Kicking off our 16th Writer/Director Lab, Louisa Proske directs Clare Barron‘s new play YOU GOT OLDER. This is the first in a series of interviews with the participants of this year’s Lab. Come and join us at the first reading at our theater at 46 Walker St, May 5 at 3PM!
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1. Briefly tell us about the play you’re directing.
Clare Barron’s play deals with the experience of disease, with how our inner life and our relationship to our own body shifts when someone we love is befallen by serious illness. It’s also a play about family, especially about the complexity of the father-daughter relationship at its center. It’s a very tender play, but the terror of its imagination runs deep.
2. Who are your greatest influences?
That’s a tricky question, because everything you experience from the moment you are born influences you, and even what came before, especially what came before. Also, the influences you can point to are often not the most interesting, because the deepest echoes of someone else’s work happen subterraneously, in ways that are very mysterious and take a lot of care to trace and understand. So I find it unsatisfying to read off a shopping list of artists I admire, because what does it really tell you? Anyway, when I make a piece, a lot of what I draw from comes from memories, from dream-images, from a recollection of places I visited, or it’s a strong response to a space, or I’m inspired by visual art, by moments from films or novels, by philosophy. In fact, I rarely turn to other theatre pieces, because somehow it doesn’t have enough distance to what I’m making. Having said that, I’ve been blessed with great teachers, and I’ve watched some truly marvelous directors at work – Robert Woodruff, and the German opera directors Willy Decker and Harry Kupfer among them – but directing is such a personal thing, at a certain point you have to find your own path to it.
3. What part of the Writer/Director Lab process was the most instructive and entertaining?
I’ve never had, and don’t know if I’ll ever have again, quite this experience of witnessing four plays grow from a tiny seedling of an idea or impulse to a fully blossomed dramatic plant. The writers are not allowed to apply with pages, so what they bring in during the first meetings are truly their first, unmediated impulses, and that’s very exciting. The writing at this early stage feels raw and intimate, something they wouldn’t normally share with others. And then to see where everyone goes from there – every writer’s process is so different! I’ve also learned a great deal from how Jenny and Ken respond to the work – how much, or sometimes how little, they say. It always feels like a response from inside of the work, and that’s what I aspire to when I collaborate with playwrights.
4. Tell us about the ‘Director Project’ portion of the Lab.
I loved the Director Project, both my own, and those of the other pairs! We’ve actually been talking a great deal about how productive and useful these collaborations have been in terms of writers and directors getting to know each other, much more useful than a reading preceded by tablework. The idea is simple: pick about fifteen minutes worth of material from the nascent play, and stage it site-specifically in or around the offices of Soho Rep. – the actors have to be off book, you get about 3-4 rehearsals with them. We decided to look at the opening of the play, and at the challenge of how to express the journey from reality into Mae’s fantasy life. We discovered so many things! For instance, it occurred to me that the fantasy scene felt more immediate and real than the “real” scene. The reality of Mae reconnecting with her Dad had a sadness at its core precisely because there was this unspoken distance between us and the characters, and also between the characters, even though they are standing right next to each other. So we decided to stage it with the audience sitting inside the office space, and facing out into the hallway – a very clinical, institutional hallway, foreshadowing the hospital that the Dad is bound towards. That’s where we see the first dialogue happen, quite far away, with Mae and Dad just standing awkwardly in the hallway, none of the things they refer to in the scene are actually there (the peppers, the fire pit). Then, at the moment of rupture, when Mae’s first fantasy tears into the fabric of reality, I had my husband (who is a jazz improviser) blast into a baritone saxophone behind the audience, while Mae walked forward and closed the door, leaving behind her Dad and the fluorescent-lit hallway, and enveloping herself and us in darkness, the actor now only inches away from us, while Clare and I stood behind the audience with a big fan, and blew fake snow all over the playing space. When the lights came back on, the audience, the actors, and half of the Soho Rep. office was covered in snow (now you know!), and we were now inside Mae’s head, in Novia Scotia, with a strange Canadian fantasy cowboy warming his hands by a fire. The point of all this is, that we could never have discovered all this sitting around a table and talking about the play. It was so useful to have to think about it spatially and temporally. Which led us to talk about shifting the model of workshopping towards these small projects that can be more fully realized and give us a glimpse of how the play might work in space and time – things that are hard to decide at a table read.
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Louisa Proske is a director of new plays, classics, musicals and opera. She holds an MFA in Directing from Yale School of Drama. Her productions include Fassbinder’sThe Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (NYU); Pinkalicious the Musical and This Same Progeny of Evils (Hangar Theatre, Ithaca);La Voix Humaine (Yale Opera); Cymbeline (Yale School of Drama);Invisible Cities (Italian Academy NY); Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire(Avant Music Festival); Rum ‘n Coca Cola in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; an international tour of Macbeth; As You Like It (Yale Summer Cabaret); ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore (The Tank, NYC); A Servant To Two Masters (Edinburgh Fringe Festival); 4.48 Psychosis (Apollonysus Theatre, York). Louisa’s translation of Fassbinder’s In a Year with 13 Moons was directed by Robert Woodruff at Yale Repertory Theatre. Louisa is a 2013 Drama League Directing Fellow. https://yaledrama.digication.com/louisa_proske