In the corporate world, employees leaving a job are asked to sit through a sometimes grueling "exit interview" about their time at the company. Although that concept doesn't exist for Broadway performers, we think it's fun to check in with stars as they finish up a successful run. Below, Ann’s Emmy-winning and Tony-nominated playwright and star Holland Taylor (who plays her final performance at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on June 30) looks back on "talking shop" with Meryl Streep, her intense pre-show prep and the biggest lesson she learned from Ann Richards.
How did you feel when you first got the job?
I had been developing the show in several cites, in Texas, Chicago and D.C. Bob Boyett’s relationship with the Kennedy Center suggested that Broadway was the ultimate destination, but what theater? There were talks with the Shuberts, but no arrangement could be made. A lot of time passed, and I wondered if it all would sift away. But I had forgotten Ann’s “special star.” Mr. Boyett called me, alarmingly, one Sunday morning. “Uh-oh,” I thought. He said, in his simple, sleight-of-hand way, “You are going to be presenting Ann in the Vivian Beaumont Theater, at Lincoln Center.” I actually was speechless. Finally, I said, “She deserves it.”
How do you feel now that you’re leaving the job?
Such a mix of feelings. Closing a show is as taxing and intense as opening one—especially a show that is so demanding. Encouraged by theater professionals around me, I take a warm and glowing pride that my 151-performance run will be one of the longest solo shows in Broadway’s annals, that I have basically become an athlete performing in this vast cavern of a theater, on a thrust stage where a boxing match or Cirque de Soleil could be lavishly offered. Where there once were pounding, thrilling horses, now is a dream of one lone woman, a woman who lifted people UP—and it seems now, that sometimes, a mere echo of her—still does.
What are three words you would use to describe your experience at the job?
Purposeful. Hard. Easy.
What was the easiest thing about the job?
For all the joy of discovery? Paying a role longer than the role of Lear—exploring its many mansions.
What was the hardest thing about the job?
The three-hour "prep" and having to eat a revolting meal while Cindy Demand wrapped my head and I held a hair drier to my glue-laid eyebrows. 151 times.
What was the highlight of your time at the job?
A President of the United States, one William Jefferson Clinton, holding my hand to his cheek (still wet with tears) thanking me for the gift of a play about his adored friend. No—maybe he will forgive me when I say that during this visit, Meryl Streep, who sat next to him, talked with me intensely about acting, and playing a role of great scope. Meryl!! Meryl and me, talking shop—like friends. Beyond pleasure. Wait a minnit...No—maybe the real slow honey was the look on Hillary Clinton’s face, she who had mother-henned the whole damn group, in a pack, to come to Ann. And among them, as well? A beautiful, sparkling Gabby Giffords, and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly. (Hot.) When you asked for a highlight, you meant from just one night, right? And that gathering was immediately followed by the gang of 35 (!) or so Kennedy Center ushers, who had made a huge caravan trip, all of them, in their red jackets, up from Washington D.C., to see their Ann. All this, in one night.
What skills do you think are required for future job applicants?
A talent for not looking too closely at obstacles. Serious, mean discipline. A real devotion, tied to one’s own purpose in life, to the soul, values, and large themes of the subject of the play. And brass.
In what ways has this position challenged you?
As Ann Richards herself did for so many ordinary people, she lifted me up, too. Up to a high place, where my unexpressed finest estimation of a dreamed of self could shine through—where flying was possible, along with falling—where a fall would simply be part of the larger picture, the picture of living life, “all in.” As did she. I have never flown so high or fearlessly in my life. I’ve never flown at all.
How do you think you’ve grown during your time at the job?
I think I have become more tolerant, though during the frantic "forced march" of my prep, I’m sure I don’t seem so. More tolerant, aware of others’ points of view, their obligations. Their feelings. I’ve perhaps taken on Ann’s advice: “Value the love of your friends and family, as if your life depends on it. Because it does.”
What will you miss most about the job?
Everything. Every moment, everyone, every light turning on. And off.