Archive for the ‘Artist Interviews’ Category
classicstage.org, by calling (212) 352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street, New York City (between Third and Fourth Avenues). MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN will perform Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. There will be an additional 7pm performance on December 28 and 3pm matinees on December 23 and 31. There will be no performances December 24-26 and January 1. There will be no 3 pm matinee on December 12 and no 7pm performance on December 31.
here. What attracts you to the Greeks and specifically THE ORESTEIA? In my work, I am always seeking a future theatre. For me, this is a universal theatre, capable of reaching anyone, regardless of culture, age, or language. In this research, it became necessary to return to the Ancient Greek poets because their drama founded the Western tradition. Athenian tragedy is a point of origin from which we depart, charting our own evolving tradition, indifferent to literary conventions. Salvator Settis has written, “Rebirths feed off fragments of the past.” For a radical new theatre, we excavate its classical origins. Ancient Greek drama also facilitates an exploration of tragedy, which is the most powerful art form I have encountered. Of course, today we cannot experience Athenian tragedy as it was conceived. The situation is quite different without the socio-political context, architecture, festival, etc. Our relationship to tragedy is also different. In our media-saturated age, this term has become quotidian. But the potency and universality of the concept remains. So the starting point for this theatre project is, “What is a future tragic form?” The Oresteia is an inexorable exploration of human nature and also a theological drama. It is the only surviving trilogy of Ancient Greece, though its satyr play is lost. There is an opportunity to ask, “What is indestructible here? What in this material has endured through time?” In your work there are images and soundscapes but very little dialogue. Why are you interested in eschewing speech in your work? My work is not a comment on or interpretation of a pre-existing text. Instead, it aims to give body to a drama. A theatrical body: the production. It is a non-hierarchical theatre, wherein no single element dominates. This opens up theatre as an art capable of incorporating many different arts. So when we do utilize speech, its aural qualities may be as important as any literal meaning. Nevertheless, when a project’s source of inspiration is a text, such as with Oresteia, there is still a deep relationship to the original text. Its catalytic elements are used in the evolution of a new theatrical language. Theatre can venture beyond speech. An example is the prologue of our Oresteia, the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Due to her innocence, our Iphigenia is a child. Aeschylus’ chorus stops narrating when they reach Iphigenia’s death. They are at a loss for words. This is a good place for research to begin, “How can we represent what is unspeakable?” When working on this scene, we discovered that theatrical language could acknowledge its own limitations, and thus, transcend them. Agamemnon first pours a bottle of stage blood over the child’s head. It is only afterwards that he makes the killing gesture. This sacrifice is staged as simply as possible, accepting that we cannot do this scene literally. There is only the act. No more is necessary because there are no words for such a scene. How do you build a piece? Do you begin with a script or do you create the piece in rehearsal? As much as possible is planned before rehearsal. This includes a script and design. There is often a developmental workshop to experiment in different directions. Rehearsal is a combustible process: the collision of abstract ideas with reality. The piece metamorphosizes and expands due to the work of the performers. It evolves again later, when the spectators are present. You gravitate toward using non-actors. Can you talk about casting - what are you looking for in an ensemble member? It’s true that there are modern acting and casting traditions that I deviate from. Performers must find a certain presence and also, stillness. There is no facade to hide behind, no illustration. So, I am skeptical of technique. I work with all kinds of performers, trained and untrained, experienced and inexperienced. All bodies deserve to be seen on stage. Performers may be cast because of their shape, gait, energy, the sound of their voice, etc. There is always a dramaturgical reason. More generally, a diverse group of bodies and backgrounds populates the world of the piece. This is a Greek idea, that there is a community on stage. Sometimes there is a particular need for a certain figure. In The Oresteia, Agamemnon is conquered rhetorically by Clytemnestra, who convinces him to walk on the tapestries. Our Agamemnon is a deaf actor. For him, speech is already problematized. He does not need to act an inability to speak. He was born deaf, so he has a completely organic relationship to gesture and his body because they are his native tools of communication. His movement is majestic. Can you talk about your rehearsal process? At the very beginning, there are a few ensemble exercises. The performers make short, wordless pieces. This introduces working simply and austerely using one’s entire instrument. It also permits me to better understand the physicalities of the ensemble, how each instinctively moves, what kind of gestures they make, their preferred tempo, and so forth. This is the beginning of a shared vocabulary that makes the rehearsal process possible. Sometimes, this brief, early research has an osmosis-like impact on the piece, directly or indirectly. I plan basic movements, but it’s not choreographed in the manner of say, Robert Wilson. The movement is a skeletal foundation. Working with the performers, we always search for the simplest way possible. There are discoveries made. In truth, the performers’ work is a mystery to me. Introducing the soundscape is very delicate. The sound is developed concurrent to rehearsals. It must emerge from the world, rather than be grafted upon it like a soundtrack. Sound is usually introduced late. Otherwise, it subjugates the performers. What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing this piece? Inevitably, this raises the question of catharsis, which is a very mysterious concept. What did it mean for an Ancient Greek audience? Is it possible today? In a larger sense, The Oresteia connects to the immensity of human experience, our power and our frailty. The events of the House of Atreus reverberate throughout its universe, such that we sense the end of an age and the birth pangs of a new, uncertain one. Each spectator will have his or her own understanding. The senses are impacted during the performance. The mental experience may occur then, or afterwards, in reflection.
DOCTOR FAUSTUS. Check out the video! DOCTOR FAUSTUS plays through Sunday, July 12.
here. This will be your third project at CSC. What is it that keeps drawing you back to 13th Street? PS: Brian, Mr. Kulick, has taken this great space, and made it a space where you really can feel completely free to explore classical texts in any way that you want, with the people that you like, and take different approaches and generally have freedom. I really, really love the space. It just feels like home to me. Is it correct that you studied a lot of Shakespeare in college? You were an English major, right? I was an English major with a Shakespeare concentration, so my main area of focus in college was Shakespeare. And how have you been preparing for this role? I read it every day. I mean, I read it a lot every day and I’ve been doing that for about a year. Does speaking the verse change the way you approach a role? You know, it’s interesting because this is such a particular kind of verse for Shakespeare. It’s verse mixed with quite a bit of prose, and even the way the verse is laid out has not quite as strict a quality to it as some other bits of Shakespeare verse. I find verse incredibly liberating. I’m not somebody who’s verse averse. I really could imagine doing something entirely written in verse. One of the things that is nice about HAMLET is that going back and forth between the verse and the prose gives you an opportunity to create various kinds of reality and fantasy and performance within performance, because so much of this play is a thing within a thing within a thing and a performance within a performance within a performance. I think for Hamlet, the reality includes the audience that is there that night, that actual audience, the heat, the pressure and form of that audience. I think it’s something that Hamlet feels more than any other character in the play. And he’s a performer. All of that really makes it incredibly freeing as an actor. There’s no such thing as being too poetic. He’s a poet. Then you also have moments where you’re totally mundane and soft-spoken. As long as you’ve got that all built in there, you can do anything. I mean, you can do anything when you play Hamlet. Any part of you that you’ve ever been in your life can be in this role. What made you decide to tackle Hamlet? It’s actually because of Penny [Allen], who’s playing Gertrude, who’s been quite a mentor to me for twenty years. I had a bunch of conversations with her about Hamlet and my relationship to Hamlet. I’d almost played Hamlet about ten years ago and for a number of reasons didn’t end up doing it, so it had kind of floated around in my head for a while. I started to have a very strong feeling about the role after talking to her and then when she wanted to play Gertrude, that relationship really made sense to me. That’s one of the relationships in the play that people take so many different stabs at and have very strong opinions about. I knew that I wouldn’t be creating something totally abstract. I thought of Penny, thought of this twenty-year relationship that we have, this very strong relationship, and I suddenly understood how to play the role through that relationship, really. Many people talk about the panic that sets in after you take on the role of Hamlet. Has that panic happened to you? I guess not. So much of what I’ve been asked to do as an actor over the course of my career has been either take something small and turn it into a little diamond or take a sow’s ear and turn it into a purse. It’s really nice knowing for certain the only part of this equation that could fail is me; the text is not going to be a problem. I know that I’m going to fail on some level. I think I could only feel a lot of pressure if I thought I was going to stick the landing or be the greatest Hamlet of all times. I feel very strong things about the role and I must be more connected to it than I am to most things. I understand that one of your informal Shakespeare tutors has been Brian Cox. What has that dialogue been like? Pretty minimal. We sit around and talk stories, we’ve talked about the verse a couple of times. Actually, I did have someone that I sat down with at more length that talked about the more technical aspects of playing Hamlet according to a traditional model, which I know from having studied, but I just wanted to refresh in my mind. There’s this guy named Rob Clare, who has worked on a number of RSC productions, and over the past year I’ve met with him about 15-20 hours and just remembered the technical aspects of doing it. What do you mean by technical aspects? I mean, if you wanted to do verse in a Peter Hall way, what would that sound like? Not that I’m going to do it that way. What are the various conventions? What are the various devices in a literary sense that Shakespeare uses? Where do you hear an echo? There would be all these echoes throughout HAMLET. Having somebody who’s very knowledgeable to sit around and chat about it with basically. Not like it’s anything I’m going to plug in. I’ve always had a total love of Shakespeare since I was a kid. I have my own intuitive way of approaching it. It is a particular song to me that is not the same song that it is to everyone else. I do appreciate the language—I’m not somebody who’s going to throw the whole thing under the chair. I also appreciate the simplicity of a lot of the language. Also, with Shakespeare, if you haven’t done it in a while it’s slightly like learning another language. You have to get it into your head, “Oh right, that’s what that means and that’s what that means.” After a while you stop asking yourself what it means because you speak the language of it. Brian also helps with that. You forget what a knave is. It’s not like the audience will specifically know, but it’s important that you know. This is your third collaboration with Austin. Can you talk a bit about your collaboration over the years and what attracts you to Austin’s way of working? Austin doesn’t really have a way of working. I think people assume he works a certain way, a kind of loose way. He really respects the actors and that is his primary focus. He talks to every actor in a different way. I’ve never had somebody whose opinion I’ve trusted as much as his. It’s mostly like, when Austin is watching me I know someone’s listening in a way that very few people do. I’m acting for that type of listener. I feel like Austin traces exactly my most deep, inner, personal monologue that I have going on as I’m talking, which for me a lot of the time isn’t exactly what I’m saying or has nothing to do with what I’m saying. It’s really that set of ears more than anything else for me; that he listens in a way. It’s not about what he’s saying; it’s about the way he’s hearing. He was really the only person I could imagine doing it with. The nice thing about Austin is whether the ship is sailing or sinking in the public’s perception makes no difference to him. Some directors, after the review comes out, the way they talk to you noticeably changes. With Austin, the ship is really steady. I wanted to have the safety of having my work protected because it is such a vulnerable thing to do, having my mind protected as I work. I don’t see any reason to work with anyone else. In terms of stage roles, what would be next after Hamlet? I’d like to play Iago. That’s pretty specific! Iago is actually the role that I’ve always wanted to play. Hamlet, I never knew I wanted to do it before I started working on it. Now that I’ve worked on it so much, I have to do it. Iago, just from reading it, I first read Othello when I was in high school, an all-boys Jesuit high school where we read a lot of Shakespeare and had to do it aloud in front of class. I was immediately taken with that character. I love that relationship with the audience. I think it’s incredible. For me, as an actor who so often asks the audience to be a voyeur to what I’m doing. With Hamlet and Iago, the nice thing is that it makes someone like me who doesn’t like public speaking, doesn’t like thinking of the fact that there’s an audience there do both. It forces me to do something that I am reluctant to do, which is play to the audience. I think with Hamlet, you can play to the audience at any moment you want, on any line, anywhere. ---------------- HAMLET plays through May 10, 2015. Click here to purchase tickets.
click here to read online. How did you shift from being an actor to being a translator? JCJ: My first translating job was the result of an acting job. It was 1992; the McCarter Theatre was putting on a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. I played Kulygin, it was the Lanford Wilson translation. I noticed I had questions, and I marked in my script, on how to get from sentence A to sentence B. There were five spots and I marked them, then I looked them up in the Russian—I had taken Russian in college. I noticed that in each of the places where I had trouble, Lanford had either omitted or sometimes added a line. I decided I would translate my whole role to see if I would learn anything about it. I spoke Lanford’s text in the production, but I used it as a tool to see if I could unearth some secrets. I’ll give you an example of one thing that I learned: in the fire scene, Kulygin is asleep and when he wakes up, he says in Russian, “Milaya moya Masha, dorogaya moya Masha,” which roughly translated means, “My good Masha, my dear Masha, my kind Masha.” Notice the repetition of the “m” sounds. So, when I played him, I repeated a mumbling “mmm” sound before his line. It’s baby talk; it’s his endearment. It’s in his mouth, his lips. When the production was over, I decided I’d translate the whole play. It was fascinating work because every sentence has at least ten different roads you could go down; there’s a fork in the road, you can decide upon this word or that word. Can you give us an example of one of those difficult translation decisions? In Three Sisters, Solyony has a line, “If man philosophizes, we call it philosophy; if a woman does, pull my finger.” How do you translate that? I was doing a play in Boston, at the Huntington Theatre on the main stage. Two flights up in a studio space, a Russian theatre troupe from St. Petersburg was performing Three Sisters. They’d been working on the play for three years, it was their language; I figured if anybody would know what this “Pull my finger” was, they would. I went up there and I said, “What’s pull my finger?” and an actor said, “It’s a Russian folk belief that if you want to know what someone’s dreaming, you pull their finger.” Another actor said, “No, no. That’s not what it means. He’s being rude; pull my finger is sexual, he’s just trying to be shocking.” “No, no. That’s not what it is,” said a third actor. “What’s the next line in the play? It’s Masha’s, ‘What are you talking about, you dreadful man?’ They don’t know what he’s talking about.” So it’s their language, their history, their culture, and they had three different ideas of what it was, so I kept it “pull my finger.” You’ve translated Three Sisters, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and Platonov. Have you learned anything different from acting in them versus translating them? As an actor, I pride myself on being a text man. I get solidly behind the text and think of the text as a horse I’m riding, sit astride and balance. The words themselves can carry me through my performance. With Chekhov, it turns out the words…the text...is not what’s going on. It’s subterfuge, camouflage; the tip of the iceberg is exposed, but nine tenths of it is something completely different, so that’s one different thing from acting. When I translate it, I try to make it fun to say as an actor. I don’t let a line go by unless I feel like I would like to say that onstage. Did you find any overlaps between Turgenev and Chekhov? Some of the themes are similar; they deal with similar topics. In A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY there’s a character Rakitin who stands in for Turgenev, in much the same way that a character like Trigorin could stand in for Chekhov in The Seagull, them both being writers and both loving to fish. One of the things that is true about Chekhov’s comedies is that they’re filled with characters who love people who cannot or will not love them back. In A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, unrequited love is seen as amusing. Rakitin is madly in love with Natalya, but they don’t consummate it. In The Seagull, Trigorin goes to Arkadina and says, “Be a pal, let me have this fling with this young girl, be generous.” She says, “How could you talk to me like that? That’s cruel!” Echoing this in A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, Natalya asks Rakitin to help her with young Belyaev and he says, “You want me to help you? With someone else?” Chekhov called The Seagull a comedy, but would you say that Turgenev is more comedic? I would say it’s more comedic, but it has what our director Erica Schmidt calls “slow burn romance.” She was very helpful in coming up with the translation and her taste definitely shaped what I did with it. You’re known for being very collaborative with your translations, working with directors and actors, and that’s not always the case. You go into the room and listen to people. Why do you choose to work this way? As an actor, I do plays in translation all the time and it’s very important for me that it sit comfortably in my mouth, so I’m all for trying to accommodate the actors in rehearsal to make it feel natural. It’s the way people talk. I want to get it right for them because I realize that it’s different for every actor, so there’s no absolute right way. I feel it’s important to have the actors feel that they’re connected to what they’re saying. How did you come to translating A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY? Brian [Kulick] suggested me to Erica as a possible translator for A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. She took a look at my Cherry Orchard script and liked it. This is a very modern translation and I had to do it very fast. I usually take four months to do translations and I had about a month and a half. She had a lot of input. I turned the first draft in and it was very short. I joked with her, I said, “We could call this A Weekend in the Country.” When I was writing, I didn’t have time to rewrite; I had to go with my first instinct. In almost all the cases where I had hesitations, Erica expressed the same hesitations so we had similar sensibilities. What is next for you? I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s thirteen years ago and I’ve been working as an actor steadily through that time. I would love to be able to continue to perform. I love the camaraderie, the backstage life. I love to audition. One of the great things about translating is that as my acting career is riding into the sunset I can, in a sense, still play all the parts. And that’s pretty satisfying!
click here to read online. You fit comfortably in the world of landmark Shakespeare productions, like Cymbeline in the Park and The Merchant of Venice. You seem to be equally at home with new plays. Do you have a preference as to which type of theatre you like to design for? MW: The preference is not so much about the kind of play as the way of working. For me, every play, whether it’s old or new or a musical, you’re telling a story, so the job is the same. It’s more about finding a collaborator who understands that and who’s interested in trying to get to the beginning, middle, and end of the story visually, who realizes that there is a correlation between what the playwright is trying to say and how you visually go about telling that story. There are some processes where that’s not the agenda and then there are processes where you have to do that to make the piece alive. I think that the kind of new plays that I’ve worked on most are the kind of new plays that when you first read it you’re like, “How can you possibly bring that to the stage?” You need the visual life to tell it. I think musicals and Shakespeare are the same thing. When you read a musical, you’re like, “Oh my God, that’s so sprawling. How do you bring that to the confines of the stage?” And when you read Shakespeare, it’s the same thing. He takes you all over the map and you need to really be clever how you get from the beginning, to the middle, to the end. Even though they seem very different, the job is the same thing. If you could only survive doing one of those three, which would it be? That’s hard to answer. I don’t know that I could. It’s hard to only be in one. I find that when I’m doing a lot of one, I’m always craving the other. I just had a great experience with a living, breathing playwright and while I was doing it I was like, “Oh this is so great! I’m really enjoying this living, breathing playwright.” When I’m doing a classic, what the classic demands of you to make it more accessible is fun and different too, so that’s hard to answer. I guess I’d have to say the living, breathing playwrights because they’re alive and that collaboration is so exciting. Does your methodology change when you approach a classic versus a new play versus a musical? No, it’s always the same, it really is. People always think that the design is like a Barney’s window, like you’re filling an empty space with stuff. I guess that’s what makes Barney’s windows so great is they try to transcend that. They don’t just fill the window with stuff, they really are telling a story depending on what season it is. The playwright is giving you a story that you have to figure out how the people are moving in space and telling that story. The job is always the same: you’re visually telling a story and I think I always go about it in the same way. I think that because I did a lot of Shakespeare for a while, then when you move to a contemporary play, everything you learned about the rigors of trying to tell something as sprawling as Shakespeare, you take to that contemporary play. Then, what you learn from a contemporary vocabulary, you take to doing a musical, but I think the process for me is always the same. You’ve worked with Erica Schmidt in the past on Uncle Vanya and certainly, Uncle Vanya shares some similarities with A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Can you talk about what that means to you as you bring them both to life visually? I think I’ve only worked on Uncle Vanya once. I’m not sure if it’s what’s in the play or if it’s what Erica and I found in the play, but to me, out of all the Chekhovs, it’s the least elliptical and the most driving and straight ahead, and in a way, the most unrelenting. I think that what Erica and I found in Uncle Vanya was a very simple way of framing that very immediate, straight-ahead narrative drive in a way that was simultaneously abstract and contemporary, but also grounded the play in a kind of reality so that you didn’t, as an audience member, waste any time wondering, “What is this? Where am I?” It was very grounded and I think that when Erica worked on the adaptation of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, that was the similarity. She was looking for something that was very lucid and straight-ahead and had a contemporary resonance even though it’s set in a period. Interestingly, we ended up arriving at a similar environment for the story. When we did Uncle Vanya, it was in a proscenium theatre and this is in three-quarters, but I think the idea of framing the environment ended up being similar because we were looking for similar things. I think our experience of doing Uncle Vanya clearly informed where we thought we could go with this play. This will be your seventh production at Classic Stage Company. Can you talk about the challenges of working in our space and how that impacts your thinking? It’s very funny. I knew David Esbjornson from living in L.A. before he was the Artistic Director. When I was still living in L.A. I sent him an email…or maybe a letter…and was like, “I know that you’re here now, remember me from L.A., if anything comes up I hope you keep me in mind.” And he said, “I don’t know Mark, it’s very competitive here.” I think I was asking his advice about moving to New York. It seems like not that long ago, but I guess it was a long time ago. It’s a funny question because to me, every time you go into a theatre, it is inherently environmental. Even if it’s a traditional Broadway house with a balcony and a proscenium, there is still an environment where you’re bringing the audience together with the actors and you’re trying to figure out how to make that the most immediate connection for the audience and the actors. Every show I think of as environmental. The thing that CSC gives you is that no matter what you put in there, the audience and the actors are immediately connected in an incredibly intimate way, and so there is always an interesting tension between trying to figure out how to subvert that and how to embrace it. If you just throw it in the audience’s lap is that too much? You always want there to be some tension to the experience and it’s figuring out for each piece what the right amount of visual and spatial tension is.