Laughter On The 23rd Floor one of Neil Simon’s enduring classic comedies about a group of comedy writers who work on the 23rd floor creating laughter in the 1950’s is a perfect piece to lighten the mood this holiday season. City Theatre is currently performing this delight through December 18, and Austin Entertainment Weekly has some questions about the show for director Joey Banks.
AEW: What drew you to this show?
JB: When Andy mentioned to me that he was planning a Neil Simon show for the holiday season, I jumped at the chance to direct a piece full of energy and wit. Most of my first memories about theatre came from watching classic golden age comedic plays and Simon holds a special place in my heart.
AEW: How does being an actor play into directing for you?
JB: It’s always present. I want to be an actors director. My focus is generally geared towards the subtleties of the performances and creating wholly organic and rich characters. I have very little interest in the stagecraft of a production if the acting isn’t engaging and honest, and these opinions come from my experience as an actor. I’ve always preferred to do work as an actor that felt anchored in naturalism and I feel the same way as a director.
AEW: What is your favorite moment of the show?
JB: All of Helen’s exits.
AEW: What do you think audiences should come in expecting?
JB: Easy laughs. There’s a depth to this show, but it’s a mainstream piece that is welcoming to all audiences.
AEW: This show is very male focused how do you address that as a director in this current political climate?
JB: In its’ essence, “Laughter” is a period piece and a memory play. So, I don’t feel the need to alter anything politically. This is the 1950s and to pretend there was gender parity in creative writing positions wouldn’t be honest to the show. The chauvinism and “old school traditions” are just one color in the shows total pallete.
AEW: This is some very fast paced comedy, what was the hardest part of directing this show?
JB: Tempo tempo tempo. It’s a freight train and if you take time to think or breathe the joke suffers. There is a rhythm to comedy and Simon is a master at it. We pause too much in contemporary theatre and we are training to think, process, and then react rather than reacting out of instinct. I wanted to rid our actors of that and have them rely on the natural rhythm of the play.
AEW: What do you want audiences to take home with them after seeing this show?
JB: While there are socio-political messages in the piece, this is a play that is easy to digest. Art serves a purpose and those who entertain us have their own stories and relationships. It’s nice to sit back and analyze censorship and the politics of fear and intimidation, but it is also the holidays. So please, just have a good time with those you love.
AEW: What advice do you have for young theatre artists who want to succeed in this business?
JB: You have to find your own opportunities and don’t let anyone else define your view of success.