The Guthrie's director still believes in the idea of committing three stages to a single writer and introducing audiences to lesser-known work, but he admits the financial burden.
Joe Dowling took a few minutes from directing a production of "The Dead" in Dublin on Monday to talk about the Christopher Hampton festival. These are excerpts:
Q What did you like best about the festival?
A One of the great things was how much Christopher engaged in the community. He was at the movies; he did talks, a Yom Kippur event at Temple Israel. He really did become engaged in the community.
Q Ticket sales had to be disappointing, yes?
A They were disappointing in one sense, that they didn't match what we did with Tony Kushner. There were differences, of course. "Caroline, or Change" was a strong New York success. The new play ["The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures"] had its own energy because of the stuff that surrounded it, and "Tiny Kushner" was the Laura Bush piece. There weren't those immediate hooks into Christopher's work, so it was inevitable that we didn't do as well.
Q Any hindsight on the titles you chose?
A No. For me these celebrations are about introducing aspects of the writer that perhaps the audience didn't know. "Les Liaisons Dangereuses " was the one lots of people asked about. It had been done in town in the last couple years and it's something people know. "Hollywood" linked in with "Appomattox" in a way that I found interesting -- American history as opposed to European history, the question of exile, all of that.
Q With the size of those casts, could you have sold enough tickets in any event?
A In terms of making inroads into the cost? Even if we had done 100 percent, we still wouldn't have met the cost. The cost was phenomenal, and it's something I've been talking to the board about. Because with new work, and especially if you're a theater like the Guthrie where we believe in the primacy of the artist, it's difficult to say to a writer, "No, you can only write a four-hander or six-hander." The other side of that is, we have to raise quite a lot of money. Any play at the Guthrie doesn't break even, but with these, there was never any chance of doing that.
Q Is it similar in how you look at "The Great Game: Afghanistan" as an expenditure?
A That's a good analogy. We have to be serious about our box office and contributions, and we can't constantly do these pieces. But "Great Game: Afghanistan" and "Appomattox" are productions where we are trying to say something about our society and the world we live in. There's something in there that speaks to me personally about the role of theater that I'm happy to see -- even if we can't get the full houses that we get for "Roman Holiday."
Q Do you make budget adjustments for the rest of year?
A We haven't looked at that. The thing about the Guthrie is we can be down on one show and over on another. "Christmas Carol" looks like it's on track to do what it does, and "The Servant of Two Masters" looks like a winner. I saw the production in Washington. That may well help us. Every year we adjust as we go, and last year we had to make some cuts, and we do that where necessary. That might mean pay cuts, but we'll do whatever it takes to make sure we don't have a deficit. We know we're down as the season starts now, and we'll pick it up.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299