NEW YORK – The late playwright Edward Albee was a larger than life figure who remains a touchstone for young dramatists. Among these admirers is Ned Moore, the 26-year-old dramaturge who with RMRKBL is bringing a pop-up performance installation to Sotheby’s New York galleries on 25 September. During a reception to celebrate the sale of The Collection of Edward Albee and surrounded by the art he collected, seven actors will interpret scenes from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Sandbox, A Delicate Balance and Seascape – a selection encompassing fifteen years of Albee’s career and diverse range of styles. “Each scene has a secret trigger that will animate these plays, which will operate in the space behind the artwork,” explains Moore, who encourages the audience to expect the unexpected. “With immersive theatre, it never goes exactly as planned, but something magical always happens.” Ahead of the performance, Moore talked with Sotheby’s about Albee’s tremendous legacy and influence on his own work.
What was your first encounter with Albee’s material?
The first time I saw his work was a high school production of The American Dream, which I found extremely confusing. I decided to read it, and when I did, I was laughing to myself a lot. It’s a very strong satire. Later I began studying him more closely and what I became enamoured and obsessed with was the variety of styles that were in his work and that one person could be so many different people.
What else do you admire about Albee?
He was truly the first American avant-garde playwright. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Albee brought a kind of storytelling that had only previously been popular in Europe to the States. With few characters, it was a very minimalist approach all about the rhythm of dialogue and abstraction. Like Beckett, he responded to the happenings of the world through humour, but it’s not farce; it’s very spare. It’s quite different from Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, who were more populist playwrights. Albee made his career out of being controversial, both in terms of the content he was presenting and the form. He also spearheaded the Off-Broadway movement. All those Broadway theatres were going dark in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Albee was a huge activist in helping Off-Broadway, non-profit theatre in New York get funding and spaces.
Can you speak to his impact outside of being a playwright?
He was a great teacher who taught all throughout his life. He famously had a writers group, and he discovered Adrienne Kennedy who is the black female playwright of our time. He helped her get her first production. He cared much more about preserving and nurturing his relationships and never wrote or practiced as an artist for capital gain, which is rare in New York, especially these days.
Did you ever have the chance to meet him?
I never got to meet him, and if I had, I wouldn’t have known what to say. I feel deeply indebted to him. He’s influenced me artistically, and when I write I sometimes have his voice in my head.
Why did you specifically choose these four plays?
One reason was because they show a fifteen-year period of Albee’s career, which is often regarded as his most iconic period. Another reason is that we wanted to show how radically different all of his plays are from one another. We have A Delicate Balance, which is very much a living room drama and is about subtlety, character and naturalism, whereas The Sandbox and Seascape reflect an abstract, highly theatrical and imaginative world that feels like it could come from a completely different playwright.
ACTORS JOSEPH COTTON, BETSY BLAIR, KATE REID, PAUL SCOFIELD, KATHERINE HEPBURN AND LEE REMICK WITH PLAYWRIGHT EDWARD ALBEE DURING THE SHOOTING OF THE FILM A DELICATE BALANCE. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE SCHAPIRO/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES.
What do you hope guests take away from the experience at Sotheby’s?
When we think of people as influential as Albee, we forget that they have a sense of humour and childlike spirit about them. So I want people to be able to play in Albee’s mind and actually experience the delight of his work. Another thing I want people to think about the parameters of what theatre is. The lines we draw between disciplines are so permeable. Albee thought about music very deeply and was a serious art collector. He surrounded himself with students and people from all disciplines. I’d love for people to walk away feeling like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know theatre could be experienced like that.”
Do you have any tips for navigating the performance?
Be present, explore and follow your impulses. What can be beautiful about this style of theatre is that it puts you in charge of the story. You can walk away with your own set of memories.