The youthful pair of Manning and Greenfield (he's in his early 30s, she's in her late 20s) were heavily involved in play development during their stints at New York Stage and Film, the not-for-profit upstate New York company co-founded by actor Mark Linn-Baker to develop projects for both mediums. Both are continuing that work in their current positions.
This season three of the company's four shows are new plays, including Blue Light's current offering, Jessica Goldberg's The Hologram Theory which Manning and Greenfield first came into contact with while at New York Stage and Film. A thriller about a Trinadadian woman who comes to New York City to unravel the mysteries surrounding her brother's death and his club-kid life of excess, it begins performances this week.
"Jessica wrote the first half of the first act of this play when she did a summer residency with us in 1996 and said, 'I feel like I'm channeling this,' " recalls Greenfield. "We were completely blown away by it and it was a major departure for her in terms of subject and scope. A 10-character play coming out of a 26-year-old writer is fairly unheard of for fear that it would never get produced."
"Synergistic," Greenfield chimes in.
That word also could be used to describe Manning and Greenfield's relationship. Their interview rapport is relaxed and casual, and one of the factors that persuaded Manning, who had a stint as a commercial producer of last year's Tony-winning best play Side Man, to accept the artistic leadership was his colleague's presence. Greenfield too left behind a job at a commercial-producing entity, Richard Frankel Productions, to join Blue Light two seasons ago.
One move that both feel has been good for Blue Light artistically and monetarily is taking up residence at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, the former home of Second Stage last fall. They're in negotiations about staying on for a second year.
"Our goal this year was to establish a presence and a representative body of work--new work and classic work--and we're proud because we think we've accomplished just that," Manning asserts. Now the two are conferring with Naughton about the direction the company will take in the next five years. For his part, the theater's founder wants to ensure that the emphasis doesn't shift too far away from the actors.
"I'm all for adding the element of new plays, but I certainly don't want to distract from a primary focus on actors, and that has been an issue for us this season that we're sort of trying to work out," says Naughton, who is working on his own music project.
Joanne Woodward directed revivals of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy and Waiting for Lefty, the latter starring Marisa Tomei. Marsha Mason headlined Amazing Grace, a new play by Michael Cristofer (The Shadow Box) directed by Austin Pendleton, and Billy Crudup and Frances McDormand starred in an adaptation of Oedipus. Woodward, Pendleton, McDormand and James Naughton, along with Paul Newman and director B.H. Barry, comprise Blue Light's board of advisors.
Except for Ron Leibman in the last show, Adam Baum and the Jew Movie, Blue Light hasn't utilized any of that star power this season, but Naughton says that's likely to change. "I believe it's quite possible that a couple of those people are going to be working with us again in the very near future," he discloses.
In the meantime, Greenfield and Manning are pondering ways to run a company with an annual budget of just under a million dollars without having to rely on a person's celebrity status to sell tickets. "If the New York Times comes and doesn't like it, we are powerless because no theater in the not-for-profit arena has the money to market passed [a bad review]," laments Manning, who saw that fate befall this season's first production, The Clearing.
But Greenfield hopes that the Internet age with have a positive effect on live entertainment. "It's only a matter of time before we as a society will crave community which is live and contact with other human beings," she reasons. "Let the live performing arts be the one place where people can come to get that."