I first became aware of Austin Pendleton, if memory serves, by listening to the original cast album of Fiddler on the Roof (he played Motel the Tailor in Jerome Robbins’ record-setting Broadway production of Harnick and Bock’s masterpiece). I’d certainly seen him on screen–his IMDB page lists 136 acting credits since 1968–but for years I thought of him mostly as the mousy son-in-law of Tevye the Dairyman.
In recent years, although Pendleton has remained a busy actor (and has become a playwright), I’ve thought of him mostly as a director, as well as the last artistic director of the acclaimed Off Broadway Circle Repertory Company. He has directed five Broadway shows, according to the Internet Broadway Database, with casts including stars as bright as Elizabeth Taylor, and many more productions Off Broadway, in regional theatre, and at London’s Royal National Theatre. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that he directed.
In 2009 and 2011 he directed a pair of Anton Chekhov plays for New York’s Classic Stage Company (CSC). During the run of the latter production, of Three Sisters (for which Pendleton later won an Obie Award), he appeared on CUNY-TV’s interview program Theater Talk with the show’s producer, Susan Haskins, and New York-based theatre reporter Michael Riedel. The resulting interview forms an unusually incisive 20-minute masterclass on directing. The clip is from YouTube.
“These people [directors such as Jerome Robbins and Mike Nichols, who directed Pendleton early in his acting career], I mean they’re brilliant, but they’re into telling the story.” – Austin Pendleton
The second edition of the textbook The Director’s Vision is dedicated “To my teachers.” They emphatically include that sensitive director of well-crafted and exquisitely detailed productions, Tom Whitaker, who made me aware of this interview. Thanks, Tom.