Transcript: Jason Sherman | Jan 03, 1999

(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 Ouzounian walking into a hotel: “Jason Sherman. Playwright.”

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

He says WELCOME TO DIALOGUE.
I'M RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
A LOT OF WORDS HAVE
BEEN USED TO DESCRIBE
THE MAN YOU'RE ABOUT TO MEET:
CONTROVERSIAL, PROVOCATIVE,
OUTRAGEOUS, AND MY
FAVOURITE, BRILLIANT.
HE'S CERTAINLY ONE OF THE
MOST EXCITING PLAYWRIGHTS
WE HAVE IN CANADA TODAY.
THIS
DIALOGUE IS
WITH JASON SHERMAN.

Jason appears on screen. He and Richard sit in a hotel dining room. Jason is in his thirties, clean-shaven, with wavy brown hair. He’s wearing a blue polo shirt and blue jeans.

Richard continues WERE YOUR PARENTS AT ALL
INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY
LEVEL OR AT A
SEMIPROFESSIONAL
LEVEL IN THEATRE?

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Jason Sherman. Playwright."

Jason says ABSOLUTELY.
MY FATHER ACTED QUITE A
BIT WITH A SYNAGOGUE GROUP,
YOU KNOW, COMMUNITY GROUP.
HE DID A LOT OF
ACTING IN ENGLAND.
HE CAME HERE AFTER
THE SECOND WORLD WAR,
AND HE WAS A WONDERFUL ACTOR,
A WONDERFUL COMIC ACTOR.

Richard says DID YOU GO TO SEE HIM?

Jason says OH, YEAH, WELL I WAS
JUST GOING TO SAY,
SO MY FIRST EXPERIENCE
OF THE THEATRE REALLY
IS GOING TO SEE HIM.
I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT
THE PLAYS WERE ABOUT,
THE EARLY ONES, BUT IT
WAS KIND OF A THRILL
TO SEE HIM UP THERE.
AND THEN, YOU GET
DRAWN INTO THAT WORLD.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says AND I WAS WRITING
PLAYS ALL THROUGH
PUBLIC SCHOOL
AND HIGH SCHOOL,
AND I'M SURE THAT IS
DIRECTLY ATTRIBUTABLE
TO BEING GIVEN THAT EARLY LOOK,
AND TAKEN INTO THE THEATRE
AT AN EARLY AGE, AND THE
MYSTERY OF IT AND, ALSO,
GETTING TO BACKSTAGE,
ALL THAT SORT OF THING.
SO MY FATHER CONTINUED
ACTING AT A COMMUNITY LEVEL
RIGHT UP UNTIL - YOU
KNOW, THE LEAH POSLUNS
HAD A SEMIPROFESSIONAL
THEATRE FOR A WHILE
BEFORE IT WENT UNDER.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says AND MY MOTHER WAS ALSO
INVOLVED WITH THAT GROUP.
SHE WAS THE DEN MOTHER
OF ALL DEN MOTHERS.
SHE HAD A LOT OF EXPERIENCE
BEING A DEN MOTHER
HAVING EIGHT BOYS
TO BRING UP.
SO THEY WERE THERE
AND THEY'VE BEEN,
AS YOU CAN IMAGINE,
VERY SUPPORTIVE
OF MY BEING A
PLAYWRIGHT, YOU KNOW.
I NEVER GET THE FEELING
THAT THEY WISH I -

Richard says WHY DON'T YOU GO INTO
A REAL PROFESSION?

Jason says WELL, EXACTLY, YEAH.

Richard says WHY ARE YOU A
DERMATOLOGIST?

Jason says WELL, EXACTLY, YOU KNOW,
AND THEY'VE GOT OTHER SONS
WHO HAVE DONE THOSE THINGS SO
IT'S OKAY FOR ME TO BE ONE.

Richard says WHY WRITING?
IT'S INTERESTING.
DID YOU NEVER WANT TO BE
AN ACTOR OR A DIRECTOR?

Jason says YEAH, I DID WANT
TO BE AN ACTOR,
BUT I HAD THIS TERRIBLE
EXPERIENCE IN HIGH SCHOOL.
I WAS DOING - I WAS - WE
HAD A DOUBLE BILL OF -
AS ONLY HIGH SCHOOLS WOULD DO

Richard says OF WOODY ALLEN'S
GOD
AND
OSCAR WILDE'S
IMPORTANCE
OF BEING EARNEST.

[laughing]

Jason says AND I WAS PLAYING - I
FORGET WHAT CHARACTER I
PLAYED IN
GOD
BUT I ALSO
WAS PLAYING JACK IN
EARNEST
AND I WAS VERY CONCERNED
ABOUT LEARNING MY LINES,
AND I JUST GOT
STAGE FRIGHT.
I REMEMBER IT WAS IN
GOD
THAT - WHICH IS THIS -
I HAVEN'T READ IT
IN A LONG TIME,
BUT IT'S A FARCE ABOUT
IT'S SET IN ATHENS
OR SOMETHING, RIGHT, AND I
COULDN'T REMEMBER MY LINES.
SO I JUST PRETENDED THAT
I SAW A FRIEND OF MINE
IN ATHENS OFFSTAGE, AND I WENT
AND I LOOKED AT MY SCRIPT,
AND I CAME BACK ON AND I
SAID THE LINES AND AS SOON
AS THAT WAS OVER, I
REALIZED THAT THAT WAS IT.

Richard says JOHN NEVILLE ONCE SAID,
IF YOU FORGET YOUR LINE
IN SHAKESPEARE, HE HAS A
LINE FROM
MARLOWE
HE SAYS.
HE JUST TURNS AND SAYS, “IS
IT NOT PASSING BRAVE TO BE
A KING AND RIDE IN TRIUMPH
THROUGH PERSEPOLIS?”
AND WALKS OFF THE STAGE,
LOOKED AT HIS SCRIPT
AND THEN COMES BACK.

[laughing]

Jason says I WASN'T THAT CLEVER.
I WAS A BIT MORE OBVIOUS
ABOUT IT THAN THAT.

Richard says OH, YOU.

Jason says OH, LOOK.
IT'S FRED.
[laughing]
AND SO I CAME BACK
AND THAT WAS IT.
BUT I DIDN'T WANT TO
STOP DOING THEATRE,
SO I STARTED WRITING.
I WAS WRITING ANYWAY.
I WAS WRITING THE GREAT
CANADIAN NOVEL IN GRADE 6.

Richard says OH, OKAY, WHAT
WAS IT LIKE?

Jason says I THINK IT WAS KIND
OF - I WAS READING
A LOT OF ALISTAIR
MACLEAN AT THE TIME,
I THINK IT WAS
A THRILLER.

Richard says OH, OKAY.

Jason says YEAH, AND THEN I WROTE
MY FIRST PLAY, IN FACT,
WAS FOR MY THEATRE
ART - THEY CALLED IT
THEATRE ARTS BACK THEN.
I THINK IT'S DRAMA NOW.
AND SO I WROTE MY FIRST PLAY
FOR THE THEATRE ARTS GROUP
IN, WHAT WAS IT,
GRADE 12 I GUESS.
AND THEN I CAME TO THIS
FORK IN THE ROAD AND I COULD
EITHER KEEP GOING INTO
THEATRE OR I COULD GO
TO WESTERN FOR JOURNALISM,
BECAUSE I WAS ACCEPTED.
AND I DON'T KNOW WHY
I DECIDED NOT TO GO,
SOMETHING ABOUT STICKING
ON FOR GRADE 13.
THIS WAS AROUND THE
TIME THAT ONTARIO
WAS PHASING OUT
GRADE 13.
SO I DECIDED NOT TO GO
OFF AND DO JOURNALISM,
AND STAYED ON AND WROTE
ANOTHER PLAY FOR MY SCHOOL
THAT YEAR, AND THEN WENT ON
TO YORK FOR CREATIVE WRITING.
AND TRIED TO WRITE AS
MANY PLAYS AS I COULD
IN THE FOUR YEARS
THAT I WAS THERE.
THEY ONLY HAD TWO
PLAY-WRITING COURSES,
WHICH IS A BIT
OF A DRAG.

Richard says SO YOU HAD TO DO A
LOT OF IT ON YOUR OWN.

Jason says WELL, I ENDED UP DOING ONE
AS AN INDEPENDENT STUDY,
BECAUSE ALL I WANTED
TO DO WAS WRITE PLAYS.
AND STUDY PLAYS.
ALTHOUGH I THINK
IN RETROSPECT,
THE STUDYING PLAYS PART
WAS MORE HARMFUL THAN GOOD.
IT EXPOSED ME TO A
LOT OF GREAT DRAMA.
A LOT GREAT PLAYS THAT I
PROBABLY MIGHT NOT HAVE READ
OTHERWISE, BUT WHAT IT ALSO
DID ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE
OF THE REGISTER IS
THAT IT TAUGHT ME,
INCORRECTLY I
CAME TO REALIZE,
THAT THE WAY TO WRITE PLAYS
IS THE WAY THAT YOU STUDY THEM.
SO YOU TAKE A PLAY APART,
SAY, I DON'T KNOW,
GHOSTS,
IBSEN'S
GHOSTS, AND YOU
TAKE THIS PLAY APART.
AND YOU SAY, LOOK, IN ACT I,
HE'S GOT THIS IMAGE OF THIS SUN
AND THEN IN ACT V, YOU KNOW
THE SUN IS GOING DOWN.
I.E., THE WAY YOU WRITE A
PLAY IS TO PLOT IT ALL OUT
IN A GRAPH WITH YOUR
IMAGES PLACED JUST SO.
WELL, YOU END UP WITH A
PRETTY LIFELESS PLAY
THAT WAY OR, I THINK,
I STARTED TO.
SOME PEOPLE MIGHT SAY THAT
I STILL WRITE LIFELESS PLAYS,
BECAUSE SOME OF THE
ADJECTIVES YOU DESCRIBED
AT THE BEGINNING WERE
ONLY THE GOOD ONES.
THANK YOU FOR THAT.

Richard says RIGHT, THAT'S ALL RIGHT.

Jason says SO THE THING IS, I
STARTED WRITING - I MEAN,
AT THE TIME I THOUGHT
THEY WERE FANTASTIC.
BUT WHEN I GOT OUT OF
UNIVERSITY AND WENT BACK
AND REREAD A PLAY
CALLED
PAMELA,
WHICH A FRIEND OF MINE
AT YORK WANTED TO DO
PROFESSIONALLY,
I WAS THRILLED,
BUT I WENT BACK AND
READ IT AND I WENT,
OH, GEESH, WHAT IS THIS?
IT HAD BEEN ABOUT
FOUR YEARS, IN FACT,
SINCE I HAD WRITTEN
A PLAY, AND I JUST
DIDN'T RECOGNIZE
IT AT ALL.
IT SEEM LIKE A VERY
STUDENT PLAY.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says AND I THINK CAME ABOUT AS
A RESULT OF SOMEONE WRITING
PLAYS FROM THE OUTSIDE
LOOKING IN AT THE SCENARIO
INSTEAD OF FROM THE INSIDE
AND JUST GOING WHEREVER
YOU NEEDED TO GO AND
THE HELL WITH SYMBOLS.
I MEAN, THAT WILL
COME AND, YOU KNOW,
YOU'LL DO YOUR FINE
TUNING AND ALL THAT,
BUT I THINK TO START WITH
THEMES AND SYMBOLS AND
THIS AND THAT AND THE OTHER,
IS TOTALLY WRONG-HEADED.

Richard says THE FIRST PLAY OF
YOURS I RAN INTO
WAS
LEAGUE OF NATHANS.

Jason says YEAH.

Richard says WAS THAT ONE, TO
YOU, A BREAKTHROUGH PLAY?

Jason says TOTALLY, AND I MEAN, THAT
COMES RIGHT OUT OF THIS
RECOGNITION OF WHAT THOSE
UNIVERSITY COURSES DID.
I MEAN, I HAVE TO
SAY AT THE SAME TIME,
THE COURSES WERE GREAT,
AND I HAD A COUPLE
OF REALLY GREAT
PROFESSORS.
I THINK IN A WAY IT WAS MY
OWN MISTAKE IN ASSUMING
THAT THE STUDY OF PLAYS
SHOULD IN ANY WAY WORK
ITS WAY INTO THE
REHEARSAL ROOM.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says OF COURSE, PART OF THE
PROBLEM AT YORK WAS,
I DIDN'T HAVE A REHEARSAL
ROOM TO GET INTO,
BECAUSE THERE WAS THE WRITING
SECTION, WHICH I WAS IN,
AND THERE WAS THE
THEATRE SECTION.

Richard says SO THEY DIDN'T PUT ON.

Jason says NO, I DIDN'T MEET AN
ACTOR - YEAH, THEY DID,
BUT NOT UNTIL THE
THIRD YEAR.
I DIDN'T MEET AN ACTOR UNTIL
MY THIRD YEAR AT YORK AND,
OF COURSE, THE CLASSIC
QUESTION FROM THE FIRST ACTOR
I MET WAS, WHAT'S
MY INTENTION?
WHY AM I SAYING THIS?
AND I SAID, BECAUSE IT'S
ON THE PAGE, ASSHOLE.

Richard says DO YOU STILL SAY THAT?

[laughter]

Jason says NO, I DON'T.
IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO
LEARN HOW TO SPEAK TO ACTORS
AND UNDERSTAND THEIR PROCESS,
AND IN DOING THAT AND ALSO
IN DOING READINGS AND READING
MY PLAYS ALOUD TO MYSELF,
I THINK IT'S MADE ME
A BETTER PLAYWRIGHT
BECAUSE YOU HAVE
TO DO THE LINES.
BUT AS THE YEARS WENT BY, AND
I STARTED TO GET EXPERIENCE
IN THE REHEARSAL ROOM WITH
ACTORS, WITH THE DIRECTOR,
AND REALLY, YOU KNOW, IT
IS A COLLABORATIVE ART,
AS THEY SAY, YOU START
TO DO THE REWRITING
AND THAT'S THE HARD PART.
AND YOU CAN ONLY DO THE
REWRITING IF YOU - I THINK
IN MY CASE, I COULD
ONLY DO THE REWRITING
ONCE I UNDERSTOOD A LITTLE
BIT ABOUT WHAT IT MEANT
FOR AN ACTOR TO BE ON THE
STAGE AND THE RELATIONSHIP
TO THE AUDIENCE, AND ALSO
TO OTHER ACTORS ON STAGE.

Richard says BUT YOU HEAR
THAT STUFF, NOW,
LIKE YOUR DIALOGUE
NOW AT ITS BEST
GOES BAM, BAM,
BAM, BAM, BAM.

Jason says YEAH.

Richard says I MEAN, YOU CAN'T
POSSIBLY BE TWO PEOPLE
AT ONCE, GOING SO
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
THE HELL WITH YOU.
THE HELL WITH YOU.
THE HELL WITH YOU.
THE HELL WITH YOU.

Jason says YEAH.

Richard says HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Jason says I DON'T KNOW.
IT'S JUST THE
MYSTERIOUS PROCESS.

Richard says YOU HEAR IT INSIDE.

Jason says YEAH, THAT'S IT.
I WRITE IT OUT AND IT
COMES OUT IN A RUSH.
OBVIOUSLY YOU CAN'T SUSTAIN
THAT THROUGH THE WHOLE PLAY.
BUT, YOU KNOW, A SCENE
HERE AND A SCENE THERE,
AND THEN YOU CAN WORK IN
THE SCENES THAT WORK
AT A SLOWER PACE
OR WHATEVER.
BUT I DO READ IT OUT LOUD
TO CHECK IT FOR PACING,
TO MAKE SURE THAT, NOT
ONLY DOES IT SOUND RIGHT,
BUT DOES IT MAKE ANY SENSE?
BECAUSE YOU CAN WRITE REAMS
STRAIGHT FROM YOUR HEAD
INTO THE COMPUTER, AND IT MIGHT
SOUND GREAT, BUT AFTER ALL,
THIS IS AN ART FORM
THAT REQUIRES PEOPLE
TO BE SPEAKING
OUT LOUD.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says AND SO, IT'S A BIT OF
A SHORTCUT FOR ME,
TO READ IT TO
MYSELF, YOU KNOW,
WALK AROUND THE COURTYARD
AT THE TARRAGON WHERE
I'M IN RESIDENCE AND WITH MY
PAPERS CLUTCHED IN MY HAND,
READING THE SCENE OUT LOUD,
AND I'VE OFTEN - YOU KNOW,
I'LL GO THROUGH THREE OR FOUR
DRAFTS OF A SCENE JUST LIKE
THAT BEFORE I EVEN HAND
IT OVER TO AN ACTOR.
SO THAT, AT THAT POINT,
I CAN - YOU KNOW,
AND IF THE ACTOR SAYS,
WHY AM I SAYING THIS?
I CAN TELL HIM.

Richard says THERE IS A FAMOUS PORTRAIT
OF YOU THAT MICHAEL HEALEY
DOES IN HIS LITTLE BOOK
ABOUT BEING AN ACTOR,
ABOUT YOU BEING ULCEROUSLY
EDGY AND YOU HAVING MAJOR
DIGESTIVE TROUBLES GETTING
ALL WORKED UP OVER SHOWS.
IS THAT EXAGGERATION?
WAS IT TRUE OR
IS A TRUE?

Jason says I DON'T KNOW
ABOUT ULCERS.
[laughing]
THE DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS, AFTER
ALL, IT WAS A FICTIONAL -
IT WAS AN ACTOR'S DIARY
WHICH IS FILLED WITH LIES.
SURE, OH, YEAH, I GET
VERY WITH WORKED UP.
I THINK LESS SO, AND I THINK
THE LEAST I'VE BEEN WORKED UP
ABOUT A SHOW WAS
PATIENCE,
THE MOST RECENT ONE.
IN FACT, I WAS SO NOT WORKED
UP THAT MY DIRECTOR
WAS STARTING TO WORRY
A LITTLE BIT.
I THINK, AGAIN, I THINK IT
JUST COMES WITH EXPERIENCE,
BECAUSE SOME OF THE THINGS
I GOT WORKED UP ABOUT -
I MEAN, THE FIRST THING
I GET WORKED UP ABOUT
ALWAYS IS, IS THE DAMN
THING ANY GOOD?

Richard says RIGHT.
DID YOU KNOW
PATIENCE
WAS GOOD?

Jason says I THINK WE HAD AN IDEA
THAT WE HAD SOMETHING
THAT WAS GOING TO REACH OUT
BEYOND THE REHEARSAL ROOM
IN THE SECOND WEEK
OF REHEARSAL.
BECAUSE I ALWAYS
DO MAJOR REWRITES,
AT LEAST IN THE FIRST WEEK,
SOMETIMES WELL INTO
THE SECOND OR THIRD
WEEK OF REHEARSAL,
MUCH TO THE ACTORS'
HORROR, BUT IN THIS CASE,
I PRETTY MUCH STOPPED DOING
MAJOR REWRITES ABOUT HALFWAY
THROUGH THE SECOND WEEK,
WHICH IS EARLY FOR ME.
AND WHAT HAPPENED WAS, I
HAD - YOU SEE
PATIENCE
WAS A RADIO PLAY
TO BEGIN WITH.
AND, WHEN I TOOK TO
THE TARRAGON WAS,
I HAD AN ACT I WHICH
WAS THE RADIO PLAY
WITH MAJOR REVISIONS.
I DIDN'T HAVE AN ACT II,
AND SO MUCH OF MY WORK ON
PATIENCE
FROM BETWEEN THE
TIME THAT IT WAS COMMISSIONED,
OR RATHER PROGRAMMED,
UNTIL THE TIME THAT IT WAS
IN REHEARSAL, WHICH WAS ABOUT A
PERIOD OF A YEAR AND A HALF,
WAS TRYING TO
GET A SECOND ACT.
AND I PROBABLY WENT THROUGH
6 OR 7 OR 10 OR 12 DIFFERENT
SECOND ACTS BEFORE I FINALLY
CAME UP WITH SOMETHING
THAT FELT RIGHT.
I STARTED TO GET
THAT TOWARDS THE END
OF THE FIRST WEEK
OF REHEARSALS.
AND YOU COULD SEE THE ACTORS
WERE A LITTLE NERVOUS,
A LITTLE UNCOMFORTABLE,
WONDERING WHERE THE HELL
THIS WAS GOING.
AND I FINALLY, IN
THE SECOND WEEK,
I BROUGHT IN THE BULK
OF THE SECOND ACT.
I MEAN, THERE WAS THAT MOMENT
IN REHEARSAL WHERE I JUST
SAID TO THE ACTORS
AROUND THE TABLE,
TAKE EVERYTHING IN ACT II
FROM PAGE 11 TO THE END
AND THROW IT ON THE FLOOR
BECAUSE IT'S GARBAGE.
IT'S HISTORY.
IT'S GOING TO BE
RECYCLED.
AND THEY JUST KIND
OF, WHAT YOU MEAN?
AND I SAID, HERE'S
THE REST OF ACT II.
I MEAN THEY KNEW
SOMETHING WAS COMING.
IT WASN'T A TOTAL SURPRISE,
AND THE WONDERFUL THING WAS
THAT AS THEY READ THROUGH
IT, THERE WERE TIMES WHEN
THEY HAD TO RE-ADJUST
THEIR THINKING BECAUSE
THEY THOUGHT THEY KNEW
WHERE THE THING WAS GOING,
AND THEY HAD TO
KIND OF DOUBLE BACK.
JUST BECAUSE IT WOULD'VE
MEANT WAS THAT THERE WERE
SOME NICE SURPRISES FOR THEM,
AND YOU COULD SEE THEM REALLY
KIND OF MOVING FORWARD
INTO THE PIECE INSTEAD
OF WHAT HAPPENS WITH A REWRITE
THAT'S NOT WORKING, WHICH IS,
THERE'S NO - I MEAN, YOU
KNOW WHEN IT'S NOT WORKING.

Richard says YEAH.

Jason says AND THIS WAS WORKING, AND
THERE WAS JUST A WONDERFUL
MOMENT WHERE IT FELT LIKE IT
CAME TOGETHER ON THAT DAY.

Richard says THERE'S A SECTION IN
THAT SECOND ACT I WANTED
TO ASK YOU ABOUT, BECAUSE
IT SEEMED TO BE A MOMENT
YOU'VE BEEN WORKING TOWARDS
IN A LOT OF THE PLAYS.
SUSAN COYNE HAS A BIG SPEECH
WHERE SHE TURNS ON THE LEAD,
YOU KNOW, HER EX-HUSBAND, TO
TELL HIM WHY HE WAS SO AWFUL
TO LIVE WITH, WHY
IT WAS A PAIN.
AND I HARKENED BACK
TO OTHER SPEECHES,
NOT SO MUCH IN
LEAGUE OF
NATHANS
BUT IN
THE RETREAT
AND IN READING
HEBRON
WHERE
A FEMALE CHARACTER TURNS ON A
MALE CHARACTER AND SAYS,
YOU'VE NEVER REALLY BEEN HERE.
YOU'VE BEEN
SOMEWHERE ELSE.
YOU'RE DOING
SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Jason says MM-HMM.

Richard says THAT SEEMED TO BE IN
THE PLAYS ALL THE TIME.
IS THAT IN JASON?
OR IS THAT JUST A THEME THAT
YOUR HEROES KEEP WORKING OUT?

Jason says OH, SURE, IT'S IN ME.
I THINK THE THING THAT
FELT LIKE A BREAKTHROUGH
IN
PATIENCE
ON THAT NOTE WAS
THAT I THINK YOU'RE RIGHT,
IN THE OTHER PLAYS,
IT'S BEEN THERE
BUT MAINLY AS
A LINE OR TWO.

Richard says YES.

Jason says ARE YOU HERE?
WHERE ARE YOU?
OH, YEAH, I'M HERE, AND
THEN OF COURSE WE HAVE
THE INTERIOR, WE'RE CONNECTED
TO THE GUY'S HEAD, INSIDE IT.
BUT HERE, IN
PATIENCE, IT
FELT LIKE THE ONLY WAY THAT I
WAS GOING TO GET THIS GUY
TO WAKE UP AND REALIZE
WHO HE WAS, WAS NOT JUST A
LINE, LIKE, ARE YOU HERE?
ARE YOU?
YEAH, YEAH,
BECAUSE IT'S JUST,
HE'S DONE IT
ALL HIS LIFE.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says BUT FOR THIS WOMAN TO REALLY
GET INSIDE HIM AND MAKE HIM
REALIZE EXACTLY WHAT
KIND OF PERSON HE IS,
SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T LISTEN
AND ALWAYS GETS HIS OWN WAY
AND DOESN'T RECOGNIZE
THAT, THINKS, IN FACT,
THAT HE'S A GOOD LISTENER,
THAT KIND OF THING,
AND SURE, THAT'S IN ME.
I MEAN, I HAVE TROUBLE
BEING IN THE MOMENT OFTEN.

Richard says WHEN YOU WROTE THAT
SPEECH, I'M VERY CURIOUS,
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOUR WIFE
FIRST READ IT OR HEARD IT?

Jason says I DON'T KNOW IF SHE
ACTUALLY HEARD IT
WHEN SHE HEARD IT, IF
YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN?

Richard says YES.

Jason says THAT'S THE THING.
WHEN YOU WRITE PLAYS THAT
ARE THAT PERSONAL,
OBVIOUSLY THE PEOPLE IN
YOUR LIFE ARE GOING TO SEE
THEMSELVES IN IT.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says AND SHE SAW HERSELF IN IT,
AND I THINK IT WAS - WHAT
WAS WONDERFUL ABOUT IT WAS
THAT SHE - I MEAN I THINK
THAT SHE WAS BOTH KIND OF
HORRIFIED AND GRATIFIED
AT THE SAME TIME TO SEE THAT
MOMENT BECAUSE - I MEAN,
HORRIFIED BECAUSE NOBODY
WANTS THEIR LIFE ON STAGE,
AND TERRIFIED - GRATIFIED
BECAUSE IT KIND OF MEANT
I'D HEARD THAT,
YOU KNOW?
NOW, AT THE SAME
TIME, THAT SCENE,
THAT SPEECH IS NOT
MEANT TO BE, NOR IS IT,
KIND OF A VERBATIM -

Richard says NO, BECAUSE IT'S A WHOLE
DIFFERENT SITUATION.

Jason says EXACTLY AND YOU'VE TAKEN
THINGS OUT OF CONTEXT.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says IN THE END, A
PLAY LIKE THAT,
WHICH IS ABOUT A GUY
WHO'S HAD IT ALL AND
THEN LOSES IT, IS GOING
TO - OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ELEMENTS TO
IT AS THERE ARE IN ANY PLAY,
SOME PLAYS ARE JUST MORE
NAKEDLY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL,
BUT YOU DO, YOU
SHAPE THINGS.
BECAUSE IT'S ALL IN
THE SERVICE OF THE PLAY.
SO, YOU KNOW, THAT SPEECH,
WHICH I'VE NEVER HEARD IN
THAT FORUM, IS KIND OF GLOMMED
FROM MANY, MANY, MANY YEARS
OF HEARING SPEECHES
LIKE IT.

Richard says OKAY, AUTOBIOGRAPHY; WHERE
IS AUTOBIOGRAPHY GOING TO
PLAY, IF AT ALL, IN YOUR
NEXT PLAY,
IT'S ALL TRUE,
WHICH IS ABOUT ORSON WELLES
AND JOHN HOUSEMAN
AND MARC BLITZSTEIN'S,
THE CRADLE WILL ROCK?

Jason says WELL, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL
PART - THIS IS ACTUALLY
THE BIT I AM STRUGGLING
WITH RIGHT NOW.
IT'S ABOUT A GUY
NAMED MARC BLITZSTEIN,
WHO WAS A COMPOSER
IN THE - WELL,
HIS HEYDAY WAS
THE '30s AND '40s.
HE WROTE A PLAY CALLED
THE CRADLE WILL ROCK,
OR HE CALLED IT A
PLAY WITH MUSIC,
AND IT WAS VERY MUCH IN THE
MANNER OF THREEPENNY OPERA.
I HAVE STREET SINGERS
UNTRAINED VOICES,
AND IT WAS ABOUT THE
FORMATION OF THE STEEL UNION
AT A TIME WHEN STEEL UNIONS
WERE IN FACT BEING FORMED.
AND IF THE PLAY HAD GONE ON,
WE MIGHT NEVER HAVE -
YOU KNOW, AS - YOU KNOW,
JUST HAD ITS PRODUCTION,
WE MAY NEVER
HAVE HEARD OF IT,
BUT THERE WERE SEVERAL
FACTORS THAT MADE SURE
THAT IT WOULD BECOME PART
OF THEATRICAL HISTORY.
ONE IS THAT ORSON
WELLES DIRECTED IT,
AND JOHN HOUSEMAN
PRODUCED IT,
AND THEY DID SO WITH THEIR
THEATRE CALLED PROJECT 891,
WHICH WAS FUNDED
ENTIRELY - WELL
ALMOST ENTIRELY BY THE
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
UNDER THE WORKS PROGRESS
ADMINISTRATION, WHICH WAS
THIS HUGE MAKE-WORK PROJECT
DURING THE DEPRESSION.
BUT WELLES ALSO WAS
FUNNELING MONEY
INTO IT THROUGH
ALL OF IT.
HE WAS THE VOICE
OF THE SHADOW.
HE DID TONS OF COMMERCIALS,
ALL THAT STUFF.

Richard says ALL THE MONEY HE WAS MAKING
WAS GOING INTO IT, AS WELL.

Jason says ABSOLUTELY, YEAH, HE MADE
MONEY HAND OVER FIST
AND HE SPENT IT AS
SOON AS HE GOT IT.
AND SOME OF IT
WENT INTO HIS ART.
THIS PATTERN REPEATED
ITSELF ALL THROUGH HIS LIFE,
BECAUSE AFTER THE FAILURE
OF MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS,
HE COULDN'T GET A
DIME FROM HOLLYWOOD.
HE DID A COUPLE OF TIMES BUT
THE PATTERN STARTED HERE.
AND WHAT HAPPENED WAS, WHEN
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
FOUND OUT THAT THEY WERE
IN FACT SPONSORING A PLAY
ABOUT THE FORMATION OF A STEEL
UNION WHICH WAS VERY CRITICAL
OF INDUSTRIALISTS AND
THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM,
BECAUSE BLITZSTEIN,
AMONG OTHER THINGS,
WAS A DEDICATED MARXIST,
THEY PULLED THE PLUG.
THEY PUT PADLOCKS ON THE
THEATRE THE DAY
OF ITS FIRST PERFORMANCE.
SO WELLES, BLITZSTEIN, AND
HOUSEMAN SPENT THE NEXT DAY
AND A HALF LOCKED UP IN
THE THEATRE IN THE BASEMENT
LOOKING FOR ANOTHER
THEATRE THAT NIGHT
WHERE THEY COULD
DO THE PLAY.
AND THEY FOUND ONE A
DAY AND HALF LATER.
THE REALLY GREAT PART OF THE
STORY IS THAT THE ACTORS
AND THE MUSICIANS WERE DENIED
PERMISSION TO BE ON STAGE,
SO THIS PRO-UNION PLAY WAS
MAINLY BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES
BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT,
BUT FINALLY BROUGHT
TO THE GROUND BY THE VERY
UNIONS THAT THIS PLAY
WAS SUPPORTING.

Richard says BUT THE LOOPHOLE
WAS, THEY SAID,
WELL THEY CAN'T APPEAR
ON STAGE BUT -

Jason says EXACTLY AND WELLES, OR
WHO KNOWS WHO SAID IT,
BUT EITHER WELLES
OR HOUSEMAN SAID,
THERE'S NO LAW FORBIDDING
YOU AS AMERICAN CITIZENS
FROM BUYING A TICKET TO
THE SHOW AND STANDING UP
IN YOUR SEATS AND
SINGING IF YOU WANT TO.
AND SOME OF THEM DID.
WHEN THE PLAY STARTED,
BLITZSTEIN WAS ALL SET
TO DO IT ON STAGE OF THIS
AWFUL LITTLE THEATRE
THAT THEY FOUND.

Richard says THE VENICE THEATRE.

Jason says THE VENICE, YEAH.

Richard says OLD ITALIAN MOVIE HOUSE
KIND OF THING.

Jason says WELL IT WAS, YEAH, IT
WAS TOTALLY IN DISREPAIR.
IT WAS LIKE BUYING
A USED CAR,
USED ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS
BY LITTLE - ONLY USED
ON WEEKEND BY AN ITALIAN
AMATEUR GROUP.

Richard says RIGHT.

Jason says THERE WAS AN
ITALIAN FLAG.

Richard says AND A PROP OF POMPEII OR
SOMETHING IN THE BACKGROUND.

Jason says YES, THAT'S RIGHT.
THE FLAG WAS TORN DOWN TO
THE CHEERS OF THE THOUSAND
PEOPLE WHO NOW, WERE
JAMMED INTO THE THEATRE.

Richard says THEY HAD ALL WALKED UP FROM
ONE THEATRE TO THE OTHER.

Jason says SOME OF THEM WALKED.
I MEAN, THERE'S KIND OF
A MYTH OF THIS LONG MARCH
WHICH, YOU KNOW, WELLES
PERPETUATED HIMSELF.
BUT REALLY, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE
GOT THERE HOWEVER THEY COULD,
CABS, SUBWAYS, WHATEVER,
HORSE AND BUGGY.
SOME OF THEM FLEW
FOR ALL I KNOW,
BUT THERE WERE
1,000 PEOPLE THERE.

Richard says NOW, JASON, IT'S A GREAT
STORY AND IT'S BEEN AROUND
FOR A WHILE, I MEAN JOHN
HOUSEMAN TOLD IT BRILLIANTLY
IN THE FIRST VOLUME OF HIS
MEMOIRS, RUN THROUGH,
BUT WHAT IS THERE IN IT
THAT MADE YOU WANT TO
TURN IT INTO A PLAY
NOW IN THE LATE 1990s?

Jason says I FOUND IT ALMOST
BY ACCIDENT.
I WAS AT THEATRE BOOKS, IN
FACT, AND THIS YELLOW BOOK
WAS STICKING OUT OF THE SHELF
ALMOST BECKONING ME TO IT.
IT WAS ORSON WELLES' OWN
TREATMENT OF THE STORY
WHICH HE WROTE AS A
SCREENPLAY LATE IN HIS LIFE.
AND I READ THIS THING AND
WHAT WAS AMAZING ABOUT IT
WAS, IT WAS WELLES LOOKING
YOU KNOW, HE WAS,
I DON'T KNOW 60
SOMETHING AT THE END,
AND HE WAS LOOKING BACK AT
HIMSELF AS A 19-YEAR-OLD
BRASH KID WHO HAD THE
WORLD BY THE TAIL.
HE WAS THE GUY IN
NEW YORK.
NEVER MIND, HE HADN'T
GOT TO
WAR OF THE WORLDS,
LET ALONE
CITIZEN KANE.
IN FACT, ABOUT A YEAR AFTER
THE CRADLE WILL ROCK,
HE WAS ON THE COVER OF
TIME, BUT AT THIS TIME,
HE WAS JUST GETTING
HIS REPUTATION.
AND THERE WAS SOMETHING
ABOUT A GUY LOOKING BACK
AT HIS LIFE THAT REALLY KIND OF
SEIZED MY IMAGINATION AND,
ALSO, ALL THE
PARALLELS TO TODAY.
YOU KNOW, THE
ECONOMIC SITUATION.
NOW I HAVE TO SAY THAT I
STARTED WORKING ON THIS
A FEW YEARS AGO BEFORE
ALL THE ROSY PREDICTIONS
OF OUR FUTURE WERE STARTING TO
MAKE HEADLINES AND HOW WE'VE
TURNED THE CORNER, AND THE
AMAZING THING IS THAT '37
IS WHEN THE AMERICANS
STARTED TO SAY,
WE'VE TURNED THE CORNER
ECONOMICALLY.
THEY STILL HAD A FEW YEARS
TO GO OF THE DEPRESSION
AND A WAR TO GET THEM
THROUGH IT, BUT I MEAN,
ALL THE HEADLINES TODAY ARE
SAYING THE SAME YOU KNOW
WE'VE MADE IT THROUGH.
EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE SOME
PEOPLE WHO WONDER
IF THE STOCK MARKET IS
GOING TO CRASH AGAIN.
BUT THAT IS VERY SIMILAR AND
ALSO THE TAX ON THE ARTS.
GOVERNMENT-FUNDED ARTS.
I KNOW IN '37, CONGRESS
WAS USING THE ARTS
AS THE WHIPPING BOY
TO DESTROY THE WPA.
THEY WANTED AN END TO THE
NEW DEAL, JUST AS YOU KNOW,
JESSE HELMS AND HIS FOLLOWERS
WENT AFTER THE ARTS THROUGH
OR WENT AFTER THE NEA.
AND YOU KNOW USED THAT AS
A WAY TO MAKE SOME POINTS
IN CONGRESS AND
THE SENATE.
I MEAN, IN MANY WAYS IT'S THE
SAME STORY BEING RETOLD.
IT'S THE STORY OF, WHERE IS THE
ARTIST'S PLACE IN SOCIETY?
AND SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT
FUND THAT PLACE OR DOES
THE ARTIST HAVE TO MAKE
HIS OWN WAY THROUGH IT?
WE ARE ASK OURSELVES
THOSE QUESTIONS NOW
AS BOTH FEDERALLY AND
PROVINCIALLY THE FUNDS
ARE BEING TAKEN AWAY
FROM ARTS' ORGANIZATIONS
AND FROM INDIVIDUALS.
SO, IT'S A LOT OF THE SAME
QUESTIONS AND I THOUGHT THAT
IT WOULD BE A GOOD WAY FOR ME
TO DEAL WITH THOSE QUESTIONS
BUT, YOU KNOW, THROUGH
THE LENS OF 60 YEARS AGO.
AND I THINK, MORE
SPECIFICALLY, MY PLACE IN IT,
AS I'M STARTING TO REALIZE
AS I'M ON TO THE THIRD
OR FOURTH DRAFT NOW, IS
THROUGH MARC BLITZSTEIN.
BECAUSE HE WAS THE GUY WHO
THIS IS GOING TO SOUND
PRESUMPTUOUS ON MY PART - BUT
HE WANTED TO BE SUCCESSFUL.
HE WANTED TO BE A
COMMERCIAL SUCCESS.
HE WANTED TO BE A SERIOUS
ARTIST WITH A MESSAGE.
HE WANTED TO BE BOTH.
AND HE FOUND OUT
THAT YOU CAN'T BE.
AND THOSE ARE SOME OF THE
SAME QUESTIONS I ASK MYSELF,
YOU KNOW, CAN YOU WRITE
SERIOUS PLAYS AND HAVE A
LARGE AUDIENCE
FOR THOSE PLAYS?

Richard says IT'S ALL TRUE
WAS THE NAME
OF A MOVIE THAT WELLES WAS
SHOOTING DOWN IN SOUTH
AMERICA WHEN THEY TOOK
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
AWAY
FROM HIM AND HACKED IT UP.

Jason says THAT'S RIGHT, YEAH.

Richard says AND THAT WAS
YEARS LATER.
WHAT MADE YOU
PICK THAT TIME?

Jason says WELL, FOR A
NUMBER OF REASONS.
ONE IS BECAUSE THAT IS THE
POINT IN HIS CAREER WHERE
IT KIND OF FELT LIKE IT
WAS OVER; HE STILL HAD,
I DON'T KNOW, 40 YEARS
TO FIND THAT OUT.
BECAUSE HE SPENT THE REST
OF HIS LIFE TRYING TO RAISE
FUNDS FOR MOVIES THAT
NOBODY WANTED TO DO.
BECAUSE HE WAS A GUY
THAT DIDN'T COMPROMISE,
AND I MEAN, HE ALMOST
BANKRUPTED - WELL, HE DID.
HE BANKRUPTED RKO.
SO I MEAN AFTER
THAT, YOU KNOW.
AND WHEN HE ARRIVED IN
HOLLYWOOD HE HAD, AT THAT TIME,
THE FIRST CONTRACT -
IT WAS UNHEARD OF.
IT WAS A BLANK CHEQUE CONTRACT,
DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.
AND WELL, HE GAVE THEM
SOMETHING CALLED
CITIZEN KANE,
BUT AFTER THAT HE - WELL, HE
COULD HAVE GIVEN THEM ANOTHER.
MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
IS
STILL CONSIDERED A CLASSIC,
BUT SUPPOSEDLY HIS CUT IS
EVEN BETTER THAN THE CUT
THEY ENDED UP WITH BECAUSE
IT WAS TAKEN AWAY FROM HIM.
AND IT'S ALMOST AS
IF HE DECIDED THAT
HE DIDN'T WANT
SUCCESS ANYMORE.
I MEAN, HE HAD MANY
DEMONS, THIS MAN,
AND IT'S ALMOST AS
THOUGH HE, YOU KNOW,
HAVING BEEN PURSUED
BY THESE DEMONS,
HE KIND OF GAVE IN TO THEM,
AND WAS TOO AFRAID OF WHAT
THE FUTURE HELD FOR HIM
IF HE STAYED ON THIS PATH.
AND SO HE BASICALLY
GAVE
AMBERSONS
UP AND
IT WAS DURING THE FILMING
OF
IT'S ALL TRUE
THAT THAT
HAPPENED, SO THAT'S A
VERY IMPORTANT MOMENT.
BUT ALSO IN THE PLAY,
WELL IT'S ALL TRUE,
MEANING IN A WAY WHATEVER YOU
TELL PEOPLE, IN THAT MOMENT,
HAVING A DIALOGUE,
IS THE TRUTH.
IT'S KIND OF AN
EMOTIONAL TRUTH.
THE FACTS DON'T REALLY
MATTER IN A SENSE.
IT IS ABOUT PEOPLE.
YOU KNOW, MY PLAYS, THE WORDS
ARE ALWAYS THE WAY PEOPLE
HAVE GAINED POWER
OVER ONE ANOTHER,
AND WHOEVER IS IN THE
DOMINANT POSITION, VIS-A-VIS
THE WORDS, VIS-A-VIS
THE DIALOGUE, RATHER,
THAT'S THE WAY THAT
THEY ACHIEVE POWER.
AND IN THE WORLD OF THIS
PLAY, IT'S ALL ABOUT
WHO HAS THE POWER AT
THE MOMENT - IN THAT
MOMENT, YOU KNOW,
WELLES AND HOUSEMAN,
THEY ARE ALL TRYING TO
BE THE GUY IN CHARGE,
AND THEY ALL HAVE
THEIR DEMONS.
THEY ALL HAVE
THEIR STORIES.
AND IN A SENSE IT
DOESN'T REALLY MATTER
WHAT THOSE STORIES ARE
BECAUSE WE TELL STORIES,
PERSONAL STORIES, FOR
ALL KINDS OF REASONS,
AND AT A CERTAIN POINT, THE
FACTS BECOME IRRELEVANT.
AND YOU KNOW, IN
IT'S ALL TRUE,
EVEN THOUGH IT'S AN
HISTORICAL EVENT,
EVEN THOUGH THERE HAVE BEEN
MANY BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT IT,
ARTICLES, ALL KINDS OF
RESEARCH THAT I DID,
AND EVERYONE HAS THEIR
OWN VERSION OF IT,
HOW IT HAPPENED EXACTLY,
PRECISELY DOESN'T MATTER.

Richard says YOU KNOW, WHEN I FIRST
HEARD YOU WERE WRITING IT,
I SUSPECTED YOU WERE GOING
TO SIDE WITH ORSON WELLES.
YOU TELL ME YOU'RE GOING TO
SIDE WITH MARC BLITZSTEIN.
IT NOW SOUNDS LIKE WE'RE
BOTH RIGHT PROBABLY.

Jason says YEAH, AND DON'T
FORGET HOUSEMAN.

Richard says THAT'S TRUE.

Jason says AND THERE ARE A FEW
OTHER CHARACTERS.
AND THAT'S THE THING.
AND I DON'T
WRITE ONE-MAN SHOWS
FOR THIS VERY REASON.
I ALWAYS IMAGINE THE OTHER
PERSON'S POINT OF VIEW,
WHICH PART OF MY PROBLEM
MAY BE AS A HUMAN BEING.

Richard says THAT'S PART OF YOUR
ATTRACTION AS A PLAYWRIGHT.

Jason says EXACTLY.
IT'S A GREAT HELP AS A
PLAYWRIGHT TO BE ABLE ALWAYS
TO SEE PERFECTLY WELL THE
OTHER SIDE OF THE ARGUMENT
THAT YOU HAVE BOUGHT
EQUALLY, AND SO,
YOU'RE JUST SWITCHING TO THE
OTHER GUY'S POINT OF VIEW.
AND IT MAKES FOR A RATHER
INDECISIVE HUMAN BEING,
BUT IT MAKES FOR
BETTER SCENES.

Richard says AND, JASON, KEEP
WRITING THEM,
KEEP DOING THEM, WE'LL
KEEP WATCHING THEM.

Jason says THANKS.

Richard says BEST OF LUCK.

Jason says THANK YOU.

Richard faces the screen and says
FOR DIALOGUE, I'M
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
GOODBYE FOR NOW.

Music plays as the end slate reads “With special thanks to Le Royal Meridien King Edward Hotel Toronto.”

Dialogue. A production of TVOntario. Copyright 1998, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Jason Sherman