Clifton Guterman Tells All About Threshold

Posted on November 11, 2015

Clifton, you are the National New Play Network Producer in Residence. What exactly does that mean?
NNPN is a truly incredible group of not-for-profit theatre companies that champion the development, production and ongoing life of new plays. Each year NNPN offers grants which pair individual artists and administrators - producers, playwrights, etc. - with member theatres. Actor's Express and I diligently applied for me to be part-time Producer in Residence because of my long-time connection to the theatre and my career aspirations (leadership), and boom! Success. It's a thrilling honor. (I've also been in a couple of NNPN rolling world premieres as an actor, too, and it's a wonderful model.)

What sort of things have you been doing around AE this year?
As pitched in our grant application, I have several specific tasks and objectives. For one, I'm managing our Casting department because I do so across town at Theatrical Outfit and bring that experience to the table and because Express is transitioning into an Actors' Equity Association house - woo hoo! I have experience casting under those parameters and am an AEA actor myself. I'm also helping administrate all of our actor and designer contracts this season. I'll serve as Assistant Director on two shows, Sweeney Todd and Serial Black Face, under Artistic Director Freddie Ashley. I'm teaching two courses for our class series. And, I'm very excitedly producing our inaugural Threshold New Play Festival - budgeting it, connecting our playwrights with directors, managing casting, contracting folks, producing the event, staffing ... and, um, acting in one of the pieces too!

The Threshold festival is coming up. Tell us a little bit about it. How did you design the festival? What are you hoping people walk away with from this weekend of brand new theater?
Threshold Festival is our exciting new yearly play reading series, happening Dec. 5 and 6. This year, the focus is on local writers, though that's not necessarily the mold moving forward. Plays are rehearsed and read aloud in public with professional actors guided by professional directors. Freddie Ashley conceived Threshold and chose this year's scripts before I joined the staff. I've been tasked with producing it this season, and I'm loving the process. I hope patrons will attend all three readings and join us for our Playwrights Panel Discussion. My hope is that they leave the experience with a new, or renewed, pride in the immensely talented authors who call Atlanta home and gem theatres like The Express that offer the city brand new work brought to life by truly gifted local artists.

These are three very different plays with three very different playwrights. Tell us a little about them and the process of choosing these shows.
Indeed! As mentioned, Freddie chose the playwrights and these particular pieces, but the writers are fascinatingly diverse in personality and writing style, and the shows are vastly different in tone and execution, though all are contemporary. S.M. Shepard-Massat's Trick Church, set in the mid-1970s - takes place one fateful Christmas when the inhabitants of the Tee Tee Room Lounge and the Kimono My Place Bowling and Bar converge and divulge secrets. Johnny Drago's pair of one acts that comprise I Love My Brother examines the way LGBTQ individuals relate - or not - to their straight siblings. Johnny wrote one of the roles with Scott Turner Schofield, who in 2015 became the first openly transgender actor to play a major role on daytime TV as "Nick" in "The Bold and the Beautiful," in mind, and we're bringing Scott in from LA to star in the reading! (Yay!) Lastly, Lee Nowell's thriller, Obsession, peeks into the backstage world of a play rehearsal as a popular director becomes dangerously infatuated with his new-to-town leading lady. Audience's loved Lee's Albatross in 2010, and I can't wait to see how folks respond to her newest play.

Before I let you go, (even though this is over email so you're not going anywhere) I know you've lived in some of our nations biggest theatre towns. What is it about Atlanta that brings you back? What's so special about this city?
I've kind of been all over, yeah. Atlanta, the Bay Area, New York, Chicago and many stops in between when I was doing a lot of regional theatre based out of NYC for several years. Atlanta is where my theatrical career started - onstage at AE in my professional acting debut in 2002 in Beautiful Thing and as a staff member in the Alliance's artistic department for four seasons. So, it makes incredible sense and feels right to be back where I've always felt most loved and supported and able to thrive, branch out, earn respect and be given wonderful opportunities. Here, I have a voice. But, I'm so glad I tried some of the bigger markets. I'm a big fan of the philosophy that quantity (NYC and Chicago) doesn't always necessarily equal quality. There is good and bad theatre everywhere. There are brilliant artists in every corner of the globe. To quote a song in a current show at my other theatre, I've always tried to "let my heart be my compass." Atlanta is where I can breathe, where I can feel like a working artist (on stage, off stage, on camera), where I can have a yard for my dogs, where my wonderful husband and I can be a family and have a lifestyle that feels adult. Also, Atlanta artists support each other and seem to do it genuinely. We want to see each other succeed. In other places, I felt a little like I had a target on my back - survival of the fittest sort of thing. Here, I don't feel the need to excel at the expense of others or because someone else loses out. Atlanta's charm and my professional peers are what is going to keep me here for the long haul this go 'round.

Now, the question that Atlanta has been dying to ask you. What is your favorite food?
Butter pecan ice cream. By the bucketful.