BWW Interview: Playwright Mark Saltzman's A Runyonesque Accomplice In ANOTHER ROLL OF THE DICE
Emmy-winning writer Mark Saltzman will be back on the theatrical boards with the world premiere of his ANOTHER ROLL OF THE DICE, beginning July 10, 2019 at the North Coast Rep Theatre. Mark has based ANOTHER ROLL OF THE DICE, his companion piece to GUYS AND DOLLS, on the short stories of Damon Runyon and the time-tested songs of Frank Loesser. Lady Lucky gave me the chance to pick Mark's prolific brain on his long road to Runyonland, as well as, on a significant Sesame Street event.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Mark!
How old were you when you first saw Guys and Dolls? The movie, right?
Yes. I saw the movie on TV before I hit puberty.
What of this initial viewing spoke to you to plan to become creatively involved?
I knew I loved this world and these characters, some of whom reminded me of my parents' friends back in the Bronx. I hadn't seen these sorts of people represented much on television.
At what point in your pre-production process did you approach Frank Loessor's widow Jo Sullivan Loesser for her blessing/sign-off?
I had a draft of the show done, and the blessings of the Runyon estate. Before I went to workshop, I needed the Loesser approval. Joseph Weiss, who manages the organization, and Jo Sullivan allowed me to do a reading. I described the show as an accomplice to GUYS AND DOLLS, rather than a sequel; and approval followed, to my relief and delight.
Were there a lot of changes between your first workshop at the Wyoming Theatre Festival and last year's Boston Conservatory of Music?
I know! Wyoming to Boston! Sounds Iike a cattle drive or something - these paths developing musicals take! The main change was breaking the show from one act in Wyoming to two acts. In earlier eras, musicals were always two acts, but nowadays there's a choice. Larry Sousa, our director and I tried both ways, and opted for two acts.
How about changes between the BCM production and this North Coast Rep run?
It's been mostly line changes here. Even Larry's essential staging ideas have held since Wyoming where he solved the Rubikian problem of staging three stories and a wrap-around, so it all feels smooth and seamless.
The original GUYS AND DOLLS was based on two of Damon Runyon's short stories The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure. What three Runyon stories is DICE based on?
Tobias the Terrible, Breach of Promise and a surprisingly dark, edgy, tale of female revenge called Baseball Hattie.
Was it more challenging, or was it more fun, to write in Runyonese?
Challenging, fun, brain-squeezing, even heart-warming... This was a version of the New York dialect my parents spoke, and I started out life speaking, until it was completely shamed out of me by the Cornell English department.
Aside from assigned commitments, when you get an inspiration to write; how do you choose the medium you write it for?
The story usually tells me where it wants to live. Certain elements will suggest the medium - like if there's a chase crucial to the story, it belongs on film.
Any basic writing rules in each medium you follow you can share to budding writers?
Oversimplified, but for film, think in pictures. Imagine the storyboards, and check if your narrative will be clear in those drawings. For stage, let the words convey the narrative information.
Do you prefer writing for the theatre, television or film? Or do you just enjoy the art of writing?
I prefer to be doing anything then the thing I am doing at the moment. Writing is hard.
When The New Yorker magazine featured Bert and Ernie on its cover celebrating the legalization of gay marriage in 2013, I bought copies and had one framed. What was your initial reaction to this honor of your Sesame Street children?
I think I and everyone in the extended Sesame Street family were delighted to see Bert and Ernie, these characters created by Frank Oz and Jim Henson become emblematic of gay advancement. And I'm hoping all realize that these recently acquired rights are fragile, easily revoked under our system, and to never, never be complacent.
What's in the near future for Mark Saltzman you can share with us?
Next up is a film of my play MR. SHAW GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, produced by the Little Film Company. It's the true story of the one-and-only visit George Bernard Shaw made to the film capital - a three-hour, star-studded luncheon at MGM. It did not go well for the studio, but what were they thinking?
Any particular Loessor song you would love the North Coast Rep audiences to leave humming?
These songs come from the Age of the Hummable. So many to choose from. Everyone comes in already humming Frank's "Heart and Soul," so I say "Two Sleepy People" is the earworm the audience will leave with.
Thank you again, Mark! May your DICE roll on for ages!
From your lips to the goddess' ears!
For ticket availability and show schedule through August 4, 2019; log onto www.northcoastrep.org