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Andy Warhol and Truman Capote were giants in their respective fields, but you might not know that they started working on a Broadway play together. They never finished, but now a first-time playwright is trying to complete their project. Rob Roth's play "WARHOLCAPOTE" is based on conversations the two men recorded in the 1970s. As Andrea Shea of member station WBUR reports, getting this work from cassette to stage has not been an easy journey.
ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: Andy Warhol recorded everything in his life - ordinary conversations, dinner parties, chats on the phone - with his Sony Walkman.
ROB ROTH: He called it his wife. And when he died, there were about 3,000 audio tapes.
SHEA: Rob Roth didn't know the tapes existed until about 10 years ago when he reread "The Andy Warhol Diaries" and spotted this entry from Warhol.
ROTH: I pulled out those tapes I made with Truman when we were working on the Broadway play, and they're awful. I talked on them so much. I ruined them. I should have just shut up. And I thought, wait a minute. Andy Warhol talked too much on these tapes. I got to try to find them.
SHEA: So began Roth's quest to finish the play Warhol and Capote envisioned. He traced the tapes to The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and contacted Warhol Foundation licensing director Michael Hermann for access.
MICHAEL HERMANN: What he wanted was to be able to write his play and because this policy, the answer was no.
SHEA: After Warhol died in 1987, his foundation stipulated that the artist's tapes should not be made public until at least 2037 because they contain juicy gossip about famous people. But Hermann says Roth was persistent.
HERMANN: Given his sincerity and the uniqueness of the project, we decided to make this one-time exception.
SHEA: In return, Roth agreed to pay for the tapes to be digitized and transcribed by bonded court reporters. He also agreed to indemnify the foundation against any lawsuits over those juicy bits. And he's giving the foundation a share of the profits. The 48-year-old Roth has the money to do it thanks to his career as a successful Broadway and rock concert director. Still...
ROTH: I signed my life away. My lawyer said, oh, do it. You know, it's like a treasure hunt.
SHEA: Roth listened to more than 80 hours of conversation between Warhol and Capote and pored over 8,000 transcript pages until he found what the two artists were planning.
ROTH: And Andy says, well, Truman, can't I just tape you, the real thing, and can't the tapes be about real people? And Truman says, that's exactly what we should do. The edited tapes will be both real and imagined, and there'll be no clear demarcation between what's real and what's fiction. So they gave me the instructions. That's what I did (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANDY WARHOL: I admire people who do well with words. And I thought Truman Capote filled up space with words so well that when I first got to New York, I began writing short fan letters to him. If you ask any famous person, you'll find that almost every one of them has at least one person who's obsessed with them.
STEPHEN SPINELLA: He's taken what's there, and he's constructed it in a way that it turns it into a portrait of these two men.
SHEA: Stephen Spinella plays Warhol and says it's been hard to get the quirky artist's voice right.
SPINELLA: And now I actually have a little bit of trouble (laughter) not talking like Andy. When I call my husband, I have to stop myself because it's weird. That was Andy. It's weird. It's just a little weird sometimes. I don't know.
LESLIE JORDAN: My opening line is Andy Warhol had this obsession about me. He was very kind of tight-jawed, and he just had that little baby voice.
SHEA: Actor Leslie Jordan was cast to play Capote.
JORDAN: Everybody knew Andy in New York. Everybody knew or wanted to know Andy. But Truman knew him longer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE SPOOLING)
SHEA: Warhol's tape recorder is like a third character in the play, eavesdropping on their intimate banter but also capturing Warhol's fears of intimacy and Capote's alcoholism. Jordan says playing the part of Capote at the American Repertory Theater is the role of a lifetime.
JORDAN: So many of the shows there have gone on to Broadway, which would be my debut.
SHEA: But in one more plot twist along this play's 10-year journey, the actor withdrew from the production three days before the first preview, citing unforeseen personal circumstances. The creative team scrambled and found Dan Butler as a replacement.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WARHOLCAPOTE")
DAN BUTLER: (As Truman Capote) To me, every act of art is an act of solving a mystery.
SHEA: At the first preview performance, Butler carried his script on stage, a reality-meets-art moment Capote and Warhol might have appreciated. And the dialogue is the closest most of us will ever get to hearing Warhol's cassettes ourselves.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WARHOLCAPOTE")
SPINELLA: (As Andy Warhol) Gee, yeah.
SHEA: For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston.
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