A Conversation with Allan Miller

Welcome back to the Odyssey. You are a regular around here.

It works out that I either act in a play or direct a play at the Odyssey every two years. Ron Sossi [Odyssey Artistic Director] and I have known each other, personally and professionally, since at least 1980. My wife and I used to run a small theater so we all knew each other in a circle of small- theater advocates.

You were onstage at the Odyssey a few years ago in another Neil Simon play.

Yes, The Sunshine Boys with Hal Linden.

How many of Neil Simon’s plays have you done in your long, storied career?

These are the only two I’ve done in production. I’ve done scenes in classes, of course. But only these two. I love Neil Simon’s plays. Broadway Bound is one of his most wondrous plays. It’s so personal, and yet it’s universal and poignant and pertinent. There’s something about his genre and something about the milieu that just stirs in me right away. I feel like I know these people. I fall into his rhythms so comfortably.

But in all of your years working alongside so many of theatre’s luminaries, you must have crossed paths with him.
When I saw Neil—I think it was at a gathering during Sunshine Boys—I reminded him that he and his brother used my family gatherings in the Bronx to try out their jokes. I was a little kid then. That’s where I first knew Neil. His family and my aunt and uncle were friends, and Danny [Simon, Neil’s brother] and Doc would show up and practice their jokes.

Jason Alexander has said that he believes that Neil Simon is often left out of discussions about our great playwrights, that he is underappreciated. Do you agree?
Absolutely. I don’t understand why three or four of his plays aren’t done every year. They are so catching, so funny and moving.

Simon is thought of as a comedy writer, but he does not shy away from his “sad moments.”

He may call his plays sad—and I do share a lot of his grief over the state of most people’s lives— but his writing is so full of curiosity. It’s not packaged or formulaic. He presents wonderfully written but spoken thoughts that people have had for centuries. This is about a family where the two younger sons are about to leave the nest. That’s something that any parent anywhere in the world faces.

You have a lengthy, tortuous history with Broadway Bound.
I do. In 2009 I was hired to do the Broadway production. It was supposed to run in rep with Brighton Beach Memoirs, which, of course, is about the same family. But they ran out of money. Not enough people came to see Brighton Beach Memoirs to help support Broadway Bound. We were in tech, and it was, ”Sorry, it’s all over.” New York was a great time except it never opened. Then La Mirada was doing it last year. I auditioned for that and got the part. I knew Ron [Sossi] was interested so I invited him to see the show, and he was very excited about it.

How did Jason Alexander become involved?

Jason is one of the best friends of Gina Hecht, who was in Broadway Bound at La Mirada. He came down to see us, and he was completely congratulatory towards us about our work. Quietly on the side he told us that, if the play went any further, he’d love to take a crack at directing it. He had some terrific ideas about it. So I mentioned to Ron about the possibility of Jason directing it. They talked together about what kind of a production it would be and worked out a schedule.

Jason, of course, has his own history with Broadway Bound.
He was in the original Broadway production [in 1986]. Jason loves this play and the people in it.

What does he bring to the show as a director who is an actor and specifically as an actor with such affection for this play?
The third day of rehearsal, I went up to Jason and said, “In my entire career of acting, I’ve had maybe eight really good directors. Today I’m adding a ninth.” Line by line, scene by scene, we’re discovering so many layers and levels in the writing that the relationships have grown into far more than what we started with. Most actors and most directors that I’ve worked with don’t know how to rehearse. But Jason is superb. We all adapted to his process, and he re-adapted to ours. He says there is no conversation in this play. Every character wants something and is trying to do something. He said, “I’m asking you on your own to figure out what your character wants to do or needs to do.” To be put that way that bluntly made everyone work. Sometimes we’ll say, “I’m a little cloudy about what you’re trying to do here.” He’ll open it up, and sometimes there’ll be an answer, and sometimes he and the actor will say they don’t know so someone will make a suggestion. It’s a great way to rehearse.

As universal as Broadway Bound is, it tells the story of young men in New York in a certain era striving for work in show business. Do you relate personally to this?
Jason has a family history like mine. Our parents all struggled with being responsible, yet still trying to have a life. Fathers who had terrible jobs that were demeaning and repetitive. The lack of financial resources—his family lived through it, my family lived through it. We weren’t the lowest poverty level, and yet the struggles were large. We all went to the movies and thought about the lives that we could lead. There are some wonderful scenes in Broadway Bound where Blanche has to address her wealth with a father like me who says he can’t enjoy the benefits of a society that makes my daughter rich and starves half the people in the country.

And yet your character gets a lot of the laughs here.

He doesn’t mean to be funny, but he’s funny. His timing, his thoughts about things. I identify with him. I can’t say anything my character does is something I actively do. But the pieces of it that are deep inside me in my heart and in my brain, where the convictions are, have to do exactly with what he’s talking about.

You’ve worked with a good deal of preeminent talent in your career. How do you feel about this company of actors?
This cast is terrific. It’s hard to make comparisons, but Jason has gotten such rich and full work from them with so many shadings of character. This group of actors is wonderful for me in its curiosity about what could this be.

As an accomplished actor and teacher and director, do you ever find yourself giving pointers or advice to the younger members of the cast?
If they ask me, I am forthcoming with suggestions. I don’t put it out there, but if someone is struggling with something, I have not been too timid. We exchange stories backstage about our careers, and some are about things that the young people are too uptight about. Sometimes an anecdote about a time I went through something like that might be helpful.

What do they ask you most often?

They want to get jobs. “What do I have to do to get a job?”

And what do you tell them?

Walter Brennan once said in an interview, “For a long shot, you do it big. For a medium shot, you do it medium. And for a close-up, you do it intense. But you always do it.”

Do you believe, like some, that a lot of LA theater actors are just hanging out, waiting for that great film role?
When I came out to California in 1975, the actors wanting classes were completely different than in New York. In New York they were interested in how you act a part and bring it pulsatingly to life. Most of the people out here were just hungry to get a job. I fell in with some actors who had been doing a lot of TV and were thrilled to be back on the stage again. There’s a saying: “On any given night on stage, you’re the boss. There’s no one holding you back. You’re the boss.”

You’ve played so many wonderful roles on stage, on television, in film. Which is most dear or most memorable to you?
The one that mattered most to me was playing Abe Burrows in Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been . . . ? It just felt so movlngly clear to me what this guy was going through, and how he was trying to survive this onslaught of malevolence got me. That was memorable and gratifying in so many ways.

What do you tell people who may not know Neil Simon’s work–and who have so many entertainment options–to get them out to the Odyssey for this play?
Broadway Bound is a moving, funny piece of material in which people’s desires to live good, full lives get all mixed up—just like us. What is it you really believe in? What is it you think you want? What makes a relationship work over the years? It is very touching and funny, and I never think of the characters’ lives as sad. I think of them as full, rich lives, bursting into new places their curiosities and adventures can take them. It’s an absolutely marvelous play for anybody anywhere because it is so universal.

Interview with Michael Herring – July 14, 2014

Blog #7: Dedication

Howdy folks!

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This week has been crazy busy as we prepare for the opening of Broadway Bound tonight. I was fortunate enough to watch a preview on Wednesday night and I have gotta say that from a totally unbiased opinion, the show is fantastic. Even my Grandpa, who has seen numerous Broadway shows and theatre over the years, admitted that it was one of the best plays he has ever seen. While watching the performance, I noted the extreme dedication and commitment that all great productions possess. For example: the amount of work that the designers and carpenters put into building the aesthetics of the play clearly shows – it is gorgeous. The actors brought the energy hard from the second they popped onto the stage. The assistant directors put in countless hours, just for a chance to be a part of all this. I know that I’m forgetting some people but let’s face it – everyone who works in theatre is highly underpaid, but we are doing this for the pure love and magic that we all crave to see in a good performance.

So onto what I’ve done this week… I helped coordinate promo videos in the form of ‘meet the cast’ videos, which were published via social media and YouTube. Ran the box office by myself part of the time, which was completely frustrating at times, but in the end made me realize I could handle the onslaught of unique patron requests and accommodations. I have a newfound respect for every person who works in any role in this industry. It takes a special breed to get these various task accomplished, and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people here that want to make that magic happen. Until next week!

Blog #5: Time

Week #5/10: The halfway mark!

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I remember my Grandpa explaining to me when I was a youngster about the way that time moves. He wasn’t trying to educate me in the ways of horology or any kind of Stephen Hawkins theories. No, the concept wasn’t that grandiose; especially for a ten year old. That might make a funny YouTube video though (kids reacting to quantum physics facts). Anyways, my gramps simply stated that the farther my life moves forward, the faster time will go. A month will feel like a week. A year will turn into a month. I took in the information, but never fully understood what it meant until years later. My point in all this? Well, normally I would say that this past month has been flying by and I can’t believe that we’re here already, etc. But for some reason, it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe I can attribute that to the amount of projects, shows, group meetings and events that I have been bombarded with, or it could be that I’ve been actively trying to take away a bit of wisdom from every single thing I’ve done here. So even though it has been a short time, it just doesn’t feel that way. It could be the same effect that school has. Anyways, I don’t have time to blab about this anymore. There are hundreds of envelopes that need to be stuffed, twitter posts that need to be tweeted and well, plenty of things to do. Let me quickly recap the last week:

I was able to help out with the set for Broadway Bound a bit more. It’s really looking good and I am excited for our theatregoers to come and see it. The interns from LACC in my area had two events: touring The Broad Stage and having a chat with some of the staff that makes that place tick. We also went to a performance at The Annenberg Beach House… It was a show by Four Clowns entitled “Jonah”. It was entertaining, featured dedicated performers and offered a satirical, contemporary look on the parable. I also saw “The Mother Ship” @ Sacred Fools – clever & funny. “We Will Rock You” @ The Ahmanson… no comment. “Paternus” @ Rogue Machine – a “chilling” tale :). Also went to a friend’s outdoor performance of “Cabaret” which was charming. It has been a busy week. Until next time & have a great week!

Ben’s Odyssey #3: Art

Another week and another blog post from yours truly, Benjamin Schwartz, the intern this summer for The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. This time I decided to take a picture in front of our past production, “Ivanov” by Anton Chekov. The play was written on a commission to Chekov as he was asked to write a comedy. Instead, came this four act drama. LOL

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This past week has been busy. It has ranged from keeping up on the social media sites, marketing strategies, filming and editing a video tour of the theatre to breaking down a bunch of wood from a previous production. This Saturday I am excited to help build the set for our next show, Broadway Bound. It is hard to believe that I am almost already done with my third week. The days go by so fast and I am making sure to soak in every bit of information that I can.

I haven’t been able to go see any theatre this week, and I think I’m starting to have some withdrawls from the lack of live performance. But yesterday, all of the LA County Arts interns attended a seminar/networking/museum visit to MOLAA in Long Beach. My favorite part of the day (other than incessantly re-filling my cup of coffee) was visiting the museum and exploring the fantastic art exhibits that they are currently hosting. If you haven’t visited the Museum Of Latin American Art, I would highly recommend it. I really enjoyed the work and style of Roberto Fabelo’s art. He would often rip out pages from books and then furiously draw with a pen over the literature. Sometimes text would be exposed and other works were completely drawn over. The creatures that he created were dark, unique and sometimes grotesque, but engaging at the same time. Here’s a link to the exhibit via the MOLAA website:

http://www.molaa.com/Art/Exhibitions/Fabelos-Anatomy.aspx

I was surprised to find out that many of the 120ish interns that were hired this summer did not come from a theatre or arts background. It was a melting pot of majors ranging from Anthropology, Economics, Marketing, Business, etc. I am all about educating on the importance of the arts and bringing in groups that would not normally have the opportunity, so it was good to see an organization like the LA County Arts Commission fulfilling this vision and mission. I am blessed to be given the chance to help here at The Odyssey and a program like this really also helps with the chances of finding a job after college.

Ben’s Odyssey #2: Another Awesome Rant

This is my second week of my internship here at The Odyssey Theatre so it is only appropriate to follow up on my rant from last week. Here I am taking a photograph of myself (I refuse to use the “S” word) by a poster for The Lonesome West, which was written by my all-time favorite playwright, Martin Mcdonagh.

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My time here over the past week has been well spent, interacting with patrons at the box office and hopefully sending out some laughs through by taking over the Facebook and Twitter account. I have also had the opportunity to sit in on a production meeting for our upcoming show, Broadway Bound, as well as the weekly staff meeting that is held. During these meetings I am realizing all of the components that make up a theatre company and all the variables that go into becoming successful. By the way… Really excited for Broadway Bound. Jason Alexander (you probably know him as George Costanza from Seinfeld) is directing the show. He was in the original broadway cast and I can only imagine the insight and authenticity that he will bring to the production.

When I first started interacting with the LA Theatre community on social media sites I thought it would be a bit more ruthless and cutthroat. What I discovered was a blossoming town full of artists that truly seem to be looking out for another. I go and see theatre on a weekly basis. Side note: I decided to treat myself to a double feature on Sunday, seeing Penelope at Rogue Machine Theatre and The Country House at The Geffen. Both were excellent shows and while I am not going to review the two shows I will say that I was struck with an idea, a thought while theatre hopping. We all know that the current state of funding for the Arts in general has been suffering and I am seriously disappointed by the amount of viewers under the age of 30 who attend theatre.

My generation is kept hostage to the alluring lights of movies and television, often shelling out $12-15 dollars for a single ticket. Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the cinema. Quite the opposite. I religiously follow the films of Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarantino, Charlie Kaufmann, etc. But I have stopped going to the movie theatres completely. I don’t care about 3-D movies, constant quick shots, fancy editing and to be honest I’d rather watch it in the comfort of my home on Netflix via my Playstation. Why waste the money on seeing something that is literally…permanently captured on film when I could go and watch a once-in-a-lifetime performance at a local theatre. Now of course, this is solely my opinion and I’m not expecting everyone or even anyone to agree with me.

To wrap up this entry, I propose that we try to reveal theatre to younger audiences and educate them on the importance of being able to sit in a room for over an hour without dragging their fingers across the glass of their smartphone. I feel as though the art of conversation is dying. Maybe, just maybe, with the right amount of push, we can flip around this whole industry in order to grow and expand the minds of those around us. Just a thought. Feel free to disagree. Talk about it. Because ultimately, art gets people talking, whether it is good or bad. And we need more of that. Until next week.

Ben’s Odyssey #1

Hi there! My name is Benjamin Schwartz, The Odyssey Theatre 2014 summer intern!

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I am a senior at Cal State Northridge, have been involved in theatre for the better part of my life and have a passion for writing plays. Every summer, The Los Angeles County Arts Commission provides funds to many theatres in LA so that they can hire an intern for a ten-week period. These jobs are invaluable to students, providing true experience in the field we are looking to start a career in. As for myself, I feel truly blessed to have been chosen among many qualified candidates to work at The Odyssey, which was my first choice among the companies I submitted to. The Odyssey theatre truly blends the experience of a small Los Angeles theatre with a level of professionalism that any company should strive for.

My goal in this blog is to provide entertainment through multimedia and links to interesting articles including but not limited to The Odyssey and Los Angeles theatre. I find that whenever I tell people about my interest in theatre the most common question I am immediately asked is, “So when are you moving to New York?” This tells me that there is still a stigma that the best theatre is supposedly still in New York. Newsflash: this is not the case. Heck, most people don’t even understand the difference between Broadway and Off-Broadway (It has to do with the number of seats in the venue). As an avid attender of plays and musicals in Los Angeles, I can say that we have great productions that start here in LA and end up going to New York, plays that tend to take more risks and also hold a discerning, intelligent audience.

With all this being said, I am truly excited to be working for The Odyssey Theatre this summer whenever and wherever I can. I hope to gain a solid understanding of the inner-workings of a successful 99-seat theatre along with the fun and hardships that go along with it. As I write this blog, rehearsals for our next production, Broadway Bound, are underway. At the helm of the production is Jason Alexander directing, who was in the Original Broadway Cast. This Pulitzer-nominated play by Neil Simon is a show that any fan of theatre will not want to miss.