Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Malkovich Speaks to World Theatre Day Tomorrow in Paris

Did you know World Theatre Day is next week on March 27th? I didn't, but the good folks at Theatre Communications Group, who publish American Theatre Magazine and do lots of other cool things, let me in on the news.

This year, a message from ISU alum* John Malkovich will offer an international message to mark World Theatre Day. He's giving that address tomorrow, so I thought I would give you the heads up today. Malkovich has been asked to give this international message as the newest in a series of "renowned theatre artists" invited by ITI Worldwide to mark World Theatre Day. Malkovich's message will be translated into more than 20 languages, and made available through TCG/ITI-US so that theatres, individual artists, institutions and audiences can share his remarks and widen awareness of World Theatre Day. (At the moment, the link that TCG offers for sharing purposes isn't working, so let's hope they get that straightened out before the speech in Paris. It's about halfway down this page.)

John Malkovich
TCG offers this quote as a teaser before the big day: "And may the best of you – for it will only be the best of you, and even then only in the rarest and briefest moments – succeed in framing that most basic of questions, 'how do we live?'"

Malkovich will address his remarks to UNESCO in Paris on March 22 (tomorrow) at a gala event that is scheduled to include brief readings from plays performed by Malkovich and other theater artists.

A longer introduction to the speech is available here.

This is the 50th annual World Theatre Day, and to celebrate the international aspect of that anniversary, TCG asked theater artists to ponder the question of whether the next generation will be a Generation Without Borders. The deadline for those essays was March 9, so it's too late to send anything in for this one, but if you're like me, you're still interested in the responses. And, of course, in hearing what John Malkovich has to say about World Theatre Day!

*John Malkovich left ISU before graduating in the 70s, but the story I've heard is that he has since been awarded an honorary degree so ISU can legitimately claim his as an alum. Otherwise, I would have to call him former ISU student, which sounds odd, so I'm sticking with alum.


  1. You find the most fascinating and worthwhile news to share; thank you yet again.

    Having lived in Chicago 1980-82, when Steppenwolf was really blossoming, I learned to admire John Malkovich enormously. I have two questions about him (addressed to the universe, not to anybody present):

    1. He's a marvelous stage director; why hasn't he done it more? HIs production of "Arms and the Man" on Broadway (starring Kevin Kline, Raul Julia, and his then wife Glenne Headly) was excellent, and his "Balm in Gilead" at Steppenwolf (with many of their later-famous ensemble members, most especially Gary Sinise and the unforgettable Laurie Metcalf) was quite simply one of the indelible theatrical experiences of my life.

    2. Why isn't "The Glass Menagerie" available on DVD in the US? Paul Newman directed it beautifully, but most especially it's the best evidence on film of what a great actor Malkovich is.

  2. I've wondered about that Glass Menagerie, as well. It seems like a natural for a DVD. Karen Allen is Laura, right? I'd love to see it.

    I'm not sure what movie people are likely to think of for evidence of his acting prowess. Maybe Being John Malkovich because it has his name in the title? Of Mice and Men? Dangerous Liaisons?

    I'm not sure I knew that he'd directed "Balm in Gilead." Wow. That comes up so often on people's lists of "transcendent experiences in the theater," but mostly they mention Laurie Metcalf and her monologue. I suspect if he didn't live in France, he would come back to Steppenwolf to direct. Or maybe I'm just crazy.

  3. I had to look some dates etc. on Malkovich in wikipedia, and discovered that he has lived in Massachusetts since 2003. Hm, never heard that.

    Obviously it's always a matter of taste and opinion, but I have sometimes found his film work to suffer from that stage-actor syndrome of trying to control and edit every moment as it happens, rather than just seeming to "be" (great oversimplification and impressionism in that statement of course). But his Tom in TGM just feels real and truthful and heartbreaking. I saw it on VHS, and there's a Region 2 DVD, but it really ought to be available. (Yes, Karen Allen is in it; plus Joanne Woodward and James Naughton.)

    There's an interesting book ("No Tricks in My Pockets") about the making of the film, the author being a longtime friend of Paul Newman who was able to talk to him and watch the process. One amusing passage has to do with Newman's different ways of communicating with each of the four actors. He and Woodward had their own terse shorthand, of course; and he knew that he had to let Malkovich try each crazy idea that came to him during rehearsal ("What if Tom were bald?"), so he could eventually discard them all and commit himself to the simple and right portrayal he ended up with. But the dilemma was Naughton, and for an unusual reason: he was instinctively doing everything right as the Gentleman Caller, and yet they had a whole rehearsal and shooting schedule to get through. Newman couldn't just ignore him and say nothing, or the actor would feel neglected and insecure; yet telling him he was doing everything right ran the risk that he would become too self-aware and start "imitating" his own performance.

    As to your final point: Looking through the Steppenwolf website, I see that Malkovich has returned to direct (also to act) on occasion, most recently in 1999. Still, he ought to be in big demand in that capacity, everywhere. "Balm in Gilead" is kind of a shapeless sprawling script, and he gave it style and focus while keeping it full of teeming life. Really exceptional work.