The American Theatre Wing presents Downstage Center a weekly theatrical interview show, featuring the top artists working in theatre, both on and Off-Broadway and around the country. We have collected the Tony Award winners who have appeared on Downstage Center.
Joe Mantello (#320) - May, 2011
Joe Mantello (2011 Tony Award nominee for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for his performance in “The Normal Heart”; 2004 Tony Award winner for Best Direction of a Musical for “Assassins” and 2003 Tony Award winner for Best Direction of a Play for “Take Me Out”) talks about returning to the Broadway stage as an actor after a 17-year hiatus to play the role of Ned Weeks in Larry Kramer's “The Normal Heart” -- and what it's like to play a role that the play's author has based on himself when the author is at the theatre nightly. He also talks about his acting days in school and community theatre in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois (with classmates that included Marin Mazzie); his training at North Carolina School of the Arts and why he had to relearn his idiosyncrasies when he got to New York; his work with playwright Peter Hedges and actress Mary-Louise Parker in the self-founded Edge Theatre; the opportunities offered to him by the Circle Repertory Company; why he decided to stop acting after making his Broadway debut in “Angels in America”; the development of his directing career, including the highs and lows of his first two Broadway assignments, Terrence McNally's “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and Donald Margulies' “What's Wrong With This Picture?”; his collaborations with playwrights including Jon Robin Baitz, David Mamet, Richard Greenberg, Neil Simon and Craig Lucas, among many others; the challenge of taking on a project on the scale of “Wicked” with only one previous musical directing credit and how much he remains involved with the show's many productions nationally and internationally; why he enjoys working on intimate shows; and the irony behind “Other Desert Cities'” plans for Broadway in the fall.
Jason Robert Brown (#319) - May, 2011
Jason Robert Brown (1999 Tony Award winner for Best Original Score for “Parade”), who prefers the title "songwriter" over "composer," talks about why he spends so much time performing his own material and engaging directly with his fans. He discusses writing all of his songs "in his own voice"; his short time at Rochester's esteemed Eastman School of Music; coming to New York, getting work in piano bars and how that led to rehearsal pianist jobs; the evolution of “Songs for a New World” and whether it began as a collection of existing songs or whether the material was newly created for the show; the nature of his collaboration with William Finn on the vocal arrangements for “A New Brain”; how he got hired for “Parade” after Stephen Sondheim passed, having the opportunity to choose his collaborators when the musical team was assembled for “Parade”, and the changes he has made more recently to move the show away from Hal Prince's vision; how the origin of “The Last Five Years” began out of a desire to be free of collaborators and how it fuses “Songs for a New World” and “Parade”; why he enjoys writing incidental music for plays; his sojourn in Europe and his decision to return to the U.S. by moving to Los Angeles; the origin of “13” in a handful of songs that he happened to share with Michael Ritchie of the Center Theatre Group, the "trauma" of Broadway and subsequent revisions to musical; and the status of upcoming projects including the film version of “The Last Five Years”, the "difficult, scary" chamber musical “The Connector”, his collaboration with Marsha Norman on “The Bridges of Madison County”, and the long-aborning stage adaptation of the film comedy “Honeymoon in Vegas”.
Nicholas Hytner (#315) - April, 2011
From London, National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner (2006 Tony Award winner for Best Direction of a Play for “The History Boys”; 1994 Tony Award winner for Best Direction of a Musical for “Carousel”) talks about his tenure leading that influential institution, including whether, as some have said, it was always his career goal; why he thrives on the need to embrace a general audience for the organization's survival; the impact of the £10 (now £12) Travelex season on the company and why he prefers to work under the budgetary rigor it imposes on the theatre's staff; his commitment to seeing new, "muscular" work by young playwrights on the National's large stages; and his assessment of the success of the NT Live screenings of the National's stage productions in international cinemas. He also talks about growing up in Manchester and later returning there as artistic associate of the Royal Exchange Theatre; his apprenticeship under great directors at a time when there was little director training in England -- and his bad early work in regional rep companies; why he thinks the British "megamusicals" are actually popular opera in the European tradition -- and how the "completely crazy" idea of “Miss Saigon” appealed to him; the pleasure he took in directing “The Wind in the Willows” at the National and how it began his ongoing collaboration with playwright Alan Bennett, including “The History Boys” and “The Habit of Art”, which he considers the most important feature of his directing career; what drew him to “Carousel” and how it ushered in the British era of reexamining the musicals from Broadway's Golden Age; why he thinks the musical of “Sweet Smell of Success” is deserving of rediscovery; and why the National's production of “His Dark Materials” will never transfer to a commercial run and how he would do that enormous hit differently if he had the chance to do it over again.
Michael Frayn (#312) - March, 2011
Acclaimed for his works of fiction, non-fiction, philosophy, and theatre, Michael Frayn (2000 Tony Award winner for Best Play for “Copenhagen”) discusses how he determines when an idea is right for the stage when he has multiple forms to choose from. He also recalls writing and performing childhood puppet plays; the reason why his edition of Cambridge's Footlights Revue was the only one not to be seen in London; his days as a newspaper columnist, during which he frequently mocked and parodied the popular theatre of the day -- and whether he later regretted some of his jabs at theatre; his first invitation to write a one-act play; the play he wrote that producer Alexander H. Cohen found 'filthy'; whether his comedy “Alphabetical Order” was directly based upon his journalistic experiences; the plays of his that have never been seen in America; his longstanding professional association with director Michael Blakemore and why he value's the director's "stupid questions"; whether he fully visualized the madcap frenzy of “Noises Off” as he wrote it -- and why he's still prepared to tinker with the end of that highly successful play; why he only does English versions of French and Russian plays; how “Copenhagen” required him to do massive research, although his background in philosophy had given him a foundation in quantum mechanics; whether American audiences were less familiar than English audiences with the story of Willy Brandt as told in “Democracy”; what attracted him to the story of German director Max Reinhardt for “Afterlife”; and why it's easier to write about the distant past as opposed to the recent past.
Barry Grove (#310) - March, 2011
Manhattan Theatre Club’s Executive Producer Barry Grove (Tony Award winner for Best Play in 2005 for “Doubt, 2001 for “Proof”, and 1995 for “Love! Valour! Compassion!”) talks about his three-and-half decades of partnership with Lynne Meadow at the top of one of New York's largest not-for-profit theatres. He recalls about his introduction to theatre while growing up in Madison CT; his college experiences at Dartmouth and his participation in the very first semester of The O'Neill Theatre Center's National Theatre Institute; his earliest experiences working in New York Theatre while still a student; coming to MTC when there was only a staff of six in a theatre complex on the east side that they couldn't afford to fully use; the company's transition from neighborhood venue to midtown mainstay at City Center; the long search for a permanent Broadway home; and explains how he's still energized by work at the same company after so long, and the challenges still ahead.
Stockard Channing (#305) - February, 2011
Stockard Channing (1985 Tony Award winner for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for “Joe Egg”) discusses her work in Jon Robin Baitz's new play “Other Desert Cities”, acknowledging the ambiguity of the character for the audience and explaining whether she has defined her character's secret motivations with certainty. She also talks about her years breaking into theatre at Harvard, alongside other students like John Lithgow and Tommy Lee Jones, and her subsequent work around Boston before coming to New York and getting her increasingly bigger break in the Broadway musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, which also began her association with John Guare; her years in Los Angeles, including a film gig she did simply because she needed money, namely “Grease”; her return to the stage in successive productions of “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” at Williamstown, Long Wharf, Roundabout and finally Broadway; being given the opportunity to choose between playing Bunny and Bananas in the Lincoln Center Theatre revival of “The House of Blue Leaves”; how it felt, as a native Upper East Side New Yorker, playing an Upper East Side New Yorker in “Six Degrees of Separation”, and how her performance had to change when she acted in the film version; whether she knew how divided response would be to Guare's “Four Baboons Adoring the Sun”; why she wasn't daunted about stepping into the shoes of Rosemary Harris or Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter” in 1999 -- and what about doing the show did give her pause; what it was like to do “Pal Joey”, her first musical in over two decades (having previously followed Liza Minnelli into “The Rink”); and how she approached the role of Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest” for a production at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, Ireland last year.