Michael Mayer Interview
American Idiot: American Idiot is a musical that is based on the record of the same name by Green Day. It’s the story of three young men in a suburb in America. Takes place in those years after 9/11 where people were afraid and struck and didn’t know what to do with their lives. It’s a look at how these three young men try to affect some change in their lives, it’s a really a coming of age story. Each one of them goes through a different process and they learn a lot about themselves and the country, and about what they can and can’t do as individuals. It’s a bitter sweet story but with this incredible Green Day song.
Involvement: It was my idea, I was listening to the album when it came out because I really loved it and I’ve always been a Green Day fan. Something clicked for me in this record, it was different than anything they had done before and it had kind of urgency and seriousness to it and the music still had the same Green Day energy and driving rhythm. This time it kind of reached for a kind of poetry that I really responded to and I started thinking what would this look like on stage, and that got me really excited. So I pursued them to see if they would be open to me adapting it, and they were great. Billy Joe came to New York and met me and saw the show that I had on Broadway and from that point on he was just remarkably open letting me take the story that he had on the album and enhance it with new characters and make it a really full blooded physical experience.
First Experience with Billy Joe from Green Day: I think my timing ended up being right; they were just about to go into recording their next record, Twenty First Century Breakdown, and it was a continuation of the theme, that Rock/Opera style that they used for American Idiot and they were interested in seeing what different forms it could take so it felt like they were open. I didn’t have to do a big convincing job on him, he just got it. And I think the show I had out at the time, Spring Awakening, that it wasn’t your typical Broadway musical it was a different thing all together it had a contemporary score and it dealt with themes that were as complicated and risqué for a Broadway audience as the themes of American Idiot that I think that gave him a certain level of comfort.
Projects Now: I directed the pilot of Smash and I was the producing director for the first season. I loved working on it, it was really fun and in particular I loved working on the Pilot because anything was possible and we could really dedicate ourselves to being as authentic as we could with the way theatre works. When you’re doing a show it defines its own terms really easily, you can break rules and the show can still function really well. With TV there is a structural thing; there are act breaks for commercials, a certain kind of scene that is required here and there. So you’re taking the audience by the hand more on television and there is a structure that is imposed on you, it’s never the same kind of organic experience that you get when doing a show.
Importance of Live Theatre: Well I spent the last week with a group of friends who are all in business; they all do the social media and internet stuff that’s what their world is. They asked what the next step in theater is and I was like that is the beautiful thing about theatre is there is no next step, it is what it is. They kept trying to argue with me and suggesting that theatre could change with technology. But the only thing that theatre is is a live interaction between an audience and live performers and that is what defines theatre and makes it a special and unique experience. No matter what happens as we develop and achieve new forms, theatre with remain absolutely pure because the minute there is not a live performer and a live audience member that is not theatre anymore.
What’s Next: The next thing I am doing is a new episode for a TV show called Alpha House. It’s a great new half hour comedy that is on Amazon, it stars John Goodman. And my production of Rig Aledo with the metropolitan opera comes back this year and that opens in November. And then I do a revival on Broadway of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and that stars Neil Patrick Harris and that will open in the spring on Broadway.