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BWW Interview: Actor/ Playwright Doug Haverty Tells Us About His Goals as New Artistic Director of Group Rep

BWW Interview: Actor/ Playwright Doug Haverty Tells Us About His Goals as New Artistic Director of Group Rep

Actor/playwright Doug Haverty will become Group Rep's new artistic director in January 2020. In our conversation he tells our readers in great detail about the upcoming season and talks in depth about his vision for the theater.

How long have you been a member of Group Rep?

DH: I started in 1983, so 36 years.

What is it about being in the theater that drives you onward and upward?

DH: I guess I enjoy the challenge of it, the pushing that huge rock up a very steep hill and audience reaction when you get the rock up on that hill. I recently went to see one of my plays in Zurich, Switzerland. The producers wanted to introduce me before the show and I requested that they do that afterward. I just wanted to feel how the play went without the audience knowing an author was in the theater. The play was being performed in English and most people in Zurich speak French, German and then maybe some English. I had no idea how it would be received. I was very pleasantly surprised because they got every single joke. They were listening really intently. I didn't know anyone there. No friends in the audience cheering, no supporters, no one. And I was struck by the question: what other artist gets to sit with an audience, anonymously, while that audience react to their art? Naturally, there are other elements impacting an audience's reaction; actors, delivery, direction, etc. But it was pretty cool. If you're a painter and you have a painting up in a gallery or a museum, a patron probably studies your piece for 10-20 seconds, silently. I got two hours of uproarious laughter and applause. It's rare and I guess that audience reaction is what drives me.

Is Lonny Chapman's mission for the Group Rep theater still vital to the theater's operation?

DH: It will be because I intend to re-establish his Playwrights Unit and develop new plays and musicals with the same process that he used when I first joined in 1983.

You were in many of the plays this past season.

DH: Gosh, did it seem like that? I was in THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, LOOSE KNIT, and MAN/DINNER (downstairs) and NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS and OTHERWISE ENGAGED (upstairs). But we did 12 shows this season.

I know you work exceedingly hard for the company...

DH: Yes, as do others. We are a completely volunteer-run organization, so many people wear many hats and devote a lot of time to the running of the theater. It's kind of cool when you stop to think about it; that there's that kind of unselfish cooperation and like-minded goal orientation.

As the new artistic director what is your overall goal?

DH: I am going to try and maintain the status quo, initially. I'd like it to be a seamless transition. I have been on the Artistic Council for Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield and suggesting shows and reading plays and discussing themes, so I plan to keep that the same. As I mentioned earlier, I am going to re-establish Lonny's Playwrights Unit and develop new plays and musicals. Chris Winfield has contributed immensely to the overall production of sets and the facility. Having him depart leaves a huge hole. I am going to look to young designers to give us creative, unusual and suggestive sets, so there may be a slightly different look to the shows, simply because we won't be able to erect the majestic sets that Chris has built for us.

Do you see areas that need improvement?

DH: There is always room for improvement. I hope that each show will be a slight improvement on the previous one. I'm going to try and develop audience beyond our current reach.

What is your plan of attack?

DH: I would love to be able to improve/clean-up/spruce up our physical space. We are going to have to be very creative in how we raise the funds to accomplish this, but it's a goal.

Are you happy with the play selections from season to season?

DH: I am pleased with the play selections because I was involved; although Larry and Chris did make the final decisions.

Do you think audiences have been pleased or do you need to cater more toward their likes and dislikes?

DH: For the most part, I think they have been pleased. Larry and Chris would usually do 4 or 5 safe bets and then a riskier play. For the first season under my watch, I am trying to present plays we can do well, plays that audiences will want to see (we hope) and plays that have not been over-exposed.

My personal feeling is the need for variety. Not too much Shakespeare but definitely some classics; not too much Neil Simon but maybe an array of Ayckbourn, Simon and some newer comedic and dramatic playwrights.

DH:: I love all those writers, especially Neil Simon and Alan Ayckbourn. And, I agree, variety is needed. What I discovered in arranging the 2020 season is that many new, modern, hip plays are not available to us because we are in Los Angeles. So, another challenge gets heaped on the pile.

Also, you need to attract a younger audience.

DH: Yes, yes, yes. It's a delicate balance to keep our current audiences satisfied while trying to attract a younger demographic. We've tried to do that previously and our marketing campaign must have mis-fired because we didn't reach that audience.

Is there a plan to bring some newer faces to the board who might express their opinions for change?

DH: We have a new, wonderful on-line marketing manager, Kristin Stancato, and I firmly believe she will be able to help us expand our audience beyond our current status.

Talk about the season coming up in detail.

DH: I am so excited about our new season. I appointed a five person Artistic Council and we looked at a lot of plays and musicals. 2020 is an election year and there will be lots of mud-slinging and speechifying and political craziness. So, we set out to find plays that would offer great escapism, so that our audiences could get away from Breaking News and all things political. We wanted to find plays that we could do well, that audiences would like to see (that haven't been overdone) and plays that have some kind of feel-good, which will - we hope - engender good word-of-mouth.

We start out with a play that is near and dear to me. It's a play I wrote and it was the first full-length play presented in our current facility. It's called IN MY MIND'S EYE and it was the play I initially submitted to Lonny Chapman, and he developed it through his play development process. This play is a love story/memory play based on true events. A teacher of mine inspired it. My first day of junior high, was her first day of teaching and she was legally blind. Even then, I recognized that this was a brave woman. She fell in love with the English teacher next door. The play also deals with the blind teacher's mother who has grown dependent on her special needs offspring.

Then we return to the world of Neil Simon. Mr. Simon inspired me as a young playwright and I even got to meet him when he was a guest speaker at his brother's (Danny) writing class where I was a student. We are doing his LONDON SUITE, which is similar in structure to PLAZA SUITE and CALIFORNIA SUITE. It's four unique plays that just happen to take place in the same suite in London. We also get to re-visit Sydney and Diana (whom we met in CALFIORNIA SUITE). Many people have not even heard of this play, so we are hoping people will enjoy discovering rather unfamiliar Simon wonderfulness. They are reviving PLAZA SUITE on Broadway with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. When they announced the production, Broderick said, "We all need a little Neil Simon now." And we're hoping that is true.

Then we're doing a big, Broadway musical. This musical won the Tony Award in 1970, so this is its 50th Anniversary. Based on "All About Eve," this musical is APPLAUSE. It has a wonderful score (by Charles Strouse who wrote BYE BYE BIRDIE and ANNIE), full of musical comedy classics and a sharp, witty book (written by Comden & Green who wrote ON THE TOWN and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN). It's a huge show and rarely done because it has so many mammoth production requirements. We're going to do very theatrical presentation that still lets it live in all its glory.

TO GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE WE GO by Joanna McClelland Glass will follow that. I saw this play in the early 90s on Broadway with Eva LaGalliene and Kim Hunter. I loved it. When I was working with the Colony, Barbara Beckley asked me to recommend a great American family drama and I told her about this play. Her subscribers loved it and she thanked me profusely every time I saw her after that. It's about Grannie who's trying to cope with widowhood and retirement and suddenly all her middle-aged children have to move back home due to financial hardships. So, it's about that and also claiming your life and following your bliss regardless of what age you start. I think it's even more timely today than it was when it originally presented.

I love mysteries and thrillers. We tried to get THE DESPERATE HOURS last year and it wasn't available, but this year it is! This is a classic thriller, really well written about an all-American family who is held hostage in their own home by bank-robbers on the run. Based on the best seller by Joseph Hayes, the Broadway version starred Paul Newman and the film version starred Frederick March. Father, mother, daughter and son are captive and try to prevail over a terrifying situation. And the conclusion is breathtaking.

We close the season with a wonderful holiday treat by Ken Ludwig (who wrote LEND ME A TENOR). It's part murder mystery, part thriller, part farce and part Christmas play. It's called THE GAME'S AFOOT (HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS) and it's wonderfully theatrical and unpredictable. Ludwig is known for zany plays and this is no exception. We hope it will be the perfect holiday alternative confection for theatergoers.

That's our mainstage season. We are also planning exciting things for Upstairs-At-The Group as well. We will start the season up there with TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. Our current Artistic Director performed beautifully in this play last year at Sierra Madre Playhouse with direction by L. Flint Esquerra. So, we will be bringing this touching human story to North Hollywood.

We are continuing our series called NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS upstairs too. Writers from around the world submit ten-minute plays and we select nine. This has been a very successful endeavor and we hope it will continue to thrive.

When our building at 10900 Burbank opened in August 1984, our very first production was a program of one-acts called MOTEL 66. The plays were all written by our members (as opposed to Nine Winning One Acts which are outside submissions). The set is the exterior courtyard of a motel along Route 66, any city, any year.

Then we will close out the season upstairs with ORPHAN'S REVENGE, which is a good, olde-fashioned, musical melodrama complete with villain, hero, heroine and lively songs. This was done at Group Rep previously, written by one of our members and was tremendously successful. We're hoping to repeat that rollicking success.

Change comes slowly if it is to be at all effective. What do you hope to accomplish in 2020?

DH: I hope to build our audiences, expand our audience and become the theater known for creating exciting new material (plays and musicals). I'd love it if people started coming to us to find new material.

Tell us about the award nominations for A Carol Christmas for BWW and Ovation Awards. Great show; you should be very proud!

DH: Yes, very proud of our BroadwayWorld Nominations for A CAROL CHRISTMAS. I was immensely proud of all aspects of that production. And equally thrilling was that we got to make an Original Cast Recording at Village Recorders (in the same studio where Fleetwood Mac recorded their iconic "Tusk" lp). It was very exciting for all involved and the CD sounds stunning.

It's also very exciting to receive Ovation nominations for Book and Music/Lyrics. The Ovation voters are very tough and very critical, so just to have it nominated is really quite an honor.

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