Examining Mark Blanchard On Balancing His Zen With Directing

Gil Kaan

Writer, Registered Critic

Samadahi Entertainment and The Lounge Theatre will be presenting John Patrick Shanley’s THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW beginning August 25 at The Lounge theatre. We took the opportunity to chat with director Mark Blanchard on  issues of the theatre, coastal differences and his unique dual careers.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Mark!

You’re most welcome. Thank you.

What convergence of fortune brought you to this production of THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW?

One of my best friends for over 25 years, Sal Landi, told me to read the play, and if I was interested in doing it, he wanted to play “Dad.” I read it that day and the game was on!!!

Which of John Patrick Shanley‘s prolific work are you already familiar with?

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Shanley’s works on stage and screen since the 80’s. Twice almost directed SAVAGE IN LIMBO and DOUBT, but the stars had something else in mind for me both times. Oddly enough, I did not know this particular piece. All I can say is “Shame on me.”

What elements of this particular Shanley play resonate with you?

Where do I begin? I honestly feel it may be his most poetic and visceral piece. It’s both deliberate and patient at the same time. Hysterical and poignant simultaneously. It has definite elements of poetic license, while also seeming like a kitchen sink drama. It’s slimy and full of grunge, while never losing its sex appeal. It’s FU%$%^ GREAT!!!

What aspects of a script attract you to devote your time and energies to tackle directing and/or producing?

The question above’s answer, and if I can coordinate the perfect cast and crew at the particular window of time. OOOOh and I did!!

Your directing education (American Academy of Dramatic Arts and Hofstra University in New York, and USC Film School and AFI in Los Angeles) and experience (i.e.; A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Long Island Shakespeare Festival  and TRUE WEST at L.A.’s Zephyr Theatre) span both coasts. What major difference have you found between your east and west coast theatre experiences?

It’s funny because I came out here, LA, with the intention of continuing my education in film. This I did both at USC and AFI. However, my love for theater only became stronger as my days in La La Land grew. I produced and directed and acted in a night of two one-acts, ACTION by the late great Sam Shepard (hard to fathom) which I produced and played “Shooter.” Actually, Sal Landi directed it. I directed MEMORY OF TWO MONDAYS and all you need to do is look up the L.A. Times‘ review and you’ll get the gist of this production. Although doing shows in NY will always be where my heart lies, and I intend to return. My dream is to do an original musical starring my two oldest children. Both actresses – Rowan Blanchard, (look her up) and Carmen, who is the lead in my first feature (in post now that I co-wrote and singly directed). They are both triple-threats of absurd proportions. That is not Daddy talking, that is the director in me, I promise!!  

Do you find you ‘gear’ your productions in distinct ways for the opposite coasts?

The one great difference in an audience in LA than NY is patience. In the east, the audience will ride the wave a bit longer and more gradually. In LA, you have to be on the crest immediately, and fly off within minutes. Strange since surfing is so prominent on this coast.

As a director/producer/yoga master, would you characterize your directing techniques as ‘Zen’?

Let’s put it this way, well, two ways. First, it certainly helps having practiced yoga nearly all my life to deal with actors’ ups and downs and in-betweens. Secondly, yes, I slip as much Zen into my message in directing every show as I can fit in. Actually, it was at the recommendation from many of those thespians I was directing at the Met Theatre that I decided to teach yoga as well. It turned out to be quite a nice little suggestion.

You describe your True Power Yoga principles as ‘No gimmicks.’ Is your directing approach stripped down also?

I have many a time been accused by new members of a cast as to not directing at all. “When is he gonna block? When is he gonna correct me? When is he gonna tell me what to do?” Answer from the members I have worked with before, “Oh, he never blocks. He expects us to know our way around, and he rarely tells us what to do. But, holy shit, does he ask and push you to your absolute limits. You will feel like you have used every ounce of life in you by the time we go up, and you will somehow find your second and third winds.” 

Do you receive similar satisfaction/gratification whether leading a yoga class or directing a cast of actors?

I love to see people grow, I love to see people laugh and cry. I love honesty, so yes, there are many similarities.  (That was a great question!)

Would there be a dream project in which you could combine your passions of yoga and theatre?

Actually, I use yoga in every piece I direct. I always relate the two. Yoga is about exploring your personal balance in life without judgment. Releasing your fears, and exceeding your expectations. I ask the same of my cast and crew every time.

What’s in the immediate future for director/producer Mark Blanchard?

Wake up every day full of Love and Light. Kiss my wife and three children (yes, I have a little boy, too). Finish post on my film A World Away and create such a memorable piece of art with Mr. Shanley’s brilliant THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW,  we take it all the way to NYC!!!

What feelings and reactions would you like The Lounge audiences to leave with after your cast’s curtain call?

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered!!!!

Thanks again, Mark!

For ticket availability and schedule of THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW thru September 24, 2017; log onto www.plays411.com/dreamer

Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas in his career, including Ann-Margret, Diana Ross, Faye Dunaway, Carol Channing, Shirley MacLaine, Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minnelli, Sandra Bernhard, Anna Nicole Smith, Margaret Cho, and three Catwomen—Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar. He had the fortuitous opportunity to conduct Lily Tomlin’s coming out interview. Gil has since reviewed movies and theatre for a number of local and national outlets.
A photo montage of Gil’s Halloween Carnavale photos through the last decade was recently included in the WeHo@ 25 juried exhibition.