by Thomas Prosser
I have had the pleasure of knowing Steve Green for over a year now. I find him to be a talented theatrical artist who has a particular slant on life that can be wickedly funny. Now he is directing his play, “Timeshare” that opens November 5th, 2015 at the Eclectic Company Theatre.
So how did a New Jersey wise guy like you end up in LA and ultimately at the Eclectic Company Theatre?I came out to do a sketch comedy stage show and pilot with my writing/performing partner, Bart Sumner. We were doing sketch and improve Off Broadway for a bunch of years with Gotham City Improv. We did a lot of industrial shows and a few TV pilots, “Way Cool”, “Where’s The Party”, etc., and we came out to plant our flag, with a show called, MEN ARE ANIMALS. Then we both started families and did the whole screenwriting thing, writing, pitching, etc. Oh, and I resent you calling me a “Wise Guy”. That has a whole different connotation when you grew up in Northern New Jersey and lived in Hoboken for a while. I mean “Forgetaboutit”.
Tell us a bit about how your background as an Actor, writer and director. Favorite teachers and plays you’ve appeared in?
I studied acting/directing at Montclair State University in New Jersey and at HB Studios in NYC then out here with Allen Miller and Dennis LaValle. I was a classical and musical actor at first and I did some tours, regional theater, summer stock and several Off-Broadway shows. I did Becket, Romeo and Juliet, and The Rothschilds. I did Twelfth Night and some Moliere at the NY Renaissance festival. I took a break from Show biz for a while to sell real estate. But I couldn’t stay away from the lights. I studied sketch comedy and improve one night a week, while I was selling condos in New Jersey. This is when I started writing. One night week I was an actor/writer. The workweek couldn’t go by fast enough for me to get back into the city to class.
Talk a bit about your creative process in writing. Is it different than in acting , directing and producing? You have a lot of balls in the air right now.
They all involve a different type of joy, I think. Acting is the thrill of building and playing a character, the work itself is exciting and physical. And I love layering the role, like painting a picture, one detail at a time. Then it’s so live and immediate, the feeling of the audience going along for the ride, getting laughs. It’s the most conceited one of them feeling wise. You finish your show and people tell you you’re great and you truly feel you’ve done something wonderful… It doesn’t last so long though, that’s why it’s good to have another show the next night.
Writing, when it’s going well, is great. I’m home, in my space, sharing my little secret world with myself. I see the drama and I laugh out loud when I get the joke right. But I think it’s the hardest because it takes going back to that blank screen so much. You’re all alone with it. And you want some of the applause you get as an actor. Sometimes, I’ll leave my script up on the computer screen hoping my wife or kids will read it and applaud or laugh or something…
Directing is a little of both of those. Acting and writing because you’re putting them together in rhythm. Plus you have to play up the anal retentive part of yourself, especially in prep., because of all the details. In feeling. I guess I would say that I’m truly in my element when I’m directing/working with the actors. It utilizes everything I know, and I mean everything I’ve learned as a human being. It becomes mostly instinct at that point, with my life experience in the background. I know what the scene needs to be for it to take its place in the whole and with that choice I try to move the actors in that direction. Helping them find the moments, and the jokes. It’s probably the most rewarding come opening night, when all the work comes together. You sit there like a kid looking at big LEGO KIT you put together, with all its working parts, hearing the crowd react to your work. It’s wonderful.
If you asked me to pick my favorite of the three, I don’t think I could.
Timeshare came from personal experience. Tell us about it.
When the economy tanked back in 2007/8 our family business was dying and I had to find a job. Not much was out there for a middle-aged theatre artist and Mr. Mom. But a Timeshare company hired me, for minimum wage plus commission, and a little desperate to help my family, I put my head down and went to work. And one day, about three months in, something happened on the sales floor, that at the time I remember thinking, “THIS IS PLAY”. Two angry customers, a knife, and some yelling… I was also fascinated with the things they were teaching us, the sales process, the way I could see it working on people, and the way they were SELLING US, the employees as well. As much as we were manipulating buyers the managers were manipulating us.
Talk about your creative process and how they differ for each discipline.
For writing, It’s the same that it’s always been with Gotham City Improv back in NYC. A funny idea or character pops into my head; sometimes something just happens, like Timeshare and you have to write it. That was the great Groundlings Training that I got at Gotham City. Hilaury Stearn, a teacher there would hear the idea and say, “Write it up!” And I’d go home and do just that. I learned about giving the scene, the show, the characters, a beginning, middle, and end.
For acting: I get an idea of how this guy acts, walks and sounds, then I hit the basics, the Who what when where and why, then I love to rehearse and find it in my voice and my body. Then it’s layering the character, a little more detail each time you play. And I love working with a good director and other actors who really push me For directing, besides the obvious work of prepping every rehearsal and bringing the right people into the project. It’s all instinct. I just trust that I’ll see what needs to be done in the scene as I watch the actors create and I push them that way until they go where I want them to go.
Talk about some of your characters in Timeshare. Are they based on real people you’ve known in the real estate industry?In this case most of the characters are based on amalgamations the people I met doing timeshare. For example, “Christine,” the sexy expert salesperson, was based on the beautiful young women who invariably were the best sales people. They closed about 50%. For Jack, TOM’S annoying new friend, there was a guy who was an ex-athlete who constantly wanted to tell about his sexual conquests back when he was young. He told the same story to me at least three times. The sales-managers weren’t as vicious as “Frank” on the surface, but you expected a SNARL to replace their practiced smiles at any moment. And there was definitely an undercurrent of fear and desperation about the place. You could feel it there. It wasn’t all that different than other places I’ve worked, a car dealership or a restaurant, or even one of the big Investment houses where I temped. When you’re selling something, maybe for commission only… It ain’t easy.
Timeshare is a Black Comedy; explain to us why that is please.
Timeshare is a black comedy because bad stuff happens and it can be VERY FUNNY. We’re talking about the underbelly of our civilization here, the system we all live under. Stuff we all know and kind of embrace. “Buyer beware Capitalism”, closing the sale no matter what. Our Market System comes down to selling people stuff they need and a lot of stuff that they don’t necessarily need, for a profit. And sometimes when you sell people stuff they don’t need and you know they don’t need it, you have to swallow that empathy and just make a living, for your kids, your people, those who are depending on you… How do we come to grips with that? It feels like cheating sometimes yet the whole economic system we work in is largely based on this premise.
Is there a theme in Timeshare you wish to share? Any takeaways you want the audience to have?
Be nice to sales people. They always have someone looking over their shoulder and they’re just trying to make a living like anybody else who wasn’t born with millions of dollars. But be careful as well. In his den, the salesman always knows more than you and always has the advantage. All you have it the word No.
You recently played at the Will Geer Theater, tell us a bit about that experience.
It’s such great fun acting outside in the summer. It was “Green Grow the Lilacs” which is the 1931 Broadway Play that the musical, “OKLAHOMA” is based on. I live 10 minutes from the theatre so I’ve wanted to work there for a while and they cast me as the villain, “Jeter Fry” (Jud in Oklahoma). Apparently I’m getting better at playing villains as I get older. And It’s a wonderful group of people and some terrific actors. It’s a family atmosphere. In fact the Geer family is always around. Willow Geer played the lead, “Laurey Williams”, Jeff Wiesen in 12th season there was “Curly”, and Melora Marshal was hysterical as “Aunt Eller”. And I love Ellen Geer, she directed Green Grows and she’s and Actor’s Director. She gets down to the work and gets right in there with you. And she’s a great actress too so she really knows how to talk to you. People raved about my performance but really, she gets most of the credit, alright, half the credit.
Anything else you’d like to add about Timeshare?
Yeah, it’s really funny play and Timeshares are not all bad. They put a lot of people to work and some people really love them. I don’t want people to think that I’m judging the timeshare business. They gave me a job when I couldn’t find anything. What I am trying to do here is use Timeshare sales as a backdrop for life and business as a whole and trying to make it as funny as I can. I really want people to laugh. And if they get something else out of it, that’s a writer’s dream and that’s CAKE.
Timeshare opens November 5th and runs December 13th. Performances Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m. Sundays 2 p.m. For full information of performances and other events at ETC please check our company calendar.