Sarah Ruhl’s reputation preceded her before I read or had seen her work. Once I’d read her, it was easy to understand why her name reached so far so quickly. Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is a play that touches its audiences. She builds worlds to immerse yourself in, and her language coats you in loss, in longing, in simple, naive love, but humor is never far away.
I was developing my approach for Eurydice at the same time I had a chance to go to both Moscow for the “Golden Mask Festival”, and Poland for the” World as Place of Truth” festival to honor Grotowski in 2009. In all of the work, I was struck by how much could be said by your design choices (and that you don’t need a big budget to make magic onstage), and how much you could accomplish with the appropriate gesture–how dance connects to us on another level because we understand it instinctually.
For Eurydice I shifted my approach as a director. I had always had a healthy respect for the artists I worked with, but for the first time I decided to really collaborate with each artist. I wanted to see what could happen if I wasn’t the expert, but the guide utilizing the strengths and knowledge of my party. I also brought in several artists to lead workshops and teach the cast new skills. Dara Weinberg, an artist I met in Poland and became close with, is an expert with Greek Chrouses, and she worked extensively with the Stones. Sarah Anne Austin came to teach us contact improv and give us the movement vocabulary for the Underworld.
I decided to utilize the natural musical ability of my Orpheus and challenged him to sound design the show, and run much of the show on turn-tables, which he operated from the house.
I experimented with periodically giving the cast and designers feedback sheets, to create another avenue of feedback and conversation on the process mid-show. I began to find ways for the artists to feel more comfortable experimenting during the process in a less structured way, and for the first time allowed for segments in the script where a few characters, the Stones, could work as a small ensemble and change their blocking within certain parameters each performance. I found empowering the artists I was working with liberating. It also increased the creative capacity of the entire team, leading to an electric quality in rehearsal and performance.
Following my experiences in Poland where I engaged in a few knock-down drag out debates with regards to the director’s role when working with a playwright’s work, I began to take liberties with the stage directions (definitely not the text–I’m in no position to improve anyone’s words, especially not Ruhl’s). This, too, was liberating. I could keep and leave what I needed, helping me to tell the story more effectively for my circumstances.
My biggest mistake with the production was asking for too much technically. We eventually made everything happen–the pool of water, the dock, the working pump, the several thousand ping-pong balls falling from the ceiling, and more, but it came at a certain price of severely over-working my set designer who dealt with my larks and desires admirably, and created the beautiful world the production needed. Although I help quite a bit with each build for Single Carrot, this time I went overboard and found that my imagination needed to be able to work pragmatically.