BWW Interview: Stephen Lang on BEYOND GLORY and its Houston Premiere
Award-winning stage and screen star Stephen Lang brings BEYOND GLORY to Houston, TX on Saturday, November 21, 2015. BEYOND GLORY is Lang's one man show that tells the stories of eight medal of honor recipients. Lang has a long list of notable performances on and off Broadway, in Hollywood, and has taken his stage play BEYOND GLORY across the globe. Lang is best known for portraying Col. Miles Quaritch in James Cameron's AVATAR, Ike Clanton in TOMBSTONE, Increase Mather in the hit television series SALEM, and Commander Nathanial Taylor in TERRA NOVA.
Lang has performed BEYOND GLORY, which is based on the book by Larry Smith, on military bases, on the floor of the U.S. Congress with Medal of Honor recipient Senator Daniel Inouye in attendance, on Broadway, and in Chicago's Goodman Theater.
I had the opportunity to talk with Lang about BEYOND GLORY which will make its Houston premiere for two performances only (2pm and 8pm) on November 21, 2015 at Queensbury Theatre.
Have you performed in Houston before?
Stephen: This is the first time in Houston. I've been to a number of points in Texas, so, it's nice to finally get to Houston. I know there's a great theatre tradition there.
Recently, the film version of BEYOND GLORY got its premiere at the Tallgrass Film Festival. Will it continue to make its way through the film festival circuit?
Stephen: We'll see. We put it in three festivals this fall. We wanted to just get it out there and see what people are thinking. And the response was terrific all around. Now, we're kind of regrouping and figuring out the marketing strategy of the film.
Stephen: Cameron and Landau are good friends of mine and I work with them. They've been extremely supportive of this project for a long time, kind of cheerleading it, as it were. One of the reasons I was taking it to them was to view critically and take notes. We did a screening in early June out in California just for Jim and Jon, and we sat around and talked about it for a long time. And they were very taken with the movie. They had some wonderful suggestions, but really liked what they saw. So, it seemed a natural evolution for them to come aboard. Lightstorm Entertainment is presenting the film, and they're executive producers on the film. To a large extent, it's sort of like getting the "good housekeeping seal of approval" or like getting "by appointment of her majesty the queen" on your jar of jelly or something like that [laughs]. The name value is tremendous for us. It's worth noting that Lightstorm has been around for quite a while, and they put their name on very few films, so I feel very honored that they've chosen to become part of the team here. It's exciting. It's difficult to quantify. Also, I think it's a unique film, and as such, I think it presents challenges like where it's going to be sold, how is it going to be shown, is it an event for television, does it belong in movie theaters, should it go to Netflix, and so on. So, that's what we're involved in talking about right now.
In the initial production and writing, did you ever imagine BEYOND GLORY with a longer running time, more actors, and more technical elements?
Stephen: As I worked on it, it was always my voice- or the voices of the men coming through me. When I had assembled something that constituted an evening, a performance, or a play, I gathered ten actors at The Actor's Studio in New York, which is kind of my artistic home. They were all actors who really fit the role. Black actors played the black recipients, a Japanese American played Daniel Inouye, and we had a Hispanic actor. They ran it, and they did a great job. I listened to it and they did an honest, authentic, and incredible job. It was also kind of boring. I realized that in order for this to be theatricalized, it had to be a solo tour de force or else it ran the risk of just being a history channel litany. I think I knew it in my heart, but I had to hear it with other actors. The format of the play, the order of the men, and the length was all a process of intuition, rehearsal, and trial and error. I worked on it intensely with a lot of focus. When I was constructing this, I was not doing anything else. I really put on blinders when I worked on this. It came together in a relatively short time. When I do it in New York or in Chicago, it has a beautifully designed stage set. It all takes place on a raked floating disk with a beautiful sail screen behind it where projections appear. It is quite lovely. In the middle of that is a military footlocker, but on the other hand, it's a theatrical trunk. In fact, in touring, that's really the only thing that I absolutely need. So, I've really stripped theatre down to an old essential. It's just an actor and his trunk, and things come out of the trunk that are necessary to play whatever minimal prop or costume changes there are.
Was part of the decision to make it a solo act so that the show could be more mobile and accessible to wider audiences?
Stephen: I think that's a result, but I don't know that was the aim. If I had felt that the material had dictated having two or three actors, then that's what I would have done. I don't know that I set out with a specific purpose in mind, but it evolved very quickly. In the end, things get done in the way they necessarily have to get done. That's what happened here. The choices made themselves- each one led inevitably to the next one. The result is that it's an extremely mobile show, and it can travel all over. I've done it in some of the oddest places you can imagine.
It seemed like a lot of work was done on the physicality and voice for each role, but we also see the internal work come through during emotional and intense moments. How did you approach each role in BEYOND GLORY?
Stephen: I approach it as kind of a vessel. There are many ways to talk about acting. One way to talk about it is as a form of possession. Here, I have these chapters and crystallized or compressed them into bouillon cubes of drama. Then you begin to speak the words, and see what happens. I let the life of the character find its way. There are certain clues along the way. We know James Stockdale was physically beaten and battered and could not lift his left arm above the shoulder, and he didn't have a right knee, so, that determines the physical. The same can be true for all the characters, some more than others. For other characters, the physical life comes through how the words would strike me- what level of worry, anxiety, pride they have, what the words are telling me, what physical transformations the words are making on my own self. Even though these are historical characters, what I'm attempting to do in BEYOND GLORY is much more a painting than it is a photograph. In other words, I don't feel that it is crucial for me to replicate the men in an exact way. What's important is for me to get what I consider to be the emotional essence of the men, which carries its own type of truth.
In your TedX talk, you said that the truths in BEYOND GLORY were a way to approach the divisions in your own self and in the country regarding The Iraq War decisions in 2002. As you're touring the show 13 years later, what is the relevance today and how are audiences responding?
Stephen: One of the things I've always said, and this is kind of one of those taglines, but it's still true, is that BEYOND GLORY is both timely and timeless. In terms of divisions within this country, well, I'd say we were pretty damn fractured back then. We were more fractured than we'd been at any time in my lifetime and that includes the 60s. I'd say it's much more so now. We're travelling down a very difficult road in this country. The fault lines in this country are many, and they criss-cross each other. They're cultural, they're economic, they're sociological, they're religious, they're political. All kinds of things in this country are driving us apart. And yet we are a union. We made that decision. We made that decision in 1776 to hang together that was reinforced in the Civil War, when we really went through the crucible. We said "this is what we're in, for better or for worse". It's not something that you can ever take for granted. And it does seem to me that it's not a bad thing, it can be a valuable thing, to get tasked to looking at these fault lines and to examine some of the things which we all can subscribe to, even if they're qualities like fortitude, courage, qualities of looking after the other guy, qualities of bravery, and qualities of humility. It's valuable to talk about some of the things that bind us together, to say "this is what these guys did". Sometimes you take inspiration from that, and sometimes you take solace from that. I think it's helpful, because it's too easy to find the things that drive us apart. Once in awhile, it's valuable to examine the things that keep us glued together.
Finally, what can audiences expect at the performance of BEYOND GLORY?
Stephen: They can expect eighty minutes of the best theatre I know how to give. They can expect to be taken along an emotional journey. Sometimes it's harrowing, sometimes it's very funny. It's a journey through times of really dire conflict where men took action that determine the course of events. I've never met anyone who didn't come away feeling pleased and gratified that they'd taken the time to see it. You'll feel it's time well spent, and you'll feel a little bit fuller after you see it.
Play written and performed by Stephen Lang
Book written by Larry Smith
November 21, 2015 at 2pm and 8pm only
12777 Queensbury Lane
Box Office 713-467-4497
Ticket prices $25, $50 & $100 (VIP)