By Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director
When my friend asked me what was the secret to being married for thirty-eight years, I jokingly said it all comes down to two words – “yes, dear”.
Remarkably, neither of us gives orders to the other. We aspire to a very equal relationship and agree on major choices like parenting and housing and traveling. We make decisions together and split the daily cooking and cleaning equally.
All of that changes when I am directing and we had to make ground-rules so that we could live together during the stressful period of rehearsals and performances. Rule one is that we don’t discuss the play outside of the rehearsal hall – otherwise it would consume our lives. Rule two is that I will “hold the book” while she is learning lines but offer no comments other than correcting what was written. Rule three is to give her space to be anxious and completely alter my day around her needs when she is performing. We eat at a different time and very differently from our normal routine. She needs a nap and time for her vocal and physical warm-up. I respect that.
My first job as a director is to create an atmosphere of trust where everything is permissible. I want actors to be free to go too far or try something that might fail without judgement. I have to write down a reminder to “praise her work” because Marlena would cautiously ask me if she was ok. “Of course,”, I said. “Well, you told every other actor all the things they did that you liked but when it came to me all you said was stop doing that thing you do with your hand – that’s not the character it’s a mannerism”. “Well, everything else is brilliant. I can pick on nuance with you because you’re such an accomplished artist”, I said. “I need to know I am doing what you want”, she retorted. I realized that all actors are vulnerable and even if you are married to one it is important to build them up so they can be free to reveal the inner souls of their character.
“Could you be married to me if I was a lousy actor?” we ask each other. I don’t think so because I would have to spend my life in a lie. This is all subjective but thankfully we love each other – and we love each other’s work.
[Photo: Roy Steinberg and his wife Marlena Lustik at the 1996 Emmy Awards.]