Anthony F. Ingram

Interviewed by Kathleen Duborg  (Assistant Director)

How many shows have you worked on with Blackbird?

I’ve been in three Blackbird Shows: The Birthday Party, Pinter’s Briefs, and Great Expectations.

How many have you worked on with John Wright at the directing helm?

John Wright directed all three of them.

What has intrigued you or challenged you as you prepare to work on Godot and specifically the characters you’ll be playing?  Have you ever worked on this or other plays penned by Beckett?

I’ve not worked on Beckett except as a student, though his work has been influential on many of the playwrights I admire and on my theatrical aesthetic as an actor and director.  As I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with the play over the last six months, I’m amazed at how many echoes of the play I see around me in other plays, in literature and film.  I’ve seen things Beckett borrowed from those who came before him in the works of the Marx Brothers and Music Hall performers.  I’m almost overwhelmed by the amount of material there is to sort through once we get into rehearsal.  There are so many choices to make and so much to choose from.  And I’m intrigued at the amount of danger that we might be able to infuse into each performance, just how far can we push the audience’s sense of unease and discomfort – how much of an unexpected journey can we take them on?

Beckett called his great friend and colleague James Joyce a ‘…synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could.”  He called himself, “…an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can.”  Is there any way you could articulate the way you rehearse up to opening?

Those quotes are quite telling in relation to the rehearsal of this play.  In my mind, we have fifty years of material relating to the play that we bring in to the rehearsal; all of it valid and worth exploring.  We have the memory of productions we have seen, we have the ideas we, ourselves, have projected onto the script.  We have what we might assume to be “original” ideas that we want to test out.  All of this needs to brought into the rehearsal room, to be tried out.  I believe the actual trying out of each of these ideas is essential in order to find out what is possible and what is not.  In this way we are each a Joyce.  The trick then, will be to switch over to being a “Beckett” and leaving out all the things that don’t work, looking for that thing that works best, yet knowing that all the things of which we rid ourselves, inform and still live in the essential ideas, things and actions that we end up retaining.

How has working with Blackbird affected or influenced your work in the other fields you apply your artistry to: direction, design, film work, auditions or producing?

Blackbird and John Wright have greatly increased the freedom and confidence with which I approach my work. For many years, I struggled with the sense that somehow I needed to stop being intellectual about acting or directing; I was supposed to find my way toward this ideal of being a wholly emotional and instinctual artist.  Blackbird has given me permission to keep looking at my art from both sides: to investigate and be utterly mindful of the meaning and aims of a work of art – to care deeply about the effect a given piece of work has on its intended audience, while giving my self complete permission to explore the work from the inside on an instinctual level and turn it into my own work, exploring the world of the play for my own enlightenment.  I really can’t express the growth in my work.  I can point to the recognition that the resulting work has garnered from my peers – 4 Jessie Richardson Nominations and one statue – since Blackbird began taking me under its wing.

Do you have a favorite acting quote?

Not that I can think of… except an archaic law that I can’t quite remember that equates players to vagabonds and cutthroats, stating that we should be buried with such types, at the cross-roads.

Can you talk about why you think Waiting for Godot is still being produced all over the world and is considered one of the greatest plays written in the modern era?

The play was written after WW II.  It’s a very strange period in history.  I’ve been watching a bunch of films from the Film Noir canon lately (I know it seems completely un-related, but just let me unravel this… ) and what I find interesting is that without being overt about it, all these films are exploring a landscape that is not merely overshadowed by the war, but carved out by the war.  These are men who have gone away and spent years killing and trying not to be killed.  The rules of a polite and ordered society had been suspended, and now they have returned to that ordered society.  Now, they handle guns with comfort, they are looking for escape from the monotony of normal living, or from the ghostly visions of battle that haunt them.  They can’t find or can’t keep steady employment.  The police are not to be counted on or trusted.  And God?  God is literally no-where to be found in these films.  God does not factor into their decisions, or even into their vision of the consequence of their decisions.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying Godot is God.  But I do think Godot is something lost, something just outside our field of vision that we feel will put everything in its proper place, or relieve us of some indefinable need.  I think the play speaks from the same landscape as Film Noir, but with a different language, a different focus, and, possibly, a different intent.  Where the Film Noir tended to exploit the psychology of post-war or expose it in stark, lurid black-and-white, Waiting for Godot actually digs into it and explores our need for something to fill in the gaps, for some new way of relating not only to our world, but with the people in it.  We’re still dealing with this disillusionment and this peculiarly human search for some sort of logic or pattern to existence and relationship.

John has said, in his typical ultra modest style, that he knows ‘nothing’.  He did mention a phrase he admired, “My job is truth” (spoken by his grandson of course).  How do you find ‘truth’ as an actor?

This is going to sound really schmaltzy, but ‘truth’ is found in love.  What I mean by that is as actors we explore relationship.  Of necessity, we pick apart dynamics of relationships; we examine it from all angles, test its limits.  One actor standing alone on stage is one of the loneliest sights known to man.  Add another actor to that picture, and suddenly, all possibilities of relationship are made manifest for our exploration – exploration of the range of connection between one human and another.  And that, I believe, is where we find the proof of our existence, our truth.

Where or how do you think your process of creating has been informed by working with John and on the plays Blackbird has produced?

John allows all possibilities to be available in rehearsal, making it possible to find the best avenue and action that makes the story clear.  He’s a shaper.  He finds great glee in being surprised and having his perception of things wrenched into new perspectives by what comes out of rehearsal.  His faith in the craft and skill of his actors, and his humility in saying “I don’t know – try it, let’s see” is so empowering that theatrical and emotional risk is always available.  Blackbird’s focus on the classics of western theatre has made it possible to re-examine these canonical works.  Blackbird doesn’t so much revere the classics, but, instead, treats them as vital works, even new works to be explored.  In Blackbird’s hands, a classic is approached as though it’s a new play, never having been rehearsed or seen or heard.  This allows the artist and the audience to have a vital experience – that is, we experience the play not as a museum piece with which we revisit the past and have our opinions about the work confirmed, but as a vital, living thing that actually speaks to us and challenges our perceptions of our immediate surroundings.

I’m of the mind that Godot is one of those magical plays the just ‘happens’. It is alive on deck in that moment, full and then gone.  Does this state of fleeting ephemeral art that all theatre resides in affect you as an artist in any way? Has this affected your process as you’ve developed as an actor?

Well, what you speak of is surely the most romantic part of what theatre is.  Theatre is a will-o’the-wisp, a dream.  It’s also a new event with each new audience, with each new actor.  Sometimes, this state pains me.  Other times, it’s a saving grace.  It certainly clarifies my relationship with each audience.  They are as much a part of a given night’s performance as I am.  This sense of the ephemeral has driven me to an acute awareness that the play is nothing without the audience, and that I am as changed by them as they are changed by me.  It’s one of the things that make theatre, for me, an art form different from all others, with musical performance being almost analogous.  It’s a privilege and a huge challenge – and, I think, a bit of the addiction that keeps me going.

Why should this production receive funding?

I can’t believe you even have to ask that question!  Waiting for Godot gets done at theatre schools.  It gets done by young companies trying to make their mark and do the plays that inspired them as they studied their craft.  While there is great value to this state of affairs, it would be a crime should Waiting for Godot be relegated to the sphere of students and young professionals.  Here, we have a production by an established company with a proven track record of making classics relevant and alive to a new audience, with actors that have the intelligence and chops to fully explore the work, and a working relationship that has consistently resulted in work that pushes boundaries and draws admiration from audience, peers and critics.  And we have them tackling a play that is the bed-rock of modern and contemporary theatrical vocabulary.  Imagine what could be possible with those ingredients.  Try to imagine what new facets could be discovered for a new audience from this work that intrigues and mystifies, and has become our modern Hamlet.