#getmyducksinarow  Press

Carnegie Hill Productions and James Spry present



BROADWAY PRODUCER, WRITER AND ACTRESS CATHERINE SCHREIBER, on the eve of The Tony Awards, sits down with me to discuss her catapult towards the top of the Broadway arena, the great joy and frustration that comes with working in the theatre, and a word of advice to promising talent - everywhere.

ROBERT: First things first! What are you wearing to the Tonys?

CATHERINE: Valentino.

ROBERT: You are “The Hardest Working Woman on Broadway”. Lets make it official right now. Three back to back shows, a Best Play Tony nomination for Next Fall, now 12 nominations for The Scottsboro Boys and you’ve co-written and star in Desperate Writers. How does it feel to be so busy?

CATHERINE: It feels fabulous. I’m so blessed that I am able to do all the things I love to do. I just wish I could clone myself because I have lots of projects I want to be working on and I just don’t have the time.

ROBERT: The Scottsboro Boys closed last winter amidst scandal and low ticket sales. I recall how devastated you were after the closing. Months later, how does it feel to have the play nominated for 12 Tony Awards?

CATHERINE: It’s such a vindication. When the first nomination was announced I screamed and I thought oh, my, they didn’t forget us. We have a chance. And then I yelled out to my husband as each new nomination was announced. The play is so brilliant and so very important, the actors so talented - it should never have closed. People were changed by the experience  of the show. It was a truly important work. The music by Kander & Ebb, and direction by Susan Stroman and book by David Thompson, extraordinary. I’m so, so happy the voting community recognized this. Whether or not we win Tonys, because there are many wonderful shows out there, I’m hoping this recognition will lead to many more productions of the Scottsboro Boys.

ROBERT: Do the nominations mean that the play has a chance to come back to Broadway?

CATHERINE: That is a question for our lead producers, Barry and Fran Weissler and Jacki Florin. One may only hope.

ROBERT: What was your reaction to protests against the Broadway production of The Scottsboro Boys?   How did the controversy help or did it hurt the production?  

CATHERINE: My reaction was frustration because these people didn’t see the play and refused to see the play. They were operating on erroneous assumptions. They didn’t understand how the element of “minstrel” was utilized in the show. In reaction to those protests, I took reaction videos of many African Americans coming to see the show, and they discussed how important the show was to be seen, that the minstrel element was not a negative, but a plus.

The Weisslers and Jacki Florin tried to engage these people and offer them a chance to see the play. Whoopi Goldberg spoke passionately about how the protestors were not seeing the show and of course, not understanding the show.  I am saddened that the protestors didn’t take advantage of the opportunities offered them and engage in discussions afterwards. It would have been a tremendous opportunity for discussion and sharing of ideas. I don’t think the controversy hurt the show - I think it sparked more conversations and that is always good.

ROBERT: I understand that Scottsboro, Alabama recently honored you with the key to the city?

CATHERINE: Yes. That was such a tremendous honor. Scottsboro City Councilman Matthew Hodges presented me with the key to the city during an 80th anniversary event back in March to commemorate the date when the Scottsboro Boys were arrested.

ROBERT: If the play makes a comeback, other than the Tony nominations, what can be done to fill the seats?

CATHERINE: The play is already being booked around the country because people recognize its brilliance and significance. I think word of mouth and the reviews will fill the seats.

ROBERT: What is Desperate Writers about? -

CATHERINE: Desperate Writers is a comedy about two struggling writers who will do anything to sell a script. Ashley and David are both in their thirties. Ashley’s baby clock is ticking. She wants to get married and have a baby. Her boyfriend, writing partner, David, wants to wait until his ducks are in a row. After getting close to selling a script and being defeated time and again, Ashley takes matters into her own hands. I don’t want to give away the plot, but it’s a like a French farce, lots of characters going in and out. We did it in LA with Katie Hollinshead and Brian Krause. We were lucky to get great reviews “zany roller-coaster of fun, “situation comedy at its best, “hysterical, screwball comedy”… a little plug there.  Anyway, it is about the film business, so some jokes are very LA, but there are desperate writers everywhere and I think everyone can relate to the idea of being out of control with what is going on in one’s life. Ashley and David are about to lose their home. Their economic condition isn’t good. That people can relate to. And doing something to take back control is what everyone wants to do. But they maybe shouldn’t go as far as Ashley does.

ROBERT: After Scottsboro Boys and even the knotty subject matter in Next Fall, how does it feel to be working on a comedy again?

CATHERINE: It feels great. Life needs to be a mixture. Actually, that mixture was done so brilliantly in Scottsboro Boys - the comedy element helped the audience experience the tragic story. But, of course, when you leave, you are so moved and saddened by what happened to those boys. Also, in Next Fall, Geoffrey Naufft’s humor is hysterical. You laugh and cry- there always needs to be that mixture. Now, Desperate Writers, is truly a comedy. People will come for 80 minutes, no intermission and hopefully just laugh and enjoy themselves. It’s wonderful to be doing a comedy, actually. It’s about fun. It’s time for us all to have some fun. Personally, I have a such great time doing my part.

ROBERT: What’s the story with all the ducks and why is the waitress holding a gun on your website?

CATHERINE: Ah, ducks, yes, let me explain. As I said, in Desperate Writers, Ashley wants to move on with her life and David wants to wait until all his ducks are in a row. So, I have made ducks a symbol of our show. And because everyone loves a duck, I give out little rubber duckies for publicity and to make people smile. And I have this large rubber duck which I walk on a leash around town. And we’ve taken videos of that - and that definitely makes people smile. (Check them out at desperatewriters.com) I also take pictures of celebrities with the duck. The show is all about fun and everyone loves a duck. I have to bring you a duck ASAP! The waitress on the website - is Ashley and she is a cook and caterer in her spare time. You know artists often have to have side jobs, unfortunately. Anyway, our desperate Ashley is driven to desperate measures that include the need of a gun!

ROBERT: How is working with Pauletta Washington?

CATHERINE: I have been truly blessed with having Pauletta as part of the cast. She is one of the warmest, most loving, appreciative people I know. I had been talking to her about Scottsboro Boys and she had mentioned she was working on her one-woman show. I didn’t know she was an actress. She had been a very successful actress before she married Denzel. And she took a break from her career to raise her family. I told her I was going to do my show and asked her if she’d read it. I sent it to her. She loved it. I went to see her in Love Lost, loved her in it and the rest is history. She is a wonderful, dedicated actress and commits totally to the role. How is it working with Pauletta, heaven!

ROBERT: In the late 90’s up until the early 2000’s, Broadway was considered overwrought with revivals with few original productions. I remember seeing Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz and feeling like Broadway was finally moving forward. What are your thoughts on revivals or theatre based on blockbuster movies vs original Broadway productions?

CATHERINE: Let me just say what saddens me most is that truly original plays with truly talented casts suffer if there isn’t a “commercial” star or if they aren’t traditionally mainstream.  Next Fall and The Scottsboro Boys had some of the most talented people around in their casts. Both were honored with Tony nominations. We will see what happens with Scottsboro at the Tonys - 12 nominations and so richly deserved. But it was very, very sad, they that didn’t last longer on Broadway. Both shows got spectacular reviews. So many people wanted to see them. But these shows couldn’t compete with the shows drawing the tourists. I hope in the future audiences don’t wait to see something, but go right away when they hear something is good. People delay and then the show is gone. I also hope producers won’t give up supporting important works which aren’t mainstream. Or else all those works will end up Off Broadway. There is nothing wrong with that of course. But, even Off Broadway, investors are scared to take a chance on something if there isn’t a “TV or film star”. This makes it very difficult for producers. And just because an actor is a TV or film star, it doesn’t mean he/she will be comfortable on the stage. So often you are supposed to offer the “stars” a role. But, how do you know they are going to work on stage? So you raise the money for a production and then you have an actor who isn’t good on stage? That’s not a good position to be in. It’s best to have really talented stage actors and have the best show you can and then hope the reviews will be good and the audiences will come. In Desperate Writers, we cast Maddie Corman and Jim Stanek. Maddie was brilliant in Next Fall and Jim is an amazing actor and has worked on Broadway. They aren’t big commercial names but they are big, BIG talents and hopefully, after Desperate Writers, they will become “big commercial names.” Our whole cast is filled with truly talented people. We’re lucky to have all of them. Just look recently at “star driven” Broadway shows that didn’t last. So, that’s not the answer either. It’s such a hard business. So many elements need to fall in place for a show to be a success. But, we love the business and keep trying and hope for miracles.

ROBERT: Your passion for theatre is palpable. How do you stay inspired?

CATHERINE: I have loved theatre since I was young. My first performance was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz at camp – my first and last singing role I starred in my high school plays and then acted at Yale though I was an English major. So, acting has always been my love. I started writing because as an actress you’re limited. I wanted to create my own universes, my own stories. So, I started writing for film and television. Now, coming back to New York, I love being able to see the pieces come together. I was so blessed to become involved with Next Fall and Scottsboro Boys. When you work with talented people like Geoffrey Nauffts, Sheryl Kaller and Susan Stroman, John Kander and Tom Thompson, how can you not be inspired! They make magic. And now I’m going to be a producer on the King’s Speech – brilliant material – not hard to be inspired! And of course, making Desperate Writers (Joshua Grenrock’s and my baby) a reality. Joshua and I are the co-writers.– it’s a dream and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I have been fortunate enough now to be offered other amazing projects. I just wish I had time to do everything!

ROBERT: Thousands of talented people move to New York City every year with a dream of becoming something or someone. They come to be dancers, actors, writers but most of them will never see their dreams fully actualized. Is there any advice you can offer an aspiring artist on their way to New York City right now?

CATHERINE: Yes, I would say, don’t wait for others to do things for you – make IT happen. I don’t recommend to go as far as the writers in Desperate Writers do (and you will have to go see it to see what they do) – but go out and make your own contacts, join writing groups. If you have a script, maybe get it on stage in a workshop as a play. Get agents, but don’t count on agents. No one is going to work as hard for you as you do. Get to know casting people if you are an actor, Do showcases. Network, network. Maybe do a one woman/man show – invite people. Stay positive and stay in it as long as the joy outweighs the pain. And find the joy. Make sure you find an outlet for your creativity.

text by Robert L Danforth \ photography by tohrart.com

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