Random thoughts about watching and working in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein.
Monday night I had the incredible privilege of directing the archival video for The Public Theater’s 50th anniversary gala performance, a staged reading of Romeo & Juliet. The leading roles were played by a couple of kids you might have heard of, Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. The supporting cast included Christopher Walken, Sam Waterston, Christine Baranski, Phylicia Rashad, Jesse L. Martin, F. Murray Abraham, Jeffrey Wright, Sandra Oh, Jerry Stiller, Michael Stuhlbarg and Raul Esparza, and I think they probably have some bright futures, too.
Let's just get this out of the way: yes, the entire cast was magnificent, and among the many delights, hearing Christopher Walken play Malvolio is something I'll smile about for the rest of my life. And Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline did something truly remarkable: inhabit their teenage selves and find a way to allow us to see a fourteen year old girl and a sixteen year old boy right where they stood. It was just glorious to behold.
We were setting up during the afternoon rehearsal, and for anyone who might be eager to hear about how this gathering of A-list artists produced a clashing of mighty egos (and I dearly hope there are very few of you, if any), well, prepare to be disappointed. From my vantage point, this event was a love fest, an opportunity for actors to form an instant ensemble and come together to support not just this theater but the kind of theater it represents, the kind of theater that changes not just lives but the world. There were some in this cast who had three lines, and some who had three hundred; that didn’t matter. The point was to celebrate The Public Theater and tell a great story beautifully. Done and done.
Bearing in mind that the cast (under the wonderful direction of Daniel Sullivan) had essentially a day to rehearse, what we saw was an amazing hybrid of expert craft and genuine improvisation. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone strayed from Shakespeare’s exquisite text (and I know this is stating the obvious, but DAMN could that man write or what?). What I mean is that within the confines of the text and the concept of a staged reading, these actors were bound to surprise themselves and each other, making discoveries and reveling in collaborative moments that could only happen once, with these people, on this magic night, in this perfect place. I swear that all night I saw looks on their faces that could only have been the result of a potent combination of confidence, humility, awe and sheer delight. Together they told a timeless tale and yet always stayed present, truly cherishing and living in each moment. The effect was intoxicating.
In Sunday’s blog I shared some thoughts about process. I realized, watching Monday night’s performance, that I was seeing another kind of process: actors (not stars, not celebrities, but actors), figuring things out before our eyes, taking chances, trying out new ideas, and doing so with grace, generosity and vulnerability.
My favorite moment occurred during intermission. Both the dressing rooms and HMS' control area (from which I was directing our three camera ops) were located underneath the seats of the outdoor Delacorte Theater, and during the break I ran over to the area where we'd stored our cases to grab a notepad out of my backpack. As I rifled through my belongings, I looked up, and realized I was standing next to Meryl and Kevin, who were running lines and sharing some ideas, and doing so with such warmth and respect that I could only stand there, and smile, and cherish the moment. Like the entirety of the night's performance, it was raw in a most staggeringly beautiful way, and I wish everyone who loves theater and storytelling could have seen it.