A Conversation with John Guare
May 31, 2001
Lincoln Center Theater's Platform series presents conversations with artists working at LCT before an audience of interested theatergoers. Admission is free and open to all. Platforms are held in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The following is a transcript, edited for clarity, of the May 31, 2001 Platform with John Guare:
THOMAS COTT: Good evening, everybody. I'm Thomas Cott, Director of Special Projects for Lincoln Center Theater. Welcome to the latest in our series of Platform Events. For those of you have not been with us before, the Platform Series began a few years ago as a way to introduce our audience to the artists putting on plays here at Lincoln Center Theater. If you've missed any or all of them, we do transcribe them, and they are available in printed form at our lobby shop or on our website, www.lct.org.
The Platform Series is made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Rose M. Badgely Residuary Charitable Trust and we are grateful to them for their financial support — and to all of you for coming tonight.
And now, a little background on our guest tonight—I feel a little odd reading off a list of credits, because I've known John for 15 years, but I don't want to miss any of the highlights. John Guare received the Obie and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, which also won London's Olivier Award for Best Play. These two plays, as well as Four Baboons Adoring the Sun, each received Tony Award nominations as Best Play and were all produced by Lincoln Center Theater. [applause] He won a Tony for his book – and he also wrote the lyrics — for the musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona, which was the Tony-winning Best Musical of 1972. And his new play, Chaucer in Rome, is currently in previews here at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
In addition to everything else I just said, John is co-executive editor of our magazine, Lincoln Center Theater Review. If you have not yet picked up a copy of the Chaucer in Rome issue or Invention of Love issue, I encourage you to do so on your way out tonight... Please welcome John Guare! [applause]
Now, these evenings are sort of informal. I'm going to begin with some questions of my own, but then I will open the floor to questions from you, so be thinking about what you want to ask John. Let's begin with some basic questions, John. How did you start writing this play?
JOHN GUARE: I was in Rome. I'm lucky enough to be married to Adele Chatfield-Taylor, who is President of the American Academy in Rome. And the Academy is a fantastic place. It's built on eleven acres on the highest point of Rome—the only McKim, Mead & White building in Europe. It's a place where writers, composers, painters, sculptors, architects and scholars can go to work. It's got one of the great classical libraries in the world. There are in residence always about 75 artists and spouses and I am lucky enough to tag along with my wife. She's President and I call myself Dennis Thatcher or Prince Philip. [laughter]
We spend about three months of the year in Rome, a real alternate life there we are fantastically lucky to have. She runs the Academy out of New York but has to go back and forth. And I've been lucky enough to go with her the last dozen or so years.
I hadn't had any plans about writing about Rome, until I heard somebody say in 1998 that, 'ugh, in two more years, it is going to be a nightmare. It is going to be this thing called Holy Year where Pilgrims come. There's gonna be 80 million Pilgrims coming to Rome and there are only 35,000 hotel rooms.' So I think... there's a play there! [laughter] I mean, Feydeau! 80 million people and 35,000 beds! And I started looking around for a play… and the play just came. I wrote the rough draft, which is structurally still the same play today as it was in 1998.
I didn't know what to do with it. I gave it to Jenny Gersten and Michael Ritchie. Jenny is the daughter of Bernard Gersten, the Executive Producer of Lincoln Center Theater. And Jenny is the Associate Producer and Michael is the Producer of the Williamstown Theater Festival up in the Berkshires. And I was looking at this play and I said, "Jenny, do you think there is a play here?" It was just sixty pages then, and she said "Well, show it to Nicky [the director Nicholas Martin]."
So Nicky and I read this draft of the play aloud to each other and after, he said, "I think there is a play here. Let's risk it." And we cast the play and designed it on this first draft. And then I went off to Rome to continue work on it — knowing I couldn't make any changes in characters or setting. Williamstown and Nicky were so patient, because I didn't come back from Rome until the night before rehearsals began, carrying the new version of the play in my hands.
There they were. There was the cast, there was Lee Wilkof, who's here tonight and who is in the play at the Newhouse, and Bruce Norris and Polly Holliday,... they were all in it at Williamstown. We had a wonderful cast and we had a very nice time. There were some people who wanted to do the play commercially, but it was still 1999. I was writing about the year 2000, about this Holy Year, when the 80 million pilgrims would be coming and I didn't want to have the play open before the reality of the year 2000 happened.
Luckily, [LCT artistic director] Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten came to see the play at Williamstown and they asked, 'Can we do it? We'll do it in May 2001." Well, when you are in August 1999, that seems like an eternity away — and still, I can't believe we are about to open next week. So the play was written in three gulps — all in Rome: once in 1998, then 1999, and then last fall, in September, October and November, I wrote the current draft, which you will see tonight.
TC: What changes did you make between Williamstown and here?
JG: Well, you'll see that the play is about a painter named Matt. I had no idea originally what kind of a painter he was. I didn't know what he was interested in. I just invented a painter with a specific problem. I was more interested in that. That carried this through Williamstown, where his problem was not about what he painted. What was happening to him was the crux of the play.
In the course of walking around Rome last fall and thinking about this, I finally made a very specific choice about what kind of a painter he is. And also, for those months, I went down to the Vatican every day and I just picked up stuff. I wrote yards — ask Lee Wilkof, sitting in the back — about what happened in the Vatican, of what I saw at St. Peter's and the deluge of these Pilgrims coming for this Holy Year. You get to where you do certain tasks to get all your sensory data. It was rather astonishing, seeing this. So those were the main changes, about the realities of what happened in Rome during the year 2000 and what kind of a painter Matt is.
TC: Another important aspect of this play is how it builds on a character you created for an earlier play of yours. Do you want to talk about that?
JG: I wrote a play called The House of Blue Leaves. [applause] It was done here in 1986 — I must say, a week ago Monday night, Lincoln Center Theater, for their annual benefit, did a reading of Blue Leaves with Swoosie Kurtz, Stockard Channing, John Mahoney, Ben Stiller, Chris Walken and Julie Hagerty...
TC: The original cast from our '86 production...
JG: The original cast from '86 and their being together on the Beaumont stage was one of the most thrilling nights of my life. When I began writing Chaucer in Rome in 1998, I knew I was going to write a play about pilgrims coming to Rome who would want to end up at the American Academy. I wanted to put these two worlds together. I was wondering who these pilgrims would be.
Back in 1965, I had been hitchhiking to "Find My Subject." I had graduated from Yale. I had a Masters degree that said I was a playwright. [laughter] I knew how to write a play, but I had nothing to write about.
Luckily, I got drafted. I went into a reserve unit for six months, and this is what happened to me. There were about 600 men in the induction room down in San Antonio and they said, "okay, will all those who have no more than five years of education, stand up and follow the sergeant." A lot of people got up and left. They said, "all those with 6th Grade education...", and more people left. "8th Grade education..." and about half the room is empty. They said, "all those who have 9th Grade..."; a lot of people left. "10th...11th..."
By 12th Grade education, the end of high school, there were maybe about four people left out of six or seven hundred. And they said, "okay, all those who have had 13 years of education..." and the remaining people got up and I was by myself. They said, "all those people who had 14 years", and I was feeling very smug. [laughter]. They said, "15 years of education...16 years..." And I sat there. And they said, "Didn't you go to school?" [laughter] And I said — very snooty — "you said to stand when you called out the amount of years of education you had." Horrible! And he said, "all right all those with 17 years.... 18 years, stand up. All those of you who have 19 years of education, stand up." And finally I did and said, "Which of you gentlemen do I follow?"
But I tell you, it was a key moment in my life because I was so proud — smug — about my Yale degree, when the sergeant said "he spent 19 years in school!" And it wasn't until that moment that I said, "Holy Christ!" What was fantastic was that, in my group, I was the only who had finished high school, much less had a Masters from Yale. And what was wonderful was that everything that I valued and was smug about was of no worth, was of no value at all. Nothing I was proud of had any merit — and that was fantastic.
I came out of the Air Force and I realized that I had to find a subject to write about. I was on fire to write, and I said, "I'm going to Europe." My parents said, "What are you going to do now?" I said, "I am going to 'Find My Subject.' You can't possibly understand…" [laughter] So I went off and it was 1965 and I went to Europe to find my subject. I worked in London not at one, but two publishing houses and I was going crazy reading and writing reports. Then I quit that. I went to Paris for the weekend. I took my suitcase and I threw it away. It was very dramatic. And I started hitchhiking, which I had never done before. I ended up in Egypt. And I just hitchhiked.
When I got to Rome in 1965, the thing that struck me the funniest was there was a picture in the Italian newspapers of Queens Boulevard. It was the date that the Pope came to New York. He's there and I'm here! [laughter] And I got to Egypt, that was the first place that I gave out as my address, because it sounded the most dramatic. I said, "Send it to me in care of American Express, Cairo, Egypt!" That is the kind of person I wanted to be, with that address. [laughter]
And I got some mail, not much, but I got this big thick letter from my parents full of newspaper clippings. They were really baffled by me, thinking what the hell is he doing? They were really angry with me because I just vanished. And they said, "you may think that you are seeing the world, but today the world came to us. We stood right on the corner of 46th Street and Queens Boulevard and the Pope went right by and he slowed down and he looked at us. You missed that, you missed that!" [laughter]
Do you know what it meant to them? And they sent me all the clippings there in Cairo? I realized that I had found my subject and I wrote The House of Blue Leaves starting on that day. I knew I had a play. It took me to go all that distance. If I had been here in New York, I would have hidden that day and run away or whatever. Just pull the curtains down. But I realized, my parents revealed a side of yearning and joy about having seen this event that I had never seen. I mean, everything comes to New York. I mean, why leave New York because everybody comes here? It's true. If it's not at Lincoln Center or BAM, forget it. [laughter]
Okay, so I wrote The House of Blue Leaves. Back to 1998 and I'm wandering around Rome, it's a great city to walk around, just walk and walk and walk. I was trying to figure out who these pilgrims would be that would come from America to Rome to be forgiven? And it dawned on me that, in House of Blue Leaves, one of the characters, 18-year-old Ronnie Shaughnessy (played here by Ben Stiller), wanted to blow up the Pope, on the day that the Pope came to New York.
In thinking about my new play, I said, "wouldn't it be funny if these pilgrims are leaving Sunnyside, Queens to come to Rome?" It suddenly all flew into place. I mean, just in one day, something that I thought I had written out in Blue Leaves... I realized that Ronnie would now be a grown man and his son was a scholar at the American Academy in Rome. That's how the play begins. It sort of all just fell into place.
TC: But Chaucer is not a sequel to Blue Leaves?
JG: It is in no way a sequel. You don't have to know anything about Blue Leaves. For me it anchored the play, it nourished the play. Whenever you are writing, you are trying to find yourself on this home territory where you feel free. Suddenly I realized that I had very firm footing on which to stride around on — but it is just a reference. But you will see it tonight if you are going to see the play. You will see the dim connection. But you don't have to remember, it is just a dim memory of people in the play here remember. Anyway, it gave me a firm footing. It gave me something to hang onto.
TC: Are there questions from the house now? Ma'am?
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: What is the difference in talent or interest between someone who writes novels and someone who writes plays?
JG: I'll tell you something, it's very simple. The word 'playwright' ends for a specific reason in W-R-I-G-H-T, because there is a craft to writing a play that doesn't exist in something as 'free form' as a novel. Time is not a requirement in a novel. Time is not one of the essential elements of a novel. It could be Proust who wrote thousands of pages or it could be the new Philip Roth novel, which is under 200 pages.
Whereas a play is something you experience in only a few hours. But it has to have the same effect of a novel. The difference is that it has to be 'read' simultaneously by 300 people tonight who you hope will all laugh at the same time, gasp at the same time, be moved at the same time or be bored at the same time. That's what I love about plays — I love the very constrictions of a play.
The novel has stayed alive for the last 500 years… since Cervantes, because it's such a free form. Because anything can be a novel. If you read this wonderful writer W.G. Sebald, who's written three great book in our time, within the last few years: Vertigo, Rings of Saturn and The Emigrants. His books are essentially him taking walks. I mean, you could not write this as a play. Or perhaps somebody could find a way to do it...
The rules of writing a play have essentially really not changed that much since Aeschylus and The Oresteia. The time limits are still the same. It is still about involving an audience in a situation that can be done with music or not, but the basic tools of theatre still exist. The same problems. How do I catch your attention? A play has to work much more on a visceral level. It has to capture your attention. You can't just doze through a play, if you come to it. It grabs your attention, and if it doesn't earn your attention, then you get turned off, or you fall asleep, or you just think about where you are going to go for dinner after, or you think about what you are going to have to do tomorrow.
A novel you can put down at any time. It doesn't demand your attention. When it does demand your attention, when we can't put it down, you say "it's a real page-turner." That's what I think you hope for. Even with a painting, you say, "I can't stop looking at it," or a piece of music, "I just love to hear it." But I think that the strictures of time around a novel and the strictures of time around a play are so different.
There is a theatrical craft, which for a novel there isn't. I mean, people say, "Why don't you write a novel?" I say, "Ivana Trump writes novels." [laughter] Who can write a novel? Joan Collins can write a novel. But you just can't sit down to write a play and say, "oh, if you think Joan Collins wrote a play, it would really work." [laughter] It takes a craft to work with actors, directors, designers. Because the theatrical event doesn't happen on the stage, it happens in that bridge between the stage and the audience. There is a craft, W-R-I-G-H-T, like wheelwright, wainwright — whatever a wain is! There is a craft in capturing an audience's attention and holding it.
We know when we're part of an audience, when it works, when it's thrilling. We're all one watching this event. We forget that there is a craft at the end of every play. You have to keep learning it again, because the rules keep changing. It's mad, because you can't repeat yourself. You have to learn how to make your voice get over the edge of that stage, into that bridge where you sit.
TC: John, I'm curious to know if you always knew you would be a playwright.
JG: Playwright. That's all.
TC: So where did that come from?
JG: I had two great uncles who toured from 1880 to 1917 in a dozen plays. I have copies of them at home and they have no author's name on them. They just bought them. I bought the plays and then cobbled them together. They were things like The Old Tollhouse and The Girl in the Garret… It was a little stock company that they toured with. The Old Tollhouse opens up and there's all this thunder and this old man says, [melodramatically] "Oh, 25 years ago this very night, my son left taking the money he did not know was rightfully his. Oh, if I could only see him again. The same thunder, the same lightning. [knocks on table] Oh, who could that BE?" [laughter] They were like half-hour plays. So I grew up knowing about this.
TC: Did you grow up going to the theater?
JG: Well, yes, because I lived in New York City, what could be better? That's one of the great things about New York. Going to the theater was something that we did for birthdays, holidays.
TC: I think it was in the magazine that you talked about this. You took one of Chekhov's plays…?
JG: When I was 14, I was watching Philco Playhouse on TV. This was 1952, when I was 14. And God, I loved Kim Stanley and Geraldine Page and Joanne Woodward. There were all these southern plays. I said, "what the hell am I doing in Queens? If I only could live down in New Orleans… nobody writes plays about Queens. You can't do it." And so I just discovered Chekhov and I typed out The Three Sisters, which I loved. And every time they said Moscow, I put New Orleans. [laughter] It was going to be for Kim Stanley and Geraldine Page and Joanne Woodward. I knew it was perfect and I was right.
TC: So you had some influences growing up. Yes…first row here.
AM #2: I saw the play this afternoon. What I'd like to know is: do you think that all artists are traitors and immoral and disloyal and fakes? And that's the definition of an artist? Or is it only contemporary ones?
JG: I don't even think it's true of contemporary artists. [laughter] I don't think the man in my play is a traitor.
TC: Well, there is the Graham Greene quote...
JG: Yes, well, the quote actually is, "every novelist has a splinter of ice in his heart". But I believe that that applies to every artist. That an artist is somebody who only can use the materials that are at hand, their lives, their own material. Jean Rhys, who wrote The Wide Sargasso Sea among other wonderful books, said "I am my novel. I am my own material. My life is all I have to draw out of."
And I think that, if you are a writer writing, I think, in the act of writing, I think somebody's always betrayed. But I don't think that means a fake. I think that if you're writing about your families, or your friends, I think somebody's always going to say, "That's not me." But it's perception.
Ernest Hemingway was furious at Scott Fitzgerald putting Gerald and Sarah Murphy in Tender is the Night. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to write a story about these glamorous people, Gerald and Sara Murphy, who sort of invented the 20's and lived a luxurious life in the south of France. He wrote their story. But then he made them become Scott and Zelda, who went mad and crazy and it was disastrous. And Gerald and Sara felt betrayed because Scott melded them together with himself and Zelda. Hemingway said that you cannot do that. You can't blend people. If you show people, if you're drawing from life, you can't put two people together. One person has to be one person. You can't start with Sarah and turn her into Zelda.
I don't that I suggest in my play that he's a fake in anyway. The play is about the materials that we use. An artist, a writer has to use what we live with. I think that in that fact, unless you're working out of sheer fantasy and imagination, that somebody is always going to say, "whoops, that's me, that's mine. Why did you do that?" I think any more than a translation is a critique. That a translation is always a criticism of the original work. When you translate from one language into another. The translation that you make into English, or whichever the language, the translation that you make is always, in some way, a criticism of the original language.
I think the same thing holds true that when a writer is writing out of his life, out of his or her life, that there is always going to be criticism involved in that.
AM #2: Not just in contemporary times? Always, by definition?
JG: Well, I haven't lived at all times, so I can't speak for all artists.
AM #2: You think all art falls under that category.
JG: I think there's a difference—for so many years, personal art is something that's only a 19th-century invention, because so much of the great art that we refer to in Renaissance painting is religious art. There are critics today who would say, "ah HA, this is actually Caravaggio's face. This is an image of Caravaggio. Or this is what this represents or this backdrop is actually the home where Leonardo lived. We can learn about it from the background." But art until, say, the time of Manet and all, is very much public art, and it's not until the awareness in the 19th century of the unconscious, that art does become personal. And the minute that art becomes personal, there's always going to be betrayal involved.
AM #3: I think we should send all playwrights to Rome for three months, if they're going to come up with something as wonderful as Chaucer in Rome. I've seen it twice.
TC: Wow, you're our first groupie! [laughter]
AM #3: I've become a groupie. I saw House of Blue Leaves, as well. And I just wanted to ask you, is there any significance in the fact that, in both of those plays, the husbands kill their wives?
JG: Well, that's the main plot point in the second play, in Chaucer in Rome. Peter says, I don't want to relive what my father did, but I feel it's in my genes, the same as being an artist. An artist is in my genes. I feel I have to go where my father went, because I want to know how he felt and because of actions in the play, the betrayal in the play, that he is then compelled to do it again. But it's about people who have, what is in ourselves that—not that we don't have control about it, but what we can't help but what we have to do.
I can't write anybody's else story. I can't write my story about life in New Orleans, because no matter how much time I went to New Orleans, I couldn't write about it. I have to write about where I'm at home in, as much as any other writer, but that's the significance. I have to tell you something. My wife hates that line in the play. I wonder why.
AM #4: Mr. Guare… [he pronounces it 'GWAHR-ay']
TC: It's 'GWEHR', actually, but that's okay.
JG: [laughs] I once gave this speech and after, somebody said, "um, Mr. 'GWAHR-ay, I'd like to ask you if…"… and I said, "actually, it's 'GWEHR' and she said, "well, I pronounce it 'GWAHR-ay'!" [laughter]
AM #4: I wonder how you know when something's you've written has reached critical mass, so that's it's ready to be produced? For example, Lydie Breeze...
TC: Lydie Breeze—that's the name of a series of plays that John wrote which had been…
JG: There were done in the wrong order. Anyway, they were finally done last year in the New York Theatre Workshop in a way that… I didn't know I had intended. So we never know when something's going to be finished. What don't know what's going to gnaw at us. We don't what's going to start fighting us in the middle of the night.
But how do you know when something's ready? Well, a theater's dates. I had to get Chaucer ready because I showed it to Jenny Gersten at Williamstown, and she had these dates. And so I had to have it ready by July 1, 1999. Paul Valery said, "A work of art is never completed, it's just abandoned."
That's the best thing about opening night. Last week, I stopped re-writes on this play, because the actors that have to live with the material. There's a famous story of Irving Berlin coming to Ethel Merman — who was in his show, Call Me Madam—with a new song. It was ten days before the opening, and she said, "Call Me Miss Birdseye, I'm frozen." [laughter] So it was finished. That's when the play was finished. You can do stuff after it opens. You can add stuff.
But essentially a play, what's there on June 7th is what will be there. If I'm unhappy with something, in the printed version, I can put something back. But I knew the play was finished, because it was time to stop working on it.
AM #5: Your play is set in Rome and your main character is named Peter. Is there a connection to St. Peter?
JG: I don't think so. I mean, there are so many saints…. But I like it when the mother in the play says, "we've come to find our Peter. Tomorrow we'll go to St. Peter's, today we're going to our Peter's." So it sort of echoes… But it's not intended. I just named him Peter. Pete and Matt. I don't know why Pete, I don't know why Matt.
AM #6: You handled the religious aspect of the play in an irreverent way and I just wonder if you meant to antagonize anyone with it?
JG: [pause] Uh, huh. [laughter and applause]
TC: You were raised Catholic, yes? Do you think that informs your writing, in general? Jewish writers have a cultural thing they bring to their writing. Do you think growing up Catholic informs your plays?
JG: Sure. When you write about a Catholic church in Rome, it helps to be Catholic. Yes. [laughter]
AM #7: Were you happy with the film version of Six Degrees of Separation? And would you like to do more movies of your plays?
JG: Oh, I loved it. It was wonderful, yes. It was interesting. When Blue Leaves was first done in 1971, it was bought in an insane act by Carlo Ponti as a film for Sophia Loren, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. And I wrote a screenplay that was awful, because you couldn't talk to the audience. And luckily it was never made, as you may have noticed. Although it came close.
When Blue Leaves was revived here in Lincoln Center in 1986, again because of the success of the play, we got a few offers to make a film of the play. And I have an agent named Sam Cohn, who said, "John, I'm going to give you advice you may not like but we have a number of these films orders. You have to make a choice. I'm going to suggest that you turn them all down, because it will make a terrible movie. It's a play. Because it's all about talking to the audience and it's about involving the audience." He said, "you've had a offer from PBS to do it on American Playhouse. And I implore you to do it there. Record it live in a theatre and do that because The House of Blue Leaves has always been a happy experience for you. If you make a movie of it, it will only be an unhappy experience. And it will just be a bad thing. So don't do it."
And he was right. So we did it on PBS and I was very happy with being shot over five days at the Plymouth Theatre. Six Degrees was different because, in a play like Blue Leaves or Chaucer in Rome, we're talking to you tonight, only in this theater, in this audience. The audience in Six Degrees of Separation had a very specific identity.
We told Stockard [Channing, who played the central character of Ouisa Kittredge] that these people in the audience are not people at Lincoln Center. They are people that you are sitting next to a dinner party or at a cocktail party, because you're literally dining out on this story. So you, in the audience of Six Degrees, had a very specific identity. It was easier to give that identity flesh in a film version. So it just worked out.
That's why I liked the film of Six Degrees so much. Because it was a film, but it wasn't a filmed play. We saw these people rising. It was even more vivid, how the people's social status kept growing as this story got to be more and more famous with the re-telling of it.
And sure, I'd do another, if somebody has a way to show to do a play, I think movies should be movies and plays should be plays, generally. But if somebody had a way, if they came to me — a director I liked – and said, "well, I know a way to do Chaucer in Rome. Would you be interested in this?" I wouldn't say no. I like movies. But to answer your question. I was happy with the movie version of Six Degrees.
TC: We have time just for a few more questions. Yes, sir?
AM #8: How did you acquire the notion that we're all related by six degrees of separation?
JG: There was a very famous statistician at Yale, Alexander Milgrim. It's an issue, not a philosophical issue, not a metaphysical issue, but rather a statistical issue that, thanks to Marconi, all the world became accessible, because of the wireless.
Statisticians wanted to know — well if everybody could be beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep — how many stations does it take to find whoever it is you're looking for? And Alexander Milgrim came up with the statistic that is was something like 5.82 [telegraph signal receiving] stations. That is, within 5.82 stations, you could find someone in that area where the person was that you were looking for. And that just seemed to me to be a fascinating situation. I thought 5.82 stations. Hmm. 5.82 is not a good number. So round it up! [laughter]
It was just something that I heard and when I was writing the play, it was a point that was never sort of clearly pointed out in the play. But the play was about how everybody in the world is separated by six degrees, by six other people. Except if you're a person of color. It is possible to vanish, if you're a person of color in America, in this world. And that was one of the points of the play. How she could never find the kid again.
TC: One last question.
AM #9: When do you become aware that "six degrees of separation" has become a phrase that people use in everyday speech?
JG: The first time I knew was really weird. It was November 1992. It was the day before the election, the first sentence in the Times report said, "there are only six degrees of separation that stand between Bill Clinton and the presidency." And I said, that's not what it means at all, but there it is! [laughter] No, I must say it's quite fascinating to see how it comes in to use. The happy thing is that it's in Bartlett's Quotations, in the new edition. [applause] So now I feel I've made it. That's great.
TC: John, do you want to talk briefly about what's coming up next year?
JG: I'm working on a musical, based on a wonderful old movie which I love called Sweet Smell of Success, which is ostensibly about Walter Winchell and the power of the press. A couple of years ago, I looked at it and I said I know how to make this a musical. I know this is musical. And so I've written it with Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia, who written a brilliant score. Nicholas Hytner, who did Carousel and Twelfth Night here, will direct it and Bob Crowley, who did the sets and costumes for those shows and also Invention of Love recently, will design it. And Chris Wheeldon, a new, remarkable young choreographer from New York City Ballet, is doing the dances. And John Lithgow is playing the lead.
TC: So it's a bunch of amateurs, basically… [laughter]
JG: So we go into rehearsal November 3rd and play it for two months in Chicago, and then we come to New York, if we can find a theater. Anyone know a theater owner?
And then when I finish that, I'm going to do a new play at Signature Theatre. A year from now, I'll be doing a new play there. That was our commitment, all the writers who have been picked by Signature [this company devotes an entire season to producing plays by the same author], we all promised to give them a new play. So next year is going to open with Sam Shepard's new play, then Edward Albee's new play, and then my new play.
TC: We look forward to both of those projects and, even more imminently, to the opening next Thursday of Chaucer in Rome. Thank you so much for coming, John Guare! [applause]