Quick Wit: John Weidman
Leslie Becker chats with Weidman, the co-conceiver of the Broadway musical Contact and the librettist of three Sondheim musicals..
John Weidman is the librettist for three Stephen Sondheim musicals--Pacific Overtures (1976), Assassins (1990), and the 1999 New York Theatre Workshop workshop of Wise Guys--plus such diverse shows as the Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes, Big, and now, the critically acclaimed Contact. A nine-time Emmy Award winner for his work on Sesame Street, Weidman recently got Quick Witted about his life and his career. You have such a diverse body of work, do you have a personal favorite? Well, [Contact] has been an enormously satisfying experience. It's been a great collaboration with Susan Stroman. It's always felt like one of those experiences that was one little right step, and another little right step. It sort of grew from this little idea into this event. And my collaborations with Stephen Sondheim have been terrific. Assassins as a writer's project was enormously satisfying. How is Contact different from your other projects? Contact is three short stories, so it's an anthology. The primary language is dance instead of dialogue. Although there is dialogue that you'd typically recognize in musical theater. But where there would usually be music and lyrics, here they express themselves through dance. What is your favorite part of writing? Finishing. (laughter) Getting it done. Having somebody say "This is good--you don't have to do it again." Do you have any personal heroes? Bobby Kennedy has always been a great hero of mine. I grew up in the '60s and John Kennedy was my first political hero. So I was a great admirer of Bobby Kennedy's and that hasn't changed despite some of the things one has discovered about him. What was your favorite childhood game? Clue...I loved playing Clue. You know, Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick. I loved it. I forced my kids to play it with me when they were growing up. Do they still play it with you? Only under duress. (laughter) When was the last time you opened your mouth, inserted your foot, and chewed it thoroughly? Yeah, well I do it on a fairly regular basis, and when I do, I try to forget it, so I'm not going to try to remember it now. (laughter) Do you have a pet peeve? New York cab drivers who do not answer you when you talk to them. What do you love about writing for theater? One reason I like working in theater is that there's a social aspect to it. Being with other human beings as opposed to being in a room by yourself. George Kaufman said "Writing is easy. You just sit down in front of a typewriter until blood starts oozing from your forehead." Do you like to re-write? I actually prefer rewriting to writing. I write long hand the first draft, then put it in my computer, then massage it. And that's the part I find the most relaxing. Do you have a favorite place you like to write? No, but I like to sit with a yellow pad and pen just about anywhere and get started. If you could invite three guests for dinner, who would they be? Gandhi, Stalin, and The Rock. I'm a big fan of The Rock. My son is a big fan of WWF Wrestling, so it's on in the living room a lot and I find Rock an entertaining character. Coffee or latte? Coffee. Morning or Night? Morning. Emmy or Tony? Tony! Bert or Ernie? Ernie. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs! That's it? That's it.