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Do What You Love, Love What You Do

An Interview with Helder Guimarães & Frank Marshall

By Amy Levinson, Associate Artistic Director & Dramaturg for The Hope Theory

Amy Levinson: You have worked together on many shows, including Invisible Tango, The Present, and The Future. Can you speak a bit about where your process begins?

Frank Marshall: My process begins when Helder tells me the story he wants to tell. I wait for him to put it into words and then help him shape it into a show. It’s a really interesting process, because I often don’t know what magic he is building in; it’s often built along with the story. It motivates me to think visually in terms of how we’re going to tell the story. We start with the words, which are often very poetic, one of the many things I love about his storytelling, and we craft the story. He blends these two worlds: the world of magic that I’ve known and loved since around the age of ten and the world I really live in, which is storytelling. It’s so much more than just a magic show.

Helder Guimarães: I don’t think I could pinpoint where I start a new project or a new show. I think it’s an accumulation of different things in my life. These stories usually come from a personal place, so it’s often an episode or memory that I remember and want to write about. Sometimes that takes a week and sometimes much longer. But this doesn’t always lead to a complete show; sometimes it’s just a collection of memories and ideas. When I understand there is a story to be told, things start to merge, and then the magic becomes part of the larger story.

FM: Helder will just come in with the right magic piece—and usually it’s something I haven’t ever seen, which is the amazing part. [The magic] is really integrated into the storytelling.

HG: With this show, I wanted to talk about my experiences as an immigrant, but at that point I didn’t have a single piece of magic for the show. But I’m never thinking about what I need in terms of magic. I’m thinking about how I want to tell a good story and then how I want to integrate really cool magic into that story. I want the magic to enhance the story and be connected to it, as well. We recently realized the top of the show wasn’t quite right. I had already built the magic moment for the beginning, but I’m always willing to change what I’ve built if it’s not working with the story.

AL: And what contributes to this being such a fruitful working relationship?

HG: Frank is an amazing storyteller. He brings his perspective to what I’ve written and sees things in the script that I haven’t seen yet. He always has an insight that is just spot on. He taught me, and often reminds me, that we have to have clarity for someone who has never heard this story and doesn’t know where it’s going. They will only have one opportunity to hear the story we’re telling. When you write it, you know what you want to say, but it’s very different than someone hearing it for the first time, right?

Also, Frank never tries to push the magic to a secondary place or alter the magic in any given place. I love the fact that he trusts me a hundred percent on that. When I put a magic piece in front of him, of course there are adjustments. We just work together on every part of it, rather than either one of us controlling the process. Magic is so sensitive. And especially for me, it’s such an expression of who I am, so it’s hard when someone wants to change everything. I’m really grateful for how Frank works. I feel so well-protected. He really helps me and guides the work, and I feel I still have a lot to learn from him about storytelling.

AL: Frank, as you have worked on many giant films, what is different for you when you are in a setting as intimate as this one? Does it alter your approach?

FM: I don’t know if I have an approach. I mean, I am constantly learning. What I love about [working on plays and musicals] is it’s live, it’s happening. I can have an impact on something right then and there and it can change. And then I can say, Oh, okay, that’s working now. Or, no, that was a bad idea. Whereas in my day job, it’s maybe months before [you know] if something works. And it’s a whole lot of other people.

HG: I remember you telling me that when we first worked on Invisible Tango, like, this is so great because I can change things on the day of, and you can see it onstage that same night.

FM: And we do have a really good time doing this. If you hate it, what’s the point? I don’t understand creative processes that are awful. Of course, there are always hurdles and problems to solve, but you learn to adapt. You can always scale back, or scale up, figure out what a project needs, and pivot. I don’t understand treating this like it’s the end of the world.

HG: I love what Frank is saying. You do something in one performance and learn that it doesn’t work, so you change it up and do it differently the next day. You ask questions like: How can I make that line work? And then for the next show, you change the intonation. Theater really gives you the opportunity to do it and I love that.

FM: Exactly. I don’t understand all the suffering people do. Thinking about changes, sure. Wanting to make it better, absolutely. There are so many people who have a terrible time making movies, and I just don’t get it. We work long hours, and sure we have creative conflicts, but it should be fun. Same is true for theater.

HG: And we do have quite a bit of fun. It doesn’t mean it’s not serious work; it can be deeply personal and challenging. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. It makes the work and the hours so much easier when you are having a good time doing it. In fact, you want to put in more time and more effort when there’s joy in the work. And don’t get me wrong, it’s like Frank said, there are hurdles and creative conversations, but we often make our best discoveries when things go wrong. At the end of the day, we love what we do.

The Hope Theory

APR 25 - JUNE 30, 2024

Written & Performed by Helder Guimarães
Directed by Frank Marshall

From the creators of Invisible Tango, The Present, and The Future comes an entirely new theatrical event. As a Portuguese immigrant, storyteller, and sleight-of-hand magician, Helder Guimarães arrived in America at age 29. Wide-eyed and full of ideas, he discovers a fascinating puzzle of cultural and professional challenges to solve while he tries to build a home. The Hope Theory offers a unique perspective on America through the eyes of an optimistic outsider.

Three performances of The Hope Theory (La teoría de la esperanza) will be performed in Spanish. Major support for this world premiere production provided by the Edgerton Foundation New Play Production Fund.



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