Thursday, October 9, 2014


Beneath the Surface of Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, a Glimpse of the Author’s Own Real Life Inspiration

URI Theatre | By Sergio Suhett

Theresa Rebeck on Seminar’s Broadway opening night
In This Photo: Theresa Rebeck
Playwright Theresa Rebeck attends the Broadway opening
night of  "Seminar" at The Golden Theatre on 
November 20, 2011 in New York City.
- Source: Robin Marchant/Getty Images North America
One of the aspects of Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar that audiences have found most affecting is the character of Leonard, the vicious, take-no-prisoners writing professor whose withering appraisals of his young students’ work (“I don’t have to go past the first five words because I already know enough and I don’t give a shit”) provide them with no end of discouragement – and theatergoers with no end of delight. It is this love-to-hate-him quality that, in part, makes Seminar work, because if Leonard weren't so funny, he’d be unbearable!

You may, while watching the URI Theatre’s Rhode Island premiere production of Seminar, which opens this Thursday at 7:30, find yourself tempted to imagine that Rebeck must have been inspired by someone in her personal life to construct such a colorful character as Leonard. If you are, allow me to be the first to inform you that – spoiler alert! – she was indeed.

A few days before Seminar opened on Broadway in 2011, Michael Schulman wrote an article in The New Yorker entitled “The Writing Seminar from Hell, Inspired by David Milch,” in which he pulled back the curtain to reveal Rebeck’s behind-the-scenes, true-life Leonard. David Milch is a TV writer and producer whose credits include Deadwood and NYPD Blue, and it was Theresa Rebeck’s three years’ experience on the writing staff of the latter series that provided her with some of the creative spark which led eventually to Leonard, and to Seminar.

Rebeck is quoted as observing of Milch: “He made me cry three times. I’m not a cryer. It took me so long to get his hand out of my brain that I think I erased most of it. It took me two years,” adding that there is “a restlessness and drive that you learn from that guy…It was the hard-knock school of learning. But there was a lot of charm in it.” That tells you a lot of what you need to know about Leonard, and the article will tell you a bit more of what you may enjoy knowing as a supplement to your appreciation of URI Theatre’s staging of Seminar.

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