Monday, February 28, 2011

Diane Paulus: Theater is Social

Diane Paulus is currently the artistic director of A.R.T in Cambridge, MA. She is a director of opera and theater; most recently she directed The Public Theater's revival of Hair, collaborating with fellow New Vic Council guest Karole Armitage. Members of the New Vic Council are ambassadors for The New Victory Theater, working to broaden the public’s awareness of the importance of arts education and championing the New Victory Theater Education Program and the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps.

The show that I’m working on now, the next show I’m directing [at A.R.T.]is an adaptation of Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus and it’s [adapted] by Steven Sater who wrote the lyrics and adaptation of Spring Awakening on Broadway. I thought here’s the Second-Stage, it’s a black box, and we all know Second-Stage is the experimental offshoots of most theaters starting in the sixties and seventies. But I kind of saw we’re not quite using it like a black box. The black box spawned a great innovation back in the 60’s and 70’s with collective ensemble work. The “open theater” and all that amazing stuff that happened with Joe Chaikin and La MaMa - like the La Mama Annex here in New York. I thought maybe here’s another paragon to provoke the next innovation.

We’ve turned our Second-Stage into a club environment. We have a running bar so that the audience can drink, and they stand, and that in and of its self just makes people feel like they can chat. They can talk, they can look, they can respond; it encourages a social gathering around the theater - which I really believe in.

I think that the 19th century opera house was the nightclub of its day. The reason why those theaters were so gorgeous and gilt was not because, like now, the lights go out and you don’t look at anybody; all the lights were on! Wagner put us in the dark, but before then you went to the opera and you were flirting with the person in the box, and you were dressed up to go to the theater. That was part of the experience. Yes, you were going to be moved and touched by what you were seeing, but it was a social gathering.

I think sometimes we say theater is “good for you.” It’s the vitamin you take and you go and you get intellectually stimulated, and that’s it. And we give social life. The delight of theater sometimes gets a bad rap. So I like to bring that joy back that you come and you gather. You can have a transformative experience and also be with people and talk about it.

(Edited with permission).

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