Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In a Word: Director Chris Robson on Freud's Last Session

The challenge in doing plays about actual people from history is to balance the information with the inspiration.
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Chris Robson is a UBC graduate with an MFA in Directing and a BFA in Acting. His thesis production was George F. Walker’s Suburban Motel plays: Problem Child and The End of Civilization.  Recent directing credits: Our Country’s Good (UBC Players’ Club); Welcome to My Wake and Figment (Vancouver Fringe Festival); The Last 5 Years at Jericho Arts Centre (also set/lighting designer & pianist); for Fugue Theatre: The Lover and Sex, Madness, Rock n’ Roll (also writer, music director, actor, pianist). 

CHARPO:  For starters, tell us about your theatrical journey - first what brought you to UBC and then to directing. Everyone has that moment as a kid where we think: this is for me! Tell us about yours and what actions you took to make this happen.

ROBSON: As a little kid, my older sister and her friends would dress me up and we would then go and make all our parents laugh. This seemed like a good thing to do. By the time I had graduated from High School and acted in a few school and community productions, I had made up my mind I was going to act. My parents wanted foremost for me to have a good education, so I got my acting training at UBC. I have acted in over 20 plays at UBC, but in 1995 I was curious to try my hand at directing. I figured that since I didn't actually know how to direct, my best strategy would be to surround myself with the best actors, designers and stage managers. After working as a freelance actor for 25 years, I became disillusioned with 'the treadmill' of TV and commercial auditions, and more inspired by my theatre work and colleagues. So I decided to go back to UBC to actually learn the techniques and philosophies of directing - which include surrounding myself with the best collaborators!

C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud never met, but the author asks the question, "What if they did - on the day Britain declares war on Nazi Germany?"

CHARPO: Now the play. As you prepared what have you learned about CS Lewis and about Freud that would colour your direction for this play about their meeting.

ROBSON: The challenge in doing plays about actual people from history is to balance the information with the inspiration. Mark St. Germain's script accomplishes this by combining his research into the private lives of two very public people with a crucial moment in time. C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud never met, but the author asks the question, "What if they did - on the day Britain declares war on Nazi Germany?" The author juxtaposes the fantasy of this encounter with the reality of history, and allows us to be like a fly on the wall when these two strong personalities must face their worst fears. What I have enjoyed learning about both men is the strength of their underlying humanity. People might think Freud was a dour and unhappy man based on photographs of him, but in the playwright's impression, he has great passion and humour. Lewis's faith is another interesting discovery, in that he intellectualizes it very rationally, almost scientifically.

CHARPO: Because the central theme of the piece is one surrounding the existence of God, it begs the question of what *you* are bringing to the table!

ROBSON: As far as my personal perspective on "the question of God", I think the act of questioning is healthy. I have simple philosophies for life: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Spread Friendship, Love, and Truth. Eat more vegetables. What I bring to the table is curiosity and a desire to see people rise to their potential.

CHARPO: Have you found your own beliefs (or lack of) challenged or are you more intellectually removed from the piece?

ROBSON: It's impossible for me to be detached from my work. I am attracted to plays and to other artists by whatever each has that is compelling. Some plays attract my intellect, others my emotion. Actors have great instincts, and their own unique ways to explore and experiment with characters. So when a play appeals to both emotion and intellect, and the actors are identifying with the characters, and the story is clear, then my job is to shine a light on everything I like.   

CHARPO: Besides a witty, well-written evening of theatre, what do you want the audience to take away from the piece - will they argue, will they search inward...?

ROBSON: The best theatre doesn't present answers, it provokes questions. The audience will take a lot of different things away with them - surprise at the complexity of these two figures they thought they already knew; the uniqueness of such an intimate theatrical experience; and an opportunity to look at their own beliefs and the way they may judge other people's beliefs.  I believe every play I'm involved in is an opportunity to foster more theatregoers.  I hope people will enjoy our production so much that they will want their friends to experience it too, and compare their experiences and get into deep philosophical discussions afterward.

Freud's Last Session runs Jan. 29 - Feb. 9

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