Director's Notes: On A Role
Stephen Moorer is the merrier as he leads Pacific Repertory Theatre into the most ambitious phase of its history.
Thursday, March 1, 2001
The year is 1979. Two drama students from Carmel High are rummaging through costumes, furniture and props in an off-campus storage space beneath a local movie theater. One of them pauses to muse, "Wouldn''t it be neat to turn this into a performance space someday?"
Fast forward to the present. The drama students are now adult professionals who have just collaborated on a successful production of Peter Pan. He (Stephen Moorer, Pacific Repertory Theatre''s artistic director) produced the show and she (Laura Akard, professional singer, dancer and actress) played the title role. It was so successful, in fact, that Moorer says, "It was the most attended performance in the area. Ever." Quite the leap from daydreaming high school students to spotlighted professionals.
Stephen Moorer not only has realized his dream of turning that storage area into a performance space--the intimate Circle Theatre at the Golden Bough--but he also oversees productions upstairs on the beautiful main stage of the Golden Bough and the Outdoor Forest Theatre in Carmel, as well as at Monterey''s Custom House Plaza. As the founder of what started out back in the early 1980s as a homeless, talented group of local performers with the old "Hey, gee, gang! Let''s put on a play!" attitude, Moorer has watched his baby grow into a theatrical powerhouse on the verge of a giant leap forward in development.
Pac Rep''s 2001 season is bounding closer to Moorer''s primary goal--"to develop into a fully professional regional theater." Whereas previously Pac Rep''s relationship with Actor''s Equity (the union representing professional performers) has been to secure the occasional Equity guest artist, the troupe now has negotiated a "letter of agreement" with the union that, according to Moorer, "will mean a minimum of two Equity actors per show...forever. And that number will grow as our budget grows."
So will the new relationship shut out the established company and the community members who have brought Pac Rep to where it is today? No way, says Moorer. "Starting with the two actor minimum is ideal, because with so many roles available, it will still mean plenty of roles for the established company and also plenty of local actors."
The Year of Acting Dangerously
The Actor''s Equity deal marks 2001 as a special season for Pac Rep, and the crowning jewel of the season should be a production of Chekov''s The Cherry Orchard starring Olympia Dukakis and directed by her brother, Apollo. The new adaptation, by Ms. Dukakis and husband Louis Zorich (who played Mr. Buchman on TV''s Mad About You) will feature major equity talent from out of the area, with some of Pac Rep''s core company members rounding out the cast.
Although Moorer has established himself as one of the area''s most successful producers (and, frankly, nothing lights him up more than talking about producing), he also finds time to continue to hone his performance skills both as a director and an actor. He has directed more than 50 shows in the last 20 years and is as comfortable at the helm of a play as he is chatting with the bigwigs at Actor''s Equity or pulling his producer strings from his office--a cluttered yet comfy space, high in an aerie on the Golden Bough''s top floor.
Director Moorer says, "I get my best ideas on my feet. I''ll see somebody do something and I''ll go, ''Oh! That''s great! Why don''t you expand upon it!?'' And then I can use my directorial skills to bring that to the audience so that they can see what I see."
Moorer feels his directorial strength is his eye for staging--for moving bodies around to create an interesting picture. He also proudly boasts, "I give a million clean-up notes. Most directors give a bunch of notes early on and then sit back and watch. But I''m on them more and more as we get closer to opening. Michael Jacobs once staggered up to me after a notes session for Amadeus [in which Jacobs was playing the lead role of Salieri] and said, ''You gave me about 200 notes--just from tonight!'' "
Moorer has little or no time for the director who employs "table time"--that is, spending the first part of the rehearsal process having the cast discuss character relationships, motivations and defining what the play is really about.
"You don''t act sitting down!" Moorer says emphatically. "There''s an old saying, ''American actors take classes and English actors work!'' You can overthink out there. You''ve gotta be able to trust your heart. People get caught into the whole ''acting class'' mode of doing the research and such and getting it right in their head. It can be perfect and brilliant in your head, but if you can''t get it out there, what''s the use?" Moorer asks with a shrug.
"I really believe in physical acting, and that''s really what I stress when I''m directing Shakespeare," Moorer adds. "It''s not standing and talking and doing a museum piece. That''s what gives Shakespeare a bad name. It''s the physical life of the character that carries it, that we as a modern audience connect with."
Fire in the Belly
Producing and directing Shakespeare has been one of Moorer''s passions from the start. And as such, he is as excited as a kid at a pie eating contest about producing, directing and acting in a four-year project that begins this summer. Called Royal Blood: The Rise and Fall of Kings, the project includes 10 productions essentially covering the Shakespeare history plays from beginning to end. "We''re even beating the Royal Shakespeare Company to this one," Moorer gleams.
As if heading one of the area''s most successful theater venues and directing countless shows year after year isn''t enough, Moorer also exhibits increased skills as an actor. He developed those acting roots in the same garden where countless other locals have gone for basic theater training, Marcia Hovick''s Children''s Experimental Theatre.
"Marcia taught me my full balance of theater," Moorer says. "Marcia taught me, yes, how to be an actor, but also how to be a producer, a director, a stage manager. She''s the one--I blame her--for making me multi-talented, if you will. As for my training as an actor, she gave me technique. When you''re thinking words and projection and physicality and all that technique--like shaving your head for a role [which Moorer did]--you come with that bag of tricks every actor has, and then, hopefully, you discover your truth."
Moorer readily admits that being a director himself sometimes has an effect on his process as an actor. "If I''m working with a director that I either don''t get along with or I just don''t understand the process that particular director is using," Moorer says, "or I see a fellow actor being misdirected, I have to keep myself from saying, ''Just do it this way--you don''t understand!'' But really, the roles I''ve had to do in the last 10 years have been so challenging that it''s been quite enough to just take care of myself."
As for critics, Moorer holds that as an actor, reviews shouldn''t make a difference at all. "Most actors just laugh it off," he says. "I tell them, ''Don''t change your performance! Don''t go out and rent a new costume because the critic didn''t like the one you were wearing.'' But reviews do make a difference in box office terms, in the bottom line."
Not pulling any punches, Moorer says, "I''ve got a real problem with the reviewers on this peninsula, for the most part. The majority of the reviewers aren''t qualified here. They are either too nice, too mean, too something. And for the most part, they''re just not educated enough. For instance, I don''t know who''s really qualified here to judge Olympia Dukakis."
Critics or no critics, Pacific Repertory Theatre''s 2001 season promises to be its most important season ever. And if nothing else, Moorer himself has sent a message to young theater artists everywhere: With hard work, patience, dedication and a fire in your belly, you can realize those wouldn''t-it-be-neat-if scenarios.