Artists in their own words: Leslie Castay

Leslie Castay and Ian Cook on opening night of Mandatory Merriment. (Photo: Joshua Brasted)






Who: Leslie Castay

What: Director and co-creator (with Ian Hoch) of Southern Rep’s production of Mandatory Merriment

Where: Uptown

Favorite line from Mandatory Merriment: “Yeah, it’s a branding exercise to increase compliance. Most people in New Orleans are just going to do their thing anyway. Welcome to the city of yes!”


Q: Who do you have a difficult time making eye contact with?

LC: I always have difficulty making eye contact with dogs. [Laughing]. They don’t want me to look at them; they just want me to rub their bellies. When I try to gaze into their eyes, though, they turn toward the treat bowl.

Also, when I’m down on jury duty, I have a terrible time looking at the clerk who is processing my paperwork. I look everywhere except in their eyes.

We have these barriers of when you are in public. I spent 20 years in NYC, and you don’t make eye contact on the subway. If you do, people think you’re going to rob them or ask them for money. I remember that when I moved up from New Orleans that really stuck out to me. New Yorkers aren’t rude; it’s just that they spend all of their time in a very crowded city, and if you don’t put up a wall of anonymity, people are going to invade that space.

And coming from the south that was so different because we are a front-porch culture. We like to sit on the front porch and wave and talk to our neighbors.

A friend of my daughters is a freshman in college in the Midwest. She mentioned knowing someone through ‘neighbor dinners,’ which we have all the time, but I guess they thought that was so strange in the Midwest. I chat with the lady in the grocery store, the bank teller, and everyone I see along the way on a single errand.


Q: In Mandatory Merriment, the characters get stuck in a New Orleans bar, so where would you want to be stuck for…let’s say, three weeks?

LC: I think most people would say the beach, but not me. I would get bored. I tend to like the mountains more than the beach and the ocean. I have a problem with sand — it’s always in my hair and my clothes. I’m much better with a lake and a trail off the beaten path. If I had  some woods, hills, mountains, and trails to explore, I don’t think I’d get bored being away from civilization for a few weeks.

Cast of Mandatory Merriment, Meredith Long, Clint Johnson, Ian Hoch, Chivas Michael, and Whitney Mixon (Photo: John B. Barrois)

Q: How do you know when it’s time to intervene, especially when it comes to directing?

LC: As an actor, I’m comfortable on the one side of the director’s table, but currently I’ve stepped on the other side of the director’s table, which has been interesting. I want to always give the actor the respect and time to experiment, but at the same time I have created something in my own head, and I can become frustrated and wonder, ‘Why can’t they read my mind? It’s all right here.’ [Laughing].
I have to tell myself to step back and realize that I have to explain what I’m thinking. A lot of directing is about communication, and I have to explain what I see and what I imagine rather than thinking the actors know those thoughts.
In the initial blocking phase, I work very hands on and ma always nearby with cues and blocking. When I see actors struggling for a line or for what step or note is next, I always make sure to step in. But, when they are flying on their own, I like to let them go for at least a scene or two before I give notes. Then I’ll have them run larger sections before I step in. I love to see what an actor brings to their own role, that’s usually the best guide! 


Q: What connection do you make between New Orleans and the holidays?

LC: The decadent and gaudy aspect to holidays really lends itself to how we love to dress up, put on fancy clothes and sparkles, and eat and drink to excess in New Orleans. We have hedonistic holidays, and we do hedonism so well in New Orleans.

The holidays are also family oriented, and that is something we definitely have here. Even when people move away they find a way home.

When I was working in New York City, I still tried every year to come home. I spent many holidays away because I was working Broadway shows and couldn’t get time off, but even if it was a 24-hour trip, I would find a way to get back here to touch base. I just had to get home.

Whitney Mixon singing and Alan Payne playing the keys for Mandatory Merriment (Photo by: John B. Barrois)

Q: If you could make a holiday dish to represent Mandatory Merriment, what would be the ingredients?

LC: It would be a strong cocktail. I would put some cherries in it; it would be fruity, sweet, strong, and very very cold. I’m definitely going to have the base of the cocktail be either whiskey or bourbon. It’s has to be a dark liquor because that’s the perfect drink to drown your sorrows in if you are fighting the Christmas blues. And you can also throw it down in a shot glass to get crazy.


MANDATORY MERRIMENT:  A New Holiday Musical was created by Leslie Castay and Ian Hoch. The musical features book by Ian Hoch, direction by Leslie Castay and musical direction by Alan Payne. It is currently on stage from now until December 23 at Southern Rep’s new permanent home located at 2541 Bayou Road. For tickets and show times, you can check out Southern Rep’s website.



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