We asked writer/director Charles Evered, who has been this year’s artist-in-residence at the Arts Council of Princeton, and Arts Council executive director Jeff Nathanson to discuss Evered’s experiences and accomplishments during his six-month residency and to provide a preview of the “Writer’s Forum with Charles Evered,” which takes place on Thursday, December 18.
Nathanson: Charles, could you give us a brief overview of the scope of the projects you’ve worked on during the last six months of your residency at the Robeson Center?
Evered: Sure, basically there were four events in total. The first was a reading in September of my new play, “Class,” which starred British actor Roger Rees (who audiences will know from his title role in “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” for which he won a Tony for Best Actor in 1982, or his recent television roles as Dr. Colin Marlow in the 2007 season of “Grey’s Anatomy” or Lord John Marbury on “The West Wing”). The reading was directed by Princeton native Bebe Neuwirth, well-known for her role as Lilith on “Cheers” as well as her many roles on Broadway (in “Chicago” and “A Chorus Lin,” for example) and in film. (See U.S. 1, September 17, 2008.)
The second event was directing a short film called “Visiting,” which starred Amy Locane, an original cast member on “Melrose Place” who currently lives in the area, and James Waterston. We shot across the street in the Princeton Cemetery mostly, but used the Robeson Center as a production base.
The third project was the “hometown screening” of the feature film I directed called “Adopt a Sailor,” which stars Bebe Neuwirth, Peter Coyote, and Ethan Peck. It was very exciting to screen it here, where I live. The film will premiere in early January at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
And the fourth event is the upcoming writer’s forum that Jeff will host on December 18.
Nathanson: While the forum is geared towards those interested in the dramatic arts — actors, writers, directors and those people aspiring to become practitioners — everyone can learn something from this event with Charles.
Evered: I think I can be most helpful by answering people’s basic questions. How do you get started as a writer? What is the best training route to becoming a writer/director? Is grad school the way to go, and if so, which schools are the best? How does one function as a working artist in the context of this economy? There are lots of things to cover, certainly.
Nathanson: I plan on starting the forum just by asking Charles a couple of opening questions, then we plan on opening it up to questions from those in attendance so they can hear from Charles directly. For example I might ask Charles, “You’ve written for network television, the theater, and you’ve just recently directed your first feature film. What’s the secret of working in different media?”
Evered: To me it’s important to be open to learning how to tell stories in various formats. I suppose theater will always be closest to my heart, but it’s amazing how far-reaching film and television is in terms of its effect on our culture. And I don’t think its effect on our culture is all that positive, personally.
Nathanson: Do you think everyone aspiring to becoming a writer, director, or actor should seek to work in all three mediums?
Evered: Actually, that is something I plan on talking about on Thursday night. You need to ask yourself “What is important to me?” I have practical reasons for working in all three mediums, but I suppose if I had my druthers, I’d probably just write plays and stage them in my backyard, and I’d be perfectly happy doing that for the rest of my life. The fact of the matter is, however, I have children and a household to support, so I have to make more practical choices at times. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but this is something all artists have to face on every level. “What sort of work can I afford to do? How do I do it?”
Nathanson: Charles is someone who can speak to the plight of all artists, really, because whether you’re in the dramatic arts, music, or fine arts, the choices he and I will be talking about are faced by all of us. Charles, what’s the secret to making a living as a writer?
Evered: Well, the first thing one has to ask oneself is: “Is it so important that I make a living as a writer?” I think a lot of people go wrong by putting totally unrealistic and unnecessary pressure on themselves by saying to themselves: “If I don’t make a living as a writer, then I’m not a real writer.” Well, that’s ridiculous. As I tell students all the time, it’s more important to be a good writer than it is to be a professional writer. Some of my favorite all-time writers never made a living at all, and I’d say it worked out pretty well for them: William Carlos Williams, a doctor; Chekhov, a doctor; T.S. Elliot, a banker; the list goes on and on. If you’re writing well, there’s no reason at all that you have to forfeit other aspects of your life. You just have to let go of the ridiculous often self-imposed pressure we put on ourselves and concentrate on the writing, not the career aspects of writing. And of course, ironically, the more you concentrate on the work, the better off your career will be.
Nathanson: Charles, why do you live in Princeton, when one would think you would live full time in LA or some other city center?
Evered: Well, I chose to live in Princeton because I didn’t want to raise my kids in Los Angeles. I wanted them to grow up with a sense of history and not surrounded by the deafening roar of popular culture. It means I have to travel a lot more, but to me it’s worth it.
Nathanson: What are your plans in the next year, now that your residency is finishing up at the Arts Council?
Evered: Well, for the next six months I travel a lot, promoting “Adopt a Sailor,” which is premiering in Palm Springs. I’m also working on a new film script called “Sandy Hook,” which I hope to direct next year. It’s a psychological thriller that takes place in of all places, Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Then I’m going to have to find an office here in Princeton to work out of starting July 1, when I’m back full-time. I know my wife, Wendy, is ready to get me out of the house!
Nathanson: Charles, you’ve worked with lots of name actors. Is there a secret to working with them?
Evered: No, there’s no secret really. I’ve worked with actors who you’ve never heard of who are just as brilliant, just as fun and rewarding to work with. The best known actors are still actors at heart. Their notoriety is only a result of their talent. It’s the actors who have notoriety as a result of nothing other than their notoriety who are the more challenging people to be around.
Nathanson: Charles, any last thoughts about your residency?
Evered: Yes, just that I was honored to be asked. You and Michael LaRiccia (the Arts Council’s PR person) have been terrifically supportive, and as working artists themselves, they understand the needs of artists. Also, Julie Sullivan-Crowley was terrific at making rooms and spaces available to me, and Dave Haneman, the production manager, was great at making all the physical production issues simple and easy to deal with. It was a great place to be, and I hope everyone in town understands how fortunate they are to have an organization like this in their midst.
Nathanson: I also want people to know that everyone is welcome to the writers forum. You’ll learn about a lot more than just show business. It’s going to be fun, informative and educational as well.
Evolution of a Writer, Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Thursday, December 18, 7:30 p.m. A talk and open forum with Arts Council artist-in-residence Charles Evered. Register. $15. 609-924-8777 or www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.