Transcript: Neil Munro | Mar 26, 1998

(Rhythmic string and wind music plays)

In animation, a word in pink slides by against a gray background as hands paint strokes using paintbrushes, play a piano, and touch as in a ballet performance.

The title of the show reads "Dialogue."

The title of the episode pops up against an image of Richard and his guest sitting in a backyard on a sunny day: "Neil Munro. Actor."

Then, Richard Ouzounian appears facing the screen. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted blond hair. He's wearing rounded glasses, a white suit, and a striped blue shirt.

He says WELCOME TO DIALOGUE,
I'M RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
IN 19th CENTURY AMERICA,
THE MONROE DOCTRINE WAS
AN INVENTIVE WAY OF
LOOKING AT DIPLOMACY.
IN 20th CENTURY CANADA, THE
MUNRO DOCTRINE IS AN INVENTIVE
WAY OF LOOKING AT THEATRE.
YOU'RE ABOUT TO MEET A MAN WHO
IS A WRITER, ACTOR, DIRECTOR,
AND IN EACH OF THESE
DISCIPLINES, WHATEVER HE DOES,
HE DOES WITH A UNIQUE FLAIR.
THIS DIALOGUE IS
WITH NEIL MUNRO.

Neil is in his fifties, with receding brown hair and a stubble. He's wearing a cream coat over a white printed T-shirt.

Richard continues SO NEIL, I GUESS, HOW DOES
IT FEEL TO CONSTANTLY BE
DESCRIBED AS THAT INVENTIVE,
OR CONTROVERSIAL,
OR OUTSPOKEN DIRECTOR?

Neil says I DON'T PAY ANY
ATTENTION TO THAT.

Richard says YOU DON'T?

Neil says NO.

Richard says DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

Neil says I SUPPOSE I AM.
SOMETIMES MORE
THAN OTHER TIMES.
BASICALLY, ALL I EVER TRIED TO
DO, AND THE REASON I GOT INTO
DIRECTING IN THE FIRST PLACE
WAS BECAUSE I WAS KIND OF
BORED BEING IN PLAYS THAT
SOMEHOW, PLAY AFTER PLAY AFTER
PLAY, PRODUCTION AFTER
PRODUCTION, ALL KIND OF FELT
THE SAME, SOUNDED THE SAME,
AND YET THEY WERE ALL WRITTEN
BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE, AND
THEY WERE ALL SAYING
DIFFERENT THINGS.
AND I JUST WANTED TO BREAK
THAT UP A BIT AND MAKE, AS
MUCH AS ONE CAN, EACH SPECIFIC
SHOW ONE DOES A UNIQUE
ADVENTURE, THAT EMPLOYS UNIQUE
MUSCLES, AND A UNIQUE WAY OF
LOOKING AT THINGS, FOR CHANGE,
FOR SPARK, FOR INTEREST SAKE.

Richard says IT'S INTERESTING YOU SAY THAT
BECAUSE A LOT OF THE OTHER
DIRECTORS WHO HAVE TRADEMARKS,
AND PEOPLE KNOW THEM,
YOU CAN KIND OF SPOT
THE SHOWS A MILE AWAY.
BUT EACH ONE OF THE THINGS
I'VE SEEN YOU DO IS VERY
DIFFERENT, EXACTLY, IN
SERVICE OF THE PLAY.
ONE THING IS FLAMBOYANTLY
THEATRICAL, ANOTHER IS VERY
MINUTELY REALISTIC.
SOME THINGS ARE BIG,
SOME THINGS ARE SMALL.
WHERE DO YOU GET
THE IDEAS FROM?

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Neil Munro. Actor."

Neil says FROM THE PLAYS.
YOU READ A PLAY, IT'S
LIKE READING A BOOK.
DEPENDING ON THE KIND OF BOOK
IT IS, IT STRIKES YOU IN
CERTAIN WAYS, IT TOUCHES
CERTAIN PARTS OF YOU.
SOMETIMES IT'S HUGE AND
IT'S LARGE AND IT'S MYTHIC,
AND OTHER TIMES IT'S JUST
LIKE, YOU KNOW, SMALL,
PATHETIC AND KIND OF TRAGIC,
AND DIRTY, YOU KNOW?
I JUST TRY TO, I TRY TO
MATCH MYSELF WITH THE PLAY
AS MUCH AS I CAN.
WHAT IS IT SAYING TO ME?
IT'S A DIALOGUE YOU
HAVE WITH A PLAY.
THERE'S A WONDERFUL DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN PICKING A PLAY OFF THE
SHELF AND JUST READING IT, AND
READING IT AND KNOWING YOU
MAY BE BRINGING A WHOLE
SERIES OF DIFFERENT POINTS OF
VIEW AND ATTENTION AND A WHOLE
VILLAGE CREATIVE PEOPLE TO
KIND OF RESURRECT THIS THING.
SO IT'S A VERY EXCITING
PROCESS JUST TO READ A PLAY
KNOWING THAT YOU MAY
BE WADING INTO IT.
RIGHT.

Richard says YOU SAY YOU HAVE THIS
DIALOGUE WITH THE PLAY.
WHEN THE PLAY STARTS TO SPEAK
TO YOU, HOW DOES IT SPEAK?
DOES IT COME IN TERMS OF
AN ACTOR OR VISUAL IMAGE
OR A SOUND IMAGE?

Neil says IT'S HARD TO SAY.
USUALLY IT'S A SERIES OF
IMAGES OR AN OVERLAYING
EMOTION, OR
UNDERLYING EMOTION.
LIKE FOR
GLASS MENAGERIE
THE
POWER OF THE SADNESS THAT WAS
IN THE PLAY, AND HOW IT WAS
EXPRESSED THROUGH A KIND OF
POETIC OUTLOOK, I THOUGHT
WAS EXTRAORDINARY.
I'D READ IT BEFORE, YEARS
BEFORE, BUT WHEN THE
OPPORTUNITY CAME TO DO IT
AND I READ IT AGAIN, I JUST
SUDDENLY REALIZED WHAT A
BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL SAD
STORY IT IS ABOUT
DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES AND
HAVING TO PART, AND HAVING TO
BE ALONE, AND HAVING TO FIND
OUT THINGS FOR YOURSELF, AND
PUT AWAY WHEN I WAS A CHILD
AND ALL THAT STUFF.
SO EACH PLAY TOUCHES DIFFERENT
ASPECTS OF YOURSELF,
I SUPPOSE.
AND THEN YOU TAKE THAT ASPECT,
AND TRY TO CLEAN IT UP, AND
CUT AROUND IT, AND FOCUS ON
IT, AND THEN MAKE A MOVE ON IT
AND SEE WHERE IT GOES.

Richard says LET'S STICK WITH
GLASS
MENAGERIE
BECAUSE THAT WAS
RECENT, AND A LOT OF OUR
VIEWERS MAY HAVE SEEN IT
BECAUSE IT PLAYED OTTAWA
AND IT PLAYED TORONTO.
SHIRLEY DOUGLAS AND
KIEFER SUTHERLAND.
AND ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS WE
SAW WHEN WE WALKED INTO THE
THEATRE IS IT LOOKED LIKE A
MAGRITTE PAINTING, ALMOST.
THERE WAS FURNITURE
SUSPENDED IN THE AIR.
AND THEN TOM CAME BACK AS
THE NARRATOR TELLING US WHAT
HAPPENED, AND HELPED TO KIND
OF RIGHT IT BACK TO THE PAST.
WHERE DID THAT
COME FROM?

Neil says IT'S ONE OF THE FIRST IMAGES
TALKING ABOUT IMAGES, ONE
OF THE FIRST IMAGES I HAD OF
THE PLAY, WHICH WAS WHAT IS
THIS PLAY ABOUT?
AND IT'S NOT ABOUT REALITY,
IT'S AT THINGS THAT
HAVE HAPPENED.
NOT ABOUT THINGS THAT ARE
HAPPENING, OR ARE GOING TO
HAPPEN, BUT ABOUT THINGS
THAT HAVE ALREADY HAPPENED.
AND WHAT'S FASCINATING, OF
COURSE, IS WILLIAMS WROTE IT
WHEN NOBODY KNEW WHO HE WAS.
NOW WE KNOW WHO HE IS.
NOW WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
AFTER HE LEFT, AND NOW WE KNOW
WHAT HE WAS DOING WHEN HE WAS
GOING OUT AT NIGHT SAYING
I'M GOING TO THE MOVIES.
I DON'T THINK HE WAS
GOING TO THE MOVIES.
SO GIVEN THAT KNOWLEDGE, IT
SEEMED TO ME IT WAS HIS PAST
THAT WAS HIS STRENGTH AND HIS
PROBLEM AT THE SAME TIME.
HIS STRENGTH AND HIS WEAKNESS.
SO THAT TO HAVE TO REVISIT AS
HE WOULD CONSTANTLY HAVE TO
DO, THIS IS THE SENSE YOU
GET IN THE PLAY, ANYWAY, THE
PAINFUL MEMORIES OF HIS OWN...
THE SHATTERING OF HIS OWN
ILLUSIONS, HIS OWN WEAKNESSES
IN TERMS OF HIS INABILITY TO
HELP HIS MOTHER AND HIS SEMI-
YOU KNOW -- I DON'T KNOW.
WHAT DO YOU CALL IT
NOW, INTELLECTUALLY
CHALLENGED SISTER?
IN MY DAY, WE USED TO
CALL THEM RETARDED.

Richard says RIGHT.

Neil says AND SHE'S GOT A
BRACE ON HER FOOT.
AND HIS ABANDONMENT OF THEM,
WHICH IS THE CRUX OF THE PLAY,
IS THAT HE WALKS AWAY FROM
THEM, HE ABANDONS THEM.
AND I THOUGHT, THIS
IS REALLY FASCINATING.
SO HE HAS TO REVISIT THIS
MEMORY OVER AND OVER AND OVER
BECAUSE NO MATTER HOW FAMOUS
HE GETS, OR HOW SUCCESSFUL HE
GETS, THE HAUNTING MEMORY OF
HAVING ABANDONED HIS MOTHER
AND HIS SISTER, WHO WERE
DIRT POOR, FOR WHAT?
FOR HIS WILD EVENINGS?
FOR HIS POETRY?
FOR HIS WRITING, FOR
HIS PLAYS, FOR WHAT?
AND IS IT ULTIMATELY
WORTH IT?
DO WE NOT BELONG TOGETHER
AND SHOULD WE NOT ALL BE
TRAVELLING -- THOSE
KINDS OF IMAGES.
SO TO SUSPEND AND BREAK
APART THE BUILDING THEY WERE
ACTUALLY LIVING IN, WHICH IS
ONLY A BUILDING, A KIND OF
CAVE-LIKE ATMOSPHERE.

Richard says A TENEMENT.

Neil says YEAH, YEAH, A LOW-CLASS
TENEMENT, I THOUGHT WAS A WAY
OF INDICATING TO THE AUDIENCE
THIS IS AN UNNATURAL LOOK AT
HOW PEOPLE LIVE.
IT'S A DARKER LOOK.
IT'S AN ODD BALL CRAZY KIND
OF LOOK BECAUSE IT ALL SITS
INSIDE HIS HEAD.
IT'S NOT A STRAIGHTFORWARD
NARRATIVE.
AND IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST
PLAYS OF ITS TIME, I THINK,
TO BREAK UP THAT KIND OF
ARISTOTELIAN -- YOU DISCOVER
THE CHARACTER
THROUGH THE PLOT.
THERE IS NO
PLOT TO THIS.
THIS IS JUST THIS ONE MAN
WANTING DESPERATELY TO FLY.

Richard says AS YOU'RE SPEAKING, I
UNDERSTAND SOMETHING NOW ABOUT
THE PHYSICAL PRODUCTION, WHICH
IS, YOU KNOW, WHENEVER PEOPLE
HAD TO LEAVE THE PLAY, LEAVE
THE HOUSE, THEY REALLY LEFT.
THEY LEFT THE PRESIDIUM MARCH,
AND THEY WENT DOWN INTO WHAT
WOULD HAVE BEEN
THE ORCHESTRA PIT.
EXCUSE ME.

Neil says AND USUALLY THEY TOOK A
LOT OF LIGHT WITH THEM.

Richard says THAT'S IT.
AND THEY WENT
RIGHT DOWN THERE.
SO IN OTHER WORDS, THE ACT OF
LEAVING IS REALLY THE MOST
CRUCIAL THING, AS YOU SAID.
IT
HAD
TO SHATTER THE PICTURE.

Neil says IT'S WHAT THE
PLAY IS ALL ABOUT.
AND I THINK IT'S ONE OF THE
THINGS WE ALL HAVE IN COMMON
WITH THAT PARTICULAR VISION OF
HOW LIFE GOES IS WE ALL HAVE
TO LEAVE SOONER OR LATER.
WE HAVE TO LEAVE OUR
CHILDHOOD, WE HAVE TO LEAVE
PEOPLE WE CARE FOR, WE
LOVE, WE GET DIVORCED,
WHATEVER ELSE WE DO.
IT'S SOMETHING WE ALL KNOW,
AND WE ALL HAVE IN COMMON IS
THAT ACHE WHEN YOU LOOK BACK
AT SOMETHING, AND YOU ALSO
TEND TO SLIGHTLY ROMANTICIZE
IT, WHICH WILLIAMS DOESN'T.
HE DOESN'T ROMANTICIZE IT.
AND SHOWS IT FOR, AS FAR AS HE
CAN FIGURE OUT, WHAT IT WAS.

Richard says RIGHT.
ONE MORE THING TO ASK YOU
ABOUT
MENAGERIE
BEFORE WE GET
INTO SOME OF YOUR OTHER WORK.
HERE AT THE SHAW FESTIVALS,
AND IN A LOT OF OTHER PLACES,
YOU DEAL WITH COMPANIES,
OR INTEGRAL THINGS.
IN
MENAGERIE, IT WAS A
COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION, AND YOU
HAD A MOVIE STAR, AND HIS
MOTHER WHO IS A BIG TELEVISION
AND STAGE STAR, NOT ONLY DID
YOU HAVE THE DYNAMIC OF TWO
STARS, YOU HAD A MOTHER
AND SON RELATIONSHIP.
YOU'D WORKED WITH THE MUM
BEFORE, BUT HAD YOU WORKED
WITH KIEFER BEFORE?

Neil says NO, I'D KNOWN KIEFER.
I'D KNOWN KIEFER WHEN HE WAS
HANGING AROUND THE NATIONAL
ARTS CENTRE WHEN HE WAS A
TEENAGER BEFORE HE HAD...

Richard says BECAUSE YOU WERE IN THE COMPANY
WITH SHIRLEY DOUGLAS THEN.

Neil says THAT'S RIGHT.
THE JOHN WOOD COMPANY AT THE
NAC, NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE.
AND I WAS DOING A PLAY THERE,
AND HIS MUM WAS IN IT,
WHOSE AFRAID OF
VIRGINIA WOOLF.
IT WAS A POWERFUL,
POWERFUL PLAY.
VERY FIRST PLAY
I EVER DIRECTED.
IN ACTUAL FACT, IT'S THE
PERFECT PLAY FOR A YOUNG
DIRECTOR BECAUSE
IT PLAYS ITSELF.
YOU REALLY CAN'T SCREW IT UP
IF YOU GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE
TO PLAY THE ROLES.
ANYWAY, KIEFER WAS
HANGING AROUND.
I REMEMBER HIM HANGING ABOUT.
AND AS I TALKED TO HIM LATER
WHEN HE SAID HE WANTED TO DO
IT, THAT IT WAS THE FIRST TIME
HE HAD REALIZED IN HIMSELF
THE DESIRE THAT THIS COULD
BE WHAT HE MIGHT WANT TO DO.
SO IT WAS SORT OF, FOR HIM, IT
WAS A KIND OF CYCLICAL THING.
AND FOR ME, IT WAS ONE OF MY
FEW FORAYS INTO -- I WAS GOING
TO SAY PROFESSIONAL THEATRE,
INTO THEATRE THAT ECONOMICALLY
HAS TO PAY BACK.
THAT MUST SURVIVE THAT WAY.
NO GRANTS, NO
GUARANTEES, NO NOTHING.
SO I WAS VERY INTERESTED
IN THE PROCESS OF HOW THAT
HAPPENS, AND HOW
IT'S PUT TOGETHER.
AS IT TURNED OUT, THEY WORKED
JUST LIKE A COUPLE OF PROS.
THERE WAS NO -- YOU REALLY
WOULDN'T HAVE KNOWN, IF YOU'D
BEEN SITTING IN THE ROOM, MOST
OF THE TIME, I THINK THIS IS
TRUE, YOU REALLY WOULDN'T HAVE
KNOWN THEY WERE MOTHER AND SON.
THINGS GOT STICKY IN
REHEARSALS, AND ONE ACTOR GOT
AHEAD OF THE OTHER, AND
THE OTHER HAD TO WAIT.
ALL THOSE THINGS THAT HAPPEN,
AND THAT'S SORT OF WHAT I'M
THERE FOR, TO CALM IT DOWN AND
REFOCUS IT AND KEEP IT MOVING.
BUT YOU REALLY WOULDN'T HAVE
KNOWN THAT THERE WAS SOMETHING
ELSE INVESTED OTHER THAN TWO
PERFORMERS TRYING TO FIND OUT
WHAT THE SCENE WAS ABOUT, AND
TRYING HOW TO GET IT ACROSS.

Richard says HAVING DONE A PRODUCTION LIKE
THAT, NOT TO SAY YOU'D HAVE
TO CHOOSE, BUT WOULD YOU GO
BACK AND DO ANOTHER ONE OF
THOSE COMMERCIAL
PRODUCTIONS AGAIN?

Neil says OH, YOU BET.
IF I COULD GET A PLAY.
IF I COULD GET A
PLAY LIKE THAT.
I DID IT, BASICALLY, I DID
IT BECAUSE OF THE PLAY.
YEAH, ABSOLUTELY.
I DON'T CARE
WHO PAYS FOR IT.
IF IT'S A GOOD PLAY, I'LL
DO IT, YEAH, ABSOLUTELY.

Richard says NOW, LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT TWO
IMAGES I'VE HAD IN MY MIND
AND I'VE ALWAYS WANTED
TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT.
I SAW YOU PLAY HAMLET IN,
AGAIN, A QUOTE, CONTROVERSIAL,
I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS
ANYMORE, A PRODUCTION JOHN
WOOD DID THAT
TOURED THE COUNTRY.
AND I GUESS PEOPLE FOUND IT
CONTROVERSIAL BECAUSE IT
WASN'T PEOPLE WEARING TIGHTS
AND TALKING THROUGH THEIR
NOSE, AND YOU WERE A HAMLET
WHO WAS SUFFERING HUMAN PAIN
AND TORTURE.
BUT WHAT EVERYONE ZEROED IN
ON AT ONE POINT WAS YOU CUT
YOUR TOENAILS.
THEY ALL HAD A
COMMENT ON THAT.
IT WAS A WONDERFUL HAMLET.

Neil says I DIDN'T CUT THEM,
I PICKED THEM.

Richard says PICKED THEM.
OKAY, LET'S BE PRECISE.

Neil says LET'S GET IT
STRAIGHT HERE.

Richard says OKAY, HE PICKED THEM.
HE'S NOT A TOENAIL CUTTER.
BUT THEN YEARS LATER, YOU
DIRECTED ONE OF THE SHOWS THAT
I REMEMBER MOST CLEARLY IN THE
LAST DECADE IN TORONTO WHICH
WAS THEATRE PLUS'
PRODUCTION OF
HAMLET.
AND TOTALLY DIFFERENT AGAIN.
COULD NOT HAVE BEEN A MORE
DIFFERENT PRODUCTION EXCEPT IT
RETHOUGHT
HAMLET
FOR THIS
DECADE THE WAY JOHN
RETHOUGHT IT
FOR HIS DECADE.
DID YOU CARRY THOSE
MEMORIES WITH YOU FROM
ONE TO THE OTHER EVER?

Neil says YEAH, TO A CERTAIN
EXTENT I DID, ABSOLUTELY.
I THINK WHAT WAS WONDERFUL
ABOUT THE SHOW THAT I DID FOR
JOHN, OR JOHN DID FOR ME...
[laughing]
WAS THE FACT WE TRIED TO PUT
IT INTO THE 20th CENTURY.
THAT WE WERE TRYING TO...
DIVEST, THAT'S NOT THE RIGHT
WORD, TO TAKE AWAY FROM THESE
PLAYS THIS AURA THAT BECAUSE
IT RHYMES IT'S PROFOUND.
THIS AURA, THESE
BEAUTIFUL SHAKESPEARE.
I SIT THERE AND I LISTEN TO
SHAKESPEARE, AND I GO, I CAN'T
BE THE ONLY ONE HERE
WHO DOESN'T GET THIS.
I CAN'T BE THE ONLY ONE WHO
CAN'T FOLLOW THIS THROUGH
TO THE END.

Richard says RIGHT.

Neil says WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
AND WHAT JOHN DID BY PUTTING
IT IN THE '30s, AND SETTING IT
JUST BEFORE WORLD WAR II
IS HE GAVE IT AN IMMEDIACY.
SO YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO PARK YOUR
20th CENTURY BRAINS AT THE DOOR.
YOU CAME IN FROM YOUR LIFE,
AND YOU WERE GOING TO FIND
OUT, OR YOU WERE GOING TO
VIEW YOURSELF THROUGH THIS
PLAYWRIGHT, WITH A LITTLE HELP
FROM HIS FRIENDS, TALK TO YOU
ABOUT WHO YOU ARE.
SO WHEN I CAME TO DIRECT IT
MYSELF, I WANTED SOMEHOW TO
CONTINUE THAT PROCESS FOR
MYSELF, TO SEE HOW FAR ONE
COULD ACTUALLY TAKE IT BEFORE
YOU LOSE THE WHOLE POINT OF
DOING
HAMLET.

Richard says NOW, WAS YOUR
HAMLET
IN THE FUTURE?
I OFTEN WANTED TO
KNOW THAT, TOO.

Neil says NO, NO, IT WAS ROOTED
IN THE PRESENT.
IN FACT, MY
HAMLET
WAS
ACTUALLY CALLED
HAMLET'S ROOM
BECAUSE I'D FELT THAT I'D
GONE SO FAR AWAY FROM THE
INTENTIONS OF THE TEXT, OR
WHAT ONE CAN FIGURE OUT THEY
ARE, THAT I NO LONGER
HAD THE RIGHT TO CALL IT
SHAKESPEARE'S
HAMLET, SO
I CALLED IT
HAMLET'S ROOM
BECAUSE I'D TAKEN CERTAIN
SCENES AND ELABORATED THEM
WAY BEYOND THE INTENTIONS OF
THE PLAY, AND OTHER SCENES I
JUST GOT RID OF.
I MUST HAVE CUT ABOUT TWO
HOURS OF SHAKESPEARE, AND
ADDED ABOUT AN HOUR OF ME.

Richard says BUT IN A WAY, THE WAY WHAT YOU
DID WAS NOT THAT MUCH MORE
DRASTIC IN A WAY THAN THE
OLIVIER MOVIE WHICH PEOPLE
GREW UP ON, AND THEY'LL
SUDDENLY GO, WHO ARE
THESE CHARACTERS?
WHO ARE ROSENCRANTZ
AND GUILDENSTERN?
THEY'RE NOT IN
OLIVIER'S MOVIE.
YOU KNOW, THEY WENT BY
THE BY IN THAT VERSION.

Neil says YEAH, WELL, SOMEHOW IT'S OKAY
IF YOU DO IT IN THE MOVIES,
AND IT'S A HIT, AND YOU GET AN
ACADEMY AWARD, YOU'RE OKAY.

Richard says RIGHT.
AND YOU'RE FROM
ENGLAND ANYWAY.

Neil says BUT IF IT'S JUST DOWNTOWN
TORONTO IN THE SUMMER, FORGET IT.

Richard says IT WAS FUNNY.
I REMEMBER AT THE TIME, AS
I SAY, BEING EXCITING AND
ENERGIZED BY THIS PRODUCTION,
AND OTHER PEOPLE WERE GOING,
HOW DARE HE DO THIS?
HOW DARE HE DO THAT?
AND WHAT I LIKED THE BEST WAS
WHAT PISSED A LOT OF PEOPLE
OFF WAS YOU TOOK THE
SOLILOQUIES AND FOUND A WAY
TO DO THEM.
LIKE EACH SPEECH, THERE WAS A
REASON THAT TOM McCAMUS' HAMLET
WAS APPROACHING TO BE OR NOT TO
BE, OR CREATING SOMETHING FOR
THE FIRST TIME.
NOW, WERE THOSE INTERACTIVE,
OR HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

Neil says INTERACTIVE?
WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Richard says DID YOU AND TOM SIT
DOWN TOGETHER AND GO,
HOW CAN WE TACKLE THIS?
OR DID YOU KIND OF
BRING A VISION TO IT?

Neil says IT REALLY GETS HARD TO TELL
AFTER A WHILE BECAUSE...
WHAT I DID DO IS I TOOK
ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE CAST
WHO WERE GOING TO BE IN IT
INDIVIDUALLY, AND I TOOK
THEM ALL OUT OF A DRINK, AND I
SAID, NOW, LOOK, THIS IS NOT
GOING TO BE QUITE
WHAT YOU EXPECT.
IT'S NOT GOING TO
BE SHAKESPEARE.
THERE'S GOING TO BE NUDITY,
THERE'S GOING TO BE VIOLENCE.
I'M GOING TO REWRITE THINGS.
THERE'S GOING TO BE VIDEOS.
SO I WENT THROUGH THE WHOLE
PROCESS OF WHERE I WANTED TO
GO TO MAKE SURE THERE WERE
NO ACTORS FIRST DAY GOING,
I BEG YOUR PARDON?
MY DEAR BOY!
SO THAT WAS COOL.
THEN WHEN WE STARTED TO WORK,
I REMEMBER THERE WAS ONE
TIME, TALK ABOUT TOM, WHERE
EVERYBODY, I THINK, FOR A
COUPLE OF DAYS THOUGHT
I WAS PROBABLY QUITE CRAZY.
AND IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT
STUFF TO ARTICULATE WHY I
WANTED TO DO IT THE
WAY I WANTED TO DO IT.
AND I REMEMBER ONE POINT, I
THINK IT WAS IN ONE OF THE
SOLILOQUIES, ACTUALLY, WHERE
TOM JUST BOUGHT INTO IT.
HE BOUGHT INTO THE CONCEPT,
SOME OF THE OUTRAGEOUS STUFF,
LIKE DOING, OH, THAT THIS TOO,
TOO, SOLID FLESH -- NO, IT'S
NOT THAT ONE, WHAT
IS THE OTHER ONE?
ANYWAY, AND HE DID IT LIKE HE
WAS ON THE JOHNNY CARSON SHOW.

Richard says YEAH.
ROGUE AND PEASANT SLAVE.

Neil says YEAH.
AND SUDDENLY, THE REST OF
THE CAST JUST FOLLOWED HIS
LEAD, AND THEN FROM
THEN ON, WE WERE FREE.
IN FACT, FROM THEN ON, MY
PROCESS WAS PULLING EVERYTHING
BACK, NOT TRYING TO PUSH
EVERYTHING FORWARD, WHICH IS
ABSOLUTELY THE BEST POSITION
A DIRECTOR CAN BE IN BECAUSE
PEOPLE WERE
BRINGING IN THINGS.
I'M GOING, OH, MY GOD,
I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT.
THAT'S FIVE TIMES BETTER THAN
ANYTHING I COULD HAVE IMAGINED.
AND THEN IT WAS A QUESTION
OF PARING IT DOWN.
BECAUSE ONCE YOU BREAK DOWN
ALL OF THE CONSERVATIVE
BARRIERS THAT ARE PRESENT IN
A PIECE, LIKE TIME, SPACE,
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, YOU'RE
REALLY FREE TO DO ABSOLUTELY
ANYTHING YOU WANT.
BUT IT'S A TERRIFYING KIND OF
FREEDOM BECAUSE YOU CAN'T DO
ANYTHING YOU WANT.

Richard says SARTRE SAYS, 'WE ARE CONDEMNED
TO CHOOSE, AND FREE TO CHOOSE
AT THE SAME TIME'.
SO YOU HAVE TO DO THAT.

Neil says SO IT'S A WONDERFUL
PROCESS, BUT IT'S
REALLY QUITE FRIGHTENING.
SAME AS, AFTER I TAKE A LONG
TIME AROUND THE TABLE USUALLY
WITH ACTORS TO MAKE SURE THAT
BY THE TIME WE GET UP ON OUR
FEET WE'RE ALL ON
THE SAME PLANET.
WE ALL KNOW WHAT THE PLAY IS
ABOUT, WHERE WE'RE GOING WITH
IT, AND THERE ALWAYS COMES
THAT POINT WHERE, HOPEFULLY,
SO FAR, WHERE THE CAST, YOU
CAN TELL THEY TRUST YOU.
OKAY, WE'LL GO WITH YOU.
THEN, AS I'M GOING HOME, I'M
GOING, MY GOD, WHAT DO I DO NOW?

Richard says THEY SAID THEY'LL
GO UP EVEREST.

Neil says NOW THEY SAID THEY'LL
DO IT, SO I BETTER MAKE DAMN
SURE I KNOW
WHAT I'M DOING.
SO IT'S A WHOLE -- AND THEN
THE WHOLE PROCESS STARTS
ALL OVER AGAIN.
BUT IT'S FASCINATING.
AND TOM WAS GREAT BECAUSE
HE JUST, HE UNDERSTOOD
INSTINCTIVELY, INTUITIVELY
WHAT WAS GOING ON.
SO THERE WASN'T ANYTHING
I COULD THROW AT HIM.
LIKE PLAY THE FLINTSTONES
ON YOUR SAXOPHONE IN
OPHELIA'S GRAVE.
HE LOOKED AT ME FOR A SECOND,
AND HE'D GO, YEAH, OKAY.

Richard says THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS
THAT HAUNTS ME FROM THAT
PRODUCTION STILL, YEARS
LATER, IS HEARING THE
FLINTSTONE'S THEME.

Neil says IT WAS JUST
TOTALLY BIZARRE.

Richard says YOU FELT OBVIOUSLY THAT
PRODUCTION SUCCEEDED, AND
THERE WERE THOSE OF US OUT
THERE WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS THE
GREATEST THING WE'VE EVER
SEEN, BUT THERE WERE ALWAYS
PEOPLE THROWING ROCKS AT YOU.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN
A CASE LIKE THAT?

Neil says WELL, I GOT LETTERS
THAT WERE UNBELIEVABLE.
YOU ARE AN ABORTION.
I SAT DOWN AT ONE POINT
TO START TO ANSWER IT.
MY WIFE CAME UP, SHE
JUST TOOK THE PAPER AWAY
AND SAID DON'T ANSWER STUFF
LIKE THAT, DON'T BOTHER.

Richard says NO.

Neil says IT GETS PAINFUL.
IT'S NOT EASY TO GET
THAT KIND OF REACTION.
I DON'T KNOW FROM ONE PLAY, I
THINK IT WAS
JEKYLL AND HYDE
WAS ANOTHER
NOTORIOUS THING I DID.
I GOT ONE LETTER FROM ONE
PERSON WHO SAID IT WAS THE
WORST, ABSOLUTELY THE MOST
DISGUSTING PIECE OF RUBBISH
THEY'D EVER SEEN.
THEN I GOT THIS LETTER FROM
THIS OTHER GUY FROM MENSES,
WHO THOUGHT IT HAD BEEN
INCREDIBLY CHALLENGING AND
UNIQUE AND DIFFERENT.
SO WHAT I DID WAS I SENT THEM
EACH EACH OTHER'S LETTER,
AND SAID, YOU KNOW, HAVE
A RASHOMON DAY, FOLKS.
BECAUSE WHAT CAN YOU DO?
IT'S SO STRANGE HOW ONE PERSON
WILL SAY ONE THING, AND
ANOTHER PERSON WILL SAY
ANOTHER, AND EXCUSE ME, WERE
YOU TWO PEOPLE AT THE SAME
EVENT BECAUSE THEY SEE IT SO
COMPLETELY AND
UTTERLY DIFFERENT.

Richard says NOW, IT'S FUNNY, WE'RE TALKING
ABOUT BEING ABLE TO APPROACH
THINGS FROM
DIFFERENT ANGLES.
WE'RE NOW AT THE SHAW
FESTIVAL WHERE YOU ARE
WORKING AS ASSOCIATE
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
WITH CHRISTOPHER
NEWTON, RIGHT?

Neil says RESIDENT DIRECTOR.

Richard says RESIDENT DIRECTOR.
AND YOU GET TO DO AN
ASTONISHING ASSORTMENT OF WORK.
I MEAN, I'VE FOLLOWED YOU HERE
AS YOU FIRST KIND OF WENT
THROUGH SOME OF WHAT WE THINK
ARE THE MUSTY PLAYS IN THE
'30s, YOU KNOW, DOING
COUNSELLOR AT LAW
AND THINGS LIKE THAT.
AND THEN YOU'RE KIND OF THE
RESIDENT GRANVILLE-BARKER
EXPERT AT THE MOMENT.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT.
A PLAYWRIGHT WHO IS
NEVER DONE OUTSIDE OF
STATE-SUBSIDIZED THEATRES IN
ENGLAND, THE SHAW FESTIVAL
HAS FOUND A
HOME IN THIS MAN.
WHY?

Neil says I DON'T KNOW.
IT'S REALLY
QUITE FASCINATING.
I HAD WORKED WITH CHRIS
NEWTON, OH, I DON'T KNOW,
25 YEARS AGO WHEN HE
STARTED THEATRE OF CALGARY.
I WAS THERE AS AN ACTOR.
HE HIRED ME OUT OF STRATFORD.
AND I WORKED WITH HIM A
COUPLE OF YEARS THERE.
THEN WE HAD A FIGHT, AND WE
DIDN'T TALK FOR A LONG TIME.
THEN I WENT OUT TO VANCOUVER
AND DID A PLAY FOR HIM.
THEN WE HAD A FIGHT, AND WE
DIDN'T TALK FOR A LONG TIME.
[laughing]
THEN ABOUT 20 YEARS LATER, OR
WHATEVER, '77, NO, '88 -- '77
WAS WHEN I WAS HERE AS AN
ACTOR, '88 WAS WHEN I CAME AS
A DIRECTOR.
AND HE SAID, I HEAR YOU'RE
DOING A LITTLE DIRECTING,
WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME
AND DIRECT A PLAY FOR US?
AND I THOUGHT, I DON'T KNOW,
SHAW FESTIVAL, THEN HE SENT ME
THIS PLAY, AND IT WAS CALLED,
THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE.
AND IT WAS BY THIS GUY
CALLED GRANVILLE-BARKER.
I READ IT AND
MY JAW DROPPED.
IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST
EXTRAORDINARY FEATS OF WRITING
THAT SEEMED TO ENCOMPASS NOT
ONLY THE MORE SERIOUS TONES OF
EDWARDIAN DRAMA, BUT IT
CHARGED AND BROKE RIGHT
THROUGH INTO THE 20th CENTURY
IN A WAY IT REALLY TOOK
MY BREATH AWAY.
AT ONE POINT IT WAS REMINDING
ME OF BECKETT, ANOTHER POINT
IT WAS REMINDING ME OF PINTER.
AND I THOUGHT, WHO
THE HELL IS THIS GUY?
SO I STARTED TO CHECK OUT HIS
OTHER WORK, AND I REALIZED
HOW OBSCURE HE IS.
SO HE'S A VERY
ECCENTRIC GUY.
THE PLAYS ARE... THEIR
INTENTIONS ARE POETIC.
THE MOTIVATIONS ARE POETIC.
THE REALITY OF THE WORLD
THAT HE WRITES ABOUT IS
ONLY SUPERFICIAL.
WHAT HE'S REALLY TALKING
ABOUT IS THE SPIRITUAL WORLD
BENEATH THE PUBLIC SELF.
THE SECRET LIFE AND
ALL THIS KIND OF STUFF.
BUT HE WAS ALSO A
FABULOUS DIRECTOR.
HE WAS A FABULOUS ACTOR.
HE WAS ONE OF SHAW'S
LEADING ACTORS.
HE PLAYED THE FIRST MAN IN
SUPERMAN, ETC., ETC., BECAME
A MAJOR DIRECTOR IN ENGLAND.
AND, IN ENGLAND, HE'S SORT OF
IN ENGLAND WHAT STANISLAVSKI
IS IN RUSSIAN.
HE'S ONE OF THE FIRST PEOPLE
TO INTRODUCE PSYCHOLOGY
INTO REHEARSAL.
SO GO UP TO THE ACTOR AND SAY,
WHERE HAVE YOU JUST BEEN?
AND SHE'LL SAY, WELL, I
JUST GOT OFF THE TRAIN.
NO, NO, WHERE'S YOUR
CHARACTER JUST BEEN.
NOBODY'D EVER ASKED THESE
QUESTIONS BEFORE, RIGHT?
AND HE STARTED THE REP SYSTEM.
HE FAVOURED THE REP SYSTEM.
FAMOUS FOR THOSE WHO KNOW
VADRENNE-BARKER MANAGEMENT
IN ENGLAND IN THE TEENS.
SO, I MEAN, HE PERMEATES THAT.
HE CREATED SINGLE-HANDEDLY
THIS IDEA OF THE DIRECTOR AS
THE KIND OF MENTOR FOR
THE ENTIRE PRODUCTION.
NOBODY HAD EVER QUITE DONE
THIS IN THAT WAY BEFORE.

Richard says AND THAT'S VERY MUCH THE
WAY YOU FEEL, TOO, RIGHT?

Neil says YEAH.
THAT'S THE SYSTEM
THAT I'VE MOVED INTO.

Richard says RIGHT.

Neil says IF THAT SYSTEM HADN'T BEEN
THERE, I DON'T KNOW IF I WOULD
HAVE HAD THE POWER OR
PERSONALITY OR WHATEVER
TO CREATE IT.
BUT IT ACTUALLY SITS THERE.
AND IT'S BECAUSE OF HIM.
WE'VE INHERITED THAT WITHOUT
EVEN KNOWING WHO HE GOT IT FROM.
THE LIST OF HIS ACHIEVEMENTS
ARE QUITE EXTRAORDINARY,
AND HE LEFT US
SIX VERY ODD PLAYS.
NOW, THEY ARE ANTI-WEST END.
THEY'RE ANTI-COMMERCIALISM.
TALK ABOUT COMMERCIALISM.
AS SHAW WAS, A LOT OF THOSE
GUYS WERE AT THE TURN OF THE
CENTURY, IBSEN, CHEKOV, ALL
OF THAT STUFF BECAUSE THEY
WANTED NEW BLOOD, AND THEY
WANTED FRESH CHALLENGES
IN THE THEATRE.
SO HE MAKES NO -- HE DOES
NOT BEND FOR AN AUDIENCE.
HE WILL NOT KOWTOW
TO AN AUDIENCE.
HE WILL NOT PLAY TO
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR.
HE GOES HIS OWN WAY, AND YOU
SCRAMBLE BEHIND AND FOLLOW
WHAT YOU CAN.
AND SOONER OR LATER, YOU
ACTUALLY DO CLICK IN.
BECAUSE ONE THING HE SAID
WAS THAT NO MATTER HOW PROSAIC
OR DIFFICULT OR COMPLEX
MY PLAYS GET, I'M AN ACTOR,
AND I CANNOT WRITE SOMETHING
THAT CANNOT BE ACTED.
HE'S A TOUGH READ, BARKER, BUT
HE'S EASY -- WELL, NOT EASY,
BUT HE'S ACCESSIBLE.
MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE AS AN
ACTOR WHEN YOU MOVE INTO HIS
WORK, THAN JUST TRYING
TO READ IT OFF THE PAGE.

Richard says WE WERE TALKING EARLIER BEFORE
THE INTERVIEW BEGAN, AND YOU
SAID PEOPLE NOW ARE ACTUALLY
BUYING TICKETS IN ADVANCE
FOR SHAW TO
THESE PLAYS.

Neil says IT'S ACTUALLY
SELLING NOW, YEAH.
AFTER THREE -- THIS WILL BE
OUR, WHAT I CALL THE FOUR AND
A HALF, I WROTE ONE ACT CALLED
ROCOCO, WHICH WAS A FARCE.
THEY LIKED THEIR THEATRE,
YOU KNOW, THE EDWARDIAN.
THEY LIKED IT FOUR
AND A HALF HOURS LONG.

Richard says OH YEAH, YOU HAD TO HAVE
ONE TO BEGIN, ONE TO END,
AND A BIG ONE
IN THE MIDDLE.

Neil says AND HE DASHED THIS THING OFF
ON A WEEKEND BECAUSE THE PLAY
HE WAS DOING, WHICH WAS SOME
KIND OF MANSFIELD THING,
I CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS
NOW, WASN'T LONG ENOUGH, SO HE
DASHED OFF A 35-MINUTE FARCE.
SO THE WORLD THEY COME FROM,
AND THE WORLD -- AND HIS PLAYS
ARE BIG, TOO.
THEY'RE LONG.
I ALWAYS LIKE -- TOO MUCH OF
BARKER IS LIKE FAST SHAKESPEARE.
IT FEELS LIKE IT'S NEVER GONNA
END BECAUSE YOU CAN NEVER
UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.
YOU JUST GET OVERLOADED.
SO YOU TRY TO -- HE DOES NEED
A LITTLE EDITORIAL HELP ALONG
THE WAY GETTING TO
HIS POINTS, FOR US.
BUT IT'S VERY EXCITING BECAUSE
CHRIS HAS ALLOWED ME TO DO
ALL OF THEM,
WHICH IS UNUSUAL.
I'M NOT REALLY QUITE SURE WHY
HE DID THAT, BUT HE DID IT,
AND I'M REALLY
DELIGHTED BY IT.

Richard says COULD IT BE HE'S KIND OF
LOOKING FOR A HOUSE PLAYWRIGHT
AND A HOUSE STYLE
AT THE SAME TIME?
SOMETHING TO MARK THE SHAW
FESTIVAL BESIDES BERNARD SHAW.

Neil says WELL, CERTAINLY THERE'S THAT,
AND ALSO, WE FOUND THAT PEOPLE
RESPOND EASILY IF THERE'S
A GIVEN SLOT, PARDON THE
RUDENESS OF THE EXPRESSION.
THERE IS THE SHAW, THERE IS
THE BARKER, THERE IS THE
FARCE, THE MURDER
MYSTERY, THE MUSICAL.
BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE JUST
LOOKING AT A PAMPHLET,
AND THEY'RE BOOKING FOUR
OR FIVE MONTHS AHEAD.
SO IT ALWAYS HELPS, WHEN IT'S
A SINGLE PIECE THAT JUST SORT
OF SITS ON ITS OWN CUT AWAY
FROM ALL OF THESE IDENTIFIABLE
SLOTS, IT'S MORE
DIFFICULT TO SELL.
IT'S MORE DIFFICULT
TO GET PEOPLE IN.

Richard says IT'S ONE THING IF YOU'RE
LEADING ACTORS THROUGH
GLASS MENAGERIE, OR YOU
RECENTLY DID
THE SEAGULL,
IT'S CHEKOV, AND THEY
COME SAYING, OH, YES,
I KNOW THIS, I KNOW
THIS IS A MASTERPIECE.
I'VE SEEN THIS.
BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A DIFFICULT
NEW PLAY, HOW DO YOU DO IT?
NEW IN THE SENSE NEW TO THEM.

Neil says WELL, YOU JUST START.
I MEAN, ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT
THE BARKER, AND THE BARKER SLOT,
WHICH IS USUALLY THE FOURTH
SHOW IN THE COURTHOUSE.
SO IT USED TO BE
CALLED THE RISK SLOT.
AND IT'S A SLOT WHERE WE
CAN PUT DIFFICULT PLAYS IN,
OR UNUSUAL PLAYS IN.
WE DON'T REHEARSE IT AN AWFUL
LOT, AND WE DON'T PLAY IT
AN AWFUL LOT, SO WE
DON'T LOSE ON IT.
SO IN A SENSE, I LIKE TO THINK
OF IT AS A KIND OF LITTLE
UNDER-THE-TABLE
GIFT TO THE ACTORS.
WE ARE DOING THIS IN THAT
SLOT, YOU WANT TO COME?
YOU INTERESTED?
AND ACTORS ARE BARKER CRAZY.
THEY'RE BARKER CRAZY.

Richard says WHY?

Neil says BECAUSE HE'S DIFFICULT TO DO,
BUT IT'S SUCH A SATISFYING
WORLD TO LIVE IN BECAUSE IT'S
SUCH A COMPLEX WORLD, AND
EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT WE'RE
ALL REALLY QUITE COMPLEX
CREATURES, NO MATTER HOW WE
PRETEND WE'RE SO ORDINARY, AND
NOTHING EVER HAPPENS TO US.
AND YOU LIVE IN THAT WORLD OF
BARKER WHERE THE SPIRITUAL
AND THE EVERYDAY IS AT
CONSTANT ODDS WITH EACH OTHER.
AND ACTORS FIND IT VERY
REWARDING TO LIVE INSIDE
THAT MATERIAL.
IT'S THE KIND OF STUFF THAT
WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG YOU REALLY
WANTED TO GET INTO
THE THEATRE TO DO.
TO DO THE DIFFICULT STUFF.
TO SORT OF STICK IT IN THEIR
NOSE A LITTLE BIT AND SAY
THIS SHOULD BE PART OF OUR
CANNON AS WELL AS ALL THE
OTHER STUFF YOU ALL KNOW, YOU
KNOW, THAT AFTER A WHILE CAN
BE A LITTLE TOO COMFORTABLE
IN PRESENTATION, AND IN
ACCEPTANCE, AND
THAT GIVE AND TAKE.

Richard says BUT CAN YOU THINK OF ANOTHER
PLACE THIS COULD HAPPEN EXCEPT
AT THE SHAW
FESTIVAL RIGHT NOW?

Neil says THE ONLY OTHER PLACE THAT
COULD DO IT WOULD BE
STRATFORD, IF THEY FOUND
SOMEONE OF THAT ILK,
OR OF THAT KIND.
BUT THEY'RE NOT
MANDATE BOUND.
YOU SEE, THEY CAN GO
ANYWHERE THEY WANT.

Richard says YEAH, WE TALK ABOUT THE MANDATE
BECAUSE THE SHAW FESTIVAL IS
BOUND TO DO PLAYS THAT
WERE WRITTEN DURING
BERNARD SHAW'S LIFETIME.

Neil says THAT'S RIGHT.

Richard says NEIL MUNRO, I'M GLAD YOU'RE
HERE, AND THE BEST OF LUCK
ON YOUR JOURNEY WITH BARKER,
AND YOUR JOURNEY WITH
THE SHAW FESTIVAL.

Neil says THANKS VERY MUCH.

Richard says THANK YOU.
FOR
DIALOGUE,
I'M
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
GOOD-BYE FOR NOW.

Music plays as the end slate reads "Dialogue."

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 1997, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Neil Munro