Shapiro, Mel 1937-
SHAPIRO, Mel 1937-
PERSONAL: Born December 16, 1937, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Benjamin and Lillian Shapiro; married Jeanne Paynter (in advertising), January 26, 1963; children: Joshua, Benjamin. Education: Carnegie Institute of Technology, B.F.A., 1961, M.F.A., 1961.
CAREER: Writer and director of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, plays, films, and television shows. School of Theatre, New York University, New York, NY, cofounder; Carnegie-Mellon University (formerly Carnegie Institute of Technology), Pittsburgh, PA, head of drama department, 1980; University of California at Los Angeles, head of directing program, 1992—. Director of films and plays including Heart Break House, produced 1965 at Arena Stage, Washington, DC; Long Day's Journey into Night, 1965, Merton of the Movies, 1968, Serjeant Musgrave's Dance, 1968, and Mourning Becomes Electra, 1969, all at Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, MN; The House of Blue Leaves, 1971, Truck and Warehouse Theatre, New York, NY; Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1971, St. James Theatre, Broadway, New York, NY; The Karl Marx Play, 1973, American Place Theatre, New York, NY; The Gin Game, 1977, Stratford Theatre, Ontario, Canada; Stop the World—I Want to Get Off, 1978, New York State Theater, Broadway; Bosoms and Neglect, 1979, Longacre Theatre, Broadway; Road Show, 1987, Circle Repertory Theatre, New York, NY; Marco Polo Sings a Solo, 1998, Signature Theater Company, New York, NY; Ellenor, 1990, and Speed the Plow, 1991, both at Hazlett Jr. Theatre, Pittsburgh; Taming of the Shrew, 1999, Shakespeare in the Park, Public Theatre, Delacorte Theater, New York, NY; Big Love, 2002, Pacific Resident Theatre, Los Angeles, CA. Director of plays for New York Shakespeare Festival, including Richard III, Rich and Famous, and Older People; director of films, including Sammy Stops the World, based on Broadway play, Stop the World—I Want to Get Off, 1978; director of television shows, including Phyllis, 1977, Doc, 1977, and On Our Own, 1978. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-57; served as Korean interpreter.
MEMBER: Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (member of executive board).
AWARDS, HONORS: New York Drama Critics Circle Award, 1971, for House of Blue Leaves, and 1972, for Two Gentlemen of Verona; Antoinette Perry Award (Tony), 1972, for Two Gentlemen of Verona; Obie Award from Village Voice, 1972, for direction of Two Gentlemen of Verona; Drama Desk Award, 1972, for direction of Older People and Two Gentlemen of Verona.
(With John Guare; also director) Two Gentlemen of Verona (musical libretto; adaptation of the play by Shakespeare; first produced in New York City at Delacorte Theatre, August, 1971; produced on Broadway at St. James Theatre, December 1, 1971), Holt (New York, NY), 1972.
An Actor Performs, Harcourt Brace (Fort Worth, TX), 1997.
The Lay of the Land (screenplay), produced by Northern Arts Entertainment, 1997.
The Director's Companion, Harcourt Brace (Fort Worth, TX), 1998.
Founder of Journal of Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, 1979.
SIDELIGHTS: With two books and close to forty theatrical productions to his credit, Mel Shapiro is an accomplished author, playwright, educator, and director. In a panel discussion moderated by Michael Bloom and published in American Theatre, Shapiro credits his success to the training he received at Carnegie Mellon and the invaluable help of his mentor, Ted Hoffman. "He got me my first job at Arena [Stage in Washington, DC], and when I was fired from Arena, he got me into the Guthrie [Theatre in Minneapolis]. It was an extraordinary blessing to have someone like that, so when I started teaching, I tried to repay that by helping students whom I thought were talented," explained Shapiro. His work in the theatre has earned him a Tony, an Obie, and two New York Drama Club Awards. In 1992, after a long career of directing and writing, Shapiro joined the staff of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). A reviewer in LA Weekly said Shapiro's "professional achievements have been matched by his dedication to teaching the craft of acting."
Shapiro once told CA: "I began directing plays while in service in Japan. I was a Korean interpreter and my friend across the hall was a Chinese linguist. He was directing an English language production of Blithe Spirit and needed an assistant. His lead got sick and he had to play the part, so I ended up as director. This was in 1955. The bug bit. I went to Carnegie after the army and then on to the regional theatre: Arena Stage, Tyrone Guthrie, Center Theatre Group, Eugene O'Neill. I am now very interested in the training and development of new American writing for the theatre and hope Carnegie will be a good place for that to happen."
After a succession of small productions, Shapiro's first major success as both director and playwright was with a radical adaptation from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona. First produced by Joseph Papp at the Delacorte Theatre for the free New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park, this version of Shakespeare's first comedy mixes music, humor, and a multinational cast to produce "a wacky and wonderfully funny pastiche," remarked Cue's Marilyn Stasio. The critic also noted that Shapiro and Guare said they aimed for "a true Americanization of Shakespearean comedy by combining our various musical traditions with their motley comic heritage and bouncing it all off the richness of our ethnic pattern." Two Gentlemen of Verona was so successful that it was produced on Broadway in the same year, receiving equally enthusiastic reviews. A Newsweek critic praised that rarely has Broadway "breathed such an air of joyous skylarking as this show whooshes in." The same critic theorized that Guare and Shapiro's adaptation reintroduced New York City "to its own piebald, polyglot dramatis personae."
Following its eighteen-month run on Broadway in the early 1970s, the play has not seen widespread performance. "No major revivals, no movie, no CD soundtrack: Even the cockiest of musical theatre buffs have trouble remembering Two Gentlemen of Verona," observed Charles McNulty in a review for American Theatre of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival (NJSF)'s remake of this production. "The recent NJSF production, a triumph of hot pinks, minis, and soulful go-go, proved there is nothing anachronistic about the show's energy," McNulty concluded. Shapiro and Guare's adaptation of Shakespeare's work continues to be performed, albeit sparsely, and enjoyed by audiences and critics alike.
In Shapiro's first book, An Actor Performs, he recounts his vast experience in the theater for readers. In the book, Shapiro cites techniques he has used to improve his own performance and the performances of actors he has directed. The Director's Companion, Shapiro's second book, has been well received among critics and readers. A number of educational programs that teach directing, including those at San Jose State University, George Mason University, and Monash University, have adopted the book as part of their curriculum. "I wanted the book to cover the material technically," Shapiro explained in an interview published on the University of California, Los Angeles Web site, "but I wanted it to be casual, the way I talk in class and the way I feel students today like to listen." In Director's Companion, Shapiro echoes his classroom experience, presenting problems to the reader that are commonly faced by his students. He talks his reader through the problem and identifies solutions.
On the University of California, Los Angeles Web site, Shapiro gave students what he considers to be his best advice: "Follow your instincts. It's so intuitive, this business of directing; you really have to use your instincts and your life, your experiences, what you know, to dip into the work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, September, 1996, Charles McNulty, "Just Diversions," p. 11; January, 2002, Michael Bloom, "So You Want to Be a Director: Approaches to Theatre Training," (panel discussion), p. 27.
Back Stage, July 16, 1999, David Sheward, theatre review of The Taming of the Shrew, p. 29.
Cue, August 7, 1971.
Entertainment Weekly, July 9, 1999, Lisa Schwarzbaum and others, "Now Playing," theatre review of The Taming of the Shew, p. 64.
Maclean's, June 30, 1980, Mark Czarnecki, theatre review of The Gin Game, p. 55; August 4, 1980, Mark Czarnecki, theatre review of Bosoms and Neglect, p. 46.
Nation, June 20, 1987, Thomas M. Disch, theatre review of Road Show, p. 860.
Newsweek, December 13, 1971.
New Yorker, June 1, 1987, Edith Oliver, theatre review of Road Show, p. 94; October 12, 1998, John Lahr, theatre review of Marco Polo Sings a Solo, p. 97.
New York Times, December 2, 1971, Clive Barnes, "Two Gentlemen of Verona: Musical Is Adaptation by Guare and Shapiro;" August 8, 1971, Peter Schjeldahl, "An Up-to-Date and Sexy Verona"; May 8, 1980, Judith Cummings and Albin Krebs, "Still Close to Broadway," (interview) p. A28; May 22, 1987, Mel Gussow, theatre review of Road Show, p. C3; September 26, 1987, Lawrence Ven Gelder, movie review of The Lay of the Land, p. B18.
Variety, December 8, 1971; May 27, 1987, theatre review of Road Show, p. 110; June 13, 1990, theatre review of Eleanor, p. 82; September 27, 1997, Howard Feinstein, movie review of The Lay of the Land, p. 67; October 5, 1998, Charles Isherwood, theatre review of Marco Polo Sings a Solo, p. 80; July 12, 1999, Charles Isherwood, theatre review of The Taming of the Shrew, p. 46.
iclassics.com,http://www.iclassics.com/ (November 19, 2003), Ron Spivak, "Two Gentlemen of Verona: Excerpts from the Liner Notes."
Playbill Online,http://www.playbill.com/ (June 2, 2002), Steven Suskin, "On the Record: Two Gents, of Verona and Dogpatch."
University of California, Los Angeles Web site,http://www.ucla.edu/ (February 26, 2004), interview with Shapiro.*