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Conversations: Patience of a Saint—Meet George Street’s David Saint
by Sherri Rase     |      Bookmark and Share
photo by Frank Wojciechowski
David Saint
David Saint is the Artistic Director of George Street Playhouse, whose season this year is dedicated to the late Arthur Laurents, Saint’s mentor, whose principles continue to guide him. This season has been powerful, with a world premiere musical, a play about a brilliant painter, and a frothy bit of Christmas fun, and next is the courtroom drama that started the fascination with the law for many of us as early as High School English class–“Twelve Angry Men.”
David Saint was born in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod, and went into the seminary to become a Jesuit priest, but it was very difficult for him to work within the framework of the Catholic Church. He left to come to New York and became an actor where he studied with Uta Hagen for more than six years. Her eye now informs much of David’s direction now, especially since he came to directing from acting. “It’s why “Twelve Angry Men” is such an exciting play to do here, it’s all about the actors’ interaction and the energy,” Saint says.

Q on Stage: What brought you to George Street and New Jersey from New York?
David Saint: I rarely crossed the river before. But I traveled and directed in 34 states–I was a workaholic. I was freelancing and worked at Seattle Rep with Daniel Sullivan, who was the artistic director there. He asked me if I would like to come and be his associate artistic director. He thought I’d be a good candidate and while I’d never considered it before I took it on. I was one of three finalists when Dan decided to leave and, ultimately, I didn’t get the job. I got an offer to direct a TV series and spent a week trying to learn how to direct for TV, but I knew it wouldn’t be fulfilling. I got offered the job, and not just for an episode, but for the entire series, and I couldn’t picture myself doing that kind of direction. I asked for a couple of days to think it over and that’s when I got a call from Bill Hagaman, who offered me the job as artistic director here at George Street, and then I headed East. “We’d like to offer you the job,” and I said, “Yes,” before I’d hung up the phone. I hadn’t spoken to my agent and, while he told me I was passing up probably ten times the salary, I knew this was the right place. I make decisions from my gut and any artistic director chooses work that reflects their vision for the theatre. If you’re the board and you don’t like what the artistic director chooses, then replace that person, but don’t ask me to change.

QoS: How do you craft the season so the stories you are telling, somehow, together, tell another story altogether?
DS: I have found that happening more and more, but it is not something I do by conscious design. I don’t program “thematically,” but there is some combination of circumstances–where I’m at, and where the world is going, that makes this happen. I’m administering a foundation where there is a large award to emerging writers and theaters where the work is produced. This year, all the finalists–nine or ten–wrote about fear. It was in every single one of them. I thought Wow, that’s clearly in the zeitgeist–all of the writers are writing about this one emotion. I knew this season that I would dedicate this season to Arthur and that would certainly influence me. First, Tyne [Daly] wanted to do “It Shoulda Been You.” I met her through Arthur, with whom she was very close. When I chose “Red,” it echoed my relationship with Arthur, as my mentor, in every way. “Twelve Angry Men” is about someone who stands firm in his integrity and his belief in social justice, and the importance of holding onto the cherished tenets of our beliefs. Arthur felt so strongly about equality–whether it was the blacklisting or Arthur’s proud identity as a successful gay man in a 52-year relationship. When success, happiness and creative fulfillment is possible, it’s inspirational. He fought against anti-Semitism as well. This social justice piece is so critical to what Arthur stood for–it really resonates for me how much it is Arthur.
“Thirty Nine Steps” is special because Arthur wrote “Rope” for him and [Alfred] Hitchcock and Arthur were very good friends. There’s such a connection for me in so many ways, I’d have to say what has drawn all of these pieces together are the facets of everything that was Arthur.

QoS: Have you ever sensed a ghost at George Street?
DS: I think there IS a ghost here, but I think it’s not the ghost of the theater per se, but rather the ghost of the YMCA. The prop shop is where the pool was and the men and women’s bathrooms are and there are still showers that were used for that pool area. I’ve felt that a presence was there many times.

QoS: There is so much Technology around us these days: when and where does it enhance or detract from the story itself?
DS: So many different artists have different interpretations. For me, it’s always about if the technology enhances the emotions of the piece, then it has value. Arthur taught me that always, always, always style must follow content, not vice versa. The theatrical truth of the play must be served, so if the technology takes away from the experience and the emotions, then it should not be there. On a much simpler level, Alexander Okun is a genius designer. He was Russian and his father designed the original set for “The Cherry Orchard” in Moscow. His best friend was Maria Bjornsen, who was also a designer who did the original design for “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. I thought that the set was amazing and Alexander disagreed. He said, “The set is not the power of the play, the Phantom is the power of the play.” Maria didn’t design it well, he said, because it was not about the power of the Phantom. The power should be the emotional heart of the play. When I did “Six Degrees of Separation” with him, he wouldn’t design the set until I gave him the Moment of the play. Once I distilled that moment, by forcing me to do that, he made me identify the emotional core of that show. I looked at it in such a way that now when I work on a new play, I will ask the writer the “why”–why they wrote and then when what we do contributes to that.
Arthur would talk about “Gypsy” and they wrote a song for Herbie because in the original version there wasn’t one. Somehow it didn’t work. Arthur said the song didn’t work, because the play is about the mother and the daughter and their need and struggle for recognition. Herbie doesn’t have that, though he supports those characters. Herbie is not involved in that core struggle, so giving him a song doesn’t make sense. If Rose or Louise weren’t onstage there was no point to the number.

“Twelve Angry Men” runs at George Street Playhouse through April 8. Visit www.georgestreetplayhouse.org for tickets and further information.


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