Lenny Banovez is the Artistic Director of Titan Theatre Company. In the fall, TITAN produced A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM with nine actors. Puck’s role was the only pre-cast and the others were pulled out of a hat, on stage, each night of the show. He currently closed a Sold-Out run of a Steampunk Version of OLIVER! at the Secret Theatre. Lenny and I sat down at Chelsea Market for a chat about his company, projects he is working on and directing philosophy.
The Playbill Collector (TPC): Was musical theater the start of your career?
Lenny Banovez (LB): Yes, I went to a performing arts high school that specialized in musical theater. I auditioned for musical theater schools on the east coast and got in to a ton of “big name” musical theatre colleges but my grades were not great, so I couldn’t go. The plan was to attend the University of Wisconsin, Parkside for a year to get my grades up and then transfer. When the time came to transfer to Boston Conservatory, I decided to stay at Parkside, because I was involved in their theater department. It was probably the smartest thing I had ever done because I learned how to act. After undergrad, I went to grad school at Ohio University’s Professional Actor Training Program (PATP) for classical acting. That’s how I got my “unique” Shakespeare/Musical Theatre training.
TPC: How did you become a director?
LB: Working as an actor I was starting to find that there were a lot of bad directors. In the midst of a show I was acting in, I stormed out of rehearsal one night and thought I needed to look at grad schools for directing. I did one more acting contract and then started to focus on directing and building TITAN. I feel that I can say more directing. With acting I have things I can bring to the table but with directing I feel like I have so much more to offer.
TPC: What types of shows you prefer to direct?
LB: I like to do big stories and epic things, hence musicals and Shakespeare.
TPC: You just closed a Steampunk OLIVER! at the Secret Theatre. Tell us your take on that.
LB: OLIVER TWIST by Charles Dickens is a dark piece. I wanted to make sure that we told THAT story. The story about an orphan boy who is dragged through the mud and meets a gang and a prostitute. When you see OLIVER! nine times out of ten it’s all happy. We still have that, but we have to focus on the dark side of the story too, so we have somewhere to go. We show the horrible side of domestic violence, stealing and so forth, so that Oliver’s triumph at the end means more.
LB: It’s a very exciting time for TITAN. Currently we are working really hard on building and sustaining the reputation we are getting. We still however, have all the obstacles small companies have with finding funding competing against larger companies. Our goal is to never let those obstacles show. We never want a lack of budget to show. With every obstacle there is an opportunity to be creative. For example, we worked on MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM at the same time as Julie Taymor’s version of the show. Her’s had a 2.5 million dollar budget and our version was $5,000. With $5000 we don’t have the budget to have all the “bells & whistles”, so we focus on telling a smart clean story. I am proud to say TITAN can tell a story clearly and that’s what it’s all about. If you have that…everything else is just wrapping paper.
TPC: For MIDSUMMER you had eight actors plus Puck playing all the parts. How did you rehearse that?
LB: Each was cast on a “rehearsal track” which is the role each actor would play if I was to actually cast the show. So they all had somewhat of a home run roles. That’s where we would start each scene. The actor would create the role and do all the blocking. Then they would rotate and run it once for each person. It was a puzzle and we would take out pieces from one person and put another persons suggestion in. The actors had no choice but to be collaborative, steal from each other and be open and vulnerable.
TPC: How long was your rehearsal process?
LB: We had three weeks to rehearse. They had the script for two months but it’s hard to learn everything without knowing where you are moving. So the rehearsal process was extremely difficult, but the after it was done…extremely rewarding.
TPC: What was the selling point for the show?
LB: We were trying something new. I compared what we were doing, with watching race cars. People watch for accidents and epic scenarios. We knew what we are doing was nuts and would be applauded for an attempt. But the ATTEMPT wasn’t the end goal. To say “look what we tried” wasn’t enough. The goal was to deliver the best MIDSUMMER the audience had ever scene no matter who pulled what role. The “gimmick” was over in the first 3 minutes of the show, after that the play still had to be good, or as we said “it’s just wrapping paper”. It was a huge risk. Thankfully it all paid off and we received some incredible feedback.
TPC: What’s next for Titan?
LB: In January we are doing a World Premier of THIS PRISON WHERE I LIVE by Angela Iannone. It’s an extremely good play about Edwin Booth, and his relationship with the ghost of his dead brother, John Wilkes Booth. Yep THAT John Wilkes Booth. Then In April I am directing KING LEAR starring Broadway Veteran Terry Layman as Lear. It’s gonna be sick!
For more information on Lenny and Titan click here: http://titantheatrecompany.com/
My review of Titan’s MIDSUMMER: http://theplaybillcollector.com/play/a-midsummer-nights-dream-by-titan-theatre-company