Five Lessons I Have Learned From My Life in the Theatre
July 19th, 2016
by Brian Murray
One of the theatre's most acclaimed classical actors, Brian Murray returns to the New York stage in the new play Simon Says. The thriller tells the story of a young psychic who has been the subject of a retired professor (Murray), set out to scientifically prove the existence of the soul.
Photo by Maria Baranova
BroadwayBox asked the three-time Tony nominee, Obie Lifetime Achievement Award winner, and American Theater Hall of Fame inductee to share with us five lessons he's learned from his 60+ years acting on the stage.
1. The first time I went to the theater to see a grown up play, I was also in it, I was playing Arthur in King John. I was stunned by it every night, and I still don't know if they were really good or bad. It was just the impression of hearing Shakespeare for the first time spoken aloud.
2. Even after all the Shakespeare I had done throughout my career, I think I learned about the crystalline value of words from the playwright Tom Stoppard while working on the production of his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Photo by Martha Swope
3. I was so affected by the original production of Long Day's Journey into the Night, directed by Jose Quintero, I walked out of that theater thinking I would never come down again.
4. There are an awful lots of good directors, and so much to learn from them. Richard Eyre, who directed me in Racing Demon, taught me how to not think, and to just do it. He said, "The play is an express train and if you miss it or you're behind a step, you're going to be knocked off." I worked on The Knack with Mike Nichols, who had an extraordinary habit of giving you a note, and then you kind of translated the note, and then he would say, "You're a genius" and mean it. Giles Havergil, who directed Travels With My Aunt—he just created magic. Four of us played all the characters, and it was a huge success. He taught me to do things instantly. I could turn around and be an eighteen-year-old girl, instantly. I had never done that before. I cherish the memory of him and that production.
5. I have learned more from female directors, and I am a great believer in a woman in charge; like Phyllida Lloyd, or Pam MacKinnon, or Myriam Cyr. Phyllida Lloyd taught me how to direct—how to engage a company, with such love and such fun. Those were the most enjoyable rehearsals. At this point of my career, it seems like I am absorbing much more when I find enjoyment in learning them. I never liked improvisations, but improv sessions on Mary Stuart were extraordinary. I often recall this one smart note given to me by a female director I worked with years ago, in my native South Africa, back when I was still learning the craft. She told me, "Crisply, darling." I knew exactly what she meant and I stayed with it.
See Brian Murray in Simon Says at off-Broadway's Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project through July 30.