCTF’s Co-Producing Artistic Director, Glory Kadigan. I am also participating in the Festival this year, through my company, Articulate Theatre Company, as we debut with our production of DRAGON. Due to the confluence of my interests Glory has given me wonderful access to interview some of the people associated with the festival. We are starting off this series with interviews of some of the established talents who have donated their time and energy and work toward the PCTF Gala: One Acts for a Cause, which benefits Safe Horizon.
We lead off the series with a “short” interview with Neil LaBute, who graciously took time out from preparing to fly to Canada for his next film project.  Neil has a string of credits to his name (which you can read here) but my favourite description of him comes from his IMDb page, which says: “Acclaimed and highly discussed filmmaker Neil LaBute has made himself a force to be reckoned with and a name to watch. With his true-to-life cynical and self-absorbed characters and all-too-true social themes, he has firmly established himself as an unforgiving judge of the ugliest side of human nature.” Theatre can be a forum for change – for better or worse – and Neil LaBute knows his way around both stage and screen in a way that few others can even contemplate. Let’s listen in as he talks about the festival, the gala, the discipline of writing, and what inspires him.

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CP: I learned about Planet Connections when I interviewed Glory Kadigan, your director for Over the River & Through the Woods, last year. I was thrilled to discover a person and an organization that so seamlessly married theatre and support for social change. Did you know about that part of PCTF’s mission when you chose to work with them? Is that what drew you to them? If not, what did?

NL:  I actually did know about how the festival operated –after Glory explained it to me when we met last year– before I agreed to be part of the benefit. I certainly admire their stated goals as a festival and what they are trying to achieve through both theater and fundraising, and when you can do good work and connect that to an important social issue, it’s hard not to want to be a part of that. I feel happy and lucky to have been included in what will no doubt be a very special evening.

CP:  Over the River and Through the Woods is being presented as part of PCTF’s Gala “One Acts for a Cause,” and that cause is Safe Horizon, the largest domestic violence victims’ services provider and shelter network in the U.S. How do you feel about the ability of theatre as a forum for social change?

NL: I’m personally a little dubious about how much change theater can actually achieve, but I do think it has great potential to open hearts and minds to other ways of thinking, which can certainly lead to change. It’s the rare piece of theater that has an audience bursting out of the auditorium ready to change themselves and others but theater, at its best, is a great instrument for entertainment and education and those tools can often make us learn and listen in ways that are different than the ones we usually utilize in our lives.

CP: DirectorSpeak is a blog about director and the art/craft of directing, specifically in the world of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway. What is it that you desire most in a director that you work with? How does that desire change based on whether it’s the first time out for a play or if the play already has a track record?

NL: I think you ultimately want someone to bring your words to life but to do so in the most collaborative way possible–you do need a person of vision who knows that this will be their interpretation of your work but you always hope that they’re going to be a very humane and loving dictator rather than an uptight and bloodthirsty despot. I’ve seen both in my time and I prefer the former.

CP: You’ve worked with theatre directors from all levels -Broadway, to Off, to Off-Off, to Regionals. Have you found any big differences between them? Any similarities that you think all good directors share?

NL: All good directors listen. All bad directors don’t. Good directors don’t fear being challenged while bad directors fear everything but usually mask it behind bravado or aloofness or some other form of aggression (that supposedly masks their great sense of insecurity). I love a director who isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know” and then proceeds to figure out the answer to any given question.

CP: You have been quoted as saying “I appreciate discipline. I like to have rules. I’m hard on myself when I write.” There are many PCTF playwrights out there right now writing and re-writing plays under the restrictions and constraints of the Festival environment. What advice would you share with them about the value of these limitations?

NL: I’ve met lots of writers who don’t want to re-write and I don’t understand why. It’s just part of the process for me and it’s often the best, most creative part. I am hard on myself when I write because there are a lot of good writers out there doing their best to create memorable work; to be one of them is the goal and that only comes from pushing yourself to do your finest work every time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Lots of people call themselves ‘writers’ but fewer are the ones who actually sit down and do it.

CP:  Let’s end on a light note: What’s your favorite NYC spot for inspiration?

NL: I love going to the movies or the theater. I’m inspired by people doing good work that I wish I’d done so I’m happy at Film Forum or La Mama or places like that -outside of work, however, I still love walking into Central Park and being swallowed up by that place. It’s so nice to leave the city behind for a moment and walk in the trees and sit in the grass. It’s a pretty magnificent place and I admire the foresight that others had to create that oasis in the middle of such a metropolis.

Thank you Neil, for your time for this interview, and for sharing your work with the PCTF Festival. Best wishes for your safe travels and for your film!

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2 comments on “Festival Shorts: Neil LaBute

  1. Ruth Tyndall Baker
    June 2, 2013

    Great short interview…a good taste of his personality. Neil filmed A Company of Men inFort Wayne, IN. It was also produced as a stage play at IPFW prior to that, so that is how I’m familiar with his work. Ruth Tyndall Baker

  2. Bob Verlaque
    June 3, 2013

    Terrific and insightful, and spot on regarding directors and importance of rewrites. Thanks

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