Monday, May 2, 2011

Stroman on theater flying: "a pain in the ass"

Yesterday afternoon, an open conversation with five-time-Tony winning director/choreographer Susan Stroman turned to the problems Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was having with flying, the term for suspending and moving actors or dancers above the stage or audience. When she attended the show a few months ago, she said, the actor playing the Green Goblin was left hanging about five feet in front of her and unable to move due to a technical malfunction. "We looked at each other," she said and mimed an eloquent shrug - to which the actor also shrugged, as if to say, "Whaddya gonna do?"

  Stephen DiMenna interviews Susan Stroman

I'd seen a marvelous flying sequence in American Idiot and it occured to me that flying isn't much part of Stroman's esthetic (although I haven't seen all her shows, of course) so I asked about it during question period. She responded that there had been a flying sequence in one of her shows, a production of A Christmas Carol, and it was "a pain in the ass." In another show, The Frogs, at Lincoln Center, there was a moment of bungee jumping, she recalled. Then she made some very valid artistic points. For one thing, a bungee jump can only go up and down and that's pretty much it. For another, she feels, the bungee jumping or the flying is rather like the exclamation point on the movement - an end rather than a beginning.      

The conversation at the Snapple Theater Center in New York was one of the Theatre Development Fund"s Drama Dialogues. Delightfully steered by interviewer Stephen DiMenna, a director and teacher in his own right, an audience of about 200 enjoyed Stroman's stories of such hits as The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys, The Music Man, Oklahoma! and my personal favorite, Contact.  

Stroman is one of those people who exudes joy in being a theater creator (look at the photo!) and the audience of savvy New York theatergoers and participants expressed it with her. I particularly loved the little ah's and murmurs of recognition at the mention of a particular show or a story of working with Mel Brooks or John Kander.

Some news tidbits: The Scottsboro Boys, which had an all-too-short life on Broadway, will live regionally, with productions scheduled for the Old Globe in San Diego, ACT in San Francisco and one in Seattle. A cast album is also in the works. There is talk of Contact becoming a film, but Stroman noted that making a film takes one away from the theater for a year and a-half, so film projects are "not something I'm pursuing." (Applause almost broke out when she said that.) Stroman would love to direct a straight play (as opposed to a musical). Hello, producers?  

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