8.11.07

Interview with the Va-- Director.

The stairs groaned their displeasure as I walked up to the door that would lead me to my very first interview, two plates of home-made chocolate chip peanut butter cookies balancing in my hand. All I could think about was that I knew how it would go: he would listen to my questions, stifle a laugh, and then suggest I come back once I gained a modicum of intelligence.

It was almost enough to make me leave the cookies at the door and high-tail it back down the stairs.

But despite my worries I knocked and waited a moment until the door swung open, revealing Devon Scalisi, veteran actor of Salem State and first-time director. He smiled disarmingly and ushered me in, thanking me again for doing this (and for making cookies).

"This is my first interview," Devon admitted as we took our two-person party into his room. He sprawled out in his computer chair, the very picture of relaxed grace, and I sat stiffly on the edge of his bed, shuffling my questions and toying with the blue bedspread. His fingers tapped out a cigarette from a pack that materialized out of nowhere, deftly igniting the end. Devon took a drag from it and sighed at the rush of nicotine.

"That's good," I laughed, voice quavering. "This is my first interview, too. We can be horrible together!"

He snorted and I added 'suave' to the list of the things in life I've failed at being.

"Okay," I began, taking out my camera to film the entire conversation, and suddenly he sat up straight, all business now, eyes smoldering and mouth pinched into a thin line. "Why 12 Angry Jurors?"

Harmless question. Hopefully I would get an answer just as innocuous.

With a thoughtful noise, he tapped the accumulating ashes from his cigarette into a glass ashtray. "Why 12 Angry Jurors… when I first started to look for a play, I started to think about ensemble, something where no one would be hogging the spotlight. It was important to me to have everyone on the same page. When you have leads, for example: they have their bows at the end, and if you have something like A Doll's House, Nora and Torvald will undoubtedly take the last bow. As they should, for they're the two characters that move the story along. I didn't want to have [in 12 Angry Jurors] main characters that the story revolves around. Sure, there are characters that speak more than others in the show, but you need the 12 to move the story along. I wanted an ensemble piece where the characters would be on stage together, growing together, with no separation."

He trailed off and then smiled, satisfied, while I sat there gaping like a fool, wondering how I would ever edit something that in-depth, how I would be able to take anything out of an answer like that and still leave it whole.

"Cool," tumbled inadequately from my lips and I inwardly groaned. He must have thought I was the most life-challenged person to ever walk the earth. I drew in a shaky breath. "I, um, sorry." I glanced back down at the sheet of paper, at the second question which was horribly cliché. My career in journalism was looking dismal. And then I remembered that I wasn't a journalist.

I lifted my head and met his eye. He'd been acting all his life; I could act for the next half hour and make him believe I was Confidence incarnate. "You're an actor first, having performed in a great many plays (including William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Edward Albee's Zoo Story, John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, and Samuel Beckett's Endgame), so when was it that you first started acting? What was your first actual performance?"

A grin lit Devon's face, and I relaxed. He was going to play along. " I first started acting -- my first actual play performance -- my senior year of high school. I had a teacher who, with the drama department, was putting on a musical, and I wasn't a musical guy, I still have problems with them but have learned to embrace them more now." He laughed and shrugged, tapping the ashes off his cigarette, quickly burning to the filter. "So, I didn't participate and my teacher wanted to know why. I told him I didn't have any interest. He asked me what I would like to do, and I said I'd like to perform gritty, little one-acts, grittier theater, because I had done some class work for Equus at the time and it really enticed me.

"So we turned a classroom into a make-shift, small little black box theater, and we would perform these one-acts for an audience who could fit into this classroom. I did three of them my senior year, one or two or three-person shows, and I loved it. That was my first real taste of theater."

His answers were so fluid, so natural, that I felt I was watching a really good movie, where it feels like no time at all passes. I was so enraptured with his words, absorbing them, that it took me a moment to realize he had finished and was now looking expectantly at me for the next question.

"When did you decide you were ready to direct?"

He chuckled. "Oh, wow… hm. That's a good question." I glowed under the praise. "I'd taken a directing class a year and a half ago, but because of my schedule I had to drop it, I had too much going on. Then I re-took it last year, but I mean… I knew I wanted to try it eventually. I like to think I have an organized mind, a grander scheme of a conceptual vision, but I would never actually label myself as a potential director. I've always been an actor-in-training. After being here so long, I felt I'd come to a point -- in my Super Senior Year," he broke off to grin, "and decided that in the setting of a student theater ensemble production (shows put on and acted by students) it would be the time to start directing."

It was time to reveal a secret no journalist would ever admit to: "So, I don't know all that much about the play" -- ouch -- "but I know that there's this idea of a mandatory death sentence, which couldn't be instilled in the current justice system. In what kind of world does the play take place?"

His answer was immediate. "1975. Catherine Bertrand (the artistic director) and I were deciding on a time for the play to take place, and we decided upon 1975 after some research. It was the year of Taylor vs. Louisiana, a case in which -- in the end -- his verdict shouldn't have been. It was also a time in which women didn't serve on a jury panel… actually, 1975 was the last year that this rule was present. Louisiana was the last state to get rid of it.

"1975 was a violent era. The social norm was changing; it was a post-hippie world, Vietnam was ending, Nixon resigned… people were turning to sex, drugs, disco as modes of escape while the reality was that things were extremely tense. Angry. It was an era of hostility. The Taylor vs. Louisiana case just added to it: a panel of white men deciding the fate of a minority."

Almost finished. "The play was originally titled "12 Angry Men", but there are women cast in some of the roles. What were your intentions behind this?"

A bright smile curled his lips. "Sherman Sergel wrote a version titled 12 Angry Women, but the dialog was softened. Women are normally written to be more sensitive -- I don't like that, and I didn't like that version, so I used the script from 12 Angry Men. I wanted the women to have language tendencies of men."

I grinned, his happiness infectious. "Do you plan on directing anything in the future?"

"Yes! In fact, the theater group I helped co-found, Counter-Productions Theater Company, is putting on a production of Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet at the Factory Theater in South Boston. It's another grittier play, another depiction of the raw side of the human equation. The violent deconstruction of man, and the greed of man."

Trying to think of a good segue-way into my last question failed, so I asked outright, staring at this man, a chameleon, a creator, a voice that spoke above most others. "Any advice for all the aspiring directors out there?"

"Know why you want to do a show. "Because I like it" doesn't cut it. Have a reason, know how you want to affect an audience. Theater exists for the audience, not for the glory of a director. Find honesty in the piece. You have to love a show to illustrate what it can do for everyone else."


12 Angry Jurors is playing at the Callan Studio Theater November 8th, 9th, 10th at 8pm and the 11th at 2pm.

1 comments:

Vianegativa said...

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