BWW Interview: Director Cameron Watson Talks STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Actors Co-op
Director Cameron Watson is about to receive the Milton Katselas Award for distinguished achievement in direction from the LADCC for 2018. He is one busy director in LA theatre and recently sat down to discuss overseeing the new production of Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op, set to open Friday March 22.
Describe your association with Actors Co-op.
The very first play I ever directed in LA was Horton Foote's The Habitation of Dragons at the Co-op in 2005. That was an experience and a production that certainly changed my life. I had been seguing from an acting career to directing and had just written and directed my first film, Our Very Own, starring Allison Janney. Allison was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in that film. I did not have directing theatre on my mind coming fresh off that movie, but it sort of just fell in my lap. All of the pieces and elements aligned and it seemed like the perfect thing to do. I had a very long and good relationship with Horton because he had given me my first professional job as an actor in NYC. I replaced Matthew Broderick in his hit play, The Widow Claire, at Circle in the Square. Horton was very much a part of that production of Habitation at the Co-op for me, and he was very helpful as I was prepping it. He came and saw the show and spent time with the cast. That day was one I will never forget. So, I am very happy to be "coming home" to where it all began.
Steel Magnolias has been remounted several times over the years. What is your take on its popularity?
It is an evergreen. It has such a loving heart and is chocked full of beautiful, funny, complicated women who care so deeply about each other. Lifelong friends. The story touches everyone in some way. You can plug yourself into it even if you are not from the south or spend much time in a beauty parlor. But I bet your mother did, or your grandmother - or your family had a friend or an aunt just like Clairee, on and on and on. Robert Harling tapped into something deeply universal - the human heart.
Is this production any different in texture or design?
I have worked closely with the design team to make sure we create a very real world. This is a functioning salon built in a converted carport that has been up and running for 15 years and it generates a living for Truvy and her family. It is very important that it feels like a working, authentic space and not a cotton candy-coated version of a beauty shop. And these women are real women in real clothes, not overly-exaggerated ideas of what that era was. They wear these clothes to work in and to live in. I think people will be surprised at the detail and the design choices.
What challenges do you face as director?
My biggest challenge is always to get to the truth of it. I am most concerned with telling a story from the heart by having real people in real time living in real space. But that usually comes easily once we all find our sweet spot of where the play and the people in it live. This particular show has an enormous amount of physical activity. There are actual hair-washings and roller-settings and brush-outs and manicures in addition to the emotional action, so we have had to work very hard on choreographing all of that with great authenticity and realism.
Talk about your cast and their chemistry, which is so important for this play.
I have the best six women for this play you could ever hope for. They are perfection, individually and as an ensemble. Nan McNamara, Treva Tegtmeier, Lori Berg, Ivy Beech, Heidi Palomino and Deborah Marlowe are all fabulous creatures with enormous talent. I am so fortunate to have them all. There is a wonderful comradery among them already as members of the Co-op and dear friends. We were ahead of the game the moment we sat at the table for the first read. Their affection for each other is palpable and infectious and really serves the play.
What do you feel is the main theme of the play? There is a lot of sentimentality, but it seems to play in well with the characters' relationships to one another.
If you face the sentimentality straight on and have it come from a very direct, honest and blunt place, you cut through to the truth. And the truth of this play is quite stunning. It is a study on friendships, relationships, parenting, marriage, survival, beginnings and endings
What do you think audiences will take away?
I hope they have a couple of hours of deep, hearty laughs, some moments of recognition about themselves, and that they walk away with a full heart while wiping away a tear. As Truvy says, "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." And she means that.
I have had the best time putting together these Christmas radio plays at the Playhouse. Danny Feldman is breathing such incredible new life into that glorious theatre and bringing amazing local artists into the fold there. I am honored to be a part of The Pasadena Playhouse family. He and I have something fun up our sleeves for this coming Christmas, but I have to keep a tight lip on it for now. Let's just say it will put you in the spirit for sure!
What other projects continue to keep you active in our theatre world?
I am blessed to stay as busy as I do in our theatre community. I am always so happy to be asked to do something that involves great writing and wonderful actors and designers. Our talent pool here in LA is staggering. Better than ever. I am currently developing a theatre project that I am crazy about with my dear friends, Beth Grant and (daughter) Mary Chieffo. I also have a stack of new plays on my desk I am very excited to read once I get these Steel Magnolias all coiffured and hair sprayed!
For more info or to purchase tickets to Steel Magnolias, visit: