Timeless: An Interview with A Walk on the Moon Movie Director Tony Goldwyn

Friday, June 22, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

Actor and filmmaker Tony Goldwyn originally signed onto the 1999 film A Walk on the Moon as a producer, but once he started working on the script with screenwriter Pamela Gray, his priorities shifted. After two years of rewrites, there was still no director, so Goldwyn—eager to preserve the script's vision—stepped up to the plate. Nearly 20 years after Goldwyn’s directorial debut, with Moon now a successful musical on the Geary stage, we called up the star of ABC’s Scandal to find out why this story remains so close to his heart.

Tony Goldwyn, director of the 1999 film A Walk on the Moon, joins Pamela Gray, screenwriter of Moon and book writer
of the musicalat the Toronto Film Festival for the world premiere of their 2010 film Conviction. Courtesy Pamela Gray.
What initially drew you to Pamela Gray’s script?

The Catskill bungalow colonies was a part of the Jewish experience I was not raised in at all and it was so colorful and fabulous. I was captivated by it. And more importantly, I really related to Pearl’s journey of being a person who found herself trapped in a life that she felt wasn’t of her own choosing. And then to take the year of 1969, when our whole cultural fabric was at the apex of change and blowing apart conventional norms, and make that the backdrop for Pearl’s story. That was brilliant.

You’ve directed two films written by Gray, A Walk on the Moon (1999) and Conviction (2010). What’s your collaboration with her like?

There’s a lot of trust between us and we’re not afraid to push each other. Pam will tell you, I can really grind on her to keep rewriting. At the same time, she’ll really push back on me if I’m asking her to change something that is central to what she wants to do. We keep each other honest and argue back and forth in a way that’s productive.

Tony Goldwyn holds the Peabody Award for Scandal.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Do you have any favorite memories from the set?

We only had three days to shoot the Woodstock sequence, and on one of the days, it started raining during our lunch hour. It was torrential downpour for 30 minutes. We thought, “We’re screwed. We can’t keep filming.” But then, just as lunch was about to end, the sky cleared and the whole field looked gorgeous. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Making movies is a miracle.

Why has this story remained so relevant?

People are always coming up to me and saying how impactful the movie was for them. This story Pam wrote is about marriage and family and parenthood and sex and identity. Everybody wrestles with these issues sometime in their life. There’s plenty of films about 1969 that feel old-fashioned because they’re nostalgia pieces about that time, but A Walk on the Moon is not that. The period serves as a metaphor for change and we see that change on a micro-level in the Kantrowitz family. The themes Moon tackles aren’t stuck in the ’60s—they’re timeless.

A Walk on the Moon runs through July 1 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about this story? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

Catskills Life in A Walk on the Moon

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

By Simon Hodgson

High above the Hudson River in upstate New York, the Catskill Mountains are among the most picturesque regions in the United States. For hundreds of thousands of Jewish households between 1910 and 1970, the Catskills became their summer destination. For non-Orthodox households, such as the Kantrowitz family and their friends in A Walk on the Moon, this region represented a rural retreat whose bungalows created a tight-knit community. The bungalow colonies were made up of modest, detached, two-bedroom cabins with their own bathroom and cooking facilities. By the 1940s and ’50s, kucheleins (private rooms with shared kitchens) and bungalow colonies (such as the fictional Dr. Fogler’s in Moon) attracted more than 80 percent of the region’s Jewish vacationers every year.

Marty (Jonah Platt) and Pearl (Katy Brayben) talk outside their bungalow in
A.C.T.s 2018 production of A Walk on the Moon. Courtesy @jonahplatt on Instagram.
Days in the bungalow colonies were unhurried and matriarchal, particularly during the week, when most men were at work in the city. If a bungalow colony had a swimming pool, mothers congregated around it and played cards, while their children swam. Another popular pursuit was mah-jongg, the Chinese game of tiles played by Pearl Kantrowitz and her friends in Moon. During the weekend, the mood shifted. Many Jewish men, from doctors and dentists to teachers and television repairmen (like Marty in Moon) would catch the Friday night train and spend two days in the hills before returning to the city on Sunday.

For most bungalow colonies and smaller hotels, the easy rhythm of the days would be accented by visits from traveling peddlers, from Hymie the Dairyman to Ruby the Knish Man to garment vendors hawking blouses. Children and mothers alike would visit the carts or car trunks, sometimes for a tasty treat, but often just to break up the routine. The slow days could be a grind for teenagers accustomed to living in the city. Many felt like Alison in A Walk on the Moon, who sings, “It’s the summer of ’69 out there / It’s the summer of ’59 up here / There’s something happening everywhere / Everywhere but here.”
Pamela Gray’s family bungalow at Tommy’s Lodge, Swan Lake, in the early 1960s. Courtesy Pamela Gray. 
Although the mountains have moved on from their ’60s pinnacle, the nostalgic legacy of those vacations lives on in America’s collective memory. Pamela Gray, the writer of the 1999 movie who adapted Moon for the stage, chose 1969 as the period for her story not only for its lunar landing and Woodstock synchronicity, but also because this Jewish vacationland was on the cusp of disappearing. “It was the end of an era,” says Gray. “Even though it’s never said in both the film and the musical that the heyday of the Catskills is waning, I do want audiences to feel that sense of change.”

A Walk on the Moon runs through July 1 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the history behind the show? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

The Summer of ’69: A Snapshot of America

Friday, June 15, 2018

By Elspeth Sweatman

Looking back, the summer of 1969 seems idyllic. A hamburger cost 10 cents, a gallon of gas, 35. But throughout those dog days, a sense of revolution was sweeping the nation. On the streets, beehive hairdos were giving way to tie-dye shirts and bell-bottom jeans. On the airwaves, girl groups were competing with rock ’n’ roll and protest anthems. On television, Bonanza was followed by footage of the Vietnam War. Like Pearl and Alison in A Walk on the Moon, many Americans felt they were on the cusp of radical change. Here’s a snapshot of America in that life-changing year.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag. Photo by Neil Armstrong/NASA. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Burning Draft Cards

On June 27, Life magazine published photos of the 241 American soldiers killed in Vietnam during a one-week period. The public response was immediate, visceral, and divided. By 1969, US armed forces had been in Vietnam for almost 15 years. Although most Americans initially viewed this intervention as necessary in the fight against communism, as the body count rose, many lost confidence in the US government. Anti-war protests grew. Young men burned their draft cards. Anti–Vietnam War sentiment would grow until US troops withdrew in 1975.

One Small Step

At 7:56 p.m. PST on July 21, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the iconic line, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he stepped onto the surface of the moon. He was joined a few minutes later by fellow crew member Buzz Aldrin. Together, they planted the US flag and a plaque reading, “We came in peace for all mankind.” It was the culmination of a decade of dreams, successes, and failures for American space exploration. Nationwide, 120 million people tuned in to watch the moon landing on their television sets. 

Opening ceremony at Woodstock. August 14, 1969. Photo by Mark Goff. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
The Road to Woodstock

For three hot August days, more than 400,000 people crowded into an upstate New York dairy farm to hear their favorite musicians: Janis Joplin, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, and 26 other acts. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair would become a defining moment, not just in music but in American culture. It instantly became a shining example of social harmony, and an illustration of the power of the anti-war movement that would gain traction in the 1970s. In 2017, the Woodstock site was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Women's Movement

Inspired by anti-war protests, female rock musicians, and books such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), many women in the 1960s were reexamining their lives and joining the fight for freedom and equality. For some women, such as Pearl in A Walk on the Moon, this meant ditching tight 1950s girdles in favor of loose-fitting clothing and reassessing their dreams and desires. For others, such as Pearl’s daughter Alison, it meant joining the second-wave feminist movement. All over the country, women were marching for equal rights in all aspects of society.

A Walk on the Moon
runs through July 1 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the history behind the musical? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

From High School Musical to Mainstage Musical: An Interview with A Walk on the Moon's Nina Kissinger

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

Later this month, 18-year-old Nina Kissinger will not only be crossing her high school stage to receive a diploma, but she will also be gracing the Geary stage for her professional theater debut in A.C.T.’s A Walk on the Moon. We sat down with this over-the-moon emerging actor to ask her about how she got cast and what the character of Myra means to her.

Nina Kissinger (Myra) and Brigid O'Brien (Alison) at the first rehearsal
of A.C.T.'s 2018 production of A Walk on the Moon. Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
Can you tell us about the audition process?

I had heard that A.C.T. was auditioning for a brand-new musical, since I’m in the building a lot for the Young Conservatory's high school musical ensemble. I had auditions for college programs coming up, so I thought it would be good to get some audition practice. I went into the room withmy Carole King song, and casting immediately asked me to read for Myra. They then told me to stay familiar with the material because they wanted to see me again. I went straight from the audition to rehearsal for the YC's cabaret and I couldn't hold back my excitement. Two weeks later, I came for callbacks and there were what seemed like 30 members of the creative team there. It’s crazy because there were even some Tony winners at the table! I was doing a funny scene, so my goal was to make them laugh, and I did it!

How would you describe Myra?

She’s a 14-year-old Orthodox Jew and her family has come to the bungalow colony for the first time this summer. She’s really curious about her surroundings and it reminds me a lot of myself during my freshman year of high school when I was looking for someone to open up my world. There’s something special about the fact that she chooses for herself to experience things her community is closed off from.

What has it been like in the rehearsal room?

It’s been unbelievable. The people in this team are truly brilliant. Working with them and getting instruction from them has been so educational. Jonah Platt [who plays Marty Kantrowitz] took Brighid [O’Brien, who plays Alison Kantrowitz] and I out to lunch the other day just to talk and hang out. Everyday I’m learning so much about how theater gets made—getting to see this come together, getting new pages and new songs. It’s cool to see how the creatives collaborate and include us in their process. A.C.T. has really assembled the most incredible group of people.

A Walk on the Moon begins at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater June 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the process of creating a world-premiere musical? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

The Sound of the ’60s: An Interview with A Walk on the Moon Composer and Lyricist Paul Scott Goodman

Friday, June 8, 2018

By Elspeth Sweatman

From his early days growing up in a Jewish family in Glasgow, Scotland, composer and lyricist Paul Scott Goodman dreamed of combining his two passions: musical theater and rock ’n’ roll. After playing in punk bands in Glasgow and London, Goodman moved to New York City in 1984 to make his dream a reality. Drawing inspiration from pop pianist Elton John, punk rocker Johnny Rotten, and Broadway stalwarts Jerry Block (Fiddler on the Roof) and Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, A Little Night Music), Goodman fused these genres to create a sound uniquely his own. Now, Goodman is melding his rock ’n’ roll, singer-songwriter sound with his Jewish roots for A.C.T.’s Walk on the Moon. We caught up with Goodman to get a behind-the-scenes look at a song’s journey from its first chords to the Geary stage.

Composer and lyricist Paul Scott Goodman. Courtesy Paul Scott Goodman.
Why did you want to get involved with this project?

Sometimes you just hear of an idea and you automatically go, “Yes, that would be a good musical.” It doesn’t happen too often, but the minute somebody pitched this idea, I could see it. In a lot of musicals, people just burst into song for no reason, but in this story, there is music in the air, there’s Woodstock. It seemed natural for these characters to sing.

The music of 1969—especially the iconic Woodstock Music & Art Fair—is so well-known. How do you go about composing music for a musical set in this era?

I didn’t want it to be a total rip-off of ’60s music. I wanted to tip my hat to the ’60s—include some riffs or orchestrations that suggested the music and sounds of that decade—without out-and-out copying it. There’s a Carole King riff in there, some Jefferson Airplane, James Taylor. Some [Jimi] Hendrix, especially once we transition from acoustic to electric guitars. There’s also quite a bit of Bob Dylan in the beats and grooves of the music and in the lyrics. The way he used words, the way words tumbled out of his mouth, there are bits in the show that remind me of him. But these aren’t pre-thought out. I discover them as I write.

Composer Paul Scott Goodman and book writer Pamela Gray at the first rehearsal of A.C.T.'s 2018 production of A Walk on the Moon.
Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
What’s the journey of a song’s creation in a new musical?

Journey is the right word. [Laughs] Usually for me, the song will start with either a guitar riff or just a title. Or maybe it’s a rhyme. I think about the character and the situation. Sometimes it comes out really quickly and other times it’s taken me three or four years to complete a song. After I’ve got something, I’ll play it for the music director, Greg Kenna, and we’ll get it in some kind of shape. Once the sheet music’s written down, then we’ll give it to our orchestrator, Michael Starobin [Tony Award–winning orchestrator of Assassins and Next to Normal]. He goes away and does his own orchestrations to go with my songs. He’s planning on having an orchestra with a cello, violin, two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. It’s gonna be good.

A Walk on the Moon begins at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater June 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the music in Moon? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

Introducing A.C.T.'s Next Executive Director Jennifer Bielstein!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

We are thrilled to announce that Jennifer Bielstein will join us as A.C.T.’s next executive director. Bielstein is currently the managing director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and president of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), an organization that represents 74 theaters nationwide.

A.C.T.'s next executive director, Jennifer Bielstein.
“On behalf of the board of trustees, I am delighted to welcome Jennifer Bielstein as A.C.T.’s new executive director,” says A.C.T. Board of Trustees President Kay Yun. “Her passion and dedication to the arts make her one of the most respected and sought-after arts leaders in the country.”

As executive director, Bielstein will work closely with A.C.T.’s incoming artistic director, Pam MacKinnon. “I am thrilled Jennifer will be stepping into A.C.T. with me,” says MacKinnon. “Her knowledge of, commitment to, and passion for theater is unparalleled. I cannot wait!”

Bielstein is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders in the Arts, and Bellarmine University. During her time at Bellarmine, she received the MBA Faculty Merit Award and was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, the honor society for business programs.

Prior to relocating to Minneapolis, Bielstein worked in Chicago as the executive director of Writers Theatre and with many other organizations, including Steppenwolf Theatre Company, About Face Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre, and the Lincoln Park Zoo. She also served on the board of the League of Chicago Theatres. In 2006, Bielstein moved to Louisville, Kentucky to become the managing director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. She also served on the boards of Theatre Forward, the Louisville Downtown Development Corporation, the Arts and Cultural Attractions Council, and Greater Louisville Inc., as well as the National Endowment for the Arts as a review panelist. After ten seasons with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Bielstein joined the Guthrie Theater as its managing director.

“A.C.T. could not have made a better choice,” says Joseph Haj, artistic director of the Guthrie Theater. “Jennifer is tireless, smart, collegial, and skilled.” Actors Theatre of Louisville Artistic Director Les Waters agrees: “Jennifer is one of the finest people working in the theater today. She is a consummate professional—dedicated, creative, and passionate about the art. I loved working with her at Actors Theatre of Louisville and look forward to the magnificent work that she and Pam will make at A.C.T.”

During her distinguished career, Bielstein has received many awards, including the Pyramid Award of Excellence in Leadership from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. She has been recognized as one of Louisville's Business First’s 40 Under 40 and Today’s Woman magazine’s Most Admired Woman in the Arts. She was named by Twin Cities Business as a Person to Know in 2017, and by Minnesota Business magazine as a Real Power 50 member in 2018.

“I am honored for this opportunity to lead American Conservatory Theater alongside Pam MacKinnon,” says Bielstein. “I look forward to becoming a part of the San Francisco Bay Area community and working with the board of trustees, the staff, the artists, and all the theater’s stakeholders to build upon and expand A.C.T.’s impressive legacy.”

Writing from Memory: An Interview with A Walk on the Moon Book Writer Pamela Gray

Friday, June 1, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

Every summer from age three to fifteen, Pamela Gray was whisked away from the hubbub of New York City to the Catskill Mountains. Paying $250 for the entire season, Gray’s family lived with other working-class Jewish families in bungalow colonies. “These Jewish housewives lived in this matriarchal world,” says Gray, “where they’d be visited by vendors: the blouse man, the dress man, the bathing-suit man.” Seeing the storytelling potential in these childhood memories, Gray wrote about ’60s Borscht Belt life in her first screenplay, The Blouse Man, which later became the movie A Walk on the Moon (1999). More than ten years later, producers approached her to adapt Moon into a musical; she leaped at the opportunity. Before rehearsals in San Francisco, Gray reminisced with us about the Catskills, Woodstock, and the process of creating a new musical.

Book writer Pamela Gray at the first rehearsal of A.C.T.'s 2018 production of A Walk on the Moon. Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
In the summer of 1969, your family was just a few miles from where the Woodstock Music & Art Fair took place. How conscious were you of the festival?

Nobody in the bungalow colonies really knew what Woodstock was going to be, but there was an awareness that this other world was encroaching. I was a fan of the musicians performing and, since friends were going, I asked my mother if I could. She initially said okay, but then she came over to me a couple weeks later and said, “Do you know the National Guard might be there? You are not going to that concert!” Other kids from the colony snuck out, but I didn’t have the nerve.

Why do you think this musical will resonate with today’s San Francisco audience?

A lot of what happened in the summer of ’69 wouldn’t have happened without 1967’s Summer of Love. Even though this story takes place on the East Coast, its themes of transformation and revolution capture the energy of the Bay Area.

Pamela Gray on the set of the 1999 movie A Walk on the Moon. Photo courtesy Pamela Gray.
The 1960s was an era similar to today when teenagers had a stake in what was happening politically. I’ve heard young gun control activists from Parkland, Florida, saying, “People of our age group haven’t had a voice since the ’60s.” Just like the kids of today, the kids in the ’60s didn’t trust their government, but they didn’t believe they were powerless. In Moon, Alison says that Woodstock is going to end the war in Vietnam. There was this belief in the power of youth.

What have you enjoyed most about the process of creating a new musical?

The collaboration has been thrilling. As a creative person, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than sitting in a room with smart, talented people and hearing everyone’s ideas. I love that every artist is seeing the story through the lens of craft. The cast and creative team showed me things about this story—a story that is in my DNA—that I hadn’t seen before.

A Walk on the Moon begins at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater June 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about how book writer Pamela Gray’s childhood memories inspired Moon? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.
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