This November, the Department of Drama is proud to present the TISCH DRAMA STAGE All Department Festival, bringing together faculty and students from across its 10 training studios for an exploration of Brad Birch's En Folkefiende (an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People) directed by Shanga Parker, and [REDACTED], a lineup of devised work directed by Andy Arden-Reese, performed in repertory, and featuring deconstructed components directed by various studio faculty.
Tisch Drama recently caught up with the two to discuss the festival.
Shanga, what has been your vision for this production of En Folkefiende? How has it changed as you and the company have explored the piece?
The vision is / was to strip away as much as possible and highlight the text, relationships, and Tom’s [the protagonist] quest. Because of the existence of [REDACTED] (performed in repertory) we were free to do the play as sparingly as possible. What audiences see on the stage is the bare minimum necessary for the story to be told. In my mind, [REDACTED] gets to play non-realistically with ideas in the play while we get to do the play.
Andy, how is [REDACTED] a response to En Folkefiende?
As an entry point into devising, I suggested to the component directors, designers, and actors that “our task is not necessarily to explain the play or to retell the same stories the play is already doing, but to shed light on hidden corners, enter spaces glossed over in the play, uncover secrets, and expose that which has been covered.” We are actually the UnRedacted. Everyone became quite personal in how they responded to the play. There’s a common thematic core running through all of the pieces: the challenge of the human struggle with one's own humanity while confronting that of others.
Shanga, what do you feel students have brought to the conversation?
Working with students is always a joy. They are very intelligent people who happen to act, design, and manage well. Their understanding of the corruption and workings of government and bureaucracy really assisted in discussion and staging. They are being trained to truthfully work off of one another as actors. Watching them apply this in production, and learning what is effective and what isn’t is very exciting.
Similarly, Andy, what was it like devising a project involving studio faculty from various backgrounds and techniques?
I think one of the student company members summed it up best when she said it's like getting a master class in each of the studios. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the philosophy of the studio we teach in is baked into our individual teaching and directing. Even when we are outside of the particular studio process—when we are devising a new work—something of our studio ethos comes into the room with us. I know it has been an extraordinary adventure for the students to be inside such a complex structure. They’ve really taken on a herculean task and shown incredible tenacity and willingness to enter and engage with multiple directors with very different points of view (different points of departure, different points of what “devising” even means) at the same time. Students worked with a different director every night and needed to keep the work of each director going forward as they engaged with other directors. I’m continually in awe and amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish in the given structure. The question of “collaboration” really goes to them as they were the pinnacle focus of the collaboration.
Shanga, what do you hope audiences will take away?
Tom is a flawed protagonist. He is human. There is truth in what every character in En Folkefiende says. There are also moments when a character with whom the audience may agree says something terribly disagreeable. In short, they / we are all human. The play questions how each of us holds what we know to be true while reminding us that we, too, are human.
Andy, do you think there’s a greater sense of collaboration within the department during projects like the All Department Festival?
I feel that this particular endeavor celebrates the possibility that collaboration CAN exist within the department, across the entire department. It is hugely exciting to be in the thick of it with the student designers as it is with the student actors—and that there is dialogue with Theatre Studies that fuels the collective imagination. I believe there’s something in the communal effort that matters—even if the component directors didn’t collaborate directly. That we were unified in a common cause and common endeavor translates energetically across the creative space. The students are the common denominator—and they are translators, interpreters, contributors, and finally, beacons of the collaboration.