BWW Interview: Tucson's Mark Klugheit
Mark Klugheit grew up in Philadelphia, was educated at Yale College and Yale Law School, and spent most of his working life as an attorney in Philadelphia, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C. In 2003, Mark moved to Tucson, Arizona where for the next six years he combined his East Coast law practice with teaching at the University of Arizona Law School. In 2009, when Mark retired from law practice and teaching, he turned to acting. He appeared in a number of independent films, television shows, and commercials. He received the Independent Film Association of Southern Arizona award for Best Actor in 2013.
Ultimately, Mark decided that his true passion was theater. He trained at both the Rogue Theatre Conservatory and with the Bennet Theatre Laboratory's intensive Stanislavsky program.
Since 2010, Mark has worked with several Tucson theater companies, and his most notable roles have included Gloucester in King Lear, Baylen in Glengarry Glen Ross, Theseus and Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Sergeant Trotter in The Mousetrap, Henry Bingham in The Fox on the Fairway, Kolenkhov in You Can't Take It With You, Barney Cashman in Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Father Kenney in A Man of No Importance.
Although Mark still acts, since 2016 he has focused his efforts mainly on directing. His first four productions - God Of Carnage (Roadrunner Theatre, 2016), Luna Gale (St. Francis Players, 2017), I Hate Hamlet (Roadrunner Theatre, 2018) and The Last Five Years (Roadrunner Theatre, 2018) received a total of ten MAC Award nominations (Tucson's version of the Tony's), including nominations for Best Play and Best Director for both God of Carnage and Luna Gale.
In 2019, Mark undertook his most ambitious project, the Southern Arizona revival of Tennessee Williams' classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to play at both Roadrunner Theater on Tucson's east side and at the Cabaret of the Temple of Music and Art in downtown Tucson - a production that was met with critical raves and sold-out houses in both venues.
He took time out of the his sizzling summer schedule to talk some Tucson theatre.
Jeanmarie Simpson: Hey, Mark! Let's start off with something that others may be surprised to know about you.
Mark Klugheit: I was an on-air guest a couple of times on the Howard Stern show. A long story, but essentially had to do with me being a big fan of the show and arranging guest appearances for a US Senator that I worked for who was running for President.
THAT IS WILD!!!! Please tell me about a time you had a difficult working relationship with a colleague.
The Tucson theater community is small enough that when I moved on from acting to mostly directing, I was often working with actors whom I had acted with previously. That meant I was moving from relationships I had built with people as peers to a relationship where I was their "boss" to the extent that as director and a sometime producer I was ultimately in charge of their work and responsible for what went up on stage. In most cases, I addressed this by speaking pretty forthrightly with the actor before finalizing a casting decision; and in a couple of cases where things were not as smooth as they should have been, by reminding them of that pre-casting conversation.When I was an actor, I always had a sense of my own character and part - and my own way of wanting to do it, which sometimes clashed with my director. But when I started directing, I was opened up to the narrowness of that perspective. Because of course, each actor will want to do a part in a way that she or he conceives best, especially in terms of their own strengths and personalities. But as a director, there has to be a consideration of how that fits the entire work. As an example, the third act of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which I directed last winter, is incredibly intense. It's an emotional peak for almost every character in the play except Big Daddy. But as a director I had to choose among the characters for who got to play at their own highest intensity at which moments, and who had to back off a bit to create dramatic contrast.
How about a moment in your career that you consider your biggest failure.
Early in my acting career, I was represented by an agency that got me an audition for a recurring role in the series Breaking Bad. It clearly would have been the biggest break of my acting career. I had a short side of two pages to learn for the audition. Usually, I have a pretty photographic memory for lines, and I work hard to be sure I know them cold. But for this audition due to nervousness I could never get the lines solid, and sadly what the producers saw was not a potential character in their show, but an actor clearly struggling to remember the next word he was supposed to say. My biggest opportunity and worst audition all rolled into one disappointing 10-minute take.
Oh, wow. OUCH!! What do you consider your greatest success?
Directing and co-producing Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage. Reza's work is a magnificent and challenging play, and even though I had never directed before I was able to cast it with four exceedingly talented actors - India Osborne, Roger Owen, Steve McKee, and Nikki Heinrich. We put on a magnificent show that was perfect for Roadrunner Theatre Company's intimate space, and the play went on to receive MAC AWARD nominations (Tucson's Tony's) for Best Actress for India, Best Actor for Roger, and Best Comedy and Best Director.
Can you elaborate - what makes the play "magnificent"?? What did the actors do that made it magnificent, and how do you think your directing enhanced the actor's performances?
Reza's play is short; ninety minutes, no intermission. And intense. Two "refined" New York couples meet in an upscale apartment because their children have had a playground fight that left one of them injured. They want to figure out how to make this a learning experience for their kids, but as the evening progresses - and the alcohol flows- the same animal instincts that propelled their children to violence come bubbling out of them. The play is so exquisitely written that we don't see the descent from civilization to carnality until it is right upon us - and then it is overwhelming.
What is your ideal role or directing project and what do you love about it?
I had always wanted to direct The Crucible. I presented it over the years to a number of theater companies in Tucson, and could never get anyone to want to do. For me, the play had it all: powerful drama, splendid writing, and a message especially apt for our troubled political times. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, it's off the boards now for Tucson, as The Rogue just presented a terrific staging this past spring.
What were your greatest challenges when you started out, and how was that identified?
When I started acting my greatest challenge was that, although as a trained courtroom lawyer I knew lots about words and a little about "theatrics," I really knew nothing about working in theater or the techniques of acting. So, even in my 60s, I "went back to school." I took basically every acting and theatrical training opportunity Tucson offered. I found particularly valuable two summer intensive acting Conservatories offered by The Rogue, and the Stanislavsky training offered by Phil Bennett at his Theatre Lab. Also, for a while, I auditioned for every part I could, even if the production wasn't ideal, just to build experience.
What do you consider the most satisfying accomplishment of your career?
Staging God of Carnage, with all the success that achieved. Second to that would be staging Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which I directed and co-produced for Roadrunner last winter. It was great to work in that pantheon of playwright greatness, and I also got to work with more of the very best acting talent in Tucson including again Roger Owen, as well as Cynthia Jeffery, Robert Anthony Peters and Sara Jackson.
Splitting hairs a little - is "success" about artistic satisfaction, and/or is it about full or mostly full houses? Speaking for myself - in my years with the Nevada Shakespeare Company, we had many full houses for works that I thought were good or even great at times. But I consider, by far, my greatest artistic achievement my six-actor staging of Hamlet. Audiences were small in the opera house where we were in residence, but the reviews were raves and it was a profoundly satisfying experience. It ran in repertory with my Midsummer Night's Dream that was scored with all Monty Python music and had that wacky aesthetic. The critics hated it, but audiences loved it and you couldn't buy standing room once word of mouth took off about it. I loved that show, too, and felt it was a great success, even though the critics thought it was a disaster.
Good point. I think to some extent it has to be about both. When I cast a play, I usually invite my actors to my home for some refreshment and a get-acquainted meeting, and I tell them that my goals for the play are great theater and full houses. As you probably know, full houses actually help make for great theater beyond just paying the bills, because they create energy for the actors to feed off - part of the joy of live theater. As for critical response, praise from reviewers is wonderful, but in the end, I think those of us who put up a play - cast and crew - can tell at the end of the day if we've done something worthwhile.
What are the biggest challenges that you see impacting the industry today?
Focusing specifically on theater in Tucson, the challenge is building audience, especially younger audiences. There is, of course, a vicious (or virtuous?) cycle between quality, audience size, and revenue that builds on itself - or erodes itself - in theatre. We need full houses. And, we can't let theater become a medium for the geriatric. We have to find a way to let those in their twenties, thirties and forties know that seeing Richard III's sleazy wooing of the queen whose husband he has just killed can be as thrilling as watching the Lannisters' machinations on Game of Thrones.
I hear you - my answer in Nevada was to do new stagings including of Richard III that I did as a full-blown comedy, again with six actors. We toured to schools and it contained lots of visual touchstones for the kids - break dancing, cell phones, etc., and when it ran in the theatres, a lot of kids returned with their parents and grandparents. One theatre critic hated the "concept," but respected our work and quoted his grandfather who told him, "If we all liked the same thing, everybody'd be after grandma."
What are you working on now?
Two projects: a multimedia re-imagination of Arthur Schnitzler's notorious La Ronde for Strada Company to run at the Screening Room in downtown Tucson in July; and a production The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] for Arizona Rose Theater which has just been cast, and which will run next March.
How interesting - can you elaborate about La Ronde? I'm fascinated - and for the uninitiated, can you explain its "notorious" nature and maybe a bit about how you're re-imagining it?
Schnitzler was a contemporary of Freud's in Vienna. His play, originally titled Reigen in German but popularized under its French name, envisioned ten scenes of people from different strata of society having one-on-one sexual encounters that crossed social and class boundaries. It was banned when written and could only be published privately, as much because of the social themes as the sexuality. Micheal Fenlason, of Strada Company, has asked ten directors to each recreate one scene using their own imagination of the. characters, setting, dialogue, etc. My scene is entitled "The Actress and the Count," and finds a nobleman visiting an actress in her dressing room after a performance and thinking he can pay her for sex - only to find that her sense of a paid sexual encounter is very different than his. It will involve a combination of stage acting, ritualized movement, music, and video. I'd love for you to come down to Tucson and see it.
Anything you'd like to add?
Just that we'd love to see you back on the boards in Tucson sometime.
That's incredibly kind of you, Mark. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
My pleasure, thank you.
More information about Mark Klugheit's upcoming projects: