Interview with Absolute Theater Producer, Director, Actor Steve Spurgat

By Theresa Hyde

Upon reading this interview, you will realize why Steve Spurgat is considered the hardest working man in Houston Theater. As Producing Director for Absolute Theater, he came back with a successful revival by staging two new plays Any Old Passion and All Wrapped Up written by local playwright, Douglas Mitchell. This interview was conducted at the time both plays were running in June 1997.

TheresaH: How long has Absolute Theater been in existence?
SteveS: Our first play opened last February of 1996. There were 2 one-acts written by 2 local playwrights, A Little Light Larceny by Diana Weeks, and The Facts of Thunder by Liz Gilbert.

Then, we did some published plays, entitled An Evening of Beckett and Pinter. They were short pieces written by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Samuel Beckett's an Irish playwright, and Harold Pinter's a British playwright, and that got to be one of the top ten shows of the year in 1996 by Public News.

TheresaH: You did five plays from February thru September?

SteveS: Yes. The plays after that, were actually 2 more plays, by Diana Weeks, Liz Gilbert and then another playwright, Holly Hildebrandt. Those are all 3 local playwrights. Liz Gilbert's play, at that time was called The Transmigratory Nature of Existence, and has been done a couple of times since then, including New York. Diana Weeks' play for that round was called A Little Light Larceny Part II, in addition to the first play that she did. Holly Hildebrandt's piece was called Casket Letters.

Jennifer Black, who's in one of the shows we're doing now was in that piece. Jennifer Black was also in the play we did after that, which was two more one acts, one was a New York playwright Sam Hill, his piece was Little Girl Lost, and the one that Jennifer was in was Trois, by Barry Hall, who is also now a New York playwright.

TheresaH: Who owns Absolute Theater? Please tell us more about the individuals behind this theater.

SteveS: I am the founder. It's a non-profit organization.

TheresaH: How do you do it? It is so hard!!! (Laughs)

SteveS: (Laughing) Knowing how to delegate things to people that will do work for free. And having the stamina to do what people won't do for free.

TheresaH: And if you can't find an actor for a certain part, do you just do it yourself?

SteveS: Well, actors are easy to find, because actors are willing to work for free. The difficult thing is finding people to do the technical work, to do the publicity type work to do design work. Because people who do that in town, they all do that either for their living, or they do it because they're studying, and they don't have the time to do it outside of what they're studying.

TheresaH: The Backstage people are the ones that are hard to find?

SteveS: Right.

TheresaH: Because they're not doing this for recognition?

SteveS: Or the Experience. Actors do it for the experience. And for their resume. To put in their resume.

TheresaH: What are your comments about the plays you're doing now?

SteveS: The plays I'm doing now are written by Douglas Mitchell, who's a Rice University Professor and also a playwright. The play, All Wrapped Up, I have seen 3 years ago. They were done for the Edward Albee Workshop.

Edward Albee is a three-time Pulitzer Prize Winning playwright who teaches at the University, who I work for half of the year when he's in town, producing his works. And Douglas' play All Wrapped Up was one of the plays that was chosen, and I wanted to do some more plays while I was here in town, and so I approached him to do All Wrapped Up. He handed me Any Old Passion, which is the other play that we're doing, and he said, "I like this play as well", and that's why we're doing them both.

TheresaH: Douglas Mitchell said this?

SteveS: Yes, he said, "Here's a new play that I wrote. Read this one also, because it hasn't been produced yet." Well, it has been produced, although it was in a workshop. And so, I decided to just go ahead and do them both.

TheresaH: What about the content of the play, Any Old Passion. What do you think of Open Marriages? Have you been married before?

SteveS: No, I haven't. The interesting thing about this play, is that it doesn't glorify open marriages. I mean, in the end, there is a lesson learned. Personally, I have no problem with open marriages. If I am ever married, it might be desirable to me, I don't know. (Laughs).

TheresaH: After the plays have made its full run, what happens next? Does Absolute Theater plan to continue running the play?

SteveS: It plays to continue and on a much higher level. And we're looking for new spaces, we're getting some backing that we haven't had before. We have potential backers and we plan on getting funding, and getting a new, bigger, brighter, better space.

TheresaH: What do you want the audience to gain from watching this play?

SteveS: I want the audience to leave the theater, and not be able to find their car. (Laughs) Because of the effect these plays have had on them. That is my goal in producing good theater.

That is why I produce new works, when you produce published works, most of your audience go to see the work because it's something that they already know. When they do a Tennessee Williams, or they do a Eugene O'Neil, or they do any well-known playwright, people are going because it's something that they're familiar with. The new works that I do, it's more modern, it's something that others are not familiar with. And many of the playwrights that we produce, the content, the style is very different.

We did Trois last year, it was three actors who sat on stools and didn't leave the stools, and did broken up scenes. I mean, sometimes, they would just spew dialogue, so it was stuff that people are not used to seeing onstage.

TheresaH: Does Absolute Theater have a Board of Directors?

SteveS: This is actually an Advisory Board, not a Board of Directors. On our Advisory Board so far is, two people, Edward Albee and Dr. Sidney Berger. Edward Albee finally agreed to be on the board. It took me awhile to get him to do it.

I don't have a Board of Directors yet, but an Advisory Board is people who give advice on possible works and direction, and such. Edward came to the theater in its early stages, and helped me with the aesthetics on what to put on stage. And of course, they gave me advice on what types of plays to produce because he's very astute, as to what audiences like and need to see.

TheresaH: How has Edward Albee influenced you personally, and professionally?

SteveS: As a producer, I produce his workshops that are done at Stages every year. What he has taught me is that in producing new works, what I do is to serve the playwright. Because he is a playwright, his focus, his workshops, is that the workshops are for the playwright and for strengthening the piece. It's about the playwright, not about so much as the actors, the directors, it's about the piece.

My theater, focuses more on the play, as well. We do workshop the plays as much as we can, if the playwright wants us to. Some playwrights don't want their pieces to be workshopped at all, they like them to be done the way they were first written.

TheresaH: If you ever get the most fortunate opportunity to meet and know Steve Spurgat, you will realize that he is an absolute work of Art. It's hard to believe that this twenty-something has done so much. His ambition and hard work reflect his amazing accomplishments, and will absolutely carry him toward the brightest future.