Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
Our final interview with the Gala Directors & Playwrights is with GLORY KADIGAN, Producing Artistic Director of PCTF, and ISRAEL HOROVITZ, playwright extraordinaire. They are the director and playwright respectively, of St Anne’s Soup.
CP: Welcome to you both! Thank you for doing this interview. Typically I’d start this off talking about your play, but this time I’d like to ask you, Glory, a little something about Planet Connections. As you know, I’m a PCTF fan from way back. What you’ve created here, in my opinion, is a wonderful way for theatre and theatre people to affect change in our community both directly (aligning with causes) and indirectly (performing art that seeks to change audiences in ways both small and large.) Tell me about one of your proudest moments over the past six years of PCTF’s development.
GK: As you know, every production we present partners with a different charitable organization which it raises money and awareness for. One of our regular playwrights has a young daughter who is about ten years old. The playwright hadn’t ever volunteered before so he didn’t really care what organization he was benefiting. He let his daughter decide. He was just interested in “getting his play up.” I see his plays year after year, and his daughter stands outside of the theater, collecting donations for the “Rescue Dogs.” Now, every year, they volunteer together at the dog shelters and she tells him “You have to put up another play and help the dogs. Write another play.” Together, this playwright and his daughter, have raised several thousand dollars for the organization she selected. He said prior to this, they hadn’t spent much time together but now every year, they work at Planet Connections to help the Rescue Dogs. He thanked me for giving him something that helped him connect with his daughter. That was one of my proudest moments.
CP: That’s really a terrific story. If I were you, I’d tuck that away and bring it out every time I needed reminding about the good one person can do. Speaking of doing good, the proceeds of ticket sales to the Gala benefit City Harvest. What drew you to aligning this year’s gala with them?
GK: The playwrights selected the cause they wanted to champion. City Harvest is an incredible organization that basically takes the millions of pounds of food in this city that otherwise would be tossed out, and puts it where it can do the most good – with the food programs that then give it to the needy. It’s just amazing what they do.
CP: Oh, I see – the playwrights pick the cause as that then influences the theme of their plays! Israel, I understand you have had first hand experience with helping out some of these food programs.
IH: Yes. My family has spent endless hours doling out food in shelters and food kitchens over the years. Feeding the hungry seemed to me an excellent and appropriate theme for our plays, and City Harvest an excellent and appropriate project to support. Happily my co-contributors – Wendy, Winter and Erik – agreed and here we are.
CP: I understand we’ll be getting a “taste” of that experience with your play, St. Anne’s Soup. Was it the interaction with community causes that drew you to working with PCTF?
IH: I really knew nothing about Planet Connections before being invited to write a short play for the current event. I’d just finished directing a film and was in the throes of post-production. The prospect of writing a short play was instantly attractive…I wanted to write a new play and felt I could handle something short. Once I discovered what Planet Connections was about, I was very happy indeed to help focus the event on feeding NYC’s hungry.
CP: Glory, directing a show for the Gala while overseeing the entire Theatre Festivity must keep you very busy indeed. How do you keep your artistic batteries charged in the face of all the producing needs?
GK: Lots of espresso. And music. I love listening to music. Walks in the park are also good. I used to walk to the Bethesda Fountain every day but now I walk to the King Jagiello monument. Israel told me about how he and Terrence McNally and Leonard Melfi once presented a collaborative production which took place at the King Jagiello monument. They drew straws. Israel got “Morning”, Terrence got “Afternoon” and Leonard got “Night.” There is a lot more to the story of this collaboration, and I can’t include it all here, but let’s just say that Israel’s recounting of events was influential enough on me that one day I decided to walk out to take a look at the King Jagiello monument. I was seated there at the base of the statue when coincidentally, Israel contacted me and we agreed to work together as director and playwright for the first time. It was striking to me that I was at the base of that monument when that conversation occurred. I felt “blessed” by Leonard – even though I never knew him. But I now walk there every day instead of to the Bethesda Fountain.
CP: Israel, in a recent interview, you mentioned seeing A Raisin in the Sun as a child, and that you felt that “This play is taking me somewhere. It’s like a place of privilege.” I’m struck by the thought of theatre being both a place where artists have the privilege of creating worlds, and transporting audiences to those worlds for a while. How has this idea of the artist as a conduit of -and to- privilege, influenced your work?
IH: I grew up in a small, predominantly white Anglo-Saxon town north of Boston called Wakefield. My father drove a truck until age 50, when he began law school at night and eventually became a lawyer in our town. Lorraine Hansberry’s masterful play took me into the home of a black family on the south side of Chicago… somewhere I felt I’d never visit in my lifetime if not for Hansberry’s play. Thus, for me, the play took me to a place of privilege. Giving a play a sense of “place” has always seemed important to me … taking an audience somewhere they might normally be unable to visit, or someplace they might otherwise avoid. I have often created characters in my plays that people would cross the street to avoid in life. My goal is to have an audience find affection for these characters… find a commonality, even an intimacy. After all, we’re all just people trying to get it done before the earthquake.
CP: You’ve worked with a lot of talented directors, and are one yourself. What advice would you give to a playwright about working with directors?
IH: Got a spare month to discuss this? The relationship between playwright and director lives somewhere between magic and misery. (I assume I’m giving advice to an early-career playwright, not to an ancient like myself.) It’s critically important for a playwright to find a director who actually wants to direct the play that’s been written… not the play he or she would have written if he or she had written a play. This notion also embraces casting choices. Casting can be a huge unearned error, a massive rewrite for the worst. So, ultimately, my advice is to meet with director-candidates many times before making a decision. It can take years to write a truly polished, stage-worthy play. It will usually be cast and directed in a matter of weeks. There’s a precious lot at risk. Be careful. Finding a real partner-director is a life-defining joy. Settling for less is, well, settling for less.
CP: Glory, after years of working with some of the most talented theatre people in NYC, how do you feel about the state of theatre these days?
GK: Like everywhere, there are people who want to solve problems and people who create them. I like to solve problems and surround myself with artists who also want to solve problems. And PCTF involves tons of people like that. I’ve seen some truly talented and caring people come through the festival, and I’m so pleased that I get to work with them. I’m also very proud of the fact that so many of these artists will come back to PCTF year after year. The theatre community is full of wonderful people, and I think that we’re capable of doing some amazing things – if we concentrate on solving problems.
CP: Very true. There’s always bad seeds, but you’ve built an event centered around creative problem solving, which is great. Let’s talk playwriting for a minute – Israel, your plays are often translated, especially into French. Have you ever had to make a shift in a storyline because of the language change?
IH: I rarely change storyline, but often cut references that might be lost on a foreign audience … or change references so that a parallel is found that won’t confuse an audience. Translation is everything. For me, working directly with translators for important foreign [first] productions is absolutely essential. The translation has to take into account the cultural idiosyncrasies of its new country. Simply said, for a play to work well in German language, it has to speak to German culture… it has to ultimately seem very German. Thus, I tend to work directly with translators in France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Israel, Slovenia, Sweden, Denmark — wherever my plays are being done in major [first] productions. As my plays tend to use colloquial language, I often try to find kindred-spirit playwrights to translate my plays, rather than academics. The translation’s the thing: a brilliant director can’t save a good play that’s badly translated.
CP: Glory, let me give you the final word here. Why should people come to PCTF’s Gala?
GK: Our annual Gala reflects the heart and soul of Planet Connection’s reason for being: talented, compassionate artists giving of their time and talent to make a difference in our city. The artists who are participating this year – the playwrights and directors that you’ve interviewed plus actors like Melissa Leo, Mary Beth Hurt, Caissie Levy and many others- are all insanely skilled AND so very giving. The work that you will see on that stage on June 22nd will amaze you, I promise. And while you’re enjoying the plays you are also putting food directly into the hands of your neighbors.
CP: Great art, great cause, great time – doesn’t get much better than that! Thank you both very much for taking the time to do this interview. I wish you many broken legs at the Gala!