Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bonus Feature: First-Person - Richard Wolfe on Inside the Seed (Vancouver)

Directing Without Baggage 
A new tale as old as theatre
by Richard Wolfe  

Richard Wolfe is a specialist in contemporary theatre and performance. Plays he’s directed include Terminus by Mark O’Rowe, Bashir Lazhar by Évelyne de la Chenelière, after the quake by Haruki Murakami (with Craig Hall), Stupidity (La Estupidez) by Rafael Spregelburd, Blue / Orange by Joe Penhall and Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno.  He’s also dramaturged or directed many new Canadian plays including Omniscience by Tim Carlson – as well as scripts that have been translated from French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin and Russian.  Mr. Wolfe has received four Jessie nominations for Outstanding Director and one for Significant Artistic Achievement, while the shows he’s directed have received over 40 nominations for excellence in Vancouver professional theatre. He’s been the artistic director of Pi Theatre for the past five years. 

I’m currently directing Jason Rothery’s new play Inside the Seed for Upintheair Theatre. The show premieres at the Cultch in Vancouver, opening their Studio season on October 2. I like working on good new scripts. There are no production models to consider from famous interpretations of the past, nor is there any critical baggage to haul along during the process. 

This is the first time I’ve worked with Jason, or more precisely, on a script written by Jason and it’s been a pleasure. As far as I can tell, Jason trusts the process and he trusts me. He didn’t balk when I told him I was going to stage the play in an alley configuration rather than a traditional proscenium. He embraced the notion that the actors, rather than entering and leaving the stage in a realistic way, would stay onstage throughout as a kind of contemporary chorus (we call it “the global organism”).  He always sounds calm over the phone when I suggest tweaking a certain line or point out a logic trap or bring forward a general question from the company. His response to every request so far has been generously collaborative. 

We’re about 96 hours from opening.

Jason lives in Toronto, but will be flying in for the show.  It’s late Friday night as I write this. We’re about 96 hours from opening. 96 hours sounds like a lot of time, but it’s only four and a half days – two more runs in the rehearsal hall and one tech-dress in the theatre. Flo Barrett, our costume designer, suited up the cast of nine for a costume parade two days ago and is now doing final fixes. She’ll be bringing the costumes into the rehearsal for our last run on Saturday. Sunday I finish work on audio with our sound designer Jordan Watkins. We’ve taken a cue from the African themes in the show.  One of our favourites is a section from a Mozambique children’s choir. The carpenters and painters have finished building the set, a minimalist office designed by Jergus Orpsal, a long- time colleague who’s also designing lights. It’s sitting in the shop waiting to be delivered. 

Jergus is living in Toronto and will be flying out to Vancouver Saturday morning to see the late rehearsals and put the show into the theatre. 

Sunday morning is the load in. I’ll be stopping by the theatre on Sunday night.  We have a very small amount of time to integrate the design elements into a seamless whole. This production is a presentation by the Cultch and we’re working under a kind of presentation model – we have no official preview for example. None-the-less, presenting a new play is a brave undertaking. The financial risk falls on the presenter – thanks to the Cultch for taking the risk. 

There seems to be a buzz around town. People know Inside the Seed is about genetically modified foods and they’re interested. Just two days ago, municipal politicians rejected genetically engineered food by a narrow margin at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

write a new story rooted in the power of the old

Jason is a contemporary Canadian playwright writing a play inspired by Sophocles’ 2000-year-old classic Oedipus the King. His goal with Inside the Seed “was to write a new story rooted in the power of the old, but enough of an entity unto itself that it would speak directly to an audience of our era and culture.”

Great classical plays capture the essence of human experience and show us how little we’ve changed over millennia. Contemporary plays can do the same, but from a point of departure rooted in the present.  I like art that reflects the zeitgeist. Relevancy is essential. The essence of certain questions may not have changed in 2000 years, but the filters are new. We look for meaning against the backdrop of our times.  

The plot follows Foster Bryant, the CEO of a massive bio-tech corporation and his development of a GMO food called 'golden grain'. There are a dozen facets in Jason’s play that are contemporary reflections of the Oedipus story: a great man (wonderfully portrayed by Patrick Sabongui) abandoned early in life, comes out of nowhere with the intellect to solve riddles that threaten the existence of his city. He moves forward with a vision to save the world, but is plagued by a hubris that causes blindness, which in turn precipitates events contrary to the original vision. As with Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine and its retelling of A Streetcar Named Desire, theatre aficionados should have a lot of fun identifying all the ways the play follows the original. 

Jason’s vision is ambitious. It’s designed to inspire discussion of its themes: pride, honour, integrity, science and food security while representing individuals in the throes of passion and desire. The play is at once personal and universal and written very much for the moment – for our times. “I fashioned Inside the Seed to be passionately and unabashedly political - much the same way I imagine Sophocles might have considered his tome concerning newly democratic Athens,” says Rothery. Jason has written in a largely multi-cultural cast “to represent the global reverberations that so many human actions seem to have.” I’ve directed it to bring the maximum value to the essential clarity of Jason’s dialogue. My goal is to involve the audience in an experience that both implicates and engages them. In my opinion, this is what contemporary art – particularly contemporary playwriting – should be all about and this is what Jason Rothery delivers.  

Inside the Seed runs from October 2-12 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.