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Q & A with Gregory Boyd of the Alley Theatre

Artistic director talks favorite works, defining a great actor


As artistic director at Alley Theatre, Gregory Boyd has produced more than 100 new productions--eight of which have been nominated for Tony Awards. Under the direction of this longtime theater impresario, the Alley has risen to national and international prominence, winning accolades for its impressive body of work. Boyd has produced a series of award-winning premieres including Not About Nightingales, The Civil War and Angels in America. 

GHCVB: What steps led you to your position at Alley? How'd you get to the top?
Gregory Boyd: I had always focused on leading a theatre since meeting William Ball, who ran the American Conservatory Theatre. When ACT moved to San Francisco in 1967, Mr. Ball came to speak at our high school. I was 16 and interested in someday being a director of plays, but he inspired me to try to learn to lead a theatre company. I was an actor at the Berkeley Rep and Magic Theatre for a few seasons while an undergraduate, then did graduate work at Carnegie Mellon (where Mr. Ball trained). After graduate school I got a position at the Williamstown Theatre Festival under Nikos Psacharopoulos as an actor.

Then I was directing a bit, and soon after was running the Second Company there which did new plays and classics with some wonderful actors--Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce, Blythe Danner, Frank Langella--many, many great people. Then I ran two increasingly bigger theatre companies and was recruited by the Alley. I had heard so much about the Alley and its long history, but had never been to Houston. I came here and saw the city and the audience and was thrilled and fascinated by both.

GHCVB: What do you think makes Houston's performing arts scene unique?
GB: The audience here is the best in the country. No question. I have worked all over America, on Broadway, in Europe, Japan, Australia--and I love this audience best. They are diverse, open, ready to be challenged, eager to laugh and to be engaged. That quality is the nonpareil. And the support in the community is wide and deep--a thriving cultural scene needs both elements, and Houston has both to an extraordinary degree.

GHCVB: I'm sure as an artistic director it's hard to play favorites. Still, what has been the most rewarding show you've produced?
GB: Three Sisters is my favorite play, and I loved doing it here during my first season. I've loved all the Stoppard plays we've done--especially Hapgood, The Invention of Love and Travesties. The Greeks,In the Jungle of Cities and the Shakespeares are also among my favorites. But it's hard to forget our Long Day's Journey Into Night with Ellen Burstyn, the Tony Kushner plays and the Robert Wilson productions we've done. They're all among my favorites. And more.

GHCVB: What kind of shows really seem to resonate with Houston audiences? 
GB: All kinds--that's one of the great characteristics of this audience. A new play like Hitchcock Blonde or the Martin McDonagh works will be very, very hot shows, as will the new musicals (The Gershwins' An American in Paris, Jekyll & Hyde, etc.). I am blessed that I have a wide variety of taste, and I think our audience has too.

GHCVB: What sets Alley Theatre apart from its peers in other cities? 
GB: We are one of the few theatres that have a resident company of artists. We also bring in artists from all over the country, but the fact that the Alley has a resident group of artists that live and work within the community they perform for is very rare. Couple that with the widest ranging repertoire of any theatre, and the combination is utterly unique.

GHCVB: What's the most difficult part of producing a show for you? 
GB: Each show has its own challenges. As soon as a play becomes simply one of ten or twelve productions that we create in a year, you've lost the reason to do it. So each show is its own set of challenges and difficulties and joys. As Yeats said - the chief fascination of the theatre for a theatre worker is that you try to solve problems that you yourself pose. After all, I pick the plays, so there has to be a reason for each one.

GHCVB: What defines a great actor for you?
GB: Courage. Voice. Imagination. I think it's the bravest thing an artist can do--and the best actors test themselves all the time. In front of a live audience. That's an actor.

GHCVB: Reviews--good for business or you could do without them? 
GB: The best thing for business is word of mouth. It travels fast and means the most.

GHCVB: What show do you most want to see on Alley's stage but haven't been able to make happen yet? 
GB: I have a list of plays we want to do--some plays have been on the list for several seasons. We'll get to them, I think. And we are always trying to be ready to react quickly to a new play that comes along or that we've had an eye on.

GHCVB: If you could convey just one thing to all audiences at the Alley before the show, what would that be? 
GB: For the play to work on your imagination, you need to leave the world outside. Turn off your cell phone.

By AJ Mistretta

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