American Stage Education sat down with Seth Gordon, Director of A DOLL’S HOUSE, opening on November 14 at American Stage. Read on for some insight behind the director’s vision.
Why did you want to direct A Doll’s House?
I’ve never directed a play by Henrik Ibsen, who is considered, along with Shakespeare and the Sophocles, one of the greatest playwrights of all time. This play in particular is one that interests me now for two reasons. One is that most productions of it in this country are saddled by translations that tend to lean toward British dialects, and I’m hoping that our production, while set in the period, will have a contemporary American dialectic. I’m hoping it will make it easier for our audience to relate to the story and the characters.
I also consider the play to be particularly relevant today. It has things to say about the politics of marriage and the confluence of life choices made for passion and life choices made for necessity that I think will really speak to people.
What is your relationship to this play or to Ibsen’s work prior to being involved in this production?
Ibsen is among the most highly regarded of playwrights, and I’ve studied this play since high school. I’ve seen several productions and have thought much about how I might approach it over the years. This is my first opportunity to put all this to the test.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge of directing this play?
One of those challenges has already been largely met, as we have worked on a script that we hope will seem contemporary and domestic to our audience here in Florida. Making a play that takes place in Norway in the 1880’s reach out and touch today’s audience is our main challenge. We also have on our hands a classic play that many have heard of or seen in other productions or perhaps on television. Moving everyone’s preconceptions about the play out of their heads so that the audience can see the play fresh is also our challenge.
You are working with a classic text. What are the contemporary resonances of this play?
Without creating a spoiler alert, I’ll say that the event at the end of the play, momentous and controversial when the play was first staged, is something of a normal occurrence today. Having said that, many of the events that lead up to it are ones that our audience will recognize in their own lives, whether they have personally experienced these things in the same way or not.
While many women are now more emancipated than Nora, or perhaps they perceive themselves to be so, many relationships experience the same social and political inequality today. Many women continue to perceive themselves as economically dependent on their significant other, and it has a direct effect on the life choices they make. And many marriages continue to take place in one form of a doll’s house or another, where the fabric of the marriage is essentially a fallacy both participants have independently chosen to believe.
How will you approach or underline the central ideas of the play?
Part of my job is to facilitate a production that allows the actors and designers to illuminate the play’s central ideas, and to eliminate the barriers they may face as they strive for excellence in their work. Mr. Ibsen has done a marvelous job in telling a story with very compelling ideas. I have helped create an adaptation that best helps our audience understand the play in the language they speak, and I hope we have created a world on the stage of American Stage Company, through our choices for the set, the furniture, and the clothes the actors wear, that best illuminates the characters’ wants and desires.
In terms of illuminating the play’s central ideas, they come from clarifying Nora’s emotional journey through the play, and that journey belongs to the marvelously skilled and talented Katherine Tanner. I hope I’m able to be her third eye and help her take the audience on that ride.
What inspires you as a director?
As I’ve already suggested directing a play involves telling stories, solving problems and removing the barriers my colleagues might face toward doing their best work. I am also the person who, as my title suggests, provides the direction everyone will take, so we’re all moving toward the same goals. As I am meant to provide the leadership and inspiration for everyone else, I look to the script I’m working on for my own inspiration.
I enjoy working on a production the most when there are two goals achieved. One is finding a script that involves characters whose journeys are affected by world events I wish to share with an audience. They can’t affect the world events, but they strive with vigorously to overcome them. The other goal is to find colleagues to work with who challenge and inspire me, and whose company I truly enjoy. I’ve achieved both goals with this project.
As a director, what is your preferred rehearsal process?
I try to tailor how a schedule is created for rehearsal to the needs of the script. In this case the main goals will be to make sure the play is staged in a way that best illuminates the story and the emotional journeys of the characters, and to make sure that Katherine Tanner, who is playing Nora, best executes her characters’ trajectory through the play.
I also work toward creating an atmosphere in rehearsal that allows for collaboration, where everyone contributes, the actors feel a sense of ownership of the decisions that go into their performances, and what’s left onstage are the best ideas we came up with, regardless of their origin.