BWW Interview: Cameron Watson Having A Simply WONDERFUL LIFE Directing Theatre
The always in-demand Cameron Watson, a stalwart of the Los Angeles theatre community, will next be helming the holiday production of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at The Pasadena Playhouse for a brief run December 12 to 23. Cameron has been deservedly lauded for his various directorial productions for Antaeus Theatre Company, Rogue Machine Theatre, and The Road Theatre, to name a few. Cameron managed to find some time between his many creative responsibilities to answer a few of my inquisitive inquiries.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Cameron.
You are a most prolific director in the Los Angeles theatre community. It was just before Halloween that I caught your wonderful THE LITTLE FOXES at Antaeus. Were you already in pre-production on WONDERFUL LIFE in November?
First, thank you for your wonderful review of THE LITTLE FOXES and thank you for seeing it. I am deeply proud of that production. Yes, we had started putting IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE together several months ago, and had been in development on it even longer. It didn't really hit full swing until FOXES was already up and running, so I did have a chance to catch my breath between the two.
Was the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life part of your childhood holidays in Tennessee?
Oh, very much so. I loved the movie as a child growing up and would plop down on the floor in front of our TV to watch it with my family every year. I would always get swept away in the story no matter how many times I had seen it. That's a testament to the storytelling in that film, and the acting - every time you watch it, it feels like it is all happening to George Bailey for the first time.
Any particular moment of this film touched your child psyche more than others?
I was always fascinated with the section of the film when Clarence has George visit the world without him in it - when he sees what would have happened and what things would have been like if George was not there. It frightened me I suppose, but also made me think so far beyond my childhood thoughts. It nudged at mortality at an age when kids aren't really concerned with that sort of thing. The movie made me stop and look. It made me think about why we are here on this planet and how our lives affect each other, even in the most delicate ways.
WONDERFUL LIFE isn't the first 'radio play' you've directed. I caught your MIRACLE ON 34th STREET last year, also at The Pasadena Playhouse. What advantages, or disadvantages, do you find in directing a 'radio play' vs. a fully-staged production like the many you've done at Antaeus and other theatrical venues?
It is a very different animal indeed. The rehearsal period is very short, and we have to work very quickly and economically. Even though the actors carry the scripts in hand and have very little in terms of other elements, I approach it as if I would a fully mounted production. The most important thing is that we work from our hearts and tell the truth. I really try to let that be at the core of anything I direct. There is also a great purity to doing a radio play like this, because it is all about the text, the story, the words on the page that the writer gave us. We then get to set that text into flight, and that is thrilling.
You're directed or worked with so many actors. Who in WONDERFUL LIFE have you worked with before?
I have worked with Rebecca Mozo many times. I consider her to be my muse, and always have. This production will be our eleventh together. She was Maggie in my CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at Antaeus, among many others. This will be my third production with Rob Nagle. He is dazzling audiences in THE LITTLE FOXES currently at Antaeus, and we did Sharr White's STUPID KID together at The Road Theatre last year. I adore him. Jeff Gardner is also a dear colleague and friend. He is the onstage foley artist and also the sound designer. He has designed a great deal of my shows, and I consider him to be the premiere sound designer in town. And he's a terrific actor. Haneefah Wood is a new friend and colleague and I can't wait to work with her. She's is a very special talent. I have known Ryun Yu's work and admired him, and am very happy to get the chance to work together on this. And then we have Simon Helberg. I have known Simon for several years, but never had the chance to work with him. I think he is a supremely gifted actor and I think his George Bailey will be something special to behold. I am very excited by all of these actors and the fresh, new approach they will bring to these folks in this beloved story.
You're such a multi-tasker. When not directing theatre, you teach and coach acting, act yourself, and write and direct films. How do you juggle all your different creative hats? Does one fit better at certain times or instances?
You know, a dear friend and mentor once said to me, "Just keep moving. They can't hit a moving target!" and I have always lived that way. Just keep moving. I am fulfilled by all of the things I do. I have worked really hard on our webseries, Break A Hip, because it was something I had never done before and I wanted to explore the short form format. We have had a grand time making that show and our star, Christina Pickles, just won a Primetime Emmy Award for her work in the series. I am still reeling from that. Watch it for free at www.breakahip.com. I don't act as much as I once did, by choice, because I am so happy as a director and filmmaker and teacher. I get great joy from all of them. Teaching is incredibly rewarding. And I really love sliding from one to the other and taking talented folks along with me. It is sort of a "family" of great artists and we ban together to make good, valuable, creative things, whether it be in a class, doing a play, making a webseries, a film or a radio play like this one.
Wearing any of your hats, what is your one constant piece of advice you give to auditioning newbies?
Work from your heart. Trust yourself. You are enough. And don't judge yourself by what others are doing. Your talent and your journey are uniquely yours.
What criteria of a theatrical project must be present for you to accept it?
It might sound clichéd, but it is really all about the material. The text. It has to be there or it won't be anywhere on the stage or the screen.
Any particular criteria that's a definite 'no' for you?
I won't work on any script that does not speak to my heart in some way. It has to sing to me in order for me to sing it through to others, if that makes sense.
What strides have you noticed taking place in the Los Angeles theatre community since you initially got involved?
Our Los Angeles theatre community is more alive and vital and thriving than ever. I have seen a lot of changes through the years in our theatre world, some good and some not so good, but I am here to tell you that we are swimming in a thrilling pool of talent in this town right now. Playwrights, actors, directors, designers, producers --- there is an abundance of originality and skill and passion, right here in our own community. The talent is here!
Does the Los Angeles theatre community ever need to worry about losing you to another theatre community?
You know, I work in other theatres around the country and I am always open to working anywhere as long as it is a good project. I love that part of my career. I love working in new venues with new people. But I do love working here at home. It allows me to juggle all of the other things I do because they are here as well.
Danny Feldman, the terrific artistic director at the Playhouse, and I have something very exciting up our sleeves for next year. We've been brewing on it for a while and we think it will all happen next Christmas. I can't wait to share what that is going to be, but I've got to get back to Santa's Shop and get this one ready first! Ho, ho, ho!
Thank you again, Cameron! I look forward to seeing what magic you bring to IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
For ticket availability and show schedule through December 23, 2018; log onto pasadenaplayhouse.org