Patricia Runcie is a director, an actor and playwright. She explores her ambitions from her current home base, Queens NY. She has worked with companies such as Theatre for the New City, The Looking Glass Theatre and LoveCreek Productions. She performs and directs regionally at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, in beautiful New Hampshire. She teaches drama and is co-founder of Regroup Theatre. She is sitting on her couch, looking out from her 6th floor window, at the view of LaGuardia Airport. She can see a tiny sliver of water.
The phone rings.
Thurs, Mar 3 2011
11am NY 4pm UK
What are you working on?
A baby! Laughs Well, artistically what I’m working on is Annie with students. I am preparing for Steel Magnolias this summer at Winnipesaukee Playhouse. But as I am currently gestating, I am not actively directing. Well, with the kids I am and I tell them all the time, I treat them and approach the process with them, the same exact way I do with professionals. Except that I don’t curse, otherwise it’s pretty much the same.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Oooph. Oh my god… Hmmph. I think its ‘keep it simple’. I tend to get kind of overwhelmed and try to go back to what are you basically trying to say? When I go back to that I end up building on things. I think you get all these different opinions and you get lost in the process a little bit. I go back to ‘keep it simple’. Which is actually something my Math teacher told me in high school. I’m finding recently that’s something I go back to a lot. And to honor yourself. That’s something I’d forgotten but in the last two years found again.
Who or what are some of your biggest influences?
Hmmm. Umm…lets see. Well you were a big influence on me. Collaborating with you and Regroup [Theatre] and Dana [Lynn Bennett]. Teachers that I’ve had. Influences for me have never been like a specific person. I love so many people in the theatrical world but I think more of an influence is just the world. People, what I read in the newspaper, what I see on TV and how that elicits something in my body, the reactions I have when I get inspired by something in life. Which is what often makes me want to speak and do that through my theatrical work. Pause. And actors. The people I work with directly, they often are the biggest influence and inspiration to me. Books are more of an intellectual influence but as far as a more visceral influence that I actively use would be people and the world and what I see.
What is a technique that you would employ to assist an actor struggling with character in a production?
Oh! That’s a good question. First I would say it would depend on the nature of their struggle. If they were coming to me for advice or if I was seeing them struggling. You have to approach that differently and I think I would tailor it to the nature of their struggle. I tend to go back to improv. Back to basics, to the character and the world of the play, the circumstances and probably come up with some process oriented improvisational exercise or experience that could try to lift us out of the technical problem we are having. Go back to the basic organic response to who the character is and see if we could work it through that way.
You are also an actor and a writer. Do you feel that is a hindrance or that it gives you an upper hand in directing?
I have a two-part answer. Individually I feel it could be a hindrance because I don’t have one thing that I am specifically focusing on. When I’m writing, I’m like should I be acting or directing? When I’m directing a lot of times I think oh but I want to be acting, so that’s an individual thing. But in the process, I find it very helpful. Especially the acting/directing because I know how to speak to actors, I speak their language. I can understand what their going through, I’m sympathetic to it and I appreciate the vulnerable quality to what their doing. Some people say, oh you should never be an actor and a director, but often we all start as actors and we go into these different fields depending on where our life takes us. As a writer you’re thinking about character, so that of course feeds to when you’re acting and when you’re directing. I often say, if you were acting all the parts, you have to know the motivations of all the characters so you can tell the story and do justice to the playwright. They all feed into to each other. You know, personally and individually, as far as a career to get any where you have to focus, focus, focus and sometimes I feel a little divided. That’s my own personal journey and I have to learn how to compartmentalize.
Do you feel that New York City is theatrically oversaturated?
Yes. And speaking of over saturation…with this blatant taking of our name, by these NYU girls.
Laughing. Oh no.
People end up like we did, young artists, wanting to make their own projects. Which is great if it’s done correctly. What I’m sick of seeing in NY after being here for 10 years, are all of these projects that are unpaid, and badly organized and at the end of the day you’re just like why did I just waste my time, by doing another crazy, oddly written play and badly produced in a tiny little theatre for no money, that isn’t really going to do anything for me? I mean how many little plays can you have on your resume? As an artist its great to keep working but then again, their needs to be a respect brought back to acting and directing and writing in NY. People need to get paid. And that’s hard to do because there isn’t a lot of money. Off-Broadway is all movie stars. It’s just hard to break that feeling... I think there can never be enough theatre, but, there needs to be theatre that respects the artists work and is not just community theatre. Its needs to have a level of professionalism and people need to hold themselves accountable to a level of professionalism. Then the theatre will gain respect by the public as well.
Do you feel that the financial climate we’re in, puts demands on theatres to bring in the big names because that’s how they’re going to sell tickets, which inadvertently shuffles down to effect the artists that are trying to make original work and are not getting the work through?
Yup. It’s the Catch22 of show business. It’s a business and also this incredibly beautiful artistic process. The fact that it goes hand in hand is ironic. It’s a shame because you want to get people in seats and that’s absolutely why producers don’t want to take a risk. On Broadway its like lets remake every movie that’s ever been popular because we know people will come and see it, just because they know that name. No one wants to take a risk on something original. Some producers still are which is great. And the argument is, well we do these silly shows so that we can do other shows that we take risks on. I do believe in that. If I had my own theatre company, sure, Christmas time, I’d be doing the Christmas Carol because that will bring in money for the year. And then I could do original work and plays I want to do. That’s how you keep your business going. But I think especially in NY it’s really hard to break into even just getting paid work. Its almost impossible cause no one is going to take a chance on anything new, and this is speaking as a playwright, director and actor. To take a chance on something new is very risky especially in the financial climate we’ve had. If you’re putting money first of all on an art form, you want to make sure you get a return on it. I think that has definitely impacted what we’re seeing on Broadway and Off Broadway and who were seeing.
Do you consider yourself a struggling artist?
Complete this sentence. In my heart I am…
…a theatre artist.
Well I’d be working on the full-length play I have yet to finish writing. I would love to do Chekhov. To answer that question a) My dream project would be to have my own theatre space, where we could do theatrical workshops, main stage productions, classes, drama therapy. b) A lot of actors say oh I would love to play this part but I’m too old or too young or too fat or a man or a woman or whatever. I would love to have a kind of review where people choose something they would never actually get cast in, but they get to perform. I think that would be very interesting. That’s a project that has been kicking around in my mind, something I would love to do.
Final question. Is the director dead?
I don’t think so. I think the director is absolutely vital. When you collaborate even in a loose sense, there is always someone that comes out with ideas, someone who sees the play as a whole and has a specific vision for it. I even notice with my students, there are some natural directors that come up with ideas and see the whole thing as a picture. And this is going off your last blog, I like that he [S. Godwin] brought up the feeling of being dead and I think that’s something that needs to be addressed. Directors constantly need to re-evaluate how fresh they are. I think directors can get worn down by producers, constraints of money and actors, designers and what not. And to try and keep true to the play, the playwright’s vision, your vision and the people you’re working with, to keep that alive while you’re working on a show from beginning to end, I think, is very difficult and you have to consistently keep refreshing.
Thank you Patty for sharing your thoughts!
We head back to Bristol next week and chat with a BBC television director. Till next Sunday!
“Observe things in daily life — bestow them with imaginary backgrounds to heighten various emotions. Remember those scenes and draw on them.” Konstantin Stanislavsky