The WHO Behind CLUE!

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THE SCENE recently caught up with writer and actor Sandy Rustin, whose adaptation of CLUE has now been the #1 produced play in US High Schools for the past two years.

THE SCENE: Give us an overview of your theatre work and artistry. Have you always been a multihyphenate artist, or has that been an evolution of your career over time?

SANDY: I’ve always had a dual interest in performance and playwriting, studying both disciplines throughout college and during my study-abroad semester in London. When I first moved to NYC, I worked primarily as an actress, adding writing to my professional life shortly after the birth of my first son. I’ve found that the schedule of a playwright has fit more readily into my schedule as a parent, but I look forward to continuing to find the ebb and flow of both performance and writing in the years to come.

THE SCENE: How long has your play CLUE been in your life?

SANDY: I got involved in conversations about a theatrical version of CLUE in 2017, ultimately premiering the play at The Cleveland Playhouse in January of 2020.

THE SCENE: What do you think makes CLUE so popular? Why do you think it works as a stage play?

SANDY: CLUE is a household name – both the board game and the cult hit ’80s film hold a lot of meaning for audiences. So just the title alone is enough to get people excited to come to the theatre! The source material (book, board game, film) all offer an amazing roadmap to creating a terrific stage production. From the colorful characters, to the genre-specific style/tone of Jonathan Lynn’s film script, to the twisty-turny plot, surprise ending(s), etc. … all of it together offers a recipe for a successful night at the theatre. My task was to curate all the available source material and then create something – in the same spirit – that is wholly original. It has proven to be really fun and satisfying for audiences to experience material they know and love in a newly imagined way!

THE SCENE: As an educator, what do you teach?

SANDY: For many years I taught (adults and kids) improv comedy. These days, I teach a masterclass to big and small groups alike called Writing Comedy for the Stage. Students come away from the course with the premise and beginnings of a new, comedic play.

THE SCENE: What’s your favorite piece of advice for writing comedy for the stage?

SANDY: My favorite sayings about writing comedy come from two of my favorite comedy writers: Nora Ephron and Carol Burnett. Nora Ephron’s mother used to famously say – “Everything is copy” – meaning, everything that happens in your life is fodder for material. Nothing is off limits – it’s just all in how you shape it. And Carol Burnett offered: “Comedy = Tragedy + Time.” I find this to be the equation I spend my life trying to solve. Discovering the balance of how, when, where, and why my own life experiences can – with time – morph to become the kernels of comedy in my future work is my greatest joy in the work I do.

THE SCENE: How would you describe the relationship between your work as a writer and your work as an educator?

SANDY:  I try to offer to my students the tools that work for me as potential tools that may work for them. Every writer works differently, so there is absolutely no right or wrong way to be a writer. However, sometimes learning about what one writer has found to be a successful path, can be useful when carving out a path for yourself. So, my goal is always to offer insight into one way to think about playwriting, in the hopes that it will spark young writers to find their own ways.

THE SCENE: What are you working on right now? What’s on the horizon for you?

SANDY: Right now, I am in the midst of casting for my play, THE COTTAGE, which is optioned for a commercial Broadway production next season. Also, this summer my adaptation of the movie MYSTIC PIZZA will be presented in NYC, I’ll have a chance to workshop my new play THE SUFFRAGETTE’S MURDER at Florida Studio Theatre, I’ll soon begin production on my first feature-film – SIFU, I’m collaborating with composer/lyricist Maury Yeston on writing a new musical, I’m putting finishing touches on a new YA musical for Disney Theatricals and writing a new original dark-comedy on my own. A busy summer of fun things ahead!

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