I believe in the power of great theater. So I have spent most of my career in creating the kind of theater that "makes
people better people, even if its for the fifty steps it takes to walk out of the room" as Harold Clurman once said.
I think that the power of Art is seismic. It is an instrument that can sever people from their obsession with material wealth
and self-aggrandizement and activities that are generated from purely self-interest. In fact, in our increasingly secular
world, Theater has the potential to become the focal point for celebrating community and so whenever there is an opportunity,
I encourage people to engage each other after a performance: debate, discuss,react, whatever they feel and think - in the
lobby, in the seats, outside on the sidewalk - wherever people gather for a moment before re-entering the metropolis, so they
can share the psychic experience they've just gone through. Otherwise we are all condemned to pursuing our lives, alone and
in quiet desperation, like nothing less than high-tech drones that question nothing, share nothing, and look for nothing more
than the next paycheck....
The Great American Play Series, Founder and Artistic Director, 1999-2009: ten seasons of special event 'performances
on book' of classic American dramas
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer. 2009. Nuyorican Poets Cafe, New York.
Incident at Vichy (by Arthur Miller) with Peter Weller, Fisher Stevens, Barry Primus. Makor Center of the 92st
Incident at Vichy (by Arthur Miller): F. Murray Abraham, Austin Pendleton, David Margulies, Larry Block. The
John Houseman Theater, New York City (2002)
Incident at Vichy (by Arthur Miller) w/ Richard Dreyfuss, Fritz Weaver, Barry Primus David Margulies,
Larry Block, Leo Burmester The John Houseman Theater (2003)
The Price (by Arthur Miller): Judith Light, Barry Primus, Paul Mazursky, Lyle Kessler. Ivar Theater, Los Angeles
After the Fall (by Arthur Miller): Rebecca DeMornay, Mark Rydell, Sally Kirkland, Barry Primus, Stefan Gierasch,
Lyle Kessler, Lisa Richards, Harrison Young. Barnsdall Theater, Los Angeles
The Crucible (by Arthur Miller): Lisa Richards, Barry Primus. Odyssey Theater, Los Angeles
The Deer Park (by Norman Mailer): Sally Kirkland, Stefan Gierasch. Glaxa Theater, Los Angeles
Theater - Los Angeles :
Cash Deal (by Michael Dinelli): with Tony Russell(Life with Bonnie) and John Cassini. Actor’s Studio West.
(1996). (Play was subsequently made into an independent feature film)
The Ghost Sonata (by August Strindberg). Staged reading: John Randolph. Strindberg Festival ( 1995)
The Bond (by August Strindberg). Staged reading: Barry Primus, Rebecca DeMornay. Strindberg Festival (1999)
Love in a Graveyard (by J. Tompkins). Patchett-Kauffman (P.K.E.) Staged-reading series, Dan Lauria, Artistic
Director : with Sally Struthers, Pia Zadora. Geffen Playhouse (1994)
Stuck (by Rich Krevolin). P.K.E.; staged-reading series. Dan Lauria, Artistic Director: with Ed Asner, Jo DeWinter.
Cannon Theater ( 1993)
Dance For Me Simeon (by Joseph Maher). P.K.E.; staged-reading series. Dan Lauria, Artistic Director: with Charles
Durning, Peter Onorati, Alice Ghostley. Geffen Theater (1993)
The Hundred Years War (by Earnest Kearney). Workshop presentation with Salome Jens, Gene Dynarski. Actor’s
Studio West Playwright – Director’s Unit ( 1999)
• Forgiving (by Gloria Goldsmith). Staged reading: with Lois Nettleton. Actor’s Studio West Playwright-Director’s
Theater - New York :
'Pieces of Paradise' by Tennessee Williams. A benefit production for The Thirteenth Street Repertory Company. 'But here's the excellent news: benefit or not, this is a splendid production
of four heretofore "lost" plays by Tennessee Williams, all cannily directed by Stephan Morrow.'....
'Split Ends' - an evening of three plays where the partners go their separate ways. Blue Heron Theater.
Guest Director at The Company ( The Alumni Repertory Co. of The American Academy of Dramatic Art):
The Queens of Richard III (by Normand Chaurette): Alumni Repertory Co. of The American Academy of Dramatic Art
North Shore Fish (by Israel Horovitz): A.A.D.A. (2002)
Back Bog Beast Bait (by Sam Shepard): with Paul Austin. Theater XII Repertory Company.
Dance For Me Simeon (by Joseph Maher): with Sudie Bond, Tom Everett, and Wyman Pendleton. American Theater of
Actors (1982) Best Production Off-Off Broadway Award - Show Business Magazine (1982) “Sudie Bond is
a wonderful curmudgeon who we meet, just off the road, during this bitter but ultimately sweet evening.” New York Times,
The Choice (by Gene Ruffini). (Play is about the search for a Nazi War Criminal who is now a Catholic priest):
American Theater of Actors (1984)
Messages (by John Ford Noonan). Three one-act plays. Staged reading: Paul Gleason, Jackie Bartone. American
Place Cafe Theater
The Collyer Brothers (by Sid Thiel). rehearsed reading: Paul Austin, Tom Noonan. American Theater of Actors
Spanish Confusion (by John Ford Noonan). Staged reading: Joseph Ragno, Phil Peters. Actor’s Studio
- Playwright-Directing Unit
These Days the Watchmen Sleep. by Karl Weberly. Staged reading. New Dramatists, David Juaire, Artistic Director.
Play was nominated for National Regional Theater Award in Playwriting.
Other Projects - originating from The Actor’s Studio, Playwright-Directing Unit (1985-1987) :
Tough Guys Don’t Dance (written and directed by Norman Mailer): Canon Films (1987) Played the role of
Stoodie; co-starred with Ryan O’Neal and Isabella Rossellini
Strawhead: Marilyn- A Memory Play (written and directed by Norman Mailer) The Actor’s Studio, N.Y.
(1986) Originated the roles of Rod and Joe DiMaggio
• Bovver Boys (by Willie Holtzmann) Directed by Lenore DeKoven. Originated the role of Allie. Actor’s
Cabal of Hypocrites ( by Mikhail Bulgakov) played Count D’Orcy, supporting lead. Directed by David Margulies:
The Actor’s Studio, N.Y. (1985)
As an actor, Mr. Morrow has performed in many productions in Los Angeles and New York. Some of his favorite roles have
been : Phil in 'Hurly Burly' at The West Coast Ensemble in Los Angeles.
Preacher in Anne Barlowe's Civil War epic 'Glory Halleluhah' at The Vandam Theater in New York, The witness
in 'The Trial of the Catonsville Nine' by Daniel Berrigan at The Vandam Theater, N.Y.
Georgie Ross Jordan in 'The Shirt' and Rex in 'Lunchtime' by Leonard Melfi at Theater XII Repertory Company.
The kidnapper in 'Her Voice' by Mario Fratti at The Quaigh Theater, and as the delivery boy in Mr.Fratti's play The Cage
at The Manhattan Theater Club.
The gambler opposite Dan Lauria in Sam Shepard's Geography of a Horse Dreamer at the E.S.T.annex, as the young man
in Betsy Robinson's play A Platonic Affair also at E.S.T.
Mark Antony in Julius Caesar at Federal Hall in Daryl Croxton's site-specific production.
Mr. Morrow also had the pleasure of appearing opposite Anne Jackson in 'New World Monkey' by France Burke at The Public
Theater which won second prize in The POW (professional older women) festival.
He was a member of The NOW Theater Repertory Company in Buffalo, New York for one year during which he performed in the
controversial production of 'Sabbat - Mass of Darkness' at La Mama in N.Y.C. under the direction of Gerald Miller.
In the last few seasons (2008 - 2009) he has been very active in the developmental process of staged readings of new
plays - both as actor and director sometimes simultaneously doing both.
At The Lark he directed Joanne Tedesco's play 'Perfidia' with a cast of seventeen as well as playing Fritz the leader
of Italian POW's in an internment camp in upstate N.Y. during WWII - whose existence remain a little known fact even today.
For Jordan Buck at The Red Room he played a tortured survivalist in a staged-reading of his play 'Refugees'.
He had the pleasure of playing Hank Teagle, the thwarted writer in love with his best friends wife in a staged reading
of Clifford Odetts' great play about Hollywood corruption, 'The Big Knife' for The Actor's Legacy Group.
And for Marco Calvani he played an Arab conspirator in a staged reading that was the American premier of his play
'Beneath the City' at The Sage Theater.
This past season he was very honored to be given 'PlayTime' by Murray Schisgal to get into production
after Mr.Schisgal attended one of his performances on book of 'The Deer Park'.
Actor’s Studio N.Y. Playwright-Directing Unit (2004-2009) Pete Masterson. Carlin Glinn Moderators.
Actor’s Studio West - Playwright-Directing Unit, Los Angeles (1997-2001) Moderators: Mark Rydell, Lyle
Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab West: 2000
Actor’s Studio East - Playwright-Directing Unit, New York City (1985 – 1988) Moderator: Arthur
Penn; Sponsor: Elia Kazan
Training and Education :
Actor’s Studio- Playwright Directing Unit, Directing Technique and Dramaturgy: Elia Kazan, Arthur Penn,
Joseph Mankewicz, and Norman Mailer. (1985 – 1988)
Stella Adler (student scholarship)
Michael V. Gazzo
University of Buffalo, Bachelor of Arts: Magna Cum Laude
Stuyvesant H.S. , N.Y.C. General Excellence Award. Sterling Jensen (Roundabout Theater, leading actor) : Drama
Life Experience International traveler – circled globe for two years. Volunteered on Kibbutz Kisufim, Negev, Israel
for 5 months. Studied Kabuki Theater in Kyoto, Japan.
Summer Farmhand on Peter’s Homestead Farm, Sullivan County N.Y. Duties included milking 60 cows, putting in over
30,000 bales of hay, caring for livestock, fencing, horse wrangling.
Published author of articles:
Humanist Magazine("Running with the Dog at Sundance") his adventures greyhounding it to The Sundance Film Festival.
The Soul of the American Actor ("Inside the Soul of an American Director"). His work with Arthur Miller on 'Incident
The Mailer Review 2008 ("The Unknown and the General"). A memoir of his work with Norman Mailer on 'Strawhead' and 'Tough
Guys Don't Dance' .
The Mailer Review 2009 ("Tough Guys Do Dance"). Further adventures working with Mailer on 'Tough Guys Don't Dance'.
The Arthur Miller Journal 2009 ( 'Inside the Soul of an American Director'). An expanded article about his work with
Winner Silver Award, Solas International Travel Writing Competition, 2009. For 'Amorgos'. A story about a hike through
the mountains of a Greek Island in which he was almost fatally caught in a snowstorm - it hadn't snowed on
the island for decades.
Novelist: Rock Tavern ( a coming of age story, about a young artist trying to prove himself as a farmhand and
that climaxes with the mystical bonding of three young men. (recommended by Norman Mailer for publication).
Current Writing Projects:
'The Unknown and the Generals' - a just completed, full length book on his work with Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller.
'The Travelers' - a memoir of a two year global pilgrimage in which he traveled with a knapsack, minimal funds and an
open heart, overland through areas that included the Negev desert, Afghanistan and the Himachal Pradesh in India
before war, mayhem and modernization bulldozed so many of the old ways that existed in these places.
'A Portrait of a Non-Artist as a Young Man' - his experiences as a teenager in New York rubbing elbows with several
working artists such as sculptor Mark DiSuvero, watercolorist Fred Miller, potter Ron Burke, installationist Brian Oneill
and reknowned critic and New Museum founder Marcia Tucker.
published in The Soul of The American Actor :
"INSIDE THE SOUL OF AN AMERICAN DIRECTOR by Stephan Morrow.
What is this cross we bear called ‘the desire to do great theater’? What draws us up the Sisyphaean
mountain again and again? Is it that rare moment, that electric moment, when we are launched? When all the forces of the theater
gods combine and pull us up from the darkened house of a theater into some Olympian chamber of cosmic revelation? I can say
that for me, it happened recently, directing a workshop performance of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. Unfortunately
it can be a very long time until rare moments such as these happen again. But we drive on. Why? Even when civilians (those
whose lives do not obsessively revolve around the theater) think we’re crazy, or our family and friends look at us sideways
with the doleful glance of pity that one gives to the ‘slightly tetched in the head’, to use a phrase by Mark
Twain. It’s a reasonable response, coming from a culture that is itself obsessed only with material gain as the final
arbiter of value. And one which actively dislikes any attempt at providing introspection, which certainly is theater’s
strongest suit. So how do you, in fact, convince someone of the value of a life in the theater, in the cultural climate we
live in? Simple. That in spite of it all, there is that special moment in a theater when the hair on your neck raises up as
you are taken somewhere out of the realm of everyday experience and into some kind of visceral understanding of non-ordinary
reality; when you experience your inner emotional landscape shift and you are renewed on some level. And actually transformed
into a slightly better individual, “if only for the fifteen steps past the exit of the theater,” as Harold Clurman
once said. To him that was still of definite value. And since the life of the theater artist is more endangered now than ever
before, for me, its become an anthem: Make a difference on the planet, whether large or small, by contributing to the consciousness
of the body politic. And I don’t mean by presenting some kind of agit-prop skit that advances a political agenda. There’s
probably nothing more well meaning and more deadly than ‘political’ theater’. After all, we get enough propaganda
from the deluge of commercials we have to suffer through. No, I mean by raising the flesh and bones of great live drama that
reaches across the footlights and touches our very souls. That’s what makes the struggle worthwhile. You might also
ask why theater artists on occasion wryly refer to theater as ‘my habit’ - as if it’s an addiction? Well,
in a way, once you experience one of those rare moments, I suppose it can feel like that, pulling you back again and again,
though it does something much more profound than any drug. I prefer to see ‘a life in the theater’ as being a
monk without a monastery, a calling, and when the elements in a production combine to create an altered reality on the stage,
I see it as being more related to a religious experience than anything else. Although, it might be said that even in the most
dire and dark moments of drama the humor of irony often emerges which is as sacred as anything else. So while your psyche
is stretching faster than a speeding bullet and your soul is leaping over the tallest mountains, you definitely enter a zone
of Olympian twilight and experience a dress rehearsal for all the issues that life confronts us with. The price of admission
is high, no question, but for the chance to participate in the mysterious process of putting up a play so that it works to
the best of the ability of the writing - there’s nothing like it, and a price well worth paying with the currency in
sacrifices that it costs. But, there’s the rub: the play. It all starts with the writing: if it has the power to create
an authentic experience; if it raises issues of real significance; if it is emotionally cathartic and moves you on the deepest
level. Arthur Miller’s play Incident at Vichy does that for me. A few years ago I created what I called ‘The Great
American Play Series,’ to present ‘performances on book’ of important plays of our time, plays with ideas
of size that we should be hearing. I began without costumes, sets, or lighting, but with the best actors I could get, and
presented special reading presentations. I began with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. And it was at that very moment Arthur
Miller himself wrote a long article in ‘The New York Times’ saying how the play had changed for him, from issues
of informing, to issues of the invasion of one’s privacy. What he said meant a great deal to me, and I decided to continue
investigating his work, and so proceeded to have his play, After the Fall, as part of the Series. With the moral support I
received from Shelley Winters, who had seen a staged reading I had directed of Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park at The
Actor’s Studio, I was able to enlist Mark Rydell, Rebecca DeMornay, Sally Kirkland, Lyle Kessler, and Barry Primus (who
also took part in several other of my presentations, and who had been in four premiers of Arthur Miller’s work) for
the ‘performance on book’ of ‘After the Fall’. During the performance, it was if the actors “caught
a fever from one another” – a burning determination to do the writing the justice it deserved. Perhaps it was
because as actors, they so seldom had the opportunity to work on material of such power, but it launched them. And at the
end of the performance, it was as if they each left a little piece of themselves behind on that stage. The audience’s
deeply passionate response to what had occured, spoke to me of a hunger for yet more great plays to be investigated by more
terrific actors. I had planned to move on to explore Tennessee Williams’s work, when the world suddenly shifted in many
ways, both personally and globally – 9/11 happened. Traumatized by that horrific event as profoundly as everyone else,
nevertheless, as time wore on, it seemed to me new issues started emerging that had a disturbing resonance. At that time,
by the thinnest thread of a memory, I recalled that Miller’s play, Incident at Vichy might be related to what was occurring.
From that nether land of the subconscious, I had an image of the play as being a dark, nightmarish world where innocents were
persecuted and arrested for unknown reasons. When I re-read Vichy I was almost shocked to find out how site-specific the play
was, and how much it was a slice of an important history that should never be forgotten. And yet, as I returned to the play
over and over again, I marveled at how the play in fact, did bring out the plight of innocent victims being arrested by an
omnipotent police force in a universal arena. So I felt it operated on two powerful levels: one, a drama that looked at the
historic persecution of Jews during WWII, while the other worked as a dark harbinger of things to come. As someone who often
feels vaguely subversive just sitting on a subway if I don’t have a suit on amongst commuters who do, it was not a long
leap for me to imagine being an attractive target somewhere down the line, as all artists might be, by being one of the ‘antennae
of our race’. What if with various justifications, citizens started getting arrested without due process of law, or
without access to a lawyer, and what if they were then held indefinitely? While I can appreciate our need for protection,
where were the safeguards, the checks and balances of these new policies of protection? It was hard not to miss the fact that
in the larger scope of things we might be standing on a very slippery slope that could end up depriving us of the very civil
liberties we prided ourselves on leading the world with. What better bulwark of protection could there be for our freedoms
than to exercise our right to free speech, by indeed speaking up: in the passionate debating that a powerful evening of theater
could ignite? And out of passionate discourse, might not some clarity be achieved in the best democratic tradition? What better
purpose for putting on a play, and what better reflection of the merit of a play if that is what it inspires – a passionate
response from its audience. I immediately set about to gathering a cast and a theater for a workshop performance of Incident
at Vichy. As it turned out, the first workshop performance, had a cast that included of F. Murray Abraham, Austin Pendleton,
Larry Block, David Margulies, Stephen Mendillo, and Leo Burmester, among many other excellent actors. To my deep satisfaction,
the reading received a thunderous ovation from the audience that seemed to go on for longer than I had ever personally experienced
in the theater. Cries rang out for the author as if it were a new play. And finally, Mr. Miller did ascend the stage because
he had in fact, attended the performance. Shortly thereafter he gave me his personal blessing to try to get a full production
up. Heady stuff for any director. At first, I was a little stunned when my attempts to have the play produced - even though
it was written by one of our greatest living writers in the winter of his career - were rebuffed. While the cast is not small,
a revival of this play that seems more alive and vital today than even when it was first written, seemed completely appropriate.
Unfortunately this didn’t happen, and so to keep momentum of the project going, I did another workshop staging, this
time, with Richard Dreyfuss and Fritz Weaver, in the leads, and with Barry Primus coming into town to be part of the cast.
Again, it was an evening of theater that relied on only great acting and great writing and rivaled any in its power. People
had turned out in large numbers on a night of sub-zero temperatures to virtually fill The Houseman Theater. Not only that,
but this time a post-play discussion that went on for an hour and unleashed a whirlwind of heated debate, seemed like a town
hall debate on the state of things in the world. Incident at Vichy is a play that should be seen and heard today by thousands
of people. And even though I remain optimistic, so far there still has only been a deaf ear from the movers and shakers who
would make it possible to bring the play into the major arena it deserves. What can I say? We’re still looking. The
Sisyphaean mountain calls…....."
A Personal Tribute to Arthur Miller
by Stephan Morrow 5/05.
This has been a sad time, with the passing of Arthur Miller. There has been much written and spoken about the power of
his writing which was of course magnificent, but I would like to share something about the character of the man. In November,
the last time I talked with him, he seemed fine though he couldn’t see his way to making the trip from his home in Roxbury
to Hartford where I was putting on another special event performance of his play ‘Incident at Vichy’ . This would
be our fourth presentation of the play and the cast and myself all had high hopes that if things went well, we might find
backers for a major production of the play. I had thought of course, if Arthur could attend, it might help our cause. Two
years before Arthur had indeed attended a ‘performance on book’ of ‘Incident at Vichy’ and gave me
his personal blessing to move forward toward a Broadway production - the height of flattery for any director. But much to
my chagrin, even though audiences embraced the play passionately, and even though, in its power and relevance - dealing as
it does with the collapse of civil liberties and anti-Semitism - it was very timely, no producers stepped up to the plate.
A cast of sixteen was generally considered impossibly large for Broadway unless it was a commercial entertainment . In my
conversations with Arthur his wry wit never allowed for rage but he was very aware that there might not be room for his plays
on Broadway anymore. And yet, because they believed in the merit of the project so much, my actors volunteered to even travel
to Hartford and put it on up there for one night, which we did and had a brilliant evening. I had hoped to call Arthur with
some good news, but after the enthusiastic crowd had gone home and the dust had settled, still no producers materialized,
and the next thing I knew Arthur was gone. One of my deepest regrets is that I did not have the chance to repay Arthur for
his loyalty and patience by sticking by me during the last two years. That kind of integrity will remain with me for a long
time. The world may be unfair, but sometimes some people do manage to do the right thing. In the parlance of The Brooklyn
Navy Yard that he was very proud to have worked in as a young man, he was not only one of our greatest playwrights - he was
a stand up guy..... Stephan Morrow Playwright Directing Unit, Actor’s Studio, N.Y. (email@example.com)
Traveling to Theater- The Making of a Theater Director
- an excerpt from ‘The Travel Memoirs’
2009by Stephan Morrow
I had the pleasure
and honor of working with Arthur Miller for three years trying to get his play Incident at Vichy to Broadway. He had attended a ‘performance on book’ I directed and
gave me his blessing and permission to continue trying to bring it to a full production in a major venue. During that time
we occasionally spoke on the phone and while we naturally talked about the nature of the project - for example, casting and the rehearsal process for the other stage readings I was planning ( We presented
four of them and they included actors like F. Murray Abraham, Fritz Weaver, Richard Dreyfuss, Austin Pendleton, Barry Primus,
David Margulies and Larry Block), our conversations were often wide ranging .
Once I mentioned I
had spent two years traveling around the world and it caught his attention. His response was to tell me an interesting theory
he had. He felt that theater - especially in the institutional camp had succumbed to what he called The Hothouse Effect.That those individuals inside the hothouse -however they got there - by charm, credentials or connections, were nurtured and brought along. But if you spent most
of your waking hours in a black box or around a producer’s office you might make the contacts necessary for moving up
the chain, but what experience in the world did that give you? Serious life experience that would inform your work in the
theater? Not likely.
And if you brought
your superiors reservoirs of coffee and became a maestro of the Xerox machine, you might indeed ingratiate yourself with them.
But if a major part of your time off was spent as a bistro denizen - obsessed like so many Manhattanites with ‘eating
out’ - and your most outstanding skill was ordering from a menu say, at one glance; or
if your worst trauma was that you couldn’t get your favorite off the brunch menu, how would that enable you to bring
depth or deep understanding to the great dramas?
But at the same time
he said, those independent spirits who were operating outside the hothouse, where they would be buffeted by the trials and
tribulations of the real world - those mavericks - rough around the edges perhaps and less able to make nice with producers and administrators - would remain
outside and not gain access to the drivers seat. And as a result, his conclusion was, theater had become anemic...What a statement. And story. Miller was not Miller for nothing.
As for myself,
I have indeed often wondered how trekking with a knapsack around the world at the end of my teenage years impacted on my work
in the theater afterward. With a miniscule amount of funds - having a hundred
bucks or so extra at any given moment - and no safety net - there was no plastic
in India then, I can assure you, the sense of distance from the familiar was so great that it seemed like you had not only
traveled galaxies’ distance, but back in time as well. Stepping off an ancient bus painted like an elephant in Herat
in the middle of a dark Afghani night was like stepping into the land of The Arabian Nights. No electricity. No lights. No sound but the wind of the desert. And little huts with kerosene lanterns
throwing their orange glow on little stacks of fruit. If you saw a speck of light moving toward you in the dark and heard
a clip clop you knew that it was up to you to jump out of the way of a donkey cart because he certainly wouldn’t see
you. So there I was, a young pilgrim, searching the world for what the old ways could tell me, or just wandering until I felt satisfied with my attempt at ‘comprehending
reality’ was how I put it at the time - globally or otherwise - such as it was in the late 70’s. I think at the
time I would say - to myself mostly - that to challenge myself by not knowing where I would put my head at night for almost
two years - there might be some value in that. That such a journey would push me outside my conventionally bourgeois comfort
zone and that might be a sufficient challenge to break the bonds of that conditioning and upbringing and open my eyes to some
kind of deeper experience of things. Later, the idea to go ‘full circle’,
around the world, crept into my thinking - that might be significant. Some mystical significance that a Sioux shaman mentioned,
Black Elk I think, was the power of the circle, so to close the loop and end up where I had begun without repeating anything
would be somehow sympathetic with the laws of the universe and rewarded. Those
were my preoccupations at that age, and though now sometimes I shudder to think of the kind of things that dance in your head
when everything is ahead of you and time is insignificant, still there was something to the atavistic instinct that led me
to them so that I feel lucky to have been able to follow it. Of course, that I am here to look back with nostalgia at the
things that happened means that at least I survived and truth be told, that’s saying a lot. There wasn’t the dire
jeopardy of combat - and I saw myself in direct contrast to that - a self appointed ‘soldier of peace’ trying
to embrace the many people whose path I crossed - but being on the road beyond
the beyond in the outback of Afghanistan or in the mountains of India took its toll on many a young traveler who just disappeared
into oblivion. A brief letter from a consulate office, if there was an official report, but that was about all.
But the question
that begs to be asked, what value has that had in my work as a theater artist? Is there a direct line from the mountains that
I climbed both metaphorically and physically, to the truth that I could bring to the stage?I can’t say absolutely, but there a few things which inform your outlook and that stay with you from traveling:One is a sense of scope - the sheer immensity
of the earth - when N.Y. and L.A. can seem to subsume the entire planet, how far the mountains of Afghanistan were from the Rockies. Or the gray hills of Korea from
the green hills of the Catskills.So space
- that would be something. The global gauging of it. A sense of proportion of
the vastness of the entire globe.
And when you have no safety net and you are seven thousand miles from home - if you even think of the U.S. as home anymore - and eating becomes something that there is no guarantee about, surrounded as you are, by strangers
in the south of Taiwan say, and haven’t spoken English in a week - the
loneliness is profound. That dimension of the human experience is something that you can’t imagine unless you’ve
been there -no matter how alienated you have been in your adolescence. Or when
an extra djapati (something akin to an Indian version of a tortilla) found squirreled
away in your knapsack seems like manna from heaven when you are trekking in the mountains in Northern India where there are
no shops at all much less those monstrous food distribution centers we call Super Markets. Think about that. SUPER markets.
Markets that are beyond normal so that eating more than normal is de rigeur. But
if the only thing you can do is hope to see a farmer and further hope that his cow is dispensing extra milk that day, not
week, day - obviously there’s nothing remotely like refrigeration to keep milk from spoiling so it has to be fresh from
the udder. Or even if the giant pine trees up near the Rhotang Pass in the foothills of the Himalayas are so beautiful that
you and your traveling partner exhort each other to keep going because ‘we are in God’s country!’, you still
have to carry food with you or beg to buy whatever a local villager has extra of. I might add that a woman’s protectiveness
only extends to her family, and it’s the husband who wants to strut his stuff and brandish his hospitality by bringing
a stranger home to eat with the family.
And added to
this was an ancillary principle to my traveling regimen, which was that I felt I was cheating myself out of another experience
of the world, if I had to pay for lodging. Better to engage in conversation with a villager and throw myself on the grace
of his hospitality. For a bit of shelter, whether a space on the floor for a sleeping bag, in an empty school room for the
night, or a Sikh temple’s veranda. Even on a cement railroad platform in Chandigarh waiting for
a train - much to the chagrin of the more well-heeled nouveau riche Indians who stared with disbelief at a Westerner lounging
like the lowest castes on the ground and with them. What can I say, it made sense to me.
But staying with people, you would meet the wife, the kids who were usually awed by the sight of a young
Westerner willing to engage with them. And you really get to see who people are this way, as opposed to the fawning hoteliers
all over the world. As someone’s guest you’re on equal terms with your host and people level with you. You’re
actually asking them to dip into the reservoir of their generosity if they have one. And I found generosity an overwhelming
currency wherever I traveled. Never had a problem in all that time. And many many doors opened. It’s so different in
the West when civilization alienates citizens enough so that each person is left to his own devices to find shelter for the
night and it becomes a commercial endeavor. People in less developed countries understand the need for a roof without paying
for it and willingly share theirs most of the time. I was welcomed everywhere from salvaged castles in Wales to a monastery on Cyprus that I had hiked to, to The Golden Temple in Amritsar, to a Japanese Tendi Kyo Buddhist temple in Kyoto to Kibbutz Kisufim in the Negev to another
kibbutz at Yamagishi Kai in Nara, Japan, and on and on. Once in the boondocks
of Taiwan I knocked on the door of a brick making factory and gestured to the man and his family that I wanted to lie down
and ‘seep seep heah’ and gestured what I meant - and they welcomed me in without hesitation even though it was
about 2AM when I had been stranded out on the highway.The only time I remember
having a problem was at a school compound on Lanyu, an island offTaiwan where the aborigines of the island, the Yami, sent their children to learn
English and where I had been told I could stay. There was nothing even like a hotel even if I had wanted one. I had already
spent a week as a guest with some prisoners on a farm - it turned out the island, beside being inhabited by aboriginal people
was also a low level prison island. I was intractable because I had been told
people had stayed there and eventually the principal gave in and accepted my presence. Because it was typhoon weather I ended
up staying for more than a week waiting for the ferry, teaching English and even sharing a jar of pickled vegetables from
my pack, when the islands food supply got dangerously low. But that was the only time.
And then of course,
there are the moments of extreme hazard when traveling with ‘the people’ either hitchhiking or by bus or train.
Or on the back of a motorcycle with the weight of your 35 kilo knapsack swaying the whole rig like a drunken driver was steering,
which he wasn’t - just a generous soul who was not used to having a boulder
on the back of his cycle as you both proceeded along the switchbacks through the gorges of the southern Taiwanese mini-mountains.
So there were hairy moments. Certainly you didn’t have to go 12,000 miles to twist the tiger’s tail, but moments
like that just seemed to occur with more frequency than in the safety of high civilization. It’s not so much the wild
west as the wild east.
So. Thus far, we have space, hunger and danger. Well, these
are no small things. One might ask how you can work on a play like the Lower Depths if you haven’t felt real hunger?
Well you can, but I would wager it’s with a different approach than if you’ve had your stomach growl and had absolutely
nothing to calm it with. Nada. More emptiness. What happens of course, is you get light-headed and have to fight the inclination
to sleep. So it might change how you see the behavior of half starving denizens in a rooming house when there wasn’t
even what we call ‘work’ available for most folks to earn their bread. It’s a tiny example but that’s
where your sense might be different. How the actors would move in that world. Or wouldn’t move. And in fact, I had been
in moments like that, and to this day on the rare occasion that I am in a posh restaurant and see perfectly good food being
bussed from the other tables all around me while diet conscious pencil blondes push their plates away with disdain, I have
to fight the urge to jump up and stuff it all into a bag, maybe to feed more hungry denizens of the street, whatever, anything
to save it from being so utterly wasted. Call me crazy. Call me Ishmael, but it’s seems unthinkingly criminal and that
is also the kind of perspective traveling gives you. It’s true that I have on occasion seen some folks leave their doggy
bags next to a guy sleeping in a doorway, but I can’t help but think that’s like pissing in the ocean. Can’t
help it. When you see people not in Africa, but all over the world, from Turkey to
Taiwan, frequently thin. For example, one thing I know is that there are nothing but
empty plates in Kandahar in Afghanistan when folks may
not use forks to eat with, but they sure wipe the plates clean with their pan bread. I’m not trying to sound like some
bleeding heart, I often felt like a traveling eyeball. Bearing witness, not so much to turn the world upside down, but to
at least KNOW.Observe. To go outside of the parameters of the box that one was
conditioned by and see with new eyes.
I want to make a point here. Especially to all the academics who spend their time theorizing amongst the
forest of advanced degrees. It turns out that -to name only a few - Arthur Miller
himself, Norman Mailer, Eugene O’Neill, certainly Ernest Hemingway all fled from the halls of academia. For Norman, even after the diligence and brilliance it took to for a young Jewish kid from Brooklyn get to the hallowed halls
of Cambridge, he sensed that there was a bitter truth waiting for him in the jungles of the
Pacific in WWII and voluntarily put himself there. And Miller worked as a master shipbuilder in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and
by all accounts felt as proud of those accomplishments as anything else he would do, including playwriting. In O’Neill’s
case, it was a miracle that he made it back from several years on the ships, after being down and out, utterly broke in places
like Buenos Aires. He wasn’t just slumming, gathering material for his plays to come, he was
battling his demons and figured he had gotten to the end of his rope in Argentina.
That was it. Hemingway of course, whose college was the streets of the Toronto Star beat he was given, brought ex-patriate
experience to his art like nobody else. Made it the main subject of his work, alongside war. So I’m not under any illusion
that I’m inventing anything with this exhortation to get out and see the world. Just stating the case for engaging in
a rite of passage that tears down an inherited comfort zone and in the process gives you a heft of the world that is adult
and deep. It could be boiled down to a question a Welsh trucker who had given me a ride once asked me in the middle of a downpour
-I forget what we were talking about exactly, something about how to turn into
a vehicle into a skid on a slicked highway not away from it, but he suddenly blurted out‘ Do you know what you’re talking about? You know what’s what, mate? Or are you some kind of a paper
arse hole? You know, that you read about it...”
There are two
other directors that I personally know, from another generation, who fit this profile. One is Jack Garfein, an early director
at The Actor’s Studio and who directed ‘End as a Man’ which started as a workshop, made its way to Broadway
and then into being a watershed film. Jack was a living survivor of the camps and I think the story goes that as a child he
had been arrested in the Warsaw ghetto sneaking in and out of the ghetto trying to ‘organize’ food.And Ulu Grosbard,director of much theater
and independent film (‘True Confessions’) was a refugee from Europe and after fleeing through half a dozen countries
ended up in Cuba for the duration of the war. My question is, are these the kind of credentials being asked for from directors
today? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
Sometimes in my work
as a director, a moment comes up when indeed there is a direct line between my experience traveling and what my sense of truth
of that moment is.Even though I think what you experience on the road goes far
deeper than specific images and the subconscious is filled chock a block with countless impressions of the exotic that get
stored away, the surreal ( watching the moon rise from the windy top of an Afghani bus as the turbans of the fellow travelers
unwind e.g. ), and the unusual commonplace occurrences (seeing men squat on their haunches to relieve themselves next to every
wall in Rawalpindi). You could however say that if you’ve seen someone on the cusp of getting the all important visa
into the country they are desperate to enter - how they behave in front of the consulate, or as they are waiting, speaking
in hushed, voices with intense concentration - that might have been why I guided my actors to speak in those same kind of
hushed voices - waiting to be interrogated by Nazis in ‘Incident At Vichy’. And one of the things that Arthur
Miller responded to.
Or another of
these moments directly linked to traveling was that moment after I had auditioned for Norman Mailer for his film ‘Tough
Guys Don’t Dance’, and he and I talked about the character I was reading for. It involved some pretty grisly things
and a corpse, and it came up in conversation that I had traveled up into Cambodia and
came across some pretty bad sights involving corpses. And Norman out did me by describing how when he was in the Pacific islands
a local villager had tried to sell the G.I.s some heads of Japanese soldiers swinging like lanterns on a long pole that he
was carrying them by. This may be an example of an experience I would have chosen to miss, but it did let him know that I
had been ‘out there’ and not spent a life in the sheltered confines of a theater career - and it gave me a certain
credibility. It worked for him and I got the role.
But I think these
particular examples fall far short of the impact of the whole experience. One thing that it did for me was that it cut the
rope so that I could be free. No corporate lifestyle, no career in law or medicine, no, it gave me a hunger to express something.
A feeling that I had something to say.That feeling, admittedly a religious one,
inexorably led to a life in the arts. And the harshness of traveling on the grass roots trail gave one a taste of the kind
of sacrifice and commitment a life in the theater would entail.When a production
has really pushed the actors to a place which is not comfortable but where they feel uncomfortably naked, there will be no
cheering, no ‘happy happy, we’ve put up a show’. But rather an almost irritable feeling, a feeling of being
tricked into revealing more than is allowable in public and embarrassed by that. There are no Bambi’s in the great tragedies,
it’s go for the jugular with no mercy. That’s the level of reality that the great dramas demand. Just like the
greatest acknowledgement of a performance is a hushed audience where people are moved beyond applause to some deep private
place in themselves.
It should be
noted that I’m in no way ascribing to the global jaunts I see taking place of late. Tourism for everybody, everywhere.
Beer blasts in Bali, Club Med on the beaches of Goa. A plague of locusts invested in finding ‘fine dining’ and temples
and bridges. After I made it back, I used to pale when I heard of someone flying directly to Delhi
never having been to the Indian subcontinent before. I had traveled overland from Istanbul and slowly
became acclimated to moving through different cultures over a period of months. It felt like being on a train where as one
proceeded through each car, you went further back in time the further east one went.Until arriving in India where you had leapt back half a dozen centuries and into an exotic tropical land
where the bullock carts were the country’s symbol. The channel had been changed. It was as simple as that. You had dropped
out of the world that you knew and had gone over the hill.And there were parts
of it that were ancient and beautiful and parts that had to do with death and dying that were not. It was all of a piece.
Another world. Sitting on the marble veranda of The Golden Temple looking at the man made pond that surrounded it in the moonlight.
Or watching a thin man being slapped mercilessly about the head by a larger denizen. I couldn’t stand it and though,
disciple of Ghandi as I was at the time, when I punched him in the stomach to stop him my fist sank into the pillow he had
for a gut and he looked at me like I was crazy. And after I tracked down the local police station and then had to pay for
the two wheeled cyclo to bring an ancient constable back to investigate, they had vanished and I never found out what it was
In closing I offer
some of an excerpt from a memoir of traveling that brings the reader into a moment by moment experience of traveling that
I think will be interesting.
“When we finally reached the village of Manali and got off the bus we were somewhat humbler than when we got on. As we trekked
further and further into the woods beyond it, I turned to Matti and taking in the stunning green of the surrounding woods
and said “ That’s what price we paid...” Matti said “what?” He really wanted to know what I
was talking about. So I said, “The crash on the bus. That was the price we paid- for this.”Matti nodded and jerked head at the mountains in the
background. “God’s country “ he said. I spread my arms out in an embrace of the limitless white vistas and
said. “Yes, Matti, this is it. We got here. God’s country. Huge pine trees and rocks the size of small houses
dotted the landscape and the ground was covered with the most brilliant tight-knit grass like a golf green - except it was
all natural.“From then on that’s what we called it as a kind of
running gag out of the euphoria of being there. “Good morning. God’s country you know.” Matti would smile
from ear to ear. “Yes. God’s country”, with his drawling Finnish accent. It was a wonderful feeling, as
if we had been rewarded for our pains by being given a special trip to the first step on the stairway to heaven. Wide gray
vistas, green expanses, and even the air had changed. We were in the middle of summer and down in Delhi
it had been close to 130 degrees Farenheit, and the fact of life was that people just didn’t go out from to , period. They just stayed in the cool of the shade, indoors or wherever they could
find it and simply didn’t move. Stifling, lung scorching, tinder dry, air and sun rays that could fry an egg on the
pavement, if there had been a pavement,was what it was like.I can still recall the first time I saw the canopy of an English umbrella floating toward me from down
a road in the middle of that heat. At first it seemedto be a
disembodied shimmering black shape floating on the breeze, if there had been one. Then I could make out that it was being
carried by an old turbaned Indian. This tradition of using a rain umbrella in the sun wasbecause its black dome drew the heat and dissipated it, somehow giving some protection to the carrier as he somnambulated
down the yellow dusty inferno of a road. Yet now, a day or so later, at almost 10,000 feet up here in the mountains, there
was a chill in the air, enough to wear the wool sweater I carried in my pack. In fact, the Rhotang Pass of The Himalayas was
about ten miles up and still had ten feet of snow even at the height of summer, so there were wild torrents of ice-melt water
rushing down from the mountains and there were a couple of ravines around us that had churning white water going through them
they were so full. These streams were putting out a symphony of the sound of wild rushing water that blanketed everything
within earshot. Just a constant gush of crashing, raging water and the result was that it discouraged anything but the most
crucial communication. Idle chatter was out. Impossible.You might as well have
tried to carry on a conversation next to Niagra Falls, and after we had adjusted to this enforced silence, really began to
understand the meaning of being thoughtful. Mindfulness. And how so much of the time people give in to the insecurities they
are feeling and chatter like birds. Not saying anything really substantial, just making whatever sounds that would melt a
little of the glacial isolation that surrounded a person. Without having that option of coming out with all the banal things
we say just for the sake of bonding to a fellow human fell away, and I think I never felt calmer and more settled inside of
myself. Of course, that day after the bus accident we were still living under its influence so it might have been all part
of it, but I don’t think it was just that. That rushing sound Sssshhhhhhhhaaaaaahhhhhhh – non-stop with no possibility
of ending, for me, was transformed into a felt reality of the veil of experience that we all lived on one side of and that
I now understood could be rended at any given moment to reveal that darkness just on the other side of it. The sound and its
overwhelming power carried me to a place where everything I looked at, the tall pines, the house sized boulders, the mountains
in the distance, all became a flat picture that could be pierced by an eternal spear of darkness. That sound created all this.
Regardless of how much denial we labored under during our daily preoccupations and obsessions, the picture could be broken.
Maya. Illusion. Near death does that to you. After we set up our tent we met a couple of Europeans, a guy and a girl, who
had been living in these woods for several months. And they were very welcoming, inviting us to join them for freshly baked
djapatis. Again, on the reverse side of the coin this time - the conversation was especially warm and rich and engaging and
we sat around their campfire cooking djapatis on hot rocks as long as we could until the dusk had begun to glow purple and
after a little while longer, the green color of the woods drained away and everything turned gray.It was hard to break away, we were that fragile and being with them was some kind of consolation for what
we had been through. This was good chatter. After going through many sincere words
of thanks – and acknowledging that this was the kind of encounter that made for peak moments in traveling - we stood
up to return to our camp. So we bid them good night and turned to retrace our steps to our own campsite. By the time we had
taken 100 steps in the direction of our tent, it was pitch black. Not just any nightfall, this was as if a curtain had come
down and snuffed out any last ray of light. We could have gone back to our new friends campsite, but I don’t know if
it was pride or not wanting to spoil such a perfect encounter, but we kept slowly picking our way through the woods with Matti
following close behind me.As we continued, I muttered something about how slow
our progress was going to be, to him behind me, and I realized that he wasn’t there. Gone.I called out to him and from a shockingly long distance away, I heard him answer me faintly. How could
that have happened? He was just behind me a second ago. That’s the kind of thing that can and does happen in pitch black
darkness.By calling out over and over and by listening to him answering, I was
able to slowly track him down by trial and error, but it wasn’t easy at all and I felt lucky to have found him again.
The dread that I had experienced, the utmost panic was the worst that I could imagine with an explosion of disasters bursting
into my thoughts. After that, I grabbed him by the hand and held it in an iron grip. There was nothing Hansel and Gretel about
it, just two very desperate souls trying to divine their way through the impenetrable darkness. The blind leading the blind
if there ever was one, but together, allied against the foreboding blackness. We continued on with me leading, putting one
foot in front of the other, one at a time.Slow going but definite, except truth
be told, I wasn’t too sure of our direction any more with the terrors of the unknown blackness drifting up with each
footfall. But it was tantalizing knowing that our tent had to be no more than
a couple of hundred meters away and if we just kept going we would get close enough to see it even in this pitch black night.So we kept pushing on As demons of the night danced around us with each move I continued
this excruciatingly slow method of one foot at a time. Then one foot went out and didn’t come down on any ground. Just
air. I caught myself and froze for a second in shock, and then yanked my foot back, losing my balance and falling back into
Mattie. Like a pair of dominoes, both of us fell into a heap, floundering around in the darkness. After we collected ourselves,
I crawled ahead on all fours this time and again tried to find where the ground was, sticking my arm out to feel earth, but
there was nothing but air. Just to make sure, I kept jabbing my arm out into the black ether and it was not coming up with
anything solid at all, just a black emptiness. After awhile it was clear that we had come to the edge of something like a
large hole. Maybe something else, but it was hopeless to continue on in that kind of darkness, so at that point, I decided
we would have to deal with spending the rest of the night out in the open, right where we were.We crawled a few feet, ran into a tree and leaned up against it, but it was quickly apparent that a real
chill was settling in and it felt like it penetrated right down into our bones.I
could hear Matti’s teeth clicking and as for myself I just couldn’t stop my body from shaking, arms and legs doing
a dance like they were disembodied members with their own will. As I sat there doing my St.Vitus’ dance it was almost
as if I was seeing my physical self from a distance, from outside myself. Finally, I got an idea that I think was from a Boy
Scout survival guide. We carefully lined up our backs, flat, one against the other. Just a little external heat from outside
the body helped a little. It was the best we could do. We toughed out the rest of the night just sitting there shivering non-stop
and waiting for the eternity that it took to reach dawn. There was nothing more to be done except to listen to chorus after
chorus of the hissing stream still roaring somewhere out there in the blackness. After awhile the only thing to do was to
wait for a break from the tremors, a brief respite from the body’s shaking when somehow a little surfeit of warmth would
build up and there was a quietude. Then they would start up again. Remaining in this state for several endless hours, the
thinnest gray light started seeping up from the ground. At least that’s where it seemed to be emanating from. Probably
just moon glow reflecting from the leaves. Must have been about . But it was enough to see
a whitish mist, and the topography started filling in again. We could make sense of the world again through the mists, though
just barely. And sure enough, just a couple of dozen meters away, blazing away with its tremulous orange sides, like some
kind of mad day-glo extraterrestrial, was the tent.As the light kept growing
where we had been sitting also became clear and we were in fact sitting at the edge of a wide ravine that went down for about
one hundred feet. I had crawled up a slight hillock which looked like an enormous cleaver had just come down and sliced off
the end of it.As I stood there and shuddered at what might have happened, I
found myself staring out at bushy leaves. That meant that we were at treetop height, that trees had grown in this ravine up
to the top of the cliff I was standing on, you can calculate how high that was - the thought of plunging down that in pitch
blackness was beyond harrowing. My knees got weak and I sank to the moss covered earth, saying over and over, ‘Thank
you Thank you Thank you’.Not really to any particular omnipotent and benevolent
being, just out to the cosmos really, or to the Spirit of the ravine if anyone. I could see across now and it was a bend in
a stream far below so that there were cliffs about a hundred yards across the way. A dark shadowy glen would have been my
or I should say our grave.‘Yes, that is good. Yes, I agree. Very
lucky. ‘ Matti behind me, was muttering.Eventually, we gathered ourselves
together and carefully, very carefully, even in the brightening light, made the final leg of our journey back to the camp.
It was clear that in God’s country there was no safety net against the demons it could harbor, that it could lead you
down a tunnel of darkness and pain as easily as onto the soft moss covered bowers of green leafed heaven. If before there
was a hushed quality to the words between us, now there was a survivor’s gasping humility.
So ended one of the longest
days of my young life and yet it was only another day in the life of a traveler in India.As I look back on it now, the day had been like an enormous set of Chinese
boxes, each one opening into the next stage of the day with one adventure leading inexorably to the next. But that’s
what life on the road in India was like more often than not, certainly what was so inspiring about it if you
can call it that and if you survived. The safety net was made of gossamer thread and could be torn at any moment by the slightest
budge, a shift of an inch as it were and as the driver of our bus found out. When he sideswiped the oncoming truck on that
impossibly thin road around a curve and there was that spine tingling WHAP as the metal sides collided it was like Gabriel’s
trumpet breaking through the thin membrane of existence and ready to launch us over the side of the mountain and into the
beyond. So there you have it. Life is much more raw there than the vicissitudes of living in the West, if you can imagine,
and which I hope these notes illuminate a little.....”
The point is to get out there beyond the cynicism and nihilism that can fester in our
comfort zones and really take a risk and get tested. And then return to do art that is informed by what one has learned about
the human condition. The truths tend to be universal and not so parochial. I think that makes for a healthy culture, one that
doesn’t turn in on itself and become steeped in narcissism and incestuousness.
Please get in touch with any comments or reactions to my site by emailing me : Stephanmorrow@juno.com
The Great American Play Series
Stephan Morrow, Artistic Director and Founder