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By Gary Wien
Ethan McSweeney is one of the fastest rising directors in theatre. Only in his early thirties, he has already directed both on and Off-Broadway as well as regional productions around the country. His affiliation with George Street Playhouse began during the 2000-2001 season and since 2001 he has been GSP's Associate Director.
McSweeney spoke to me via phone before one of the final rehearsals for A Walk in the Woods, which runs from November 18th to December 14th at George St.
I heard there was a joke going around the cast that you told them you didn't watch the "West Wing" because you had lived it.
Yeah. I did mention that. (laughs) I'm not a big television watcher, but recently - about last year - I started watching a little more of the "West Wing" and I did really like it. But I think originally they were the semi-familiar corridors and, well, I don't suppose a lot of doctors watch ER.
I grew up in Washington and in the political and diplomatic circles of it. Both of my parents had come to Washington during the Johnson administration and stayed. Actually, when I went to college at Columbia University in New York, I originally intended to be a Russian Studies major. I was going to be a Sovietologist and either become a foreign correspondent or join the State Department.
What changed your mind?
In my first semester at Columbia, I actually failed Russian!
That should be a clue...
Well, I think I failed it in part because I was spending a little bit too much time in the rehearsal hall and not enough time in the language lab. So, it was a turning point for me because up until that point I had done some theatre but I hadn't thought about it as something to pursue as a career.
It's funny because we actually knew a lot of Russians. And I was one of the first two Americans to ever go to Young Pioneer camp for an extended stay in 1985. My friend, Elliott, and I went together as ambassadors. We went to a place called ARTEK, which was the premier Young Pioneers camp.
If you took the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, combined them and added a tiny bit of Leninism you'd get the Young Pioneers. I had never really been to camp in America, so I don't have anything to compare it too, but it was 5,000 Young Pioneers organized in 5 different camps on the shore of the Black Sea, outside of Yalta. It was just a remarkable, formidable experience for me and my friend, Elliott.
Sounds like you're perfect to direct a play about politics and the Cold War...
Well, I think I probably do bring some knowledge to the production that very few directors in the American Theatre could possibly bring. And, in that regard, I think I've always felt a connection to the play and even felt a connection the first time I saw it.
Who knows??It could be part of making that transition from thinking about going into government service and thinking about going into the theatre. And seeing that there might be places where those two things might even cross over was really exciting for me.
I remember thinking, "My God, someone's written a play about things I'm interested in and that I know something about." And what is interesting about a lot of Lee Blessing's work is that he writes about things he doesn't have any first hand experience of. And he does so with so much authencity that it's really remarkable.
It's a psychological exploration of what we expect from people who come to sit down at a table and negociate for their countries.
One of the things that really turns me on about the play is the way Lee captures the mind of people who spend this much time thinking about big, strategic, worldwide questions. And there are so many great minds that do this. He captures the spirit of the people who go into public service. It's not the private sector. They sacrifice something in their incomes to get a chance to play in this league. I think there's a whole other group of people who are not elected officials, who are not politicians, and who don't change with each administration who are some of the best and brightest in this entire country.
The play first opened around 1987. In your opinion, how has the play aged?
I pulled the play off my shelf about a year and a half ago - not with an eye to direct it, but because Lee and I had just done a project together and I'd really come to admire him and gotten to know him. I pulled it off my shelf because I was just curious about how this play about a Soviet and an American in nuclear negotiations stood up when there wasn't a Soviet Union. And to my amazement it was much more contemporary than I expected it to be.
What I found in the play and what I hope the audiences will find too is this idea of diplomacy and what we expect from it and how we think it should work. It's the character of the people that we ask to sit down at a table when they hold opposing views and represent governments with opposing views and come to agreement. I think about the new world that we're living in now... If we don't have some really good diplomacy in the next 10-15 years, some really terrible things are going to happen.
Is it different directing a revival?
In essence, it's no different directing a revival than it is directing a new play except that there is a history here now. There is a production history and, in many cases, I have probably seen one of those productions. ?I think it's a challenge to acknowledge that and then get it out of your head so what you're doing is original.
The reason to do a revival is because a play only exists - well, obviously there's a published script you can read - but it only really exists when it's being performed. If you don't revive something it doesn't get the chance to exist again and for us to see what has changed.
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Center Players Presents "The Emperor's New Duds"
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Centenary Stage’s Young Performers Workshop presents 2018 Winter Festival of Shows
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel. Jesus Christ recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified. Performances are Sunday, December 9 at 5:00pm; Saturday, December 15 at 8pm and Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm.
The Shakespeare Theatre Presents "The Winter's Tale"
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run from December 5 to December 30.
American Theater Group Announces Full Cast & Creative For "Tell Them I'm Still Young"
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- American Theater Group has announced the full cast and creative team for its World Premiere production of Tell Them I’m Still Young, a new play by Julia Doolittle, which will run at the South Orange Performing Arts Center from January 24 - February 3, 2019. Joining the previously announced Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets, Men of a Certain Age, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) andMichele Pawk (Hollywood Arms, Hairspray, Mamma Mia) are Janice Amaya (Seen/Unseen) and Seth Clayton (The Madrid).
Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’ from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Broadway’s Mandy Gonzalez LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
Broadway is in the house at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts with a Fearless live concert performance by Broadway star, Mandy Gonzalez!
"The Spitfire Grill" and Caitlin Geisser Return To Their Roots
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Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018
@ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm
@ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm
|Apples In Winter
@ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm
|Kiss Me Kate
@ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm
|Into the Woods
@ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm
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