Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Spotlight On...Vivian Neuwirth

Name: Vivian Neuwirth

Hometown: New Orleans, LA

Education: St. Mary’s Dominican College, New Orleans, The Juilliard School Drama Department.

Favorite Credits: NOLA Three Plays About Home, at TheatreLab. This is a trilogy that takes place before, during and after Katrina. It’s explores the meaning of home through the stories of the ones who stayed, the ones who left, the ones who couldn’t make it back, who made it back and the ones who didn’t make it at all. “NOLA, Three Plays About Home”, my New Orleans trilogy that takes place before, during and after Katrina, co- produced by Lagniappe Productions & Manhattan Theatre Source in 2013 at TheatreLab.  As an actress my favorite credit is “Marvin’s Room” at the Kennedy Center.

Why theater?: Not much theater came to New Orleans when I was growing up. But there was a theater company called “Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre” in the French Quarter. I started taking acting classes there on Saturdays when I was very young.  I remember when I first sat down in the theater for my first class I felt like I was home. I was a weird kid, a bit of a bookworm, and didn’t really fit in but I felt like I fit in there. That happens to me now. Whenever I enter a theatre I feel that I’m home.  Anything can happen in the theatre.  It happens in the moment. The most beautiful production can often be one that isn’t perfect but where the performers reveal the human condition. The audience responds to the performer’s humanity and can be touched in ways they didn't expect. A transformation can occur which is shared by performer and audience directly. There's no editing, re-mastering or re-takes, which makes theatre a little dangerous and exciting. The production has a life span, which also mirrors the human condition. It's brought to life for a certain amount of time, which is limited, and then is gone. The experience can be very personal to an audience member who feels that they have been witness to an event in time that is unique. So memories are created which are passed on by storytelling about the experience and can become legends.

Tell us about Mr. Toole: In Mr. Toole, the story of John Kennedy Toole, who wrote “A Confederacy of Dunces” is told from the point of view of a woman who was his student at St Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans.  She’s haunted by his memory and goes back in time to solve the mystery of his death and what she could have done to stop it.

What inspired you to write Mr. Toole?: I was the student and he was my teacher. I went to Dominican College for a year before I was accepted into Juilliard.  After I got to New York my mother called to tell me that he committed suicide. That had a profound impact on my life and still does.  I didn’t know he had written a novel and I didn’t know why he committed suicide.  I felt that I had missed something. There’s an underlying theme in the play of missed relationships. Missed opportunities. The play is a discovery for me and hopefully for the audience. It’s also a love story. Imaginary, of course! It’s my way of repaying my debt of gratitude to Mr. Toole and honoring him.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Passionate theatre. I am inspired by any kind of theatre where the writing is compelling and the performers are committed and fearless. I’m especially inspired when I’m moved by the performances in some way and where there is passion. Where the character is in a heightened state of awareness and my awareness becomes heightened as a result. I have the honor to have a wonderful director, Cat Parker, and brilliant actors in my play who are very committed and passionate.  Laura Butler, Brenda Currin, Todd d’Amour, John Ingle, Lou Liberatore and Richard Vernon are creating a world that I wrote but bringing it to a new level in ways I never expected. I feel so much gratitude. The artist who has had the most influence on me as a writer is Tennessee Williams. When I was a teenager I babysat for a family who had all his plays on a bookshelf. The mom knew I was taking acting classes in the Quarter and suggested that I read them, which I did. I knew my mom wouldn’t like it because they had sex in them so I kept it a secret but every time I babysat I would read another play. I read them all.  I don’t remember the child I babysat for but I remember sitting in a sun filled room feeling free and filled with wonder.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Greg Mosher. We went to Juilliard together and he did some directing then, although he was an acting student. He directed The Wild Duck as a workshop production and I thought it was stunning. It was truly the best theatre I’d ever seen. I’ll never forget it.  I also saw his production of A View From the Bridge on Broadway which was powerful and, yes, passionate.. I would love for him to direct of on my plays!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Recently I became obsessed with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Great Cycle of Kings at BAM. I saw them all. Henry IV, Parts I and II, Henry V and my favorite, Richard II. I loved David Tennant so much as Richard that I went back and saw it again even though it was completely sold out and there was a line around the block for cancellations. I got the last ticket for the last performance. The fight for tickets was very passionate. People were in tears when they were told to leave the lobby.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Mary Louise Parker or Marisa Tomei. I love both their work and identify with them both. I don’t have a title yet but the working title could be “From the Big Easy to the Big Apple! Who dat?”  I was in New York during 9/11 and saw the towers fall from my window in my apartment in the West Village. Actually I saw more than that. There are images I wish I didn’t have in my memory but they won’t go away. I lost my family home in New Orleans during Katrina. I have my story with Mr. Toole. I think there’s enough material there for a movie!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Staying in bed all day reading a novel. Once I start I can’t stop until I finish it. Until now.  My play is in rehearsal so I haven’t been able to finish “Someone” by Alice McDermott. But my husband, Eddie, is reading “A Farewell to Arms” and reads a chapter out loud to me before we go to bed. I find reading great literature helps me as a playwright.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Streetcar Names Desire with Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A novelist? Or a journalist.

What’s up next: Hopefully, a longer run of Mr. Toole! In two acts. Also, I’ve been thinking about writing a play about Louis Moreau Gottchalk, a 19th century composer and pianist from New Orleans. Also I want to adapt the stories of Kate Chopin, a 19th century novelist, also from New Orleans, for the stage.