Helen Hayes Award nominated director, Michael Chamberlin's production of Wil Eno's Middletown is currently playing at NextStop Theatre Company through February 7. In this week's Take Ten, he shares a not so foggy memory that taught him a major lesson in directing.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
I do not remember the first show I ever saw because it must have made no impact. But the first show that made me pay attention in a new way was Liviu Ciulei's Midsummer at Arena Stage in 1989. The intertwining of the comedy and drama was riveting and his masterly use of the in-the-round space made the audience a part of the action. I can still remember Stanley Anderson wheezing as Bottom, David Marks spinning his skirt as Francis Flute and a luminous Tana Hicken as Titania. And when I read the program and learned that Ciulei was also his own set designer it blew me away. These years were the final glow in Zelda's amazing reign at Arena.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
I played a Rev in a high school production of JM Barrie's The Admirable Crichton. We had no idea what we were doing but it was fun. I remember the director pushing us to be faster on all our entrances.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
Long Day's Journey Into Night. I would love to direct it some day. The way O'Neill moves slowly forward in real time while rushing backward in memory has always fascinated me. In many ways I don't think Sidney Lumet's 1962 film has been equaled. His long dolly out on a Mary speech leaving just a white square of light on the screen and then cutting to an extreme close-up of Katharine Hepburn would be hard to top in theater but I would like to try.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I was a video editor for a news scanning service. I would scan endless audio files and videotape searching for a snippet of something a client claimed they had heard or seen. Maddening.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
I think embarrassing moments are vulnerable and therefore all directors need more of them. I once overfilled a theater with fog because we were late in opening the house. We couldn't get rid of it and it permeated the entire first Act into obscurity.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on Middletown?
Conveying both Eno's ideas AND depth of feeling with the cast to the audience through his wonderful, loopy language.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Bob Fosse. Because he combined rigor, art and sleeze.
8) What is your dream role/job?
Getting paid a substantial salary to prepare and direct 3 productions a year while raising a family and not having a day job.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
Tie: Opening Night of A Chorus Line at The Public Theatre before it moved to Broadway and Brando in Streetcar. We know of Brando's impact on the movies but it would have been fascinating to see what he did in front of a live audience.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
For the 8 year old- See, read and travel as much as you can. Then get involved in any capacity in a local production- and try to pay attention to everything. For the graduate- see as many productions from around the world as you can- not just American. Study the masters. Prepare as thoroughly as you can before embarking on any directorial assignment. Prepare and then be willing to improvise. Surround yourself with artists more talented than you are and listen and absorb from them while sticking to your own convictions.
MICHAEL CHAMBERLIN's recent Washington area credis include: Middletown, (NextStop Theatre Company) Harvey, Old Wicked Songs, Italian American Reconciliation, Almost, Maine (1st Stage); Optimism! or Voltaire’s Candide (2 Helen Hayes Nominations, Spooky Action Theater); Porcelain (Helen Hayes Nomination - Outstanding Director; Tsunami Theatre Company); Bat Boy: The Musical (3 Helen Hayes Noms.), A Clockwork Orange, Love’s Fire, Kit Marlowe, (Studio Theatre 2ndStage); Class Action (Imagination Stage), The Glory of Living (Didactic Theatre Company). Assistant Director: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, (The Kennedy Center); Indian Blood (Primary Stages); Fences (Round House Theatre); The Matchmaker (Ford’s Theatre); Privates on Parade (Studio Theatre).