Interview with Director, Pam MacKinnon
Ted Sod: Will you tell us about yourself? Where were you born and educated? When did you decide you wanted to direct?
Pam MacKinnon: I was born in Evanston, Illinois. My father was pursuing a Ph.D. at Northwestern. Shortly after my birth, we moved to Toronto. My parents were Canadian, and my dad was offered several professorships, and one was in Canada. They decided to go back. This was June of 1968. Chicago was scary that summer. Nine years later we moved to suburban Buffalo. I have dual citizenship. In junior high and high school I acted a lot and also played the viola, and I directed a short play by Thornton Wilder, Pullman Car Hiawatha. In college I took a step away from theatre. I started to study political science and economics; really loved it and had great professors. I continued in that and got a double major and then went into a Ph.D. program for political science at UC-San Diego. This was right after undergrad. My second summer into grad school I was in Madrid doing some research and couldn't get myself to the union archives. I sent postcards (this was pre-email) to friends telling them I was through with political science and I wanted to direct theater.
TS: So are you a doctor of political science?
PM: No. I dropped out. After the summer in Madrid I returned to San Diego and came clean with my advisor, who encouraged me and also let me stay on for the year as a TA. I had a great transition year, directing in the UCSD cabaret spaces and parking lots, assisting student and professional directors. Two years later I moved to my childhood town of Toronto. Did some directing and stage managed. I assisted on the musical Tommy and helped to put Tommy up in Germany. I then felt ready to move to New York, imagining I would direct Broadway musicals of course. That was 18 years ago.
TS: You have a bit of history with Dinner with Friends -- correct?
PM: It's a little complicated. I was hired by Dan Sullivan to assist him on what was supposed to be a North American tour of Dinner with Friends after it ran off-Broadway. He directed it at the Geffen Theatre. We hopped to Boston to the Wilbur Theatre and then the national tour never happened.
TS: What made you want to revisit the material?
PM: I am 15 years older. I'm now the age of these characters. I think it is a great play and as I march through time, it has become more relevant to me. I used to make the naive assumption that my closest friends would go through life as I am, prioritizing always what I hold dear. Like Gabe, I have been surprised.
TS: How did you respond to this script when you first worked on it 15 years ago and how are you responding now?
PM: It's now just much closer to home. The story felt removed, a delightful remove, at age 30 that isn't there at age 45. The play makes me reflect not just on coupledom in general but more on my relationship.
TS: What would you say the play is about?
PM: It's about expectations. It's about defining and sorting through which ties bind and which ties don't.
TS: Your last two Broadway outings have been about marriage. Certainly Clybourne Parkand Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? deal head on with the subject. Is this a subject you are interested in?
PM: It is so ripe for investigation. There is something about a vow that pressurizes a relationship for sure. It is inherently dramatic. Loving and supporting each other can turn to wounding each other. I am not married; I don't think I will ever get married. I have a wonderful long-term relationship and I am sure that in another era we would have been married by now, but we haven't chosen to do that.
TS: What qualities in the actors were you looking for when you cast the play?
PM: These are very smart people that Donald has written. These are very verbal people, so I really wanted true-blue stage actors who could bite into the language and could understand how using language can push an action forward. I also didn't want us to circle Beth or Tom and say, "Oh, oh, I get it, they are that kind of person" versus Gabe and Karen. I didn't want to over determine the story; I really wanted these people to come across as real friends.