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March 26, 2013

My Wonderful Weekend at the 2013 SETC Convention

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

Opening Night of Tenor at Paper Mill Playhouse

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

My Visit to UVA

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

Everyman Theatre Opens New Space

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

Three Musketeers at Cincinnati Playhouse is a Triumph

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

Midsummer/Jersey at Interlochen

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

My Week at Interlochen Center for the Arts

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.

May 11, 2012

The Beaux' Stratagem in NYC

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.

December 8, 2011

Playwright Ken Ludwig Talks Christmas, Alec Baldwin, and the Jersey Shore

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

MD Theatre Guide interviews Ken Ludwig on Twas the Night Before Christmas and other New Works

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

Ken Ludwig encourages Abington High’s ‘Leading’ thespians via Skype

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

4 Openings in Two Months!

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?

September 23, 2011

Set Design for 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

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

My New Play at Adventure Theatre

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

July 20, 2011

Just back from London...

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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.

January 11, 2011

American Embassy Sponsors production of Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo in Moldova

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

Fox on the Fairway's Ken Ludwig and Arch Campbell: Politest golf trash-talk ever

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

Ken Ludwig talks about 'A Fox on the Fairway' with The DC TheatreScene

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

A Fox on the Fairway: Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Preview

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

Moon Over Buffalo in Moldova

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

Mysterious New Comedy: The Game's Afoot at the Kennedy Center

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

Ken Ludwig’s New Play The Game’s Afoot (Or Holmes For the Holidays) at the Kennedy Center

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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

Ken Ludwig Talks About His New Play A Fox On the Fairway

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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.

December 7, 2009

The Genesis of Shakespeare in Hollywood

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.