The Play is the Stage and the World: Theater Director and Playwright Deloss Brown

How do you renew your relationship with Shakespeare and his world?

If I’m teaching a Shakespeare class, I re-read the play and I also re-read my notes, because they represent what I have painfully learned on my own, or what the actors have taught me, or what the students have taught me.

If I’m directing a play for the first time, I follow the above-mentioned procedure of getting the actors to read until I get some glimmering. If I’m directing it for the second or third time, I look at the director’s script I used previously, and then I get the actors to read until some glimmering.

When working with actors, how do you reconcile physical rigor with a predominantly text-based approach in terms of their interpretation of theatrical texts?

Production shot of Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir
Louise (Krista Adams Santilli) and Julien (Lucas Wells) in bed
© Hunter Canning

There shouldn’t be any physical rigor involved, as far as I know. The actor should be so well rehearsed that for him or her, the task should look effortless, and be practically effortless. (This doesn’t mean the actor doesn’t have to concentrate on what he or she is doing, but he/she shouldn’t have to clench his/her jaw, tense his/her muscles, or work up a sweat.) We’re presenting a play, which is largely an intellectual activity which happens to involve the body, especially the voice.

What if the play requires strenuous activity?

Same answer. I saw a play based on Les Enfants du Paradis last week, and it had mime and a lot of gymnastics in it. But the actors were all gymnasts and mimes as well as actors, and when they weren’t standing still and speaking the text, they tumbled about the stage and turned many cartwheels and made it all look effortless (and amazing).

Our production of The Red and the Black had a fair amount of fights and physical violence in it, and apparent bloodshed, but it was — obviously — carefully rehearsed. Nobody got hurt, or worked up a sweat, and Jessica Myhr got to smear the blood on Lucas Wells while she was beating him up during the fight. My motto is: “It’s only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea.”

Do you or your actors look for some sort of a routine or “habits” during rehearsals? I am also tempted to ask how you might allow surprise to thrive without compromising stability during those long weeks of preparation.

I try to cultivate good habits in myself, the first of which is: try to let the actors alone during the exploration of the text. They were generally hired because they were intelligent, among the other things, and the director might as well take advantage of their intelligence. You give notes about the very, very obvious things, like, can the actor be seen and heard — and you’re supposed to be the supervisor of where the entrances and exits are (but again sometimes the actor can figure this out better than you can).

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