Eric Schaeffer and Matthew Gardiner in Conversation
Two Passion directors, Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and Associate Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner, share their conversation.
ERIC: Matthew, what show made you fall in love with Sondheim?
MATTHEW: Into the Woods. I remember watching it on PBS when I was 6 years old. I thought it was only one act because my mom would only let us watch that part of it. Only later did I realize there was an Act Two. What about you?
ERIC: Mine was Sweeney Todd on a high school trip to Broadway. So, what is it about his work that attracts you?
MATTHEW: It is so intelligent. I think Sondheim writes for characters that are complicated and real, and music that reveals the deepest corners of the character’s psyche.
ERIC: I find too that when directing a Sondheim musical for a second and third time, you find all these new things to discover with the characters.
MATTHEW: I have not been afforded such a luxury, but I agree the well is deep. It’s impossible to feel like you’ve made all the discoveries about the material.
ERIC: Well, one day you will be old, and you can say I got to direct this show four times already! Guess I’m old since I’ve done Sweeney Todd four times! So, what about Passion? It’s one of his trickiest shows to do right.
MATTHEW: The thing that I imagine is the hardest about it is helping the audience see and understand where Giorgio and Fosca are coming from and watching their relationship grow. Not every moment of discovery and growth is on the page, much is in the unspoken behavior―a glance, a touch. That really takes a strong point of view from the director, and a commitment from the actors to trust the material.
ERIC: I totally agree. What’s the most exciting thing about being able to direct it for you?
MATTHEW: I think any chance you get to live with the words and music of Stephen Sondheim is exciting. I think Passion specifically is probably the most complicated and demanding of his pieces. To be honest it terrifies me a little. But I have always found that when I enter a project terrified I’m the most artistically fulfilled.
ERIC: Well, it can be terrifying, there is no doubt about that. I also think what is really important for this particular show is the casting. Everyone is so emotionally naked on stage. Are you excited to work with Natascia [Diaz] again?
MATTHEW: Yes. Very much so. I think this is a role that suits her extremely well―she approaches everything she does with such commitment, and I think she reaches into every corner of a character in a way that will make her Fosca very compelling.
ERIC: As soon as we started talking about putting Passion in the season, there were no other names we even discussed for Fosca except Natascia. I think it’s great when our DC actors get the chance to really shine in a brilliant part like this.
MATTHEW: Natascia and I have already had such wonderful conversations about Fosca. And then add Claybourne Elder as Giorgio to the mix. Claybourne starred as George in my production of Sunday in the Park with George. Fosca and Giorgio are two very complicated roles and I’m so lucky to be digging into this piece with Natascia and Claybourne. You have to feel the progression of Giorgio’s intrigue with Fosca by their conversations and thoughts―he’s finally met someone who understands him in a way no one else ever has. This isn’t the story of a crazy woman chasing after a man. It can’t be, and I know it’s not what Sondheim or Lapine intended.
ERIC: It’s probably one of the most subtle musicals ever written.
MATTHEW: Yes, yes. On first glance, it can come across like every scene feels the same―here’s this woman stalking after this man―but that’s not what it is at all. There is so much happening in the subtext that builds to the final moments of the play.
ERIC: I have a favorite part of the play, but do you have one?
MATTHEW: Hard to say, I think it’s “No One Has Ever Loved Me” and the final scene of them together in the bedroom. What’s yours?
ERIC: Mine is the trio in garden sequence. It’s so lyrical and beautiful and sweeping. It tears me up every time. It’s so different than Sunday in the Park with George, but that is what makes Sondheim a brilliant writer.
MATTHEW: I’m excited also about the design team and using the MAX Theatre space in a new and original way that will work really well for the story.
ERIC: I promise not to give so many notes!
MATTHEW: (Laughs) What do you think is the biggest challenge?
ERIC: Honestly for me it is the tone―creating a balance and believability of the characters and the world they live in. Well, I know that I’m really excited about having it back on our stage. And excited by the designs. And our audiences are going to be swept away by the production.
MATTHEW: Thanks Eric, no pressure.
The both laugh and go back to work.