Here's to a great time for the both of us, David. I know that we can still change the face of theater. If not us who? Love, Jonathan. David Saint reads these words from a note written to him by his close friend and theater collaborator, the late Jonathan Larson. A few months later, the composer would be dead, but his show, Rent, would be running, winner of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize. A year later Saint expresses the significance of the note in a press conference as he prepares to take the reins as artistic director of the George Street Playhouse. Saint succeeds Gregory F. Hurst who resigned hastily in July 1997, after nine years at the helm.

 

Saint's large eyes open wide as he looks around the rehearsal space just off the lobby of the

George Street
theater, used on occasion for performances by small outside theater groups. Wouldn't this be just perfect for a second stage to develop new plays? says Saint during a conversation following the press conference. I'm curious to know if Saint thinks it is possible to alter or change the character of an established subscription audience. You don't pander to the audience; you must make them stretch and do the best that you can, says Saint who assures me that he will be out among the audience at intermission and after shows listening to their comments.

 

One could easily go on listening to Saint talk of his love of theater. But who would expect Saint's family history to be so adventurously embroidered? Born in Boston in 1959, and raised in Cape Cod, David was named after his great-great-grandfather, a sea captain, whose ship was wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod at an area now know as Saint's Landing. A formal Jesuit education and time spent in a seminary contemplating a life in religion preceded Saint's admittance to another Jesuit institution, HolyCrossCollege in Worcester. While Saint now says he wasn't cut out for the priesthood, T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral is a play he would consider directing.

 

No one in Saint's family had ever been connected with the theater, except that Joseph, the youngest of his five brothers, is now a lighting designer. He allows that Eva Marie Saint is a third cousin, or something. I was always acting, says Saint. Right through school, every summer I did summer stock. The minute I graduated from college, I moved to New York and took classes with Uta Hagen. Good breaks and talent landed Saint roles at the Public Theater, the Phoenix, Playwrights Horizons and the Manhattan Theater Club. But Saint adds that it wasn't until he began coaching other actors, like Diane Wiest and Douglas Hughes, that the idea of directing came to him. Interestingly, it was Saint who succeeded Hughes (director of Wonderful Tennessee at McCarter last season) in his job at the Seattle Repertory Company when Hughes left to take over the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Saint directed many productions as a freelancer at Seattle beginning in 1990, achieving the title of associate artistic director in 1996.

 

Saint, who has completed his last season at Seattle Rep, is also no stranger to theater in New Jersey. He has directed plays in recent seasons at McCarter (the world premiere of the one act, My Mother, Then and Now, by Wendy Wasserstein), Paper Mill Playhouse (The Foreigner), and the American Stage (Billy Bishop Goes To War, which included Jonathan Larson in the cast). Somehow I feel that Jonathan is sending me back to New Jersey to finish the work. Saint says that it is too soon to talk about making changes at

George Street
until they learn about me and I learn about them. He expresses his enthusiasm for reexamining the classics but says the one thing he is sure about is the development of new works, which he calls the life-blood of the theater.

 

At this stage, Saint says it is imperative that staff work together to build up the theater. Because of its size, George Street Theater is much more hospitable to the kind of play that I like to do than Seattle Rep, a big hall of 860 seats. Saint talks of this being a great moment in time in New Brunswick, where he sees a real renaissance of the arts emerging, notably nurtured and supported by the New BrunswickCulturalCenter.

This is an exciting day for the George Street Playhouse, announced board president Clarence Lockett, as he introduced

George Street
's new artistic director to the press. Lockett, an ordained minister, is eager to share the news that Saint had himself spent time in a seminary. Yes, I did spend time in the seminary, but I climbed the wall. I couldn't face the future as Father Saint, he interjects.

 

Lockett is not shy about expressing his feeling that

George Street
is blessed with this particular Saint's arrival, notably as the theater will begin its 25th year next season. The introduction was, in fact, notable for the display of feelings as Lockett turned to thank Wendy Liscow (She prevented me from having sleepless nights), the associate artistic director whose leadership and direction, during the interim, kept
George Street
on its artistic path.

 

Saint arrives at the theater during a prosperous time. Lockett confirms that the theater has run with an operational surplus for the past seven years. Saint joins forces with another newcomer, Tom Werder, who took the position of managing director this past summer. This leads Lockett to view this addition of two energetic young men as visionary. Leading the search for a new artistic director, following the sudden and swift departure of Hurst, was Bill Hagaman, the board's vice president. Assisted by an 11-member search committee, which in turn was led through each intricate step of the search and selection process by Werder, Hagaman was determined to make the selection by January 1. Besides taking advantage of the committee's contacts within the theatrical community for a list of candidates, Hagaman commends the press (with distinct irony) for letting everyone know that a position was available. Out of the 34 to 40 submissions were a dozen impressive candidates, among them Wendy Liscow, then acting artistic director, who were singled out for personal interviews.

 

We interviewed many talented people, but in David Saint we believe that we've found someone whose experience as an artist, and his strong rapport with the national theater community will attract the finest talent to George Street Playhouse, says Hagaman. Awarded the Alan Schneider Award, a $10,000 award from the Theater Communications Group to a promising mid-career director, the 38-year-old Saint has won numerous awards for direction, including a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, and the Helen Hayes Award.

 

Sealing Saint's appointment, however, was an endorsement received from noted playwright Wendy Wasserstein, in which she wrote, Saint was intelligent, forthright, highly skilled, and somehow simultaneously warm and accessible, the sort of man who can create the best kind of theater community.

 

Revealing how the process of picking an artistic director was as time-consuming as it was rewarding, Hagaman says, it has energized us as board members and put us 100 percent behind our new artistic director. That the board has also been 100 percent behind acting artistic director Liscow during this difficult transitional phase may lead some of us to ponder her future at George Street, now that she has not moved up to the top job. I've been involved with over 65 productions during the past nine seasons, now going into my tenth, says Liscow, who says she is ready to hand over the reins to Saint in January. This, although the balance of this season will continue under her artistic supervision. One would have to be deaf and blind not to pick up the genuine emotion behind Liscow's welcome to Saint, particularly in light of being a co-contender. Saint has been touching souls, says Liscow, referring to the letters of recommendation (Liscow called them love songs) that poured in from world-class playwrights, designers, and actors. There is a slight catch in Liscow's throat as she says, I look forward to working with you, and good luck.

 

New Brunswick now has a Saint in the city, are the apt words Hagaman chooses to acknowledge the new artistic director. It takes an act of bravery to create theater in this day and age, says Saint, who also lets us know that it is the artistic director who is the person most responsible for creating a safe home for the artist. This home has to be built on a series of relationships, and I particularly treasure the relationships I brought with me today. It's great to have friends rally round. At this point he casts a big smile toward actress-playwright Anne Meara and author-playwright Arthur Laurents, in attendance as a gesture of their support.

 

Introducing Laurents, Saint calls him the most principled man I know, and a protector of what Saint calls the innocence of truth. Saint shares the memory of his first job in the theater: a non-union summer stock production of Gypsy in New Hampshire, in which he played nine roles, staged managed, and pulled the curtain. I was hooked, says Saint, reminding us that it was Laurents who wrote the book for Gypsy, the musical that many people consider the greatest of all American musicals. Mutual admiration is apparent as Laurents responds with, I don't know of any director working in today's theater who is more skilled in finding the emotional truth in the play and in the actors than David. I think you are very lucky to have him.

 

Saint received accolades for directing Meara's first play, After Play, successfully produced off Broadway a few seasons back. That collaboration was the beginning of a firm friendship (I was white knuckled and he was my mentor) that would bring Meara back to

George Street
. Not surprisingly, Meara's affectionate remarks about Saint and his abilities (You're in good hands with David Saint) end on a funny note when she unabashedly reminds everyone of the professional actor's eternal quest. I hope to do something with you here David...that is if you... Her voice was unable to rise over the laughter and applause, both for herself and the new artistic director who sees himself as an evangelist of the theater, and the one who has taken to heart Larson's words, If not us, who?

[END]

David Saint (Artistic Director)



Key Subjects: 
David Saint, George Street Theater; Wendy Liscow; Bill Hagaman; Wendy Wasserstein
Writer: 
Simon Saltzman
Date: 
1997
Subtitle: 
George Street's New Man