Why Ibsen? Part Two
This is the second and final part of our series analyzing Grex Group’s recent production of Ibsen’s Women. You can read part one of the series here.
Spoken dialogue is never enough in storytelling. As a director, I take great pains to develop and shape stage pictures that speak about the relationships of characters on stage. A character’s motivations, obstacles and the tactics they employ to get what they want in a given scene are powerfully told through blocking. This is my art. It’s like shaping a sculpture out of a large block of stone. With each blocking choice, the story becomes more clear. So, I felt it was necessary to employ certain body positions and movements throughout each scene that would help tell the story of Ibsen’s women.
Keeping it simple, the actors would often begin behind their music stands. But as the scenes progressed and characters needed movement, I would stage them to make slight movements toward or away from the imaginary other character placed in the audience. I also made some choices where the actors would be in close or further proximity of the other actor on stage, giving us a sense of advance and retreat. Our process was organic. The actors would often feel inclined to move in a moment, and it was simply up to me at that point to coordinate their movements with the other stage pictures being created at that moment. Pacing in each scene was often established with the speed in which an actor moved as well as their rate of speech. I used these as a tools to pace the entire evening.
I also watched for obvious opportunities to employ basic levels and diagonals in stage composition — a tactic I, like many directors, often employ in my plays. Seldom did I want actors simply standing in a straight line. I tried to break this up as much as possible, with the exception of the final scene in A Doll’s House. I had Torvald and Nora stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the audience to start out, creating a powerful image of connectedness. Throughout the scene we slowly broke them apart and separated them. The more Nora argued her case and prepared to leave, the further they separated.
The movement choices had been made. The actors were in the moment, in character, fully engaged within the scenes. The final elements to send this reading into a complete performance piece were that of music and lighting, both part of my original vision for the project. As a director, I have been on a big live music kick lately. It’s slowly becoming a trademark of my directing style. The scenes needed some form of bridge from scene to scene, as well as some underscoring for certain poignant moments. We employed live piano, an instrument readily available during Ibsen’s day, but also one readily available to us in New York City in 2012. My direction to the pianist was minimal. I asked for transitions between scenes, some starting at the end of the previous scene in the form of underscore, and some beginning part-way into a new scene. Variation was the key. Our pianist, Timothy Wall, took the day to listen and respond to what we were rehearsing, and made choices on where and what would be included with the underscoring of scenes. Each choice was precise, intentional, and supportive of the action. The piano played a huge role in setting the mood and in moving the audience emotionally.
The final brushstroke on the piece was the lighting. In a basic reading, it’s often: “lights up,” and maybe a blackout at the end. In our case, we had transitions and four distinctly different scenes that we needed to look and feel a little different from one another. In addition, we had worked very hard to establish the mood of each scene through music, blocking, and acting choices. So, to have the lighting match these choices was an obvious choice to maintain the convention we were establishing. Our lighting technician, Caleb Jones, crafted each scene with a slightly different hue, and a base of color different for each scene. Some were lit as interior scenes, while others had the look of an outdoor garden scene at night. This was the final layer that enhanced the emotional response of those watching the performance.
Why Ibsen? His writings today would be worthy of a Pulitzer prize for drama, an award that did not exist in Ibsen’s day. My discoveries through this process were that his plays not only read as novel masterpieces but they come to life with ease and clarity when performed. Not many plays can accomplish both. My dream of a stylized performance piece became a reality through organic, yet structured, rehearsals, along with an extremely talented and eager cast and crew. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to collaborate on this project in the city of theatre, New York, with some of it’s most enthusiastic theatre artists. This was a director’s dream.