A Conversation with Spalding Gray
December 8, 1999
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 December 8, 1999 Platform with Spalding Gray:
THOMAS COTT: Good evening, everybody. I'm Thomas Cott from Lincoln Center Theater. Welcome to the last installment of our Fall speaker series. For those of you who have not been here before, these Platform events offer a chance to go behind the scenes and meet the artists working at Lincoln Center Theater.
Tonight, we're grateful to have with us Spalding Gray, who has actually been involved with Lincoln Center Theater from when we first began back in the mid-1980s. He came here in 1986 with a trio of monologues including the premiere of Terrors of Pleasure and, at that time, his best known piece, Swimming to Cambodia. Other monologues have followed over the years, including Gray's Anatomy, Monster in a Box, It's a Slippery Slope and he's back at the Beaumont Theater again on Sunday and Monday nights with his latest show, Morning, Noon and Night. Please welcome Spalding Gray! [audience applause]
Along the way, Spalding, you also played the pivotal role of the Stage Manager in our production of Our Town. And you've had roles in other plays before that, but mostly over the last few decades, your focus has been on your one-man shows. Isn't that true?
SPALDING GRAY: Definitely. I think Our Town was kind of my farewell to plays. Because I've gotten to the point now where it doesn't interest me to be onstage pretending that I'm somewhere else. Or someone else. Our Town was the perfect last hurrah for me, because I was not really a character. I was more of a facilitator, or a go-between between the audience and the characters on the stage. That was a kind of Brechtian style that suited me, because I could relate right out to the audience. I was a go-between, which was just ideal.
TC: The theater that you began doing when you arrived in New York in the 1960s, though, was very experimental. Did that have an influence on your ending up doing the kind of work that you do now?
SG: Yeah, absolutely. I was doing traditional, regional theater at the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas, trying to get my Equity card, so I could come —hopefully—to New York by the time I was 40. I was terrified of New York City. But I thought I had to get out of the hinterlands and come in. I got so bored with regional theater. It was not taking any risks, it was not in any way a harbinger. It was lead by the audience. At the Alley Theater, people would call up and say things like, "we want seats tonight, but not next to no Negroes." What kind of shows do you do for people like that?
It was a difficult time in Houston, Texas in 1967. The theater was composed of mainly gay men and women, because it was a little sanctuary for homosexuals there in Houston. If you went out of that sanctuary, you could easily have your head beaten in with a tire iron—which did happen when I was down there. They would be left for dead.
Houston was a horrible city. I hope it has improved a little since then. So there I was in this oasis doing Chekhov for wealthy oil people. And it didn't make sense. The other thing that was tearing me away was that Haight Ashbury was going on in San Francisco and the Flower Movement; people were taking LSD and it was all very tempting to me.
But I was sticking my nose to the grindstone to try to get a theater career going. I read an article in The New York Times about André Gregory being fired from the Theater for the Living Arts in Philadelphia. The board of directors threw him out because of one of his productions. It was too radical a play. When I read that, I thought, "something's going on in the east. The good old island off the coast of America... Manhattan. I am going!" [audience laughter]
And I got here, and my entire consciousness of what I had ever thought theater was—what I was educated to think theater was when I was in college for four years—changed when I saw things put on by the Becks, Meredith Monk, Charles Ludlum, Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman, Joe Chaiken. There's nothing like it now. It's gone—it was an enormous downtown community of people that were creating their own theater from scratch. From their own spaces. I got involved with Richard Schechner and The Performance Group, and Richard said to me as my director, "I'm interested in who you are. And we'll approach the idea of character later. We like to do plays that we put together and create ourselves." And that was really the first road down that autobiographic place in me. Because he was saying, let's be our own author.
TC: But that was done in the context of the group effort. It was almost a communal thing...
SG: But that lead to the co-founding of the Wooster Group with Elizabeth LeCompte. That lead to me doing direct address to the audience in 1977, in our group piece, Brummerstick Road, which was a very powerful multimedia piece about exploring the nature of my mother's suicide...with tapes and slides. In that piece, I spoke directly to the audience, and that changed everything. I was no longer an actor. I was playing myself. I was saying, I'm Spalding Gray. And this is an aspect of me.
TC: Your first monologue, Sex and Death to the Age 14: was that the first time that you said, "okay, this is the entire event"?
SG: [nodding] 1979. September. With a table. I sat down with an outline and tried to remember everything I could. It's public memory. It wasn't scripted. Everything I could remember about sex and death until I was 14. This took an organic form, and I tape recorded it. And every night it would grow. I was doing all the writing with and in front of an audience... tape recording it and listening back.
After thirty performances, it had its own life. It was an hour 25 minutes long, and it was never finished, but certainly close to it. It was like bushwhacking. Improvisation, but finally finding the path that you've been clearing. I start a monologue the way I'm speaking to you now. I don't know what I'm going to say to you next. But then I say it, and there it is. And there it is. And there it is. You tape record it and it grows.
TC: Is it the same process now as it was back then, twenty years ago?
SG: With one exception. This monologue now that I'm performing here, Morning, Noon and Night, is the first monologue that I have sat down and wrote out at the same time I was evolving it in front of the audience. So it was a crossover. I would discover things in my private writing that would influence my public performance and vice versa. I sat down and wrote the book at the same time I was working improvisation with an outline in front of an audience. That worked very well.
TC: So you think that'll be the way you'll work from now on?
SG: I don't know if I'll do another monologue. I really don't see anything on the horizon. I'm in my chaotic, unfocused place now. But I think that is a good way to work. To find out what you're thinking about is to start writing about it first. It helps. And of course, I keep a journal.
TC: The majority of your monologues have been about events that are in your recent past, two or three years after the events you're talking about. So one can imagine that in two or three years you may...?
SG: It's a good possibility, since I have been doing them that way. I have to live a life to tell a life, and so I have to do a little living, you know? This new monologue, Morning, Noon and Night, is a curious one because the events take place in October of 1997. And I'm telling you now the family that I'm talking about is not the same family that was existing in 1997. The rapid growth in children is so incredible...it's just something else.
TC: Do they become almost characters, rather than the real people that you're talking about?
SG: In a way it's like a family album; they're the characters that they were then. And now, they're very different characters. For instance, Forrest, who is my seven-year-old son, is five in the monologue. He's a central muse for me. The way Renée Shafransky was a muse for me in the earlier monologues. I was working off Forrest's imagination and view of the world. Forrest is now seven years old, and does not share any more with me. He's going into whatever they call it, "the latency period" or private place. [audience laughter] "What are you thinking, Forrest?" "Nothing Dad." That's the new one. "Oh, really? That's quite a feat, I've never done that. Tell me what that's like."
TC: One of the things that has distinguished your monologues over the years has been the incredible amount of personal revelation. Have you ever hesitated to reveal a certain fact of your life?
SG: Critics often ask, how can you put your life onstage? And my response is, I'm 58 years old, and a monologue is an hour and a half. [audience laughter] So you can imagine how much is not there. In the case of the monologue It's a Slippery Slope—I didn't ever think I'd be able to talk about the subject matter in that—I was in therapy a good year, processing what I felt had to stay in that office and what could be published. So there was a very conscious filter system there, around choosing. About what could be spoken, and what could be private. I have to say there is nothing that I haven't consciously thought that I haven't shared with someone. But it's not always the audience.
TC: Some of these have been made into movies. Jonathan Demme directed Swimming to Cambodia, Steven Soderberg did Monster in a Box...do you find that process different?
SG: Making the movie of the monologue is very different. In the case of Steven Soderberg particularly, because he made that the way you make a film, all cut up. He would do different scenes all out of sequence, because they were making sets. We were doing it in a big old warehouse in Baton Rouge. They would build sets, and they would send me into a windowless room to wait for four hours while they created something else. I thought that would be difficult, because there was no audience. But I was pleased that I was able to be right on when they needed me. And, given the scene, without rehearsing it. Remembering how I played it in public. I had that memory.
One of the things that helped me do that, was doing film work as an actor...the small roles I've done in films, True Stories, Beaches, The Paper, The Killing Fields...all of those teach you how to work on the spot, out of context. There is nothing more cut-up and frustrating and unrewarding than film. That's why they pay you so much. For some people, if they like money, that's a good thing to try.
TC: Let's talk about your movie roles. The first one you did was The Killing Fields? Is that right?
SG: The first feature film, yup.
TC: Which ultimately became fodder for Swimming to Cambodia. Are people on to you now? Are they worried that whatever happens is going to become part of your next monologue?
SG: Lots of people say, "I'm going to tell you something, but don't put this in a monologue." I usually think that they really do want it to be in a monologue. [audience laughter] It also makes me realize that they don't know how I work. Because an event or a person or someone that I encounter, if they fit into the fabric of the theme of the monologue, they might show up there. But I'm not going to, most likely, revolve a monologue around someone with whom I had a two minute incident rollerblading in Sag Harbor and they bump into me and say "don't put this in the monologue!" "Oh, all right! I won't!" [audience laughter] I just think it's a nervous reaction. I don't know why people say that. I think it's because they're longing to be in a monologue.
TC: Have you ever had to take things out because people have been unhappy with the way they've been portrayed?
SG: Marisa, my step-daughter, asked me to strike a couple of things from my monologue Morning, Noon and Night, and I honored her on one of them. When I lived with Renée, and now when I'm living with Kathy, we always sound out things.
For instance in this monologue, Kathy has trouble when I refer to her only as the mother of our children, or the mother of my children. That bothers her. So that makes me more aware of how I define her, if I'm not married to her. What do I call her? Little things like that.
TC: The length of the pieces—they pretty consistently run about ninety minutes. Is that based on how long you can speak at one sitting?
SG: I don't know why it falls into that amount of time. I've done about 18 monologues. Almost all of them have been ninety minutes. I think Gray's Anatomy was a little longer... 95, 100 minutes. It's interesting. It's just an organic thing that's happened without being conscious of it.
TC: We you perform your monologues, there are certain rituals: you sit at a wooden table, take a drink of water...and there's a spiral notebook in front of you. Does that notebook have the entire evening's script in it, or are there just cues?
SG: When I start to do a monologue, I take a notebook and a pencil, and I outline my memory. I'm working from memory. That's my first structure. Anyone who has a memory is creative, because they are recreating the original event. They're not experiencing the original event. That was the whole problem with the O.J. Simpson trial. [audience laughter] We lost the original event. No one could quite remember how it went. And that's creation.
That's my way of working with my fiction. I look at the structure of memory, and I go "how do I remember this?", and then I outline it with a pencil. There are key words. It's just guiding me through, and I'm really speaking my memory as I see it, cinemagraphically. Like someone playing in an orchestra that knows the score very well; they still have the score there to show them when the rests and pauses come.
Also, I'm a little dyslexic, and I have problems memorizing, and I also reverse a lot. So I'll have a few notes that guide me through passages that will trip me if I'm over-tired, just in case. Like Phoebe Niles' epitaph in the Sag Harbor cemetery [described in Morning, Noon and Night]:
Behold and see as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you must be
Prepare for death and follow me.
See, I got it. But, if I was under pressure and had to say that fast, I could reverse and have Phoebe Niles standing up and looking down at me. Which has happened before. If I get nervous, there it is, written out in block letters for me to refer to if I need to.
TC: How much does it change from night to night?
SG: It changes a lot at the beginning, within the first 15 performances. It's going all over the place, and it's finding its structure. Then, by the time we're up to where we are now here—where it's two years old, almost three years old—minimal changes. But I still keep it alive. I come in and think of new lines that I can put in.
One line I just added this week after three years. I felt Kathy wasn't present enough in the piece. I say, "I came to the bottom of the stairs, and I hear Kathy upstairs reading to Forrest. It was not the text that I was aware of, but the tone of her voice—clear, steady, nurturing. I think. I thought, she's a good mother, there's no doubt about that. And it pleases me to no end."
Now, that is a paraphrase of a line I wrote out, and I said, "I'm going to push this place." That gives me a whole connection with the show. It's very important to continually tune. That's why I'm not really interested in publication and tapes and documentation. Because those are always closures, and I'm a very claustrophobic guy. [audience laughter] I can't get on an airplane, I can't get married. I have to be tranquilized to fly, and I haven't flown in a long time. I am not real interested in closure, I like breathing and changing. [audience laughter] I like life! Not a coffin. And ultimately, that's a coffin. A book is a coffin. It's an object. It's reductive.
TC: Speaking of books, your novel Impossible Vacation—which was fodder for another monologue, Monster in a Box—started life as a 1600-page manuscript. That's why it was a monster. It eventually became about five hundred pages, right?
SG: I think even less than that...375. The editor cut it in half.
TC: As someone who's just acknowledged that books are coffins, was this confronting a demon, to write this novel?
SG: It was confronting a fantasy. I always wanted to be a writer. I had originally come to New York not just because I was influenced by the theater scene. Originally, my attraction to New York came long before I'd read about André Gregory; it was reading Thomas Wolfe. I don't mean Tom Wolfe, I mean Thomas Wolfe. I was particularly drawn to his voluminous, autobiographical writing, and also that he was writing about New York City.
I think that my fantasy was that I wanted to be a voluminous writer. So when I had a book contract offered to me by Knopf, I was very excited, and I thought I wanted to write the ultimate huge, fat book. But I don't type. And I don't spell. So I had to write this whole thing long-hand. And then read it into a tape recorder and get it transcribed, and re-work the transcription. It was endless! It took five or six years, and I got an arthritic knuckle.
Now I can no longer write voluminously, because as soon as the pen or the pencil presses here, the knuckle swells up. I'm now reduced to speaking or doing haikus. [audience laughter] Impossible Vacation cured me of wanting to be a novelist. That existence of being with yourself in a room, trying to create fictional characters...that's not my thing. But I'm glad I had a crack at it.
TC: We are, too. We'll take some questions now from the audience, if anyone has anything to ask Spalding...?
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: How much do your monologues change from when you first start performing it to the final version? And does the audience response at early performances influence the editing and shaping of your monologues?
SG: To answer your question about change... I'd trust you to research that. Because I don't pay attention to the changes. I just go with the changes. But I have tapes going all the way back. If I was to listen to some of those tapes, and make a study of what the changes were—which I don't have time or interest in—I would see that. I suspect that there would be a lot of structural changes, because I work with a dramaturg, a creative consultant.
I call in Paul Spencer after I've done, say, 15 performances and I feel that I've got the structure of the narrative. And then he begins to give me notes and feedback on what he thinks could be cut. As far as my work process, I had been working in front of a live audience for thirty years and this can't help but influence the way that I shape my world. The way that they are silent, the way that they laugh. I have my feelers out for it. So my audience is almost like an editor, a live editor.
Seven years ago, The New York Times wanted to do an excerpt from my monologue Gray's Anatomy—my picture was to be on the cover of the Times Magazine that would have the excerpt. It was really good exposure, but I said, "well, I don't have the monologue." They said, "why not?" "Well, I haven't performed it yet". And my agent at ICM said, "this is The New York Times. It's a cover story. Write something!" [audience laughter] I said, "Susan, you know I don't pre-write the monologues".
So what I did is get an audience of one, a friend who is an editor for Elle Magazine. I said, "John, come down and tape record me. I'm going to tell you my story." Gray's Anatomy which is about the loss of my eyesight in my left eye. So John was my audience of one, and we transcribed that, and The New York Times printed it and loved it. I thought that it would read like a Dick-and-Jane book. I mean, The New York Times is so literary, and this transcription was so simple.
By the way, The New York Times would not let me say 'shit happens', which is a very essential line. You know, shit happens. So, they said we had to use "s**t". I said, "you're not going to do that with my words. If you're not going to write 'shit happens', then write 'excrement occurs'. [audience laughter] Everyone will know it's not my line, it's The New York Times." But there it was.
It was crucial that I was speaking to someone. It's crucial. You can analyze that, do a thesis on it, I don't know the answer to that. Something to do with performing for my mother, who knows? I'm very interested in energy fields and human presence. I am not interested in virtual reality. I do not do computers, any of that.
I think where I am still radical, is that I appear in the theaters where I am billed. [TC laughs] I mean, you walk by any movie theater out here on the street, Dustin Hoffman isn't in the 68th Street Cinema, he's at home in Connecticut. But I think that we've grown up with this virtual idea that the people are in the movie theater. People outside of New York City and Chicago and maybe Minneapolis and San Francisco don't have any experience of live theater.
Many of the young people that I meet when I'm out on the road at colleges prefer to look at the videos of me. They say, "when is your show going to come out on video?" They have no interest in going to a live theater, because they can't get stoned and eat in front of the video, control it and run it back and laugh and make comments, and manipulate it. [audience laughter] And also, I'm not close. I'm this weird, live person. It's back to coffins. [TC laughs]
TC: You do travel a lot to small towns. Do you feel that it's important to bring this kind of work to these places?
SG: I don't do a lot of small towns anymore. I'm hooked on trying to do the places that I love, for the audiences that I love. Some of the best audiences in America are in Chicago, Minneapolis—I played at the Guthrie Theater very well—and Los Angeles. I'm drawn to those places now. I am going to do Cleveland this year. I think that's my social work. [audience laughter] I do any area where there's a ski slope in the winter, because I'm still very, very involved with downhill skiing.
AM #2: How is your eye condition now?
SG: I had the operation—Dr. Stanley Chang, great doctor—he did the best he could, trying to get it to flatten out. He said that my vision probably went from 20:200 to 20:70. But, if you don't remember what 20:200 looks like, and you can't remember because you're not seeing it anymore, what is 20:70? It's still a non-correctable situation in which everything is completely blurry.
And I have a cataract. Dr. Chang says, "until you have that cataract removed"—the cataract came from the operation—"you will never know how much light you're getting." I've been very lazy about going back and having the cataract operation. So I really won't know what the result of the first operation was until I do the second. Basically I've adjusted to my right eye vision. I pray to my right eye every morning.
AM #3: Do you go to see much theater?
SG: I don't go to a lot of theater. There's very little I'm interested in seeing. I'm interested in seeing theater like The Wooster Group or Robert Wilson, stuff that doesn't lend itself to television and film. So much of the theater is naturalistic—even Sam Shepard's plays could be on TV or film. I'm not real interested in seeing fake sets, you know?
I like the Gurney play here [Ancestral Voices] very much. The one that's playing here Sunday and Monday nights at the Newhouse. Because that is an example of some very talented actors reading and not running around pretending they're closing doors that don't exist!
That took me back to radio days—I grew up with radio. And I love radio because, it engaged my imagination in a way that is so interactive. I would go to see something like The Vagina Monologues—I haven't seen that yet—because that's kind of a performance piece. I would go see a good production of Chekhov or Shakespeare any day, I mean that's real theater to me. But I'm not really interested in naturalistic, psychological staged theater. I can't remember the last piece outside of Lincoln Center Theater I saw.
TC: Do you see a lot of other one-person shows? Do they have any bearing on your own work?
SG: Well, I am interested in one-person shows. I try to see them. I haven't seen Dame Edna. I did years ago. I met him in Australia. But I really am interested in watching people do one-person shows where they're working from their own material. Not when they're playing Harry Truman. I have no interest in actors that play at being solo. But I am always interested in a one-person show because I think it takes a courage to be carrying that whole thing. And if it works, it gives me faith and hope in my own work. It confirms it.
AM #4: How did you get involved in your first film, The Killing Fields? Did someone know you? Did you audition?
SG: That's an interesting question. First of all, the director, Roland Joffe, sent over a casting director, Susie Figgis, to New York City and Susie Figgis—her brother is Mike Figgis, the film director. They both come from a kind of radical, underground place in London and what Susie was looking for when she came here was people from ensemble theater companies—John Malkovich, they chose simply because he was working with Steppenwolf. They knew about The Wooster Group, that I had co-founded with Elizabeth LeCompte. They knew that I was no longer connected with the group, but they called me in because they knew I had worked in a collaborative situation.
Roland Joffe wanted to have us all come over—for very little money. The budget was very low. We were getting scale and come over early and hang out, and be in the situation with the Cambodian refugees that were there playing small roles and also Haing S. Ngor, who was playing a large role, and for us to start to assimilate what that was like. It was like a re-education camp. We had homework to read. John Malkovich went to a Cambodian refugee camp with Sam Waterston. We would have meals together. It was a really great idea. Because Roland Joffe wanted to have a film that looked like a documentary.
One of my problems with all films is when you get famous actors, what are you seeing? You're seeing the famous actor do yet another rendition of a character. But in this case, you couldn't say that. John Malkovich was an unknown. I was completely an unknown. And so that whole idea of ensemble... that's why I was chosen. I think. That was one of the reasons. At least that's what he told me. I had an interview with him in Los Angeles, and we hit it off.
TC: In past interviews, one of the people you've mentioned that you'd like to work with is Woody Allen. Is that something that you hope might still happen?
SG: I had an awful experience with Woody Allen. I know that I'll never work with him, EVER, because of this. Bob Dylan says, "I may look like Robert Frost, but I feel just like Jesse James." I say, I may look like an American WASP-y doctor or lawyer, but I feel just like Woody Allen. In other words, don't cast me for my looks. I have a very ironic, existential, crazy Jew in me. That's part of why I gravitated to New York City. I feel like a reincarnated Jew.
I finally got called in by Woody Allen's casting director to be seen. That's all it was gonna be. You're not allowed to see any of the script. And Sam Cohn—an agent I was dealing with at the time at ICM and who works with Woody—said, "don't bring your lunch." I said, "what that's supposed to mean, Sam?" He said, "if he sees you for more than 30 seconds it will be unique". Well, I just couldn't imagine this.
I arrived at Woody Allen's office, and usually when you go in for a film the first thing the director and the producers want to do is to have you sit down and get comfortable. Then they'll talk to you and introduce themselves all around, and really spend some time trying to get a sense of who you are if they haven't met you. I walk in and Woody Allen's whole crew is there—Mia Farrow was there, Satchel was there, their very young child—and no one asked me to sit down and Woody Allen came out of this gestalt with his head down, right toward me.
My first impression of seeing him was that he looked like a mole. He looked like he lived underground in Central Park. [audience laughter] His complexion...he looked like he'd never seen the light of day. He was very nervous, and he kept going like this with his hands. He looked up at me and he said, "I've seen your picture, and now I just wanted to see you". Now, I didn't know 'picture' was an old Jewish term for 'movie', so I thought he meant he'd seen a photograph of me somewhere. But he'd actually seen Swimming to Cambodia. He did not say how he liked it, did not give any of his cards away.
I, of course, was feeling like I've gone to see the Wizard of Ozzie. All the problems I had with my father, I didn't get confrontational and say, "well, what'd you think of the picture?", because I didn't even know what he meant by picture. He said, "I've seen your picture, now I want to see you" so I turned around a full 360 degrees, and said, "You've seen my picture and now you've seen me." And that was the end of it.
When I got outside, Eric Bogosian was waiting to go in. I waited in the lobby just to see how long he'd be in there. [audience laughter] I think he was about forty seconds. I got back—and I was living with Renée Shafransky at the time—she said, "how'd it go?" and I told her what I did, and she said, "What? You did that thing where you turn around in a circle? EVERYONE does that! You'll NEVER work with him!"
So it was like going to the Wizard of Oz. And now I realize, there's no way I could work with him because he would cast me like he cast Sam Waterston as a WASP. A top-down WASP. It would be interesting. But I think my chance has passed.
AM #5: Why do you think that André Gregory and others of that ilk are not doing their wonderful work still?
SG: Well, a lot of reasons. Things have gotten very conservative, André Gregory has gotten older, the company he was working with split up, they had to make a living. They couldn't live like bohemians anymore, and no one picked up the slack. André is still working, he's directing Wallace Shawn's new play, and he'll probably bring it to New York. André's always working on something, he's very creative. Richard Sheckner is still dabbling here and there, he's got tenure at NYU.
But the real survivor is the Wooster Group, Elizabeth Le Compte's group. It's still—of all the experimental theaters in America—the most interesting work being done now that I'm aware of. But it's a good question. I'm glossing over the top of it. Why was there such an incredible experimental theater that didn't get handed down? I think maybe 'times change', who knows? Who even thinks about process anymore, if that's even a word in the vocabulary of people that are teaching theater? No, they want to get out there, get the job, get the money.
AM #6: I've seen a lot of one-person shows and, as a rule, I don't know if one-person shows are healthy for theater. It mostly seems like just a cheap way for theaters to operate. What do you think about that?
SG: Well, I think [New York Magazine critic] John Simon would agree with you. [audience laughter] A one-person show can be theater, and other times it can't be. I liked Via Dolorosa very much, and that was a one-person show, because it engaged my mind in a way that reading it in a book would not. I just receive better through my ears, and communicate better through my mouth. I'm an oral/aural person.
You're expressing a personal opinion. I think sometimes one-person shows are theater, and sometimes they're not. I don't know what theater is, if we want to define it. My favorite theater is watching my children play. I don't feel I have to go very far from home to find theater.
TC: One of the questions that's asked the most is, how do you define what you do? What do you call it?
SG: The best definition I've ever heard was from a ten-year old girl who was hanging around after I did Sex and Death to the Age 14. I was sort of surprised. I was like, what are you doing here? [laughter] She said, "Oh, my Dad said I had to come and hear the talking man." So I'm a man that sits down at a table and talks. Not just about myself.
But I would be hurt if my epitaph read: "Deceased at 88, Spalding Gray found a niche making a living talking about himself." That would be very painful for me. I would like my epitaph to be, "Here lies an American original, who found a niche talking about himself and the ones he loved and shared his life with."
AM #7: How does performing these monologues affect your life?
SG: It does make me look at my life in a different way. But it's hard to say what that way is unless I start doing it. I've been at this for twenty years...one of the things it does for me, I think, is it satisfies the enormous fear of death I have. Because it's secular reincarnation. And I find enormous pleasure in it.
To sit down and relive that October day in 1997—which was really a very beautiful day with my family—and to bring it back and share it with an audience is like a ritual. Like a benediction. Like a prayer. Like a Thanksgiving. It's so healing for me, and I hope for the audience as well. Because I think that my stories are not disturbing enough, or too complex that people can't have their own associations when they're listening to me. They can go into they're own memories and have their own trips around that.
AM #8: You've done so many different kinds of things in your life. What's on your list of things you want to do next?
SG: Bungee jumping is one. Wind surfing is another.
TC: How about as a performer? Would you like to do a musical?
SG: Noooo! [audience laughter] Well, hey...I'd love to be able to sing! That's true. I'd love to be a blues singer. That's a good and provocative question, and I ask myself that a lot. I think what I've come up with, recently—and this may change in three minutes—but I think I would like to do a weekly radio show. I never would have thought I would say this, but I was recently on "Talk of the Nation", and I had phone calls in from all over America. And, I found that I felt very connected to the caller, because of that ear/mouth thing I was talking about.
Also, I'm a very strict Gemini. I have a very strong male/female polarity. So the ear is the receiver—the feminine, if you will—and the mouth is the masculine. I felt that those two things were very connected, where I could hear and respond in a way that was very intimate with the caller. It worked. It felt new for me, and I was curious about it. I think I'm going to try and pursue that. I would like to do a thing called, "Your Week in Review" and talk about what happened to listeners in their own lives.
TC: Do you ever re-visit your monologues? Or once you've done them, is that it?
SG: The only monologue I think I could come back to is Sex and Death. That's a classic. I'd like to try that because it's the 20th anniversary this year. I'd like to do it in a simple setting—and I have revisited It's a Slippery Slope last year. That monologue is a companion piece to Morning, Noon and Night. I think that they can go well together.
TC: Well, we're really glad you're here at Lincoln Center Theater on Sundays and Mondays. And we're glad that you could be here tonight, too. Unfortunately, we're out of time. Thank you so much, Spalding, for being with us. And thanks to our audience, too. Good night, everyone! [audience applause]