Playwright Ken Ludwig, author of Lend Me a Tenor, is one of America’s most popular and successful playwrights. He also writes wonderful essays about the art of comedy. Ken recently spoke with Act II Playhouse’s Communications Director Bill D’Agostino by telephone.
Act II: In a recent essay, you wrote that when comedy works it “leaves us with a feeling of renewal and hope.” That seems so important these days.
KL: Yeah, I still feel that, more than ever.
A sense of comedy in our lives and a sense of optimism gives us a feeling of renewal. Comedy, in a sense, is not just happy endings – it’s creating a world where happy endings are inevitably. It’s an attitude. It’s a feeling that you can succeed if you work hard enough, and if you keep a good attitude. It sounds a little Pollyanna-ish to say it that way, and it’s not. I like to call it a “sensible optimism.”
Act II: I think recent psychology would back you up. There seems to be something about having a positive attitude than engenders positive things to happen.
KL: I think so, too. Absolutely.
Act II: What was the initial inspiration for Lend Me a Tenor?
KL: First of all, I am great opera lover, I always have been. I remember the play started out not being about opera per se, it had a different time period. It was not about the world of opera, it was about the world of theatre.
There was initially a notion about a guy who thought he had something more inside of him than other people could see, that there was really more to him. And he was dying to find a way to express it.
Act II: I think a lot of young theatre artists feel that same way, and can relate to Max for that reason.
KL: Yeah, that’s how I related to Max. At that time in my career, I had not gotten any recognition yet. I was a young guy, just starting out writing. It was sort of my story. I didn’t know that at the time; people have pointed it out since.
It’s true we all think that when we’re starting out. We all harbor secret hopes for what we can do. It feels a little ridiculous if you come out and say it, like Max thinking he can be an opera star. You have to give it a try.