John Clancy Sends the Invitation

John Clancy

John Clancy

You knew John Clancy was a busy guy, right? If not, then a brief recap of his recent exploits ought to set things straight.

In July, the workaholic writer-director mounted two (or three, depending on how you look at it) simultaneous productions at Collective: Unconscious’ 2nd Annual undergroundzero Festival: The Event, John’s solo performance piece written for and performed by actor Matt Oberg; and Nigromantia: A Slight Return, a program of two short plays by Don Nigro performed by John and his wife (and frequent artistic collaborator) Nancy Walsh.

By day, he’s the Executive Artistic Director of Clancy Productions, a theatrical touring and producing organization that consults theater companies and individual artists looking to mount shows both domestically and abroad, produces its own shows, and offers professional one-on-one coaching services for actors.  

John is also the Executive Director of the newly-formed League of Independent Theater, an advocacy group aiming to improve economic conditions, real estate opportunities, and public relations (among many other things) for the Off-Off Broadway and indie theater community.

And, in the last couple of years John also got his play Fatboy published by the New York York Theatre Experience, and won a 2006 OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Direction.

So, you know, he’s a busy guy.

Next up for this veteran downtown trailblazer is the world premiere of The Invitation, a new black comedy by playwright Brian Parks about a birthday dinner celebration gone horribly horribly wrong. The play begins performances next week at the Ohio Theater, and theatergoers can expect fireworks: the production reunites John with a great many of his longtime collaborators including Parks, whose works Americana Absurdum and Vomit and Roses John has previously directed.

As you’ll see in a moment, there was plenty to talk about when John dropped by the ol’ blog recently to tell us about The Invitation. Check it out…

Once again, you’re working with a lot of your frequent collaborators, namely playwright Brian Parks and actors David Calvitto, Paul Urcioli, and Eva von Dok. What keeps you coming back to these folks time and time again?

I owe most of them money. Stupid bet years ago. I thought jet-packs were a sure thing, they all knew better. And I’ve worked with Leslie Farrell since 1994 as well. That’s different, that’s blackmail. She’s got photos that will never see the light of day, not while I’m alive, anyway.

Luckily, they’re all quite talented. The talent is the first thing, obviously. You want to work with the best; it makes your game better. But after that, there’s a courage and a generosity to these people. They don’t think of themselves as just actors, they’re theater artists, they see the whole board, so they work very mindfully of what the entire production is trying to do or be.

And along the way, we’ve also grown quite close and there’s something remarkable about working with people that you also hang out with, people that you’ve known and laughed with for years . I’ve been on three continents with some of these people, doing the same damned thing. So there’s a shorthand and a built-in trust that you start with, which allows you to work a lot faster and with any luck get to a depth that’s hard to achieve with strangers.

Has the way you all work together changed over time or has it stayed more or less the same?

I think we still work pretty much the same. I’m usually the lead artist in the room, especially if I’ve written the show. So I’m the one saying “OK, we’re back” and “Let’s take ten.” But I know that if Paul and Dave have an idea for a bit, it’s going to be much funnier than anything I can direct and I know that if Leslie isn’t comfortable with what I’ve asked her to do she’ll address it, so there’s always that open dialogue. And we try to keep the writer in the room as much as possible, so there’s a sense of a group of focused artists in the room all working towards the same thing, rather than your traditional rehearsal hierarchy. I think Shaw had it right when he said “The theater is a democracy in which the strongest man rules.”

Tell us a brief little something about the play. What are audiences going to see when they come see The Invitation?

Here’s my tag: If A.R. Gurney started writing a play and then Antonin Artaud rose from the dead, broke into Gurney’s house, killed him and finished the play, you’d get something very close to The Invitation. It’s also Parks, so you’re going to hear more brilliant one-liners than should ever comfortably fit into one evening.

How’d you first meet Brian Parks and what drew you to his writing?

Aaron Beall from Nada hooked us up back in 1994. Brian had given Aaron a play called Vomit and Roses and I was doing a lot of work in the old Piano Store across the street from Nada, so Aaron gave me the script and suggested we do the show at his theater. I read it and just instantly saw how it could work. It was darker, quicker and stronger than any script I had ever read. It was just extraordinary language and it felt like America, not a depiction of America or a take on America, but America. It was crazy and funny and passionate and rude and quick and in the middle of it were these gorgeous, sentimental moments and then it took off again. I was blown away. Brian and I met at some coffee shop and I gave him a few notes and he took them, which also surprised the hell out of me.

It seems like we’re seeing quite a bit of you and your colleagues recently, what with your recent one-two punch at this year’s undergroundzero Festival and now The Invitation. Why the sudden flurry of activity?

I believe in intentional over-load. Jim Steinman said it on Bat Out of Hell II: “Everything louder than everything else.”

But bottom line, this is how I pay my bills. No play, no pay. The fall is going to be crazy, we’re doing one night at Barrow Street Theater of The Event, September 14, flying out to L.A. to look in on Fatboy rehearsals, a reading of C.J. Hopkins’ America the Beautiful up in Hudson Valley, a brief gig in Belfast in late October and then into rehearsals for Greg Kotis’ The Truth About Santa, which opens at The Kraine on December 3rd. And we may have something up at Williams College and something else in Basque, still waiting to hear on those.

I’ve read somewhere before that you hate going to the theater. Is that really true?

Yeah, I got into some trouble with that with a League of Independent Theater member. He pointed out that as the Executive Director of LIT maybe that wasn’t such a smart public statement. His point is a good one, and honestly it’s just a lazy way of saying that the potential of the theater is so present and overwhelming to me that it’s hard when I see that potential untapped. I’m like some backwoods, snake-handling Baptist who sits in an Anglican church and wonders why no one’s hollering. Now I’m going to have the Anglicans on me.

But no, of course I don’t hate going to the theater. It’s the only place that makes sense to me, it’s where I can focus and breathe. It’s how I understand the world.

It seems as if you’ve got your hand in lots of pies. What else have you got going on right now?

Well, besides all of the gigs above, I’m honored to be the first Executive Director of The League of Independent Theater, the new advocacy group for Off-Off Broadway. The League was formed to promote the artistic and economic interests of theater professionals working in New York City in theaters of up to 99 seats; organize and protect its members to ensure that independent theater is economically viable for all of its practitioners; and  advocate on behalf of the decades-old tradition of off-off Broadway theater to ensure that it remains, and grows, as a thriving artistic and economic sector in New York City.

So that’s going to take some time during the week. Also, I’m writing my ass off these days, on the sixth draft of Captain Overlord’s Folly, starting some early work on a Woyzeck project, and trying to finish this TV project I’m hoping to sell.

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