As Broadway begins to reopen its theatres, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with Jay O. Sanders, who will co-star in the 12th and final work of Richard Nelson’s Rhinebeck Panorama cycle of plays, What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad, August 28–October 8 at Hunter College’s Frederick Loewe Theater in New York City. The three-time Drama Desk Award winner (for Uncle Vanya, Sweet and Sad, and Stuff Happens) will also return to Broadway October 13 when Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country resumes performances at the Belasco Theatre. Sanders’ Broadway credits also include Pygmalion, Saint Joan, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, and Loose Ends, and he has been seen on screen in The Day After Tomorrow, JFK, Revolutionary Road, Angels in the Outfield, Manhunt: Deadly Games, Sneaky Pete, and The Sinner. A regular presence Off-Broadway and at The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park Festival, Sanders’ play Unexplored Interior explores the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and his book, A World in Common: an actor’s diaries, traces the world tour of The Gabriels.
What is your typical day like now?
Not sure there is a typical day now that we’re vaccinated. For most of a year, there was a pattern of shifting to different spaces in the apartment throughout the day for reading, eating, talking, dreaming, screen time, etc. Then, my wife and I would take long, masked walks through the desolate landscape of New York—the Highline, the Hudson RiverWalk, or empty stretches like, say, Sixth Avenue just to keep our bodies active and alive. Recently, film and TV work has started to come back—I’ve done a few films since January—and now, finally, live theatre is feeling its way forward.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
So much out there. I loved Shtisel, The Killing, Watchmen, Call My Agent, My Brilliant Friend, Andrew Scott’s Hamlet, Don’t Forget The Driver, on and on; some profound, some entertaining, all human. While I was filming in Albuquerque a few months ago, I binge-watched all of Breaking Bad, El Camino, and Better Call Saul—very Carlos Castañeda. I’ve read, watched, and listened to a sea of sources exploring our present political divide, race-related questions, and the science around COVID and climate change, trying to improve my perspective and think for myself beyond all the voices out there constantly working to wind us up.
How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
This week, I’m finally back to in-person rehearsals with my wife, Maryann Plunkett, on the 12th and final play (over 11 years) of our good friend Richard Nelson’s Rhinebeck Panorama. This last one—What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad—will be independently produced up at Hunter Theater Project, where Richard and I had done Uncle Vanya together in 2019. Maryann and I did three new Apple Family plays with Richard from our apartment on Zoom—a groundbreaking use of that platform as theatre—which were seen all across the world (written up in Hong Kong, London, and Mumbai). We’ve also managed to do various other new play workshops and performances, also on Zoom, so life has continued.
For the first two months of the pandemic, I kept running my lines from Girl From The North Country, which was the last show to open on Broadway, just a week before everything shut down. Very excited that we’re finally coming back on October 13th. Our son, Jamie, opened the night after I did, playing Christopher in Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at Portland Center Stage in Oregon, and he’s headed back to resume his run in November.
How do you feel about returning to live performance?
Hopeful, but alert. I am ready to get back up in front of people, as well as be an audience, but always doing my best to follow the science that’s available to do it wisely.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
I understand your reticence. We need to gather, but we also need stay safe.