Antaeus Diary: Jonathan Lynn mentors HAY FEVER

One of the wonderful ways we were able to utilize The Noel Coward Foundation’s grant in furthering the mission of The Antaeus Academy was by asking Noel Coward experts to act as mentors to the young directors taking on these readings.

Jonathan Lynn mentored Douglas Clayton’s direction of HAY FEVER, one of Coward’s most beloved plays. We asked Jonathan about Coward and his experience with Antaeus.

The Hay Fever Intensive at Antaeus

The Hay Fever Intensive at Antaeus



1. Where is Hay Fever ‘s place in the Coward canon?
Coward was prolific. However, there are four outstanding plays that are continually revived, stand the test of time and somehow seem to capture definitively both their period and what everyone thinks of as the Noel Coward style. They are Hay Fever, Private Lives, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit. Many of the other plays are excellent and well crafted, but these four have been consistently and continuously popular with the public.

2. Why would audiences today be interested in the story of Hay Fever?

It’s about a hilariously dysfunctional theatrical family, and their effect on the ‘civilians’ who come into contact with them. The four members of the Bliss family have no manners at all, and behave as many of us might like to but few of us would dare. Drama allows us to live vicariously, saying and doing what we secretly want to do or say. When we laugh we are, in fact, owning up. It’s a recognition that what we see enacted on the stage is true. That’s why we bark with recognition. Like the dogs do, when we come home.

If we don’t recognize some truth about ourselves, truth even if heightened or exaggerated for comic effect, we don’t find the comedy funny. We say it’s silly or stupid. But if we laugh we’re saying “I’ve said that, I’ve done that. I’ve thought that” or, more likely, “I wish I’d said that or done that”.

Four people from the real world go down to the Bliss’s country cottage for a weekend in the country and have an awful time. It’s not happening to us, so we love it.

Apart from that, all the characters are drawn with wit and insight, and the writing is an object lesson in farcical comedy. The most galling thing about the play is that Coward wrote it in three days at the age of 24. He was, of course, a genius.

3. What would younger audiences find interesting or appealing about Noel Coward and his plays?

I think I’ve answered that. Younger audiences are no so unlike older audiences. They’ll like it because its funny.

4. What kind of training or experience do you think emerging actors need before they step into a Coward piece?

All good comedy, and Coward’s plays are no exception, require precision above all else. Ap[art from that, they require things that can’t be taught – immaculate timing and an eye for the ridiculous.

5. How did you work with the director and actors during the Intensive?

We sat around the table and worked meticulously through the play, stopping to consider what Coward might have intended with every moment and looking to find the comic rather than the dramatic choice.

6. Do you have any advice for the actors in this reading before they embark on their own?

The same advice I have for all actors in a comedy: no characters should ever know they are funny.

Jonathan Lynn

Filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist Jonathan Lynn’s prolific career spans nearly four decades and includes directing, writing, producing and acting in motion pictures, television and theatre as well as authoring best-selling books.

Prior to that, Lynn directed the “screwball noir” movie THE WHOLE NINE YARDS (2000), a critical and audience favorite that featured Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet, and dominated the US box-office for three weeks. Lynn wrote and directed his first feature film CLUE (1985), a comedy/mystery based on the popular board game with an all-star cast. Lynn solved the complex who-done-it with three different endings, all of which were screened at different theaters and are now on the DVD/video. Lynn then directed his own screenplay NUNS ON THE RUN (1990), which starred Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane, and the acerbic comedy MY COUSIN VINNY (1992), which launched Marisa Tomei’s career and earned her an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. Lynn’s THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN, starring Eddie Murphy, was released in 1992. He followed with GREEDY (1994) featuring Michael J. Fox and Kirk Douglas; SGT. BILKO (1996) with Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd; and TRIAL AND ERROR (1997) starring Michael Richards and Charlize Theron.

It was the 1980’s BBC phenomena YES, MINISTER and YES, PRIME MINISTER that initially propelled Lynn to fame in his native Great Britain.

From 1977 to 1981 Lynn served as Artistic Director of The Cambridge Theatre Company, where he produced more than forty plays, twenty of which he directed. The company’s production of Macbeth featuring Brian Cox toured the United Kingdom and India and staged a special performance for then Prime Minister Mrs Ghandi. Lynn went on to direct one of the companies at the National Theatre of Great Britain, which performed his Society of West End Theatres award-winning production of Three Men on a Horse (1987).

Lynn directed numerous plays that appeared throughout London beginning in the mid 1970s. They include: The Glass Menagerie (1977), working with Tennessee Williams; Songbook (1979), which won the Society of West End Theatres Award, the Ivor Novello Award and the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical; Anna Christie (1979-80), at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and London; A Little Hotel on the Side by Georges Feydeau, adapted by John Mortimer at the National Theatre; Pass the Butler (1982), written by Eric Idle and staged at the Globe Theatre; and Joe Orton’s Loot (1984) starring Leonard Rossiter, staged first at the Ambassadors and Lyric Theatres.

Lynn just completed work on his new film WILD TARGET starring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint and Rupert Everett. His screenplay The Prenup, has recently been optioned by producer Dan Keston.

Jonathan Lynn received an MA in Law from Cambridge University, an Honorary MA from the University of Sheffield and an Honorary PhD from the American Behavioral Studies Institute. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

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A Note From Artistic Associate Cindy Marie Jenkins

When we received the grant from the Noel Coward Foundation, completely new opportunities opened up to The Antaeus Academy. Building the playground for learning The Master as well as fostering a love of Coward in younger audiences were two goals we knew would enrich Antaeus’s mission and invigorate us as we leapt into our first full season. The Antaeus Academy studies Coward among the British Classics, but rarely are able to involve its members in such an immersion. When Jeanie Hackett, Artistic Director of both the Company and Academy, hatched the idea to expand the scope of the grant by creating a mentorship for young directors as well, the project took on a new energy. I personally have the privilege of experiencing a mentorship simply by working at Antaeus and assisting the moderators in our Academy classes, but many new directors are left on their own.

In addition, the grant allowed us rare opportunities to experiment with outreach and programming around plays that we knew would reach beyond generations. Each play in The Young Idea hinges on one specific conflict: how can younger people’s ideals evolve & prosper when they are caught in the very world which suffocates their parents? Sorel and Simon Bliss play out their frustration within the very games their parents created; Dora & Stevie Shattock must deceive their parents to save all their lives; and John Whittaker melts into a little boy in full view of his wordly wife after being with his parents for barely a month.

In this time of online, open communication, Noel Coward clearly proves that accepting new ideas and valuing the old is the best road forward. We thank the Noel Coward Foundation for the chance to infuse our contemporary voice into his classical themes and hope you will join us in celebrating The Master, Noel Coward, during the weekend of The Young Idea!

-Cindy Marie Jenkins, Artistic Associate of The Antaeus Company

Abby’s Wilde Idea Part 4: Noel Coward The Playwright

Antaeus Strikes Back

We have to defend ourselves against slander, after all. If YOU have a story to share about Abby Wilde, comment!

Abby’s Wilde Idea Part 3: Noel Coward The Spy

THE YOUNG IDEA: A Noel Coward Weekend Extravaganze – June 26-28, 2009

What a swell weekend we’re planning for those who love Coward — and who doesn’t?!? Please join us for one or more of these special events!

With the generous support of the The Noël Coward Foundation, Antaeus presents a weekend of events celebrating the master writer in all of his manifestations! Drawing on the title of an early Coward play, dozens of young, upcoming professional actors perform staged readings of some of Coward’s most fascinating, lesser-known work; brought to life by young directors, all mentored by noted, seasoned professionals. Plus, we have workshops on the life and style of Coward. See below for a detailed schedule.

$10.00 suggested donation for each event. Audience members between the ages of 16 – 25 are FREE! 40 seats will be held every night for Young Adult Audiences. Space is VERY limited–make your reservations NOW by emailing events@antaeus.org. All events take place at Antaeus at Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601

xoxo US at Antaeus
~~~~~~~

FRIDAY, JUNE 26

6-7pm
“NOEL COWARD: THE MAN” Roundtable
Who was Noel Coward and why are we drawn to him? Moderated by Kathy Williams,
the West Coast Liason to the Noel Coward Society
Where: Antaeus Library

7:30pm
HAY FEVER Reading
**Reading followed by reception
Director: Douglas Clayton
Mentor: Jonathan Lynn
Cast: Christina Pickles, Robert Pine, Brooke Bastinelli, Etta Divine, Gabe Diani, Drew Doyle, Whitney Hudson, Annie Melchor, Adam Meyer & Adeye Sahran

SATURDAY, JUNE 27

11:30am
AH, SAMOLO Reading
An adaptation of Coward’s novel POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Written By K.M. Williams, Directed By Elizabeth Swain
With Rhonda Aldrich, Antonio Anagaran, Ben Chang, Mark Deklin, Whitney Hudson, Antonio Jaramillo, Lynn Milgrim, Maggie Peach, Ned Schmidtke, Janellen Steininger, Joel Swetow, Kitty Swink, Reba Thomas & Laura Wernette.

3:00 – 6:00pm
“ACTING A NOEL COWARD SONG”
An Interactive Workshop for singers and non-singers to learn how to act a Noel Coward song.
Taught by Harry Groener and Nike Doukas
Reservations required – limited spots available!

6:00pm
Exhibit: “NOEL COWARD: THE SPY”
During WWII, London asked much of its countrymen–how much did Coward give?
Location: Antaeus Library

7:30
PEACE IN OUR TIME Reading
**U.S. Premiere!
Complacency or freedom: Which would you choose?
Noël Coward’s one and only anti-war propaganda play
**Reading followed by reception
Director: Jessica Bard
Mentor: Barry Creyton
Cast: Josh Clark, Lily Knight, Melinda Peterson, Phil Proctor, Janellen Steininger, Josh Ansley, Eric Bloom, Kendra Chell, Brett Colbeth, Etta Devine, Danielle Doyen, Drew Doyle, Karianne Flaathen, Jeff Gardner, Alexandra Goodman, Aaron Lyons, Kellie Matteson, Mark Moore & John O’Brien.

SUNDAY, JUNE 28

3:30 – 4:30pm
Roundtable: “NOEL COWARD: THE PLAYWRIGHT”
Antaeus actors come together for a exchange of ideas on Coward’s themes, world-view, and acting style.

5:00pm
EASY VIRTUE Reading
One woman’s fight against the rigid moralities of her time.
**Reading followed by reception

Director: Kari Hayter
Mentor: Art Manke
Cast: Rhonda Aldrich, Ned Schmidtke, Brett Colbeth, Joe Delafield, Wyatt Fenner, Karianne Flaathen, Amy Hendrickson, Raleigh Holmes, Aaron Lyons, John O’Brien, Jason Thomas, Jocelyn Towne, Rebekah Tripp & Nicol Zanzarella –Giacalone.

Abby’s Wilde Idea: Part 2 – The Crooner

Abby’s Wilde Idea: Part 2 – The Crooner

In which Ms. Abby Wilde describes her obsession with Harry Groener and how the Antaeus Company is 3 degrees of Joss Whedon.