I love the theatre! There’s nothing like seeing actors perform live, right in front of you. At every performance, when the show begins, they have only one chance to get it right. The way I see it, only the most highly skilled and disciplined of actors have what it takes, the mettle, to act on stage.
Theatre means the world to me! So, you can imagine how happy I was when Jill McIntyre, Associate Director for Development at the Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse, took time from her busy schedule for an interview with me!
The Playhouse is no ordinary theatre. Sure, it’s one of my favorite theatres, but not because it’s renowned for creating extraordinary productions that have gone on to Broadway. What makes the Playhouse so special is its commitment to pushing the envelope, to being cutting edge, finding the next big talent, encouraging creativity and originality, and for taking risks. And, while not every play may work, when it does, it soon becomes a mega-hit. Think, Jersey Boys, Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Who’s Tommy.
I met Jill in our LEAD San Diego Impact class, and was immediately impressed with her exuberant personality and beaming smile. She’s bubbly, warm and super energetic. Plus, she’s a real go-getter who knows what she wants. It’s no wonder she excels in her job!
MTW: So, Jill, what sparked your interest in theatre?
JM: As a child, I was always imaginative, and just loved to act. My parents would take me to see plays and I developed a love for theatre early on. While in college, I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is renowned for its theatre. I got involved, writing and acting in a musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival. It was so exciting to be there, amid thousands of people performing. I’m actually going back this year!
This experience helped solidify my passion for theater, but it also made me see that I didn’t want the nomadic lifestyle of an actor. I joined the Playhouse six years ago, and I really love it here.
MTW: What makes the La Jolla Playhouse special and what role does it play on the national theatre landscape?
We send huge amounts of plays to Broadway. Since the early eighties, we’ve had 70 world premieres here, of which 40 were commissioned by the Playhouse. Sixty have been performed elsewhere, in other cities and towns, including on Broadway. In fact, right now, four shows, that began here, are playing on Broadway: Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar, Memphis, and Peter and the Starcatcher, (which just won five Tony Awards).
Yet, our goal isn’t to make shows for Broadway, but to create new works for San Diego. Oddly, though, we are better known nationally than we are here. That’s because here in San Diego, we’re known for our beaches and for being a military town. So, it’s our job to get the word out. Theater in San Diego is very special, and I’d love to see it listed among the things the city is known for.
MTW: What’s the secret to the Playhouse’s success?
JM: The amount of time we give creative teams to rehearse, figure out the technical elements, work out the kinks, and hold previews. Generally, theaters allow five weeks for this process. We allow nine. So, we offer far more prep time, which ends up attracting the best-known directors and actors. That’s a lot of the reason why our shows go on to Broadway, and have won for us, 30 Tony Awards.
MTW: What has been your favorite production at the La Jolla Playhouse?
The Farnsworth Invention. I loved it because the writer was Aaron Sorkin (of The West Wing fame). He is such a nice man. His writing sizzles, and I loved that it was a true story. Plus, the director was Des McAnuff, (who headed the Playhouse for 25 years). But, it went to Broadway, and wasn’t a success. There was a strike going on at the time, which might have contributed to its closing.
MTW: What is the La Jolla Playhouse doing to attract and interest young people in theater?
JM: Cuts in art education are a huge reason why we don’t see young people thinking about theater. We have special programs for kids; we commission a play every year and tour it around schools, reaching 18,000 children each year. We’re really trying to expose people to the arts, and are looking at younger audiences now.
We have an under-30 program, in which we charge $20 per ticket, making it very doable for their budgets. We also have a program called Foodie Friday. Two hours before the Friday performance, gourmet food trucks, which are the latest trend in San Diego, park outside the theater, selling great gourmet food for $10 or less. The beer is free, courtesy of a local brewery. Free booze, good food and entertainment. It’s so popular!
MTW: What famous actors have been spotted at the Playhouse?
JM: The Playhouse was actually created by famous actors. It was founded by Gregory Peck (in 1947), who wanted a place for Hollywood’s stars to work on their craft. The studio heads told Peck he could go do theater, but it had to be 200 miles from Los Angeles. So, he chose La Jolla, his birthplace. (Note: Mel Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire were co-founders.)
Our most recent play, Hands on a Hard Body (pictured above), starred Keith Carradine. His daughter, actress Martha Plimpton, stopped by, and so did Natalie Portman, whose husband, Benjamin Millepied (The Black Swan), is the choreographer.
MTW: What’s next for the Playhouse?
JM: I’m so glad you asked! For 2013, we’re planning a Without Walls Festival, or WOW, as we call it. What’s exciting about this is that we’ll be developing new work, honoring the mission of exploring the reaches of what theatre can be. It’s a thrill to break with the tradition of theatre as we know it, and take risks–sprinting well out of our comfort zone. Best of all, the Playhouse will be bringing acclaimed national and international theatre artists to share their own ground-breaking work with San Diego, and they’ll be commissioning original theatre pieces inspired by our community.
MTW: Sounds so cool, Jill. Bound to be something for everyone. I can’t wait!
So, what book are you currently reading?
JM: I’m rereading The Paris Wife (by Paula McLain) because I’m going to Paris this fall. I love Hemingway, and am so excited about the trip.
MTW: How do you find your bliss?
JM: Bliss is anytime I’m not wearing my Spanx. I’d rather sit around in my pajamas!
Mostly, though, I find my bliss through my work and representing something I really believe in. I’m lucky to have a job that doesn’t always feel like a job.
So, how about you? What does the theater mean to you?