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Interview with Juliana Francis, Tom Pearl, and Tony Torn

I spoke with Juliana, Tom, and Tony on 16 December 1998 in a restaurant in the East Village.

mufson: I think each of you started working with Abdoh at about the same time, right? With either Father Was a Peculiar Man or…

torn: Yeah. I just started working about two years earlier.

pearl: [inaudible][0.21]

torn: Yeah.

mufson: So what was your first show?

torn: My first show was Peep Show.

mufson: Peep Show. Oh, right. I haven’t got a video of that.

pearl: Yeah. I don’t know if it exists on video. I’m not sure.

mufson: I don’t think it does.

torn: Although, a lot of video was done for it, but—

mufson: Yeah.

torn:—[inaudible][0.37] that’s on the show itself.

mufson: And what year was that?

pearl: ’88.

mufson: ’88. That was the collaboration with Mira-Lani.

torn: Yeah.

mufson: And you were?

pearl: In Father. Yeah, Father Was a Peculiar Man.

mufson: And that was your first show also?

francis: Yeah. That’s right.

mufson: I don’t know what the deal was with Peep Show so much. Father Was a Peculiar Man seemed like it started a trend, as if it were more similar to the shows that came after it than before it. It was more frenetic and put more physical demands on the actors. And I’m wondering what your first impressions of Abdoh were in that performance. What prepared you for it and what made you willing to engage in that rigor.

pearl: We started rehearsing in a loft that maybe [inaudible][1.42] used, or somebody on Grand Street or wherever the hell it was over [inaudible][1.46], somewhere over there. Around Broadway. It started in a very improvisational way. You had a sense of who the principals were, but the rest of it is just this gangly ensemble. These exercised were getting structured up for the… just for the purposes of doing this warm-up rehearsal period. And there just seemed to be an openness of trying things and just these very broad ranging types of exercises. From walking out on the street and interviewing someone, then bringing that back for…

francis: Oh, I forgot that.

pearl: Yeah. Or… I don’t remember any other specific ones, but that definitely set the tone for what was going to come down the line.

francis: It was two solid weeks of that, too. Which was unusual. I remember being stunned that we had… And it didn’t seem to have any apparent relation to the play. There was no script and we were just jamming, basically.

pearl: We’d get little snips of text and we’d have to pair off with somebody and try and create… I remember having to do that. I hated doing… It was like “Oh, it’s going to be shitty.” And [Tony] came in later.

torn: I was late.

pearl: I remember you coming in [inaudible][3.22] like “Oh, this guy Tony is coming in.” You came right around your birthday. You were having a big party.

torn: And then you guys had already moved from Grand Street to the meat market district. As an interesting sideline for this, while these guys were gearing up to do rehearsal, I was in LA, involved in a workshop with Mira-Lani [Oglesby]. And I remember at this point, she was—

mufson: For the show?

torn: No. This is a separate thing she used to do at Los Angeles Theater Center where she had a thing called “The Playwright’s Lab.” And we used to get together and we used to do very loose work, writing plays and putting them up very, very fast. [inaudible][3.58] five hundred plots where the audience could pick one of five hundred plots from a little book and call out the numbers and we’d have ten minutes to write and rehearse and then present a play based on this plot. Anyway, it was a lot of fun. It’s the stuff Mira-Lani used to do. But as [the Playwright’s Lab] started, in her criticisms to people, she started lecturing the author saying, “You have to realize that directors will care nothing about your script. You have to completely let go because you will never have a say in what’s being done.” It became [inaudible][4.40] saw that there is something…there’s something a little behind it. Some frustration was brewing there.

mufson: Right.

torn: Because a lot of the work was done before she came…after I did. So she didn’t see a lot of his early work [on Father].

torn: Mira-Lani and Reza were very, very close collaborators. For a long time. And she wrote huge sections of the text of Father. But by the time she arrived, a lot had been changed. They didn’t work as closely on the initial rehearsal. In fact, not at all. On Father. So I think that was different.

mufson: That was the last thing they worked on together.

torn: Yeah. They were working on Bogeyman together. The piece “Bogeyman.” That was the piece that she initially was supposed to write with Reza. But that was a year earlier. Father was her last real collaboration on text. Anyway, I showed up and everybody was already running around doing all the stuff.

mufson: Now you just auditioned for Reza [inaudible][6.23], right?

francis: I had done a show for En Garde Arts that Tom had also worked on. We were both in [Mac Wellman’s] Crowbar. And I guess [inaudible][6.31] knew that we worked hard for not much money [inaudible][6.34], so she called us in.

mufson: What was Crowbar?

francis: Crowbar was a piece in the Victory Theater before it was restored and turned into a children’s theater.

mufson: Who directed it?

francis: Richard Calaban. It [inaudible][6.48] specific to the victor. It was neat. The audience was on the stage and the action took place in a house. It was a great space and everything. That was the piece right before Father. So that’s how we got called in.

mufson: But neither of you had seen any of Reza’s LA work.

francis: No.

torn: No clue. I was really relieved that they had some material on him when I sat down. So I could get an idea. Because I literally had no clue who the guy was.

francis: Yeah. They brought him in to see a performance of Crowbar and he looked really grumpy. I remember that he was sitting in the front row with his arms folded up and his legs stuck out. And we had to step over his feet as we walked close to the audience. And we thought, “Oh, that’s the director of the next play.”

torn: I remember I was living in Brooklyn at the time and I remember just getting out of Crowbar for a while and calling Lani out of the blue. And I was like “So what’s going on?” You know. I was just kind of… She was like “Oh, well there’s nothing really happening. I mean this one guy, we just finished casting a show.” And I was like “Oh, really.” She was like “Well I’m just finishing today. Another couple of hours for this afternoon, if you want to come in.” And lo and behold, it’s Reza. I just slipped in under the wire there. It was really funny.

mufson: That’s amazing.

francis: He became Christ.

torn: Right. Right.

francis: Green Christ.

torn: Green Christ.

torn: But that material before the audition helped because it gave me a sense of what it was. As I remember Reza saying in rehearsal, “It’s not Arthur Miller you know.” [inaudible][8.12] gave you a clue into that.

francis: He didn’t really audition us either. He just interviewed me.

torn: Just talked to me. Yeah.

mufson: Dar A Luz formed pretty soon after that, didn’t it?

francis: In early ’91 I think.

torn: I would say that it was happening after Hip-Hop in a sense.

mufson: Where did the impetus for it come? Did a bunch of you click around that time? Did it start to become clear that some of you were core members or collaborators?

torn: The one perspective I think I can bring on this is the fact that when I worked with Reza on Peep Show¾that’s a key piece, in a way, because he was in transition with the company of people he worked with. He had a very close company of people in LA that he worked with for a long time. With Peep Show, he was beginning to want to broaden his horizons. And the piece that really was a huge change was Minamata. Minamata was the first time he really experimented with that extraordinary physicality. I mean there was three hours of incredibly complex dance moves. It was the first time I remember thinking “My god, he’s gone absolutely wild over this new physical style.” In a sense, Father was more like his older pieces. There were lots of dances in it, but it was…longer. It was another really long piece. More tableau stuff. It was more in the style of his old stuff, I thought. But I think he got so turned on by working with a lot of younger actors who are hungry and weren’t dealing with trying to lead lives in Los Angeles. None of us, I don’t think, were at that point really concerned with having a conventional career.

mufson: How old were you when you started working with him?

torn: Well I was a little older than these guys. But not much.

pearl: I was like twenty-six, twenty-seven for Peep Show.

torn: Actually, I was twenty-three or twenty-four when I did Peep Show.He got tired of working with his old company in LA.

mufson: I heard Minamata caused a lot of hurt feelings.

torn: Oh, yeah. Minamata destroyed the old company. It was the break. But  it’s the thing that artists have to do.  I’m very good friends with a lot of people who used to be Reza’s mainstays who were cut out of the loop. Some of them were brought back for a short period of time. I think it was one of the signs that Reza really had the toughness to become a major artist. That he was willing to do something for all other intents and purposes could be very criticized and considered cold. But it’s what people have to do, I think. They have to be brutal. And that was an early sign that Reza was brutal enough to do what he felt like he needed to do to move his work forward.

francis: I think he realized too around Hip-HopHip-Hop toured to Montreal and then it went to Bordeau and Barcelona. And Paris, eventually. I think he realized that it was unwieldy to tour the show, that, although he had a great setup at LATC, he wouldn’t always be able to have that with most producing bodies, so he wanted to have his own company. So he could tour more easily and more on his own terms than he would’ve been able to if he’d been affiliated with a regional company that wasn’t LATC.

mufson: And the decision to base it in New York?

pearl: I don’t know. I remember being [inaudible][12.28], on the roof there. It was after the show closed and he had asked me if I was going to be in New York and that he had this idea about setting this thing up. I don’t know why he wanted to come east do it.

francis: He had an idea that he could get better press, more international press in New York, that people would come see stuff.

torn: He was right about that.

torn: We can’t underestimate the impact that the closing of LATC happened. Dar A Luz organized before LATC closed. The first time I really was aware of us being a company was in the month before we did Bogeyman, he threw together a workshop in New York that we did on 9th Avenue and 24th Street which he said was a Bogeyman workshop, a workshop developing for Bogeyman. But it actually was a caldron for the company and a caldron for Law of Remains. We did all sorts of different stuff. For most of the work we did, there was so much early improvisational stuff. Because Reza’s way of writing was really about assembling materials.

mufson: How does that work with improvisation? It seems like improvisation would consist of you guys doing riffs on scenes or certain set-ups.

francis: These are guided [inaudible][13.59] improvisations. They would be on specific themes related to the piece he was developing. And he just watched them very closely and caught glimpses of them.

torn: He’d say, “I’m going to pair you guys off. And I want you to stage a scene in which you murder somebody.” And that’s all he’d give us. He wanted to see how we would come up with murder. And we’d do it in various things like Aerial and I think it was… Yeah, it was [inaudible][14.39]. They just got together and they did a thing where… It was a autoerotic strangulation scene where Aerial talks about it’ll make the orgasm better, and he ends up strangling him. And other things. That was one thing. Another time he burned all his costumes. He had us all invent characters. I remember I came up with some weird freaked out Russian guy named Leosh.

pearl: We had to fuckin’ go to Westway Diner.

francis: Oh, that was horrible.

torn: He made us go to Westway Diner and sit around pretending to be these characters.

francis: I almost got picked up by a pimp on the way to Westway Diner. “Hey, baby, you lost?”

torn: It was really weird. And Tom played this really angry working class guy who wanted to jump on… He was really angry about lesbians. And at one point, he wanted to jump on top of [inaudible][15.43].

francis: This was you?

pearl: Yeah. I mean it was silly. But that… We had one girl, Heather¾

torn: Yeah. Heather. Who was really scared. And he’d interview us at length.

mufson: As you or as a character?

torn: As the character. He’d always interview us and at one point, we sat around and we created our first sexual experience. And we all picked a partner at random. For some reason Tom got picked more than anybody else.

pearl: Oh, come on.

torn: They do. Everybody decided that Tom was going to be their [inaudible][16.30].

mufson: Be their what?

francis: Their first.

torn: But his work got very intimate. We got to a point where we were talking about some very, very deep and occasionally upsetting stuff. I remember once Tom Fitz had to…we’re doing this thing and it got into something about losing his father, watching his father die. He got very upset and started to cry. In a very self-possessed Tom Fitz way of course. It was rough. Later I was talking to Tom and said, “That was so beautiful that we were able to go through that.” And he said, “Yeah, well I hated it. I hate having to go through that stuff.”

mufson: Why did you guys do it?

torn: [inaudible][17.24]

pearl: Tom Fitz he was talking about.

mufson: Did you not do it? Did you not…

torn: Tom Fitz [inaudible][17.32]

pearl: I mean yeah, we did… I mean you do it in improvisation or you do this in [inaudible][17.36]. I mean a lot of people do them and I don’t know how many people truly enjoy that [inaudible][17.42]  it’s… I mean it’s certainly not this second [inaudible][17.45] where you’re ripping on words. And you make up communist scenes. But  to me it’s part of the muck. I mean you go through it. You do it. You do improvisations even though it might be hard or it might be boring or [inaudible][18.05]. And you might doing them half-ass if you really don’t want to. I certainly did on a number of occasions. I mean I actually wasn’t in this situation thinking “God this is really shitty. I’d really rather not be in this room. I’d really just rather… I’d rather be somewhere else.” Because… I mean working with Reza, he gave you the sense that it was going to go somewhere and this work was going to [inaudible][18.31] in some fuckin’ direction. Lord knows what it was at that time. But he definitely was able to capture the sense of… “This isn’t for nothing. You’re not just…” you know. “There is something down the line.” And he was very good at… Not very good at it, I mean just…he was able to project a kind of…an energy for the work.

mufson: Ken Roht spoke about he…that Reza was very good at tapping into actors’ idiosyncrasies and neuroses or what was very sensitive to them or problematic and getting them to incorporate that into the performance.

torn: I think that’s what a lot of the improvisation was about.

francis: Discovering minute, yeah.

torn: Yeah. Finding out who we were. You know. And there was a sense for the company that…  when he stopped working for Mira-Lani, he was writing the pieces himself. It’s almost as if the actors became the collaborator now that he no longer had someone as a writing collaborator. At least that’s the sense he gave us. That’s another reason why we put in so much hard and sensitive work. I think that’s part of the reason why we did that, so he could really find out who we were. And he built the pieces around our personalities in many ways. I mean the amount of stuff in the Bogeyman trilogy which comes from Reza’s relationship with Julia is extensive.

mufson: What do you mean by that?

francis: Reza’s relationship with his mother.

torn: But he had a way of making what was personal to him, personal to us.

mufson: What do you think was behind that?

torn: Well, just attempt to create a theater piece that more than just him. I mean I think it was just from his point of view about art. And of course he’d [inaudible][21.02]…  he would of course take the credit, as well he should, for being the controlling piece. But he was smart enough to realize that a piece of theater is better if everybody feels they have a personal stake in it. And I’ve never ever experienced the sense of having a personal stake in work as I did with Reza.

mufson: Is that your feeling too?

pearl: No, I don’t know if I’d define it as a personal stake. No, I don’t know if it was… I mean it seems like a lot of those things, at least for me, worked on a level that I wasn’t necessarily aware of at the time. I mean with a couple of years on it now, a few years on it, I can… I have sense of what [inaudible][21.54]. In the moment… I mean it just had an engaging quality. That through a combination of the knowledge of his subjects, his knowledge of his performers, he was able to combine elements that I haven’t come across.

torn: Did you feel like you had a personal stake in it?

pearl: Oh, definitely. I got wrapped up in it.

francis: I think you were able to feel like you had a personal stake in it because he really believed that there was a need for the work he was doing. And that made you feel that there was a need for you to share things within the work and invest in it in a personal way that you might feel more squeamish about under other circumstances…

pearl: It wasn’t till much later that I actually started to question what the hell I was actually doing in some of these shows. But that was much later. I was going to sleep one night and just thought, “What the fuck?”

mufson: I know the two of you have more of a training in psychological realism. Is that also the case with you [Tom]?

pearl: Yeah, I came… I mean I came to [inaudible][24.09] and studied it.  studied some of the Strasberg or at Playwrights Horizons. But met up with this guy Reshard Tislack along the way who was part of… Brutalski’s troop. And that really had a…that had an effect on me. And I think that semester spent with him really gave me some insights when I first me up with Reza.  just in terms of [inaudible][24.42] the landscape.

mufson: So where did the style come from? The acting style that I think of when I think of an Abdoh piece, I don’t think it was there so much for Minamata. I see it in Hip-Hop. And then I see in the pieces after that, that [inaudible][26.10] out their quality.

francis: I think it’s a lot more Iranian than [inaudible][25.19]. I was watching some documentary about some some king or something who traveled through Iran, somebody really famous.[1] And he traced his root before he got killed or something. But at one point, they showed this Iranian theater, it might’ve been Ta’ziyeh. But I’m not sure if it was or not. I was watching it with my husband and our mouths just fell open because this guy was standing in front of a backdrop and he was basically the whole play because the village was watching. Was him telling the story of this great warrior who was killed, this warrior king. And he’s out there and his gestures were so much like how Reza would demonstrate them and how we did them and it’s this very flat thing. And then the king did this and just the whole way…it was told and that conflict between just telling and being possessed by…I think a lot of Reza pieces had. And it was really, really shocking because I don’t have any…how we had anything to do with that at all, being such westerners, is really neat.

torn: I think a different thing also is they have to realize that like…you look at the pieces before Hip-Hop. Medea was like three hours long. [inaudible][26.44] when it was like two and a half hours long. Minamata was like 2-20, but it was three hours before they made him cut like forty minutes of dancing. Father was three hours long.

pearl: Yeah. I guess the shorter ones were [inaudible][26.59].

torn: Yeah. But those were like… You know. But they were short because they were shorter texts. They weren’t done… The style was still the same. And the last thing he did in that style was Footsteps in the Dark. It’s a piece he did with Frank Ambriz for the festival. Which was a lot of fun, but… I remember I could tell him just being a little frustrated with the whole thing. And you might… There might be some coincidal [phonetic]. Other people have that it was…  they think the reason why this happened was because he found out he was HIV positive.

mufson: During Minamata?

torn: We didn’t know until he was already working on Hip-Hop. None of us knew until he was working on Hip-Hop. [inaudible][27.44] So after all these three hour pieces… Hip-Hop’s what? Ninety minutes. All the pieces after that were ninety minutes, or aspired to be ninety minutes. And Tight Right White was like two hours and… But he fixed it for the tour. He cut the shit out of it.

francis: Oh, man.

torn: It was rough.

francis: It was harsh.

torn: But I think a lot of the style came from the fact that he all the sudden decided to create a style that was very fast and very… It was almost like he retained as much staging that he did in the three hour pieces, but we just performed everything twice as fast.

pearl: He compressed it and [inaudible][28.27].

francis: Yeah. I mean if you follow that through, Tight Right White, when he cut it for the tour, it was like he was just beginning to get ill at that point and then it was like this act of vandalism and rage against his play.

torn: Yeah. He cut out the… He cut out the voluptuous body of the play. He just slashed it down.

mufson: What did he cut?

torn: He cut huge sections. He cut this monologue he gave me, which I considered a huge personal gift. But he was already annoyed with the monologue by the time [inaudible][28.55]—

mufson: Which one was it?

torn: I had this monologue in the middle of it where I’ve got this light bulb and I’m screaming about, you know… my personal pain. And it was just beautiful, beautiful monologue. And he decided before the opening to…during my monologue, have Rafael come and howl.  shave his balls and I [inaudible][2922].

francis: In the spotlight. And he was painted bright red.

torn: So it became this huge struggle to like win back even a tiny fraction of the audience [inaudible][29.32]. I…heretofore considered like the pinnacle of my work so far as an actor in the theater.

pearl: [inaudible][29.43]

torn: So Rafael couldn’t come on tour. Which was unfortunate because both the shows he couldn’t come on tour because of his…his green card situation. So I thought, “Oh, finally I’ll get to do my monologue.”

pearl: [inaudible][2955]

torn: [inaudible][29.56] Yeah. Cleared out.  he was gone. In many ways he was smart because the piece was so American. TRW was the one piece that wasn’t as well received by the Europeans.

francis: International. Yeah.

mufson: Really.

torn: Yeah. There was a sense that… But a lot of people I know in America thought it… loved it most of all. Because it’s more American than almost anything you can think he ever did. It’s about American culture and American issues and American race issues. And about the beauty of the American black culture.

pearl: And I think a lot of it was viewed from some people, [inaudible][30.40] overseas is the…kind of this clubby environment that it it was able to create. This sense of the [inaudible][30.46] mood. But that the… And it also had to do with the cuts. But some of the other racial issues didn’t get across to the audience I think the way they did here. I think people here are… it’s just much more sensitized here, to that.

torn: They ignore race issues, I think, over in Europe more than we do. Although not so much anymore. It’s getting… But anyway.

mufson: Well the genesis of the show is supposed to be this [inaudible][31.16] a bit, right? And this guy put together a book on western images of…

pearl: Of the… Yeah.

mufson: Blacks.

pearl: That and…  the… [inaudible][31.31].

francis: Mandingo.

mufson: Mandingo. Yeah.

torn:  the piece was supposed to be much more about white supremacist culture. Originally we were going to do [inaudible][31.42]. And the title Tight Right White is a self-reference thing.  like an [inaudible][31.51] and white area you know. As [inaudible][31.53] would say, “I’m tight, right, white.” You know. But it became much less about that when we were working on it because basically he was just much more interested in rapture and, you know… And also fucked up in a positive way about what the specific black issues were doing to him I thing. So it became much more a piece about black culture. You know white supremacist just had a walk-on. It was interesting the way that changed because a lot of things changed when he was… And the fact that my character was the official Jewish stereotype. The Jew who runs the world media. That came out…out of improvisations. There was no character like that. And halfway through rehearsals, we had done some stuff about race and… We did this one thing where he asked me to do an old Jewish Father, you know this… And I had… A black actor played my son. He was a war… I was a war veteran and [inaudible][33.04]. About a month later, I’m doing this speech and all the sudden he says, “Okay. Do it in a…” In the middle of it. I’m like doing, doing… He said, “Okay. Do it faster.” I come in doing a speech slowly like a usual actor does. “Do it faster. Do it faster. Do it faster.” So I’m doing it faster, doing it faster. “Okay. Extreme Jewish accent.” And that was it. The character was born.

pearl: Moisha Pipik.

torn: Moisha Pipik. And from then it became about the stereotype of the black Jewish conflict. Which is really more what was going on in New York at the time anyway. The Crown Heights issues and… It became about…  trying to find redemption and that conflict. And so that came out of improvs.

mufson: You were… Were you AD in that?

francis: Yeah. Yeah.

mufson: So what was that experience like?

francis: It was difficult because… I think it was a shame, since the founding company is mostly white, so we had to recruit all the black actors. And it was very difficult to watch them through the improv process because it was so painful for them and… And you could watch the… You could really see the conflict between… the actors wanting to just give in to experience it fully and go through this stuff and just have… And not knowing if they were representing themselves well or if they were participating in something hideous. I mean they just didn’t know. And it was very painful to watch people go through that not knowing but thinking “Well, should I commit to this and…”

pearl: Right. Right.

francis: And that very… That was harsh. It was difficult. I helped cast it as well too, so I felt really responsible for them.

mufson: A couple of people left in the beginning, no?

francis: Well one person…one actress left. It wasn’t really… That wasn’t… Oh, two. Yeah. Sabrina left. But that wasn’t because of the material in either case. Kate left and Sabrina left. But Kate left for different reasons.

torn: And so did Sabrina.

francis: So did Sabrina. She had an illness in her family. So it was hard.

mufson: How were they ultimately convinced that…

francis: I don’t know if they were. I mean I think they were to a degree. I think that some of them felt better when they had people they know come see it. Some people felt worse actually when they had people come see it.

mufson: Why?

francis: Because some of their friends just said “What are you doing? What are you doing in this play?” You know. But they still… They didn’t give up on the struggle to find a way of doing it. I mean I think… By the time—

mufson: Did Reza explain what he was doing?

francis: No. Not really. Only very… And I can kind of… At first I was confused. Like I felt actually that play… One of the things that was…as AD was hard too was…  as regular company members, we had all had the benefit of lots of improv that had a lot to do with yourself outside of race. Just who you were as a kid and who you were… You know. And that… All the improvs for that piece were based on racial conflict. Every single one. And you didn’t know who anybody was at that point. It was hard to watch the actors go through that. You know. The company, I think, relaxed by the time they got to Europe. And I think in some ways that was hard on the show even though the show was so much…so shortened at that point. And some part of me didn’t…because I gave notes and stuff during the tour. And I didn’t want to say anything about that because I didn’t want them to be in so much pain about it. You know. And it was nice to see people being joyful for the [inaudible][36.57] instead of just like [inaudible][36.59]. You know. This constant weight of responsibility to portray yourself well. And just not knowing. Like they just didn’t… It was impossible to know as an actor. And new in that situation. So that was hard.

mufson: What was Reza having you do in your capacity as AD?

francis: As AD? Not too much. I would sit and… During New York, I would sit and like he would have me write down anything interesting. Did you guys know this? While you guys were improvising, he had me sit there and write down anything interesting you did or said. So I’d have the pages and pages of what I thought was… And that was cool because he gave me the responsibility of deciding what was interesting. And then bits of it worked its way into the piece.

mufson: Well Tom Fitzpatrick said that one of the tricks that he would do, and he said he thought you were very good at it also, was that… It was not so easy to actually go up to Reza and say “I’ve got this great idea for you to put in the thing.” But if you do certain gestures or sing a certain song while warming up and it catches his eye…

francis: Yeah.

pearl: Oh, yeah.

torn: “Oh, that’s good. Do that.”

francis: Oh, yeah. “Do that. Do that there.” Yeah.

mufson: So that was the way to do it?

torn: Well, not… There wasn’t so much the way to do it, but…

mufson: One way of doing it?

francis: One way of doing it.

torn: Yeah. I mean the work was so collaborative and he had had this grand plan. But he really wanted us to fill in some of the squares, you know. So he was always looking for that. It’s the reason why the improv stuff. Because he really wanted to get us into a place where we’d be coming up with stuff. Like for example Richard, he disposed… He would stage and dispose and stage and dispose as much Richard [inaudible][38.47]. But Richard never really looks outside of himself. Reza would always look to us. You know. Little less in the last piece, but that was, you know… Quotations was a totally different affair because of his health. But for most of the work… So we all got used to being available. Like coming up with stuff and just being open or just like throwing little bits around. And we also learned that it was best to make it seem accidental because… I think Reza didn’t always want to acknowledge how much he wanted us to be the collaborators. I think he wanted the sense of himself discovering our…this beautiful stuff that we were. And most of the time that’s exactly what happened. And sometimes we were auditioning in our own off-hand way.

francis: It’s like externalized subtext. Like where it would be a secret in another pieces, that would help him like make something lively was just what it was sometimes. It was the piece.

mufson: Where did this… You had this persona in a couple of pieces, in Bogeyman and I guess The Blind Owl as this sort of…

pearl: Bomber. Terrorist bomber.

mufson: Where did that come from?

torn: Hilda.

pearl: Hilda. Where did that come from? Well, I… I mean… That’s just the side, I think, of Reza that, you know…I mean he put these different fractions of himself through different people. I mean that was… It seemed like this one subversive side that was going to save the day and right all the wrongs and save the person at the end and basically make everything okay.  that…getting worded along the way or being not necessarily the most adept at doing it. But  it seemed he was really able to put these different parts of himself through different people. There were these different character ideas that he was manifesting.

mufson: What was it like? Because all of you guys were in The Blind Owl. What was that experience like as opposed to the production?

torn: Wild. What he wanted to achieve on film was like the absolutely 180 opposite of what he kept getting us to do on stage. But somewhere deep down inside, internally, he was exactly the same. You know. Just in terms of… It was just like he made us very aware that this is a different medium, so… I mean underpinnings of what we would talk about were the same. You know. But the style was different because he… He was actually… Talked a lot about… Because I think he knew that we needed to be deprogrammed in a sense, of how different it had to be for film.

mufson: I thought it was interesting that with film you… It’s film where you more come to expect the rapid cuts in the speed. And it’s really in The Blind Owl. He slowed it down tremendously.

francis: Reza was a big fan of slow films I think. He was really into like… What was it? Last Summer at [inaudible][42.14] and…

pearl: Yeah.

francis: And that French movie, The Pickpocket. That’s excruciatingly slow, but amazing movies and stuff. And I think that was also an influence of the…cinematographer. It was very pictorial.

pearl: Yeah. Yeah.

torn: And also, Reza’s thing was to do what you won’t expect. I mean that was the whole thing. So for theater, he went to this massively fast construction. And in film he went the other direction.

mufson: Were improvisations important in The Blind Owl or was…

francis: No.

mufson: It seems like with that, you’d go in with much more of a finished product. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending an awful lot of money.

pearl: Yeah.

francis: Well we didn’t really know what we were doing, but I… I mean… At least I didn’t.

pearl: [inaudible][42.58]

francis: Like we’d get the… Yeah, you’d get the scene as it went. But it wasn’t improvised. I mean I don’t think I ever…

torn: No. It was much more controlled. It was improvised in the sense that film is always improvised in a sense because you don’t…we didn’t have a three month rehearsal process where we’d get the script and we’d…

francis: We were doing Bogeyman.

torn: Right. We were doing Bogeyman at night when we started…  it was crazy. So, you know… With film, of course, you’re there on the thing and you haven’t had time to rehearse.  a little bit of that was coming on, but it wasn’t like that same process, it would just…that typical, film acting exercise of coming up with things in the moment.

mufson: And how did he get you to recalibrate the acting style for the movie? Was that made explicit or…

torn: Well, he did talk a lot about it, but on the other hand, the process is so different. And we were working with the cinematographer, a Romanian man who was very [inaudible][43.54] slow. So…

mufson: Are you talking about Adam?

torn: No. Adam was the producer. What was the cinematographer’s name?

francis: I don’t remember off the top of my head.

torn: Beautiful cameraman. And the whole style was so different. I mean… And also, how did Reza tell us?  Reza was very much [inaudible][44.14], you know. He didn’t leave anything to chance. He would tell you exactly how to pace a scene. You know.  like I was saying, in the stage [inaudible][44.26], he used to go “Faster. Faster. Faster.” In fact we used to…sometimes put that in the play as a joke.  he liked to make fun of himself.

francis: Well that’s what you were doing in Father. You were the director at one point with a whip, yelling “Faster. Faster. Faster.”

torn: That’s right.

francis: Whenever you wanted to.

torn: “Faster. Faster.” So in the film Reza was like “Slower.” “No. No. Slower.” I had this scene where I was supposed to weep and I was really gearing up for it in my desire to be a real actor way. And when we got to the scene, Reza was horrified. He says, “No. No. Get the [inaudible][45.02].” So I got the fake tears.

francis: And I got to really puncture a tire.

torn: Didn’t you like totally fuck up your arm by doing that?

francis: Yeah. Well I got thrown on the ground right after that. But it was fun to puncture a tire. I don’t know whose tire it was.

mufson: So what did you do, exercises as far… I mean was it really just a matter of getting…of the tempo? It seems like more than just the tempo for the stage pieces. What did he do go get you to that?

francis: Yell.

mufson: Do what you…

pearl: Yell.

francis: Just yelled.

pearl: Yeah, there was a lot of that going on. That and just this constant rule of no gaps between cues and this all incessant drive to see… who could be on the line the next time. The next. And who could just be right there and not leave this thing dangling. I mean just that…  something’s dangling. Oh, god. I didn’t want to catch shit for missing a fucking cue.

torn: That’s right. If you [inaudible][46.04] the cue, after a while you’d get cut and thrown out, and someone else would get the linkage.

pearl: And if you missed a bit of staging. I mean there was just…there was a sense that “Man, you better be writing this down.” And I don’t know how we did that.

francis: We used to talk a lot in terms of generosity. That’s one of the things that I think I’ve taken with me the most, is like… He would just say, “That was not generous. You have to be generous.” And it was so cool because it really sort of—

torn: Such a stern way of saying things. But the truth.

francis: Yeah. It was a stern generosity. It sort of… I liked it because it didn’t…it went along with like the training I had. It didn’t interfere even though it’s an…kind of an ethical concept when it comes to… I mean what is a generous… How… You know. It’s something I can’t quite understand but I felt like I could do [inaudible][46.56] help pick up the cues.

mufson: How much do you guys take with you from your experience in those shows into what you do now? Is it not really relevant when you go into other pieces or…

pearl: It if for me, but [inaudible][47.16]

torn: Well, the… I felt like I was not only a non-disciplined actor for Reza, I think I was a non-disciplined person. You know. And I was afraid of a lot of things. And I didn’t think I was capable of doing things.

mufson: What do you mean?

torn: Well, for example, the amount of dancing, the amount of stuff I had to with my body. I was a very unphysical…sort of like not happy with myself physically in the sense that I didn’t even deal with it. And like acknowledged to be a fuck-up in a a nice way. Like “Oh, Tony. He’s such a fuck-up.” Also it was in the environment where I had to be unbelievably disciplined. And do things which I never thought I would ever be able to do, and I did that. So now I’m able to pass.

mufson: How did he get you to do that? Because I…sometimes I feel like… Like Richard doesn’t, Foreman, doesn’t really make… I mean such huge demands and yet sometimes I feel like there’s resistance from you on some of the things he’s saying and it seems like—

torn: Well, I… You know. Me and Richard…

pearl: That’s their relationship.

torn: Yeah. Well, Richard lacks something that Reza had in abundance unfortunately. Which isn’t really necessary, but I think in many ways it is. We talk a lot about how much Reza yelled and how he’s occasionally a prima donna and occasionally could act in a way that was horrifying and would hurt feelings. And that’s all fun to talk about because it creates a larger than life character. What people should remember is that he was also, in terms of positive reinforcement, just about the most empowering person I’ve ever met in my life. The only reason we dealt with this stuff is because when he was being appealing to us in terms of what he had to give, he was extraordinarily inspiring. He just really made us feel his rapture with the possibilities that existed in us. So he was just tremendously, you know…when…  so… I was willing to do all that because no one had ever thought me even capable of it before. Or if they did, they just didn’t make a convincing enough case so I’d believe them. Reza actually made me feel not only that I could do these things, but that if I was able to achieve that, it would be something wonderful. So it was very inspiring.

mufson: Was that true for the two of you also?

francis: Yeah. I think so. He was very charismatic and he never… It was never pedestrian. I mean you always… You were just… Yeah. You were just imbued with this idea that everything really was just absolutely necessary and like…and that it had this power that… It was just really a privilege. I mean I thought it was a privilege to be asked to do extreme physical things and work towards putting myself in extreme states for the sake of a play. And going faster and faster and faster. It was a delight, you know. I mean you don’t… I enjoyed it much more than like standing around a sink and talking about relationships in a play you know. Especially after going through like the kind of…  it’s the psychological American training. It was like… Which I really [inaudible][50.53] value. I just felt like it was such an honor to be able to take that and extend it into something that wasn’t natural in a sense, but was more natural in others.

pearl: Yeah, I… I mean in terms of the effect it’s…what I carry to…with…into other things, I mean at first there was this sense of wanting to see if that possibility was… if it could happen somehow again in some other situation. And then… Then I just was again feeling that sense of [inaudible][51.37], that was an incredible experience you know. And that’s what it was. And I felt like I was going to be running up against the wall if I kept trying to find it you know. I mean I learned lots of different things through it, but trying to go into another situation and expecting… laying in this expectation that it’s going to generate the same verve that those other shows did, it just didn’t…that didn’t [inaudible][50.04]. So in that sense…I mean it made… It made me feel much more at ease just doing any other work you know.

mufson: You haven’t done as… You haven’t been as active as Tony and Julia and I get the sense that that’s to a large degree your choice.

pearl: Somewhat. I mean…  I… I think in trying and working with some of the company members after in another [inaudible][52.40], another project—

torn: Because you were initially more active than we were in a sense. You were continuing to try to do the work.

pearl: Yeah. With Peter and [inaudible][52.48] and those guys and—

torn: Yeah.

mufson: [inaudible][52.48]?

pearl: Yeah.

mufson: Oh, I didn’t know that you were [inaudible][52.50].

pearl: But after that…the first…the first show that happened which was… I can’t… In fact, that one really left a sourness to me because—

mufson: The first Chashama show?

pearl: Yeah.

mufson: Which one was that?

pearl: The one…

torn: Junior Black’s Office.

pearl: Junior Black’s Office.

mufson: Why? What happened?

pearl: Oh, it was about…  it purported to be about incarceration you know. And about something that to me was…because we had done workshops at the juvenile detention center together with Reza and there was a very real element that…you know we had been involved in. And in doing the show…  I wasn’t aware of it so much during it, but after we shut it down, it was like “Well…” You know. To me it didn’t… I mean I wouldn’t feel right if someone had come to see it who was, you know… I don’t know, who was potentially someone who had been…not necessarily an incarcerated individual, but someone…you know. Anyone beyond a general audience member of…let’s say the…someone who would be an audience member of Richard’s show of…you know…there had some appeal. I mean… And again, I was looking for a lot of that activity that happened with Reza that… And [inaudible][54.13] maybe seemed a bit haphazard or didn’t seem scripted or didn’t…  it seemed improvisational, but in actuality it wasn’t. Whereas with that other piece it was more like “Okay. Everybody’s out for themselves. Create your journey and see at the end,”  thing. So I definitely… I rebounded from that and I’m just being like “Well.” You know. “Experiment work.” I kind of… I felt like I had gone up toward the apex of it with Reza and all of the Dar A Luz group. I mean it was like “Well shit,”  “What else…”  “What else can I look at now?” And I… Without going…just jumping into another show. Because  there were other shows I could’ve gone into… But yeah, I chose essentially not to.

francis: It’s interesting to me that you’re saying that because I remember one time I was talking to Reza and I was like “Experimental theater.” And “We’re experimental theater…”  I was just using that phrase. And he said, “I do not think of my theater as experimental.” And I was like “Oww.” And I’ve thought about that a lot since. And I’m like “He [inaudible][55.15]. And he was right.” I mean it wasn’t, it was just theater.

pearl: No, it’s true.

francis: It’s dangerous to think of it in those terms.

pearl: It is. And I… Yeah, it is. But I know I was seeing different performances of different groups that was of that. And I was just really turned off by it. You know. And I knew I wasn’t going to be happy doing it and I was like “Well…” You know. “I’ll see something else for a little while.” You know. And this show just fell on my lap. So I… It was like “Well,”  “it’s silly just,”  “not to…” I mean “I’ll at least step into this. I mean Richard certainly has been doing it long enough. And Reza specifically… I remember him saying to me that he really respected Richard’s work and…and…you know…and Richard himself, so I…  I know that played into my perception of wanting to… wanting to go into it. I knew Tony was still standing, so [inaudible][56.05].

torn: Yeah. Just barely. But no, it’s true. I mean the… You know. Even though their styles are very different in one sense. And Richard requires a lot of the same focus and discipline. So I think that it’s helping us with him because we can turn on a dime.

francis: I’m still not quite sure why he wanted to work with us.

torn: Well, I don’t know… I mean…

francis: Because we’re fierce.

torn: I initially thought he wanted to work with us because he thought we’d have no problem doing the sexual content.

francis: Yeah. Nude scenes. Hang him upside down.

torn: But it’s not that. I mean like… Despite all the fucks, I mean the sexual content of this play is pretty minor you know.

pearl: It is. That’s hilarious.

francis: It’s less and less.

torn: I know.

francis: It’s dwindling.

pearl: [inaudible][56.44]

torn: Yeah. And he was initially, of course, really shocked when I initially showed resistance to being totally nude. You know. My initial stuff, I was nude a lot with Reza. And it was incredibly… It was probably the empowering thing for me before because I really thought I was…you know…you know…just an unappealing physical being. And the fact that he wanted to display me was incredibly frightening, but it was the best way I possibly could’ve gotten over like…in a sense of shame I had about myself. So it was great, but the weird thing is that I since have gotten this reputation. It’s like “Oh, yeah. Tony Torn will take his clothes off [inaudible][57.25].” So I’m right now doing two shows simultaneously where I’m nude. And I’m a little tired of it to be quite honest. I actually…

pearl: I know. I heard you make your proclamation about that. “This one’s it.” “This is it.”

torn:  this is my [inaudible][57.38]. But it was weird because it’s like…nothing is… You know Reza’s point of view was very, very specific. He’s a Persian. He’s Persian and he’s queer in America. But a core group of the people he worked with are white straight Americans you know. And it’s an interesting…the tension there. It was an interesting tension there. Like someone just pointed out, for example, that he loved to get like me, Tom and Peter, three nice white boys, and make us fuck each other on stage. And he got a huge kick out of it. You know. But it also brings up the fact that we were so involved in the content, the main thrust of his vision, which is a very specific vision with this ethnicity and his queerness. Which is like a huge, huge part. But he was so collaborative that it’s like…there are strains that run through him that are more universal. Do you remember when we were reading Doug Sukenec’s piece? Is that the guy who wrote the notes for Bogeyman? Not Doug Sukenec, I’m… You know…

francis: Oh. He wrote the thing in the program about Bogeyman.

mufson: Sadownic.

francis: Sadownic.

torn: Sadownic. You know. Which is a great piece. And Doug’s great you know. And it was a very…actually a very power rhetorical piece he wrote. We were sitting there thinking that…“Well what about—“

francis: [inaudible][58.53] when he wrote it.

torn: “Well what about the huge issue about…” you know “incest and child molestation?”

francis: Well he hadn’t seen the end of the play. [inaudible][5901] the piece—

pearl: He hadn’t seen the end of it. That’s right.

francis: Yeah. So I was just an evil mother. And that made me mad.

torn: Yeah. Exactly. It’s part of what we were talking about in bringing other stuff in, is that he created this…total worlds. So there were all these themes that were…you know… That was one of the interesting things about what he did, is that he… There was so much…so much density in there. And it was very democratic. Democratic [inaudible][59.26].

mufson: What do you mean?

torn: Well, it was part of the spin-off from making us so personally involved in the work, is that our issues were as big as his issues. Maybe only to us because we were inside it.  maybe for a viewer where there’s so much to see, it really is… His pieces were so dense and so complicated and so fast and so crazy and so misleading on a moment-to-moment level that really there were like—

torn:—It was like a big [inaudible][0.05]. You know.

mufson: So what has it been like for you guys to be working with Foreman? I mean is it… You said you were reluctant initially to come in on the project because you were just a little bit worried that it would become like a Dar A Luz reunion-type thing when it was Tom and—

torn: No, that was not… That has nothing to do with my reluctance. That had to do with why I was overcoming my reluctance. I mean I… I had a slight objection to it being billed as a Dar A Luz reunion because then that means any core member who’s not in the piece or even people who were, it makes it seem like…  it just…

pearl: You weren’t really there.

torn: It put it into a a hurtful place for people who weren’t cast in the play. And it was [inaudible][1.09] what I considered the spirit of the company. But I would’ve been thrilled if it had been all…if Tom and Kay had done this, it could’ve…there would’ve been something exciting. But not having them, it take the pressure off that a little bit, which I think is good.

pearl: Yeah.

francis: Yeah.

torn: It might’ve been a little more weird. You know. I mean… As it is now, it’s this great combination of…  I haven’t worked with Julia and Tom in a long time and it’s just kind of…we’re having a great time. So it’s like a nice thing. And it’s also good to have other people because Gary and Jay are both good. Also, Gary… I mean Jay. Has also noticed for a long time, he was…we worked at LATC when we were doing Bogeyman. It was the first time we ever acted together, but… It’s all very curious. My reluctance was simply because I adore, adore Richard’s work. I just love his work. And I love him. He’s a very funny, interesting, fabulous man. And I [inaudible][2.14] entire enjoy my process with him last time.

mufson: You did not.

torn: No. Not particularly. But I’ve become… But because I adore him and the work, I wanted to work with him again because I wanted to try to reinvest in… And then we did this piece.

mufson: You wanted to try to what?

torn: Reinvest in it.  I initially didn’t want to do this piece because I didn’t like the role. I thought this was like… I wanted to do a piece with Richard where I got to be one of his more meditative characters. And I felt like everything I was being asked to do in this piece was everything I didn’t want to do anymore as an actor.

mufson: What do you mean?

torn: Be cute. Be dumb. Cute. Dumb. Wear a funny hat. Be nude at the end. You know. Be penetrated by…anally, you know. Stuff like…  I mean it’s like… I felt like it was like a repertoire of all the stuff that I was…I’ve done before and didn’t ever want to do again. You know. So I was similarly frustrated for the first month of rehearsal. Something happened though somewhere along the line. I just relaxed and I’m having a fantastic time now. I don’t know why, but I am.  and Richard’s in a very good mood. He likes us.

francis: He does?

torn: I know everybody else who hasn’t worked for Richard, doesn’t—I know. He doesn’t… People don’t realize this, that he’s like…

francis: He seems pretty jolly most of the time.

torn:  he’s much happier than usual. He likes us better.

francis: Damn. It ain’t over yet.

torn: No. No, he’ll get angry and it’ll start…

pearl: That’s true. He’ll just start switching every day.

torn: Now he’s getting a little—Yeah.

francis: Testy.

torn: But  it’s not as if I didn’t have that combative relationship with Reza. I had a couple of famous fights—

francis: I’m glad you do it. It’s a nice…sort of a…let’s the… I mean I don’t want to make too much of it, it’s not like you guys are at each others throats or anything, but it sort of…it’s like…it lets the pressure off of it.

torn: Yeah. It’s okay to talk back. You know. Because he actually likes it. But also like…  Reza and I used to have fights too. We all did I think. So, you know. It’s okay.

mufson: How did you feel coming into the group?

francis: Well, it’s funny. I think… I guess… I’ve only seen three of his pieces. I saw a piece a long time ago and I don’t remember what it was called. And I was totally bemused. I was just like… I just felt completely excluded by it. I was like “Oh, this amazing brainiac shit.” And I came home and I was like “Fuck this.” “I hate smart theater.” And I went into Reza’s… Actually it’s funny because I talked to him about it. I said, “Oh, man.” It was like “Goddamn fuckin’ head stuff, totally excluded by. Fuck this stupid brain shit.” You know. And Reza was like smiling and he goes, “Ah, yes. But he creates his own world and it’s completely his world.” And I was like [inaudible][5.16]. And then I thought like… After Reza said that, I started thinking about it and I did realize that the piece was unraveling in my head a couple of days afterwards and that made me like a little better. And I remembered this one dance they did and I still totally remember. So it was like “Okay.” So then I saw this piece that you were in and I was like “Okay. I think I like [inaudible][5.35] Corn Flakes. Yes, that’s cool. Yeah. All right. And then I was like “Yeah. I like this one.” I liked all the actors a lot. And then I saw… when I saw Benita Canova, I was like “Okay. I want to work for him.” Because I really liked that piece a lot. The fact that Benita got raped by the gorilla and then had to keep going. That was like… It was horrible that she got rapped by that gorilla, but then when she had to keep going and talking and doing things, I was like “No.” I’m like “All right. Fine. Now I’m really upset, so I want to work for you.” So that’s what was exciting about it. And the idea of working on something for so long is interesting to me.  it hasn’t been quite what I expected it would be, but it’s been interesting.  I think it’s…

mufson: What did you expect it to be?

francis: I thought that we were going to be a lot more developmental and cozy, that way. And instead of like… I mean the first day of rehearsals, I was terrified. I mean we’d get… It was like a nightmare. You get there and you’re on your headset and you’re in a costume and there’s a set and there’s lights. So I was like [inaudible][635]. [inaudible][6.37]

pearl: [inaudible][6.38] and you’ve got to remember this stuff. [inaudible][6.39]

francis: I know. And I was just like… I remember writing things and it’s so… And like you…you have this moment you worked…you memorized this and you worked on it and you think “Okay. That moment goes…” There’s like “A” and then there’s “B”. And then he’s like “No. It’s actually “A1”, “A2”, “A3”, “A4”, “A1”. You know. And you’re like…

pearl: But now you’ve got to switch “A2” and…

torn: Right.

francis: You know? And it’s like “Oh, no, no, no.” I mean… So that was…

pearl: And Tony’s just gliding through it.

torn: I’m not gliding through it. I tell you… For the… After the first day of rehearsal, I went to BBQ. I sat there writing on the napkin, “Just calm the fuck down. Just calm the fuck down. Just calm the fuck down.” No. I mean… And Gary [unintelligible][7.14] was like…he was like… We had met a couple of times and he’s a… very sweet guy, so we became friends. The next day, he was really…he was terrified because he said the look on my face… “Oh, shit. Tony. Tony. Tony’s the veteran and…”

francis: He’s done it. Yeah.

torn: He saw. I don’t think anybody realized, but he saw how unhappy I was. He’s like “Oh, shit. Here we go.”

francis: Man, that didn’t even occur to me. I’m it didn’t…

torn: Reza has… I mean Richard. Richard has one big freak-out left in him. Maybe two.

pearl: At least that’s what everybody’s [inaudible][7.58]

torn: We’re going to know. We’re going to run the play and he is going to flip out. And it’s all going to be wrong. And something radical will change.

francis: But that’s good because that sometimes jump-starts things for you. You’re like “Okay.”

torn: I thought the university was going to be disaster until it opened.

mufson: So you said you didn’t…in some ways didn’t even audition for Reza, it was more like an interview. I’m curious, it seems like he did…he still wound up with a very like…seems to me like an unusually competent group of actors who could pretty…would…could roll with the punches very well. And I’m wondering how he was able to…

pearl: I mean he certainly got a long look at us before we… we even got assigned something to do in Father Was a Peculiar Man.

mufson: What do you mean?

pearl: I mean he had…

torn: He had a company of like fifty people.

pearl: Yeah. So he had three or four weeks to just…to you in improvs, to see how you dealt with things. I mean there was a…

francis: So it was a long audition really.

pearl: Yeah.

francis: Instead of a short…

mufson: It’s like a hazing process, or…

torn: Well, yeah. Long audition for the company. I mean like… It was okay because there were tons of people. Some people he just took a shine to. And that’s why he invited…you know…me and Tom and Julia and some others into the company.

mufson: How significant was Tom Fitzpatrick to you guys? I mean was it relevant that he was…he had been there for so many years and…

torn: Tremendously.

mufson: …had this kind of…

francis: Absolutely.

mufson: Did he become like this paternalistic presence to the actors or manage…

pearl: Well he was like a big kid a lot of times. Bitching and moaning about this or that.

francis: That was good. That was how he was paternal.

torn: We loved it. Yeah.

pearl: But you know… I mean you could just turn to… I mean you could turn to Tom and you know he’d be doing some kind of…just…particularly wonderfully goofy shit somewhere, you know. In the work. And he was just… I don’t know, I mean he was just…

francis: It was really great to have somebody who wasn’t our age. Because we were all about the same ago [inaudible][10.05]. Besides the fact that he’s like a fine actor and human being.

torn: Yeah. Exactly. No. I mean it was good to realize that it wasn’t just about kids playing you know. He brought a little bit of… respectability. You know. In a sense. You know.

pearl: Yeah. And you got a sense that Reza… I don’t know, there was…  they had such a bond in their work and…  and seeing that, I think also to me it…  that just went outward from there, that… It had a potency or… You know. Tom had been there for so many years that…

francis: [inaudible][10.55]

pearl: Yeah.

mufson: Do you think he had an effect on Reza?

pearl: Oh, yeah.

mufson: In what way?

francis: Well I mean outside of the fact that he…that his work fit so well into Reza’s vision, I think… I think that Reza had a lot of abandonment issues and I think the fact that Tom Fitz was there for him, it really just gave him a lot of security and helped him do his work that he had to do. I mean I think he always thought that if he were to just quit or leave or  I think that went way back with him. So I think that was very important to him. And you were lucky.

mufson: What was Salar doing for rehearsals in Quotations? Was he… I mean I know he co-authored it, was he…

pearl: Writing. I mean…

torn: Yeah. He really wasn’t doing…

pearl: I mean… Because… Well, [inaudible][11.58] we did out in California first.

torn: Yeah.

pearl: And that was just such a hectic compression of things.

torn: That was a very, very different experience. It was more like a Richard process in a sense. Because you have to understand that Reza was beginning to die when he did that piece. He was very, very sick.

mufson: Was he ambulatory?

torn: No. But he came in and he staged the whole piece without dialogue. He did… He did the whole thing, staging, in a week on this concrete floor. And we wouldn’t have the text in, so he’d just… Because Salar was still writing and he was writing with Salar. So we’d say, “Okay.”  it’d be like “Okay. Tom. You come here and you bend over like this. And then you say something. I don’t know what it is, so just say ‘Tom Pearl. Tom Pearl. Tom Pearl.’ And then Tom Fitz, you come here and you stand on this chair. And then you say something.”

pearl: “Something. Something. Something. Something.”

torn: And we’re running around for a whole…first week going around going “Tony. Tony. Tony. Tony. Tony. Tony. Tony.” “Sabrina. Sabrina. Sabrina.” “Tom Fitz. Tom Fitz. Tom Fitz.” “Mario. Mario. Mario.” And it was terrifying.

mufson: And did you actually keep that shape?

torn: Hugely.

pearl: Yeah. Hugely.

torn: And then after the first week of this, he went into the hospital. He got sick and went into the hospital. And this is the first time that it ever—

mufson: So he had actually figured out the shape of the piece before he actually had a… He must’ve had some idea.

torn: There was some text, yeah. But it was…it was being written. So then, you know the piece was done almost entirely lip synched. So when we got the text, we rehearsed it a little bit with the text and then we recorded it. And so it was…it was mind-blowing for everybody because the improvisational underpinning which for us was the basis of the work and the basis of us feeling like collaborators was removed because he didn’t want to waste…he didn’t have…he didn’t want to…he didn’t want to spend the time. He’d done that before and now he just wanted to do the piece. So he wanted a piece that was written. Also it was like a different piece because it wasn’t assembled with him and us from like source materials. It was a composed piece that him and Salar wrote. So it was just a different thing.

mufson: Was that how Story of Infamy was taking place?

torn: God knows. I don’t know…

francis: [inaudible][14.19] The Story of Infamy.

torn: I mean I don’t know. I was never even involved with any of it. I was… Reza died. Or no, it was canceled—

pearl: Yeah. He got sick [inaudible][14.30].

torn:—before I was [inaudible][14.34] rehearsal. So I didn’t even know if there was a rehearsal.

francis: He went into… There was… It turned out he went onto life support the day of the first rehearsal. Which he got off of for a month.

torn: Yeah. So I don’t know.

mufson: So none of you saw the script for The Story of Infamy.

francis: Salar. Or does Diane have…

torn: I don’t know.

francis: There must be something somewhere. Or Brendan. He could have something.

mufson: How much do you guys miss the social and political engagement to the work? In terms… When you’re working on other stuff. Because that’s the thing with Richard, it’s like it really is…there’s not…only with the most liberal interpretation possible of this script would you be able to say that it has any degree of social or political…

torn: Although I think I’ve come up with one, but actually it’s…

francis: I feel like it does.

torn: I feel it does. Yeah. But it’s not the same.

francis: Yeah. I miss it, but I’m not seeking it out anywhere else. I mean I think one of the difficult things about being—

mufson: Well, you’re writing it, though, a little bit, aren’t you?

francis: Yeah. I’m writing it. Never mind. I mean I’m not looking for it outside of myself and what I took from the company at this point.

mufson: It was a plus for you though? When you were working on it.

francis: Social… Define social. I guess you mean what we were saying in the pieces or…

mufson: Yeah.

francis: …this company part?

mufson: I mean making comment on society.

francis: Oh. Yeah. I don’t think you can get away from that no matter what [inaudible][16.26] or not, or just walking down the street. You know. I just… I don’t separate that from anything else.

pearl: Yeah. I mean it certainly…doing it…being in the middle of it, it wasn’t the driving force behind it. I think later on, after the show closed, we were going to take it out on tour and this or that and you started to get a…at least I did, what it might’ve been about. But I haven’t gone into it as missing that, I mean… Sometimes I miss the [inaudible][17.02]. I miss the compression.  that sense of [inaudible][17.10].  that density.

torn: I miss it a lot, but it seems to me it’s about a certain time and place.  I was one of the people who initially felt that it was unfair that Chashama was like being seen under such a cloud, that a lot of the people who were involved…like the big shots like the Board of Dar A Luz, were so unwilling to support Chashama. And I was initially very angry about that because I really felt so invested in the company as a company, that I felt that it should continue, that they might be capable of creating not work that was Reza’s work, but work that was just as important. But I wasn’t even personally able to make the commitment because I was…I was involved in name, but I was never able to actually be directly involved in any of the productions—

mufson: Why?

torn: Because at the same time I believed this, I needed a change. I was getting married, I had moved out to Los Angeles, I was trying to do… Like Tom, I… You know although maybe I was pursuing it a little earlier, I felt a need to like do different kinds of work, to return to what was considered more conventional work just because I felt like I could and I wanted to explore that, and I still do. And so I eventually had to concede with the fact that if Dar A Luz had been able to move into a new company and continue, that maybe it would’ve happened. But Chashama, whatever its pluses or minuses are, and I think that there’s potentially some good stuff there, was proclaiming itself to be the second generation Reza company and it so wasn’t. You know. It ended up just basically what Chashama, as a being really…is Anita Dorsett’s company, you know. And that’s got its own value, but it…  it’s…  because she’s interesting and she’s got the desire and the ability to get things on. But it’s not the next generation, you know. We’ve all… Because everybody else is… We’re all doing our own thing. It’s too painful in the end to try to create this work without Reza. I mean I’ve like…  it’s over. You know. And that’s sad, but on the other hand, it’s just a very specific place in live… that we’ve already gone through.

mufson: Do you have a different view of the Chashama stuff? Because you’ve been more involved with that.

francis: No. I was never involved in Chashama at all.

mufson: [inaudible][19.56]

francis: No. I felt that it was… And the reason I didn’t want to get involved in it was I felt that there was no way, similar to what Tony’s saying, there’s no way that it could be anything but reactive to Reza’s death and feeling bad about the dissolution of the company. And I felt at the time that… It seemed to me that Reza wanted his work to just stop. And I felt that that helped give it…by honoring that, we have to give out that clarity and just…  I would’ve… Like the non-prophet to go, just completely stop. So his work, since he didn’t get to do it for very long, just be very clearly his work. But I understand the impulse to keep going. And I felt personally that I can’t get away from work. I mean, and… Like I agree with Tony, it’s like it is very specific to a time and a place. And being very young and all that. But it’s still… I think it’s still in us and it’s going to continue to unravel [inaudible][21.07].

mufson: Well you used a lot of the video and audio and [inaudible][21.08] from other works in Go-Go-Go.

francis: I used a video that…a sample of a video that we did together [inaudible][21.30].

torn: Yeah.

francis: But it wasn’t…it wasn’t from the show. It was the costume that was from the show.

mufson: Well, but those video images were used in…

torn: Go-Go-Go. Yeah.

francis: Yeah. But it was…

mufson: Well, no. In Bogeyman.

torn: Well, actually…

francis: No. Actually it was the same…

mufson: Wasn’t it in the…the Daddy, Daddy, thing in the shot [inaudible][21.55]?

torn: Well, the thing is that…

francis: It was that funny day when we came in and we thought we were shooting stuff for the…

torn: Yeah. That was [inaudible][21.59]. Yeah. Well, it weird because some of that… I think… Did you use the weird over the fields, flying over the field stuff in your piece? Okay. What Julia used was the last shot of what became Daddy’s Girl. What Reza did, that he…

francis: With Adam Soch.

torn: With Adam Soch, who was his collaborator in all of his video work. And he did a lot of [inaudible][22.22] films with that. To decide to turn our scene from the end of the play into its own little video film. But the last shot was something that he staged with Julia in the alleyway outside of LATC, where she was running along… You know. So that wasn’t…

francis: Actually. Yeah.

torn: In this strange way, it’s like it’s the piece that you… It’s the only piece you could’ve used from that, that had a neutrality to it because it was really more about… I don’t know. I don’t know. It was… But that wasn’t specifically from Bogeyman. But I remember when I saw it, I felt like… I would’ve loved to have know what someone who didn’t know about our work with Reza would’ve taken from the ending. Because for me, even though it may not have been appropriate to the piece, to what you were doing, I was so reminded about Reza. And it almost seemed like the end of the piece was a requiem to that relationship even though that may have been accurate.

francis: No. It was.

torn: Yeah. So, yeah. Anyway. I don’t know. But your question was for Julia, though, about that.

francis: Good.

torn: But no, I mean… I mean… I’m not sure that was the point of what you were getting at.

mufson: Well, I wasn’t trying to get at…

torn: No, I mean I just…  I was just trying to explain where the video came from.

torn: Tom Pearl used to sleep in the set all the time.

pearl: No. That’s not true. A couple of times. I did that on Bogeyman once.

francis: Oh god, I did that… That was horrible. A vacuum cleaner…

pearl: I know. In the morning. I think everybody does that.

mufson: Sally slept in Tight Right White on the set of…

pearl: Oh, yeah, we [inaudible][24.32].

francis: Because Sally lived in Tight Right White. And we all lived at [inaudible][24.37] simply.

torn: In The Law of Remains, a lot of people lived around there. And you… You were hanging on Quotations.

pearl: Yeah. I mean it was hell, but it was…

torn: It was great.

pearl: It got interrupting. These guys were trying to rob the place one day.

torn: Really?

pearl: We had the crew…  the building crew came up and they were starting to rob us.

francis: Was this in LA?

pearl: No, this was here. On 16th Street—

francis: Oh, shit.

pearl:—for Quotations. I woke up one morning and these guys were like coming in with hand trucks  going towards the mixers. It was just like “Good morning, gentlemen.”

mufson: I thought it was somehow… Because to me a lot of… A company in the works, they had…the people in them had this raw authenticity. It was almost… In a way, it was surprising to me to hear that you guys came from where…from backgrounds, at least in terms of your acting training, that were more conventional than I thought they would be. Because it almost seems like he found you guys as diamonds in the rough and that you had this…everyone in there had this like…this…just very earthy quality that didn’t make it look like these guys went to prep schools, were raised in comfort, went to some [inaudible][26.04] program and…you know. [inaudible][26.10]

torn: Yeah. We were in those days, in a sense. I never went to college. You know. I came from a well-known acting family. But [inaudible][26.19]. And… Was it an MFA program at…at NYU or…

pearl: No. Bachelors.

torn: Bachelors. So it’s like in a sense, he got a lot of us before we became overly refined.

mufson: So you went to the [inaudible][26.40] undergraduate, you didn’t go to the…

francis: Undergraduate. Yeah.

torn: But also… I mean… It was the way we were presented. It was the spin of like presenting us as, you know… People came to see us as this weird, like tribal group, you know.

francis: Cult kids. People thought we were cult kids sometimes.

torn: Yeah.

mufson: Well some of you were, right? I mean…

francis: Yeah.

torn: Well, he… A lot of the people who were hired show by show. Because it’s different.  the core members, in a sense… And who was a core member? That’s a very lose thing. I mean there are some people who worked over and over and over. But I mean like… But like for example, from show to show, he’d always get an influx of very raw people because that’s what he loved. You know. And he’d mix us all up.

francis: It was great. Yeah.

torn: And of course we’re all raw compared to Tom Fitz. You know. Or Ken. Ken Roht was like a Young American. Did you talk to Ken about his Young American days?

mufson: Just that I know he was primarily interested in musical theater. Just that I know he was primarily interested in musical theater.

torn: Yeah. The Young Americans were a group of like clean cut kids who went around the country doing a lot of stuff.

pearl: Song and dance.

torn: Song and dance. But like… I began to realize that people began to think that we were like this… brainwashed freaks or something.  that we were this weird tribal… That’s true. And then I began to look around at us occasionally when we were around and about, and we got pretty…

francis: Pretty scruffy I think.

torn: Yeah. We would get…you know. Like I remember one person who saw me and they started crying and said, “You…”  it was a…somebody who had worked with Reza in the past and didn’t work with him anymore. He says, “You guy have all turned neo-nazis.” You know. And it was like… And occasionally we’d get so intense with the work, and Reza… And also, we all started to look like Reza in a sense. Because Reza would have these little hats and this intense gaze. So occasionally I’d look around and we’d all be standing around like [inaudible][28.30].  with intense… It was like… From the outside, I think occasional we were pretty…

francis: I just think it’s such a shame though that people don’t think… A lot of people seem to not think that actors are willing to do hectic work. And it’s always like “Well how did he get you to do that” and stuff.

torn: We wanted to.

francis: We wanted to. You know? I mean…

mufson: Well, I see where that comes from. I mean… Because I’ve… I mean that was part of the refreshing thing. Because I’ve worked as drama trade in a lot of productions and some acting also, and it’s…and…this [inaudible][29.14] actor regionally…  feeding into the regional theater network thing where you’re very aware of the Equity rules and what have you and…

francis: That’s nice, but…

mufson: Yeah. But it’s also… It does become… It is more about the actor being there for the actor, I think, more than for the project itself. And also, in some ways, I think does [inaudible][29.46] of feeders become about ironing out the idiosyncrasies instead of emphasizing them in this…this idea from a lot of people that they want to see just like pretty people posing on stage. Not moving. Not having the courage to look awkward or look like somebody that the audience might not have such an easy time relating to. You know what I… It’s like every actor becomes like a Phil Collins song. On stage, this bland…

torn: And a horrifying vision.

mufson: Bland thing that can be…can appeal to everybody instead of something that’s unique unto itself and where the audience person actually…audience member actually has to make steps towards the people on stage instead of vice versa.

francis: Well there was some century where they used to have…Middle Ages or something where they used to bury actors at the crossroad when they died because they thought that would prevent them from wandering around after death and bothering people. And I just think “God, how did we get from there to here?”

torn: That work isn’t really appealing to us who are… I mean I think it’s even been apparent in our careers after Reza. But a lot of people who were involved were like people who aren’t quite satisfied with the conventional life of being an actor. To chafe those conventional things you know. In fact Julia’s writing her own work and I wanted to direct and Tom’s been producing and…  a lot of us—

mufson: Have you directed?

torn: Yeah. I’ve directed about twenty shows in the last ten years. I direct a lot.  it’s like that work was a godsend for the moment. For a brief period, we all finally got as much as we could handle. And I think me personally, I can handle a lot. And I’m hungry for more, you know. And it was kind of… So, yeah. It was like that was very appealing.

mufson: Oh, one last questions. This doesn’t flow well with the interview, but I’ll splice it in. I can’t imagine the tech week for Bogeyman. I mean there were just so many cues I that show. And it’s just so technically complex, what… And I know there were some issues speaking of safety with you guys there where you were.

francis: We never finished checking Bogeyman. We previewed without finishing…having had a tech run through.

torn: That’s right. We checked on them as we ran.

pearl: Yeah. But I mean… Yeah, it was a pain in the ass, but it wasn’t that different from any other tech. I mean it was just…

francis: Long.

pearl: …longer, you know.

torn: And more dangerous.

mufson: And you’d have a longer rehearsal period for that show?

francis: Well we had like a week or two longer than they usually did it—

pearl: Yeah.

pearl: [inaudible][33.06]

pearl: And then we worked it in that room.  that rehearsal room. And had the floor taped up. People also thing that you…somehow it wasn’t like a standard…like you didn’t…you did it somehow in a very different way. That you put this show together somehow that…the way it’s not done. No. But too me it seemed also… Like… Well, it had its own conventional qualities to it as well. I think there’s still…it still got them together with cues and…  it…

torn: Yeah. Also, Bogeyman was constructed differently. Because it was constructed around a series of monologues.

pearl: Right.

torn: So it was a piece. It was also more written, so we did some improvisational stuff to us about the stuff around it. But it had this linkage center, linkage of these great monologues that Reza had written.

pearl: I mean there might’ve been…yeah, that was going on around that monologue that would require cues and other things, but… Yeah, it—

torn: The main thing is that it was just… The set was this extraordinary construction, and he…he massacred us the first couple of days it run.

francis: Well, yeah. I mean it wasn’t built for the speed we were doing it at. It was probably… It would’ve been perfectly safe if we’d been walking up and down.

pearl: Walking around.

torn: The first day, I think… First of all, Steven Francis ran into a door that was opening the wrong way when he was running. And we didn’t see it because it was backstage. All the sudden we heard “Boom!” And we heard Steven go “Ohhh.” And we were like “Steven, are you okay?” And backstage you hear, “Oh. I’m fine. I’m fine. Just… Just… Just… I’ll be okay.”

francis: We had an injury a night for a while. Until we wrapped the entire set in like foam backstage. I remember it was—

torn: Yeah. And then—Juliana like ripped her forehead open on the floor of the shower. I was supposed to… Cliff Diller like was bleeding all over the set.

francis: “Don’t touch my blood.”

torn: “Don’t touch my blood.” You know. And so…

mufson: Why was he bleeding all over the set?

francis: He climbed up a side and just ripped his hand open.

torn: Right.

francis: He climbed up the outside of the set in the pulley. And it was a really… Nobody had planned on that, so…

mufson: Just he’s… That was a spontaneous decision on his part or…

francis: No, no. It was… Reza asked him to do it. But there wasn’t quite… I mean you could climb up it, but there wasn’t like a ladder or any thing build into it, so he got cut.

torn: It was, you know…[inaudible][35.28], but we did you know. It’s just that…that that seemed like the most dangerous and hellacious tech because the set was just an unbelievably imposing construction.

francis: Yeah.

torn: And we were doing it in a big theater. We weren’t in some lot somewhere. All this mayhem was happening in like a big theater, under the scrutiny of a lot of people. So it just felt much weirder for some strange reason. We were just much more aware [of the sentiment], “Well, we can make the set safer for you, but that’s going to cost us a day of tech and a huge amount of money that we don’t have.”

pearl: Because this theater is closing around us.

torn: Exactly.

pearl: Like the show might not even open.

torn: Yeah. We… They almost shut us down before we opened because the theater was out of money. And it was just… It was a famously rough one. It was because of the circumstances.


[1] Probably Hussein, the grandson of Muhammed.

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