Sunday, January 19

Straight from the director’s mouth: Do what you love

He’s funny, he’s wacky, and he’s got his
hands on a coveted Tony. Fresh from the award-winning Broadway run
of the hit musical “Urinetown,” UCLA alumnus and
theater director extraordinaire John Rando recently directed Steve
Martin’s “The Underpants” at the Geffen Theater,
to rave reviews and an all-round rollickin’ good time.
It’s barely been a month, and now Rando’s back to
assault audiences with an all-star touring version of
“Urinetown,” which finally makes its way to Los

dB Magazine: When and how did you get interested in the
world of theater?

John Rando: I grew up in Texas, in the suburbs of Houston, and
studied speech and drama in high school, and it was there that I
directed my first play, which was a silly little play called
“The Butler Did It.” It was this really silly thing
about detectives all being trapped on an island and trying to find
out “who did it,” of course. It was written by someone
very un-famous. Then I went over to the University of Texas at
Austin where I studied the humanities. I studied English and
German, Italian and European intellectual history. And I studied
theater as well, though I wasn’t a theater major. I did a lot
of acting and directing, and I sort of developed myself there.

dB: What led you to UCLA?

JR: After I graduated from the University of Texas, I won a
Fulbright scholarship to study German theater at the University of
Freiberg for a year. I also got to work as an assistant director at
a small theater in Germany called the Wallgrabben Theater. It was
there that I decided if I really wanted to be serious about
directing, I needed some graduate work, so I applied to UCLA to
study graduate theater directing.  Professor Michael McLain at
UCLA invited me to come out for an interview, and when I came over,
I recognized immediately that they had all these great professors
and that this was where I had to be. I started classes in the fall
of ’86. Being at UCLA was an intensive opportunity to direct.
I directed essentially one production per quarter for two
years. It was also really fascinating that they had this
amazing pool of talent among the undergraduate students. In fact,
when I was going to school, one of the undergraduates was Jack
Black, and he was just one among many.

dB: Do you have a preference for a particular kind of
theater? And what do you consider a defining characteristic of your
work? Is there a trademark “John Rando style”?

JR: No, I don’t think (I have a preference). Although
maybe Professor McLain might tell you otherwise. And you know,
it’s funny, but I didn’t realize that I had a style
till I was well into my career. A friend of mine who had been to
several of my shows, but who had nothing to do with theater, came
up to me and she said, “I just love your style.” And I
went, “Oh my God, I guess I do have a style. I guess its
recognizable now.” I like to think of my work as funny. I
like to think that I press the bounds of reality, yet sort of have
a reality core to it. I like to think that my work has heart as
well as vision.

dB: What about musicals? How did
“Urinetown” come about?

JR: Early on, I had gotten involved with City Center Encores!,
which is a musical concert revival series in Manhattan. In fact,
even at UCLA it was suggested one summer that I try directing a
musical, and I directed a small musical called “The
Club.” Eventually, one of the musicals I went on to direct in
New York was “Do Re Mi” starring Nathan Lane, so I had
some pretty serious stuff under my belt. With
“Urinetown,” the young producers of the Araca group
knew my work, and they knew I was pretty wacky and might like
something bizarre, so they offered it to me.  They had already
produced a short run of it at the Fringe Festival in New York to
some success, but they felt that they needed a new director and a
Broadway-caliber cast. So they got me on board in 1999. “¦ It
took us awhile to find the right venue, and then we found this
really perfect off-Broadway space on 54th Street, which was a
converted courthouse. It was really dirty and gritty, and we
thought it was the perfect space for the show. And, of course, we
blew the roof off with “Urinetown.”Â Almost
immediately, the bigger theaters began making us offers. We ran
off-Broadway for about three months and then moved to Henry
Miller’s Theater on Broadway.

dB: What do you think has been or is the key to being a
successful director on Broadway? As someone who has “made
it,” what advice would you offer to budding theater

JR: I’m such a firm believer in that, for our craft, for
the theater, the best way to develop and to learn is to literally
study under someone who is doing it that you admire, whose work you
might want to emulate, or not. I assistant-directed for four years
after leaving UCLA and worked under so many different directors,
some amazing and some not. You learn in so many different
ways. The other thing to remember is that it’s a long road
and you will only get better with age, so hang in there and keep
going and just keep doing what you love. 

Forward and interview by Alex Wen, dB Magazine

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