Academy and Emmy Award winner Julianne Moore and Academy nominated and Emmy, SAG and Golden Globe award winner Alec Baldwin have lent their talents to a very special virtual staged reading of Same Time, Next Year. Directed by Bob Balaban, the Guild Hall benefit will premiere on Sunday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with John Drew Theater Artistic Director Josh Gladstone about the production’s dream team, the Bernard Slade play, and more.
Guild Hall has quite an extraordinary event planned this July. Tell us a little bit about the benefit staged reading of Same Time, Next Year.
JG: It is happening in Zoomland. It’s a two character play that has been around for a number of years. It was written by a very funny playwright back in the 70s named Bernard Slade. It had a successful run in New York at the time and was turned into a film with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn.
This is a lovely chance to revisit a piece of classic material. Bob Balaban, the director, was excited to work on a piece with us. He was talking with Alec, who is a longtime supporter of the theater at Guild Hall. They were kicking around ideas and I guess this old chestnut of a play was in Alec’s mind. He said, “I’d love to do this.” And Bob said, “I’d like to direct you in it.”
They’ve never actually worked on something directly together. They’re joking that this was the first time that they got to play together. They thought, who can we ask to read with you, Alec? They had a couple of ideas and then they were like, “Well, wait a minute. Julianne is in Montauk. Let’s see if she wants to do it.” She’s a good personal friend of Bob’s. Alec and Julianne have worked on projects together before, so they called her and said, “We’re doing this thing, you want to do it?” And she said yes.
It was great because she has always been so incredibly busy in her production schedules. We have called upon her in years past to say would you ever do anything with Guild Hall at the John Drew Theater? She’s always been incredibly nice and said, “Oh, I would love to, but I can’t because I’m so busy.” We caught her at the moment when no one in the performing arts is busy.
It’s quite a dream team!
JG: Oh, it’s a dream team! All production at the moment is halted, so they have a little time and they agreed to carve out a couple hours on a Tuesday afternoon to read together. When Bob said, “We’ve got a project in mind, we’ve got two great stars” and then the pre-production began and he said, “What can we do to make this happen?” I turned around and asked that question to my small, but brave team of theater technicians and administrators and we said, “Let’s produce this.”
So, we got the rights and we got scripts made up and we figured out how people are going to hold them. You would think a little reading on Zoom has nothing to it and it’s pretty simple, but there were questions like is the script going to be double sided or single sided? Are we going to use a teleprompter? We wound up using cookbook stands, we got a couple of cookbook stands and the cookbook stands sat on the table next to them. We got these hard printed scripts that we made a bunch of various tweaks on and Bob kept making cuts and revisions because the language of the play is about 50 years old – there were a few things we had to tighten up. But we got it into some kind of shape and we got the scripts delivered and delivered again to Montauk and the cookbook stands and Julianne at her place only had an iPad. She was very nice and allowed us to send a team over. We brought a laptop from Guild Hall and a light and a microphone and we set everything up.
Because Bob chose a virtual background, he was looking at pictures of inns from all around the world, the play is set in an inn in Northern California, and we were looking at 50 different backgrounds and virtual backgrounds. How do we get them to work the virtual backgrounds? Finally, Bob decided on taking a couple of pictures out of his own living room in Sagaponack and we made this the Zoom virtual background. Julianne and Alec both had these virtual backgrounds, which are actually Sagaponack, and it looks good.
We managed to get to the production date and it went off very smoothly. It was clear that Alec and Julianne had a rapport having worked together before. It was very funny because he logged into his account and when you put your name in Zoom, in the bottom corner… She’s an Oscar winner and has won a lot of awards in the industry. And he has not [won an Oscar]. So, his name on the bottom corner was “I don’t have an Oscar,” which cracked her up. Then they started to riff and they had chemistry.
Alec has done a lot at the John Drew Theater. Last year he did Eugene Pack’s comedy Stan the Man as a reading with Blair Underwood and Rob Morrow. Prior to that, he’s appeared in Mainstage productions of All My Sons and Equus. He’s done many other readings. So, Alec we know he’s great, he delivers a funny, sharp performance, but we’ve never worked with Julianne Moore at Guild Hall in any capacity and she was a revelation. So light, so present, so honest, so playful, just like literally dancing circles around the page. She gave him a run for his money. He was absolutely doing what he could, but it was like watching two great artists riffing and playing with each other and it was a treat. There were a handful of us who were on the production team that were all watching in the Zoom control room, which was all from our individual living rooms, and it went really smoothly. They were in great spirits. Bob, who is a perfectionist, he’s a consummate professional and he was anxious. We wound up doing so well with it, we captured all this off the cuff banter, this kind of blooper reel, playful stuff of them just sort of talking. You know Alec when he’s got an audience… He loves to start telling anecdotes. We captured all of that in the Zoom and a lot of that was even more fun than the actual play and we’re going to keep it in. There will be the play reading and you’ll be very aware that it’s a reading, and at the same time, they’ll be taking these little breaks and doing these little riffs with each other and there’ll be these little intermission chit chats that they have.
It’s really going to be playful and funny and it’s romantic. It’s a romantic piece. I don’t know if you know the story.
I’m actually not super familiar with the story.
JG: The quick elevator synopsis is a man and a woman meet in a restaurant randomly, and they decide to hook up and have an affair. They’re both married. They sort of fall in love with each other and they decide because every year this man has to come back and do business in this town and she’s from this town, so same time, next year – one date a year over the course of a lifetime. The play is a series of moments, peppered across 25 years and the relationship of these people. It also sort of looks at the times because it’s set in the late 50s and it travels to the late 70s. So, you get to see a lot of different social mores come into play as they evolve as humans and mature as humans over the course of this relationship. It’s kind of bittersweet and touching too.
It’s a nice piece. I saw the movie when I was a kid. I hadn’t really been familiar with it, so I was surprised at how well it held up and I was surprised at how touching it was. I was most pleased and surprised by the level of the acting work. There’s a reason these are A-list, beloved celebrities – because they’re great actors. To watch great actors doing what they love to do and in an unpressured environment, it’s a treat.
Do you have any other readings planned for this summer?
JG: Yes, we have become a virtual production house. Our little brave team at Guild Hall has taken all of the relevant machinery out of the control booth at Guild Hall and Patrick Dawson has become our virtual technical director and a lot of that gear is now in his living room. We have editing and audio capabilities. We’ve invested in some green screens and some microphones and we’ve got the most professional level Zoom account.
We have done two of these prior to Alec and Julianne. We did a Tennessee Williams evening. That was our inaugural launch on this virtual reading series. That was with Harris Yulin and Mercedes Ruehl. That did really well and people liked it. We did another one about James Joyce starring Austin Pendleton. That went pretty well too. We’ve got one coming up by the playwright Eugene Pack, starring Blair Underwood and Sherri Shepherd, who’s a Daytime Emmy winner, was a The View host and is a comedienne. There’s a couple other actors that are going to be added to that. It’s going to be an evening of short new plays.
We’re going to be doing Joy Behar’s comedies that she’s written. She’s written some short, one-act comedies. We haven’t cast it yet, but we do have our director. That’s probably going to be coming up in late August. So, the Blair Underwood piece will be in early August, and then the other one in probably mid to late August.
We’ve got a couple more in the pipeline. We’ve got some stuff that we want to pitch around with [Matthew] Broderick, although he may do the Eugene Pack production. I think they’re asking him about that. There’s a lot of other actors that we’ve worked with at Guild Hall who have expressed interest in wanting to help us out and they’ve got the time at the moment.
So, I think we’re going to do a bunch of these and then we’re also going to, at some point in phase four, open up a little corner pocket theater in the garden at Guild Hall to resume some live performances, solo recitals, singer/songwriter stuff like that, local artists.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JG: I know people may be a little Zoomed out, but I would say that this is going to be premiering as an event on a Sunday night, when people will hopefully have had their fill of being out at the beach or the bay. It’s a great thing to come home to and have a bottle of wine and have a little house picnic and tune into Alec and Julianne.
If you can’t make it on the 12th, we are going to have it available afterwards for a limited window. But, the 12th is a benefit for Guild Hall. We are literally trying to keep in business right now. So, we’re hoping people in the spirit of helping the theater will tune in on the 12th.
Tickets are $100 per household.
For tickets, visit www.guildhall.org.