Director Peter Amster is a fan of collaboration, not control. He works closely with actors, designers and playwrights to create his boldly imaginative productions. In 2008, Amster did just that with “This Wonderful Life” at Historic Asolo Theater.
This one-man show was the director’s first Asolo Rep play, and his first collaboration with Michael Donald Edwards. Many more would follow, including “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (2018), “Murder on the Orient Express” (2020) and “The Three Musketeers” (2023). Amster appreciates Edwards’ willingness to take the creative road less traveled — and Edwards’ guidance and direction when that road turns into a dead end. In the following interview, Amster looks back at the path they traveled together.
What was it like working with Edwards?
Working with Michael has been a learning experience. For me, it’s been like taking tennis lessons from a tennis pro! He’s challenged me; he’s inspired me; and he’s supported me creatively in the process of directing.
Creatively, do you see eye-to-eye, or are you coming from different places?
We have very different styles, but he can pinpoint exactly why something’s not working and how to fix it. "You've got to cut every other joke because they're not all landing." Michael’s taught me so many important things — on top of that, he’s taught the community about me. What more could a director ask for?
What’s the key difference in your styles?
As a director, I’m impulsive and intuitive and I require the input of actors. When I create something, I need to be in the moment. Michael has to plot everything out in his head before he can start. He plans everything out logistically — and he has a very good sense of structure.
Did that lead to creative clashes?
It led to creative breakthroughs. Sometimes I need a sense of structure. As I said, Michael can always zero in on directorial problems and leap to a solution. For example, I was doing a production of “You Can't Take It with You,” which is a three-act play. I wanted to turn it into two acts. Michael thought it was a good idea, but I was stuck on the act transitions. His advice was: “Where there was formerly an act break, make something worth watching. Keep it flowing and hold onto their attention!” I followed his advice, and it really worked for that production.
Just that one play?
Well, no. "Keep the story moving forward" is just one of his lessons. And it’s not limited to “You Can’t Take It With You.” He’s taught me various tricks of the trade. They’ve served me well on so many other plays in other theaters.
Edwards is now leaving the Asolo Rep stage. What’s your parting line before his exit?
There won’t be any because he’s coming to visit me in my vacation home this summer. To misquote Bogart in "Casablanca," this is a continuation of a beautiful friendship.