In Conversation with Scott Alan Evans: The Interview.
By Michael Raver
TACT artistic director Scott Alan Evans reflects on 25 years and looks to the company’s last full production, a comedy entitled Three Wise Guys.
Twenty-five years ago, Scott Alan Evans stepped into perhaps the most challenging role of his theatrical career when he assumed the mantle of artistic director at The Actors Company Theater (TACT). In that time, he watched the organization blossom into a critically celebrated off-Broadway mainstay. Additionally, the company has gone on to foster the creation of new work through their New TACTics play development program, which summoned the likes of writers like Jeff Talbott (a TACT company member), Kenneth Jones and Evans himself, all of whom have seen their work go on to full production.
Unfortunately the daunting and taxing prospect of keeping the doors open at any theater is always a complicated one. 2017 saw The Pearl closing up shop and it looks as though 2018 is the year that same fate will befall TACT. Evans remains optimistic through it all however, and is proud that TACT will be taking its final bow on a very high note.
Their latest offering, Three Wise Guys, is a collaboration between Evans and Jeffrey Couchman. Based on stories by Damon Runyon (of Guys and Dolls fame), the comedy has been largely generated around resident members of the acting company at TACT and will sadly be their last.
MR: Three Wise Guys is an adaptation of stories of Damon Runyon. Why adapt them?
Scott Alan Evans: It was a long evolution. I’m surprised more people don’t know about Damon Runyon. I always loved him. My father loved his work. These stories are hilarious. They’re dry. They’re witty and idiosyncratic. It’s all about Broadway and bootleggers. Gamblers and chorus girls. It was a colorful time. The Runyon estate came to me and connected me with a writer. But that didn’t work out. My agent connected me with Jeff (Couchman). The outline took about three years but writing the actual play was fairly straightforward. We did a draft fairly quickly.
MR: How long is fairly quickly?
SCA: Less than six months. We did a couple of table reads and did some adjustments. It was part of New TACTics. People loved it. When we were looking at the 2018 season, someone suggested that we do it.
MR: What is it about those stories that you feel is pertinent today?
SCA: In all the work that I’ve done with TACT, when we looked at old plays, you see how little things change. How often that something from 20, 40, 50 years ago…we’re exactly the same. Except we have iPhones. What makes great writing is its connection to humanity. And that doesn’t really change. These stories are compelling because they take place during a time of real change and transition. What do you take with you? What do you leave behind? We’re there now, in a period of extreme change. How do we do that in a productive, positive way?
MR: Apropos considering this will be TACT’s last show.
SCA: It works on a lot of levels. (Laughs) Partly the decision to do it was because when TACT first started, we were just doing readings. When we moved into full productions, our first piece at Theatre Row, a play called The Triangle Factory Fire Project, was an original work. We felt that Three Wise Guys was a great bookend.
MR:What was the reason for closing TACT down?
SCA: We started this company twenty-five years ago. It was an actor-driven company. All the actors in it were working but wanted a home that fulfills them artistically. As we formed the company, we wanted to examine a sort of theatrical literature that just wasn’t being looked at. That’s the theater we wanted to do. We’ve done amazing things. We’ve had great recognition. I had announced that this would be my last season. So we thought, why not go out on a high as opposed to trying to reconfigure, readjust, or become a different kind of company? That’s what I would have had to have done.
MR: What was your reason behind wanting to step down?
SCA: Because it’d been twenty-five years. There are other things I want to do. There are other artistic things I want to do. I’m very interested in new work and TACT’s focus is not new work. I’ve done work I’m super proud of but I’m ready to move on.
MR: Was there not any interest in maintaining New TACTics Festival?
SCA: It was very successful, but it was a small part of what we did and really outside of our mission. In order to make that more prominent, the company would have had to have been restructured and that didn’t happen.
MR: What was the most fulfilling part about being the artistic director?
SCA: It’s been being able to read so many plays. To direct some amazing scripts of plays that haven’t been seen, where there was no memory of recent productions. We knew who the actors were but they were long gone. Why is a play neglected, if it is a good play? Sometimes that’s something that’s hard to explain to people. There are (onetime) popular successes that no one wants to do anymore, but sometimes the play is ahead of its time. Sometimes the original production is bad.
MR: And the most challenging part?
SCA: Running a theater company in New York City is a huge job. We have a tiny staff. Raising the money, marketing, development…keeping the doors open! It’s tough and a hugely competitive environment.
MR: What’s next for you?
SCA: I don’t know. I’m going to take a sabbatical and think about it. There are plays I want to write. Plays I want to direct. As much as I have loved running TACT, I’m looking forward to not running it. It’s been an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have given it up for anything.
For more information about TACT and to purchase tickets, visit www.tactnyc.org
THREE WISE GUYS
By Scott Alan Evans & Jeffrey Couchman The Beckett Theatre
February 28 – April 14, 2018
As an actor, Michael Raver has performed at Lincoln Center, The Pearl Theatre Company, Tony Randall’s National Actor’s Theatre, regional theaters across the country and in film and television. As a writer, his adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray was produced by Sonnet Repertory Theatre at the Signature Theatre Center in 2012. A reading of his pre-WWII adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, featuring Judy Kaye, was presented by the Pearl Theatre Company. His play, Fire on Babylon, was nominated for The Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Foundation Award for Playwriting, as well as being named a semifinalist for The O’Neill Conference in 2015. Babylon went on to receive two workshops in 2016, first at Great River Shakespeare Festival and then at The Fresh Fruit Festival in New York, where it went on to win Best Actor (Jeffrey Hayenga) and Best Director (Paul Mason Barnes) Awards from All Out Arts. His short play, Evening, was a two-time finalist for Red Bull’s New Play Festival. Quiet Electricity was named a semifinalist at The O’Neill Conference in 2017. His work has been presented by The Pearl Theatre Company, Sonnet Repertory Theater, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, The Martha Graham Company, Playhouse on Park and many others. He served as a judge for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction for three years and regularly contributes cultural arts journalism for Classical TV, NYC Monthly, Hamptons Monthly, Playbill, Dance Magazine, CoolHunting.com, The Huffington Post, Art 511 Magazine and Nature’s Post.