How did you get started in theatre?
My parents were incredibly supportive. My father had been a stage manager on Broadway and had worked on some of the original Gershwin/Fred Astaire musicals. By the time I arrived on the scene, he was on the tail end of his showbiz career. My mother had been a writer and was very politically engaged in her youth. I grew up with all these stories. I first consciously said to myself “I want to be an actor” when I was 10. I grew up mostly in L.A. near the film studios and was in my first play when I was 11. My parents found this wonderful arts camp for me to go to in the summers. From then on, there was nothing else I wanted to do.
How did you transition from acting into other roles such as playwriting and directing?
Very organically. In the ’70s I became very involved with ensemble theatre, which was all about creating original works. From the time we started TJT in 1978, I was a writer. All of our work until very recently was ensemble-created, which means we developed it through improvisation and writing. We were very small, so I did a lot of collaborative writing.
Would you talk a little more about how TJT began?
It was an ongoing desire I had since I was a theatre student at UCLA between 1962 and 1966. In those days, L.A. had virtually no theatre. I started learning about Grotowski, the Living Theatre and the Open Theater and it all just spoke to me. I found a few people to experiment with in the basement of the theatre department. The idea of an ensemble was always there. I found myself being drawn towards the notion of working with materials from the Jewish imagination, as it were. After college, I moved to New York and started developing a project, but I found myself without enough psychic space to write it in New York. So, I moved back to L.A. and worked with Albert Greenberg and Naomi Newman. Somewhere along the way, we realized that we were a company and started talking about doing a second piece.
How do you feel about the closing of TJT?
It’s certainly a loss. I say this without any rancor, but it may in fact be a greater loss for the community than it is for us. For me, this is actually a very exciting time. Right now, I’m focused on my new work. It’s a big project. It will be sad not to have the artistic home that I have had for so long. What cushions that for me is that I feel, in a larger sense, a part of a community that is not geographically bound. I don’t feel alone. My colleagues within the Network of Ensemble Theaters, TBA and TCG are increasingly important to me. And the other side of the loss of TJT is the increased sense of possibility and freedom. You know, I’m less sad about this particular ending/transformation than I am about the state of theatre in our country. It’s never been great, but there were a number of opportunities available to us when we started TJT that have dried up now.
How has your approach to theatre evolved?
There is, in a certain sense, a spiritual dimension of acting that has gotten stronger with time. I don’t identify religiously with any particular organized group, and yet I try as much as I can to live a life that has a strong spiritual dimension. To me, that comes mainly through theatre and anything created, really. That’s how I connect.
If you weren’t involved with theatre, what would you be doing?
I’d be a jazz piano player. I think my biggest and maybe my only real regret in life is that I only took piano lessons for a year when I was very young and never got into it enough to understand it or enjoy it. I play guitar (self-taught), and in the last 10 years I’ve been seriously listening to jazz for the first time. I’d learn piano or bass, but with piano, you can just do so much. I think Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Unfortunately, I did the math, and I think it’s not going to happen for me. Not in this lifetime, anyway—unless they do something major with life extension.