Joy Zinoman Transcript, Part 2

This is part two of our Theatre in Community interview with Joy Zinoman, the legendary founder of DC’s Studio Theatre and the Studio Acting Conservatory. To refresh your memory, in Part 1, Joy talked about her 14 years in Asia before returning to DC to found both the Conservatory and Studio Theatre. There, with designer Russell Metheny, she created a unique, intimate theatrical style that pushed the pure aesthetic of theatre into the forefront. In part two, Joy discusses the rise of Studio and the architectural development of the, quote, “Zinoplex” as one of DC’s most important theater institutions. We also discuss her contributions to the evolution of Washington, DC into one of the country’s foremost professional theater markets.

A quick note to listeners: On each episode’s post, we’ve included a glossary of theatre terms and names referenced in the interview.

Michael: You were the artistic director of Studio Theatre for 32 years and then you stepped down in 2010. Now, I’ve read that you directed about 50% of the productions, I think, something like that.

Joy: I don’t think that’s exactly true. Because there were five shows a year in the regular season and I would direct two of them.

Michael: Two of them.

Joy: So it’s not 50%.

Michael: So it’s more like 40%.

Joy: And then when we started 2nd Stage, which was another program within the theater, developing it—and that’s a very important thing, too, that happened. 2nd Stage would do three or four shows, so there were times that we did 10 or 11 shows a year. Actually, there were three different programs. There was the Season, which was a big artistic and financial driver of which I did two of the five shows, I think pretty much every year.

Michael: Sure.

Joy: Then there was 2nd Stage, which was run, first of all, by students and people in the theater that wanted an opportunity to work but could no longer work at the Studio Theatre because it had quote unquote, “gotten too big.” The actors were, we started to cast out of town, the union contracts tightened, there was a professionalism or something, I don’t even want to call it that, I don’t mean that, but that meant that the people who before had been a part of it were in competition with these national forces.

Michael: And that must have been about 1990 or so when that started to happen more.

Joy: Yes. And a group of people in the theater, Kathy Redmond, who passed away, Keith Alan Baker, who also passed away, decided that they wanted—it was like, how can you generate that same spirit that was there before at the beginning? And I said, “Okay, we will give you a hundred thousand dollars a year. You don’t have to make any money. Not a dime. You have to return that hundred thousand dollars and you can do whatever you want.” As a way of having people in the who were working in the theater also make theater. And that was a very important thing because they did shows and had a kind of aesthetic that was very unlike mine. So there was this diversity. Keith was interested in Jerry Springer: The Opera and all sorts of trash like that.

Michael: Yes, I remember.

Joy: I had nothing to do with that, aesthetically. He also wrote a lot of shows. So it was like this very original work about whoever, you know. So he had totally different aesthetic. And I think it is to our credit that we allowed that within the theater that had a different aesthetic.

Michael: It’s almost like a special theater within a theater.

Joy: It was! That’s right. It totally was. It was non-union people. Again, everybody could audition, whereas, I could no longer have open auditions, which was a cornerstone of my rigorous values before.

Michael: Okay. Your process.

Joy: So it would be 600 people who would come to audition at that point, when we had open auditions. And you couldn’t do it anymore. You couldn’t keep all of those old ideas right. But the 2nd Stage could. So as we became—I still don’t call it commercial, but it probably was more, you might say, maybe like other theaters, then we had 2nd Stage, which continued to have open auditions, always could preserve those ideas that the theater was founded on.

And then there was a third program in the theater, which people don’t remember, but which is really important, and that was, we called performance art, but it was really special events from New York in those days. Paul Zaloom, David Cale, Eve Ensler, Will Power, Lypsinka. These, my son at the New York Times goes to review. Some of those people came to the Studio and did one-person shows. At that time, a lot of the, actually, because he was seeing stuff in New York in this sort of alternative universe and would tell me about it. Now these people are mainstream, are known, but it was like, at that point, “Oh, let’s get that!” So we had this program of solo pieces by people. And it was like, now, if you see Mike Daisey at Woolly Mammoth or you see a comedy special on Netflix, oh, that’s a—but we did that in the ‘90s, constantly. And so it was an add-on to the subscribers. And then, eventually we even started to bring in some little productions, Rain Pan 43 from Philadelphia, The Civilians, Tarell McCraney’s The Brothers Size.

Elizabeth: Oh, yes. Amazing production.

Joy: It was amazing.

Elizabeth: Yeah, amazing.

Joy: But that came from the public in New York, in that program of bringing things here. People forget. That was a separate energy. So, special events, for what it started, what had been this pure, we’re gonna do these productions and study style, and then had come to be a little bit more contemporary, issue-oriented in the primary theater. Then, artistically, had these three different parts which emerged. The Studio Theatre, which cared a lot about literature. It did. I always cared about style. Early modernism as opposed to the earlier fixation on really diverse style, so, Pinter, Beckett, Albee, in addition to realism. We also did a lot of contemporary British and Irish plays during that period, Caryl Churchill, Martin McDonagh, and I became enamored of Stoppard and did many great productions of Stoppard plays. And he came—

Elizabeth: Wow.

Joy: So, on a kind of an international level, this little crappy theater on the 14th Street, the sky was the limit. There was no stopping us in terms of what we were gonna design, what we were gonna do, who we were gonna get. But at the same time, there was this alternative New-York-centric-one-man-show-bringing-things-in aesthetic and there was the rise of 2nd Stage.

Michael: So Studio basically had shows running all the time by this point. They had all these different programs, there was always a show probably going on at some point.

Joy: More than one.

Michael: Yeah, more than one. You probably had, you were developing maybe multiple, sort of, audiences or communities.

Joy: Absolutely.

Michael: And then obviously you were hoping for some bleed off from the main repertory to the 2nd Stage, etc. I remember back in the early ‘80s, Bart Whiteman talking and that’s why he opened three theaters on 14th Street so that he would always have a show going on. His philosophy was you gotta have a show going on all the time and theaters going on all the time to make people comfortable going there.

Joy: Yeah, more.

Elizabeth: More is more.

Joy: Yeah, more is more. And then, I believe architecture is destiny.

Michael: I agree with you. Could you talk about?

Joy: What drove us then was the need for more than one theater. And architecture was destiny. If we were gonna have these programs, then we needed more theaters, but we wanted more theaters to be like the theater that we had. And we renovated that theater on Church Street at least once. Maybe after the initial time, two or three times, and then across the street, this building became available on the corner of 14th and P. But that’s another long story about architecture and real estate and destiny. By the time we found out about it, someone else had rented that space with a 10-year lease. But, again, not willing to be stopped, I sublet that building. First a part of it and then another floor and then the whole building and built a million-dollar theater in those days in a building that we didn’t own.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Joy: So that time, we raised money to build what’s became the main theater, the Mead. You didn’t know, you can’t imagine what that was like. Who’s gonna give you money to build a theater when you’re gonna have to give it up? When you have only ten years? That was insane.

Elizabeth: I guess you wouldn’t have equity in the building. Yeah.

Joy: Exactly. You can’t keep it. So there was a promise in a way that, no, we will buy this building when the 10-year lease of the middle man is up. We endured this, paying rent to the middleman. And when that 10 years was up, we indeed did buy the building. And we subsequently bought two more buildings, so there was, like, half of the block, gutted the inside, 55,000 square feet, and built four beautiful little theaters.

Elizabeth: Which is the Zinoplex, yeah.

Joy: And I cannot tell you my pride about that. That was the genius of Russell Metheny, period. That he took those abandoned auto showrooms and designed every inch—it makes me weep, what it took to do that.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Joy: And he built beautiful theaters. I still believe that they are the gems in terms of architecture, theater architecture in the city. So, there was the main theater, which was like, how could we possibly have done that? But we did. That was all about finding an angel. Getting money. I’d been working for an angel for twenty years, but that’s a whole other group of stories about how the donor community embraced the small theater movement in Washington. And it was the Meads who were very important. Now that changed. Gil went on the Arena board and did all kinds of expensive things. His wife Jaylee went on my board, that was the angel that we had worked for for 20 years.

Elizabeth: This is the Gilbert and Jaylee Mead Foundation. Two amazing people, both deceased.

Joy: Jaylee was on my board for 10 years and she gave me a million dollars to build that theater. And that was like, could that happen? Then I literally raised fortunes after that and bought those buildings and Russell designed, and Keith and Serge and Maury, brilliant artist administrators that were there the whole time built those theaters and that’s where this idea of, there are people in the building that are going to see Keith’s crazy Wild Party, there are people in the building who are going to see David Cale, there are people in the building who are coming to see Chekhov and Tom Stoppard, and there are also students, which by this time there are like 500 class places a year in the school.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Joy: I didn’t believe more is more, actually, but I did believe that the confluence of these various programs—the school, which by that time had 20 teachers, and this infrastructure that could support these three different programs would allow the audience to mingle in the lobbies and would be like, oh, what’s this and what’s that? The other thing, there was a, I had a theory that a play did not have a definite run. That old regional theater idea that it runs for six weeks and closes. If you have enough theaters, you have your own overflow house, which was the old idea on Broadway or off Broadway. You had a show and it was successful and you had to look for another theater to put it in, for four or five months. Not six weeks. So you could just do the next play in another theater. You had an excess of theaters! So if you had one giant hit, that could support the whole year financially. If you had two mid-size hits, that could support the whole year. And sometimes it came from 2nd Stage, as it turned out! And you didn’t have to move them in the kind of old Broadway model or wherever it was, you could just keep running them. And we broke what had been the regional theater model. I had a lot of ideas about how to run these mid-sized theaters financially.

Elizabeth: Joy, talk a little bit more about what some of those obstacles were when you were developing these four theater spaces in the “Zinoplex,” as I’ve heard it referred to. Other than the logistics were there other major hurdles? I didn’t realize that you had been a tenant for 10 years before you developed it as your own theater as the owner. That was new information for me, but were there other really major stumbling blocks that you and your team had to overcome?

Joy: Money.

Elizabeth: Yes. Money. Okay.

Joy: It’s simple. Money. It turned out, you had to be of a certain scale financially. Scale was the key. But I didn’t want to lose to the scale of intimacy of the performance. So we could have built a theater with 500 seats like other regional theaters, whatever. We could have. We had the space. And that was the common wisdom that you can’t do it with 200-seat theaters. So there was an obstacle to fight that among funders, among the government funders, among people who thought they knew how these theaters should run. This was something little. And I didn’t believe that, and I still don’t believe it. And we see the dire circumstances that the large theaters have found themselves in. A part of me wants to say, “I told you so.” The scale of bloated administration was not helpful to the art itself.  

Nowadays, all theaters, like big, other regional theaters have a big theater, and then they decided to have a small, little theater. That became their next model. That’s the way they solved that next problem. And those were not the ideas in those days—how to run theaters, the idea that sometimes things could run like the for-profit world. And that you could change and be flexible with the runs of shows or that the obstacles in funding, that each show didn’t have to make the same amount of money and some shows could make no money. That financial flexibility, those were obstacles that we had to figure out. The notion of subscribers and what that meant—another big topic nowadays, of course, nowadays subscriptions hardly exist. The theater’s changed so much. People, in these short twenty years, people don’t want to commit to it. But in those days, there was a subscription model. But we believed that a subscription and a non-subscription model could exist in the same plan. There was an obstacle because we loved single ticket buyers. We believed that a single ticket buyer was coming to see a specific play and thus were a more enthusiastic audience. In those days, the great people who formed the regional theater, they only loved the subscribers. We liked the subscribers. They were okay. They supported a body of work whether they liked it or not. But the single ticket buyers had a passion ‘cause they were coming to see the one thing they wanted to see. So we did both. And that was a challenge to say, yes, we’re gonna have subscribers, but we’re also gonna do this single ticket buyer thing. The challenges were always about taking these ideas, first the artistic idea, and then this idea of how to build midsize ideas and models.

Michael: Can you talk more about the intimacy equation? I remember distinctly the experience of intimacy at Studio Theatre when I saw productions there, and I was always struck by sometimes the same script performed in that intimate space versus a larger space and just how profoundly different it was. Can you talk a little bit about the creativity and how creativity has changed for the theater artist within that intimate space and how that creativity and the actor’s relationship to the audience changes?

Joy: The core is, they don’t have to push. If you believe that realism is the basis of everything in acting, as I do, then there is a natural scale or size of expression of response. And once you get beyond a certain sized room, your concentration requires you to intensify. And if you’re not the very, very best, intensifying becomes exaggerating. And that’s not something I liked. So there was a purity about the expression in a room of a certain scale, no matter what the style was. This might be getting a little too technical acting for you, but even though in more traditional styles, where there’s a larger worldview, still the relationship between the audience and the actor has to be preserved. For example, I wanna see the actor’s face change color. I want to see their eyes get red. I want to see—you can’t see that if you’re more than eight rows away. And we had no theater seat that was more than eight rows.

Elizabeth: No more than eight rows away.

Michael: Any actor has to be in the moment in order for that to happen. They can’t fake it as easy in the small theater. 

Joy: No faking. No faking. So I believe that scale has a profound relation to art. The idea about architectural scale, business scale, followed the artistic ideas. Profound.

Elizabeth: Joy, do you have other theorists in your directorial vision? Do you follow different kinds of theatrical theories that you could talk about?

Joy: I’m terribly interested in them. All contemporary directorial ideas. And I read a lot about them, and I try to go and see them all. And, yes, I’m very interested in that. But I have to say that I’m pretty stuck in the mud, in what I personally can do and believe. I like other things, though. I like to go outside of Paris and see Ariane Mnouchkine and her Théâtre du Solei.

Elizabeth: Oh, okay. Sure.

Joy: The greatest experimentalists who are doing a different kind of theater. I adore that. I still love traditional theater in Asia and other places. I still, I like seeing people like Ivo van Hove, although I believe he shot his wad and then just keeps repeating himself. European experimentalists, you know, but I think a lot of them are second rate and that’s a problem. I think it can be informative. Theoretical theater people and acting, but there’s not a lot of really successful new acting theories. And acting must always be at the center of the theater for me. So you can’t really learn acting from a book, period. You can only learn it from one person handed down to the next person. That’s the only way you can learn acting. So I don’t subscribe to too many acting book theories at all, separately from your question about directing.  

Elizabeth: Let’s talk about your directorial techniques. Michael is a theater director, and I should really defer this to his insights, but are there directorial techniques that you use to create a nurturing community among your actors in the rehearsal process and among designers and technicians in the larger production process?

Joy: I hope so. Of course, I teach directing. And I’m very interested in how to organize a whole bunch of people in this communal form because the director also is an administrator. The director is also, like, the leader of an orchestra. The director has many functions, many roles. They’re both an artist and an organizer. And to not attend to either one of those is bad. Yes, I believe very much in the rehearsal process and what it is. And I have very strict notions about what that is. I can go on for hours about what that is. People want to know your secrets, which are very sexy, right? I don’t believe in sitting at a table and reading. We can just start right there. I believe in beginning with improvisation as a starting place for discovering movement or meaning. I have a lot of techniques about the beginning of rehearsals, improvisational as well as others, for example when I’ve directed Chekhov, I’ve almost always taken the whole cast away for three or four days to live in some kind of house in the country and drink vodka.

Elizabeth: You’re in for Moscow.

Joy: Going to fish brick factories if you’re gonna direct North Shore Fish. Looking at life, finding whatever life situations I can that are in the play. And then a lot of things in the rehearsal process. Characters writing letters to each other. Lots of things like that have to do with opening up, not starting with the text, but really starting with the subtext. Starting with bringing up character to the actor, making the actor become creative within the confines of the character, not beginning strictly with the text. And then I shift very shockingly after this beginning work, which is very open and creative, because I pre-block everything in the entire play. There’s a big shift that occurs for the actor. I believe in organic blocking in a kind of free discovery phase, but then, so that’s just the first process, but then I believe the director needs to make decisions and tell the actor what they understand about the scenes, which are revealed by the blocking. Blocking is the god.

Elizabeth: Blocking is the god. I love that. T-shirt: “Blocking is the god.”

Michael: There we go.

Joy: If the scene doesn’t work, just re-block it. That’s the truth. Reading at a table can get distorted. Probably because only verbal relationships are clear when you’re reading, but I believe the business which reveals the subtext, among doing other things, or the use of props—which, by the way, for me is separate from blocking, it needs to have its own rehearsals with real objects all the time. When you start with blocking, which really and truly lets the audience and the actors understand exactly what the relationships are between people at every specific moment. And then the business, which gets deeper and reveals subtext. Then I believe in characterization and moment-to-moment work and hard work on acting. So I’m very process-oriented as a director, I don’t do a lot of things at once, and I have a lot of ideas about each part of that process and how those rehearsals are conducted differently.

Michael: And what are your experiences with non-traditional casting or what they call colorblind casting? Can you talk about that a little bit? What were your thoughts about it?

Joy: That’s the most difficult and controversial topic, and I don’t want to seem like I have any answers. Words like non-traditional casting, colorblind casting, all of that right now in America is very difficult to talk about. These days, people accept colorblind casting in classical plays and the range of roles that anyone can play has expanded. And considering race, gender, disability now becomes a very important part of casting, has to be considered. And then there are people who believe that colorblind casting is anti-racist, a person is what they are, and we have to value what that is. I just was on a panel at Arena Stage a few weeks ago about the rise of antisemitism and what that meant. The notion that, for example, only a Jewish person could play a Jewish person, which to me is, like, insane. It’s anti-art. The idea that somebody can only play what they are. And yet there are real issues right now about why should, whatever her name is, Rachel Brosnahan play Mrs. Maisel.

Elizabeth: Oh, right, Mrs. Maisel.

Joy: So there are Jewish actors who could play that part, but where does that lead us? Where does that lead us? Certainly, the tremendous injustices that this country has promulgated in terms of race and gender are everywhere with us in the theater, everywhere with us. But can the theater, which is usually at the forefront of liberal ideas, take the responsibility for it all? 

Elizabeth: Complex question.

Michael: Now, I’ve always thought of the theater community as a combination of obviously the practitioners of theater as well as the theater goers, people that have no intention whatsoever of actually practicing theater. But it really is that combination of the two. And definitely with your creation of the Conservatory and then Studio, in a sense, you combined both of those. You’ve nurtured the practitioner audience, even if they weren’t cast in the production, they go to the production just to see the wonderful performances. And then obviously you attracted audiences from beyond that. Could you talk about how the Conservatory and Studio Theatre inspired the growth of the Washington, DC theater community, both as practitioner and as people who just love going to see theater?

Joy: It’s hard because the Conservatory has its own life. There was a time at the beginning where the Conservatory was 90% of the institution and the theater was 10%. Then it completely reversed where the theater was 90% and the school was 10% of its budget, of its concern, of everything. Then I retired from the theater but kept teaching in the school. And then the school was separated from the theater, ripped from the theater, and had a huge crisis. And would that be the end of the educational part? Again, architecture is destiny in this space. But it’s had this other rebirth. Again, finding space, building this wonderful building where we are today. Although I retired from that, I said I would do three years and raise the money to buy a place to renovate it, and so I did. And that ended like about a year and a half ago. So then I don’t want to really do that anymore. I just want to teach and work on the curriculum.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Joy: Which I still do. So the relationship between the parts has shifted radically through the years for me personally. And now, I mean I’m 80 years old and I teach one semester and I continue to train teachers and work with all the teachers and try not to have to raise money.

Elizabeth: Try not to have to raise money. What a retirement gift to not have to raise money anymore. So, speaking of money, Joy, I wanna rewind the videotape a little bit and go back to the early days of DC theater when, as you were speaking about a while ago, about becoming, DC becoming a small professional theater contract community, a small theater community. People who don’t know the theater biz don’t know that Actors’ Equity is the actors’ union. Maybe now with this SAG strike they’re more familiar, but there’s many criteria attached to becoming a member of the union. You can’t just join; you have to get so many hours and there’s certain requirements for the producers, et cetera. And as I understand it, you were really pivotal in the fight to get the small theater contract here and to keep the right to cast to both be the vehicle through which local actors could become union members, Equity members. So could you talk a little bit about that early fight in DC, which is, oh gosh, what are we talking, 30, 35 years ago now?

Joy: Yeah, more than that. I don’t remember when it was, but there was definitely this big schism. There were the, like, the big theaters and they could have union actors. And then there was the small and midsize theaters that couldn’t. And there was something called a guest artist contract.

Elizabeth: I remember that.

Joy: So you could have Mikel Lambert, an Equity actress who was at the Shakespeare Theatre, come and play Medea, a single role, and you could pay her this guest artist amount, which was a huge amount money for us

Elizabeth: Equity scale.

Joy: Yeah. And that seemed, first of all, totally unfair to me. I used those guest artist contracts because as I said at the beginning, I wanted the rigor of the best actors I could get, but I didn’t like the idea of inequity that it thus generated.

At the same time, I think Equity was looking for ways to increase their membership nationally. What people don’t understand is that Equity isn’t a single contract. There are many different Equity contracts. There’s a Broadway contract that has its own scale and requirements. There’s a LORT contract for the 40 or so biggest theaters in the regional theater movement, it has its own contract. There’s summer stock contracts, there’s a Chicago contract, which is only for theaters in Chicago. And each one of those has different requirements in terms of pay, in terms of how many hours a week people can work, in terms of blah blah, blah.

So they were thinking about starting a new contract called the Small Professional Theater Contract. And I just was like, zippo, that’s the thing! That’s it! That’s what we need! The schism was not helping us develop because we wouldn’t have had access to Equity actors, but the scale needed to be much smaller in terms of the salary. If people were willing to work for less salary—there were also different requirements in terms of how many Equity versus non-Equity actors they could have each show, ‘cause that was another requirement that they had. There were all sorts of things about how many inches of dressing room space and all kinds of things that small theaters couldn’t meet those requirements. So there were six of us, I believe. The Equity rep came to town, and we organized this meeting and there were negotiations about what the requirements of a small professional theater could look like nationally.

And the one that was the most important to me and which I fought for was that we could give Equity cards. That was the turning point. If you’re gonna be grown up, you couldn’t just use these other people who you begged to be in your play as a guest artist. I wanted to give an Equity card to Sarah Marshall and Jennifer Mendenhall and these people who were in the early plays. I wanted to be able to do that. I would. Because a big theater could give an Equity card at will and that made you a second-class citizen, if you couldn’t do that. Yes, you could build up to 48 weeks and you could do this slow process, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to do that too. I wanted to be able to give out Equity cards. They were all afraid of what that would do. Unleash the floodgates of the unwashed!

Elizabeth: “They” meaning Equity.

Joy: Yeah. The notion that there’s a real difference between Equity and non-Equity, which is just plain not true. It just wasn’t true. It was just some people in the union, some people were not. Didn’t have to do with their ability alone. But you couldn’t use that half of them. So we fought that and we did. There were a few things, there was also at that time, the founding of the Helen Hayes Awards, for example, which I was one of the original people, but I was not on the right side of history.

Elizabeth: I wanna ask you about that in a minute.

Joy: I was on the right side of history with the union!

Elizabeth: We just talked some months back with your colleague B Stanley, who was the artistic director of DCAC, DC Arts Center, for many years and he told a wonderful story about sitting next to you in the League of Washington Theaters meeting when the proposal came forth from Theatre Washington, which is the originator and manager of the Helen Hayes Awards, to dissolve the League and have everyone join Theatre Washington. And you were very outspoken about that in terms of the consequences for small theaters. So I don’t know if you remember that moment, but I wondered if you could walk us through that.

Joy: I don’t remember that moment, but I remember being against competition between artists that Helen Hayes Awards would promulgate. That kind of notion that if someone plays Hamlet and somebody else plays Stanley Kowalski, that those people could be compared somehow. I still believe that. I still don’t like the Awards. The only reason I ever agreed to participate at all was because I was convinced that it was good public relations for the city. And yes, and they could do advocacy maybe better than the League could, and they could start to raise money and have boards. And they did. And I thought that there would be competitive with the theaters that were trying to raise money and find boards with the same people. So it was like setting up another organization that was gonna be in conflict with the small theaters, so I remember that. I remember that those were the things that I—

Elizabeth: To give our listeners a little background, this is real theater nomenclature here. The League of Washington Theaters, Theatre Washington, Helen Hayes, which is the Tony Awards of DC, just a little background.

Michael: Now you’ve mentioned on several occasions during this interview this notion of commercial theater and how Studio Theatre had this pure vision of theater. And there’s no question that in today’s theater, the theater is seen as a generator of economic wellbeing. It’s an economic generator. And that’s how it’s been sold. And there’s no question that theater, both downtown, uptown, all-around town has improved or helped gentrify and helped the city prosper. That it’s a part of bringing people into communities. But what do you think that has done to the theatrical product itself?

Joy: There’s no theater that was more well-known—I spoke at lot of national conferences as to how the theater affects community, community development, neighborhood redevelopment—more than the Studio Theatre. The Studio Theatre was an exemplar of that—

Michael: Absolutely.

Joy: —being a catalyst for economic development of a whole neighborhood. But it really did. It came with nothing into this neighborhood, which was completely demolished, and look at it now.

Elizabeth: Right.  

Joy: Now, you could think, oh, isn’t that great, or you could think gentrification isn’t the greatest thing that ever happened. Just last week, my husband and I were walking on 14th Street and it was pretty horrifying to tell you the truth. I’m not so sure that the end result of all of that gentrification is a more whole community, where you have chain stores and tourists and—yes, it was an economic generator. The people who build the Wharf, PN Hoffman, came first in that neighborhood and they started to buy everything and they also gave me a lot of money and they put Studio District in their first brochures to sell their apartments on Church Street. They saw that having a little culture in their neighborhood could help. The restaurants knew that people who came to the theater had to go somewhere and eat first. The economics became even more. When we did the big renovation, we increased the water mains on 14th Street. That’s like a real, pure help for the community. So, we put all kinds of money into infrastructure. It is not a joke that what in that particular instance the Studio Theatre did to that corner and to the entire 14th Street corridor. And I used that to raise money constantly. I was proud of it in a kind of public way. I’m not so sure that the end result of infinite commercialization and gentrification is so great now. But I’m not in the now.

Elizabeth: For people who aren’t locals, 14th Street now, Northwest in DC, is just bursting with high end restaurants and extravagantly expensive condos, and it’s just very upscale. It’s just bristling at night with activity. But it is no longer affordable to anyone, oddly enough, in the theater profession, for example. People can’t afford to live in town anymore. Joy, do you have, just to begin to sum up, because you retired from Studio and you retired as the artistic director of Studio Theatre in 2010, and I’m wondering if, looking back, if you could pick out one or two of your greatest moments of triumph? I don’t know if that’s even a fair question, but—

Joy:  They would be around specific plays. Probably the Tom Stopford plays, the Chekhov plays, and others. I brought a book here, the 30th anniversary history, so I could remember what they all were. There, there are things in here in The Slab Boys Trilogy and here in 2nd Stage and Waiting for Gadot. There are productions of the Martin McDonagh plays, the, a number of the Caryl Churchill plays, writers that I deeply love and are honored to have spent time with. And the life with designers and actors in a rehearsal hall, those things make me weep ‘cause they are extraordinarily high points of my life. And then I think the opening of the new theaters.

Michael: So finally, one of the major reasons we’re doing the Creativists podcast is because we see creativity as a vital life force, not only for the individual, but for whole communities. Not only in terms of economics that you’ve just spoken of, but also just in terms of psychological health, vitality, new ways of approaching problems, all those things. What are some of the core values that you think that all theater makers together as a subgroup might have, or as a subculture? And what advice would you give people about the creative impulse?

Joy: Ooh.

Michael: Yes, it like sort of a meta question, I know.

Joy: I have to think about it, but off the top of my head, I think, one, theater’s a communal form. I think that’s pretty essential to the notion of creativity. You can’t go in the bathroom and play your violin. The creativity must be a kind of creativity that comes from communalism, from interaction between people. Everybody breathing the same air in one space. Not phoning it in. Being in the room together, talking, drawing, struggling, trusting, being vulnerable, I think that’s the great generator of creativity.

I think, secondly, where the theater’s concerned, there is a hierarchical notion that needs to be respected. That is to say the writer, if it’s a scripted thing, makes certain decisions like where the thing is gonna take place, who the characters are, what the major action is. And then there’s a whole lot of decisions left, and they are decisions for the director. What are the people gonna look like, what are they gonna sound like, what’s the physical form? But then there’s enough, some more decisions that have to be made by the actor. What is the moment like? What is the understanding of the internal life of the character? What is—so I believe those kinds of hierarchies, people accept the decisions made creatively before them and see where their freedom is. And to embrace the fullness of the choices that they have before them. To find their own impulses to freedom.

Michael: So the communal creativity of theater requires that structure.

Joy: Yes.

Michael: And an appreciation of that structure by all of its participants.

Elizabeth: I completely love your expression, “embrace the fullness of the creativity that they have.” That’s a great comment to end on, that all of our listeners, all of our selves, we can embrace the fullness of the creativity that we have. This has been fabulous, Joy. Thank you so much for so generously, tremendously, generously sharing your time with us.

Michael: Absolutely.

Joy: It feels warm to remember the words, the moments here, at age 80. That was good. 

Elizabeth: So thank you all for listening. This has been the Theater in Community program of Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. Thank you all for listening.

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The Creativists in Dialogue podcast is supported in part by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and subscribers like you. The Theatre in Community podcast series is supported in part by Humanities DC. Thanks.