Monday, 16 May 2011

Nancy Baker

Nancy Baker is originally from San Francisco, California.  She is a theatre director and lives in Los Angeles.  She doesn’t own a TV or a microwave.  It’s not so much that she’s an earth avenger, technology just escapes her.  

I caught up with Nancy on Skype.

Nancy Baker
Friday, May 13 2011
Los Angeles 3pm
Bristol 11pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I was approached by a medical organization to have actors put on scenarios. They’ve asked me to put that together and its… all a bit experimental in the corporate world.  Theatrically, I’m looking at places out of a LA, to do this play, sending out proposals and such.  It’s a play I’ve done before so just working on finding space and money.  We’re always looking for money.

What’s the play?

It’s called Dear Mrs Baker, and oddly enough, its about my mom.  About the guys in Vietnam who wrote her letters, there were more than 50 of them.  The play takes their writing and creates this dual world, of this San Francisco house with Vietnam surroundings.

Why were the soldiers writing to your mom?

She is an interesting women.   She’s pretty conservative.  She didn’t like all the protesters and thought that was very disloyal.  She met my dad at a USO dance, so what does that tell you?!   There was a man in 1965 that wrote an Op -Ed piece to the local paper saying,

Soldier: While you guys are protesting, we are dying for the right to protest

My mom was so embarrassed by the protesters that she wrote him a letter saying,

Mom:  Not all of us feel this way. I don’t really have much to offer you.  Here are some cookies.

He shared the cookies.   Those guys sent thank you notes and then it snowballed from there.  She wrote to these guys for five years.  And when they came home, they’d go through San Francisco and my dad would collect them from their base and my mom would throw a big welcome home party.  The Vietnam Memorial Wall’s 30th anniversary is in two years.  Were trying to get the play up in other places, so that it will easily go to DC. 

What would you say is your directing style?

Hmmm…laughing. Outcome specialist.  I was an actor for 30 years and I definitely have an acting/Meisner approach.  I like it to be a very collective process, in a way, but I also believe in steering a ship and have it reach an ultimate, visual conclusion. I don’t tend to be too autocratic but the vision is the vision.   Stubbornly chill.

What is it like being a theatre director in Los Angeles, the land of film and tv?

Lonely.  Its interesting because you’ll be at a theatre event and someone asks what you’ve done, you tell them, and they turn around and say,

Someone: Well darling, you haven’t really don’t anything have you?! 

Nancy:  Hmm.  I thought the Kennedy Center was pretty impressive! 

It’s a funky dynamic of doing theatre in a non- theatre town.  What’s particurlarly frustrating for me is, theatre actors have tread boards, versus on camera where its all very minor, small and intimate.  The camera does so much for you.   That doesn’t play to the 50th row of a theatre where you have to be big, without losing that intimacy.  A lot of actors in LA aren’t theatre trained and have more difficulty with that.

Who or what inspires you?

What, would be fear.  I’m really inspired by people working and struggling and the moment right before they make it.  It makes me want to keep doing it.  It makes me curious to the work being the most important thing. The people who are really still hungry.   I'm inspired by people’s hunger and motivated by fear.  There you go!

What type of theatre are you drawn to?

Original theatre, the classics, fluff, social commentaries. Any art that makes someone think and feel is successful.  As a director, if I’m reading a play and half way through it hasn’t made me care, I move on.

What are the challenging aspects of making theatre during our current economic times?

Theatre is expensive.  The devil is in the details.  Space is expensive, electricity is expensive, printing.  It makes theatre owners less willing to risk and makes theatre companies have to struggle so much more to get stuff made.  There are funds but you have a lot of people competing for those. A lot of film actors try and throw together a show because they want to be seen, an agent wont show up, but they want to say they’ve been in something, because at least they’re working.  That has value.  That's WHY they look for those funds. You have to get creative about how you are going to fund something.

Dream projects?

It would be at the Gate Theatre in Dublin with Anthony Hopkins, Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Day Lewis.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

Every symphony needs a conductor.   Every ship needs someone steering it.  Theatre is ultimately a lovely, visual piece and in order to do that I think you have to step outside and have someone minding the vision.   Actors, if they’re doing their job properly are to close to see, so for me, it’s not possible to do a successful piece without a director.

Thanks Nancy for sharing your thoughts!

"I will say nothing to an actor that cannot be translated into action." Elia Kazan

"The essence of the stage is concentration and penetration. Of the screen action, movement, sweep."  Elia Kazan

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