The Common Tongue
A Theasy Interview with Co-Artistic Directors
Danny Mitarotondo and Lila Dupree
by Molly Marinik
Danny Mitarotondo (left) and Lila Dupree (right, on chair) with the rest of the cast of Lucy Thurber's Young.
They’re business partners, they’re self-described office spouses, and they’re clearly on the same page about their art. Danny Mitarotondo and Lila Dupree, the Co-Artistic Directors of The Common Tongue, have an ideal partnership. Sharing the responsibilities of maintaining their company makes for a grateful friendship since the workload can be quite consuming. And it’s evident they sincerely appreciate each other. For one, Danny explains they “can be the artists we are without sacrificing our art.” Lila adds “when things are bad they’re not quite so bad and when things are great they’re really great because you can share [accomplishments] together. “ Aww!
The Common Tongue was formed by a group of students studying at The Atlantic Theater Company’s Professional Conservatory in 2008. The Atlantic advocates producing ones own work, and this seemed like a thoughtful and appropriate approach to navigating the world of New York theatre for the dozen or so Common Tongue members who are grads of the program.
A fortuitous discovery set the company in motion when Danny came across a copy of Edward Albee’s 1971 play All Over and fell in love with the text. He contacted Edward who was intrigued by the outreach, and the company subsequently found in him a mentor, whom Danny describes as “generous, warm and unbelievably humble.” An invited reading of All Over was held at The Atlantic Theater Company in December 2009 with a cast including several members of The Common Tongue as well as theatre mainstays including Marian Seldes.
For The Common Tongue, All Over provided the perfect opportunity to explore dialectic between performance and text. It also allowed for innovative experiments with double casting and all-around indulgence of the company’s mission: “investigating the playwright’s power, collaborating across generations, and uniting diverse groups within the theatre community.”
Up next for this ensemble-based company is a night of one-acts entitled Connect Five. With the sub-head “four plays, one audience,” it’s obvious this production is no selfish endeavor. Lila explains that these plays are all about attempts to communicate. They are “looking for how people connect within an intimate sense, face to face, and how that succeeds or fails.” This is particularly pertinent in today’s virtual world.
The Common Tongue’s generational interests are also prevalent, with plays by two well-known playwrights, Lucy Thurber and Wendy MacLeod alongside two company playwrights, Bronwen Prosser and Danny himself. The collective attempt to “facilitate discussions between artists at different points in their careers,” appears between playwrights, directors, and actors. This, says Lila, “creates a dialogue within the art itself.”
Under the leadership of two ambitious and able theatre makers (who can produce, write, direct and perform), good things await this young company. They strive to create a cross-generational, international community that creates work in several locations globally. But lest you think this seems overzealous, consider how far they’ve come already.
Danny summed it up describing the first two years of The Common Tongue as derived from what the members learned at the Atlantic: “whenever you start an art you imitate the thing that you admire.” But now, with some experience under their collective belts, the company can assume a freshly refined personality. With Connect Five, Danny explains “I feel we’ve moved out of that [previous mentality] and become our own entity. [We have] entered a new stage after having spent the past three years learning who we are, what interests us, and how we operate.” This seems to project good things to come for The Common Tongue...at the very least, office space to call their own.
Connect Five opens on January 7th and plays through January 16th at the Ars Nova Building. For the performance schedule and ticketing info, visit The Common Tongue’s website: tctnyc.org.