Tuesday, September 01, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 784: Ken Ludwig





Ken Ludwig


Hometown: York, PA

Current Town: Washington, DC

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  My latest play, A Comedy of Tenors, which is a sequel to Lend Me A Tenor, is now in rehearsals for its world premiere, co-produced by the Cleveland Play House and the McCarter Theatre. The first preview is coming up on September 5th, and as I sit in rehearsals I find things to rewrite every day. Meanwhile, most of my time is spent on a new play set in the world of Greek literature. I'm having the best time ever doing research for it. Two weeks ago I spent a full day at Harvard's Hellenic Center. As of today, the play is about half finished.


Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.


A:  When I was a young man, my parents took me to see the Rodgers-Charnin musical Two by Two on Broadway and my mother knew someone in the cast. We went backstage after the show and I met Danny Kaye and I thought, "Okay, this is it. I'm shaking hands with the greatest performer who ever lived. I want to be in the theater for the rest of my life."


Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I would not change very much about the American theater. I marvel and rejoice in the way the country's regional theaters have formed a network that has become, in essence, our National Theater. I work in London a lot and my theater colleagues there frequently ask me if there is a National Theater in New York or Washington or Los Angeles that is equivalent to the National on the South Bank of London. I tell them no, we have something better. We have this huge network of theaters criss-crossing the country that speak to each other and share with each other.


My only suggestion for change would be to encourage more theaters to offer cheap seats to students every day of the year.


As a side note, concerning theater education: I'd like to see high schools, colleges and universities teach courses about the history of comedy from William Shakespeare to Noel Coward. Comedy is a neglected subject and students should understand the beauty of all those gorgeous comedies in our history like She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals and Dandy Dick and The Devil's Disciple. These are masterpieces and they never get their proper due.


Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I think I just named them in answer to the last question. Shakespeare is God, of course. I have studied his plays for the vast majority of my sentient life. When I was a kid, my parents found an old copy of the LP recording of Richard Burton in John Gielgud's Broadway production of Hamlet and they gave it to me for my birthday. I listened to it till the grooves wore thin and I was off and running. I'm now on the Board of Governors at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, which houses the most extensive collection of Shakespeare scholarship in in the world. We not only collect all things Shakespeare, but we spend a tremendous amount of time on education in schools and universities. Soon, to honor the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, we'll be sponsoring a traveling exhibit that takes the First Folio to all 50 states.


After Shakespeare, my theatrical heroes are Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John O'Keeffe, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. On the performing side, I'm a huge fan of David Garrick (I'm writing a play about him), Sir Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.

On the more modern side, I'm an enormous fan of Woody Allen, who came to my opening of my play Twentieth Century on Broadway, and when I met him I almost fainted for joy. Also, I'm a huge admirer of Sir Peter Hall, who created the Royal Shakespeare Company.


Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  All kinds, but especially new ways of seeing the great old traditions. For example, I love Tom Stoppard's On The Razzle because it takes classical comedy and adds a modern linguistic perspective to it. I love to see people rediscovering the comedy of George Bernard Shaw. We tend to focus on his political philosophy, but I think his most startling innovations had to do with his modern perspective on comedy.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Keep your nose to the grindstone and keep trying. Never stop. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. Just keep writing what you believe in. And read, read, read. That's how you learn to write.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Because of my lifelong love of Shakespeare, I recently wrote a book entitled How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare, which is published by Random House. I'm proud to say that a few months ago it won the Falstaff Award as Best Shakespeare Book of the Year. It's available in most bookstores. You can also order it by going to either www.howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com or to my website, www.kenludwig.com and follow the links. The book's website -www.howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com - has one enormously cool feature. Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford and Frances Barber read the 25 passages in the book that I recommend memorizing. They did it as a favor to me, and I'm enormously grateful. It is truly the most beautiful hour of Shakespeare I've ever heard on a recording.



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