An ‘Obsession’ With Philip Glass Inspires a Director’s Memory Play

John McGrath at the Manchester International Festival said even if that project’s not happening, if I was to dream what I might make with Philip, what might that be? And I got a vision, floating in the flotation tank, of me and Philip onstage together. I went to Philip and said, “I have a vision: I’m doing the puppetry, and you’re at the piano.” And he never said no.

Part of the story is my dream of getting him back into a rehearsal room the way I imagine he did when he was just starting out, just a downtown rehearsal space and some musicians. And it happened: There was this week where Philip did come into the rehearsal room, and I told stories — about him, about Taoism, about Arnie Mindell — and he would riff, and then he went away and arranged those bits of music he’d played. And, in a way, the show made itself. In the breaks, he would take us to a Tibetan curry house where they all knew him. It was Philip having a good time, really.

They say don’t meet your heroes, but I did, and I ended up making a crazy show with him that’s one of the things I’m proudest of. When you’re making a show like this, you have to trust something, and what you end up trusting is just doing the next step and the next step and the next step. And that’s what Philip’s music does. People say it’s repetitive, but it’s not really repetitive. It’s cyclical and it changes, and you get to a place where you don’t know how you got there, a deeper place.

What comes next for you and him?

The last time I saw Philip — we always have a little conversation about what happens next, and he said, “When we work together, it seems to go quite well.” And at the moment we’re talking again about “Einstein,” to complete the trilogy with “Satyagraha” and “Akhnaten.”

There’s probably vocabularies from those other productions that will go into our version of “Einstein” — probably a new vocabulary, too, but also elements of those other productions. When we met, he talked about various things, but the thing he’s most excited about is the trilogy: that we’ve got to do our Improbable version of “Einstein,” so that we can do all three operas across a city at the same time.

He’s a bit slow now, but he said, “You’ve got me all fired up.” So I know that that’s what Philip wants to happen — and I’m saying that publicly so that it does. That’s how you make things happen.

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