Cate Blanchett on How Her Broadway Debut ‘The Present’ Resonates With Today’s Politics
Posted on
Jan 5, 2017

Cate Blanchett on How Her Broadway Debut ‘The Present’ Resonates With Today’s Politics

Cate Blanchett is making her Broadway debut in “The Present,” an adaptation, directed by John Crowley, of an early Chekhov play. For her, the production — now in previews for a Jan. 8 opening — brings to mind recent political upheavals, ranging from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump.

“You can’t present anything at the moment without thinking of the state the world is in,” she says in a rehearsal room in New York City. “We’re in a real state of” — Blanchett stops and thinks — “I was going to say ‘transition,’ but I think it’s more of a realization of what we’ve lost. We’ve lost the state of passivity, perhaps, that we’ve all been in, no matter what side of the political spectrum you are.”

When actors and creatives reunited in New York for a production first mounted in 2015 by the Sydney Theater Company, they discovered that “The Present” had taken on a notable resonance with, well, the present. The playwright Andrew Upton, Blanchett’s husband and the former artistic director of STC, has lifted the late 19th-century events of Chekhov’s early, ungainly play “Platonov” and set them in 1990s Russia, as the oligarchs rose to power at the end of the Soviet era.

“Hearing it all again, a year and a half after we first did it, you notice the feeling of powerlessness of the people in the face of the government,” Upton says. “There’s a kind of free-for-all going on that feels oddly familiar. That, and the disparity between the rich and the poor, is a very strong element inside the world of this play, and it’s speaking quite loudly at the moment.”

Although the production marks Blanchett’s first time on Broadway, the actress has always made time for the stage. With Upton, she was co-artistic director of the STC from 2008 to 2012, and some of her performances there were transferred to New York, including “Uncle Vanya” in 2012 and “The Maids,” opposite Isabelle Huppert, in 2014.

In “The Present,” she portrays the landowner Anna Petrovna, one of the women in love with disillusioned schoolmaster Mikhail Platonov, played by Richard Roxburgh. The two actors have worked together multiple times onstage, including in the New York “Vanya.”

“Because they’ve known each other and worked together on and off over the years,the depth of that relationship is available to them effortlessly,” says Crowley, a Broadway veteran who also directed the Oscar-nominated film “Brooklyn.” “They work very differently as actors. Rox is like an anchor in a scene, whereas Cate is like a clown one second, then a tragedian a second later.” He adds, “The energy and the tone is very different from the work we’ve come to know of her from film, which is more poised and still.”

“The Present” will run during the first months of the presidency of Donald Trump — a man Blanchett once said she’d play “in a heartbeat.” Does she still feel the same way?

“I don’t necessarily think it’s about playing Donald Trump or [the Australian politician] Pauline Hanson or whoever it is,” she says. “I think it’s more about doing work that looks at how we’ve ended up where we’ve ended up.”

via Variety

The Present director John Crowley talks about the play and the cast
Posted on
Jan 4, 2017

The Present director John Crowley talks about the play and the cast

Hello everybody!

John Crowley, director of The Present, shares his experience with The Observer. You can read some passages about Cate Blanchett below. Enjoy!

From the cast’s perspective, The Present might also mean the Broadway debuts that all 13 Australian actors are making on Crowley’s watch. This is his second time around with the play. “We did it in Sydney last August for a regular seven-week run. This time around, we had a week’s re-rehearsal and a week’s tech. Re-rehearsing this show with the exact same cast is a challenge because, of course, what worked originally could have gotten calcified from repetition over a seven-week run.”

Compared to the kind of classics Blanchett usually travels in, her husband’s rewrite of Chekhov is almost an untested new play and, thus, a surprising choice with which to charge Broadway. “I don’t know if Cate chose to make her Broadway debut with it or if it was a happy coincidence of events,” says Crowley. “We’d talked about doing something together for years, and when it came together, they invited producer Stuart Thompson to see it. He was keen to bring something from the Sydney Theater Company over and had tried to do it a few times, but the timing was never right.”

The problem has always been carving out enough stage time from Blanchett’s tightly packed film schedule, which now numbers 65 screen credits since 1993.

Liveness, which spell check still stubbornly refuses to accept as a word, is the main word that Crowley uses for what Blanchett brings to the stage and any co-star in her immediate vicinity. “The way we rehearsed it is to try and create the feeling among the ensemble of being alive to every moment,” he explains. “Cate just flies with this.”

When Crowley first started working with her in Sydney, he was surprised at her playfulness. “Some actors—especially actors who do film—have to focus on where they want to get the moment right. Cate wants to open that moment up and know what the parameters are. There will be times when something will go against the story, so you have a conversation and say, ‘If you do that, then that’s going to read as blah blah blah,’ and she’ll instantly rethink it or nix it. The emphasis and the degree of liveness are what she’s after—whether it’s rehearsing or performing on stage.

“Cate likes stress-testing moments in the play to see what they’re made of and how they’ll break. If she goes too far with it, she’ll pull back on it. She’s not somebody who likes to sit around, discussing things endlessly. She’s happier working on the floor, figuring out with another actor what the moment is about. Some actors really do have a more academic approach. Not Cate. She’s fantastically bright, but it’s allied to an instinct for playful acrobatics. You just need to give her enough rope to play with in scenes rather than too tight a space. She’ll rupture—with Richard Roxburgh, in particular, because he has very different energy as an actor. There’s more of a stillness there, and he in lots of ways is the anchor to her higher-acrobatic instincts.”

Blanchett and Roxburgh practically qualify as The Lunts of Australia, having acted together for 21 years, starting out as Ophelia and Hamlet. After years of stage-teaming, their kinetic sensuality hasn’t diminished. They can still fling sparks.

“When they go out in those big emotional scenes every night,” says Crowley, “there may be subtle variations on differences and emphases, but they wind up in the same place emotionally. That’s because they are comfortable with each other. I’ve never seen one of them make a choice in a moment than the other one felt, ‘Oh, God! That’s hard for me!’ They almost egg each other on, making each other better as actors.”

‘The Present’ director John Crowley talks about Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett
Posted on
Sep 7, 2016

‘The Present’ director John Crowley talks about Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett

Hello everyone! For the very first time John Crowley, director of The Present, share his toughts about the working with the Uptons. Enjoy!

Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Present, Upton’s bold update of an early, unfinished work by Anton Chekhov, directed by Crowley, with Australian stars Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh making their Broadway debuts, begins previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 17 for an opening on January 8, 2017.

Crowley’s commitment to do a project with Sydney Theatre Company dates back some eight years ago, when Cate Blanchett and husband Upton took over the reins as coartistic directors of the Australian company. “I suppose our real attraction to his work as a theater director is that it has a restraint and a delicacy, and yet it is strong and very clear,” says Upton of Crowley. “Most importantly, for Cate as an actor and me as a writer, he loves to land the punch.”

The Irish director was just finishing work on his Oscar-nominated movie, Brooklyn, when Upton asked if he had any interest in the adaptation of the Chekhov apprentice work known as Platonov. “You can do an adaptation of a work by a great writer and be very true to the writer, but it can have a degree of worthiness about it and be somewhat literary. Or, you can rip it apart, take it in a different direction, and not care about the original,” notes Crowley. “But it felt to me that Andrew was pulling off something which seemed impossible, which was to stay absolutely true to the spirit of Chekhov and totally updating it to the 1990s in a way that felt like he was creating something new. There was this fantastic, rich conversation between time periods.”

“It feels like a perfect meeting between two writers,” Crowley continues. “I think Andrew’s instinct to be bold and to update it also gave the play a freshness and an energy, and pointed out more political elements, which is about this generation that has not stepped up to its responsibilities in the country. So there is a cocktail that you often do get in Chekhov — this mixture of nostalgia and teasing, of regret and romance, a lot of drinking, and then a sudden argument, and then maybe some tears — all of those things are fully present and sit alongside each other in the most glorious kind of tapestry.”

“The other thing about the play is that it is extremely funny and witty; there is a whole sequence toward the end where it is almost pushing toward farce — there are a lot of people coming in and out of doors — except what is going on is far too real. I thought that the comedy was always pointing toward pain in a way that was thrilling.  As director, you go, ‘Oh, God! That is such a gift!’ And then, we weren’t starting with a shoddy pair, with Cate and Richard, either. Boy, can you work with that!”

What was it like working with Blanchett? “I would say she is restlessly playful,” offers the director. “I was surprised at how much of an instinctive clown there is in her. She’s completely nonintellectual in the play — and I say that because she is phenomenally bright. She’ll take any moment in a scene and try and prod it from dozens of different directions; oftentimes she’ll be extreme with something in order to try and open it up, or to open up a certain kind of moment with another actor. The quality of what goes on between her and another actor in the moment is everything to her, really. She is also unfailingly generous toward other actors on the stage and is very hard on herself. She is totally comfortable to be another member of the ensemble.” 

Directing Sydney Theatre Company for the first time, Crowley has high praise for the ensemble of actors in his production. “What is very special here is that Cate is working with a company she has worked with so many times — especially with Richard Roxburgh. The quality that you get in moments of their scenes together has a degree of history to it — I don’t know that you can direct that. So when a company like this is led by Cate and Richard, who are both almost uncomfortable being center stage, there is no shortage of great character actors around them on that stage. In the first act, and certainly in the fourth, when you have pretty much everybody on stage, there is a vibrancy and energy that come from a number of conflicting points of view on the stage simultaneously, which is really thrilling. It reminds you of when you see Russian companies who have worked on a play for years and years and years together; that much time working together, that much time knowing each other, that much time doing different things, you cannot short-circuit that process.” 

It may seem an unexpected choice for a Chekhov play from pre-revolutionary Russia, but for The Present, which is set in the post-perestroika world of the Russian oligarchs, Upton and Crowley have threaded the production with evocative music from the world of punk rock. “Andrew’s first draft referred to a couple of lyrics from a Garage track and a Joy Division track, so we looked at what the musical scene would have been when the characters were young, when Platonov would have been going to university,” Crowley explains. The playwright and director then settled on the music of The Clash, the English punk-rock band of the mid 1970s, to underscore the production.

“When they first came out, those Clash songs were quite punchy and raw and sort of threatening,” notes Upton. “But hearing them now, there is sweetness that time has put over. To me, that completely captures that sensation of Platonov being a really dangerous, charismatic young man who has sort of aged well, but has also lost a bit of his bite or something. Is it just that time has passed? There’s no explanation, but it is caught quite nicely in the music.”

via Broadway Direct