Page 4 of 5
Getting back to the Welles shows for a minute, it must be interesting to return to War of the Worlds after the past decade, given everything that's happened and the fear-mongering reality that we've all lived in for the past 9 years. In some ways, it seems not so dissimilar to the America in which Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast stirred up a latent panic in the public.
Yeah, I mean every time you go into an airport you hear there's an orange alert, you're told not to trust the person next to you. I think there's some sort of xenophobia that's prevalent, but it's also ancient, you know—what's hiding under the bed. It's not something that goes away.
Have you noticed any change in the way the audience has responded to the piece prior to the events of 2001, and then after that?
The biggest change was that we had a tour booked for the radio play right after 9/11 and a lot of places tried to cancel. They said, "This is not a time to talk about the arrival of the Martians." I remember actually getting on the phone and talking to a lot of venues and saying: "You know what, actually I think people need to get together and talk about it." And I think those performances were extraordinary. We would do talkbacks afterward and people were hungry to be together and talk. I find that, since 9/11, that hasn't gone away. People like to do talkbacks. Our executive director, Megan Wanlass Szalla, joked about it. She said we should stop doing plays and just do talkbacks because we always sell out our talkbacks. People like to be together and to talk about substantive issues.
I'm interested in the fact that your work over the past few years has focused so much on these iconic, mythic figures. Welles, to me, is extremely well-known in the film community, and as you point out, almost unknown in the theater community, or vaguely remembered for things he did during the Depression era. What is that attraction to mythic figures about for you, or do you not see them as mythic?
I see them as iconic. Because they are considerable. Because they are big. I like the size of them. I like big things.
Because that provides you with a lot of material?
Because you meet with people of a certain size and they change you. You don't want to meet with people who don't take up space, you want to meet with people who've really put their feet in the ground and tried something. Usually you're transformed by your interaction with them.
I guess I tended toward the word "myth" because someone like Welles is a fairly complex and conflicted figure and we tend to remember what was good about people of his stature. I think of Welles as being a more complicated character than he's often painted as; there's a lot that remains hidden, that people have no real access to, so he becomes mythic. I know that when you're developing a piece, you're interested in approaching your subjects from many angles and biography is fair game. Are you interested in rounding him out at all?
No, absolutely not. I trust the rehearsal process, that something true will be revealed that none of us really know. And I actually believe that theater is able to conjure people from the dead. You can call me crazy.