Sam Shepard’s True West at the New Collective
Profile by Robin Raven
The New Collective is proud to present Sam Shepard’s True West in partnership with Salio Productions. The production opens Friday, April 8th and runs for the entire month of April Friday’s and Saturday’s at 8PM and Sunday’s at 3PM. Our friend Robin Raven recently caught up with the director to talk about the production.
I first met Greg Braun in 1999 at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. The great Susan Batson had sung his praises to me, so I was looking forward to meeting this extraordinary actor, and my first impression of Greg was that this is a man with great talent, depth, and compassion. On that day and since then, he showed how all-too-true that first impression was, and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to see him perform in plays and showcases. I’ve also been lucky enough to study with him as an actress. Having seen his work as an actor and a director, I’d wish that privilege for all artists.
Happily, I recently caught up with Greg to talk about the new play he’s directing, True West by Sam Shepard.
Robin: Do you remember the first play you saw in the theater or the first play that really shook you?
Greg: When I was in high school, my drama class was taken to see “Burn This” on Broadway with John Malkovich and Joan Allen. I’ll never forget the power and energy of Malkovich’s performance – that really shook me.
Robin: What attracts you to Sam Shepard and True West?
Greg: I’m attracted to Sam Shepard’s poetry and humor and I love the play because it really conveys the battles that we have with ourselves – the family blocks that stand in the way of our own ability to find ourselves and the parts of us that really desire to be in the world and those aspects of us that are repelled by it.
Robin: Have you ever seen a production of True West before?
Greg: Only the television version with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise – I remember seeing that a long time ago. I purposely did not revisit it so that I could have a fresh take on the material.
Robin: Who will be acting in this production?
Greg: The cast includes Shawn Robinson (who is also producing) as Lee, Matthew Word as Austin, Greg Abbott as Saul, and Constance Forslund as Mom.
Robin: Do you have a preference between acting and directing?
Greg: It’s hard to put one over the other because they’re completely different experiences but I find both to be very rewarding.
Robin: What was your inspiration for this production?
Greg: We were inspired by getting to the universal truth about what it means to struggle with achieving your dream in life. We all battle with our belief in ourselves, we battle with the example our families set for us, what the world tells us we should do and the test of our lives becomes can we break free and step into who we really are.
Robin: Can you describe how you approach bringing the play to life?
Greg: The most important thing is to break down the play and work with the actors on finding their way through the play moment-to-moment. My mentor, Susan Batson taught me the Harold Clurman method of script analysis and that has always served me both as a teacher and a director. Then we do very structured improvisations. The last stage of rehearsal is bringing the discoveries made in the improvisations back to the lines and really shaping the play.
Robin: What are you most proud of about this production?
Greg: I’m most proud of the cast – – it’s been a dream and everyone is perfectly cast for their role – we didn’t need to hold auditions at all, everyone just showed up.
Robin: What do you love about your theater space?
Greg: It’s a perfect black box style space, with 50 seats – very intimate. What I love about it the most is that we built it ourselves. That makes it even more special.
Robin: Do you suffer for your art? Have you sacrificed anything for your art?
Greg: I used to think that in order to be a great artist, you had to suffer – in my early days in New York, I bought into that whole idea. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that’s all just a myth. I believe that when you’re happy and fulfilled in your life, you have so much more to offer and in all art there has to be joy somewhere in there, no matter how dark the work of art is. That’s one of our main philosophies at The New Collective is that acting is a lifestyle that brings joy and hope to the world.
Robin: What do you enjoy most about your career?
Greg: I love that it has moved in unexpected directions.
Robin: What has been your personal key to success?
Greg: I think just doing what I love to do, sharing it with others and doing it with care.
Robin: How did you discover your love of acting and directing?
Greg: In high school, and thanks to my first drama teacher, Rich Russo.
Robin: What is the best advice you’ve received about acting or directing?
Greg: That the nature of creativity is so much deeper than we realize. When we make it about success or right/wrong then we miss the real opportunity that being an artist provides. Meeting and working with Susan Batson helped me to understand the mystical and spiritual nature of acting.
Robin: What is the greatest threat to theater in LA?
Greg: Fear and complacency. There’s an incredible video of Harold Clurman on YouTube speaking at the Mark Taper in the seventies passionately screaming about why the theater is mediocre. I must have watched that video thousands of times.
Robin: What is the best thing anyone has ever said about you as an artist?
Greg: It was my high school drama teacher when he said, “You can really do this.”
Robin: Do you like going to the theater in your spare time?
Greg: Sometimes, but my time is mostly devoted to nurturing the acting studio. I spend most of my time in our theater.
Robin: Was there someone who inspired you to get into theater?
Greg: Indirectly, my mother did because she’s a very talented artist.
Robin: Is there a particular show that you could call your favorite (that you directed)?
Greg: Always, the play I’m working on at the time is my favorite.
Robin: Have you ever played a role in a play you directed?
Greg: No, I like to focus on one job at a time – I think it would be too difficult, especially in the theater.
Robin: What are some bad habits that you’ve seen actors develop that you’ve had a hard time dealing with?
Greg: There are many bad habits that some actors have. If an actor is willing to learn and do the work, I don’t usually have a hard time working with them. I only have difficulty if there is not a willingness to do the work.
Robin: What would you say to someone who wants to get into theater?
Greg: If you are in touch with the fire inside – – if you have a passion and a reason and if you are dying to say something to the world, then do it.
Robin: What is your philosophy on the profession of acting?
Greg: It goes back to our philosophy at the New Collective – we believe that there is greatness in everyone and with nurturing and hard work, it can be found within. I believe you have to inform yourself about the importance of what acting and art can do in the world. And read and learn about the history of acting all the way back to Greek Theater. That it’s not just about being on TV or on the big screen. You have to be in touch with the responsibility of what it means to create a role. As Susan Batson taught us, you are creating a three dimensional human being. It’s just my philosophy, of course, but I believe if you don’t think about those things, you’re missing out.
Be sure to see the New Collective and Salio Production’s art in action by seeing True West when it debuts in Los Angeles on April 8, 2016 at 8 p.m. at the New Collective LA, 6440 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets are available in advance from Brown Paper Tickets.
If you can’t make it to the opening night, you can also see True West at the New Collective LA on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. from April 8th through the final performance on Sunday, May 1st at 3 p.m.
Robin Raven is an author and actress. With over a decade of experience contributing to magazines, newspapers, books, and websites, she has a passion for sharing news and views. When she’s not writing, Robin often has her nose in a book and her arms around a rescued animal.