BWW Interview: Director Andy Sandberg Discusses Bringing STRAIGHT to Life Off-Broadway
Veteran director Andy Sandberg's newest project is the play STRAIGHT, which he is bringing to life Off-Broadway. Straight tells the story of Ben, a 26 year old investment banker, and his relationships with his longtime girlfriend Emily and a new young guy named Chris. The new play is turning heads Off-Broadway and is proving to be quite the conversation starter.
BroadwayWorld checked in with Sandberg to talk about bringing Straight to life, how long he's been involved with the production, the cast and so much more. Check out the full interview below!
Can you tell us a little bit about STRAIGHT?
It's a three character piece that explores Ben, a 26 year-old investment banker, and his relationships with his longtime girlfriend Emily, who he's been with since college, and a young guy named Chris, who he just met recently. What I love about the play is it looks at sexuality, fidelity and identity through a different lens. It's not your typical sexuality play. The writers are very smart guys who have approached this from a very different stand than I think most other plays that have tackled this issue. Certainly, identity, cheating, relationships and sexuality have been common topics in the arts, but I think the way this play handles it is particularly exciting and fresh and unique.
I met the writers about 5 or 6 years ago when they presented this piece to me and we've been developing it together ever since. We've really been working closely on this for quite awhile now and it has done a number of readings, but this is a world premiere production and we're excited to see the responses we are getting from audiences.
Take me through the process of getting to this world premiere production!
I had known the writers through some mutual friends. We knew of each other and knew each other's work and they sent this to me, at I believe their agents suggestion, a few years ago. They had mostly come from a musical theater background, so I knew a lot of their musical work and when they sent me this I was really blown away and really loved this piece. I thought it was a really cohesive, exciting script. I think a lot of that comes from their collaborative background in musical theater. They're people who know how to write together as part of a team. Even the first draft was something that really excited me, but of course every play continues to be refined and developed, so we've worked very closely on it throughout the process.
This cast is doing the world premiere production. This all of their first times doing it and they're extraordinary and we searched long and hard to find them, but throughout the development process we used different actors almost every step of the way, which was valuable and informative because so many people brought different questions and different insights to the parts as we were hearing them aloud with different voices each time.
How has it been finally bringing STRAIGHT to stage?
It's been really exciting. On top of being an extremely talented cast, they've been extremely fun and wonderful to work with. So we made that very much part of our casting process. We wanted people who were going to be as excited about this piece as we were and that was very important to us. We wanted to create a room that was enjoyable, but also very smart, enthusiastic and I always joke that the day off of the show, we come back and it's like coming back from time off from school. I miss the gang on a day off. It's a really refreshing feeling.
Without giving too much away, we were on the same page with the structure and goals of it. In terms of the changes it needed over the years and making sure everything was fresh and relevant and these characters were really true, we were always on the same page. Even when we argued it was arguing... but understanding each other's goal and having the same goal.
You guys have started performances, so how has it been getting an audience in there to see it?
It's been really exciting. The only public presentation of the show was a reading a few years ago. A lot of the other readings and workshops had been smaller and behind closed doors. This is a relatively simple set play and it's all about the text and the performances. So we didn't quite know what to expect, but we've been very pleased. I don't want to say surprised because we all had a good feeling about the piece, but one of the things that excited me about the show when they first brought it to me was that it's play people talk about and really love to talk about. I've had people who saw the reading we did a few years ago who still ask me questions about it and discuss it. It sticks with people and sparks a debate and a conversation, which to me is what great theater is. People really seem to be getting into and discussing it. The response has been great and engaging and exciting. Just seeing the way people leave the theater is really refreshing. We continue to tweak and rehearse during previews to keep refining but we've been very pleased. The audiences seem to keep picking up. We are seeing a lot more people come to the theater each night and we even have some younger audience members coming, which is exciting. I think the subject matter is really resonating with millennials and others.
Jake and Jenna both have incredible credits on Broadway and in TV and Film, but Tom is also extraordinary! He's getting his equity card in this production and it's his first really major gig in NYC. The three of them are so professional, so smart and so fun to work with. They jived right from the beginning. We had a photo shoot and we all went out to dinner and it was like they had all known each other for a really long time even though, aside from the audition process, it was really their first time connecting. I think that really helped make it an easy process. They are just three wonderful actors that I love spending time with and they all feed off of each other's energy. They're all very giving. They all respect each other's roles and you can really see their three-way chemistry on stage.
Sandberg most recently directed and co-authored the world premiere of Application Pending (Westside Theatre; 2015 BroadwayWorld Award - Best Off-Broadway Play; Drama Desk Award nomination - Outstanding Solo Show). He has previously directed the world premieres of Alan Brody's Operation Epsilon (Four 2014 IRNE Awards, including Best Play and Best Director; Three 2013 Elliot Norton Award Nominations); Craving for Travel, also co-authored with Greg Edwards (The Peter J. Sharp Theater @ Playwrights Horizons); Shida, an original musical by Jeannette Bayardelle (Ars Nova and A.R.T.; four 2013 AUDELCO Award nominations, including Best Musical and Best Director; 2015 IRNE nomination), and The Last Smoker in America, a new musical by Tony nominee Bill Russell and Drama Desk nominee Peter Melnick (Westside Theatre). He has been represented on Broadway and London's West End as a producer of the hit revival of HAIR (2009 Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle Awards), the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man (2012 Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle Nominations), and the Broadway premiere of Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses. As a director, other New York credits include Zelda at the Oasis (St. Luke's Theatre), R.R.R.E.D. and Bernice Bobs Her Mullet (NYMF), Into the Woods and A Funny Thing...Forum(Blue Hill Troupe), "Eli's Comin' to Broadway," a BC/EFA benefit hosted by Nathan Lane (Lincoln Center), and multiple Sing for Hope benefits. As producer: A Perfect Future (Cherry Lane Theatre);Paradise Found (Menier Chocolate Factory, London; dir. Hal Prince and Susan Stroman); Pageant (2015 Drama Desk nomination - Best Revival of a Musical), and Vigil (DR2 Theater). In 2007, Andy worked with Hal Prince on the Broadway production of LoveMusik. B.A. Yale University. Proud member of the SDC and AEA. He currently sits on the boards of The Yale Dramat, The Yale Alley Cats Alumni Organization (President), and The Whiffenpoof Alumni. AndySandberg.com