A little over a year ago, I began thinking about a project that would strengthen our communities by strengthening the intergenerational bonds between our young people and our seniors and using a theatre project as the conduit. I came up with-YSTEP/Youth and Senior Theatre Ensemble Project. These two groups will interview each other and from these interviews create a short theatrical piece, facilitated by a professional theatre artist, and presented to the public after a six-week workshop. Through the collaboration of interviewing, writing and performing this short play, each group will have learned a new skill, shared life experiences, developed a mutual respect,and become empowered to create a stronger, more productive community.
Sounds fabulous! In your mind's eye, does this happen in the summer, after school, when? Students have more time constraints than retirees.
It can be an after school and/or summer program. I have been involved with artist-in-residency programs that have taken place after school and during the summer. Each [time slot] presents advantages and disadvantages.
Since 1988, you've been working in various forums with kids and the theatre. When and how did it occur to you to add the seniors component to the mix?
I work out at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston...
That's where I swim! Small world.
... and I often see a mixture of young people and seniors there, but no interaction between the two groups. Remembering my days as a youngster growing up in Detroit, being schooled by older people in my family, neighborhood, and at church, I questioned how I could get these two groups together. I thought the solution would be in theatre because of my background. I found articles on intergenerational programs, studied how they are set up and facilitated. Then, time came for me to start putting together a game plan which I call YSTEP.
In these days of ever-shrinking economy and slashed budgets, is there still a place for the arts in general and projects such as this in particular?
In your professional life, you've alternated between acting and directing. Can you talk a bit about what each does for you and how you work it so you have a bit of both?
I'm mostly directing these days, with very few acting jobs. This coming season, I'm directing two plays at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery: Bear Country, about the legendary University of Alabama head football coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant; and Nobody, a story about Bert Williams, a black minstrel performer. I will also direct K2, a play about two men fighting for their lives while stranded on the infamous mountain, the second highest elevation in the world.
Directing gives me the opportunity to cast a wide collaboration net, so I work closely with not only the actors, but the designers, producers, musicians, dancers, technicians, playwrights, the script. This allows me to have a broader influence on the outcome of the piece. The challenges are compounded, and there never seems to be enough time. But sitting in the audience and watching it all unfold after three or four grueling weeks of rehearsal and countless hours of pre-production work is indescribable.
As an actor, my collaboration is mostly limited to the other actors, director, and an occasional interaction with designers and playwrights and of course the play itself. But the rush of performing is second to none. The rehearsal process, the exploration of the character and his wants, needs and desires, and the collaboration with other actors on stage are all very challenging, but, if done well, also very rewarding. I'm more of the director now though, and very happy to have the opportunity to flex that creative muscle.
You sound remarkably content. What're some of the differences between working in TV and the theatre?
Content sounds so dangerous, you know? Like a final resolve in one's career, it's too close to complacent, or self-satisfied and I'll tell you, I'm far from a final anything or complacent about anything. I'm not smug about my accomplishments, I'm still very hungry. But I am very happy in my life - we don't hear that often enough - tremendously excited by all the artistic possibilities that are waiting to be made possible, and extremely fortunate to do something I love doing and earn a modest living while doing it.
Having worked in the mediums of television, film, and theatre, I can tell you that the monetary compensation is wildly different. There is far more money to be made in television and film. Another difference: television and film are mediums where the control of the end product rests in the editing booth without the actors' input; so, the final performance is not within the actors' control. In theatre, the final product is performed live on stage in front of an audience that will give you feedback right here, and right now, so the actor has considerably more control over the final performance.
I've enjoyed working on all three fronts, and have learned a great deal observing the processes of each. I don't think that one has a greater claim to artistic legitimacy over the others; they all incorporate the artistic skills of writing, directing, designing, building, painting, lighting, sewing, and performing. We've all seen good and bad television, films and plays, sometimes some really bad television, films and plays, but also some incredibly masterful works as well.
True. Anything you'd like to add, Tim? And how can readers interested in YSTEP contact you?
It's been a pleasure, Tim! Regarding YSTEP and the upcoming season's directing projects, dare I say "break a leg"?