In this excerpt from the podcast, Collins explains how Elevator Repair Service came to the astounding decision to produce a play that contained every word of the novel. [2:23]
John Collins: Well, that was a long, long process. The way we would begin a show was always to just invite the people who were working on it to bring in anything that they were interested in. They were always looking for things that weren’t exactly theater that could somehow spawn some interesting work from us, that would give us some kind of interesting problem to solve. And it was Steve Bodow, who was the co-director then, who brought in The Great Gatsby. He had just reread it and he said, "I love this book. It's got a lot of great old New York in it.” And Steve and I both really loved old New York history and New York City stuff so The Great Gatsby had a lot of that. He noticed then that 1999 felt a little bit like 1925: a lot of new wealth, a lot of reckless exuberance. It was in the dot-com bubble and—
Jo Reed: It's hard to remember what that was like.
John Collins: I know. I know. I know we've been doing this show so long we've gone through a few boom, bust cycles. But we just looked at it as -- like the way we look at any material when it first comes into the room. We don't know what it's going to become. We don't know where it's going to lead us. It's just a reason to start working, a reason to start talking, playing around, looking for things we can put on stage. So we said, "Sure. Let's give it a try." And I hadn't read it before, and I got really excited about it when I read it then. I was 29 and I hadn't read it in high school, and I loved it. And I was surprised. I was really surprised about how much I loved the writing. I was expecting it to feel -- I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting something that was so clear and lucid and that felt so contemporary. So we started to try and stage some pieces of it. I'm often working off some initial strong impulse. And the initial strong impulse with The Great Gatsby was that this book cannot be cut; this book cannot be edited. You can make that argument about any work of any author. But there's something very particular about The Great Gatsby and the way that Fitzgerald wrote it and the way that Maxwell Perkins edited it with him. Is that they really made it feel, I think the two of them together, made it feel like there was not a single wasted word, and that it had a kind of perfection. I wanted to lead with that.