BWW Interview: Actor, Director, and Teacher Thomas G. Waites Gives Insight on Baruch College's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
Acclaimed director, actor, and teacher Thomas G. Waites is currently directing THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, being produced by the Baruch College of Performing Arts and the Thomas G. Waites Acting Studio. The production opened on July 10th and is schedule to run through August 3rd.
Waites took the time to chat with BroadwayWorld this week about the production. He also shared wisdom on his many years of experience in the business, as well as his career as a teacher. Read the full interview below!
Tell me a bit about your production of Taming of the Shrew.
This production of The Taming of the Shrew is being produced by Baruch College of Performing Arts and TGW Acting Studios (my acting studio). It's the result of a kind of trial run where we put on several Shakespeare plays in a much smaller venue over a period of three or four years. I've done Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and last summer I did As You Like It. The community started hearing about the play because it was an affordable price and a quality production. They started to respond to the college and say it was pretty good, and can you do it again next year? So they gave me a shot to do Taming of the Shrew with a larger space. We gave the actors a little bit of money, and had a real set, with costumes and lights and everything. It's a great show with great heart. It's off-Broadway quality for one third the price. It's a great production. The actors are so beautiful and so moving and so funny. The musicians are great, too. They're two Juilliard doctorate candidates who completed their doctorate in May. I found them and signed them up. They're onstage the whole time, and they're just wonderful.
What are some of the challenges in tackling one of Shakespeare's works?
I've been a professional actor since 1976. I've done a number of Shakespeare plays as an actor. As a young kid, I would be in Cleveland doing Shakespeare and I would realize that when this stuff works, it's like the best drug in the world. I decided to dedicate my life to the proposition of exploiting the greatest writer that ever lived. But let's face it, that's a formidable task. People would rather be on social media sitting on their computer and zoning out than actually having to take a bath and go watch Shakespeare. But it is so worth it because he has so much to offer us. Everything you want to know about life is in Shakespeare. It also makes you a really good actor. My job at the TGW Acting Studio is to train actors. And what better way to train actors than put them in productions of Shakespeare? Because in many instances they're not very good, at first. But believe me, by the time you get to opening night, in this production in particular, they are absolutely fabulous. I give you a money-back guarantee. If you don't enjoy this play, I'll give you your $35 back.
On directing, you said that to you directing means that something about a piece "speaks to you." What speaks to you about Taming of the Shrew?
I guess what speaks to me is the idea that we must sacrifice in order to see love. Petruchio undertakes the arduous task of trying to break this woman's spirit because she ultimately is destroying herself by being a spoiled brat. She's not helping herself or anyone else by being an intolerable and cursed shrew. So he decides to take it upon himself by essentially starving her and knocking her around from time to time. He teaches her gratitude, and the meaning of appreciation. He teaches her how to say thank you...teaches her respect. By virtue of the fact that he undertakes this difficult task, it shows that he and ultimately she are both dedicated to love. Without love, forget about it. The play is about the journey of romance. And I don't know about you, but I love romance!
How has your experience as an actor affected your style of directing?
It's invaluable because first of all there's no BS. It's like, cut to the chase. This is what's expected of you. Whether you work for HBO or a movie company or a TV show or a soap opera or Broadway, which I have done all of the above, I teach my actors to be warriors of light. To be on time, to be respectful, to always say please and thank you, to be grateful for every opportunity no matter how big or small it may be. To be grateful for being honored just with being an actor. You know, in 1978 I was kind of a baby movie star. I've been up and I've been down, and over and out and everything in between. I can really see the value of people who are trying to be in the business or have been in the business. I know the business. I know how it works. I know how to treat casting directors. I know agents-I have an agent. I know managers, and I have a manager! Everything in the business is about relationships. So I teach them the value of relationships.
Tell me a bit about your acting studio - the TGW Actors' Studio in New York.
If you turned back time to 1978 or 1979, I would be hanging around with my other actors friends and they would ask me for help. They would say, "I have an audition for Othello in Central Park...would you look at my monologue?" I had a loft down in SoHo and I would tell my friends to come over. I'm a Juilliard trained actor, so I found myself realizing that I knew much more than what I thought. I never thought I would be a teacher. I never dreamed about becoming an acting teacher. I help them and it helps me. It's a beautiful thing. It's the same as acting, as directing. It all comes from the same spiritual place. My acting studio is currently housed at 17 Lexington Avenue on the ninth floor. It's a little tiny theatre instead of a rehearsal room with a dressing room. I try to put on as many shows as I possibly can because you can teach all day long, but until an actor has to go out in front of an audience and his wig falls off, you can't really teach them anything. It's like the art of warfare. And it's very hard in New York because it's so incredibly expensive. It's a challenge. I don't pretend like it's an easy thing to do.
When did you first establish the studio and how has it evolved over time?
1985 was my first class. I rented a space on 42nd street and I started with one student, and in a month I had 35. It's been that way my whole life. I start with one or two people. You know, I really am into it. I love doing this. Any time I can help another actor, I feel like I'm helping everybody because it's such a difficult business, and so many people want to be doing it. My job is to make them really good. I make sure they go in and have a great audition, and that the casting director remembers them because of the quality of their work.
The studio really hasn't changed over time. I do the same thing I did then. I start everyone off with a Shakespeare monologue and then I take them from that to contemporary playwrights. The way I teach them is by directing them in scenes. I don't really teach any specific method. I use anything I can get my hands on. What I do is I direct you in a scene as if you were to open off-Broadway in a week. I say, this is what you have to do to make this scene work.
I've had the honor of teaching Alfred Molina. He came to me because he wanted to work on Edmund from King Lear. Here's this great English Shakespearean actor, who doesn't really need anything from me, one would think. And he does his monologue, and it's very good, and people clap and everything. And he's looking at me, and a thought crosses my mind. And I said, "Now try it like you're making a pact with the devil. I want to see you get the equivalent of a demonic erection." And he laughed, and he placed Satan in the theatre, and he did it. It really influenced his interpretation.
What has been the greatest reward for you as a teacher?
The greatest reward for me is to watch my actors enjoying the fruits of their hard labor. When they come out for their curtain call and see that the audience loves them or that the audience laughs in the right places. When I see them enjoying themselves, that's the reward. It's about them. Life is really about the other. Whoever you're with, it's about the other person. It sounds crazy, but completely being absorbed by the other person makes you totally forget about yourself but at the same time so full of yourself.
Tell me about your students and what it's like working with some of the and watching them change over time.
Some of them have been with me for many years. We've done a number of productions together. They're always showcasing their talent. They're trying to meet casting directors and get opportunities, so if they're in a show it's a much better way to sell themselves.
I've watched little boys become men. I've watched young ladies become women. I have a student who's a favorite of mine. He came to me when he was 19, and his mother called me and told me, all this kid does is smoke pot and play video games. Now he's 20, and he gets up every morning and runs six miles. He's gone from one place to the next in the last year. And he no longer smokes pot! I was really afraid at first because I didn't know what to do with him. I thought I was going to have to disown him. But now he's a different person. I'm useful to people.
What has been your biggest challenge as a teacher?
My biggest challenge is attention span. The average attention span of the individual has diminished. People used to be very different with each other. We were more patient and we moved more slowly. We at least tried to cultivate a sense of compassion with each other because we understand that life is difficult. Compassion really helps everybody. I feel like with the computer and texting and all this electronic communication we've lost all anticipation. If you want a boyfriend, just go on the internet! What has happened to acting, waiting, and receiving? And of course appreciating. We've cut that out. Everything is so immediate that we lose respect for process.
You've been working in the business for over 30 years. What part of your career do you most want to be remembered for?
Because I am vain, I want to be remembered as is. I'm still an actor. I'm ultimately here for this short breath of time, I want to be remembered as someone who actually cares. I want to be remembered for all of it. I try to be great at everything I do. I think as though this is the last class I'll teach in my life. Or that this is the last audition I'm going to have in my life. None of that is true, but that's the way I approach it. If it's the last time I'm going to do it, I have to make it count.
THOMAS G. WAITES was under option to Paramount as an actor at 23. On stage, he worked with Al Pacino in the original Off- Broadway production of American Buffalo, leaving after a year to do John Carpenter's The Thing with Kurt Russell. He also appeared on Broadway with Frances McDormand in Awake and Sing. Waites recently received national acclaim for his short film Pandora's Box, winning Best Director & Best Screenplay for a Short Film in the Atlantic City Film Festival. Internationally acclaimed actress Frances Fisher (Titanic, The Lincoln Lawyer, House of Sand & Fog) won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film & Joe Mantegna ("Criminal Minds") was nominated for Best Actor.
To purchase tickets for THE TAMING OF THE SHREW ($25 for adults/$15 for students), call the Box Office (212) 646-312-5073 ~ (212) 352-3101 or visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/934588.