Netflix's recently released documentary It Takes a Lunatic gives us an inside look at the life and work of Wynn Handman, a pioneer artist and legend in the theater community.
Whether you've already taken the plunge into the true story of It Takes a Lunatic or are curious to learn more about Wynn Handman's story and career, keep reading to learn more about this seminal figure in American theater.
97-year-old Wynn Handman is one of the most important figures in American theater.
Wynn trained a generation of stars and producers including Richard Gere, Michael Douglas, Mia Farrow, Alec Baldwin and Sam Shepard, among many others.
In 1962, Wynn opened the American Place Theater, where he was the director and acting coach who helped establish the Off-Broadway theater community into the vibrant scene it is today.
It Takes a Lunatic is a true story that details how Wynn became a theater legend.
It Takes a Lunatic tells the story of how Wynn came up in the industry of entertainment pedagogy and started out in his studio on 54th Street in Manhattan.
Directed by former student Bill Lyons, who has also been Wynn's assistant for many years, it borrows from sound clips and conversations with some of Wynn's most prolific students, including Joel Grey, James Caan and Chris Cooper, in addition to those mentioned above.
Wynn is extraordinary, both as a theater producer and as an acting teacher.
"It was a very safe environment," Alec Baldwin says of working with Wynn, who would tell his students not to judge anyone else's emotions as long as they came from a genuine place, and was sensitive enough to only give his actors the feedback they could understand and take.
"I think it really is important, on a personal level of 'this is my safe place'," Richard Gere adds about his time working with Wynn. "You're still trying to figure out not only how to do what you do, but who you are."
In an interview with the New York Times, Wynn also explained how he became drawn to co-founding American Place Theater and becoming such an important figure in the industry.
"I was drawn to challenging plays, plays that would not succeed commercially and therefore needed a home," he said. "It was never in my mind to do a play that would become a hit. But that's what most New York theaters are all about today."
In the documentary, Wynn offers occasional sound bytes that are equal parts moving and thought-provoking. "I realized little things changed the course of my life," he says during one meditative moment. "Chance. It rules your life. I wouldn't have found myself to be in this profession, I don't think."
It was an experience on a ship in World War II that led him to go into theater. "I realized that there was an inner life and I felt that deepness," he remembers. "And it stayed with me. And that changed the course of my life, and I draw on it all the time."
Learn more about Wynn's extraordinary life by streaming It Takes a Lunatic, streaming today on Netflix.
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