nytheatre.com q&a preview by Susana Guillaume
September 23, 2012
What is your job on this show?
Playwright and actor..
Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Hollywood, an auspicious start, but quite soon was taken back to England by my British parents. In body, that is; in mind, I spent my childhood waiting for our return to paradise. Meanwhile, at the age of nine, I went to boarding school. I had to get out of the house. An English boarding school wasn't really the best place for me. All year I'd look forward to our summer vacations in France. I always did my best to be French, at least until it was time to return to America. This finally happened when I was sent off alone, at seventeen, to U.C.L.A. Despite all the years of dreaming, it turned out I was quite unprepared for California in the 60's. I took refuge in a Frenchman, hence my name, Guillaume. Culturally my life has been quite complex and confusing; either I belong everywhere or nowhere. For the purpose of solo performance, belonging nowhere has been more useful.
Why is this piece a solo play (rather than a multi-actor play)?
I like this question precisely because, of the three solo shows I've written, this one would best lend itself to a multi-actor play. My characters this time are very alive on stage, they talk to each other, there is conflict and drama. It's not called "King Laz" for nothing! That said, I can't imagine who could play my parents in quite the way I do. I carry them inside me, I channel them. I am the meeting ground, the boiling point. It has always been like this. I am bringing the audience my inner world. One day I might tell this story in a different form, but for now I am committed to the intimacy and authenticity which I believe is at the heart of solo performance.
Has this show been presented in other cities before New York? Was there a place where the response to this piece surprised you, and why?
I have performed King Laz once before, in Albuquerque, NM, at Solofest this summer. The response to a first performance is perhaps always surprising. You don't really know what you've got until you put it out in the world. I was certainly surprised this time. People seemed to take my story more seriously than I did. I am always happiest making people laugh, something I got from my father, King Laz himself. I suppose in this case the rather serious subject matter - aging, dementia, the loss of autonomy - does interfere with my desire to be a comedien. On the other hand, all audiences are different. In any case, I didn't expect people to be so moved, to take my story so to heart. I guess I can live with that.
Which famous solo performer has been most inspirational to you: Spalding Gray, John Leguizamo, Lily Tomlin, or Whoopi Goldberg?
Spalding Gray, because of his love of language, his wonderful, eloquent voice. Before I discovered his shows, I would never have imagined it was possible to do a performance just sitting at a table and telling a story. Of course, when he did get up, it was all the more fun. He was wonderfuly candid, but I never felt his work was based in confession or catharsis. He wrote in a spirit of clarity, non-attachment, without self-indulgence. And always he was balanced on that edge of humor and tragedy, the one that gets me every time.
Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
I can't imagine a democratic society without art in all its forms. In our digital times it seems that there is a special need for the direct experience of theater. As a child, travelling in France with my parents, we would sometimes come across a family circus, the kind of affair where the woman taking your money at the door would later show up on the trapeze. We'd go inside the big top, rather a small one on these occasions, and for me it was absolute magic. The space was sacred, not in spite of failures or inadequacies as compared to a professional circus, but somehow because of them. It was unbelievable that such a thing was happening, there in the middle of the countryside, these seemingly ordinary people putting on their costumes and giving with their whole hearts. Even then, when I was so young, I could see this was in no way a practical endeavor. There was such beauty and poetry to those performances. I believe that in the theater we can access our humanity more directly than almost anywhere else. For me, that is the essence of democracy.