Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.
Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)
Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.
Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.
Hailing from the Creole/Cajun bayous of Louisiana, Clay David has enjoyed a wide-ranging professional career in theatre arts. Spanning London, Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theatre, national tours and educational theatre, his work has embraced advocacy, acting, directing, and design. His achievements in the theater have been recognized with five San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards. David has also earned an AMCO Kennedy Center National Award, the Victor Borge Legacy Award, a TITAN Award for Theatre Excellence (Theatre Bay Area), the Dean Goodman Choice Award for Best Director in San Francisco Bay, the Lee Hartgrave Fame Best Play Award, and the Bravo Award for Outstanding Innovation and Excellence in Arts.
Notable directing highlights: L’ours et la Lune, and Birth of the Son (Off-Broadway, Blue Heron, NYC), Wives as They Were/Maids as They Are (London Theatre Royal, St. Edmunds, Regency Rep), Romeo et Julieta, (Campamento Lomas Pinar, Cuernavaca, Mexico), York 24: The Capmaker’s Play, (Poculi Ludique Societas, Toronto), Trojan Women and Phedre, (Jerry Rojo Environmental Theatre, CT), Learned Ladies, and School for Scandal (Connecticut Repertory Theatre.)
His joy of collaboration is a true passion, directing premiere productions of Ernest Gaines, Luis Alfaro, Gloria Stingily, Savion Glover, Jared Choclat, Chuck Prophet, Felice Picano, Michael Golamco, and Kathyrn McCarty.
On stage, he has performed the title roles in Hamlet, Amadeus, and The Dresser (Connecticut Repertory Theatre), The Elephant Man and Uncle Vanya (Jerry Rojo Environmental Theatre, CT). Regional Shakespeare roles include: Don John in Much Ado About Nothing (Marin Shakespeare), and Troilus in Troilus and Cressida (Riverside Shakespeare, NY). In musical theatre, he has performed Georges in La Cage aux Folles, Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Preacher in Violet (Bay Area Musicals), Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, and Tobias in Sweeney Todd (Connecticut Repertory Company).
(Editor’s note: His A Cajun Midsummer Night’s Dream at Novato Theater Company was unique, brilliant, amazing, and delightful.)
In educational theater, Clay David has served as professor and lecturer of theater at Loyola Marymount University, The University of Connecticut, Diablo Valley College, and was Chairman of Drama at Contra Costa College.
ASR: How did you get started in theater?
CD: I sang in church. In the Southern Gothic Cajun South, High Mass was about as close as you could get to the papacy. I was on the debate team in ninth grade and won a few national titles in dramatic interpretation and poetry reading. I was cast as Cornelius Hackle in Hello Dolly in tenth grade. That opened the door and connected the dots.
ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?
CD: Performance: Sparger in Kennedy’s Children, Robert Patrick; directing: Welcome to Andromeda, Ronald Melville Whyte
ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?
CD: I feel like I have been doing this since the earth cooled, so well over a 150.
ASR: Who has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?
CD: My brother was severely disabled, and I always carry his spirit with me. I always say hello to him in the wings. I know he is an angel looking over me.
ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas?
CD: The Dutchman, Amiri Baraka; The Dresser, Ronald Harwood; The Blacks, Jean Genet; The Maids, Jean Genet; America Hurrah, Jean-Claude van Itallie; The Visit, Friedrich Dürrenmatt; Suddenly Last Summer, Tennessee Williams; Woysek, Georg Büchner.
CD: Sweeney Todd, Blood Brothers, Jerry Springer the Opera, Cabaret. Kinky Boots.
CD: The Bald Soprano, Eugene Ionesco; Tartuffe, Moliere; The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde; Private Lives, Noël Coward.
ASR: Which play would you most like to see put into deep freeze for 20 years?
ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?
CD: The works of Enrico Cavacchioli, Rosso di San Secondo, Luigi Pirandello, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco. Theatre of the Grotesque and Theatre of the Absurd speak to our times, as we navigate the national discord, the bafflement, and bewilderment of the truth of our times.
ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?
CD: His plays have dimensions that are not explored or are diluted. Many times these works will be misdirected, or will politely just dance around the ideas of Hamlet asking his mother about the semen-stained sheets, or Ophelia singing pornographic songs when she is mad (who taught her the tunes?) or Richard ll’s historical and factual accuracy of his homosexuality.
ASR: Shakespeare’s most over-performed play?
CD: Hamlet. I wish more companies would produce Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II.
ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?
CD: I was a theatre professor for 20 years and loved teaching design. I adore making properties. But most importantly, I love working with the actors who use each prop I design, ensuring that it is perfect for them and helps the character that they are creating.
ASR: How do you warm up before a performance?
CD: I drink a Red Bull, rock catatonically in my chair and suck on a cough drop.
ASR: How do you relax after?
CD: A large bowl of cereal and milk.
ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?
CD: Always think outside the box. Always take risks. The audience is the most important element of theatre.
ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?
CD: In that sacred moment when we come together on production we are all soulmates and family. I will always be present for my fellow actors and technicians on stage and backstage, a faithful steward. Whether it is cleaning the dressing rooms, fanning sweating dancers running offstage, picking up costumes after quick changes, or mending shoes in between scene changes, I feel that we are a family, a community with a mighty purpose, and I am there to serve.
…Theatre of the Absurd speaks to our times…
ASR: Do you have a “day job?”
CD: Yes. Corporate. Director, Senior Resource Group.
ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?
CD: Maintaining serenity during these troubling times.
ASR: Do you follow other arts—music, film, dance, painting/sculpture? Do you actively do any other arts apart from the theater?
CD: I am a designer and work closely with hospice and COVID patients, creating art that speaks to their needs and the needs of their families.
ASR: You discover a beautiful island on which you may build your own society. You make the rules. What are the first three rules you’d put into place?
CD: Our island is built on the doctrine of egalitarianism. Believe in reciprocity. Your mood should not dictate your manners.
ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?
CD: Title: Sugarcane Burning. It would be about my disabled brother, raised by a fragile mother and a queer little brother in the mystic land of the bayou, Cajun South Louisiana.
ASR: If you were arrested with no explanation, your friends and family might assume you had done what?
CD: Been there and done that, darling. They’d think, “Hey, y’all, what is it this time?”
ASR: What three songs are included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?
CD: “J’ai Passé Devant Ta Porte,” the Cajun song we sang as children. “I Believe,” because I love and resonate with a good hymn. “Beautiful Dreamer,” because I played it on the organ and sang it for my mother and brother when times were hard.
ASR: A fashion accessory you like better than others?
ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?
CD: “ Most people’s lives, what are they but trails of debris—each day more debris, more debris . . . long, long trails of debris, with nothing to clean it all up but death.”—Suddenly Last Summer