In the most basic way, I make my living as a storyteller. I delight in being told, dreaming about, reshaping and retelling the tales that make our culture; tales that outlive their tellers. I spend much of my time helping artists of all ages to decode, compose, illuminate and narrate these tales. I keep a quote from Peter Brook on the wall of
“In everyday life, ‘if’ is a fiction, in the theatre ‘if’ is an experiment. In everyday life, ‘if’ is an evasion, in the theater ‘if’ is the truth. When we are persuaded to believe in this truth, then the theatre and life are one. This is a high aim. It sounds like hard work. To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work any more.
A play is play.”
Sex, politics and religion: All the things one avoids at the dinner table one gets to delve into in the theater. My great good fortune is in getting to play alongside those I teach and direct. I hope to continue doing it for as long as it pleases me. I’ve repeated the exercise of putting together a play many, many times. It never ceases to delight me.
I am happiest in the rehearsal hall and in my upstate New York garden. Both allow me the chance to meditate, to dream, to contemplate life, to form it into a more satisfactory vision. These are the locales where I ponder the virtue in If. My life has not gone by without ample opportunity to ponder. Life has posed challenges to health and happiness, to the head and to the heart. The theater and the garden are sanctuaries where I repair to take up against the world. A high school history teacher taught me the price the gods demand at the Gates of Excellence is sweat. The garden, the rehearsal room and the classroom are where I pay my dues.
I am a supportive, nurturing teacher, as were my best teachers. My genius, if any, is patience and the willingness to work hard to surmount a problem. I encourage self-awareness in my student actors. I want them to be able to answer the question: What am I capable of right now? I want them to be able to trust their intuition: What could I might I do? I ask them to take risks: What have I never done? I encourage my students to be broadly literate, to read well, to look and listen well. Their job, as Frank Hauser puts it, is to “Get in the habit of mining the world for inspiration.” I take great gratification in helping ordinary people to comprehend that they are capable of extraordinary things.
Andy’s Summer Playhouse, a children’s theater I helped found forty years ago still thrives in New Hampshire. Little did I know then that it would become the first step on the path of my own career. With a pleasing frequency I can watch in person or hear from former students who are now succeeding professionally as writers, composers, actors, directors, teachers, and in arts management. Most important to me is a common thread shared by these alumni. They think of themselves as artists, not just as people in show business. They understand that performing is about giving, not taking.