nytheatre.com q&a preview by Clare Lizzimore
March 28, 2013
What is your job on this show?
What is your show about?
Bull is a razor sharp play about office politics; or playground bullying - depending which side you are on.
What type of theater do you like most to work on?
Although I was trained in both classical plays and in devising processes, I've always been most interested in directing new plays. In Britain, since the 1950's there has been a strong tradition of looking to playwrights for new ideas and for new ways of looking at the world - and also knowing that there's a value in these plays reaching as wide an audience as possible. It's a real joy to collaborate with the writer on bringing what's on the page to production, and it's a real responsibility! The writer will have spent months, if not years on the play, and you have four weeks of rehearsals to get it right. But, if and when you do get it right, you can feel an audience sit forward in their seats, knowing they’re encountering something new and dynamic, and it’s happening right there in front of them, and it’s electric. That’s the aim with every production I make. To chose a play that offers something unexpected and thrilling. Something out of the ordinary. And that’s why it’s been such a thrill to bring ‘Bull’ to the stage.
Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
In a world where most drama is recorded and repeatable and available to be consumed individually, it seems to me the importance of unique live events, that we come together to watch, is even more important. Theatre isn't virtual, or experienced through a screen, it's real, and shared with people in the same room. Even since I started making theatre, audiences have become more demanding. They can get 22 episodes of their favourite TV series at home, so why should they make the effort to come out to the theatre. Hopefully our answer with ‘Bull' is that it's a real life event where you can stand close to the action, and watch the ritual being played out in all it's ugly, funny nastiness. It's a play in the form of a bullfight, and we've tried to add something of the blood sport to it. When people ask why go the theatre, we’d say, because it’s visceral and puts in front of you all the nuances of life in a heightened and crafted way. It can entertain you, and shock you, and make you think about life in a completely different way. You can’t get up to put the kettle on. You can’t disengage. And with a play like ‘Bull’, it’s operating like a gig, like a live event that thrives on the audience being there watching and engaging, and laughing and almost goading the action forward.
Do you think the audience will talk about your show for 5 minutes, an hour, or way into the wee hours of the night?
I think that's up to them, but I hope that the production provokes them to think a little more about how we behave and, as adults, what constitutes bullying. We think of it as something from the playground, but since working on this play we've found that nearly everyone has a story to tell of when they've been bullied at work, or in the home, or even some people have told stories of being the bully. It's a behavior that seems to be everywhere, and as times get tough financially, this only increases the competition. And in light of programes like ‘The Apprentice’ we have access to seeing the cut and thrust of competition in the work place. It’s ruthless and it’s about survival of the fittest. And this play looks at such heightened office politics, and competition, and what happens when you’re up against the sleekest, most sexy and polished of competition. What happens to the under dog? Of course, I also hope the audience remembers the evening as a good time - the play talks about a serious subject but hopefully in a very funny and entertaining way. It’s all the things I think theatre should be. It’s got fantastic performances, from some seriously funny, sexy, and highly energised actors. It’s as dynamic as a boxing match and as cruel as a bull fight. With some really unexpected moments.
Which mythical character would like your show the best: Cyclops, Cupid, Paul Bunyan or the Easter Bunny?
Cyclops did his fair amount of bullying. Perhaps the play would help him to get some perspective?
Who are your heroes?
Harold Pinter. I had the honor and privilege of working with him, meeting him, and I think becoming in some very small and brief way, a friend. I was one of the last assistant directors to work with him before he passed away. He was breathtakingly clever, and had a wicked, dry, sense of humor. He demanded the best of people. And made you feel like you had to operate at the very best level all of the time. It’s not hyperbole to say I think he made people better because he demanded the best of them. Caryl Churchill. She’s a master of her craft. And continually transforms and rejuvenates what theatre can be. She’s also a doting grandmother. And I really admire her life work balance. Ian Rickson, who was the artistic director of the Royal Court in London for many years, and most recently had critical acclaim directing ‘Jerusalem’ in the West End and Broadway. In many ways Ian is my mentor. He’s a very generous and kind man, as well as a really sensitive and precise director. I learnt so much from assisting him, and I still call him up for advice. He’s my Yoda. I’m hoping one day he’ll say that I’ve achieved Jedi powers. FranZ Xavier Kroetz was the first writer I really clicked with. I’ve never met him, but I did a production of his ‘Tom Fool’. It was my first professional production, and it went down a storm receiving 5 star rave reviews and making a real impact in Scotland (where the production premiered). I think it was a really great moment where sensibilities align to create something special. The writing looked at every day, almost mundane moments in an ordinary family’s life, until the stresses and strains of life align to create a tumultuous event. I loved the way Kroetz put a spotlight on how the everyday can also be very profound. It was a very accessible play, very tender, and sometimes very cruel. Just like life!