In the fourth and final installment of our Oberon Theatre Ensemble Rep Interview Series, we’ve got a treat – actor, director, and teacher Austin Pendleton. With a body of work on stage and screen that has spanned several decades, Austin is a vocal and active member of the Off-Off-Broadway community, who has championed the need to recognize the importance of theatre at all levels. Austin is the director of Order, now extended until July 3rd at Theatre Row.
Austin took some time out of his insanely busy schedule to answer some questions about his work both with Oberon and his long career.
Austin, the first time I saw you on stage was in “Doubles” back in the 80’s with my parents as a youngster. I’ve known your work and followed your career throughout the years, and one thing that always sticks out as a wonderful aspect of who you are is that you are always fighting for the little guy – in respect to theatre. You always strive to embrace the needs of the Off-Off Broadway community and promote the recognition of its importance as a lifeblood. What was something that happened in the course of your career that made you champion that cause?
I think what happened with me and off-off-Broadway was that at a place in my work when I’d sort of lost my way as an actor I found myself asked to play some very great roles with fine actors and directors there, and with great freedom, roles I never expected to be asked to play. Great Shakespearean roles, for example: Hamlet, Shylock, Richard III, Richard II, Claudius and the Ghost (in Hamlet). Stuff like that. And I realized the value and excitement of off-off-Broadway, and how that exact value and excitement could not be found anywhere else.
What is it about a play that draws you to it to the point that you feel you MUST be involved?
I have no idea what draws me to a play and what doesn’t. I just know when I’m drawn, somehow.
How well did you know the members of Oberon Theatre Ensemble before coming on board? You have worked with or trained some of them before, have you not?
I’d worked with Ryan Tramont and William Laney in Richard II, at Frog and Peach. And I’d seen (because of these guys) some Oberon shows, including Eric Parness’s beautiful staging of A Winter’s Tale.
What was it like being able to work with this stalwart of the Off-Off community, and bring your knowledge to the table?
It was wonderful working with Oberon. They are completely supportive, and they get what you’re trying to do.
What were some of the things that drew you to Order and allowed you to play and have fun with the piece?
Order is fun to play with because it’s so boldly all over the place. It tries all these different approaches into its scorching subject matter. You have to be very flexible with it. I like that. Also, it’s brilliantly written.
What do you think is the most important link between the two plays in Oberon’s Rep, Othello and Order, and how do they relate to the state of the human condition?
Both Order and Othello are about what happens to you if you meet the wrong Demon for you.
I was fortunate enough to see an earlier reading of this play, and it is quite different now. What has the collaborative process been like between you and playwright Christopher Stetson Boal?
It’s been an amazing collaboration with Chris. It’s never felt like there were hidden agendas.
Do you see Order as more of a dark comedy or more of a tragedy about a man who is run over by everything in his life, and why?
I see it as either a dark comedy or a funny tragedy. I like to give the audience a little room to figure which of those ways they would like to go with it.
Who are your greatest inspirations in the industry – regardless of medium?
I’ve got about a hundred inspirations in the industry. Almost everything I’ve ever worked on has had at least one.
If you had to pick a character from a play, book, or film to be for a day, who would it be?
My God. Who? Whatever I’m working on at any given moment, that’s who I’d like to be.
What’s next on your agenda? Do you have a play or project brewing that we’ll be lucky enough to see? We would expect nothing less from a man who is involved with everything in the theatre industry and gives it his heart and soul.
I’m directing a new play, Detroit, by Lisa Damour at Steppenwolf, in August. I’m playing Kroll in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, at the Pearl Theatre here in NY, this fall, directed by Elinor Renfield. I’m directing Three Sisters this winter at CSC here in NY with a lot of great people in it. And I’m involved in a new musical called A Minister’s Wife, music by Josh Schmidt (Adding Machine), which was done last year at Writers’ Theatre in the Chicago area (Glencoe), a theatre that commissioned me to write the script for the show (based on Shaw’s play Candida), and which will be done next year by Lincoln Center in the Newhouse Theatre. Also, I’m still teaching (acting) at HB Studio here in NY.
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That sounds like a great line-up. I hope we get a chance to see some of his work this coming year! Order runs through July 3rd at Theatre Row’s Kirk Theatre.