Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In a Word... Alison Darcy, co-artistic director of Scapegoat Carnivale, on Faust

It contains EVERYTHING

Alison Darcy is co-artistic director of Scapegoat Carnivale in Montreal, as well as an actor who has appeared at most of the city's main and secondary houses.

CHARPO:  Why Faust, especially this Faust which is a monster (and you're doing bits of both volumes!!) when you could do Marlowe?

DARCY: Why Faust? 

That’s another one of those questions, like why Greek mythology. 

And the same answer applies, because it contains EVERYTHING.

Marlowe’s Faust is a great story about a man who sells his soul to the devil. 

Goethe’s Faust is an epic work that took him 57 years to complete; it contains mythical characters from throughout time and space, it envelops one man’s entire imagination and touches on every major theme that life offers us. It is akin to doing all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, or the bible, or Gulliver’s travels, the odyssey and Don Quixote all in one. 

Of course, your question is “what does Goethe have to say to us”, but honestly all I can do is tell you what he says to me.

The character of Faust first popped up in the 1500’s Germany in the form of chapbooks. Many old myths and fantastical stories that were previously attributed to random characters were suddenly being printed under the name of a doctor Faustus. Apparently there were two different Fausts alive at the time, one was indeed a very good doctor, and the other was a magician/con-artist. Their personas were blended together accidentally and thus the storytelling began. Marlowe got a hold of these stories and made Dr. Faustus but it wasn’t until Goethe took a hold of them in the 1700’s that the full mythology was realized in one book.

All that being said it is actually mad of us to attempt an adaptation, but it’s just too fun not to try.

Scapegoat seems to go in for these big fantastical large cast epic shows, so this feels very inline with our tastes.

CHARPO: What does Goethe have to say to us?

DARCY: As I said, his is a great work of epic proportion and so any idea or theme you are interested in can be found in his work. The ones that we have chosen to track in this adaptation are ones of striving, love, evil and nature. Of course, your question is “what does Goethe have to say to us”, but honestly all I can do is tell you what he says to me.

The themes are universal, and like all great works, survive due to that very fact. They remain constantly relevant, and therefore the choice to perform them at one time rather than at another becomes a personal one perhaps.

I have become very interested in the nature of evil, and the way that we personify it. Faust and Mephistopheles have a relationship that questions man’s struggles between sensual desire and fulfilment of being. Purpose and meaningfulness are pitted against romantic love and passion, as if we need to choose between them.

Our relationship to the natural world, and the spirit world that lies behind a thin veil of reality is also placed in opposition in a way. The idea that these elements (just as Faust and Mephistopheles themselves) are two halves of the same whole sheds light on our very human fear of the hidden murky shadows we harbour within ourselves.

That is something that I am excited about exploring, personally as well as artistically.

Also the idea of striving, reaching for the unknowable, for the goal that remains forever just out of our grasp, that this is what feeds life itself, and without it we are complacent and useless. This is possibly the central thrust of Goethe’s story. This is a massive part of today’s goal driven society, much more so than in Goethe’s time, but that is also being challenged by our increasing understanding of the power of acceptance and of allowing ourselves to simply be. This is another personal interest of mine. 

Not to mention the role of the eternal feminine, the loss of love and of a child, and the wonderful pains of tragic humour…

one director in Germany tried to perform both books in their entirety and the play lasted 24 hours, so we’ve had a lot of picking and choosing to do

CHARPO: What translation are you using and how are you and Joseph Shragge adapting it?

DARCY: We have been working from many different translations, including the original chapbooks. We also have had invaluable input from Joerg Esleben, a Faustian professor at the University of Ottawa. 

So far our process has been that I have been shaping the structure and editing different versions down to a manageable shape (one director in Germany tried to perform both books in their entirety and the play lasted 24 hours, so we’ve had a lot of picking and choosing to do), then Joseph has been creating original text based from those scenes and then I have been adding to and editing that, and we just go back and forth. It has been a wonderful collaboration so far. We also had a wonderful short workshop at Playwright’s Workshop which helped us at a critical moment of development.

CHARPO: Tell us how you have solved some of the staging problems?

CHARPO: It's a very short run; why?

DARCY: I will answer those two questions in one.

We decided to give ourselves the time and focus we need to figure out this enormous story, and not focus on results. This is our last year as the resident company at the Segal, we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity for development, which is so rare. Our process will be on-going throughout the run. We have a one week rehearsal period, then four staged readings, with video accompaniment to help make sense of the many settings and characters. We will continue to rehearse and change things before each reading, so the last show will hopefully be quite different from the first.  We were inspired by what Tanner Harvey and Jeremy Taylor did with Big Plans.

CHARPO: How much of this is about wrangling the text, story and cast to reveal something lucid and how much of it is just letting yourself go?

DARCY: At this point, we are just emerging from the text wrangling and are starting to allow a few of our own imaginative leaps to filter into the story.  Like all the big stories out there, it is proving to be an inspiring platform to jump off from and lends itself to that more than to the feeling of having to adhere to a rigid plot structure. The way that Goethe himself ran away with characters from Greek Mythology and history leads me to believe that he would approve. However, I think the larger leaps for us will come with the full scale production. I am already making crazy plans though. 

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