November 15, 2016

book%20200dip.pngI recently received a great question through my Facebook page for How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare and thought this might be the best place to respond, since others may have the same question:

Ruthie writes, "We've been using your book for three years now (and loving it). One play a year. Maybe someone has already asked this question but do you have a recommendation for another selection (or two) to memorize from Romeo and Juliet? Thanks!"

Here are three additional passages from Romeo and Juliet that you and your children and students might enjoy memorizing:

Prologue

Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.


Act 1, Scene 4, lines 58-74

MERCUTIO
O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomi
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep.
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
Her traces of the smallest spider web,
Her collars of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small gray-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid.
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.


Act 3, Scene 5, lines 1-11

JULIET
Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

ROMEO
It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

July 29, 2016

It's a world premiere: dimmed lights and hushed excitement as the curtain opens. The play is a farce: four tenors, two wives, and three girlfriends in a swank Paris hotel suite. Screams, sighs, double-entendres, and door-slams:

But this world premiere isn't in New York or London. It's in Cleveland. Ohio! Talk about Off-Broadway!

Playwright Ken Ludwig, loves Cleveland -- and it's true love, not a fling.

Ludwig, whose plays have won the top theater awards on Broadway and the West End, recently had the world premiere of his farce, "A Comedy of Tenors."

May 5, 2016

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of giving an online workshop on How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare with Sarah Mackenzie as part of her Read Aloud Revival series (which you should definitely check out, if you haven't already.) We had tons of fun, and I really enjoyed answering questions from the workshop participants towards the end of our discussion.

Along those lines, a homeschool mom wrote to me just before the workshop with a question about the best PG or PG-13 rated Shakespeare movies for teenagers. Here's my response:

"Here are my four favorite general-release movies of Shakespeare, all comedies, and they're all quite tame.
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Much Ado About Nothing, 1993, with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson - PG-13 but there's nothing in it I wouldn't show my own 14 year-old-daughter. It's exhilarating and loads of fun.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2008, with Kevin Kline - also PG-13, and it's also quite tame.

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The Taming of the Shrew, 1967, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, unrated because of its date; also very tame and loads of fun.

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Twelfth Night, 1996, with Helena Bonham-Carter - PG! A fun version of my very favorite play.

Please be aware that because these are general-release movies, they don't have all the Shakespeare text in them. Movie producers cut the plays a lot for general-release movies to make the movies more user-friendly. Personally, when I see Shakespeare on screen, I want to see the whole play, and the best way to do that these days is to go to the Globe Player. It's a website that streams productions from the Globe Theatre in London. Go to www.globeplayer.tv and for a small charge, you can rent or buy their recent productions. They are beautifully photographed and I love them. Of course, some productions are better than others, and I would especially recommend their Much Ado About Nothing with Eve Best and Charles Edwards - really the best Much Ado I've ever seen. Their Twelfth Night (all male, as it was done in Shakespeare's time); it's the funniest, most joyous version of the play I've ever seen. And their Tempest and Merry Wives of Windsor.
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I hope this has been helpful. Please tell your daughters I wish them all the fun in the world with their wonderful choice to learn Shakespeare.

All best,

Ken"

March 31, 2016

A few days ago, I received a terrific email from a homeschooling mother who teaches a writing/ literature class to her 9th-12th grade students, most of whom have not studied Shakespeare before. She asked which plays would be best to introduce first and whether high schoolers would be too old for How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare.

Here's my response:

MIDSUMMER_NIGHTS_DREAM300.jpgA lot of high schools use Julius Caesar as the first Shakespeare play, and I just don't know why. It's very political and pretty dry and a difficult read. I find that it's just not a good way to get kids interested in Shakespeare.

I always think it’s better to start kids with one of the comedies. A Midsummer Nights Dream is always best for ALL kids, young and old. It has all the great fairies and funny lovers and a magic flower. If you think that's not a good fit for your group, the other great choice is Twelfth Night - as long as the kids are old enough to get it (from about 12 on up). It's more sophisticated than Midsummer, and has an enormously touching story about the love of a brother and sister. I personally love the comedies best because they're genuinely funny and the stories move right along. The other great one teach as a starter is Much Ado About Nothing. It's VERY funny and there are at least three great DVDs of it.

The other way to go for the first time is a good blood-and-guts tragedy and here the clear choice is either Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet. Lots of actions and they both have great stories. Romeo and Juliet of course also has the romance. Macbeth has the witches and ghosts. If you think Macbeth might be unsettling for some of the kids, then I'd stick with Romeo and Juliet.
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To answer your second question, high schoolers are definitely not too old for How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. In fact, the secret fact about the book is that it's meant for adults as much as it is for adults-to-teach kids. So many adults grow up never being exposed to Shakespeare and then they get frightened of the language and never really try it. The goal of my book is to teach people to see that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in history because he's not only profound and witty and magical; but because he's fun to read and filled with the best stories and characters ever written. He's like a foreign language to start with. You just have to read slowly at first - or watch a DVD or listen to a cassette - and get into the swing of things; and when you first start to read him, you should take your time and understand every word so that you're never confused. Then, pretty soon, adults and kids alike start to "get it," and after that they find they can't stop reading.

So How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is is written so that the passages start with the ones that are easiest to understand and memorize. Then, little by little, the passages get more complex as you grow into the language.

Photo credits:
Dame Judi Dench as Queen Titania and Paul Rogers as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Sir Peter Hall. Photo by Geraint Lewis.

Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann.

February 3, 2016

An exclusive interview with Ken Ludwig, Tony Award-winning playwright

Mary Chase first wrote HARVEY in 1944. Since then, HARVEY has seen multiple stage productions and the famous 1950 film starring James Stewart. In 2014, Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo , Crazy for You) wrote additional dialogue for a new production of HARVEY for London's West End. We spoke with Pennsylvania native Ken about his contributions to the world of HARVEY!

Q. You've written 22 plays and musicals, six of which have been on Broadway and seven produced in London’s West End. How did the opportunity arise to begin working on additional dialogue for HARVEY?

KL. It was being directed in London by Lindsay Posner who has a great reputation and has done fantastic work for the Royal Shakespeare Company and on the West End. He was directing HARVEY for a West End opening at the Haymarket Theatre with James Dreyfus and Maureen Lipman – and as he was preparing the production for rehearsals, he sensed that the play felt a little dated. So he asked the producer to call me and ask if I would do a light rewrite of the show to make it feel a little more immediate. The producer called my agent the next day and I said that I’d be delighted to give it a try.

Q. What new things can we expect to see in your version?

KL. I added dialogue that I felt sharpened the humor. In particular, I tried to add lines that would both deepen relationships and add some laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a very touching play and it has such a great heart. I tried to make everything work just a little more swiftly so I did a little cutting here and there. Mary Chase wrote a masterpiece and I didn’t want to tinker too much. I asked myself, “What would Mary Chase have done if she were writing today for today’s audiences.”

Q. Was your writing process for HARVEY different than your other works, like Lend Me a Tenor or Moon Over Buffalo?

KL. I tried to adopt Mary Chase’s style and tone to make the changes feel seamless with the play as written. I wanted people to feel that they were hearing the Mary Chase original and go away saying “What a wonderful play. I wasn’t bored for a moment.” So hopefully the new script has the same tone, same heart and same feeling as the original. In fact, my changes are very few and very precise. Since it’s a Mary Chase play and not a Ken Ludwig play, I tried to stay as invisible as possible while making it work as beautifully as possible.

Q. Do you relate to Elwood P. Dowd in any way?

KL. I do identify with him. I think we all do. We all want to live in a world where the right things happen in life. I love that Mary Chase never tells us precisely what happened to make Elwood snap into this other existence. I suspect that there was a very precise moment in his life where a bell went off in his head to make him start seeing this rabbit and start escaping into his beautiful, peaceful world. He’s hopeful, sweet and has a wonderful heart – which is why we identify with him and love him so much.

Q. Do you have a favorite character or scene in the play?

KL. Veta, Elwood’s sister, is the comic center of the play. She’s very funny and has the tour de force part. She is out of the screwball comedy movie genre of the 1940s – she comes right out of movies like Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night and Ball of Fire. She’s zany and odd and loveable. I love the scene where Chumley comes to the house, and she gets more and more exercised that Elwood is ruining her life again. Maureen Lipman was hilarious in London – and I hear that you’ve got a fantastic actress playing the part at the Walnut Street Theatre!

Q. What are you working on now?

KL. I had two plays open this past calendar year at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. The first was Baskerville, a retelling of the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles. I told the story with five actors (and a lot of costumes) and it was an absolute treat to put on stage. It then went on to play at Arena Stage in Washington, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. The second play this year was a sequel to my first Broadway hit, Lend Me A Tenor. The new play is called A Comedy of Tenors, and in addition to playing at the McCarter, it opened the 100th Anniversary of the Cleveland Playhouse. I had loads of fun working on it and – I’m thrilled to say – the audiences loved it, and we’re about to release the North American rights so that it can be done by lots of theatres. Since then, I have started writing a new comedy – I just finished the first act – and I have another, finished play that has its first reading next month.

Reprinted by permission of The Walnut Street Theatre

Harvey
By Mary Chase · Additional Dialogue by Ken Ludwig
JANUARY 19 – MARCH 6, 2016

January 19, 2016

I saw The Sisters Rosensweig at Theatre J last night and it was a wonderfully enjoyable evening of theatre. It was particularly exciting to see the new Artistic Director, my very dear friend Adam Immerwahr, in his new artistic home. Also, I was reminded with much fondness of the author of the play, Wendy Wasserstein.

Wendy, who tragically passed away in 2006, was one of America’s best playwrights, and she was also a good and very loyal friend. We first met when we served together on a National Endowment for the Arts committee choosing worthy plays for funding, and our friendship flourished.
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My favorite memory of Wendy is from 1995 when Moon Over Buffalo was trying out at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. We were doing a typical out of town try-out: the lines were changing every day, Carol Burnett and Phil Bosco were valiantly keeping up with the latest version of the script, Heidi Landesman’s remarkable set was being polished and changed, Bob Mackie’s costumes were furiously being sewn backstage and the production, as these things always are, was a maelstrom of activity.

One day Wendy called me and said she was in town and would love to see the show. She turned up at the theatre with her friend Nick Hytner (about 8 years before he started running the National Theatre). Wendy and Nick came to the performance and the three of us went out to dinner afterwards – and we stayed up until about 2:00 a.m. as they kindly and generously gave me their notes on the state of the production and the state of the script. I saw Wendy several times after that, but our night in Boston together is the one I’ll never forget.

January 8, 2016

On Monday, after dinner at the residence of the British Ambassador (I know, pinch me), my wife and I and our son Jack went to see the NT Live film of Benedick Cumberbatch in Hamlet. All in all, it was a pretty remarkable evening.
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Cumberbatch was superb – the whole cast was terrific – and it reminded me of how much I enjoy seeing theatre and opera onscreen. Of course nothing replaces a live performance, but this is certainly the next best thing. And seeing a play filmed with all the new technology and new techniques being brought to bear these days has its own, unique and very wonderful virtues.

The close-ups are breathtaking. I got a truly clear sense of Cumberbatch’s performance. Clearer than a live performance? Yes, possibly. Is it heresy to say so? Probably. But it doesn’t really compete with a live performance, it’s just a different experience.

Also wonderful is hearing every single word of the performance. And seeing the costumes in so much detail is an added bonus. And best of all, the SIZE of everything is sort of magnificent. Perhaps it takes a really big play, like Hamlet and the operas I love so much, to take advantage of the medium. But I suspect that even more modest plays would be rather great on a big screen.

What suffers? The set, for one thing. It looked like an incredible, indeed magnificent set for this production, but on a screen you can’t quite get the sweep of the thing. I also got a sense that I was missing some of stillness in the play: those wonderful moments in a live theatre when you can hear a pin drop and you’re aware of the hushed tension in the audience around you.

Perhaps the biggest loss was the sense of an intimate communal experience, the one thing that makes live theatre breathtakingly unique.

That said, what a wonderful treat to be able to see a production of this magnitude that I would have otherwise missed. That alone made the experience irreplaceable.

August 17, 2015

I was in Cleveland last week for the first three days of rehearsals for the world premiere production of A Comedy of Tenors at the Cleveland Playhouse. It's a co-production with the McCarter Theatre, and it opens the Cleveland Playhouse's 100th anniversary season. What an honor.

The cast is amazing, all hugely talented and all lovely to be with: Lisa Brescia, Bradley Dean, Antoinette LaVecchia, Kristen Martin, Rob McClure, Ron Orbach and Bobby Conte Thornton. They're off to a wonderful start under the direction of the brilliant Stephen Wadsworth. There should be a better word than brilliant. He's remarkable in every way.

We have a first-rate design team working on the show as well, led by the legendary William Ivy Long on costumes. He did the costumes for the original Broadway production of Lend Me a Tenor back in 1989, as well as Crazy for You three years later, and he's one of my dearest friends. Oh by the way, he's also designed - so far - 75 Broadway productions. 75!! And he's in this month's Vanity Fair as one of the 10 Best-Dressed Men in the World. (In fact, he's 4th!)

The wonderful Charlie Corcoran has designed the set, David Lander will do lights and Josh Horvath the sound. Josh did the jaw-dropping sound on Baskerville at McCarter and Arena this past spring.

Over the course of the jam-packed trip, I spent quality time enjoying the wondrous work of all of the artisans behind the scenes.

Here’s our Head Draper, Clare Briggs:
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And Properties Artisan, Frankie Teuber with one of my favorite props for the show: the Tongue. No, I’m not going to explain further. You’ll just have to come and see the show.
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Here’s the costume shop. What a place.
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And I loved this pile of props from past Cleveland Playhouse productions in their production warehouse.
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Happy 100th Birthday CPH and thank you for the great visit.

July 9, 2015

BaskervillOldGlobe.jpgMy thoughts are with Barry Edelstein, Josh Rhodes and the cast of Baskerville as they begin rehearsals this week in San Diego. I had a terrific breakfast with Josh in New York last month where he showed me sketches of the set and costumes. It looks to me as though this will be a crackerjack production—and I understand it’s already been extended for an extra week. I send all best vibes to everyone at The Old Globe for a terrific four weeks of rehearsal. Stay tuned.

February 16, 2015

mary%20stuart.jpgI recently went to opening night of Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller at the Folger Thetare directed by Richard Clifford in a wonderful translation by Peter Oswald. The Schiller play is particular interesting because he imagines a meeting between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, making it the centerpiece of the second half of the play, but such a meeting never took place. Schiller created it to give the play structure and drama - and the meeting between the two titanically strong women is a remarkable moment in world theater.

Historically, Elizabeth kept Mary locked up for 19 years in a castle in England, then beheaded her when the time was right politically. Ever the playwright, Schiller creates a personal antagonism between the two women as they play cat and mouse over the length of England. Schiller is masterful at dramatizing the political pressures that Elizabeth was under to get rid of Mary Queen of Scots, particularly in light of Mary's Catholicism, which undermined Elizabeth as the head of the English church. (There was also that little matter that Mary murdered her husband and married the murderer …) As written by Schiller, the play by nature consists of one long speech after another, but it was lyrical and passionate in the hands of Richard Clifford, whose direction was stunning. There were remarkable performances by the entire cast, and my own favorites were three dear friends, Kate Eastwood Norris as Mary Stuart, Holly Twyford as Queen Elizabeth, and Cody Nickell as the Earl of Leicester. It was a magnificent night and proof that great plays are worth all the trouble.

January 22, 2015

Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager at Arena Stage and I discuss Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. The interview was originally published on Stage Banter: the Arena Stage Blog.

What is it that makes Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson so popular with both writers and audiences?

There is something romantic at the heart of Sherlock Holmes that touches all of us. He is quixotic, cerebral, dashing and inspiring. But there is also something dark and dangerous about Holmes, and we admire him for the courage with which he fights his demons. He broods, he plays Beethoven, he revels in danger and experiments with drugs. At times he frightens us, and that is part of his allure.

Meanwhile, Watson creates a resonance of his own. He is steady, stalwart and wonderfully earthbound. Together they are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They are Ariel and Caliban. They are fire and earth. These roots plant them firmly in our shared mythology, and we respond to them as we respond to all mythological characters, not just through the brain, but also viscerally and through our hearts.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters to be portrayed in literature, in film and on TV. What attracted you to him and, in particular, The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson have been a staple of our culture since the 1890s, but they have recently reentered our world in a more muscular way. For some reason, it seems to be just the right time for Holmes and Watson. Perhaps these days we crave a hero who succeeds despite, or perhaps because of his quirks, his obsessions and his near-fatal flaws.

Also, it is easy to dismiss Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a writer of mere genre literature. After all, say the critics, he wrote only mysteries and adventure stories. But the man had a touch of genius about him. Certainly his genius was different in kind from that of, say, Jane Austen or Henry James. It was not as deeply personal or psychological. But genius comes in many shapes, and Conan Doyle inhabited one of them.

To begin with, he virtually invented the entire mystery genre as we know it. There would be no Agatha Christie without Conan Doyle, no Dorothy Sayers, no Raymond Chandler, and no detective movies or television shows. The detective and his sidekick, the locked-room mystery, the clues, the red herrings, the bungling policeman and the grateful client—he virtually invented all of it.

In addition, in the characters of Holmes and Watson, he somehow plumbed the depths of our immortal souls—and his audience recognized this from the beginning. Think about the number of times in the history of literature that there have been people literally waiting in line for a novel or story. I can think of Charles Dickens; I can think of J.K. Rowling; and I can think of Conan Doyle, whose myriad fans would wait on the dock in New York for the latest installment of Sherlock Holmes in The Strand Magazine. The public realized instantly that Holmes and Watson were not just for an age but for all time.

As for The Hound of the Baskervilles, Conan Doyle wrote it with his usual instinct for a whopping good story. Again, in the history of English literature, how many truly great adventure stories have been written—stories of depth and quality that create mythologies and yet keep you turning the pages while you hold your breath. I would include Treasure Island and The Hobbit. Kidnapped, perhaps, and The Prisoner of Zenda. And preeminent among them is The Hound of the Baskervilles. Like Treasure Island, it contains a villain who reaches deeply into our subconscious. And like Treasure Island, it touches on the darkness in all of us. The very image of the hound brings out the danger that lurks in the depths of our souls. The hound is mysterious and unknowable, and so are we. He is frightening and difficult to control. There is a hound in all of us.

Why write a play about Sherlock Holmes at this moment in time?

There is a great tradition of melodrama in our theater, both English and American. In melodramas, we sit on the edge of our seats watching exciting stories where anything can happen. There are villains, there are mysteries, there are fortunes lost and reputations regained. These are the plays that defined our theater for over two hundred years, and the literary icons we most revere, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, loved to act in them and write about them.

There should be a bigger place in our lives for these kinds of plays. They needn’t be a steady diet, but they shouldn’t disappear, either. Beginning in the 1930s, this genre was subsumed by Hollywood movies, and the theater was poorer for it. And while I yield to no one in my love for Errol Flynn in Robin Hood and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus, I think that adventure stories are just as good, and maybe even better, when they’re presented on a live stage with actors you can touch.

My hope is that Baskerville is about the theater as much as it is about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. I want it to succeed not only as a tale of fellowship and courage, but also as an adventure in itself. I’d love us to return, at least now and then, to nights at the theater when we feel the way we do in the movies watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: sitting breathless in the dark, mesmerized by the action, munching bags of popcorn.

Baskerville is a cast of five. Three of the actors play over 40 characters. What is that like in your development process, as far as writing these very distinct characters, knowing that one actor will be playing these ten roles, another these ten, another these ten?

Writing for this many characters in a single play felt joyous; and knowing that they’d be played by only three actors felt like a breath of fresh air. It was liberating.

Classical theater has always been filled with doubling and tripling, and it is often a source of theatrical joy. Shakespeare’s company had between 12 and 15 actors in it, but his plays contain as many as 25-35 characters.

One of my favorite authors, J.B. Priestley, said something about theater that I like very much: he reminded us that when we go to the theater we feel two things at the same time. First, we see characters who tell us a story. Second, we’re conscious that professional actors are playing those characters and telling the story on a small wooden stage.

When actors double, triple—and, in the case of Baskerville, play dozens of parts—we’re reminded of this duality. Characters may die, but the actors are, reassuringly, still standing at the curtain when they take their bows. I believe that this knowledge can enrich the experience of seeing a play, and reminds us that play-going is not merely life, but life enhanced.

Are you more a Holmes or a Watson?

I think I’m a Watson but I wish I were a Holmes.

Finally, a question I ask all our playwrights...what’s your favorite word?

“Fadge.” In Twelfth Night, at the first great turning point in the play, Viola sums up the story and then asks, “How will this fadge?” meaning how will it all turn out in the end. What a simple, and simply breathtaking word.

November 10, 2014

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We’re in the second week of rehearsals for Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol at Adventure Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. The play is a retelling of the Charles Dickens classic told from Tiny Tim’s point of view, and it was not only exhilarating writing it, but it’s been equally exhilarating watching this cast bring the script to life. Here are the roles and the actors:

Chris Dinolfo plays Tiny Tim
Conrad Feininger is Scrooge
Brittany Martz plays Tiny Tim’s best friend Charlotte
Megan Dominy plays the Puppet Seller
Phil Reid is the Pie Seller, and
Danny Pushkin plays the Book Seller.
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Jerry Whiddon is directing and in my humble opinion he is one of the great directors of the American theatre. The producer is the talented Michael Bobbitt, who runs Adventure Theatre.

I worked with Jerry and Michael three years ago when I wrote ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas for the same theatre. The big difference this year is that I have a co-author: my 18-year-old son Jack, who is a senior in high school.

The designs for the show are particularly wonderful. Dan Conway (set designer) and I worked together recently when he designed the incredible set for the world premiere of The Game’s Afoot at Cleveland Play House. The notion behind the current set is that the stage itself is a Victorian theatre. So we have a theatre within a theatre.
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The nifty sound design is by Neil McFadden, the great lighting is by Martha Mountain, Dre Moore is in charge of the hundreds of props, and the costumes are by Collin Ranney. As you can see, the costumes are gorgeous.
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The idea of the piece is that Scrooge wants to keep Tiny Tim’s father, Bob Cratchit, working on Christmas day, so Tiny Tim and his friend Charlotte come up with the idea of confronting Scrooge with his past life so that he’ll see the light and repent. To do this, they team up with their friends from the streets of London, the Pie Seller, the Puppet Seller and the Book Seller, to create Scrooge’s past. So it ends up being a sort of play within a play in a theatre within a theatre.

The show runs from November 14 through January 1 and I hope that everybody comes to see it.

July 16, 2014

I'm just back from my first visit to the Stratford Festival. It was truly heaven on earth and I hope to return every year from now on.

Their production of Crazy For You is absolutely fantastic and has just been extended for an additional week in October. I gave a speech and did a q and a with audience members. Later, I had the chance to sit down with just the cast for another q and a session.

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Me with the cast of Crazy For You

Crazy For You is now the first-ever Stratford Festival production to have recorded a cast album. Here's a lovely interview with two of the stars, Josh Franklin who plays Bobby Child and Natalie Daradich who plays Polly Baker.

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I also gave a talk on How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare as part of the trip, which was loads of fun. Here's a photo of the display in the Stratford Festival Bookshop:

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And of course the lovely Avon River
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The Renato La Selva Guthrie Award Quilt
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This gorgeous album quilt celebrates Shakespeare's plays at Stratford. It was built voluntarily by 60 employees of the Festival's wardrobe department to raise money for a Guthrie Award in memory of Renato La Selva, men's tailor, who worked at the Festival during the 1970s and 80s. The award is given in recognition of outstanding achievement in the wardrobe department.

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The Stratford Festival Theatre

October 28, 2013

On Friday afternoon, I drove up to Haverford College, outside Philadelphia, for Saturday’s inauguration of the College’s new president Dan Weiss. Haverford is my undergraduate alma mater and I had the joy of representing one of my graduate schools, Cambridge University, in the procession. Over 100 colleges and universities were represented, from the oldest in the world (Cambridge and Oxford) to more recent fly-by-nights like Harvard and Yale. Much feasting and partying accompanied the 2-day inauguration festivities, and we all wished our 14th Haverford President well as he begins his journey at this magical place.

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As soon as the inauguration was over, I drove down to The Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware to see their production of Lend Me A Tenor, which runs through November 3. The cast was stellar and the direction by Executive Director Bud Martin was fantastic. They found laughs in the script that I never saw before. Best of all, I had the chance to meet the cast and crew after the performance and thank them for their outstanding work.

At%20the%20Cleveland%20Park%20Library%20small.jpgOn Sunday afternoon, the Cleveland Park Library here in Washington, DC hosted an author event for How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare. The librarian Barbara Gauntt did a wonderful job organizing the event – and I loved finding out that all the DC Public Library’s copies of the book – throughout the whole system – were checked out. It made me feel like I’m really spreading the gospel. Meanwhile, I signed loads of books sold by a representative of our wonderful DC bookstore Politics and Prose. (Anyone who has never been to Politics and Prose should rank it high on their list of bookstore destinations; it is one of the greatest in the world.)

The event itself was loads of fun. Both kids and parents were there, and together we all memorized the first ten lines of the speech “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Thanks to everyone for coming.

September 30, 2013

By Sanjit Maitra

cover%20Trinity_Issue_17_The_Fountain_FINAL_WEB-2.jpgKen Ludwig came to Trinity in Michaelmas 1973, having already completed a yearat Harvard Law School. He majored in Music Theory and Composition as an undergraduate at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and then studied with Leonard Bernstein at Harvard despite – or because of – the usual Law School pressures. Trinity accepted Ken for Law, but he spent the first year studying English; although considering all the time we spent attending operas and concerts together, it could well have been Music. However, thanks no doubt to Tony Weir’s influence, he focused on Law in his second year, graduating with the LL.B in International Law in 1975.

4Trinity_Issue_17_The_Fountain_FINAL_WEB-2.jpgI met Ken at dinner, probably Formal Hall, during his early days. I was in my second year of Economics, living in 4A Bridge Street. We got on very well, music and opera being common interests (despite my superficiality in these matters). His super-packed schedule did not prevent us from inviting each other to tea in our rooms, the highlights of which were Chelsea buns and the Sacher Torte from Fitzbillies, together with crumpets toasted on my electric fire. Fewer Health & Safety restrictions in
those days.

We were fortunate enough to go to Covent Garden on a few occasions – L’Elisir d’Amore was one of the operas-- accompanied by Ken’s girlfriend, Adrienne George. I recall with great pleasure the fact that they both came to a small party of mine for my 21st birthday. Although some Cambridge colleges had already become mixed, Trinity hadn’t. Ade was, therefore, one of just three females at my party (of 13)! 2Trinity_Issue_17_The_Fountain_FINAL_WEB-2.jpgKen and Ade subsequently married in 1976, Ken having gained the J.D. from Harvard Law School, and they moved to Washington D.C.

What remain striking about Ken and his phenomenal success as a playwright from the mid-1980s on, aren’t just his talents as a writer and musician, but, at the risk of sounding hackneyed, his dedication, hard work and discipline. He started as a lawyer in Washington D.C. with Steptoe & Johnson in 1976 and right up to the time he left them in 1987 in order to concentrate fully on writing, he used to work on his plays between 4:30 and 8:30 every morning, after which he would trot off to practise international law. I observed this routine first-hand on the myriad occasions when Ken and Ade so kindly offered me their hospitality during the 1980s.

3Trinity_Issue_17_The_Fountain_FINAL_WEB-2.jpgThe best way to digest Ken’s track record and success is to go to his website (www.kenludwig.com), from which we learn that Ken is an internationally-acclaimed playwright whose work has been performed in at least 30 countries in over 20 languages. So far he has had six shows on Broadway and six in the West End. He has won two Laurence Olivier Awards, three Tony Award nominations, two Helen Hayes Awards, the Edgar Award for Best Mystery of the Year, the Southeastern Theatre Conference Distinguished Career Award, and the Edwin Forrest Award for Services to the Theatre. In addition, he has had plays commissioned by the RSC and Bristol Old Vic, and his plays have appeared at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Old Vic in London.

Ken’s first major success was Lend me a Tenor, which premiered in London in 1986, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and starring Denis Lawson and Anne Francis. Lloyd
Webber subsequently produced it on Broadway. His most recent show in London was a revival of his musical Crazy for You which opened in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and then transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End and won an Olivier for
Best Revival of the Year. 6Trinity_Issue_17_The_Fountain_FINAL_WEB-2.jpg

In 2006, a profile of Ken in the London Times said ‘There is hardly a regional theatre in America that hasn’t a work of his scheduled’. Every night of the year there are several of Ken’s 20 plays in performance somewhere in the U.S., and the number of
professional and amateur productions throughout America since the late 1980s now exceeds 6,000. His plays are performed almost as frequently in Europe in translation.

His newest play is a sort of sequel to Lend Me A Tenor: it’s about opera, set in Paris, with four of the same characters. And the play he’s working on at the moment is set in Hollywood in 1939 during the making of The Wizard of Oz.

Trinity_Issue_17_The_Fountain_FINAL_WEB-2.jpgInterestingly, however, Ken’s latest work isn’t a play at all – it’s a book entitled How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. He describes the book as a labour of love. In it, he
tells parents and educators about his journey in teaching Shakespeare to his
daughter from the time she was six to the day she left for university. Ken has been a student of Shakespeare since his high-school days, and in the book he emphasises the importance of memorising passages from Shakespeare as a way to get children
to be comfortable with the language, stories and ideas of the plays.

He organises the book around 25 passages – from easy to challenging, from comedies to tragedies – and delves first into techniques for learning the passages, and second into the nuances of the passages and of the plays they represent, adding along
the way chapters on Shakespeare’s life and publication history. Ken says that his basic view is that learning Shakespeare gives students a strong moral and literary centre from which to grow; and, in addition, it gives them a leg up in reading comprehension,
public speaking and overall academic confidence.

One of the best things that Ken and I have shared over the years is our love of classical music in general and opera in particular. We both rank Mozart’s The Marriage
of Figaro as our favourite opera; Glyndebourne as the best place to see it (or see anything); and Verdi, Donizetti and the rest of the Italians as our favourite composers.

As for Ken’s proudest achievement so far, he says it’s his two years at Trinity, which gave him the joy of studying what he loved best in the most beautiful setting on earth, an opinion to which I heartily subscribe. His goal is to return to Cambridge
and teach students about the history of English and American stage comedy, an area he considers woefully neglected in academic circles. To teach Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Sheridan and Shaw to Cambridge students is, he says, his idea of heaven.

August 26, 2013

by Ken Ludwig and Alison Sundstrom

HTTeachKidsShakespeare-200%20dpi.jpgEarlier this month, to celebrate the release of Ken Ludwig's new book HOW TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN SHAKESPEARE, Samuel French invited thespians across the country to share their Shakespeare stories for a chance to win autographed copies of HOW TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN SHAKESPEARE, MIDSUMMER/JERSEY, and SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD. We had a wonderful response from veteran performers and new artists alike! All of the stories were sent to Ken Ludwig, who selected his 10 favorite stories as the winners of the giveaway.


Below are the 10 selected stories and Ken Ludwig's response to each. Congratulations to all of the winners!

From Jennifer Stone

I was a theatre student at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point; and we were planning our annual awards banquet. It was scheduled for April 23rd, Shakespeare's birthday. I was given the task of ordering a cake. I told the bakery employee that I was getting a cake in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday, to be served at the UWSP Players Banquet. She asked me if I wanted anything special on the cake. I thought she meant flowers; but she followed up by saying, "Does he golf or play tennis?"

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: Hilarious. This is one of the best Shakespeare anecdotes I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of them). I wonder what Shakespeare's favorite sport really was? I'm sure it was something gentle, like snooker. (Remember: Shakespeare's contemporaries used the word "gentle" to describe Shakespeare on several occasions.) Thanks for sharing this.


From Alice Theresa Bliss

I was born at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va. At the time, my father was Barter's booking agent and advance man. He met my mother on a booking trip, brought her to Barter, married her, and their (and, subsequently, my first home) was the Barter Inn, the company residence. She acted and was a company manager. About 3 years later, we moved to Richmond and my parents started their own agency, The House of Bliss Celebrity Bureau, Inc.( a name which consistently inspired calls from the IRS as to the nature of the business....) Daddy continued to book Barter throughout the country, and my parents also produced some touring shows as well. One of my very first memories is of waking up in the middle of the night, going down to the kitchen and seeing my mother stirring a large pot, lots of people sitting around the kitchen talking. Turns out this was New Year's Eve, she was dying tights for the tour of "As You Like It" which was to begin in the next couple of days, and the people sitting around were members of the cast, many of whom were sleeping on our living room floor prior to leaving on tour. Among them was a very young at the time Pernell Roberts, some 10 years before "Bonanza" or "Trapper John, M.D." He was our "Orlando." Even better, for years after my dress up trunk was filled with the beautiful Shakespearean costumes from the production- princess satins, a jester's hood and scepter, velvet head dresses, royal robes, and woodsmen's tunics. What more could a girl want!

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: How I envy you your theatrical origins. They reminded my of John Lithgow's theatrical childhood, which he describes in the introduction. I've often fantasized about how my life would have been different if I'd come from a theatrical family. I love to think of myself as an actor and singer. Ah well, a little too late...

From Maria Beach

The first live Shakespeare production I ever saw was a production of TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. I was a bright and bookish eleven year old who was in a gifted reading class. I was thrilled to get to see a real play by Shakespeare. But I was dismayed that I did not understand all of the vocabulary and had a crisis of self-confidence. At one point I thought an actor was telling a monologue about a little dog who piddled under the table on a gentlewoman. I assumed I must be wrong: surely the great and mighty SHAKESPEARE would not write anything so crude, right? Now I have a PhD in Theatre and know that my little-girl self was correct: the bard was indeed telling a joke about a dog urinating. I have classes filled with college students who have never seen a play before and are terrified, so I tell them about the little pissing dog and urge them to trust their instincts and not to freak out if they don't understand every single word.

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: You're so right. I used to tell my own children exactly that: don't worry about every word. No one - and I mean no one - can understand everything that's going on in a Shakespeare play, even if they've studied it in advance. As in opera, just let it roll over you and bask in it. Well done!


From Amy Serafin

My life was changed when I was nine years old and saw my first Shakespeare production - Macbeth. I remembered being completely riveted by the performance and the story. It was performed outdoors in a courtyard near our town's convention center. I thought it was the most amazing thing I ever saw - witches, warriors and cunning ladies. Plus, they used the outdoor staircases and floating walkways between buildings at the venue to substitute for a castle. It was mystical. At the end of the play, they brought Macbeth's head onto the stage, my mother put her hand over my eyes and I quickly shoved it away. Normally, that would have frightened me, but not tonight. I was completely captivated and I wasn't going to miss a moment! That play truly sold me on the magic and the power of theatre. Now, I am an actor and a director and I still think Shakespeare is the Master. I recently saw an interview with theatre director; Anne Bogart and she mentioned that a production of Macbeth that she saw as a young girl inspired her to make a career in theatre. I know that many scholars will debate that Hamlet is the greatest play Shakespeare ever wrote, but for it will and always will be Macbeth. Nothing will ever compare to the play that dazzled and charmed a nine year old into a love affair with theatre!

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: I think you're really on to something with the Hamlet versus Macbeth comparison. I love all the compression in Macbeth. It's small and tight and compact - and we absolutely whizz through it before we have a chance for the next breath. Because it's so short, the language is equally compact and startling. I always feel emotionally spent at the end of it in a way that no other play makes me feel.


From Kasey Cox

My first experience of Shakespeare was, believe it or not, watching the television show "Wishbone" on PBS. They were looking at Romeo and Juliet. I remember thinking that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and, at 9 years old, sought out Juliet's balcony monologue and memorized it.


Ten years later I played Juliet as a theatre major in college. BUT a much better story than the first time I heard it was this. When I was playing Juliet in college, we did the show in a thrust stage setting. During the death scene, many of the audience members were no more than three feet away from me. Romeo entered the tomb, gave a rousing performance of his monologue, but then, just before he drank the poison, I felt him reach under my head a lift me up. Not part of the blocking, but I thought maybe he was just very "in the moment." He put my ear to his lips and very tenderly (and in character) whispered to me. "I forgot the dagger." He then kissed me a laid me, now silently and very motionlessly frantic. Romeo drank the poison and the lucky actor died and left me with no implement with which to kill myself and a mess. So I very quickly ran through the scene in my head and very carefully took out every reference to the poison being gone and the dagger being available. Which left...not much. I said the lines as completely as I could, shouted "Oh, happy vial,” drank the poison that Romeo magically left behind, and then proceeded to improvise a death by poison. The good news is that everyone thought that it was planned all along. Everyone besides the frantic cast waiting in the wings biting their fingernails and trying to devise a plan to slide a dagger across the floor to me.

Oh, theatre.

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: What a terrific anecdote! It's really one for the books, and I plan to dine out on it, as Oscar Wilde might say. It reminds me of another true anecdote about Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap: at the end of the first act, one of the characters gets strangled by the mysterious killer - who is not revealed until the end of the play. But at one performance, the actor about to be strangled, accidentally shouted: "No! [Fred!] Don't do it!" - thereby giving away the ending of the play and making the whole second act pointless. I like your dagger story even better!


From Pam Leptich

I didn’t always let my principal know what we were doing in class. Maybe this time I should have.

My junior high students were studying Julius Caesar. I often read the modern English version of Shakespeare’s words to my students when they struggled with interpretation of language they didn’t fully comprehend. If I wanted true emotion and empathy between characters, the students needed to “feel” what Shakespeare’s characters felt. Anyway, at the beginning of Act Two, Brutus is in his garden and, after Lucius leaves, Brutus muses to himself about Caesar. “…But ‘tis a common proof, that lowliness is young ambition’s ladder, whereto the climber upward turns his face; but when he once attains the upmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend. So Caesar may; then lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel will bear no colour for the thing he is, fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented, would run to these and these extremities; and therefore think him as a serpent’s egg, which hatch’d would, as his kind, grow mischievous, and kill him in the shell.” My young Brutus didn’t quite understand what he was saying, so to help him portray appropriate emotion for what Brutus meant, I interpreted thusly...“Everyone knows the ambitious man only acts humble so he can climb the ladder of success. And once he gets to the top, he turns his back on the workers that got him there. Caesar may do the same and if he does he must be stopped. The case against him may be weak now because of the way he seems to be, but if he is allowed to continue he will demand more and more. He is like a snake’s egg. Harmless now, but when hatched will grow dangerous. So he must be stopped now, killed in the shell.” As loose as that translation was, it seemed to mesmerize my young Brutus. He just stared at me, gawking. Then I realized he was looking beyond me to the man standing at the back of the room. My principal had come into the room during my harangue and obviously thought I was talking about him.

You see, the teachers were in the middle of salary negotiations with the administration and the fact that an angry teacher had called the principal “a Caesar” the day before didn’t help. Yep…I was sent to the principal’s office.


“Et tu, Brute?”

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: How hilarious. Poor you. I'll bet that one of the reasons the principal might have misunderstood is because Shakespeare's characterizations are so real. Somehow Shakespeare always managed to capture the essence of individuals - their tiny quirks as well as their overall arcs. Haven't we all met Rosalinds and Olivias and Falstaffs in our time? I take it that you continued to teach at the school, so he must have forgiven you.


From Gwydion Suilebhan

In the fall of 1996, the Baltimore Orioles—the baseball team of which I've been a lifelong fan—returned to the playoffs for the first after a 13-year absence. They had terrific, magnetic players that year, and I couldn't have been any more excited. When I opened up my calendar to circle the dates on which they’d be playing Cleveland, so that I could reserve time to tune in on the radio, I noted that I’d already made plans for one of the dates. I’d bought tickets for a day-long production of Henry VI, Parts 1-3, at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC: an investment I couldn't afford to squander. As it happens, my theater companion was a dear friend I'd known since the seventh grade… and, as it happens, a fellow Orioles fan. He, too, was a bit daunted by the prospect of two full-length plays back-to-back, even with a substantial dinner break between the performances, but we agreed to persevere. I was a veteran theatergoer, but he’d never seen Shakespeare at all and he didn't want to miss the opportunity. I admired his pluck.

And so, on the day in question, my friend and I watched a truly magnificent vision begin to unfold for three-and-a-half hours, sat in my car—skipping dinner—to listen to part of what became an Orioles victory for an hour, then returned to the theater for another three-and-a-half hours to watch Michael Kahn's history arrive at its terrifying, magical conclusion. By the end, we were both transformed. The battles of past and present, the dual entertainments, the toll of all that paid attention: it had eaten us up.


And my friend had instantly become as dedicated a fan of Shakespeare as he had been of the Baltimore Orioles: more so, even, perhaps. I will never forget that experience.

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: Baseball and Shakespeare seem to me to be a perfect pair. They both inspire such wonderful fanaticism and loyalty. If you're a baseball lover, nothing else compares. (I understand that cricket inspires the same kind of loyalty in England.) And if you love Shakespeare - as you now do - you'll find that learning more and more about his plays becomes a crusade. It not only makes you smarter and wiser: it's also just fun! (And the history plays, with their forward momentum and battles and patriotism are such a great place to start.) Congrats on adding Falstaff to Babe Ruth. What a perfect pair.


From Barbara Rowell

In 1959 I was a member of the professional company at the Erie Playhouse, Erie PA. In an effort to bring Shakespeare to the area schools, we would tour during the day with a cut version of a Shakespearean play to schools within a 75 mile radius of Erie. This particular time a stalwart troupe of 8 headed by our director, Newell Tarrant, would leave the playhouse at 6 a.m. dressed in costume and make-up to make the first assembly of the day at 9 a.m.

After many performances later of "Julius Caesar", we weary actors would try to break the monotony...I was one of three women in the cast, and backstage we were the crowd of hundreds. Instead of yelling "Caesar....Caesar....Casear" we began the crowd scenes with "Squeeze her.....squeeze her.....etc." No one was the wiser, except 3 very tired actresses looking for a break!

We made quite a scene when we stopped at hamburger stops along the way...we did receive stares back in the day...."We're Actors!" We would get back to the Playhouse in time to relax in the Green Room, change into costumes and make-up for the nightly performance of "L'il Abner" starring Natalie Ross as Daisy Mae! I LOVE THE THEATRE! This lasted for 3 weeks! Another year we toured "Twelfth Night"...my twin brother had better looking legs in tights than I did!

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: Eight actors doing Shakespeare plays for kids: what could be better. I'm sure the discipline (and the exhaustion) has lasted you a lifetime. I think it's also terrific that you alternated Shakespeare with really great popular entertainment. I'm a particular fan of L'iI Abner. Do you know the movie based on the Broadway musical? It's perfect. And it's wonderful to see how Shakespearean comedy is the basis of so many of the plots and characters - and spirit - of American musical comedy at its best.

From Nathan Bradshaw

In the fall of 1993, I was a very precocious seven-year-old on my way to getting very dirty looks from a theatre full of very senior citizens, and it was all my father’s fault. He had raised me on Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare” and had decided that I was finally old enough to go to my first live performance—and what was the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival performing? Not a tragedy of great depth, nor a history of great dignity, but a comedy. Nor was it just any comedy—it was maybe the bawdiest, raunchiest, most innuendo-ridden piece of sexual satire in the canon: The Taming of the Shrew.

I put on my very best (and only) tie, my very best (and only) suit jacket, and my first pair of actual dress shoes, and I listened to my father’s stern lecture on theatre etiquette as patiently as I could manage. I had been there and done that—movie theatres, local college productions, children’s plays—but I understood that the stakes were higher here: THIS was Shakespeare. My father, who lectured for the Festival, had received front-row seats for their performance at Montreat College, the home turf of Billy Graham and the strictest of strictly conservative religious blue-hairs of the Bible Belt. As we walked in, all of them noticed the youngest member of the audience looking solemn and awed, and they nodded and smiled in polite approval. They understood that I was on my way to being an urbane, sophisticated young man of the highest values. I was not attending just any cultural event, after all: THIS was Shakespeare.

The lights finally went down, the artistic director came out to welcome everybody, and after the dignified applause, the curtains finally opened. The introduction to the play passed uneventfully, as did the expository first act. I was paying rapt attention and keeping quite the respectful silence, despite my huge grin at getting to see the difference between the words as I had known them—on a page—and as I now saw them dancing between actors on the stage. And then Petruchio met Kate (and no, I will not call her Katharina, for she is call’d plain Kate, and bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst). Allan Hickle Edwards and Beth Slaby, who were to become my imagination’s default cast for any theatre from that moment on, took over the stage and set about wooing and warring in violent slapstick filled with bawdy comedy. Every line from Kate came with a new attempt at physical assault, and every response from Petruchio turned both word and deed into an opportunity to poke, pinch, peck, and otherwise provoke the shrew with lewd banter and playful physical liberties. The retirees in the audience were stone-faced and silent in their disapproval of such indecency. You could almost hear a pin drop in between the actors’ lines. Almost—but for one irreverent and uncontrollable stream of laughter erupting from the front row.

Did I understand all the puns, all the plays on social mores, all the jokes about pregnancy? Of course not—precocity did not preclude my being merely seven. But I certainly knew the right way to respond when a cocky man suffers a kick on the rear to direct him offstage, or when an angry woman receives in return a playful smack on the rear after boasting of her waspish sting. I could not contain my delight at such a display of hilarity and physical childishness from two adults—and the other, less childish adults in the room could not contain their disdain for yet another youth lost to impropriety. As I regarded one matron of furrowed brows and she regarded one child of cackling lips in return, we both had the same thought of each other: such a waste. But I understood far better than she ever had been capable of, as I tried to bury my face in my father’s arm to control my laughter at Petruchio’s question, “What, with my tongue in your tail? nay, come again, good Kate; I am a gentleman!”—I knew why these plays had remained at the center of our culture for four centuries and why I would look forward to the Festival’s return every year from then on, why I would major in English, perform in a few dozen scenes and plays by the Bard (whom my lisp wisely named “Bawd” at seven), direct “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” as a student and have both “Kiss Me Kate” and “Shakespeare in Hollywood” on my wish list to direct as a teacher—I knew then why I was destined to return again and again to the theatre for laughter and tears, each spilling into the other: THIS was Shakespeare.

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: It sounds to me that you had the best Shakespeare education possible. What a wise father! Charles and Mary Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare" is one of my favorite books of all time. They somehow captured the spirit of the plays, while telling the stories with great momentum and integrity. And seeing the Taming of the Shrew is the best, best, best start I can imagine. A good knockabout Shakespeare comedy is just right for kids. Whether we get all the references or not doesn't matter (though it's exciting as a kid to get some of the bawdy stuff). I hope you get to direct Shakespeare in Hollywood soon! Keep me posted!

From Rick Clark

My first experience with Shakespeare: I was living in England (this was 1979 to 1980) and my mom was appearing in a production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the local community theatre. I have distinct memories of being such a theatre rat, sitting in the auditorium of the Bedford Civic Theatre, listening to the strange language and seeing the differences in bearing between and among the Mechanicals, the Royals, and the Fairies. My mom was playing Titania and she was so beautiful and powerful. I became hooked then and there. Soon after that, my school took a trip to the Royal Shakespeare Company and watching MSND in the Cottesloe Theatre and I remember sitting in profile to Puck as the actor bounded into the audience. What I remember most about that moment was the amount of spit showering the audience as Puck spouted his spells and jokes. I've used that moment to teach my own acting students about committing to the role and to the clarity of the diction. But it all started in that little theatre in a small town outside of London, watching my mom turn those words into something believable and imminently watchable.

Ken Ludwig's Reaction: Lucky you. How magical to watch your mother play Titania. I was lucky enough to see my mother, also, act in a local theater near my home in York Pennsylvania when I was about ten. She was in a play called Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin. I adored my mother and it's a memory that I'll never forget as long as I live. I'm also a huge fan of community theaters. They bring so much to our lives. And to see your mom in such a magical, emotional part must have been transformative. It takes my breath away.

August 6, 2013

I’ve just returned from a lovely weekend on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, home to a whole host of exciting cultural attractions including The Interlochen Center for the Arts and the prestigious Traverse City Film Festival to name just two. My son was finishing his 6-week program at Interlochen, and I went up to see his final concerts before we traveled back home together. While I was there I had a couple of other lovely experiences, some quite unexpected, that I wanted to share here.

On Friday, just after I arrived, I headed down to Horizon Books for a How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare event, where I met some wonderful people. In particular, I got to meet the folks from Old Town Playhouse who will be producing The Game’s Afoot in January. Huge thanks to everyone who attended and to everyone at this fantastic bookstore for organizing this event, especially Jill, who started the ball rolling.

Amanda%20and%20Ken%20Tratoria%20Stella%20200%20dpi.jpgThat evening, my family and I had dinner at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City. I have to tell you, it is one of THE great restaurants in America and one of the best I’ve ever been to in my life. The people that run the place, the staff and chef, are true artists. During our meal, one of the co-owners, Amanda Danielson, came up to our table and renewed our acquaintance. To my surprise, she told me that she’d just bought two copies of How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare—one for her daughter and one for the daughter of a colleague - and I had the pleasure of signing both of them. If you ever get anywhere near Traverse City, don't miss Trattoria Stella.

Then, on Saturday, after attending the Adult Choral Concert, I met Matthew Wilford who shared this love story with me:
He was the Technical Director at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, MI. In April 1998, they produced Moon Over Buffalo. So, on the opening weekend, after the performance, as he was locking up the theater, he told Angela (his now wife) to sit in the sofa on-set and he went to the production booth. He set the house lights to 1/3, and played some music, and then went to the stage, got on one knee and proposed. Of course, she said yes! And this November, they’ll be celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary.
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Matt said, “So, here we are at Interlochen with you, and we got engaged on the set of Moon Over Buffalo! I didn't even have to fall into the pit, like Cyrano!”

So congratulations, Matt and Angela. I’m honored to have played a small part in the Wilford saga.

And now I’m back in D.C. I’m very glad to have my son back home and grateful to have met so many wonderful people over the last three days.

April 26, 2013

RH%20Logo.jpgYesterday was national Take Our Children to Work Day and Random House (publisher of my book How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare, which will be available June 11) was kind enough to invite me to spend a couple of hours with the 9-11 year old children of their employees in New York.


We had tons of fun together. The kids dressed up as characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we had cupcakes in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, and the kids drew pictures of scenes from the play.
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Because the book is premised on the idea that the way to learn Shakespeare is to memorize certain passages form the plays, we set out memorize one together from Act III, Scene 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth mistook by me,
Pleading for a lovers fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord what fools these mortals be!”

Needless to say, the kids were fantastic. Not only did they learn the passage perfectly, but they also memorized the years in which Shakespeare lived (1564-1616) and the fact that Shakespeare was “the flower of the English renaissance!” At the end of our 2-hour workshop, the kids performed a short skit about the play and capped it off by reciting their passage, totally memorized. I can’t think of a nicer way to commemorate Shakespeare’s birthday. And I can’t imagine a nicer, more well-behaved bunch of kids.

My thanks to everyone at Random House for organizing the day so beautifully.

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The kids went home with T-Shirts celebrating the day.

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Cupcakes with the image of the book cover! (Extremely yummy.)

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Me with Random House Dog

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We had a joyous lunch afterwards where I was lucky enough to meet Lenore Look, author of the wonderful Alvin Ho picture books, among many others, who also spent time with the kids at Thursday’s event. She was a delight and the kids adored her.

March 26, 2013

I had a fantastic time at the SETC Conference two weeks ago. It has to be the best theatre conference in the world.

The place was teeming with theatre people of every stripe: students, teachers, actors, designers, tech people, administrators - and there were new opportunities for all of us there. I know that hundreds of the students did auditions for many of the great theatres around the country. And a lot of the high school kids got to speak to colleges who were recruiting theatre students.

There were booths for all kinds of theatre arts (my friends at Samuel French had one of the best booths in the place). There were workshops and demonstrations and master classes and speeches. It was like being at the best state fair in the world, all of it devoted to the theatre.

I was there to get an award and give a speech, but I also got to give a Shakespeare workshop, which was the best fun of all. I taught the kids and adults who came a passage from Twelfth Night - the one that starts “Make me a willow cabin at your gate ...” I had everybody memorize the whole speech, and we talked about how it changes everything in the play in just 10 lines. Sheer fun.

I also got to meet the great people who run SETC so amazingly well: Jack Benjamin, Betsey Baun, Mike Hudson, to name just three. How on earth they can organize a conference of over 4,000 people spread over 5 days with literally hundreds of events every day and not miss a step is beyond me.

I came away from the convention thinking about how wonderful it is to be in the theatre, especially when there are students around. The kids there were remarkable. They were making new friends every minute - just as we all do in the theatre, creating families overnight. And everybody who attended - from students to adults to 50-year veterans of the theatre - were so full of energy and joy that I returned home simply invigorated.

Here’s a photo of the award they gave me at the banquet. You can imagine how touched I was.

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And I LOVE Louisville, by the way. I’ve never seen so much art on the streets of any city in the world.
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And of course they are justly proud of the Kentucky Derby. This was in front of our hotel.

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The long and the short of it is, if you ever have the chance go to the SETC convention. It's amazing.

February 19, 2013

Ken%20and%20Don.jpgI spent a wonderful evening at the Paper Mill Playhouse on Sunday night. They're producing a revival of Lend Me A Tenor and I went up to New Jersey for the day to see it.

First there was the chance to see old friends. Don Stephenson and Emily Loesser Stephenson once starred in my adaptation for the Kennedy Center of Where's Charley and we had a rollicking reunion dinner together. Emily is as beautiful and sparkling as ever. Don as warm and hilarious. It was also terrific seeing Jo Loesser and Jack Fink again.

We then watched the opening night performance of Tenor directed by Don. The show clipped along with great dexterity and precision, and the cast, to a person, was terrific. Don got some laughs that I'd never seen before. If you get to see the production, watch for the Bellhop's camera, Maggie and the lunatic and the incredibly great duet in the first act. This may be the best singing duo the show has ever had. The crew did a flawless job of keeping everybody on track, John Lee Beatty's set literally gleamed with elegance, the costumes and lighting were as good as I've ever seen, and the whole show looked and sounded terrific from first to last.

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Nancy Johnston, Mark Price, Michael Kostroff and Jill Paice
Photo by Jerry Dalia

It was terrific to see some old friends in the cast, including Donna English and Judy Blazer, who were great as always. And equally great were Jill Paice - who brought all new colors and shading to the part of Maggie - and, David Josefsberg who was hilarious and touching as Max. Ditto John Treacy Egan as Tito (what a voice!), Nancy Johnston as Julia, and Michael Kostroff as Saunders.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

Pictured top left: director Don Stephenson with Ken Ludwig

Watch a preview of Lend Me A Tenor at Paper Mill Playhouse:

February 14, 2013

Photo%206%20small.jpgLast week, by invitation, I was at the University of Virginia for two days to deliver the Keenan Lecture and work with the drama students. It was a terrific experience and I made a whole raft of new friends. And I had such a good time.

On Friday, I first met Rachel Zucker - who is a stage management senior and ended up stage managing our performance the next day. (She did a fantastic job.) She and Anne Donnelly, Adam J. Santalla, Kate Tooley and Gracie Terzian were kind enough to take me on a tour of the gorgeous UVA campus. I already knew that Thomas Jefferson designed the university, but I'd never seen it before and I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the place.

Claire McKercher, a senior acting major, and the other heads of student drama, had made all the arrangements and it went off like clock-work. Claire (and everyone) was a delight. I hope the audience enjoyed the lecture: I spoke about being a playwright and all the choices we need to make to be in the theatre as a profession. During the Q and A afterwards, I had the best set of questions I've ever heard. Really smart people down that-a-way.

Bob Chapel who heads the musical theatre program, and Doug Grissom who teaches playwriting were kind enough to take me to dinner afterwards. (Great restaurant - Orzo - Charlottesville seems to be filled with great places to eat.) Two hours of non-stop theatre talk. What could be better.

The next day, instead of doing a workshop or a master class in the traditional sense, we did a reading of a new play I just finished writing about 3 weeks ago: Tito's Revenge: Lend Me a Tenor, Part 2. We had two different casts, one for Act One, and another for Act Two, and the actors were amazing. Every single one was prepared, fun to work with and extremely talented. We had a great response from the audience. Then some of the cast kindly asked me to join them for drinks - and Anne presented me with a UVA Drama Department T-shirt! I love it and I was extremely touched and I'm going to wear it forever - if I don't frame it first.

Thanks to Gracie and Claire and Anne and Adam and Rachel and everybody for being so kind.
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Emily Via, Mitch Voss, Mike Long, Gracie Terzian, Brad Fraizer, Adam Santalla, Amy Barrick

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Mitch Voss, Anne Donnelly, Mike Long, Gracie Terzian

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Emily Via, Mitch Voss, Mike Long, Gracie Terzian

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Pictured top left: Ken, Rachel Zucker, Kate Tooley, Anne Donnelly, Adam Santalla
Photos by Andrew Noh

January 23, 2013

content-menu-planvisit.jpgLast week I went to the opening of the new Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. They inaugurated their new theatre space with a wonderful production of August: Osage County and a terrific party afterwards.

The new theatre couldn't be more beautiful. It has 253 seats and excellent acoustics, and it's very warm and friendly. They hit an absolute home run with the architecture. The current rehearsal space - where they threw the party - will soon be their second, flexible theatre space and it looks gorgeous. Later this season they'll be producing my adaptation of The Beaux Stratagem and I'm looking forward to it.

All congratulations to Vincent Lancisi, founding Artistic Director of Everyman and Everyman's Managing Director, Ian Tresselt.

Here's a video of Vincent Lancisi discussing their upcoming production of The Beaux--and there's lots more available on their website.

September 28, 2012

m1_06small.jpgLast weekend, at the invitation of my friend Blake Robison, I traveled to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to see their production of my adaptation of The Three Musketeers. This was the first show of Blake’s tenure as the theatre’s new Artistic Director, and I have to say it was a triumph. Everything about the production was spectacular - from the direction, to the cast, to the design, to the fights. The costume shop, set shop and the stage management deserve an extra round of applause. The show was flawless.
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The cast was uniformly terrific. It was especially wonderful to see John Felch again. He was playing Cardinal Richelieu, and I first got to know him when he played Captain Flint in my adaptation of Treasure Island at the Alley Theatre in Houston. He's the pro of all pros: always deft, always stylish, always convincing, and simply hilarious.
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Jim Kronzer’s set was amazing, as were the costumes by Bill Black. Thomas C. Hase designed the lights, which were gorgeous. And the fights, choreographed by Drew Fracher, were as good as I've ever seen. The pictures in this blog tell the whole story.
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The theatre complex is impressive all by itself. They have two beautiful theatres that reminded me of the related spaces at the National Theatre of Great Britain. The larger of the two (the Robert S. Marx Theatre), where The Three Musketeers is playing, is designed along the lines of the Theatre of Epidaurus in Greece - a round, thrust stage with seats fanning out on three sides. The stage also has a handy trap that was used to full effect during the show.

m1_02small.jpgI thought it was great that the management allowed people to bring drinks into the theatre during the show. I'm a strong believer in making theatre fun and accessible. Why should a live theatre be any less welcoming than a movie theatre? Clearly, Cincinnati under Blake is making every effort to welcome old and new audiences into their theatre. I even got to talk to audience members as a group before the production.

The entire trip was terrific, and I was very grateful for the invitation. It was a treat to meet Michael Evan Haney, the Associate Artistic Director, who couldn't have been more gracious, and all of the lovely staff. Congrats to Blake and his entire team.
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All photos by Sandy Underwood
The design team is as follows:
Director Blake Robison
Fight Director Drew Fracher
Set Designer James Kronzer
Costume Designer Bill Black
Lighting Designer Thomas C. Hase
Sound Designer/Composer Matthew M. Nielson
Choreographer Victoria Morgan

August 17, 2012

Earlier this month I went back to Interlochen Center for the Arts to see the High School Repertory Theatre put on Midsummer/Jersey and I’ve returned with more photos to share.

Interlochen has been around for 85 years, and its praises have been sung by everyone from Van Cliburn to Garrison Keillor. But from a purely personal perspective, I can report that Interlochen is the most creative, well-run, physically beautiful, and invigorating center for the study and performance of the arts that can possibly be imagined. Anyone who loves the arts should try to get there.

As I anticipated from seeing their rehearsals a couple of weeks before, the High School Rep Theatre production of Midsummer/ Jersey was spectacularly good. Not just a little good. The kids were fantastic. Here they are on the set:

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J.W. Morrissette, the wonderful director of the show, not only made it a joy to be in the room with him, he also brought out the vey best in everybody connected to the production.

I got to work with the kids again, answered loads of great questions about making a career in the theatre, and saw them do a master class on auditioning with another visiting Guest Artist, Kevin Chamberlain. Lucky kids. Kevin is not only a TV star, but he’s also one of the nicest and best actors in America.

Here’s what the remarkable set of Midsummer/Jersey designed by Chris Dills looked like:

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And here are some production photos that show off some of the beautiful costumes designed by Candy Hughes.
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While I was at Interlochen this trip, I saw loads of other performances. The High School Musical Theatre production of Children of Eden was terrific, as were the final High School choir concert, the Honors chamber music recital, the Interlochen Philharmonic concert, and the final concert of the season, Les Preludes.

Perhaps the greatest joy of Interlochen is strolling through the campus and hearing string quartets, woodwind quintets, bassoon trios and every other species of classical, jazz and cabaret music wafting through the trees as the kids just pick up their instruments and start playing for the pure joy of it. There’s simply nothing else quite like it.
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July 24, 2012

Bear%20Statue%20200%20dpi.jpgI've just returned from an incredible week at Interlochen Center for the Arts in the lower peninsula (it felt pretty upper to me) in Michigan. I lived in a cabin for a week - no air conditioning, no internet, no phone - and I've never been happier.

Interlochen has an academy, or boarding school, for high school kids, and it has a summer arts program for students of all ages who are, to put it mildly, wildly talented. It's a center for the study of the arts that is second to none in the world, and the calibre of students and teachers is unbelievable. I've never been in a place where there is so much creativity swirling around.

To say nothing of the sheer beauty of the place.
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The students in the high school theatre department are putting on one of my plays, Midsummer/Jersey, directed by J.W. Morrissette, and I joined them for a few days of rehearsals. No hyperbole, no exaggeration, they are some of the nicest, most talented kids I have ever met. The picture below shows a lot of them on the set of the show. It opens on this week and it's going to be fantastic.

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While I was there, JW (who is one of the greatest theatre professors and directors in the country) was nice enough to have the kids do readings of a couple of my plays that are in progress. First they did a reading of a new play, which I've just started (I'm about a third of the way into it); then they read Baskerville, the play I'm directing at the Kennedy Center over Labor Day. The kids simply hit it out of the park both times. And we did comment sessions afterwards where the kids - both actors and audience - gave me their reactions. I came away with pages of notes for rewrites. Talk about process.
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I also joined a couple of the playwriting classes in the writing division taught by a terrific teacher and writer named Jess Foster. The kids were fun and smart and full of ideas and questions. I simply felt lucky to be there.
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I head back to the campus soon to see my guys perform Midsummer/Jersey, and I can't wait. (I'm also going to see the musical theatre division put on Children of Eden, which I hear is terrific.) They're all like my own kids at this point, and I love being among them. Was ever playwright so blessed? I don't think so.

June 4, 2012

The past couple of weeks have been busy and eventful with work and family events.

On the home front, my kids celebrated their birthdays, which are two days apart. It was pandemonium around here with parties and me running around trying to find a jeans jacket for my daughter (who is into clothes) and a speaker for my son (who is into music). Here’s a photo of me amid the chaos.


On a calmer note, I’ve been working outside on my porch a lot lately. See iPhone photo from my chair as I write this. The weather’s been great, but it’s more than that. I used to write in my basement office and cut myself off from everyone for days at a time. Porch%206.4.12%20small.jpgAfter twenty years of that, I’ve changed my stripes. I like to watch my neighbors wander by as I write. Pretty much everyone around here knows what I do, and they wave if they catch my eye. I find I can concentrate just fine, and when I leave the world of my plays for a moment, I get to see friends walking their dogs or jogging along, lost in their iPods. I find this both comforting and inspiring. And sometimes I look closer and think: “Now what would she do if she were locked in a room with a crazy Italian tenor who thinks his wife is cheating on him …?”

I’ve started writing a monthly column for Samuel French’s new online magazine “[Breaking Character]”. I plan to write about comedy in general and stage comedy in particular. My first article, “The Essentials of Comedy,” was published in mid-May, and just a few days ago, TDF Stages posted it on their site as well (see URL). I love having the opportunity of sharing my thoughts on a subject so dear to my heart, and I’m grateful to Samuel French and TDF Stages for their confidence. The next installment will appear in mid June, so stay tuned.

As you may have seen in a recent News post, Robinson High School’s world premiere production of Midsummer/ Jersey was nominated for 10 Cappies Awards, including Best Play, so congratulations to all my friends at Robinson for this amazing accomplishment. The Best Play nomination means that the actors get to perform a scene from the play at the awards ceremony, which will be held at the Kennedy Center on June 10th. I plan to be there to present one of the awards. I’ve also read that West Field High School’s production of Crazy For You was nominated for 17 Cappies, and I’ll be there with fingers crossed, cheering both schools on to victory.

The rain just stopped, so it’s back to the porch …

May 11, 2012

Beaux805%20-%20Copy%202%20at%20200.JPGI am excited to announce that on Monday, May 14th, The Acting Company and Red Bull Theatre will co-produce a reading of The Beaux' Stratagem! The play premiered at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 2006, under the direction of Michael Kahn and this reading will reunite many of the original cast members.

Here's a brief summer of the story behind this adaptation: In the summer of 2004, the Estate of Thornton Wilder asked me to complete a play that Wilder had begun in 1939 and never finished. It was an adaptation of The Beaux’ Stratagem, a classic piece of late Restoration comedy written in 1707 by the British playwright George Farquhar (author of The Recruiting Officer). Wilder had made a brilliant start – he’d finished about half of it – and I was delighted to be asked to complete the rest.

Monday's reading will be directed by Stephen Fried and the cast features Christian Conn, Veanne Cox, Christopher Innvar, Julia Coffey, Patricai Connelly, Glenn Fleshler, Greg Jackson, Julie Jesneck, Dakin Matthews, Everett Quinton, Brian Reddy, Gareth Saxe, Michele Tauber, Andrew Weems and more.

9467a.jpgThe play, set in 1707 in Lichfield, England, tells the story of two young bucks who, having spent all their money by living too well, leave London and roam from town to town in search of love and fortune. In order to find a wealthy heiress for at least one of them, they pose as master and servant – exchanging roles from one town to the next. In Lichfield, Aimwell is the master and Archer the servant, and there they meet the lovely, wealthy Dorinda and her equally desirable sister-in-law, Mrs. Kate Sullen. They set their caps for these women, but problems abound. Kate is married to a drunken sot who despises her; the innkeeper’s saucy daughter, Cherry, has set her cap for Archer; Dorinda’s mother, Lady Bountiful, mistakenly believes herself to be a great healer of the sick, and she guards her daughter like a dragoness; and a band of brigands plans to rob the house of Lady Bountiful that very night, putting all schemes in jeopardy.

This is a play in the great tradition of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and Sheridan’s The Rivals and The School for Scandal. It is classic, formal, robust and hilarious.

April 23, 2012

Last Wednesday night, I was at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Annual Gala, where the entertainment was a full version of the NPR radio show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Our version was called, “Wait, Wait Forsooth!”

Folger%20Gala%20Ken%20Small.jpgAbove: Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) with panelists Ken Ludwig, Donna Denize, and Arthur Phillips. Photo by James Brantley

Roxanne Roberts hosted the evening, performing the duties that Peter Sagal always performs on the radio. Karl Castle was there, playing his role from the NPR show, with his beautiful voice, keeping score and reading some questions.

Folger_Roxanne%20Roberts%20Small.jpgNPR's Carl Kasell with The Washington Post's Roxanne Roberts, who served as host. Photo by James Brantley

The other panelists were Arthur Phillips and Donna Denize. Arthur Phillips, wrote the critically acclaimed best seller, The Tragedy of Arthur, and Shakespeare scholars love his book because it’s about a previously unknown play by Shakespeare.

Donna Denizé, is an award-winning American poet and head of the English Department of St. Alban’s School in Washington, D.C. (She’s also my son’s 9th grade English teacher.)

And one of the VIPs that came up on stage was New Jersey Democrat, Representative Richard Holt.

Roxanne Roberts, director Aaron Posner and I wrote the script, but of course, I didn’t write any of the questions that were aimed at me.

Here are a few of the questions I wrote for the evening. If you listen to Wait, Wait….Don’t Tell Me!, you’ll recognize the format. Drop me a line at kenludwig.playwright@gmail.com if you know the answers.

This old codger believes he's euphonious,
Though with language he sounds more felonious,
He makes Hamlet unhappy,
He's Ophelia pappy,
That tedious snoop named ____.

To be tamed by a man that you hate,
Is a loathsome and terrible fate.
But the man is sublime
When he's singing in rhyme
I can prove it, go see "Kiss me ___!"

Cleopatra gave out with a rasp,
At the moment she gave her last gasp.
As she stood in her digs
With a bowlful of figs,
She was secretly grasping her ____!

December 8, 2011

We catch up with the acclaimed local playwright to discuss his new children’s show at Adventure Theatre.

By Sophie Gilbert
For The Washingtonian

Ken Ludwig is probably Washington’s most accomplished playwright, with six Broadway plays and six in London’s West End under his belt. The former Steptoe & Johnson lawyer garnered a Tony nomination for his first Broadway play, Lend Me a Tenor, which was described as “one of the two great farces by a living writer” by the New York Times. Ludwig also wrote the book for Crazy for You, which ran for three years in London and won the 1992 Tony for Best Musical. His new play, ’ Twas the Night Before Christmas, is at Adventure Theatre through January 2. We caught up with Ludwig to talk about the show, as well as his writing routine, other new projects, and why he’s a fan of Alec Baldwin.
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Tell us about ’ Twas the Night Before Christmas . Is this your first children’s play?
It is. It came about because, of all serendipitous things, I was at a convention in New York, and Michael Bobbitt came up to me. He said, “Hey, would you write a play for us?” and I said, “I’d love to.” Maybe a month or two later, he called me and said, “What’s the title, because I need to put it into advertising,” and I said, “I don’t know, because I haven’t written it yet.” So we agreed on the title ’ Twas the Night Before Christmas, and I wrote it after that. It’s about a sweet, neurotic mouse named Amos who’s afraid of having an adventure and doesn’t want to leave the house. His best friend is a girl named Emily. They find an elf at the window and have to fly off to the North Pole to save Christmas. The play isn’t really about the Clement Moore poem, but I weave that in.

Was it a challenge writing for children, or did it come naturally?
It was very natural. I love children’s books, and I have two kids, whom I’ve taken to children’s theater for years. I loved the innocence of it, and being able to write about things like adventure, honesty, and good nature. Working with Michael is fantastic because he’s very smart and very able, and doing an amazing job over there.

Do you have anything else going on this season?
In November, I had three world premieres and four openings in 30 days. I have a brand new comedy at Cleveland Play House called The Game’s Afoot, directed by Aaron Posner. A Crazy For You revival just opened in London. And there’s also a play I wrote for high schools called Midsummer/Jersey, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set on the Jersey Shore. That came about because an organization that works with theater in high schools asked me to write a play for them. In most modern plays, with the way theaters are run, you want as small a cast as possible, and only one set. But for kids, you want to write a play with as many parts as possible, especially female parts, because so many more girls try out for high school drama than boys. So I wrote a play for 20 girls and five boys, and the four lovers are like Snooki and the Situation. And the mechanicals, instead of being men, are all women—they run a beauty shop on the boardwalk. That premiered at the James Robinson High School in Fairfax.

You’re obviously enormously prolific. What’s your usual writing routine like?
I write every day, which I think is important for a writer. I normally get up very early and write from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.

You’ve worked with some incredible actors over the years. Do you have any favorites?
So many have been a pleasure. There’s Alec Baldwin in Twentieth Century—you get to go to his favorite table at Elaine’s, and he’s always surrounded by interesting people. Carol Burnett in Moon Over Buffalo, because she knew how to get laughs—it was just innate. People just adored her. Hal Holbrook, who was in Be My Baby, is a fantastic guy and a great actor, and Joan Collins, who was in Moon in London, is as smart as can be and really knows how to hold the stage. I’ve also been lucky in Washington to work with great people like Holly Twyford and Rick Foucheux.

Ever tempted to move to New York?
I wouldn’t do very well raising a family in New York. It’s just not me. Washington is a great place; it’s sophisticated, it’s beautiful, and it’s big, and it also has one of the biggest theater scenes outside of New York. I get to roll up my sleeves and work with theater people here, and that’s all I want.

December 2, 2011

By Joel Markowitz

Read full article on MD TheatreGuide

You may have bumped into Ken Ludwig recently at a Virginia high school or a children’s theatre in Glen Echo Park or in a theatre in London – because this prolific writer is a busy man. His ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is selling out and entertaining young audiences at Adventure Theatre. His new play Midsummer/Jersey recently gave high school actors a thrill of a lifetime. I am so honored that Ken found time in his busy schedule to do this interview. Thanks Ken!

When were you asked to write a play for Adventure Theatre, and how did you get the idea to base the play on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas?

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I was asked by Michael Bobbitt over a year ago, when we bumped into each other in New York City. He asked me to write the Christmas show for Adventure Theatre and I was delighted, but he needed a title rather quickly and I hadn’t written the play yet. So I came up with ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, thinking that I’d base the play somehow on the Clement Moore poem.

How long did it take you to write it? Were you involved in the casting and rehearsals?

It took me about 2 months to write it, but then again it’s based loosely on stories that I used to tell my children at Christmas time.

Yes, I was very involved in casting, and I’m pleased to say we ended up with the five absolutely perfect actors for this play. I was involved in rehearsals to some extent but with a director as great as Jerry Whiddon, there wasn’t much for me to add. I mostly attended run- throughs and previews, which gave me ideas for a few re-writes.

Did you attend the opening night at Adventure Theatre, and what did you think about the production?

I did attend the opening performance and I think the production is spectacular.

Have you written any other plays or stories for your children?

No, I’ve never written any children’s plays or stories before, but I certainly made up children’s stories to tell my children when they were young.

Why is it important to write for children’s theatre and to get children into the theatre?

I think it’s enormously important to write plays that children can attend because theatre-going is a habit – you want to start it early. Theatre opens our imaginations in a way that nothing else does and we want our children to experience the sense of humanity that theatre embodies.

Another one of your plays – Midsummer/Jersey started performances on November 17, 2011 at James Robinson Secondary School, in Fairfax, VA. Why did you decide to try out the play at a high school and why this specific one? Are there high school performers in the cast?

ken-ludwig-3-250x167.jpgI wrote Midsummer/Jersey specifically for high schools and colleges and so it made all the sense in the world to have the world premiere at a high school. We chose James Robinson because they have such a terrific theatre department. There were only high school performers in the cast.

What’s the show about?

The show is a re-telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in the here and now on the New Jersey shore.

What have learned so far about the play while watching the first few performances?

I was delighted to see that the high school kids loved performing something as challenging as a re-telling of a Shakespeare play. I was equally delighted that the audience seemed to enjoy every second of it. They really “got” the fun of the interplay between the two sources: Shakespeare and modern teenagers.

Read Full Article

November 10, 2011

A few weeks ago, I spoke via Skype with students at Abington High School who are currently performing my play Leading Ladies. The following is an article by Kaitlyn Linsner published in The Montgomery News.

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Instead of spending time after the school day to rehearse lines, block scenes or try on costumes, the cast of Abington Senior High School’s play “Leading Ladies” spoke with someone for an extra kick of inspiration on Oct. 26. This someone answered questions about their characters, plot influences and how to deliver certain lines and every cast member took it to heart because they were talking to internationally acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig — the very man who wrote “Leading Ladies.”

“The ability to talk to a playwright is amazing,” senior Ben Salus said while his friend, Mike Zaharczuk, nodded in agreement. “It was truly inspiring, especially for two kids who want to get into acting.”

For more than an hour, the cast with its show director, Kristen Caiazzo, sat in the high school’s auditorium for a video conference made possible through Skype. Ludwig spoke to the students from Washington, D.C., and a streaming video of the conversation played on a large projector screen onstage.

One by one, or sometimes two at a time, cast members stood at the microphone and asked Ludwig questions ranging from whether or not his Fado inspired his work to who his favorite character in the play is.

“Audrey is my favorite,” Ludwig said and instantly the two students playing Audrey threw their hands up in excitement and one even let out a scream. “She represents the heart beating in all of us that we need to nurture and keep alive because it speaks to our basic humanity. I see her as somebody we should all imitate.”

Needless to say, junior Morgan Boetifuer and sophomore Emma Lukens, the two “Audreys,” were a bit starstruck post video conference.

“To have him say such complimentary things about the person we’re trying to be is amazing. I’m going to really think more about my character,” Lukens said.

Some students wanted to know more about being a playwright and the origin of Ludwig’s love for his craft. Ludwig gladly shared parts of his life story, which gave way to later show ideas. He was born and raised in York, Pa., and loved growing up there. Most of his plays take place in small towns because he liked the connections he made there and understood that community of people, he said.

“For me there’s more comedy to be had in that realm than in other places,” Ludwig said. “These [the characters in “Leading Ladies”] are all people I knew. If you look around, you see all of these types because these are people we live with in our lives.”

Ludwig explained he was “being bitten by the bug” at an early age and that he knew for a very long time that being a playwright was all he wanted to do. “Leading Ladies” premiered in 2004 and since then has been performed all over the world. Students asked if it was meant to play off Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

“There are hints of Shakespeare in all of my plays,” Ludwig said. “’Twelfth Night’ is my favorite Shakespeare and it seemed to fit in the plot. This is meant to be a new take on ‘Some Like It Hot’ with ‘Twelfth Night.’”

“Leading Ladies” starts with two Shakespearean actors, Leo and Jack, played by Salus and Zaharczuk, who have ended up performing in Moose lodges throughout Pennsylvania’s Amish country. They decide to ditch the lousy show gigs when they hear of a dying old lady in York, Pa., who will be giving away her fortune to her two long-lost English nephews.

They arrive ready to play the part, but find out the relatives are not nephews but nieces. Leo later falls in love with the old lady’s niece, Meg, all while hilarity consumes the plot, which is all about having an adventure, Ludwig said.

“It’s about taking a chance because, if you do, you have a chance at life,” he said. “When playing these characters, you have to remember they’re not all that they seem on the surface.”

The cast has been rehearsing for two months now and has been doing quite well, Caiazzo said. She fell in love with the characters and message of the play when she performed in it two years ago and knew then she wanted to bring it to Abington Senior High School.

“I had full faith that our two leads [Salus and Zaharczuk] could do this justice, and I had them in mind from the beginning,” she said. “We are going to have people rolling in the aisles.”

Students found it most helpful that Ludwig could help them better understand their characters and really bring them to life. The two seniors playing Meg, Emilie Mehler and Sabring Silva, both agreed that Ludwig’s insight gave them what they needed to take the character to a deeper level.

“What high school students bring to a play is a freshness, a genuineness that isn’t jaded, an honesty that you start to lose when you get older,” Ludwig said. “The play functions as it was intended because they bring an enormous value to it innately.”

Before signing off, Ludwig left the cast with a few words of advice. Make sure the lines are better than perfect, never paraphrase, talk to each other like you mean it and never try to be funny, he said.

Students thanked him, and as soon as the conference ended, they began to talk a mile a minute about what they had just experienced and just how much better it will make their performance.

“People are going to fall in love with this show,” Salus said.

October 19, 2011

I’ve just returned from London, where we opened Crazy For You at the Novello Theatre on the West End. It was a wonderful experience all around. I spent the week before we opened with the cast, working on a new twist on the ending, and it ended up working just fine. People are saying that the show is even better than it was in Regent’s Park, and that is also just fine.

Here's the new video trailer:

The other fun news is that I’m about to jump into rehearsals for three new world premieres, all of them opening in November within about two weeks of each other.

Midsummer/Jersey, a play I wrote specifically for high school students, premieres at Robinson High School in Fairfax, VA on November 17th and runs for three performances, through November 19th. As you might have guessed, it’s A Midsummer Nights Dream meets Jersey Shore. I wrote it in part as a way to help high school students understand and appreciate Shakespeare. I'll be working with them throughout the rehearsal process, to give them a sense of what it's like to work on a new play with the playwright in the room. From what I understand, the kids are having loads of fun with the script. They’ll be performing a one-hour version of the play in a couple of weeks as part of the Virginia Theatre Association play competition (Oct 28-30 in Reston, VA). I’m thrilled to be delivering the keynote speech at the awards banquet on the last day of the conference. More on that soon.

'Twas the Night Before Christmasstarts rehearsals this week at The Adventure Theatre in Bethesda, MD and performances start November 18 and runs through January 2. (For those of you new to my blog, this one chronicles the adventures of a mouse, an elf and a spunky little girl who set off to save Christmas from an evil ex-elf who is trying to double-cross Santa.)

Finally, my new comedy-thriller, The Game's Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays) will have its world premiere at Cleveland Play House. Previews start November 25, opening night is November 30 and the play runs through December 18. The story takes place during the holiday season, when William Gillette, the star of Sherlock Holmes, invites the cast of the play to his Connecticut castle, an isolated house full of tricks and mirrors. One of the guests is stabbed to death and Gillette transforms into Sherlock Holmes (metaphorically ... sort of) in order to track down the killer before another murder takes place. Aaron Posner is directing and the cast is marvelous.

So I have a busy month ahead, but what could be better? You mean I get paid for this?

October 10, 2011

PEN-Faulkner_178.jpgI am currently writing a book about Shakespeare. How it will be received I don’t know. As one fellow scribe has said, “However much we writers claim to be indifferent to critics, all of us are secretly only satisfied with “Hail, Sun God, Rise and Lead They People.”

At the moment, I’m up to the Hamlet chapters, and so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Free Will versus Fate. One of Shakespeare’s central metaphors related to this theme involves the relationship between the world of the theatre and so-called “real life.” He makes this comparison again and again, from one play to the next. “Life’s but a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.” Shakespeare seems to be asking: Are we human beings merely actors? Are the lives we lead written out for us and predetermined, or are we free to change the script as Hamlet tries so desperately to do?

Four weeks ago today I dropped my daughter at college as a freshman. For several years now, I’ve seen that moment marching towards me as surely and inevitably as Hamlet saw the Ghost of his Father marching across the battlements of Elsinore, and I saw it coming with a similar sense of doom. (As I recall, the Ghost was not known for his joie de vivre.) For my wife and I as we boarded the plane with our daughter, as for Hamlet on the battlements, the writing was on the wall. The script was written, the future was inevitable and there was no changing it.

When Hamlet sees the Ghost for the first time, his reaction is staggering. Something absolutely impossible has happened right before his eyes. He cries “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” and he thinks, “That’s my father!”

Three nights after dropping my daughter off at college, she called me. She had just been to the college health clinic because of a sore throat. She told me that she had had a throat culture, they discovered strep, she was on an antibiotic that she was taking twice a day, and that she was feeling much better. She sounded level-headed, and spoke with a sense of maturity that I had never heard before. This was a girl who once, at tennis camp, got her head stuck in a freezer. She sounded happy about her classes and eager to study for them. I thought: “Angels and ministers of grace defend us! That’s my daughter!" The writing, once again, is on the wall, and, unlike Hamlet, I’m happy to follow the script and not even try to change it. The wheel turns. Life goes on. Aren’t we lucky.

September 23, 2011

Michael Bobbitt, the Artistic Director of Adventure Theatre (where my play 'Twas the Night Before Christmas will open later this fall) just sent these photos of the set design models. The designer is Luciana Stecconi and as you can see, they are really fantastic!

Emily's House
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Santa's Workshop
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A close-up of the toys (I hear the shelves will light up on the real thing!)
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September 19, 2011

twasbox.jpgI was at a workshop last week for my new Christmas play ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, which was commissioned by Adventure Theatre in Bethesda, MD. The story is about a girl named Emily who goes on an adventure with Amos the Mouse to the North Pole to save Christmas. It seems that a former elf—who once tried to sell Santa’s sleigh to Wal-Mart and was demoted--is trying to take his revenge by stealing the Naughty and Nice list. The play is being directed by Jerry Whiddon who, as you probably know, is one of the best directors in America. The cast includes Gary Sloan, Associate Professor of Drama at Catholic University, as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, the former elf. I know first hand what he can do on stage because I saw his Hamlet many years ago at the Shakespeare Theatre. (He was one of the best Hamlets I've ever seen.) The rest of the cast includes Rex Daugherty, as Amos the Mouse; Rachel Zampelli as Calliope the Elf; Emily Levey as the little girl; and Alex Perez as Mulch the peasant - and he doubles as Santa Claus. Final%20Emily%20Webready.jpgI also had an opportunity to see the costume designs by Chelsey Schuller for the first time, and as you can see, they are truly amazing. It’s terrific working at Adventure Theatre - Michael Bobbitt runs it like a swiss watch. The theatre is getting ready to open their next show, Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, and they did a run-through next door to our workshop. The noise from their room was crazy, so we shouted our lines back. If theatre doesn't have an element of play in it, it's not theatre. Right?

Pictured Above: Costume design for the character of Emily by Chelsey Schuller

August 16, 2011

by Whatsonstage.com's Andrew Girvan

Crazy For You opened at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park last week (8 August, previews from 28 July 2011) reuniting artistic director Timothy Sheader with the multi-award winning creative team behind last year's Hello, Dolly! - choreographer Stephen Mear and designer Peter McKintosh.
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Set at the time of the Great Depression, Ken Ludwig's 1992 escapist Broadway musical is largely based on the 1930 Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, but includes several other Gershwin hits including "I Got Rhythm", "Someone To Watch Over Me", "Embraceable You" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It".

The musical was last seen in the West End at the Prince Edward Theatre where it opened in March 1993 starring Ruthie Henshall, Kirby Ward and Chris Langham and ran for almost three years. The Open Air's production, which runs until 10 September 2011, stars Kim Medcalf, David Burt, Sean Palmer, Clare Foster, Harriet Thorpe and Michael McKell.

An American playwright and director, Ludwig is also the author of comedy Lend Me A Tenor, the Sham and Carroll musical adaption of which recently enjoyed a short-lived West End run at the Gielgud Theatre - the same West End house where the play had premiered in 1986.

Whatsonstage.com's Andrew Girvan talks to Ludwig about re-writing a 1930s musical for a modern audience and seeing your own work adapted for the musical stage.

The producers had acquired the right to do a Gershwin musical. They came and asked me if I’d do it because I'd written a comedy on Broadway.

I was of course very flattered and thrilled to be asked to do it, but I have to say I hesitated. I didn’t know how I would write a book to a musical. But then I found director Mike Ockrent, and we found Susan Stroman who was an unknown choreographer at the time.

I wrote it very quickly, it was ready to go as soon as we could. They came to me in December 1991 and I had done the first draft by March 1992. We did a workshop, and everyone was really happy with it so they scheduled rehearsals for summer. We were up and running at the National Theatre in Washington DC for an out of town try-out by October.

It went very quickly and lo and behold we had quite a success. It played for years and years on Broadway, then it came here to London and won two Olivier Awards (Best New Musical and Best Theatre Choreographer). So it worked out. It was a real labour of love.

The music and lyrics are all by George and Ira Gershwin. George did write with other lyricists and Ira did write with other composers during her lifetime but this was all George and Ira.

I was originally asked to do an adaptation of the musical Girl Crazy because it seemed to be their most successful musical. But musicals in those days were very different and I read the script and, with respect to the authors who are long gone, it didn’t hold together or make sense for audiences today. It had a lot of stereotypes that we would find repugnant; it had not much of a storyline, a very thin little thread; it was like lots of little sketches, then a great song.

I said to the producers that I didn’t feel comfortable trying to do an adaptation of Girl Crazy, but they let me try to write a whole new musical from scratch. We kept one element from the book: By going West - from New York to Nevada - I was allowed to take two of the numbers and make them feel like book songs, that really told the story of the musical.

I got to choose the numbers, it was completely me. There was nothing there, they said I had the right to all those songs. George and Ira Gershwin wrote over 400 songs together and I tracked them down on CDs. I must have the biggest selection of Gershwin CDs in the world, because I would just track them in any way I could.

They had their own archivists and were helpful. I listened to Maureen McGovern on her album doing a version of "Naughty Baby" and I thought, "I’ve got to get that song, it’s terrific," as well as Michael Feinstein doing "What Causes That?". There’s a wonderful album that Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald did with duets of Gershwin songs. That encouraged me to use others. I just started at the beginning and tried to come up with a story and put songs into the moments.

All the time, nothing was considered sacred. If a song worked we worked it in. If it didn't we’d put in another one, trying to use all Ira and George songs. They were geniuses, truly, two great geniuses in America’s history.

I’ve done outdoor Shakespeare and those sorts of things but having my work performed outdoors is a new experience for me. Its very interesting, like I’m writing a children’s play. I went to one of the theatre’s previous productions and I was struck by how much of a different experience it is. There are planes which fly over and people have a drink in their hand. It’s a different experience which is enormously exciting.

I’m thrilled to be over here, I cannot speak highly enough of the people doing the production of Crazy For You. Such professionals. Timothy Sheader did one of my shows a while ago and he’s an amazing director. To work with him has been incredible.

Years and years ago Peter Sham and Brad Carroll came to me and said they would like to take a musical of Lend Me A Tenor and I said "lets give it a shot."

They’re good guys. They worked very hard and produced that musical together and they were very good. They premiered it at the Utah Shakespeare Festival several years ago and I went out to see it and it was very good. The audiences loved it.

I really kept hands off. When they first did it, they tried to be very respectful of me and the material and I said, "don’t treat me or the material with kid’s gloves. Don’t open the musical in the living room of the hotel suite. Don’t write a play about the hotel suite, open it up, make it a real musical, go to the theatre, go to the party, go behind the theatre." They started writing a musical - which they did beautifully - and the next thing I hear they’re doing it out of town, then a theatre in London and the next thing I know they’re in the Gielgud.

I spend my life thinking about theatre and musicals so I know every moment that might be related, I know every moment where Hello, Dolly! is different to The Matchmaker. I spend my life thinking about comedy on stage.

I think if I had adapted my own play I’d have a lot of emotional attachment to it and I probably wouldn’t do as good a job as someone else who could get some perspective on it.

For some reason, Tenor has always had an international comedy flavour to it. It may be that it’s set in the opera world and a little opera company so we can all have fun with it and not be too reverential. The Europeans do it all the time. It seems to have been translated in lots of countries, the Far East and South America. There seems to be elemental aspects to it, certain basic comic notions so basic to us, that you can see them in all cultures.

Photo: Sean Palmer and David Burt in Crazy For You

July 20, 2011

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Crazy For You at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, London is moving full-steam ahead and looking great. I spent last week in the UK and had a wonderful time in rehearsals. They were held at the Toynbee Studios on Commercial Street, deep in the heart of the commercial district of London.

The cast of this production is absolutely top notch. Sean Plamer and Clare Foster star as Bobby Child and Polly Baker, Kim Medcalf plays Irene, Michael McKell is Lank and David Burt plays Bela Zangler. The entire ensemble is fantastically good, and Tim Sheader , Stephen Mears and Gareth Valentine - the director, choreographer and music director - are doing a terrific job making the production feel fresh and vital.

The rest of the week was packed with meetings, meals with old friends and great evenings at the theatre. I had dinner one evening with my dear friend Chris Luscombe who just had a big triumph with his revival of JB Priestley’s When We Are Married on the West End and is about to start rehearsals next week for a tour of The Madness of King George III. (His production of The Merry Wives of Windsor for The Globe Theatre was shown in movie theaters all over the U.S. recently.) I also went to opening night of Yes, Prime Minister and met one of the the playwrights, Johanthan Lynn. In my view he's one of the great comedy writers and directors of our time and it was a privilege to see him there. On my way past the Haymarket Theatre, I bumped into (read “we almost ran into each other”) Tom Stoppard and we chatted briefly. I also saw Lend Me The Tenor the Musical, which is running at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. Everyone did a terrific job and I was thrilled to meet the cast afterwards. They were fantastic. Towards the end of the week, I did several interviews with the British press, one of which is to be aired on the Elaine Paige show for her Sunday show on BBC Radio 2. (I'll let you know in advance when the show airs.)

All in all, a very wonderful week. I'm looking forward to heading back to London soon.

March 9, 2011

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Hugh Nees, Ian Merrill Peakes, Valerie Leonard, Ken Ludwig, Holly Twyford and Erin Weaver. (Photo by Rosey Strub)

Last Saturday, the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA hosted a book launch party for my new anthology, Lend Me A Tenor and Other Plays. It was wonderful to see so many friends there. We had about 300 people in all, including Mark Russell (maybe my favorite comedian of all time), Roxanne Roberts from the Washington Post, Janet Griffin, who runs the Folger Theatre – and every known member of my own family. Maggie Boland, the Managing Director of Signature Theatre, hosted the event with her usual graciousness.

In addition to much sluicing and munching of hors d’oeuvres, we did some readings from three of the plays included in the anthology, Shakespeare in Hollywood, Moon Over Buffalo and Lend Me A Tenor. It was fun trying to come up with excerpts from each of these plays that would stand alone and could be performed with only a little introduction. (I failed to come up with a good candidate from Leading Ladies. I suppose I could have used Act One, Scene 2 (and the beginning of Scene 3).)

We opened with the first few pages of Shakespeare in Hollywood, where the columnist and radio personality Louella Parsons (played by Valerie Leonard) is broadcasting live outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre just before the opening of the movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Max Reinhardt (played by Hugh Nees). For those of you who have a copy of the anthology, this excerpt can be found on pages 233-237 (that was a hint to buy the book).

Ian Merrill Peakes, who just got nominated for a Helen Hayes Award as Best Actor, played movie exec Jack Warner, and Erin Weaver (who was Aggie in the Kennedy Center reading of Sherlock!) played Warner’s love interest, Lydia Lansing.

Next, we did two related excerpts from Act II of Moon Over Buffalo (pages 120-123 and 136-141 of the anthology …). The first one is the scene in which George (Ian again) comes in drunk, thinking Charlotte (played by Holly Twyford, also up for a Helen Hayes) has left him for good as a result of his infidelity. Erin played their daughter, Hugh played their manager, and Valerie played Ethel.

The second excerpt was the beginning of the next scene when the daughter Roz is “on stage: at the start of the company’s production of Private Lives and her father George (still drunk) doesn’t show up … then finally does show up dressed as Cyrano de Bergerac.

We ended the readings with a short scene from Lend Me A Tenor - the one where Tito (Hugh Nees) and Maria (Holly Twyford) have a shouting match in the bedroom in Scene One (pages 24-25 of the anthology – oh, come on, just get on Amazon and buy it).

I’m immensely grateful to all the actors who volunteered their time to lend their amazing talents to the afternoon. I’m equally grateful to Signature’s terrific staff, including Jennifer Moss Kincade, Bethany Shannon, Kevin Bradley and Kendrick Maxey.

I wish that everyone reading this could have been at the event.
But for those who weren’t, you could sort of relive it by buying the anthology... : )

January 11, 2011

Last month, director Neil S. Fleckman staged the first-ever production of Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo at the National Theatre in Balti, Moldova, sponsored by the American Embassy. The follow is an excerpt from Mr. Fleckman's Cultural Envoy Report to the State Department accompanied by photos from the production.

DSC_1059%20%282%29.JPG"I am pleased to report that on the evening of Wednesday, December 15, Ken Ludwig's play Moon Over Buffalo made its debut at the Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre in Balti, Moldova. It is my clear impression that the production provided a window, previously unexplored, into an effervescent form of American comedy/farce, never before seen by theatre-goers here. They followed the action closely - and there is a great deal of action indeed! -and took pleasure in the ups and downs of a theatre troupe stranded in Buffalo, and praying for an angel to lift them back up to the big time. One must remember that these themes are novel to spectators here. As sophisticated as their tastes are, there have never been American plays in the repertory of the National Theatre, and the vagaries of American life are not necessarily the same as the vagaries of life in Moldova. Be that as it may, there was sustained applause, and a standing ovation, at the conclusion of Moon Over Buffalo. The Executive Director of the theatre then spoke to the audience, thanking the American Government for its support, and gave me the opportunity to express my appreciation to the actors for their dedication, and the people of Balti
for their welcome to me."

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November 3, 2010

By Maura Judkis for TBD Arts

MegAubrey200dpi.jpgThe inspiration for Ken Ludwig's A Fox on the Fairway, about a madcap golf tournament, has an office down the hall from TBD. WJLA's Arch Campbell has been playing golf with the Tony nominated playwright for the duration of their 20-year friendship, and when I first asked Campbell about it, he said they were both terrible.

"I might have shot 90, and he might have shot 100," says Campbell of their last meeting. "I started out with a birdie. It all went downhill from there. We walk around out there, two old guys – he's not old, I am – joking and talking."

Campbell is being modest – he always wins, says Ludwig.

"For a while he played quite a bit," he says. "He has a wonderful attitude towards life. He brings the same attitude he has towards life to the game of golf, which is easygoing, upbeat, optimistic ... Knowing how to relax in golf gets you halfway there. His wonderful attitude helps him play better."

Their golf traditions include citing the work of author P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote many stories about golf.

"One time he wrote me the letter in the style of P.G. Wodehouse, and with Ken, he and I refer to our clubs in the P.G. Wodehouse style," says Campbell. "A nine-iron is a niblick, and a seven-iron is a mashie, a two-wood is a brassy, a three-wood is a spoon."

So, with their long history of golfing together, did Arch inspire any of the characters?

"Justin is a young version of Arch," says Ludwig. "He's a complete wiz-bang at golf, and he's so sweet. He doesn't realize how talented he is, he just does what he does, and he does it so well that he doesn't notice. And he gets the girl in the end."

"He is pulling your leg," says Campbell, when I relay this message to him.

Given the chance to trash talk Campbell's game, and this is the best Ludwig could do:

"Arch is so good he would make a saint nervous. He's so relaxed he can drive you crazy ... I'd really appreciate it if he got a little worse."

October 31, 2010

By Joel Markowitz
The DC TheatreScene

If he had a theme song, it would be “Make ‘Em Laugh”, and Washington playwright Ken Ludwig has been doing just that for years. So far, he’s had over 15 plays produced, with more to come. Perhaps his most famous are Lend Me a Tenor, which recently closed its Broadway revival, the adaptation of the restoration comedy The Beaux Stratagem and the Gershwin musical tribute Crazy for You.

He has no trouble attracting great actors: Stanley Tucci and Hunter Foster in Lend Me a Tenor, Alice Ripley and Robert Prosky in Shakespeare in Hollywood, and Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter in Be My Baby.If he has a mantle, it’s getting crowded. He’s received an Olivier, two Tony Awards and two Helen Hayes Awards.

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His newest comedy, A Fox on a Fairway, is set, in case you didn’t know, on a golf course. Where did that idea come from? A friend suggested it one day on the links. “After all,” he tells us in the video interview below, “golf is innately funny … you wear silly clothes … you get all excited about getting a little ball in a tiny hole, [and] the stakes are amazingly high.”

A Fox on the Fairway
has audiences at Signature Theatre laughing a lot, and at the same time – on opening night – some of the major theatre critics were not impressed. I asked Ken Ludwig to talk about writing the show, working with Director John Rando and the wonderful Signature cast.

Joel: On your website, you say A Fox on the Fairway is about love and hope. Can you say more about that?

Ken: I think this play, like many of my plays, is about the notion that if you look at the world with a good heart and keep your sense of optimism you can make your life matter. These are not just platitudes. Everyone has to make a choice. You choose how you approach life. Things may not always work out the way you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that some of us don’t continue to face the world with a deep sense of optimism and fellow-feeling. My plays are an attempt to move the ball in the right direction – towards a sense of humanity and good fellow-feeling. If we don’t achieve that, we’re lost. How you live your life is up to you. But that’s the choice we all face.

Joel: Most of the critics seem to have missed that connection. Are they getting too jaded?

Ken: Yes.

Joel: What would you say to those who were critical of the play? It must have teed you off, or is it just ‘par for the course’ of being in this business?

Ken: I don’t read reviews.

Joel: Signature has assembled an outstanding cast - Meg Steedle, Aubrey Deeker, Jeff McCarthy, Andrew Long, Holly Twyford, and Valerie Leonard. Did you take part in the casting process?

Ken: Yes, I was part of the selection process of the cast, as I always am with my plays.

Joel: What do you like most about the performances of the Signature cast?

Ken: I like that they are skilled, intelligent, professional, hilarious and full of integrity. This is one of the best casts I’ve ever had in any of my plays.

Joel: Thanks to your writing, John Rando’s direction and the cast’s great comic timing, the show draws some big laughs. Do you think we laugh enough in the theatre?

Ken: I do think there should be more comedies in the theatre. I think we all have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously.

Joel: Which scenes from the Signature production are your favorites, and is there a scene that John Rando directed that made you say, “I never thought of that!”

Ken: John was constantly coming up with wonderful ideas. My favorite moment is at the very end, when Louise steps forward and sums the play up.

Joel: Are you planning changes to the script, and if so, what are they?

Ken: I made a number of changes in the play while we were in rehearsal and then in previews. That is the great joy of working on a new play with actors and an audience – trying to get it just right.

[In his review, John Glass from Drama Urge, who saw a recent performance writes, “Things have tightened up since opening night. About halfway into its five-week schedule, the show has apparently lowered its handicap, dropping 30 or so minutes from the runtime, to end at less than two hours”.]

Joel: Your work is often a tribute to comic writers from the past. You say you often re-read the classic comedies. Who are some of your influences?

Ken: George Farquhar, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde and Kaufman and Hart.

Joel: Why do you enjoy having your plays performed here?

Ken: I love working in Washington because this is my home. It’s a joy to work with all the great actors and directors who live here.

Joel: What are you working on now?

Ken: I’ve just finished a new play which sets A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Jersey Shore. It’s called, not surprisingly, Midsummer/Jersey.

Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing A Fox on the Fairway?

Ken: I hope they come away feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and happier than when they went in the door.

October 14, 2010

Previews started Tuesday night for the world premiere of A Fox on the Fairway at Signature Theatre and the show is looking great. Here's a behind-the-scenes sneak preview: a few quick shots of the set as it was being loaded in over the weekend. The finished product is a wonder to behold, but you'll just have to come to the show to see it!

A Fox on the Fairway opens next Tuesday, October 19th and runs through November 14.

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Photos by Chris Mueller

October 6, 2010

We were very pleased and honored to learn that Moon Over Buffalo will be staged this fall in Romanian translation at the V. Alecsandri State Theatre in the city of Balti, Moldova, sponsored by the American Embassy in Moldova.

Director Neil Fleckman was kind enough to answer our questions about his production:

You directed Twentieth Century at the State Theatre of Moldova several years ago (pictured below). How did this experience influence your decision to direct another play by Ken Ludwig?

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In the fall of 2007 I staged Ken Ludwig's Twentieth Century for the National Theatre of Gagauzia, in the Gagauzia Autonomous Region of Moldova. Gagauzia is populated by ethnic Turks, since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Although there is a Gagauz dialect of Turkish, the production was in the Russian language. The project was supported by the American Embassy in Moldova, and the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The American Ambassador and other officials from the Embassy attended the premiere, at the invitation of the Governor of Gagauzia. A full house of local citizenry welcomed Twentieth Century with sustained appreciation, laughter, and applause. This prompted the Embassy to give Ken Ludwig the utmost priority, when seeking repertory for the current cultural project at the Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre in Balti, Moldova.

How do your actors respond to Ken's style of modern American comedy?

Virtually all the adult actors I cast in Moldova have professional training at state academies in both Moscow and Chisinau. The younger actors have spent four rigorous years at the Arts Academy in Chisinau. They are attuned to theatre in its multiple forms, and are plastic in their approach to creating characters and relationships onstage. Although none have played American comedies before, Ken Ludwig's work is so rich in human comedy, the actors are able to bridge the many miles between our countries. Especially as Ken sheds light on the virtues and foibles of theatre folk, performers in Moldova can identify parallels with their own experience, and individually connect to Ken's themes.

What do you find most exciting about directing Moon Over Buffalo for
Moldovan audiences?

When the American Government sponsors, and I direct, Moon Over Buffalo for the Moldovan public, we are creating a new audience for an American master playwright. This process of introduction, coupled with actors who are able to inhabit Ken's garments with such spontaneity, is highly rewarding to all of us who join in realizing a Ken Ludwig piece.

September 24, 2010

I'm happy to report that we had a terrific reading of The Game’s Afoot at the Kennedy Center over Labor Day Weekend. We rehearsed for a day and a half, all day Sunday and half a day on Monday to get ready for the show, and we performed it at the Terrace Theatre (in my view, the most intimate and nicest house at the Kennedy Center) and the place was packed.

Marc%20Kudisch_01.jpgThe cast was outstanding. Marc Kudisch, playing William Gillette, hit it out of the park. He was a healthy, vigorous Holmes, not the Basil Rathbone type -- more like the Robert Downey Jr. type. Erin Weaver was a lovable, edgy Aggie, and Val Leonard was a whirlwind as the Louella Parsons figure, Daria Chase -- bitchy, vindictive and loads of fun. Robinette_Nancy_print.jpgNancy Robinette who is a huge Washington favorite was hilarious as the inspector. She can do no wrong. There was simply no one in the cast who wasn't outstanding.

I added some fun technical elements to the reading—we had light changes and a few sound effects, as well as guns and knives. For a reading, it was as close to a production as you can get in less than 48 hours. Thank goodness it all worked!

What was especially interesting to me was that the play actually functioned more as a comedy with a mystery in it than a mystery with some comic elements. I thought it was going to be a funny mystery in the tradition of the Mousetrap, but it ended up being sort of uproarious, with wall to wall laughs. There were definitely some tense moments, as I'd hoped, but basically it turned out to be sort of whopping comedy. I was pleased as punch.

Afterward, I took questions in the lobby of the Kennedy Center and got a lot of great feedback. There were a lot of mystery buffs in the audience and they gave me some clever ideas about how to make the plot seamless. Also, my thanks to Gregg Henry, who was, as always, a terrific producer. (As everyone knows, I'm sure, he's one of the great gurus of theatre at the KenCen.)

All in all, we had a wonderful time, and my thanks to the Kennedy Center and the cast and the crew of the show are boundless.

Next week I’ll report on rehearsals for A Fox on the Fairway at Signature theatre, so check back soon!

August 13, 2010

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Ken Ludwig will direct a reading of his new comedy thriller The Game’s Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays) for the Kennedy Center’s Ninth Annual Page to Stage Festival in Washington, D.C., on September 6 in the Terrace Theater. Set to star Tony nominee Marc Kudisch and Nancy Robinette, this comedy thriller is described as containing "double-crosses, triple-crosses, gunplay, murder, lies, deceit, disguise, and sex. What do you expect? They’re actors." Ken recently answered a few questions about his new twist on the Sherlock Holmes story.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new mystery play The Game’s Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays)?

What I started to do was look at writing a Sherlock Holmes play. There have been hundreds of such pastiches over the years and they've sometimes been moderately successful – but we've seen so many of them in movies, plays, books, and short stories that the whole genre felt a little old to me. So instead I ended up writing a play about the actor who created Sherlock Holmes on stage (William Gillette). The basic premise of the play is that Gillette has invited the cast of his Broadway play Sherlock Holmes to his home in Connecticut (all totally historically accurate), and a murder takes place during the weekend party. Gillette resolves to solve the mystery, and in doing so he sort of becomes Holmes. I came up with this basic premise years ago and wrote a first mystery play based on this idea called Postmortem. I always wanted to take another a crack at it with a whole new mystery and a whole new set of characters at the core.


When and why did you write it?

I have a specific answer to that. Last year I was in London for a couple of weeks with my family and we did every fun thing in the city imaginable. Then, on the plane trip home, I asked my two kids what they liked best about the vacation and they said, with one voice, “going to see The Mousetrap!” So I thought hmmm … here’s this wonderful comedy-mystery still playing in the West End after 56 years and it’s still delighting audience. Why not try one. I came home and wrote it over Christmas.


The lead character is based on the actor William Gillette, who is famously known for playing Sherlock Holmes onstage. What made him infamous, however, was building a sort of extreme castle on the Connecticut River, and this castle is the setting of your play. Have you visited it?

I have! It's zany and funny, and a great visit. What a bizarre, self-confident thing to do. Say you’re a successful Broadway actor and you want to build a new house. Connecticut, yes. Big, yes. But a reproduction of a European castle complete with crenellated battlements? Yes, theatre-people are different.

You tend to write about actors and the theatre quite often…

Very much so. For me, somehow, the theatre has become a way of looking at the whole world in microcosm. There are triumphs and tragedies and family quarrels and family celebrations. There are love affairs and marriages and children and careers. Being in the theatre has given me so many families to enjoy. I was reminded of this when I came back to the Tony Awards recently. I don’t live in New York, so I don’t see my theatre friends as often as some people do: but this was like old home week. Dozens of friends came up to me and we caught up on our families and careers and our whole lives. The theatre is a place of love, and to reconnect like that is just heartwarming. It’s why I write so much about the theatre and it’s why I’m in the theatre.

August 2, 2010

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Following the Tony-nominated revival of Lend Me a Tenor on Broadway, Ken Ludwig will debut his new play, A Fox On the Fairway, opening on October 12, at the Signature Theatre in Washington, DC. Directed by Tony Award winner John Rando (Urinetown), this madcap tribute to the great English high comedies of the 1930s and 1940s takes audiences to a private country club where mistaken identities and romantic entanglements—along with an over-the-top golf tournament—abound. Ken recently answered some questions about writing A Fox On the Fairway revealing why he loves British comedy, the process of creating comic characters, and why he tends to write happy endings.


Since your new play, A Fox On the Fairway, is a tribute to high comedies of the 1930s and 40s, what are your favorites from that era?

Some of my favorite light comedies from that period include A Cuckoo in the Nest and Rookery Nook, two of the “Aldwych farces” by Ben Travers. They’re called that because they were part of a series of farces that played at the Aldwych Theatre in London during the 1930s. Another of the farces in this series, Plunder, was a huge hit for the National Theatre when it was revived about 30 years ago. Other plays of this era that I love include When We Are Married by J.B. Priestley and See How They Run by Philip King. The greatest comedies of this period, in my opinion, are Coward’s Private Lives and Blithe Spirit and the Kaufman and Hart classics You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came To Dinner. All of these plays are textbook examples of pure stagecraft at its best.

A Fox On the Fairway has the same feel as the high comedies of eras past, but it’s actually modern in both setting and humor...

I very consciously set it in modern times. Most of my plays are set in the past—often in the 30s sometimes in the 50s. These were periods that we envision as more trouble-free than our own and therefore more conducive to stories and characters who are happily crazed but less neurotic than characters we associate with modern comedies. I thought it would be fun to take this genre and try to apply it to our own day and age. The tricky part was coming up with a setting and I asked myself: where do we feel most trouble-free in the modern world? It seemed to me that a country club was a fair answer. We go there to get away from our troubles and relax and have a good time. And of course country clubs are riddled with social conventions and hierarchies, which are the backbone of good comedy.

Two of the lead characters in the play, Bingham and Pamela, have fantastic banter. Did you have anyone in mind when writing that dialogue?

I certainly had a certain type of comic character [in mind]. Bingham has a touch of Basil Fawlty of “Fawlty Towers” in him. He's a bit starchy and “British” in type—at least before he’s pushed to extremes by the situation. In many ways, that’s my favorite type of comic character to write about. It's a character of social pretensions; it gives you a framework to try to knock down. Saunders is like that in Lend Me A Tenor. And George Hay in Moon Over Buffalo. And even Leo in Leading Ladies. As for Pamela, she is also part of a long comic line for me. The Carol Burnett/Lynn Redgrave/Joan Collins role (Charlotte Hay) in Moon Over Buffalo is the beginning of the line for me. It’s a comic type that was historically a character part, not the lead, but I’ve brought her center stage for many of my plays. In A Fox On The Fairway, the character of Louise is also in a long line of roles that I’ve loved writing. She’s in the same family as Audrey in Leading Ladies and Lydia Lansing in Shakespeare in Hollywood —young, strong females who are madly attractive to young men and have a unique, innocent but surprisingly clever way of looking at the world.

Bingham and Pamela are older and wiser, and they are juxtaposed to two characters that are younger and still unformed. The characteristics of both sets of duos seem to intermingle throughout the course of the play. Was this intentional?

Absolutely. The play is really about love – and the joys and angst and craziness of love—in two different eras of our life. One is in the first blush of youth when we’re in our early 20s; and the other is when we have a second chance at life in our mid—40s. The second moment is represented by one couple: the seemingly-starchy director of the country club (Henry Bingham), and a sophisticated seen-it-all member of the club, Pamela, two people who, in the course of the play, reconnect after twenty years of just missing each other. The younger moment in the play is represented by a second couple: Bingham’s new assistant, Justin, a sort of walking, good-natured train-wreck who is desperately in love with one of the waitresses at the club’s tap room. In the comic context of the play, when the world starts falling apart (as it always does in some way in a comedy) the older couple revert to their sexually-charged post-pubescent selves, while the younger set just try to cope with crisis after crisis. By the end, as in the high comedies of the 1930s and 40s, it is desperation that fuels the comedy. And of course it’s always when we think we have our lives in good shape and cared for that they start falling apart, which is at the root of the comic impulse.

High comedies tend to have happy endings, as do many of your plays. Is this something you strive for in your work?

The author Louis Kronenberger had a wonderful thing to say about comedy: “Comedy is not just a happy as opposed to an unhappy ending, but a way of surveying life so that happy endings must prevail.” I try to create worlds where we can ultimately see some sanity and worth in our existence. I try to push the ball towards a sense of hope and belief in the humanity of our neighbors. In that kind of world there will be a happy endings because, as Kronenberger says, it’s a natural result of that way of looking at life.

April 6, 2010

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It’s been nothing but joy having Lend Me A Tenor revived on Broadway. And that joy has come in many guises.

One of the best parts of the process has been working with a new cast of such high caliber. Tony Shalhoub, Jan Maxwell, Justin Bartha, Anthony LaPaglia, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Mary Catherine Garrison, Brooke Adams and Jay Klaitz: how lucky is that? Noël Coward famously assembled a remarkable group of actors for his historic revival of Hay Fever at the National Theater in London in 1964 and remarked that they could read the Albanian Telephone Directory and people would come. I contend that my cast of Lend Me A Tenor could read the plumbing section of the Albanian Telephone Directory and people would come. So deal with it, Noël.

Another great joy of this revival has been the flood of memories it has evoked of the earliest productions of the play twenty years ago. Lend Me A Tenor began life (under its original title, Opera Buffa) at a summer theatre, The American Stage Festival, in Milford, New Hampshire. The play was wonderfully directed by Larry Carpenter and it starred the great actor-director Walter Bobbie as Max. (Walter has since directed my adaptation of Twentieth Century with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche at the Roundabout Theatre as well as this little production of Chicago I’ve heard about …) Also in the cast of that first summer theatre production was the remarkable Ron Holgate as Tito. Ron went on to star as Tito in the London and Broadway productions of Tenor and he remains, to this day, one of the miracles of American Musical Comedy.Marcus%20Photo%20Bartha%20and%20Shalhoub.jpg


Soon after the summer theatre production, I met an English director named David Gilmore who was visiting the United States. He happened to see a production of my play Sullivan and Gilbert that was being produced at the time by the Kennedy Center, and as we discussed it, he asked me casually what else I had written lately. I told him about Lend Me A Tenor and he took a copy home to England with him.

A few days later David called me from his home in Wimbledon and said that he had enjoyed the
play, would like to direct it and, moreover, would like to show it to a “producer friend” of his. I remember thinking at the time, “If I just hand this play over to David he’s going to think I don’t have any real connections of my own and that I don’t know how to deal in big-time theatre circles.” With this imbecilic notion in my head, as though my brain had been invaded by some alien species with the ability to make humans stupid at a moment’s notice, I said “Well, David, I don’t know… I don’t want the play to look shopped around. I do have interest from some big-time producers. Who’s your friend?” To which he answered, “Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

Fortunately, the aliens from the Planet Idiot left my brain as quickly as they had entered and I said calmly, “Well that’s nice. Why don’t we show it to him.”

Two days later, the telephone rang and an English voice came over the line and said, “How do you do? This is Andrew Lloyd Webber. You don’t know me.” I said that I had, in fact, heard of him and was delighted to be speaking with him. He then said that he thought that Lend Me A Tenor was the funniest play he’d ever read and asked me if I had licensed the performance rights to anyone else yet. I said no. He asked if he could acquire them. I said yes. And that was that.
Two weeks later, I found myself on a plane to London. Within an hour of landing, I joined Andrew and his friend Richard Stilgoe (the librettist of Starlight Express and co-librettist of The Phantom of the Opera) at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. As always (I came to learn) Andrew was brimming with energy and ideas. He has always reminded me of Charles Dickens - bursting with new projects and filled with the seemingly endless energy to accomplish them. The first words out of Andrew’s mouth were not “How do you do, I’m Andrew,” or “Welcome to London.” They were, without preamble: “Listen, Ken, I have a great idea for the poster! Covent Garden is about to produce Otello with Placido Domingo, and I think I can arrange a deal where we both use similar posters and help each other with publicity!”

True to his word, Andrew had Lend Me A Tenor open in the West End at the Globe Theatre (now called The Gielgud) within six months of that first call to Washington. Andrew was supportive and kind from the first day on, and couldn’t have been a better, more involved producer. And David Gilmore and I became great friends during the process and we remain dear friends to this day. The production starred Denis Lawson and Jan Francis, went on to garner the Olivier nomination as Comedy of the Year and enjoyed a long, healthy run.

Tenor next jumped from London to Broadway. I was blessed with another remarkable director, Jerry Zaks, and another cast of the Albanian Telephone Directory variety. (Victor Garber and Tovah Feldshuh were at the opening night party on Monday night for the revival, and it was just like old times.) I remember with particular fondness the art deco set for the Broadway production that came out of Tony Walton’s head, along with the amazing costumes by William Ivey Long. In a way, these memories make all the more joyous seeing the sets and costumes for this Broadway revival by John Lee Beatty and Marty Pakledinaz, who have matched the earlier brilliance pound for pound in their own stunning ways.

So here I am after opening night of the revival on Broadway feeling wonderful about the joy that people are having at the Music Box Theatre every night. As Tito would say, “it makes a-me feel proud.” Proud to hear the laughter of the audiences, proud to see them leaving the theatre with smiles on their faces, and proud to have my play reinterpreted for a new generation of theatre-goers.

January 19, 2010

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We start rehearsals for the Lend Me A Tenor revival very soon and I’m ready to get on the train right now and head for New York. I have an open suitcase at the foot of my bed and I keep throwing in things I’ll need during the longish stay in New York for rehearsals. Two nights ago I added a second suitcase, and now I’m up to three. The rehearsals better start realllllly soon …

Angela%20Lansbury.jpgI’m also thinking about what shows to see in New York during rehearsals. High on my list is the revival of A Little Night Music. I saw Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit last year and she was, of course, amazing. On top of which, she’s about the loveliest person I know. I once wrote a piece for her and Lauren Bacall and Glenn Close, which they recited at the Kennedy Center Honors in tribute to Katherine Hepburn. So, knowing Angela a bit, I took my daughter backstage to meet her when we went to the show. Angela was, I promise you, so kind and dear to my daughter that I’ll never forget it. We chatted for at least fifteen minutes, and there was my daughter in the presence of this great spirit and great legend – and you’d have thought they’d been friends for years and years. It was remarkably touching and inspiring. So now I’m looking forward to seeing Angela in Night Music more than ever.

One of my favorite Angela Lansbury performances is as the Princes Gwendolyn in the movie The Court Jester with Danny Kaye. If you haven’t see this movie, run, don’t walk, to the nearest video store and rent it immediately. Every minute of it is remarkable.

On another note, last night ordered the new volume of the Samuel Beckett letters that was just published. I hear it’s fantastic. While I’m waiting for it, I’ve been rereading No Author Better Served, a volume containing the correspondence of Beckett and Alan Schneider, Beckett’s longtime director and friend. (Schneider also directed the world premiere of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and several other great American dramas during his career.) Letters%20of%20Samuel%20Beckett.jpgAs you probably know, Schneider died in his prime in an accident when he was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street. What I didn’t know until I read the introduction was that Schneider was walking home after posting a letter to Beckett. In any case, for anyone who loves theatre, I couldn’t possibly recommend the book more highly. It starts with detailed letters about the early productions of Waiting For Godot and just gets better from there. I’ll keep you posted on the Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 when they arrive.

December 18, 2009

LMAT_Poster%2Cjpg.pngLend Me A Tenor is going to be revived on Broadway this spring and of course I’m thrilled about it. This revival has been in the works since the summer, when the producers first got in touch with me. The conversation went something like this: “Hey, Ken. It’s Matthew. The guys and I would like to produce a Broadway revival of Lend Me A Tenor with Stanley Tucci directing. We’re thinking about Tony Shaloub for Saunders. Do you have any interest?”

“Well, let’s see now …”

I’ve been wanting to talk about it here in the blog, but I’ve been waiting dutifully for the official announcement. Well, it’s now official, so please read the press release on the home page of this site. Party hats are welcome.

Stanlely Tucci is indeed the director, and Stan and I have been casting the show for a couple of months now. We’re all crazy about the casting, as well as the creative team, and we can’t wait to go into rehearsal.

Tony Shaloub is onboard (last week he finished his 8th season as Monk and my family and I were glued to the series finale); and the rest of the cast includes Anthony LaPaglia, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jan Maxwell, Brooke Adams and Jay Klaitz. The creative team includes Ken Posner, John Lee Beatty, Martin Pakledinaz and Peter Hylenski. I’ve worked with Kenny and John Lee in the past, but everybody else is new to me – and I’m very psyched.

One of the biggest thrills about the show for me is that we’ll be in The Music Box Theatre. I’m always excited by the histories of the theatres where my shows are put on, and the history of The Music Box is pretty breathtaking:

It was built in 1921 by Irving Berlin and Sam Harris especially for Berlin’s Music Box Revues. Since then, it has housed the original productions of Dinner at Eight, Stage Door, The Man Who Came To Dinner, Bus Stop, Picnic and The Homecoming, to say nothing of The Male Animal (a favorite of mine since I appeared in it in high school), The Pleasure of his Company (which starred one of my favorite actor/directors of all time, Cyril Ritchard), Sleuth, Deathtrap, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Set To Music and Of Thee I Sing.

So I’ll be tramping around the same stage where Noel Coward, George S. Kaufman, William Inge, Harold Pinter and George and Ira Gershwin tramped before me. Be still my heart.

So please mark your calendars and please come. Performances start March 13th.

December 7, 2009

Seeing my dear friend Simon Reade just before Thanksgiving, I was reminded of first meeting him a few years ago while he was the Literary Manager and Dramaturg at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Simon and I met when Adrian Noble, then Artistic Director of the RSC, commissioned me to write a play. The result of this commission, as many of you may know, was my play Shakespeare in Hollywood.

Simon talks about the genesis of the play and, indeed, our friendship in his introduction to the Samuel French edition. I thought you might enjoy reading it as you read about Simon's book, Dear Mr. Shakespeare, featured on the homepage.

INTRODUCTION TO SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD
by Simon Reade


The name rang a bell. “He’s called Ken Ludwig, Simon,” said Adrian Noble, then Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. “He’s in Stratford. Big supporter of the RSC in the States. He’s got some ideas he wants to run past us.” Ken Ludwig? Surely not Lend-Me-ATenor-Crazy-For-You Ken Ludwig? What on earth would that master of American screwball comedy want with a classical, Shakespeare ensemble? As Literary Manager at the RSC at the time I was a champion of poetic theatre, pursuing commissions that tended towards political epics. The imp in me surmised that the RSC could well do with upsetting its own applecart; but it is a state subsidised theatre. This Ken Ludwig is the darling of commercial theatre.
Curious, I met the guy.sih_Arena-Post-Card.jpg

Well, never judge a writer entirely by his output. Just as Dostoevsky probably wasn’t all doom and gloom, wisecracking Ken Ludwig’s got his serious points too. Sure, he’s fun, full-of-beans. But he’s also exceptionally well-read, bright as a button, with an enthusiasm for comedy and music theatre across the centuries. He’s an expert who kept – who keeps putting me to shame in my lack of appreciation of the popular stage, of the movies. And I don’t just mean the cheesy matinees we’d snigger and sneer at today. He can extemporise on the clown in European Renaissance drama, on the wit of the 18th century playwrights, on the inter-War stars of the Silver Screen… On our first meeting, in the sunshine of Stratford-upon-Avon, he charmed me, he delighted me. And, canny fellow he is, he’d pitch several ideas at me before I’d even realised
he’s started.

Some had been long in gestation: a rewrite of a Regency Tony Lumpkin sequel to She Stoops to Conquer. We read the original and realised why it necessitated a rewrite. It was trash. We decided not to go there. Some ideas had been dreamt up on the hoof: inspired by walking backstage, along the narrow passage where the huge 1930s Royal Shakespeare Theatre collides with the Elizbethan-style Swan Theatre, Ken had seen the actors from contrasting shows comingle, mid-performance. What if, in this collision, the modern dress performers get confused with the doublet-and-hosed, take a wrong turning and end up on the wrong stage in the wrong play, mused Ken. We laughed and laughed as he improvised and then had the good grace to admit Michael Frayn had written Noises Off, Alan Ayckbourn House and Garden. Ken’s is still an even wilder idea, but we didn’t pursue this either.

We also talked about the whole Shakespeare industry and how the recent movies – from Ken Branagh, via Baz Luhrman, to Shakespeare in Love - had introduced the plays and the man to a whole new generation who’d rejected the works in the classroom or in the lyric theatre. Shakespeare in Love in particular inspired us. Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s marvelous screenplay had illustrated how the Elizabethan Theatre of ruthless producers and jobbing script writers, wasn’t a million miles away from the Hollywood studio system.

It was then that Ken mentioned something in passing and we both had that ‘ping’, light-bulb moment. A film I should have known about, but didn’t – Max Reinhardt’s 1936 movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – was even more amazing in its making than the finished product itself. It was a story which got right to the heart of the commercialisation of art, the opportunism of Hollywood, the use and abuse of the most venerated writer of all time, Shakespeare. It charted the creative quirks of a meister of mittel Europische Kinema, Max Reinhadt. And it had a cast of starlets: Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Cagney. And the more he talked, the more animated he became. Ken explained to me about Will Hays, the daffy self-appointed censor, whose application of the Hays Code to the sexiness and magical realism of Shakespeare’s dream play was an outrage –very funny, but an outrage nonetheless. And there it was, the embryo of a play which embraced the Shakespeare industry, Hollywood exploitation, US cultural imperialism, the clash of ideologies (liberal and philistine, European and American), of dreams versus nightmares with fascism in Germany a distant but significant rumble. I saw a serious play in the making. I guess Ken had the genius to see that its seriousness could be conveyed through an accumulation of
farcical mayhem.

Key to that, and what I learnt from Ken as we developed it first with the RSC (who didn’t produce it, internal political changes getting in the way) and most recently in a try-out reading at Bristol Old Vic where I am now joint Artistic Director, is this brilliant genre which I believe is peculiar to the American psyche: high-jinx, screwball comedy. British people would never be that zany. We’re too knowingly cynical. Funny, yes. But don’t we just know it. It is a genre specific to the American stage and screen of the mid 20th century. And Ken is the modern master of it, his passion for its vaudevillian high-octane antics fuelling his messianic zeal to recapture its essence for contemporary audiences.

Ken’s passion for Shakespeare (his family, even his personal email address all seem to be named after one Shakespeare character or another) is also evident in his new play. Shakespeare in Hollywood is thus a deeply personal play as much as a popular play. And in the spirit with which I used to commission plays at the RSC it’s also poetic and political and, let’s not be afraid to say it, something of a mini-epic. Yet it’s also got a screw loose, the playwright’s having a ball. Screwball. Good comedy. Good drama. Good fun.
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Simon Reade is joint Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic where he has adapted Jill Tomlinson’s The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. He has worked extensively in film and television, for the BBC and Tiger Aspect in particular. He was Literary Manager and Dramaturg at the RSC 1997-2001 where his adaptations included Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid. He was Literary Manager at London’s Gate Theatre in the early 1990s.

November 5, 2009

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Saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Folger Theatre on Thursday and it was loads of fun. The production has a specific “take”: it’s set at a Caribbean culture festival in modern-day Washington, DC and the cast is a wonderful stew of black, Hispanic, white, Asian, and everything under the sun. This gives the production a terrifically exuberant feel. Everything felt very colorful and fresh. And it was especially revealing to hear how well Shakespeare’s language lends itself so seamlessly to a Caribbean patois.

Folger%202.jpgI bumped into a friend that night who is a famous Shakespeare scholar and he mentioned how, in his view, we always get a new perspective on Shakespeare when it’s translated into other languages. The native speakers of that language get to see Shakespeare in a different, sometimes more original light. Although this production was in English, with the text intact, the Caribbean setting evoked that same kind of feeling. One heard some of the familiar lines afresh.

So Thursday was Shakespeare in lilting English; and Friday was Shakespeare in song. I took the family to see Verdi’s Falstaff at The Washington Opera. The opera is based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, but has a bit of the Falstaff from Henry IV Part 1 thrown in – specifically the “honor” speech, which Verdi makes into an aria in his first scene. Verdi wrote the opera when he was in his late 70s, and it’s simply remarkable to think that anything with so much continuous invention, exuberance and non-stop energy could come out of the pen of someone who swore he was retired a few years before. What a way to go out.

It received an imaginative production from the Washington Opera. falstaff.jpg
The final set – with the huge oak tree in the middle – was gorgeous, and the Washington Opera Orchestra has never sounded more glorious. The premise of the production was that we were backstage, watching the preparations for a rehearsal of the opera: so that the singer playing the role of Falstaff was writing love letters to two of the other singers, the ones playing Meg and Alice. And that the singer playing Ford was actually married to the singer playing Alice, so he really was jealous of the singer playing Falstaff … you get the idea.

I find it invigorating that Shakespeare continues to be set in so many alternative worlds. Ian McKellan’s Richard III set in Nazi Germany. Branagh’s As You Like It set in feudal Japan. Even when I’m skeptical about the concept, I always hear something new in the text when I see these productions. And on Friday night there was an added bonus: I discovered a whole new instrument! In the pit, next to the trombones, was a “cimbasso.” It’s a kind of trombone-tuba hybrid that I have since learned was used by Verdi in many of his operas. I now want to run out and buy one and take lessons.

September 17, 2009

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Here it is September, and I’m just catching up with August – but I must tell you that at the end of the summer my family and I went to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time, and I’m still agog at how wonderful it was. I’ve been dying to write about it, so here goes:

For anyone who doesn’t know – I didn’t until recently – The Edinburgh Festival is really three festivals that are celebrated at the same time in Edinburgh during the last three weeks of August (and a little bit in September). First, there’s the Edinburgh International Festival, which consists of large-scale, prestigious productions of music, dance and theatre brought in from all over the world. Men%20in%20red%20small.jpgSecond, there’s the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is in smaller venues around the city and consists of lots of stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, rock bands, new playwrights and young performers trying out new material. (Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern started at the Fringe many years ago.) Finally, there’s the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which has wonderful guest speakers and everything else imaginable between hard (and soft) covers.

And because the city is teeming with visitors during August, street performers descend on the city en masse, which makes wandering through Edinburgh (already one of the most gorgeous medieval cities imaginable) a real wonderland of joy all day and all night. Girls%20in%20Green%20Wigs%20small.jpg

No, this is not a paid announcement sponsored by the Edinburgh Tourist Board. The fact is, it was simply glorious being there and I thought I’d pass it on. (If this act of kindness results in making it even harder to get a hotel room there next year, I’m going to kick myself.)

While we were there, we saw theatre and comedy and opera and dance non-stop for eight days and nights and here are the highlights:

First and foremost, we were lucky enough to get tickets to a recital by Bryn Terfel, one of the greatest living baritones (in my humble opinion). He sang songs from the great Vaughan Williams song-cycle Songs of Travel, as well as songs by Quilter, Schumann and others. It was one of the great musical experiences of my life and I’ll never forget it. Afterwards, my family and I went backstage and met with Bryn. He was wonderfully kind – and lots of fun – and took a real interest in my son’s voice studies. He’s a terrific man and I admire him enormously.

Papys%20fun%20club.jpgOn the Fringe side of things, there were three highlights: a sketch comedy group called Pappy’s Fun Club who were hilarious. They careened from sketch to another – the world’s tallest man, the world’s shortest woman, the funniest dinosaur ever born (his name was Danny) – just four guys and a lot of ingenuity and we all loved them. We also loved a rock group called The Magnets, who create their own back-up band with their own voices. The audience went wild. And we saw my friend Simon Reade’s one-man play called Private Peaceful, based on a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo about a soldier in World War I. It was very moving and beautiful.

statuesmall.jpgThe Book Festival? A tent covered all of Charlotte Square and it contained places to sit and commune with fellow book-lovers, so I was in seventh heaven. They also put up a bookstore, which ended up being about the best bookstore I’ve ever browsed. I left the contents of my wallet at the check-out stand; but I brought 19 new books onto the plane home.

I’m also grateful for discovering the poetry of Robert Burns in a big way on the trip. Burns is the national poet of Scotland and they rightly adore him there. I had read the standard poems growing up, but for the first time I realized what a complete genius he was. You should run out of your house immediately and go buy A Night Out With Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems, an anthology edited by Andrew O’Hagan (who adds terrific commentary). Then read “Green Grow the Rashes,” “Mary Morison” and “A Man’s A Man For A’ That.” It will change your life.

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I could live in Edinburgh without thinking twice about it. It’s bulging with history, has the best castle I’ve ever seen and lives and breathes books and culture. I’ll never forget my kids climbing all the way up to Arthur’s Seat, which is a huge hill that overlooks the city. Meanwhile, my wife and I had tea at Holyrood Palace and waited for them. Alas for “sit mens sana in corpore sano” (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”). We sipped English Breakfast Tea and sunned ourselves while reading Burns.

August 10, 2009

teatro-la-fenice%20interior%20small.jpgI’ve been listening to tons of opera lately. It’s interesting how opera was one of the early loves of my life, then faded a little into the background as I spent about ten years reading every comic play in existence, and has now come back into my life with a bang. Partly this is because my kids are such wonderful musicians, and it’s been a treat introducing them to my favorite operas.

We have a subscription this coming season for The Washington Opera and I can’t wait till it starts. Our first, I think, is “The Barber of Seville.” (Admittedly, we all crack up when we hear the big Figaro aria because we always think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he sings it.)

CountAlmavivaGeraldFinleysmall.jpgMy favorite opera of all time has to be Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, but Verdi’s Falstaff runs it a mighty close second. Tonight we were watching our favorite DVD of The Marriage of Figaro. It has Gerald Finley as Figaro and Alison Hagley as Susanna (she’s sublime) and it’s a genuine work of art. The opening scene where Figaro is measuring the room for the marriage bed is both hilarious and touching at the same time. Renee Fleming plays the Countess, Andreas Schmidt is the Count and Bernard Haitink conducts. I just couldn’t recommend it more highly. (A company called Kultur sells it and I assume it’s still in print.)

I was a music composition and theory major in college as a result of my love for opera. And from there everything just deepened. The biggest thrill of my musical life was studying with Leonard Bernstein. Be still my heart. I wish I could go back and do it again.

Lend Me A Tenor, of course, is about the world of opera; and I wrote it partly to honor that world that I loved so much. I remember that during the run of Tenor on Broadway I used it as the basis for a question on The Texaco Opera Quiz – and they put it on the air and I was thrilled to bits. (And I got some free CDs out of it.)

I don’t know why I fell in love with opera so early. It was just love at first listen. I often wonder about my passion for all things Shakespeare in the same way. I don’t know why I started loving it at such a young age – I heard the first few words and my eyes started spinning around in my head.

Pretty much the earliest Shakespeare I ever heard was a recording of Richard Burton’s Hamlet. For whatever reason, I bought the LPs and I listened to them so much that I literally wore out the plastic. (I recently acquired a new set of the LPs for old time’s sake through eBay – though the performance is now available on DVD.) cyril2small.jpgOne of my fondest recollections of my father is when I was tiny and he shlepped me to a movie theatre to see a re-release of the movie of Julius Caesar with James Mason, John Gielgud and Marlon Brando. He had no more interest than the man in the moon, but he took me anyway. What a dad. (Only rivaled by my mom taking me backstage in New York to meet the great actor/director Cyril Ritchard (pictured right) – where opera and plays met in a single, wonderful man. What a mom.)

So now I’m heading back to Act Two of Marriage of Figaro. It may keep us up all night, but what a way to spend the summer.

July 12, 2009

kenJackPicsmall.jpgI plan to use this space to keep in touch with you, post information on recent and upcoming projects—including your productions of my plays—and share recommendations and general musings. I love hearing from you, so if you have questions you'd like me to answer, or things you'd like me to discuss in this blog, please send them along through the "Ask Ken a Question" link on the homepage or in the box on the right.

Latest news: I just finished a new comedy, entitled A Fox On The Fairway. It’s about golf and sex. I love golf. I’m terrible at it and only get to play about five times a year. I have no comment about sex.

The play opens as underdog Quail Valley Country Club prepares to take on arch-rival Crouching Squirrel in this year’s Annual Inter-Club Golf Tournament. With a sizable wager at stake, the contest plays out amidst three love affairs, a disappearing diamond, objectionable sweaters and an exploding Ming vase.

Fox, as I now call it, is a six-character comedy in the style of Lend Me A Tenor. I wrote it as a tribute to the great English farces of the 1930s and 40s like See How They Run and When We Are Married that I love so much. I felt moved to write it as an antidote to the times we live in, to try and move the ball a trifle closer to the sanity and good fellowship we all deserve.

signaturetheatre.jpgThe first reading of the play was last week at Signature Theatre (right) in Arlington, Virginia. (They won the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award.) Eric Schaeffer, the Artistic Director of Signature, graciously gave me 29 hours of rehearsal and performance time in their main stage space, and the performance was last Thursday night to a packed house.

John Rando (who helmed the world premiere of my play Be My Baby at the Alley Theatre a couple of years ago) came down from New York to direct, and Signature’s associate director, Michael Baron, helped me assemble a cast of wonderful actors, Holly-Twyford.jpgincluding Holly Twyford (left), Chris Bloch, Valerie Leonard, Margo Seibert, Cody Nickell & Sam Ludwig. Kerry Epstien was our intrepid stage manager, Patrick Jaffke was her assistant, Will Lurie read the stage directions and Matt Rowe did the sound. Many thanks to everyone involved. The staff at the Signature is beyond compare.

It was a riotously fun evening and turned out to be a terrific way to launch the play. Everyone seemed to love it (knock wood) and I’m about to put a few finishing touches on it and launch it out into the world.

Back to work now. Please let me know what you think of my having a blog like this. Send me questions and I’ll write more soon. Many thanks.