A Dream Play, our fall Theatre Mainstage, opens next Wednesday evening. We talked to guest director James Fagan Tait about the adaptation of Strindberg's classic play and his experience so far directing our theatre students.
About A Dream Play
Abstract and fast flowing, A Dream Play replicates the disjointed shape of a dream, in which the story itself unfolds. Following Agnes, a god’s daughter, and her experience when she descends to earth to find out what it is like to be human. In doing so she witnesses both the joy and depravity of human experience. Confronted with different sorts of suffering, she is forced to realize that gods should pity humans. Her return to heaven signals an awakening from the dream-like state.
Strindberg originally wrote A Dream Play in 1901, it remains one of his most admired works and is widely regarded to have had a huge influence on later modernist drama. This adaptation is by Caryl Churchill, and was first performed at the National Theatre, London in 2005.
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Why did you decide to remount Strindberg's classic play for the Theatre Mainstage?
I read Caryl Churchill’s adaptation recently just before Steven Hill asked me to direct something. I was so moved by it on my last reading that it seemed like the right thing to bring to the table in a university that focuses on contemporary arts. Strindberg doesn’t get done a lot. The older translations are fairly archaic. But Churchill’s adaptation for Katie Mitchell and the National Theater is so contemporary in feel.
It's a new adaptation by Caryl Churchill, how has the play been reworked?
Caryl has distilled the original script into a shorter, more naturalistic sounding play. What is unusual about the dream life of the play in this version is not in the language of a stodgy translation.
Do you have a lot of experience directing student productions?
Yes, I have directed 5 student productions at studio 58 and 2 at UBC.
What has the experience been like working with the theatre students on this production?
It has been a joy coming to every rehearsal. The students have been thirsty to figure out how to bring Strindberg to the stage. They are not only exceedingly talented, they’re filled with goodwill and this makes the process of creation (optimal).
How have you approached the work for a contemporary audience?
Caryl Churchill has approached it for a contemporary audience. I have just asked the actors for naturalistic performances that seem to be improvised on the spot. It has a quality of spontaneity or that’s what we’re shooting for anyway. We’ve taken away all the walls and all the physical adornments in the same way that Churchill has removed anything florid out of the text.
Any highlights from the rehearsal process so far?
The rehearsals have been very steady and progressive. The play has been growing stronger and better. The actors are more confident and more in control as every day goes by. I asked them to be off book early, so most of them were off book within 3 or 4 days. They’ve had an opportunity to master the material and to really understand the inner-life of the characters.
What is next for you? What interesting projects are in the works for you?
I’m finishing up a playwright residency for the Frank Theater Company for a new play I’ve written called The Explanation. I’m going to Toronto in three weeks to hear another new play I’ve written with Cathie Borrie read at the Tarragon Theater. In the new year, I will be directing Pirandello’s Six Character in Search of an Author at the Canadian Collage of Performing Arts, in Victoria BC, where I directed the musical Zorba last year.