Sarah Slight: What made you want to create these two works surrounding Tennessee Williams’ life and writing? What draws you to him as a writer and as a person?
Steve Lawson: I’d met him twice in Williamstown – 1979 and 1982 – and years later read a just-published volume of his correspondence. It struck me that the letters would make a powerful theatrical piece. The Williams Estate gave me permission to adapt them, and the success of the first play led to a sequel.
I’ve always thought that no other American playwright has consistently written so wonderfully for actors. For all the tumult of his later years, he was a very funny man – and many of the letters capture that. Like his plays – and like the man himself – the letters are an amazing blend of rollicking humor, darkness, and raunchiness.
SS: AreBlanche and Distant Country part of a larger series? (If not, any plans to do another?)
SL: Richard Thomas and I have been hoping that Al Devlin, who edited these first two volumes of correspondence, would tackle Tennessee’s last years in a third collection. Right now, it’s looking good. How great if someday, somewhere we could then do all three shows in one day – talk about a marathon!
SS: 1982 was near the end of his life–how much was Tennesse Williams around forCelebration? What was his response? What was it like to be around him?
SL: Tennessee was in residence for the entire three-week rehearsal period. I was lucky enough to be part of the creative team that put the two-night, six-hour production together, so got to work hands-on with him. He’d become a fan of WTF and then artistic director Nikos Psacharopulos after seeingCamino Real, which he stated publicly was the best version of the play he’d ever seen.
And he loved theCelebration. He’d stopped drinking by that time so was incredibly focused and funnier than ever. One night a bunch of us were talking with him, and he asked if we wanted to know his favorite four-letter word. Well, sure we did. He leaned in and intoned, very slowly: “W-O-R-K.” And he meant it! He was just chock-full of life, which is why it was so shocking to lose him just seven months later.
SS: Is there anything else you want to us to know about the play and the project before we go see it?
SL: The built-in advantage of this piece is that – unlikeDistant Country, which dealt with Tennessee’s obscure younger years before anyone had heard of him – Blanche and Beyond covers the time span of what we think of as his greatest achievements. It’s the period of Streetcar, Rose Tattoo, Camino, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with letters to people like Elia Kazan, Gore Vidal, and Jessica Tandy – even New York drama critics. (Imagine that happening today.) So I think the audience will relish the roller-coaster ride of a famous man trying to hold on to his success and his art in the face of intense pressures – some external, some engendered within himself – interpreted by an outstanding actor. And to fill in any gaps, Richard and I will be doing a Q-&-A right after the show, and there are always a lot of questions.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Gosnell, assistant costume designer on The Torch-Bearers.
[Dramaturg] Amy Lipman: How does a costume designer usually begin their process?
Sarah Gosnell: The very first thing people get around to is discussing with the director and other designers the look, feel, and period that they’re going for in the production. The next step is to solidify with everyone how you’ll begin to research that period or time. Or, if it’s coming from something that’s not historical, inventing that period or time or place if it’s in some kind of fantasy situation, or other world. After research comes the beginning of sketching. It’s really nice if you know or recognize the actors. It makes everyone appreciate the sketches more and when an actor walks in and sees themselves, it really makes everyone comfortable and excited about the clothes they’re wearing.
AL: What was the research like for TB?
SG: Ilona [Somogyi, Costume Designer] did the research, and for this show, we were doing 1922 outside of Philly. We were establishing that most of the women were pretty well off, and with the men, some were and some weren’t. It was an interesting dynamic with these women who had lots of spare time to become involved in theatre, and the men may have been retired or had jobs that allowed them to participate in social activities outside of work. That’s a really nice contrast because the men in the theatrical troupe are of that sort and Mr. Ritter…the whole time we’ve been looking for his navy suit? We’ve been looking for a businessman’s suit. So it’s really nice that those can juxtapose against each other, and also to have him be so astonished with all these people in his home, doing this show.
AL: What’s been your role as an assistant designer?
SG: It’s a pretty unique role here. Williamstown hires me to assist designers that come in from New York. So, Ilona spends some time in New York fabric shopping, doing other errands, and I’ve spent time with her there pulling costumes from rental houses, or going shopping. I’m kind of like the liaison up here to represent Ilona and her design and to be someone in the shop that people can ask questions to about what they’re building, and I coordinate a lot of the fittings, rentals and purchases.
AL: Are you assisting more than one designer this summer?
SG: Not this summer. Torch-Bearers is our big period piece, and it also has the largest cast, so while other assistants can work on a Nikos and a Main Stage, this summer I’m just assisting on one. Earlier this summer, I designed Free Theatre so I got to put on my designer hat and work on a production on the same stage with a very different feel.
AL: Is this your first summer at Williamstown?
SG: This is my second season here. Last summer I was the first hand in the costume shop.
AL: What challenges have come from working with the size of the cast and the historical period of The Torch-Bearers?
SG: The big challenge is that the 1920s is one of those periods where if we have the actual piece from 1920, it’s almost one hundred years old. So our rentals have taken us internationally, and that’s been interesting. We’re building all of the dresses. It’s a really fun period to build and most of the dresses from 1922 have a really loose shape, it’s before traditional flapper style and it still has some Edwardian and even Victorian elements to it. So it’s fun for the shop to build that kind of loose and kind of androgynous style. There are also some pieces in the second act of Torch-Bearers that will have bustles and corsets, so it’s been nice doing a little bit of everything. This period is an incredible challenge to work on. And it’s been great.
WTF Expands Rush Ticket Policy!
The Williamstown Theatre Festival has expanded its rush ticket policy for its Main and Nikos Stage shows. Beginning on Friday, July 24, rush tickets will be sold to all same-day evening performances from 4pm until curtain (subject to availability). Tickets are $15 and are available by phone at 413.597.3400 or in person at 1000 Main Street in Williamstown.*
*Rush ticket discount cannot be applied to previously purchased tickets and cannot be combined with any other offer. Tickets are subject to availability and are only valid for same day performances. Limit 2 per person.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THUNDER? opens on the Nikos Stage!
The world-premiere of Noah Haidle’s, What is the Cause of Thunder? opened on the Nikos Stage Thursday night to a sold-out house! Directed by Festival Artistic Associate Justin Waldman and starring Betty Gilpin and Wendie Malick, What is the Cause of Thunder? tells the story of an aging soap-star, who, after 27 years on the same television show, has begun to confuse her life with her art.
The cast, audience and creative teams celebrated with another wonderful event at Mezze. Thunder? runs through August 2nd. The critics have many praises for Gilpin and Malick:
“Bravo to Gilpin and Malick who interact superbly… these [are] two brilliant actresses…” – BerkshireFineArts.com
“…Excellent work by two dynamic actresses… Betty Gilpin is very talented… [Wendie] Malick succeeds on every level…” – Advocate.com
Theatermania says: ” Noah Haidle has spun comic gold…Everything about this production is a class act.”
Richard Thomas Returns to WTF in BLANCHE AND BEYOND
Emmy-winning actor Richard Thomas returns to WTF on Sunday, August 2nd in a one-night only special event—Blanche and Beyond, adapted by Steve Lawson from the 1945-1957 letters of Tennessee Williams. The one-man show will mark anniversaries for both alumni: 25 years since Thomas first performed at Williamstown, and 40 years since Lawson’s first summer at the Festival.
Blanche—the sequel to A Distant Country Called Youth, presented at WTF in 2002—covers the peak years of Williams’ career…From the Broadway triumphs of The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo, Summer and Smoke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In letters by turns hilarious, raunchy, and poignant–written to the likes of Elia Kazan, Jessica Tandy, Gore Vidal as well as critics, lovers, and family–Blanche explores a brilliant playwright facing the seismic shock of international fame.
The single performance of Blanche and Beyond will take place on Sunday, August 2nd at 7:00pm on the Main Stage. A Q-&-A with Thomas and Lawson will follow the show. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased by calling (413) 597-3400, in person at the WTF box office, or online at wtfestival.org
Two for $55 to THE TORCH-BEARERS – up next on the Main Stage!
Our 2 tix for $55 offer is back by popular demand! Now through July 30 ONLY, you can buy two tickets to our Main Stage production of The Torch-Bearers for $55 in celebration of our 55th Anniversary Season!
The Torch-Bearers , written by George Kelly and adapted and directed by WTF favorite Dylan Baker, stars Becky Ann Baker, Yusef Bulos, John Doherty, Katie Finneran, Philip Goodwin, Jessica Hecht, Edward Herrmann, Andrea Martin, Lizbeth Mackay, Katherine McGrath, John Rubinstein and James Waterston. This side-splitting 1920s farce follows a troupe of amateur actors as they rehearse and perform a show-stopping new play—or try to with all their might. Their stage is riddled with comedic drama, suspense, and good old-fashioned witty mayhem. The Torch-Bearers runs through August 9th only!
Greylock Theatre Project Performs Tonight
Catch the Greylock Theatre Project One on Ones at 5:00 or 8:00pm in Goodrich Hall
An equity actor and a member of the non-equity company perform a ten-minute play with one of the kids!
Fridays @ 3 this week is Samuel J. and K. by Mat Smart
directed by Justin Waldman
July 31 @ 3pm in the Peresky Center
Samuel J. surprises his adopted brother, Samuel K., with a trip back to his birth country of Cameroon for college graduation—but Samuel K. has no desire to face a place and a past that abandoned him. Samuel J. and K. challenges the traditional definitions of family and asks if a place we’ve only imagined can become home overnight.
Cabaret 2 performs this weekend
July 31st, August 1st and 2nd @ 11pm in Goodrich Hall
Directing Assistant, Adam Knight Presents Chopin’s Preludes by Mat Smart
August 1st @ 11pm in the Directing Studio
With Lauren Blumenfeld, Francesca Choy-Kee, and Adam Lerman
Blanche and Beyond is the sequel to A Distant Country Called Youth (WFF, 2002), which Lawson adapted from the early letters of Tennessee Williams. Whereas Distant Country portrayed a young man battling the odds to become a writer, Blanche focuses on the playwright trying to hold on to what he’s achieved as he faces the seismic shock of international fame.
During the course of the play which spans the years 1945 to 1957, the actor moves between three sites – New York, the South, and Abroad – as he corresponds with the likes of Elia Kazan, Gore Vidal, Carson McCullers as well as agents, friends, and lovers.
Both pieces premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club and have been published by Samuel French. Tennessee Williams was in residence at WTF twice – in 1979 for Camino Real and in 1982 for the epic two-night Tennessee Williams: A Celebration, which Lawson helped create.
Steve Lawson is Executive Director of the Williamstown Film Festival and has degrees from Williams College and Yale School of Drama. His television writing credits include “St. Elsewhere” (first teleplay on AIDS), Edith Wharton: Looking Back, The Elephant Man, and the Emmy-winning documentary on the Group Theatre. As a journalist he has written for The New Republic, Travel & Leisure, and The New York Times. 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of his first season at WTF where he is an Honorary Associate, served as the first Literary Manager, has written 15 adaptations, and co-founded the Cabaret and Free Theater.
Richard Thomas is a veteran of stage, screen, and television. He won an Emmy Award playing John-Boy on “The Waltons” and will start in David Mamet’s new play Race on Broadway this fall. He appeared in the 2005 premiere of Blanche and Beyond at MTC. His films include Winning opposite Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Last Summer, Wonder Boys, and Ang Lee’s upcoming Taking Woodstock. 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of Thomas’ first WTF season in 1984 when he appeared in Williams’ play Vieux Carre. He M.C.’d the Festival’s 50th-anniversary gala As Dreams Are Made On, which Lawson wrote.
Ticket are $25.00 and may be purchased by calling or visiting the box office, or on our website.
As Noah Haidle’s play What is the Cause of Thunder has its world premiere on the Williamstown Nikos Stage tonight, you might find yourself asking, how do new plays make it from page to stage?
The process varies from show to show, but in general, if a show is not commissioned by the theatre, its journey begins when someone on staff reads the script. Scripts are received in many ways, through agent submissions, recommendations from industry professionals, or from writers with a prior connection to the theatre. In this case, playwright, Noah Haidle, had met Artistic Associate and director, Justin Waldman, on a previous show. “Justin was the assistant on a play I did at the Huntington called Persephone and then he was the assistant on Saturn Returns at Lincoln Center [Both directed by WTF Artistic Director, Nicky Martin]. So Justin and I have been fast friends for years. And we made the decision [to work together] in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. We were at intermission for South Pacific, and we were just enchanted, as you are. And I said, ‘Do you want to direct my play?’ He said ‘Yeah’ And that was that.” –(From my interview with Noah Haidle included in the Thunder program.)
After a theatre company expresses interest in a script, they often organize an informal reading of the play with staff members. Informal reads allow the theatre to hear a play out loud and get a better feeling for the text. Here at WTF, Thunder was part of the festival’s Fridays @ 3 reading series which offers a first public glimpse at new works. Shows are given a short rehearsal period and then read for a small audience. These readings help a writer to explore the text and see how an audience responds. Readings can be invaluable in the development process as texts often mutate when read out loud. Sometimes a scene will work on paper, but aloud will feel too short, too long, or certain jokes won’t land. In the case of Thunder, an additional scene was added post reading. This summer’s production of Knickerbocker by Jonathan Mark Sherman was also part of the Fridays @ 3 series.
Once a theatre company commits to producing a play they hire designers and actors. The play continues to evolve throughout the process, before and during rehearsals and into the run of the show. So there you have it, an insider look at the process of developing new work.
What is the Cause of Thunder?, aside from being a quote from King Lear and the title of Noah Haidle’s new play, is also the name of the Soap Opera that one of the show’s characters, Ada, has been on for 27 years. Soap operas are know for their operatic plot lines (hence the name) and their seemingly impossible twists and turns. The plot of Thunder encompasses a host of comas, evil twins, and near misses with death. But then again, as Ada says “It is difficult to write the same story for twenty-seven years.” Below is a collection of actual plot lines from soap operas including some of our favorite deaths, resurrections, and bizarre plot twists that are just too good to be true.
“They’re killing me off the show.”
(Actual deaths on soap operas)
Maureen Bauer was the loving wife of Doctor Ed Bauer on Guiding Light and, in some ways, the heart of the show. Maureen died tragically when she drove off into a storm in the back woods after a heated argument with her husband. Ed had an affair with Maureen’s best friend, Lillian, while treating her for breast cancer. After discovering this information Maureen stormed out of the cabin and died in the ensuing car crash, bringing massive upheaval to the town of Springfield.
The troubled Alan Quartermaine (General Hospital) died due to complications from a major heart attack he had while being held hostage at the Metro Court. Of course, Alan has come back as a ghost, haunting his sister Tracy for altering his will.
Megan Gordon Harrison (One Life to Live) died of Lupus after ignoring doctors’ warnings and partying too hard in order to forget her heartbreak over her husband Jake’s disappearance while working as a PI in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Jaba.
Darla Forrester (The Bold and the Beautiful) died when she was run over while changing her tire on a foggy night. She was killed by an inebriated Taylor Hayes, who was frantically trying to rescue her daughter whom she believed to have been kidnapped. Ironically, Darla was only on the road because she was trying to aide Taylor in the search.
In a revolutionary plot line for Soaps, Stone Cates (General Hospital) died due to complications from AIDS. Before he died, he infected his then girlfriend, GH darling Robin, who is still on the show and living with the disease.
“Nobody ever dies on that show.” Days of our Lives shocked loyal viewers when it killed off several major characters during the Salem Serial Killer plot line. At first, the deaths were pinned on the loveable Doctor Marlena, but in a surprise plot twist, it was revealed that the real “killer” was actually holding the still-living victims captive on an island that he made to look like a fake version of Salem. Stephano DiMira, a long-time recurring villainous character on Days of Our Lives has been reported dead 11 times over the course of his run on the show. Favorite seeming deaths include: falling off a cliff (he returned after recuperating on his yacht) and surviving inoperable brain cancer with the use of advanced laser crystals. Another character with nine lives is The Bold and the Beautiful’s Taylor Hayes. Her most memorable resurrection occurred after a plane crash followed by an open casket funeral. But surprise! The body was actually a dummy, and the real Taylor, who was suffering from amnesia, was being held captive by in Morocco by her stalker Prince. In a Romeo and Juliet-esq twist on Days of Our Lives, Carly Manning, was buried alive (in a lighted coffin with a small air supply) by her arch-nemesis Vivian. Vivian had spiked Carly’s hospital IV with herbs to make her appear dead. Carly was saved in the nick of time when Vivian felt remorse and informed her husband Lawrence of Carly’s predicament. On Guiding Light, Reva Shanye, who was in a coma, began to appear in family members dreams. Viewers assumed that this was a sign of Reva’s imminent demise, but, in actuality, the trapped Reva was astral projecting her image to loved ones in order to communicate with them. “Not to speak of the plot. The plot! Don’t get me started.” All My Children’s Erica Kane is perhaps soap opera’s leading lady. In one plot line , Erica has the sinking suspicion that she recognizes her fertility doctor. She eventually discovers that the doctor performed an abortion on her years ago, became obsessed with her, and rather than carry out the procedure transplanted Erica’s embryo into his own wife. Days of Our Lives’ Marlena was possessed by Satan after being offered up as a sacrifice by the evil Stefano. While under the devil’s influence, she vandalized churches and nearly killed a few characters before John and Father Francis managed to save her. NBC’s supernatural soap, Passions, ran from 1999-2008 and was filled with strange plot lines. Choosing from many, perhaps the best Passions gem was the story of the evil Vincent. Vincent, upon discovering that he is pregnant, is revealed to be a hermaphrodite. The father of his child? His actual father, Julian Crane.
(You would think that would have killed them)
(Strange, but true soap opera plot lines)
“Nobody ever dies on that show.”
Days of our Lives shocked loyal viewers when it killed off several major characters during the Salem Serial Killer plot line. At first, the deaths were pinned on the loveable Doctor Marlena, but in a surprise plot twist, it was revealed that the real “killer” was actually holding the still-living victims captive on an island that he made to look like a fake version of Salem.
Stephano DiMira, a long-time recurring villainous character on Days of Our Lives has been reported dead 11 times over the course of his run on the show. Favorite seeming deaths include: falling off a cliff (he returned after recuperating on his yacht) and surviving inoperable brain cancer with the use of advanced laser crystals.
Another character with nine lives is The Bold and the Beautiful’s Taylor Hayes. Her most memorable resurrection occurred after a plane crash followed by an open casket funeral. But surprise! The body was actually a dummy, and the real Taylor, who was suffering from amnesia, was being held captive by in Morocco by her stalker Prince.
In a Romeo and Juliet-esq twist on Days of Our Lives, Carly Manning, was buried alive (in a lighted coffin with a small air supply) by her arch-nemesis Vivian. Vivian had spiked Carly’s hospital IV with herbs to make her appear dead. Carly was saved in the nick of time when Vivian felt remorse and informed her husband Lawrence of Carly’s predicament.
On Guiding Light, Reva Shanye, who was in a coma, began to appear in family members dreams. Viewers assumed that this was a sign of Reva’s imminent demise, but, in actuality, the trapped Reva was astral projecting her image to loved ones in order to communicate with them.
“Not to speak of the plot. The plot! Don’t get me started.”
All My Children’s Erica Kane is perhaps soap opera’s leading lady. In one plot line , Erica has the sinking suspicion that she recognizes her fertility doctor. She eventually discovers that the doctor performed an abortion on her years ago, became obsessed with her, and rather than carry out the procedure transplanted Erica’s embryo into his own wife.
Days of Our Lives’ Marlena was possessed by Satan after being offered up as a sacrifice by the evil Stefano. While under the devil’s influence, she vandalized churches and nearly killed a few characters before John and Father Francis managed to save her.
NBC’s supernatural soap, Passions, ran from 1999-2008 and was filled with strange plot lines. Choosing from many, perhaps the best Passions gem was the story of the evil Vincent. Vincent, upon discovering that he is pregnant, is revealed to be a hermaphrodite. The father of his child? His actual father, Julian Crane.
[photo] Sam Hough for WTF ’09, Pictured: Wendie Malick and Betty Gilpin in WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THUNDER?, Dir. Justin Waldman
© [Scenic Design | Alexander Dodge, Costume Design | Nicole V. Moody, Lighting Design | Jeff Croiter] 2009