Hamlet, Vegas, and a Big Black Box

On the occasion of the 45th Obie Awards, the Voice's Charles McNulty sat down with four theater directors--Graciela Daniele, Brian Kulick, Marianne Weems, and Evan Yionoulis--to hash out the state of their art here at the start of the 21st century

Yionoulis: I'm getting better about not reading my reviews. I try to read fewer and fewer of other people's reviews. I read my reviews to find out whether the actors are going to be OK tomorrow, because they always tend to read them.

Weems: I read the reviews abroad, when we go to Europe. It's a kind of cultural anthropology. It's interesting to see how the work reads elsewhere and how it's received. In New York I try not read our reviews, and as far as general criticism goes I'm in the same boat: I like to speak with the people I respect before I read a review of someone else's work. It's great that there's a new generation of critics coming up and that there are people who can champion new work in a way that's a little bit more integrated, a little bit more articulate. There's been a problem with some very established reviewers hammering new work without taking the time to understand the process by which the work is made. This all reminds me of a great Robert Morris quote: "Critics are to artists as ornithologists are to birds."

McNulty: How hospitable do you think the current Off-Broadway scene is to theatrical experiment?

Weems: There are a lot of people hungry to see new work. If you can position yourself correctly and invite people into the process, there's a good chance that you'll get an interested crossover. The Builders Association and Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group are talking about trying to establish a new home together, a midsize 400-seat theater but for a Downtown sensibility. It would be on the European model of a large-scale black-box theater with a café and restaurant. Where you could have longer runs and really control the means of production. But it's just at the very baby phase. We haven't even started raising money—it's a long-term project.

McNulty: Some of the most memorable works of the last few years—Mabou Mines's Peter and Wendy, the Wooster Group's House/Lights, Richard Foreman's ongoing psycho-ramas—have been director-driven. The Builders Association's Jet Lag is another example. Marianne, can you tell us about the genesis of that project?

Weems: Jet Lag, like a lot of our pieces, is a marriage between architecture and theater. Its conception came from concerns with time and space. Specifically it's a collaboration between Diller + Scofidio, the media artists and architects who recently won the first MacArthur Award for architecture; playwright Jessica Chalmers, who wrote the text; and our company. We share an interest in live performance and technology and the interface between those two.

McNulty: Brian's now working on The Winter's Tale for Central Park this summer. What's next for the rest of you?

Daniele: A dance project which is all Latino—it's flamenco, and all Latino-American, Afro-Cuban—nothing but dance. I have choreographers coming from Argentina and from Spain to brainstorm. And I'm working on a kind of modern Scheherazade based on different women stories I love, like some Isabel Allende, Angela Carter. That would be what I love doing, text and dance and maybe a couple of songs. And we're also trying to get something with Michael John LaChiusa.

Yionoulis: I'm going to do Richard Greenberg's Everett Beekinat South Coast in August and September and Warren Leight's Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine at the Taper in December. And George Walker's Heaven at Yale Rep in between. My passion is a piece called Flights of Angels that I've been working on with my brother Mike. It's a musical adaptation of Hamlet.

Weems: My passion project, which we've just begun the production phase of, is a history of multimedia—it's not something that just started in the '60s or with the advent of TV. It'll look at the turn of the century, these big events at the Hippodrome that had film and dance and tableaux and texts, all mixed together in these real multimedia events. So I'm digging back and trying to recuperate some of those acts, those big numbers in a kind of rave-culture environment. The piece hopefully will be kind of like a rave, but buried inside of it will be these older forms of entertainment. It's called . . . Extravaganza.


Complete Coverage of the 45th Annual Village Voice OBIE Awards

View the List of Winners

The Wild Party 3 by Michael Musto

Waves of Faves compiled by Alexis Soloski
Thirty-Three New York Theater Types Offer Up Their Favorite Productions From the 1999–2000 Season


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