BWW Interviews: Talks with Christy Montour-Larson, Her Award Winning Career and What it Takes to Be a Great Director!
MM: Christy, On behalf of BroadwayWorld, I just want to say how much I adore you and the wonderful work that you’ve done over the past years in Denver.
CML: Oh, thanks. I’ve been pretty blessed to work on some great stories.
MM: So, the last time I saw you was in your Henry-award winning direction in Red. How did that play impact your life?
CML: Well, it sure is wonderful when a lot of people see your work. And I think that because Red had such great word of mouth, and we had such great attendance that it affects my life, I mean you’re just kindof walking down the street there were just so many people that have seen it and really enjoyed it, I’m sure. Makes you feel really great.
MM: So from A Number to 9 Circles, Proof, Rabbit Hole, I Am My Own Wife, and Red, you’ve directed some of the most thought-provoking shows in Denver. What draws you to a script?
CML: Well I like the darker side. My husband has a theory that one of the reasons why I’m normally a very bubbly person is because I get it all out in the darker parts of plays. And I think that’s what drew me to directing, Michael, is that when I was an actor, I was the kooky ingénue. I played a lot of light stuff, I played the mezzo/soprano, and I never got to play the juicy roles. And what I really wanted inside, was I felt like I was John Proctor. Or I was King Lear. And I never felt like my outside matched what was going on inside. And the great thing about being a director is that I can go inside all these really dark plays that is for humanity. I love that.
MM: Yes, I could actually see that within your direction in the script. So can you tell us a little more about your thought process when interpreting a script?
CML: The first rule I have is to first do no harm. Some people like to think that directing is…that it’s all the director’s baby. And you’ll hear people say “Well, it’s their baby,” the director saying “It’s my baby!” And I like to think of myself more as a obstetrician. That I’m there to make sure that the story is brought forth clearly, evocatively, emotionally, and I get involved extremely seriously when there’s something wrong – to jump in, to encourage people to go deeper into the play than they thought was possible. You know, if the heartbeats starts fading or the umbilical cord is wrapped around the neck, then I can jump in and I know how to save it.
MM: Okay. So was there a defining moment in your life that you decided you wanted to be a director, or a turning point in your life that you decided that?
CML: Yeah. Well, I started off, I thought I was gonna be a high school drama teacher. So I started directing young people. And one day there was a local theatre company in Duluth by my house and they were doing their children’s production, and the director quit, the day before auditions. And they said, well there’s this girl who’s directing the junior high and high school play, and maybe she could jump in. And they asked me if I could start the next day, and Michael, I think it paid $500 which was two months’ rent, and I had a blast. And the next show that this playhouse did was A Christmas Carol, and nobody wanted to direct it because it was always this disastrous production every year. So, they hired me to do that and it went really well. And then they asked me to Diary of Anne Frank, and that really changed a lot of things. With Christmas Carol, you know, most of the cast was older, and you know the only people that were younger than me in A Christmas Carol were the Cratchit kids. So I like that storytelling aspect about it. And I think it’s because I grew out of my type – my acting type so quickly.
MM: Well I think you’re just so gifted in directing. So I would love to see you act but I just adore watching you direct.
CML: I always thought, well someday I’ll go back into my type again, maybe when I’m in my 60’s, ya know?
MM: So I’m excited about your work in THE GIVER. Why is this work significant to you?
CML: Well I have been a huge fan of the book. This is a book that doesn’t talk down to young people, it talks up to young people, and it is about what it means to be a human being, and about the power of a 12-year old boy who shed a light of hypocrisy and changed things. And it is incredibly magical, and it gets intense, too, and I like that.
MM: Is there a favorite show that you can return to over and over again to direct?
CML: You know, that’s interesting. I don’t often get asked to direct a show twice. I’ve done it a couple times. It’s never as satisfying as you think it’s going to be. Because the things that you get to fix from the first time around are wonderful, but then there are different problems and challenges that you took for granted the first time you did it. So I think I’ve directed almost 100 plays, and I think I’ve only done a show twice, I think I’ve only done it like twice.
MM: What shows were those?
CML: It was The Sound of Music and a play by Lee Blessing called Two Rooms. Oh, and I’ve done The Diviners twice. But I did Diviners once while I was in graduate school and then I did it with Phamaly, which is the physically handicapped actors, musical artists. I went back and did Diviners with them and it was a totally different experience.
MM: Interesting. So is there a favorite show that you have always wanted to do again?
CML: I have a couple shows on my list that I’d love to direct.
MM: What are those?
CML: I have never done an Arthur Miller play, and if he would ask me I’d love to do The Crucible or Death of a Salesman. I’d absolutely love to do that. You know, if there was a play I’d love to revisit, it might be The Secret Garden. I did that musical, and I just love that musical so much. I’d love to direct that again. I’d do that again in a heartbeat. This other side of me – I had this whole musical theatre side.
MM: Yeah, I didn’t even know that. I mean, I knew that from the Arvada Center but I saw a snippet of that was all.
CML: Yeah, I started out musical theatre. It comes in handy when you’re a director.
MM: Are there other plays on your wish list?
CML: I guess, I read a play that’s opening in New York called Detroit, which is about two couples struggling in the modern economy. I really like the modern American play. That’s probably why I get a lot of work at Curious. I love that type of plays of today. I like that an awful lot.
MM: So you’re heading back to Minnesota for an award. Can you tell us a little about that?
CML: Yes, I’m being inducted into the Promethean society at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and it is an honor for people who have I guess, I can look it up for you, the exact wording for you Mike, but I think it’s like, you know, showed a lifetime of support and honor back to the school of fine arts or something like that.
MM: That’s wonderful.
CML: It’s kind of funny because they just sent me some pictures…they asked if they could show in the presentation. So there are pictures of me in The Music Man when I’m 18 years old in 1982, so it’s pretty funny.
MM: Oh, you’ll have to go back and say “Hi” to our theatre for us.
CML: Yeah, and I go back to Duluth a lot because my husband’s family is from there, but I haven’t been on campus in a long time, so it’s gonna be, I’m sure a very nostalgic night. I’ll see if I can get through the evening without crying. It’s gonna be hard. A lot of my teachers are still there, and my family is gonna be there, and I don’t think I was one of those students where the teachers ever thought I’d be coming back for that award. I think I was one of those students where they said “Oh, we love Christy,” they just didn’t know where to stick me. You know?
MM: So what other projects are you working on this season?
CML: Right after THE GIVER opens I’m directing TIME STANDS STILL at Curious. It is a realistic drama. One of the things that I really love to do are those sort of subtle personal stories, where you maybe don’t even know there’s a director there. Where a director just digs in really deep and then as I exit, I brush away my footprints as I walk backwards out. So, it’s a play by Donald Marguiles. It’s one of those subtle, classy, sophisticated, gentle plays. So I got a chance to be a little showy lately, so it’ll be good to just disappear.
MM: That’s interesting. What else are you working on?
CML: That’s it so far.
MM: Oh, really? Oh, ok.
CML: Something always comes up, though. And I teach at Metro State University. I really love that. I’ve been teaching there for 12 or so years. I love working with the students. I teach directing. I teach improv.
MM: Do you have any words of wisdom that you’ve learned throughout the years that you want to pass on to other aspiring directors?
CML: Well I think that the thing that I have learned is that you are most successful when your ego is the smallest in the room, and that when you put the playwright first, that solves a lot of the problems. It’s old fashioned. It’s just a different way of storytelling.
MM: Right, but it seems to work for you ingeniously.
CML: It’s not so much about me as it is about the play. The play’s bigger than anything.
MM: Right. Well, those are the questions I had for you, so thank you so much for speaking with me and Broadway World. I look forward to your interpretation of Lowis Lowry's THE GIVER playing at the Denver Center's Ricketson Theatre now until November 18th. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center at 303-893-4100 or at www.denvercenter.org. Also look for Christy Montour-Larson's next next exciting directoral challenge at Curious Theatre with Donald Marguiles' TIME STANDS STILL playing Nov 1st until December 15th. For more information on Curious Theatre productions, check out www.curioustheatre.org.