Moore on Moore: You can’t say ‘director’ without ‘dire’

How our overture looked and sounded to the audience (above)

 

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The photo above shows how we staged the climactic song, “True Love,” just after Patsy Cline’s death. You can see how Megan Van De Hey (Patsy) was silhouetted in Louise’s window, singing (live) while a grainy video recording of her singing the same song played on our band wall. Photo by Ame Vessa. Video by Sammy Taggett. Set by Shaun Albrechtson. Lighting by Richard Spomer. Sound by Ross Ewing.

By John Moore
May 7, 2013

Every day for more than six weeks, I asked some of the most prolific and respected names in Colorado tailored questions about the craft of directing for the live theater. The result was my series, “Anatomy of a Theater Director.” I did it because I was about to make my return to directing (“Always … Patsy Cline”), and I wanted to shamelessly crib off all the wonderful advice I knew I would get.

John Ashton (Day 22!) was among several readers who suggested how I might end the series: With John Moore, the journalist, interviewing John Moore, the director. Knowing both of these Moores, I had a feeling it might get a little testy. It did, but ultimately, they powered through. They talked … and talked … and talked. The tongue-in-cheek transcript of their heated and sometimes hopefully illuminating exchange follows.

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Director No. 40: John Moore. The survey:

IMG_0932 Most recent directing project: “Always, Patsy Cline” at the PACE Center.

Upcoming directing project: Hah. Not likely.

Your question: Now that you have walked a mile — or let’s be more honest — Now that you’ve walked a few feet in a director’s shoes, what do you think now of the massive amount of planning, vision, research, inspiration and juggling that goes into this incredibly difficult job?

Turns out directing is a lot easier than I thought.”

In one word: What’s the most important personal attribute a good director should have? Experience. Definitely experience.

In one sentence, describe your directing philosophy: “All the best art is borderline porn.” … Oh wait, that’s not it. How about: “No ordinary moments”?

Journalist John Moore’s Q & A with director John Moore:

Journo JoMo: Well, this is awkward.
Director MoJo: You aren’t kidding. Your reputation precedes you.
Journo: That’s not what I was talking about.
Director: Well …?
Journo: Well …?
Director: Well … what were you talking about?
Journo: Frankly, I have no idea why you are being included in this directors series.
Director: What? I just directed a show that got nightly standing ovations, extended performances and rave reviews!
Journo: “Raving” reviews are a little different that “rave” reviews, Mr. Moore, and, believe me … we’ll get back to that.
Director: Do I need to have my lawyer present?
Journo: Not if you tell the truth.
Director: This is feeling like a scene from “Law & Order.”
Journo: I promised my readers I would be interviewing “the most prolific and respected directors in town.” You just directed your first show since Taft was president.
Director: If I didn’t know better, I might take that as an insult.

Journo: Let’s just get this charade over with, shall we? So did you learn anything about directing from this experience?
Director: Could you ask that question with any more condescension?
Journo: I bet, if I tried, I could muster it.
Director: Yes … I learned that you can’t say “director” without “dire.” …

(Pause.)

Director: C’mon. That was funny!

(Pause.)

Journo: See, people told me you would do that.
Director: Do what?
Journo: That “clever wordplay” you learned at the foot of Woody Paige. You use puns and alliteration and other word tricks whenever you don’t have anything tangibly relevant or illuminating to say. You’ve been doing that since your first day as theater critic. I can’t believe no one has ever called you on it.
Director: Are we talking about you or me right now?
Journo: Oh, what’s the difference?
Director: I’ll tell you the difference: I am now seen in the theater community as a director with an almost childlike enthusiasm and love for the process. You’re just … kind of an old crank.
Journo: Was there an answer to my question somewhere in there?
Director: Isn’t it just possible that I — you, we … whatever — use wordplay to reveal big, complex truths in accessible, understandable ways?
Journo: Did you talk like that during rehearsals?
Director: Like what?
Journo: With a British accent?
Director: Oh, no. That started on opening night, when the cast presented me with a beret and a riding crop.
Journo: God, you are an idiot.
Director: Let’s leave the judging to the critics, shall we?
Journo: I’ll remember that the next time I see a Brit wearing a beret.
Director: And I will thank you for that!

Journo: So if you recall, I asked each of the 39 “real” directors in this series to tell me, in one word: What’s the most important personal attribute a good director should have?
Director: Yes. There were an illuminating array of responses.
Journo: Let’s start by having you use all of the words they gave … in one sentence.
Director: Oh, (bleep) you.
Journo: Shall I talk slower for you? The two most often cited words in that survey were vision and humility, followed by empathy, passion, flexibility, respect, collaboration, commitment, compassion and curiosity. So what does that tell you?
Director: That … that’s an awful lot of c’s?
Journo: That’s really the best you can do?
Director: I dunno … that sounds more like the job description for a nurse than a theater director. Or maybe a daytime TV talk-show host.
Journo: Did you even read my directors series?
Director: I checked in on it from time to time. Whenever I don’t see my name in a story, I tend to lose interest quickly.
Journo: My God, you ARE a director!
Director: I’ve been telling you!

Journo: Let’s get this over with. How did you get this gig in the first place?
Director: I have known the producer, Ronni Gallup, since she was a teenager. I assisted on a production of “Story Theatre” she was performing in at the Denver Civic Theatre. That show christened the Dorie studio theater there in the early 1990s — we even installed the seats. My job was character development and visual puns. So when lines like, “X marks the spot” came up in rehearsal, I would tell the kids, “We should produce an X right here!”
Journo: You and your “clever” wordplay again.
Director: Well, Ronni liked it. Anyway, as you know, I’ve long since left The Denver Post, and in December, Ronni asked me if I wanted to direct “Always … Patsy Cline” for her company, Starkey Theatrix, at the PACE Center in Parker.

Journo: With all due respect … why did she pick you?
Director: When you ask that, Mr. Moore, the antipathy drips off your lips like drool. The truth is, Ronni believed — as do I — that even though this script calls for no real interaction between Patsy and Louise onstage, there is, nevertheless, a deeper relationship to explore. And if we could somehow stage it in a way that really focuses on their sisterhood, we would produce a more poignant and meaningful play — and I use that word meaningfully. This is a musical, but we already had one of the best musical directors in Jalyn Courtenay Webb in the fold. What Ronni needed me for was to direct the play. One that would entertain people, and then really kick them in the gut when Louise loses her friend in the plane crash.

Journo: Were there any conditions?
Director: Yes. Ronni specifically wanted to produce the show with Carla Kaiser Kotrc playing Louise, the Houston housewife who narrates the story. The rest of the production team was for the most part already lined up, too, and Ronni even offered to pre-cast Patsy for me with an experienced, known actress, if I wanted. She was making everything so easy for me. But I wasn’t at all sure “Always … Patsy Cline” was the best way for me to introduce myself to the local theater community as a director. You only get one chance for a first impression, and I wasn’t sure I wanted people thinking this was the kind of show I was jonesing to direct. But Ronni told me to think of the job as like a gateway drug: It’s a simple, two-person show; experienced actors; short rehearsal period; limited run. As directing goes, it won’t get any easier than this. So it felt like a good way to dip my toes back in; an opportunity to learn and re-learn the trade. Then, if I don’t screw things up, maybe some other opportunities might come of it.

Journo: So did both roles end up being pre-cast?
Director: No. I was happy to be given 51 cards in a 52-card deck, as I like to say. But I did not want the whole thing handed to me on a plate. I had no interest in being a figurehead director. I was happy with Carla playing Louise because I had seen her perform the role in an excellent 2009 production in Greeley. For me, that was her audition. What was great was when Ronni agreed to let me open up the auditions for the role of Patsy, and to both non-union and union actors. That’s what allowed Megan Van De Hey, who eventually won the role, to even be a part of the conversation.

Journo: What were those auditions like?
Director: Excruciating. Honestly, I felt exactly the same as I did on those mornings when I would publish a theater review in The Denver Post that I knew was not going to say what the production team was hoping it was going to say. It feels awful. No matter how respectful you are, someone is going to get hurt. So here we are auditioning all of these wonderful potential Patsys — many of whom have played the role triumphantly before. Cutting them to five, then to three, and then to one, made me realize that directors have to be even bigger hard-asses than critics. It’s all kind of cutthroat.

Journo: What were your considerations in casting Patsy?
Director: I told Ronni when she hired me that she was inheriting the baggage of everything I had written for 12 years as a theater critic. And that included my regular rants about age-inappropriate casting. My mantra was this: Patsy Cline was 30 years old when she died, and I wanted the audience to grieve for a 30-year-old mother when she died.

Journo: Were there any surprises at the audition?
Director: Several. One was being told by more than one actor that I caught them by surprise by having them read a scene for a musical role that has little, if any, spoken dialogue. I was told that almost never happens in an audition for a musical. But the evident chemistry between Carla and whoever would be playing Patsy was as important to me as Patsy’s contralto voice was to my music director. So I had the five finalists read from Ellen Bryon’s “Graceland” — that’s the story of two middle-aged Elvis fans who camp out three days before his estate is first opened to the public. The irony is these characters are essentially two Louises, and I was trying to find my Patsy. But that reading told me everything I needed to know about who I wanted to play Patsy.

Journo: What were the pros and cons of hiring two actors who had both played their respective roles before?
Director: Mostly pros. It took very little time for them both to get back into the skin of their characters. It was a tremendous help to Carla because she wasn’t starting from scratch on memorizing 40 pages of dialogue. The only con was trying not to being beholden to what worked before. I know what Carla did in Greeley worked — I saw it. But I was directing a different play, on a vastly different kind of stage. It took a leap of faith for her to go on this ride with me, and I know it wasn’t always easy for her to trust where I was going with it. With Patsy, I admit to initially wondering just how interested Megan would be in really working anew on these 27 songs. She’s played the role to standing ovations three times before. What are we going to tell her that she doesn’t already know? But bless my musical director’s heart: Vocally, She worked Megan in a way I suspect she hasn’t been worked before. And thank God Megan was open to it. I know nothing about music theory, and didn’t pretend to, so I mostly left those two to their own devices. When it came to transferring their work to the stage, Jalyn and I had basically the same recurring message for Megan: That each song has a story to tell in it, and I wanted to see that story play out on her face just as plainly as I should hear it in her voice.

 

(Please click “Page 2” below to go to the next page of our interview between John Moore and John Moore)