Director Sam Mendes and BAM Executive Producer Joe Melillo
“I love Brooklyn, and I love this part of Brooklyn, I don’t know if you know – it’s now called the BAM cultural district, it’s got a whole new name – but I love this district. I mean It’s just fantastic. It’s kind of like coming across the river to work in another…” said director Sam Mendes before pausing to find the right words. “It’s so quiet out here – it’s so calm. It’s away from all the craziness of Broadway, it’s been a really pleasurable experience.”
Mr. Mendes had just addressed the crowd assembled for the dessert reception portion of the Bridge Project Benefit at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on Tuesday night. A co-production of The Old Vic in London and BAM, the Bridge Project has sought to build a transatlantic cast which will tour Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in both London and New York, with short stints around the world in between.
Patrons of the institution were treated to dinner and a show in exchange for their support. The entire evening including a cocktail reception with Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and John Turturro; dinner with remarks by Mr. Spacey; and a dessert reception with the cast and Mr. Mendes after a performance of The Winter’s Tale at a cost of $1,000 per head.
As people become more protective of their finances in this downtrodden economic climate, fear that funding for the arts might dwindle at a high cultural cost remained in the forefront of the evening’s presentation.
“It is true that putting on plays on stages is an expensive and risky proposition especially in today’s economic times,” said Mr. Spacey as patrons clinked their forks and knives together over chicken dinners. “But I believe that the arts and culture are good for business, because where ever we can bring people together and share an experience it has an effect on the economic strength of all the hotels and the restaurants and the businesses that operate where ever theaters exist.
“So I think we should continue to make arguments, and I think particularly today, as our president signed a stimulus bill that has $50 million earmarked for the arts,” he continued to applause. “That is much to celebrate, but we will continue to have to fight the fight and make the arguments that need to be made, because there were many who were trying to get that entire amount out of that bill before it went to the senate. But I think even our president looked at what we’ve achieved in arts and culture in this country and made the decision that culture should not suffer, even in these times.”
Luckily, prior to the financial meltdown, Bank of America had already committed to a three year, $2.8 million sponsorship deal, with The Old Vic and BAM each contributing around $2.3 million for the production.
After dinner, guests, including Paul Giamatti, Mike Nichols and Patricia Clarkson, shuffled over to the BAM Harvey Theater for the night’s performance of The Winter’s Tale, starring Simon Russell Beale, Sinéad Cusack, Richard Easton, and Ethan Hawke.
In one scene, the lost princess has been discovered in Bohemia, and during a celebration, the wenches – as they’re referred to – do a little dance with the men involving phallic balloons.
“I have to confess to have given one of the strangest notes to an actor on this job then I ever have,” Mr. Mendes told the crowd at dessert. “To Charlotte Parry, I found myself saying ‘Could you – when you stroke the penis – could you bite the tip and not the shaft? And also, please don’t spit the foreskin into the house.’ She does that very well I think.”
The cast seemed to be basking in the limelight, laughing, hugging, taking pictures and dancing to the tunes provided by DJs Andrew and Andrew.
“Not that many people have worked here,” John Turturro had said during the cocktail hour. “I was one of the few fortunate Americans to work here last year. It’s great that BAM has brought so many wonderful things here and it’s great to see them producing, which they did a little bit last year doing two big projects. It’s nice to see the sort of dialogue between the Americans and the English. I think we’ve got a lot of actors going over there now too, but over the years we’ve always had people coming in. It’s really great for the community and I’m glad to see that happen.”
And what of the Brooklyn audience? “I thought it was one of the best audiences I’ve ever performed for,” he said of his role as Hamm in BAM’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame last spring.
As for Mr. Mendes, who last worked at BAM on Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night in 2003, it seemed like the anticipation for the production’s tour – with residencies in Singapore, Auckland, Madrid and Germany – was building, with the performances at BAM ending on March 8. However, the director has enjoyed his short stay in Brooklyn.
“Being here over five months I realize this place unites so many things – both a neighborhood – a local linchpin – it’s an international venue that many, many people want to come to, and it’s now a national venue in the sense that it’s producing it’s own work.
“And it really is, in that respect, one of a kind.”
(Photo by Rhett Henckel)