GRANT & TWAIN - The Challenges of Directing a New Play
An Interview with Director Regge Life
What is your background? – I first directed a musical that I wrote with a friend when I was in high school in Westchester County. Then I did a stint on the road as a stage manager during a college year abroad but that wasn’t for me. I went back to school to study directing. Early on I directed “Hail, Hail the Gangs” on 4th Street in Manhattan and it became a cult success. That was lucky because it put me on the map. I’ve been directing ever since. It’s a slow process of moving around, doing different shows, learning the ropes…
How did you come to direct "GRANT & TWAIN"? - The playwright, Elizabeth Diggs, and I met years ago. I attended NYU and got an MFA there. She ended up teaching there later on. Now we both have homes in this area. (Life resides in Canaan, NY.) She came to see “God and Carnage” last season at Shakespeare and Co. and that led to our discussion of her new play. We did a reading of the work last January and decided to work together on the project.
Have you done any research about the protagonists? - Yes, I’ve looked into them both a bit myself. But, my research has a different purpose. I try to accumulate anecdotes to share during rehearsals. I’ve found that with characters that are larger-than- life, it’s good to find some little touches that humanize these individuals. It helps the actors to make the roles less iconic. Liz knows a huge amount, too. Her stories will definitely help breathe life into these people. It’s all to make the characters more relatable as humans.
What's the most challenging part of directing "GRANT & TWAIN"? - It’s the casting. We haven’t made any decisions yet, but everything will rest on rendering these two people in very human terms. Although they were the super stars of their time and couldn’t go anywhere without attracting large crowds, they were individuals, like you and me. The actors have to make their struggles our struggles. Plus, the story is compelling. It’s about Grant’s final year and, at the same time, Twain’s at the height of his success. The audience has to understand the sacrifices each is making.
PS21 CHATHAM is in a brand new building. Are there any aspects of the stage that you're looking forward to? - It’s exciting to be in a new space. They did a great job outfitting it and we’ve decided to take full advantage of what’s available. So we will do what’s called an “alley style” production. The audience will sit on both sides of the stage. That should create more intimacy, but it will also make the audience members witnesses to the history that took place. It’s different than reading about an event. With the actors, costume people and set people we want to bring this story back to life. If we’ve done our job well, the audience will walk away feeling as if they were there.
GRANT & TWAIN will be performed at PS21, Chatham, NY. Performances: Sept. 27, 28, 29 at 8pm, Matinees: Sept. 29, 30 at 2pm.
For tickets go to http://ps21chatham.org/event/grant-twain/.
Photo by Deirdre Malfatto.