The Director and the Dramaturg: Upcoming Productions

Interview with Kari Olmon ’13 for her Dramaturgy Thesis

Senior Kari Olmon’s dramaturgy thesis project, a staged reading of her original play, “The Intense Fragility,” will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the LPAC Frear.

Jeannette Leopold: Kari, would you give a synopsis of your play?
Kari Olmon: I’ll give you my Facebook summary: In January of 1919, celebrated Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky gives his final ballet performance and begins the diary that will chronicle his descent into madness. In 1936 St. Louis, Rose Williams — beloved sister to renowned playwright Tennessee Williams — discovers Nijinsky’s diary and dreams of escaping into his world. Separated by every possible spatial, temporal and social barrier, the virtuosic dancer and the secluded sister have one thing in common: both are suspected of a peculiar and precocious dementia that terrifies and repulses their families who will do anything — anything — to contain them. A play about desire, madness, and the legacy of art, “The Intense Fragility” imagines an encounter outside the slipstream of history that brings two people together in the realm of the subjunctive where anything is possible and fantasy becomes reality.

JL: So, what is dramaturgy?
KO: I consider the dramaturg sort of the interpreter of the play, the person who is a go-between for the director and the playwright. The dramaturg’s primary task is to do the text the greatest possible justice while assisting the director in achieving his or her vision to the greatest possible extent.

JL: How does a dramaturgy thesis work?
KO: In the case of this particular project, I needed to adapt a non-theatrical text into a theatrical text.

JL: How is a dramaturgy thesis different from a playwriting or directing thesis?
KO: The genesis is different from a playwriting thesis in that I had to start with a non-theatrical text. However, the result should appear similar in that my goal was to create a text that stands alone, guided by research but not dependant on it. In contrast to a directing or acting thesis, the production elements in a dramaturgy thesis are downplayed, because the emphasis is supposed to be on the words. My goal is for the words to be heard and understood as clearly as possible, whereas in a directing thesis the aim is a unified whole that privileges other jobs, such as design and acting, just as much as the writing.

JL: Why did you choose Williams and Nijinsky?
KO: Honestly, it was sort of an accident. I was scoping out a wide range of potential course texts, and I stumbled across a bizarre one-act by Williams. It was a play that dramatized an encounter between a disturbed young woman and the apparition of Nijinsky. With a little research, I discovered many similarities that the young woman had to Williams’ sister.

JL: How many hours do you think you’ve put into this project?
KO: I’ve been working on it for a little under a year now. I started research last winter break, then spent all of the spring semester writing a first draft. Over the summer and through the fall rehearsal process I’ve been working on that draft. I’m currently on my eighth draft, and there will be a new one by Friday [November 9th]. I can’t estimate how many hours exactly — a lot.

JL: Why should students come to see this?
KO: It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of the process of developing new theater. Even though this is the final component of my thesis work, I expect to keep revising it after this benchmark. The audience can look at this as a laboratory environment where any feedback will help me develop my work for the future.

Interview with Patrick Ross for his Drama Board Production

Patrick Ross ‘13 is directing “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde; the play will be performed Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Bond.

Jeannette Leopold: Patrick, could you summarize “The Importance of Being Earnest”?
Patrick Ross: The play is about Jack Worthing (Caroline Batten ’14) and his struggle with identity, which is demonstrated literally in his confusion with his name. Everyone is under the impression that his name is Ernest, hence the title, and all of the comedy is derived from that.

JL: So, it’s a comedy, then?
PR: Definitely. Yesterday I found myself laughing so loudly that I had to leave the room while I was directing. I’ve been working with it for a couple of months, so the fact that I still find it that funny is a testament to the playwright.

JL: Is there any meaning in the play aside from humor? Not that there has to be.
PR: The short answer is — yes. If there is meaning to be derived from any theater, and of course there is. Mostly it’s a lot of self-discovery, but it’s done in a hilarious, farcical way. So that you don’t know that it’s profound.

JL: Why did you decide to do the show in Bond?
PR: Lots of it was logistics — what space could we get that we didn’t have to share? The aesthetics of it are also very appropriate to the show, which is set in Victorian England.

JL: You mentioned that Caroline Batten is playing Jack Worthing. Why did you choose to cross-gender cast?
PR: Mostly, it was that there were three ladies who I really wanted to play Cecily and Gwendolen, the female leads, and I didn’t know how to compromise that. I didn’t want to exclude any of them because they auditioned extremely well. I picked Caroline because I knew she could do it, and because I knew it would be a fun challenge. Plus, since the play is about identity, it adds another layer to this man not knowing who he is.

JL: Has she risen to the challenge?
PR: Absolutely. She needs man pants to do it — that’s what we call them. They’re just shorts. I’m very pleased.

JL: Other than the reasons you’ve mentioned, why will Swarthmore students enjoy this production?
PR: There are two gay make-outs and a 6’6” guy in a maid’s outfit.

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