Collaborators in Conversation

Will LeBow thumbnail
Will LeBow

 

To tease out the connections between our productions, we've asked the artists to interview each other about their work. Below, Karen MacDonald ("Grace") speaks with long-time collaborator and friend, Will LeBow ("Carl").

 

Karen MacDonald thumbnail
Karen MacDonald
    Karen McDonald: Let’s pretend this is “Inside the Actors’ Studio.” I’ll be James Lipton.  So, Will LeBow, what made you want to become an actor?
    Will LeBow: I don’t want to be an actor! I never did! No, acting was always in my family. My grandfather was an actor on the Yiddish stage in Brooklyn. He was a translator of Shakespeare into Yiddish, and performed for many years. My father as a little boy was in several of the plays.
    KM: Did you ever see your grandfather perform?
    WL: No, he died before I was born. So acting was in the family, though it skipped a generation with my father. My father became a foreman in a greeting card factory, and was against people trying to be actors for a living.
    KM: I see.
    WL: But, that was because his father, my grandfather, never made any money —
    KM: — as opposed to modern actors —
    WL: — who make enough money to eat. Most of the time.
    KM: Where did you go to school?
    WL: I went to City College of New York in the ’60s. I met Zero Mostel and Sam Jaffe there one day, who were both graduates of City College, both of them gone now. I moved up to Boston in 1977 to join the Boston Shakespeare Company, and met Karen McDonald around that time. She was in —
    KM: — grade school.
    WL: No, you weren’t! You were there; I saw you in shows at the old ICA.
    KM: [laughing] I had no actors in my family that I know of. My father — who I didn’t know very well as he died when I was three and a half — was a visual artist. That was my connection to the arts. But I joined a children’s theatre when I was eight years old in Milton where I grew up.
    WL: That hooked you?
    KM: I became entranced. My first role was Pinocchio.
    WL: Your first role?
    KM: Well, my nose is — you know. [Laughing] But, I never wavered. I knew that it was something I really liked.
    WL: I always wanted to play Pinocchio. That was my role!
    KM: I’m sorry, Will. But, then I went to this auspicious university in whose theatre we sit. I went to Boston University, and graduated. Then I met you, while I was working at the Proposition, and then the Next Move. You were doing Shakespeare, and I was doing improv.
    WL: Did you stay here for all those years?
    KM: I did until I joined the American Repertory Theater (back when it was spelled “r-e”) in 1980. Then I moved to New York for twelve years or so.
    WL: A founding member, I might add. You found it.
    KM: Well, I was part of the acting company there. I came back from New York on a more regular basis starting in 1996 when we played husband and wife — something we did many times — in The Wild Duck.
    WL: That was your first show back?
    KM: In a long time. I always loved being onstage. I don’t know if it came from being an only child for a while. It was fun to get up on the table and sing for your aunts and your grandmother. They would pay attention to you. Maybe I’ve never outgrown that! But, [referring to prepared questions] Will, we’ve been acting for a while; what stays hard about it?
    WL: That’s a dirty question.
    KM: Perhaps we should say difficult.
    WL: “After all these years, what stays hard?” No! You can’t talk that way! [Pause.] I’ll take a shot at that. What stays difficult over the years for me is figuring out where the actor fits in this process. In New York, for my friends who are still there, it is all about finding the job. Year after year after year, that’s what you do. When I moved up to Boston, I was able to work over the next thirty years for basically three companies,so, I was able to fit in as a collaborator in a company as opposed to constantly getting jobs. But, it’s harder for me now, as I think theatre is morphing. In New York, they just released figures for the ticket booth lines. The play line is tiny; the musical line is so huge every day. Maybe the spoken word play is going away.
    KM: I hope not.
    WL: It’s hard to make it economically viable. Regional companies all over the country are having trouble trying to stay afloat.
    KM: Maybe that’s what has never been easy about acting: worrying about the state of theatre. Actors older than us —
    WL: No actors are older than us.
    KM: There are! They will talk about the grand days of the theatre, and I even feel like people our age didn’t get to experience that. And it continues to change; it’s true. What you are doing is looking for is your next job...if acting is still what you want to do. There are lots of actors who become teachers. Teaching becomes the largest part of their life — though we both do some teaching.

    Plus, when you get to be a woman of a certain age . . . I was worried, “Will there be enough parts to play? Will there be enough work to go around in Boston?” But, oddly enough, that seems to have balanced itself out. And, then, those other concerns you have as you get older; people always ask you, “How do you remember those lines?” The truth is, as you get older, it gets harder to do. But, the good, hard thing about acting is that every show is a new challenge. Maybe it’s a writer you have never done before or a play you have never encountered. You are always a student if you are an actor. You are learning new things, expanding your horizons, and finding out about things like Kansas. Think about all we have learned about Kansas during Bus Stop.
    WL: I think it’s interesting that we are doing this particular play with this particular director. This is an ensemble play with a group of actors that lives or dies on the performances. That is different than other types of theatre, and I think Nicky Martin is the best at picking people for this type of show. The investment that we all put in it makes it the most exciting type of theatre to me. It’s a type of theatre that is less and less visible these days, although I thought Peter DuBois created a great ensemble piece with Becky Shaw.
    KM: I know for me last year, getting to work on Arthur Miller for the first time was an amazing experience — apart from getting to work with our wonderful director David Esbjornson, the cast, and all the people here at the Huntington — because we were getting to work on his play in this time. We learned about the resonance that his play holds still. When you get to a place where you wonder, “Do people still care about plays?”

    Our particular experience with All My Sons was extraordinary with people telling us stories about the war: how it affected their families and the memories the play brought up. It makes you feel great to do something that feels like it has relevance. It’s also interesting to be at a position in your career where you feel you’ve watched the evolution of playwriting. Haven’t you noticed a difference in the kinds of plays people are writing now compared to when we started out?
    WL: I notice more similarities than differences. Where I find the differences is the new types of shows people are doing — not plays, per se. To me that difference resonates with many other areas of society. It’s what reality TV has done. Plays used to try to appeal to small audiences; now they try to appeal to vast ones.
    KM: I wonder sometimes what effect it has that everyone can be a TV star now. It breaks down the barriers. Andy Warhol’s prediction was right; everybody wants their fifteen minutes.
    WL: I think they want a lot more than fifteen minutes!
    KM: [laughter] So, why are we still here? I was away from Boston for a while, and then I came back. You didn’t start here [but came and stayed]. I have been really happy to be working in Boston, because it feels like my home. Even though I enjoyed New York and had great experiences — and made really strong, good friendships there — I was not one of those people who got off the bus or the train, and said, “I’m home!” I thought, “I could be here for a while, but . . . ” I don’t know that I knew I would end up in Boston, but I don’t have regrets. Not that it’s easy. You still have to carve it out.
    WL: We are on the opposite end of the geographical spectrum. I was born and raised in New York City and moved away when I was 29. That was quite a while ago. Even after all these years, when I go back to Manhattan, I get into the city, and I just exhale. A place as frenetic as that makes me feel relaxed every time I drive into the city. It’s the opposite of what you are saying. It means something different when you can do it in your hometown.
    KM: For me, too, family is here.
    WL: I loved Boston when I got here, and I still love it. It gave me a great outlet for work. A lot of my friends who stayed in New York made a good living, but they worked one-twentieth the amount that I work. That’s all I wanted when I came — to make a decent living. I decided to leave New York one day when I was driving home from my office downtown, right by the World Trade Center. It would take me over an hour to go three miles. I sat there one day and thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to do this ever again!” The traffic was so bad that, every day, peddlers would come onto the highway, knowing that we would be crawling for miles. They would sell all kinds of stuff! Also, at the end of the day, I would have to add forty five minutes to my day to find a place to park. When I moved to Boston, I had a driveway! I could pull into the driveway and walk into my house. It was crazy; you couldn’t do that in New York. But, I’m sure I thought, and sometimes still think, “Oh, I’ll go back.”
    KM: All these years that we have known each other — a couple of the other actors in Bus Stop were asking me, “Do you know how many shows you and Will LeBow have done together?” Do you have a guess? Thirty?
    WL: Forty.
    KM: Really? You think so? I guess I was being conservative. How many times have we been married to each other?
    WL: I’d say it’s in the area of ten, but never a good marriage. Always dysfunctional.
    KM: No, I was always cheating on you. Maybe because Carl and Grace aren’t married, that’s why it could be good. At least we aren’t married to each other. I was telling Nicole that I played your mother in a trashcan in Endgame, and we played Helmer and Gina in The Wild Duck. I was your unfaithful wife in The Imaginary Invalid. I was your girlfriend in Marat/Sade. It’s interesting to think about, one actor to another, how many shows we have done together.
    WL: We did Shear Madness, too.
    KM: You cast me in that.
    WL: You forgive me for that. It was circa 1989. I went into Ann Taylor. You were there, and I said, “Would you like to be in Shear Madness?”
    KM: And, I said, “Sure, call me.” We did commercials and industrials together. I was in an industrial once with you and Jerry Kissel (Two Men of Florence, appearing in the upcoming Circle Mirror Transformation); it was about the Jewish holidays, and I was the non-Jewish person who had come to the seder.
    WL: That was called “The Discovery.” It was for NBC.
    KM: We’ve traveled together.
    WL: We toured with No Exit. We sucked serious face in No Exit.
    KM: I believe so.
    WL: You can quote me on that!
    KM: And, we’re still friends.  And, it will sound sappy; but, this show is special, because it is the first show that I have done here at the Huntington with you.



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