Guest Blogger: Isaac Klein’s The School of Doing

UntitledIsaac and I met during his production of See Jane Give Up Dick at last year’s Fringe Festival. We bonded over our mutual passion for theatre and directing. Plus, he makes me laugh and loves puns. When Isaac told me that he was writing a book on his mentor, the well-respected Broadway director and teacher, Gerald Freedman, I felt very connected to that idea. I identified with his feelings about his mentor and funneling that history into a book. Like Isaac, I am still close to my two theatre mentors from undergrad. I still turn to them when I need guidance. I still use the tools that they gave me almost 20 years ago not only in the theatre but in life.

     The greatest teacher I’ve ever had is Gerald Freedman. He revealed to me my true calling, then provided me with the tools I needed to pursue it. There are thousands of others who share this sentiment, in schools, theaters, and communities around the world. Gerald’s singular teachings resound in so many hearts and minds, but they’ve never been written down in full. It is my mission to do so.

     Gerald Freedman was instrumental in some of the most important theater in the last century. As a young man, he went back and forth between directing for the screen in Hollywood, and working in New York with Jerome Robbins, for whom he assistant-directed the original West Side Story. He banded together with Joe Papp, and directed numerous star-studded productions to critical acclaim in the early days of the New York Shakespeare Festival, commonly known as Shakespeare in the Park. Gerald directed the world premiere of the now-legendary musical, Hair, which was also the inaugural production at the newly founded Public Theater. He served as Artistic Director at Stratford’s American Shakespeare Theater and the Great Lakes Theater. He directed celebrated productions on and off-Broadway, won an Obie Award, and was the first American to direct at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London.

     Despite these extraordinary achievements, Gerald’s most meaningful work happened in the classroom. He has taught acting and directing at Northwestern, Yale, Juilliard, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he became Dean of the School of Drama in 1991, and proceeded to turn the program into one of the most highly ranked and well-respected drama conservatories in the United States.

     In February 2011, at the age of 84, Gerald suffered a series of strokes. His life has changed drastically since then. Gerald remains in good health and high spirits, but his strokes have left him hindered by aphasia.

     Gerald and I had often discussed the prospect of writing a book together, but soon after his strokes, we agreed it was time to begin the work. We were reminded of life’s fleeting preciousness, and, now that Gerald was retired, he needed a new project to focus on and keep him busy.

    Thus far, I have conducted in-depth interviews with over 90 of Gerald’s colleagues. This list includes Christine Baranski, Olympia Dukakis, Sheldon Harnick, Rosemary Harris, Hal Holbrook, Stacey Keach, Kevin Kline, Shirley Knight, Carol Lawrence, Ming Cho Lee, Patti LuPone, Larry Moss, Jack O’Brien, Hal Prince, Mandy Patinkin, Austin Pendleton, Missi Pyle, Chita Rivera, Alfred Uhry, Robert Waldman, and Sam Waterston.

     I have spent weeks interviewing Gerald in his North Carolina home, and months poring through old notebooks, articles, speeches, videos, and audio recordings of Gerald in action in the classroom.

     Gerald’s philosophy goes far beyond the technical application of craft; it provides fundamental tools for life. “How do I really listen?” “How do I communicate truthfully?” “How do I stay in the moment?” “How do I solve interpersonal problems?” “How do I teach and learn effectively?” “Why do actions speak so much louder than words?” “How do I discover what’s really happening between people?” “Who am I?” The journey to profound personal discovery begins with the key questions of Gerald Freedman’s curriculum.

     I began my work on this book with the earnest intention of creating a record of Gerald’s teaching, of giving back in some small way to the man who gave me my life. I have gained traction and momentum via the profound enthusiasm of everyone I talk to about the book. Over and over I hear: “I am so glad you are doing this.” Gerald has championed so many of us. The time has come for us to turn and champion him, and share his great wisdom with the world.

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