Harold Prince, the legendary director of Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Company, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera, talked to American Theatre while in rehearsal for Stephen Sondheim's new musical, Bounce, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
Worry. Lots of worry.
When did you know that you wanted to direct?
At the age of eight, I had dreamed of becoming a playwright and then a director. I had a small stage and lots of tin soldiers and nurses that I bought at the five-and-dime. I listened to opera on Saturday afternoons, and I made up plays, following the music along with my little tin people. It was an escape. It involved a whole life I created for myself that included opening nights and the company of famous playwrights, directors, actors--and some producers.
What's your first theatrical memory?
I saw Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre's modern-dress production of Julius Caesar. I remember the trench coats wandering around the stage; Welles did it to emulate Mussolini's Black Shirts in Italy. Around the same time I saw Kitty Carlisle Hart in White Horse Inn, an operetta on 48th Street. I was maybe 10 or 11. I remember seeing Kitty singing on the balcony of this inn in the Austrian Alps.
When I run into you, you're always about to go to Italy, or you just came from another foreign country.
My favorite pastime, aside from my family and directing, is traveling. I've traveled from the moment I could afford it. I've spent time in the French Alps, near the Black Sea and in the Baltics; I've been to China, Japan, Vietnam and Buenos Aires. I have a long-standing date in Berlin to attend a four-day seminar on my work. I'm told there's a guy there who can't wait to confront me. He thinks musicals should be frivolous, that opera is the province for serious subjects. I'm ready for him.
Is there anyone you're dying to work with?
There's this huge temptation, when you're in my position, to want to work with new young people. After all, when I was new and young, somebody opened the doors for me.
What are you reading?
I tend not to read fiction. I read general nonfiction, and my favorite is history. It feeds what I do big time. I refer to my reading in the course of rehearsing, say, Cabaret or Bounce. What clothes did they wear? What's the architecture? What's the patina?
What's the tackiest thing you own?
I own this really scrappy wallet. I've been gifted with ostrich wallets with elegant pin seals, but this wallet, which makes a wretched Velcro noise every time I open it, seems to be the only thing that will hold my dollar bills and credit cards.
Do you have any phobias?
You bet. Snakes. Lizards. Iguanas scare the shit out of me. If they come on the TV set, I think, "Gee, I hope that does not come into the room."
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you take with you?
My wife, Judy, two children and three grandchildren--that makes a unit. A telephone. You've got to keep up with people you'll never see again. Or you'll call and they can come and get you. Something that produces music, but it's more for my wife than for me--I'd be looking at the sea.
What would we find under your bed?
Not much. I don't use sleeping pills, but I do use Benadryl. I seem to drop them on the floor, at night, when I go to sleep.
What's your greatest indulgence?
My two dogs, Rose and Emily, go everywhere my wife and I go.
What's your ideal dinner party like?
Dinner parties--the very words strike terror in me. I married the right girl, because we don't do dinner parties, and we almost don't go to them. It's not that we're antisocial. I do have to go once in a while to a fundraiser. But we like very informal evenings; we like to go out for dinner. We don't go to opening nights, except mine.
What words do you often use when speaking?
"Swell." I try to single-handedly keep that word in the vocabulary.
What's your idea of spiritual bliss?
The idea of some religious connection is becoming more alluring and more attractive to me. So much religion strikes me as good theatre, but, peculiarly, theatre doesn't impress me as religion.
It isn't theatre if ...
... it excludes its audience. AT
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|Title Annotation:||Twenty Questions|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2003|
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