How David Cale Wrote We’re Only Alive For a Short Amount of Time
The solo performer shares his first audition story and the process behind his new musical memoir at the Public Theater.
Playwright and performer David Cale has become a guru of the solo show.
His solo works include Palomino, A Likely Story, Lillian (Obie Award), Deep in a Dream of You (Bessie Award), and The Redthroats (Bessie Award), the latter which became an HBO Special. His award-winning Harry Clarke, performed by Billy Crudup (Drama Desk Winner Best Solo Performance; Lucille Lortel Award Outstanding Solo Show), began at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre and was later remounted at the Minetta Lane Theatre, presented by Audible and released as an audio play.
Now, Cale is back with his acclaimed musical memoir We’re Only Alive For a Short Amount of Time at the Public Theater, playing through July 14. Described as “somewhat of a departure or an extension of all the other shows I've done so far,” Cale takes on the perspective of his own story through the eyes of his family, mainly his mother. Directed by Robert Falls, the show features music by Cale and Matthew Dean Marsh in a story about what it means to transform from your past.
READ: David Cale Reaches New Heights in Autobiographical We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time
What was the first piece of theatre you ever saw?
Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party.
What was the first theatre-like piece you ever wrote?
The Weirds, which became part of my first solo show The Redthroats.
What was your first audition ever?
For Woody Allen for his film Radio Days. He wanted to just meet me. He said he’d heard about me, possibly through Juliet Taylor, the casting director. I was beginning to do my own solo work. Then I had a second meeting, which was an audition with just Woody alone where I read the scene with him that I ultimately played in the film. The role of a Laxative commercial director.
What was your first paid acting gig?
Woody Allen’s Radio Days.
What was the first solo show that impacted you?
Laurie Anderson’s United States.
What was the first section of Only Alive you wrote?
The song “Canada Geese.”
What was the first section of Only Alive you put on its feet?
The opening monologue about my childhood spent rescuing and breeding birds.
In one word, what was your first performance Off-Broadway of Only Alive like?
What is your first thought when you make your entrance each night?
I’m in the scene before I walk out, so I’m imagining the landscape I’m walking through and then in my head seeing a flock of Canada Geese, which prompts my singing the opening song, “Canada Geese.” So I’m visualizing more than thinking.
Who was the first person you greeted during your first exit from the stage door?
There was no one there the first time I exited the theatre, because as I’m also the writer and co-composer, I’d been to the production meeting following the performance and by the time we’d finished it was later and all the audience had left. But we were all very happy at the production meeting so it wasn’t a sad and lonely exit! And I was with my musical collaborator and dear friend Matthew Dean Marsh.
What was the first stage door you ever visited?
I worked as a stagehand on the musical Annie in London at the Victoria Palace Theater in 1978 and went through that stage door many times. But the first non-work visit to a stage door was the London Palladium in 1978 to ask Bette Midler for her autograph following her performance there.
What is the first thought you have when you take your bow?
With We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time the final seconds are so intense that I have to pull myself back from where I’ve gone to get back fully to the room. So as I’m first taking the bow I’m a little disoriented and just trying to gather myself. But several times in this slightly disoriented state I’ve first thought: Don’t fall over!