Interview with Rob Bundy
Artistic Director of Stages
January 29, 1998
by Theresa Hyde
QUILLS. It was a small drop in the artistic cesspool that is known as HoustonTheatre. But the rippling effects of this grand creative effort reverberated through out this small town community. Personally, it transported me, physically, emotionally back to the 1800's in an Insane Asylum, somewhere in Europe.
I shuddered. My hair began to stand on end. I felt feelings I have never felt before, emotions I never knew I had. I was in an asylum.....in the dark.....with whispering voices.....and haunting moans......of the incurably insane. I escaped into a world I wasn't sure existed. I was among the lunatics in 19th century France. Was it real? Was it a fabrication, a figment of the writer's wild imagination? It must have truly happened because for that very moment, as I am sitting there in the audience, I LIVED IT. It has to have happened, because I WAS THERE! And so was the Artistic Director for The Actors Theatre of Houston, Brandon Smith, his wife and Actress Kate Smith; Absolute Theatre Producing Director Steve Spurgat; Director Mike Wonio and his mother were sitting right next to me.
This must be the mark of a True Great Director. The style is very New York, Broadway-flavored, Grand Guignol-esque. Inordinate. Quills was Over-The-Top. Something quite unique especially if you're tired of the Barbeque-flavored, Texas-Rodeo hype. I must say I am a big fan.
Rob Bundy is in his second season as Stages' Artistic Director. Prior to coming to Stages, Mr. Bundy was based in New York with credits including Life is a Dream at the Pearl, The Miser, L'Histoire du Solat at Lincoln Center Institute, A Betrothal, and Gray's Anatomy at Circle Repertory Lab. Mr Bundy was the Associate Artistic Director at the Hartford Stage Company from 1992 - 1994. In 1991, he was invited to the People's Republic of China where he directed Beijing's only independent theatre troupe.
And he is all over the place. I saved a full page article in Zest Magazine from May, 1997. I scoured the Net for articles on Theatre and found his picture plastered on that sidewalk website describing him as one who "walks with a bounce in his step and directs with a wellspring of energy." Interviews with other directors such as Ron Jones of New Heights Theatre, Phillip Duggins and Chris Jimmerson of Masquerade Theatre reveal the inevitable. Who is your most favorite director? Rob Bundy.
I met and interviewed him during the running of the play he directed, Ascendancy. The subject of Quills would keep coming up as we felt the ripple surround us. Overrated? Perhaps. But in a Cindy Crawford-kind of way. He deserves every bit of it, and we never get tired of him. Listen as he tries to explain his over-exposure......
RBUNDY: One of the reasons why we're sort of all over the place is because we work really hard to do that. Because for so many years, Stages was the theatre that everybody heard about, but never went to. In my first year here, the whole first year I was here everyone said, "Oh Yes, Stages!.....Where is it?" So, it's just been part of a very concerted effort.
THYDE: Yeah, I've heard a lot about you. Ron Jones named you as his most favorite director. I've always imagined you to be taller.......with glasses.......(laughs)
RBUNDY: Better-looking, younger......
THYDE: (still laughing) So, you're not originally from Houston.....
THYDE: How did you become a part of the HoustonTheatre scene?
RBUNDY: I lived in New York. I heard through the Theatre community that they were looking for an Artistic Director here. I was offered the job, and so I moved here.
THYDE: What is the difference between New York and Houston?
RBUNDY: Night and Day. Actually that's does not necesarilly mean that New York is where it's at, or the good part of night and day. I think that the theatre community in New York, the theatre-going audience is very jaded and very tired. Therefore really up for big splashy thrills instead of Honest Art.
I find that this is a much better place to premiere new work and give it a chance to grow. Because New York loves to imagine that playwrights and actors and directors have sprung full grown out of the head of Zeus. And ready to take over the world, and that just ain't so. I mean, all artists grow and develop. And this is a great place to develop.
THYDE: How do you like Houston?
RBUNDY: Hate It!
THYDE: No, you don't! (Laughs)
RBUNDY: No, of course not. Actually, I gotta tellya, I really really like it.
THYDE: How long have you lived here? (laughing)
RBUNDY: Ummm, 18 months. I actually like Houston a lot. I'll give you a great example.
I went back to New York right around the Holidays to see a bunch of plays, and to spend time there. I went to a movie theatre. This is a typical New York scenario. You take the subway from your apartment, you got an hour or so before the movie begins, so you go to Bloomingdale's and you go shopping. Suddenly, there you are in your great big winter coat, and two bags of Xmas gifts. That you don't have time now, to get back on the subway and go back home with. So you have to take all your gifts with you in the theatre. Alright? So, it's a big fight. Who's gonna be able to maintain a chair for the gifts as well as themselves? And usually what happens is that you got a bunch of angry, resentful New Yorkers with the gifts piled up like this, watching a movie.
In Houston, what do you get to do? You get to leave the stuff in your car. And you get to stroll to the theatre with underground parking like the Greenway Plaza. In other words, it's civilized living here. Now, I have to admit, I like the excitement and nervous pace of an urban center like New York that Houston doesn't have. So I feel that lacking. However, the trade off? I'm here, I'm happy to be here.
THYDE: Tell us about your background......
RBUNDY: My most important mentor was Alan Schneider. He's the man who brought Samuel Beckett to this country, and first did Edward Albee on Broadway. A great, original director. He was a directing teacher, who I studied with at the University of California in San Diego. Yes, I worked in paradise for three years working with the best Theatre artists in the country. I worked all over the place, 'cause I was a freelance director
THYDE: Tell us about this play, ASCENDANCY.......
RBUNDY: It's the next wave in the category of AIDS plays. This is the wave filled with hope and spiritual identity. I just think that it is one of the most spiritual plays ever written.
THYDE: Why did you choose to present this play?
RBUNDY: We did a workshop of it last year with all of the same actors that are in the cast, just to see how it worked. We did a public reading of it, and the response was so wonderful. I thought, I just gotta do this. I feel an obligation to do this because of what it says, I think we all feel hungry for it.
And the reason we feel hungry for it is very important, this has been a war. AIDS is a war. There are a lot of us out there who are exhausted veterans. To have a play that says, what we're doing is right, to continue the struggle, and here's a little bit of hope that there might be a cure along way down the line. I think this is a very important message.
THYDE: Gary Bonasorte, who wrote the play is also, a co-founder of (CRIA) an AIDS research clinic in New York City.
RBUNDY: I've known Gary for about ten years now. We've been very good friends in New York, as a director, writer.
THYDE: Who are your most favorite directors?
RBUNDY: Of course, Ron Jones (smiles). I tellya......Giorgio Strahler, I like a lot of the European directors. Jerry Gutierrez, here in the U.S., I think is a very fine director. Robert Wilson, I'm a very big fan of. Also, Jose Quintero. I prefer theatre directors who really celebrate life, as opposed to theatre that can be translated into another medium, like television.
THYDE: Have you directed films?
RBUNDY: No. No, it's nothing that really appeals to me. Other than the money, and the pseudo-glamour, or the house in Malibu.....(laughs). I love the theatre because it's like a Spark. Theatre's an Art form that only really happens when there's an audience. And when the audience leaves at the end of the evening, the Art's gone. It's not a painting that you hang on the wall, actually. It's just that moment. I like the ephemeral quality of that.
THYDE: What qualities do you look for in a director?
RBUNDY: Imagination. Humor. Compassion. And the ability to work with people.
THYDE: You directed Ascendancy.......
RBUNDY: I did. So, I have all of those qualities. (laughs)
THYDE: And Quills (ripple). In fact, I was carrying around this article about you when I saw the play, hoping I would get to meet you. It was Amazing.
RBUNDY: I'm glad you liked it. I really liked working on this play. I'm really proud of that play. I'll tell you one thing that is important to talk about and that is the Houston audience is a very sophisticated audience. Really willing to go to the places where I want to take them, here at Stages. So, I feel like I'm in very fertile territory.
THYDE: What are you looking forward to in the future.....do you already have your new season lined up?
RBUNDY: No....I just have a wish list of 15 that I have to narrow down to....6. See, that's the exciting thing about being a director. I first started as an actor, and I thought, you know, this is fun, expressing myself through one character, but gosh, if I can express myself through a whole play. And of course, Megalomania is taking over, and I want to express myself through a whole season.....(laughs)
THYDE: Just to get an idea of what kind of plays that you're after. As an actor, what were your most favorite roles?
RBUNDY: A lot of Beckett. And Joe Orton. I like the comedy of Joe Orton. Yeah, they're just sort of quirky, off the wall, very theatrical.