Discover Candide Interview
What was the most fun, challenging, or exciting aspect about working on Candide?
It’s hard to narrow it down, because everything about Candide is fun, challenging and exciting! For me personally, a big part of the excitement was the opportunity to produce it with the Lamplighters, a company that specializes in operetta in English, and that I knew would have the forces and the agility to carry it off. This was actually a revival of a production we did in 2005, so I had the pleasure of returning to the project 10 years later, with the same company, to revisit what we had done, and to go further and deeper than we had the first time around.
A big part of the fun of Candide, I think, is the pace and the never-ending series of calamities and enormous changes, one after the other. One moment, the characters are innocent adolescents discovering love in a light romantic comedy; a moment later, they’re cruelly separated: one conscripted into a foreign army, the other slaughtered in a horrific massacre, plunging our hero into tragic despair. But it’s early in the story, and life continues. Voltaire stacks one devastating disaster atop another, alternating them with comically improbably reunions and moments of redemption – only to turn the tables yet again.Candide is a wild emotional roller-coaster – thrilling and exhausting (in all the best ways).
And all this while, the story takes us on a whirlwind world tour: from small towns and major port cities in Western Europe, across the ocean, up and down the South American Continent to countries real and imaginary, and back to Europe again – which means we get to hear music in many styles, wear costumes representing a dozen or more cultures, and somehow convey in one evening more disasters than most people will see in a lifetime, from sinking ships to an 8.5 earthquake, from abduction by pirates to burnings at the stake by the religious authority of the time. And all of this in the theatrical service of a philosophical debate!
What is the most challenging thing about being a Stage Director?
Where to start? Keeping everybody happy? Getting and maintaining buy-in from everyone involved – and for a production like Candide, that’s a lot of people. Of course I come in with my own ideas and responses to the material, but theatre is a collaborative art, and I get much better results when I work collaboratively – with designers as well as performers. It’s important to hear the other voices at the table, and to incorporate the best ideas from every department – as long as they’re all compatible with and supportive of the main ideas, so we’re all telling the same story.
When it comes to working with performers, it’s a balancing act between playing to each performer’s strengths and challenging the performers to stretch, go deeper, further, more specific, or in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable direction. When certain roles are double-cast, there’s an extra layer to manage: certain movements, inflections or matters of interpretation that work really well for one performer may not work at all for another, so I try to build in enough flexibility in the overall plan to accommodate each performer and show him/her off to best advantage without allowing things to be different enough to throw off the others in the scene.
How much do other productions influence yours and in what way?
When I was first starting out, I would consciously avoid seeing other productions of a show I was about to undertake, because I wanted to be sure I’d be putting forth my own ideas and interpretation, not overly-influenced by others. It was a kind of a willful ignorance that young directors sometimes wear as a badge of honor, to prove they’re unique, or at least to avoid being accused of copying something subconsciously.
These days, I’ve come around full circle. Theatre is a living, breathing social organism that interacts with its environment and with its own history, and I think it’s important for a director to know something of the performance history of the piece. Every production is – ideally, anyway – in dialogue with past productions, and it becomes part of that show’s production history for future conversations.
So these days, I look at other productions – live, recorded, even brief clips on YouTube – as valuable sources of information: what worked, what didn’t work, what pitfalls should I watch out for, how did such-and-such director solve a particular problem I’m stumped on, how would one particular interpretation work in my community, etc. Now and then, I’ll see something – perhaps an interpretation of a line I’d never considered, or an unusual take on a character – that will change my mind about a moment or an entire show.
How immersed in the music are you in the planning stage?
For months leading up to the show, I’ve the score nearby, and the closer we get to rehearsals, the less it leaves my side.
Early on, the creative team consults the score to determine casting requirements: vocal ranges and character types among the principals, how much divisi is there and how many do we need in the chorus to cover all the parts, and we consider things like vocal demands and stamina to help us decide whether to double-cast certain roles – as well as the opposite: are there multiple roles that can be covered by one singer?
We consult the score in the design phase, too: all of the visual elements (costume, scenery, lighting) take their cues from music, which may suggest style, period, tone, colors, brightness/darkness, etc. Even some of the most basic costuming decisions are driven by the music: In a big chorus number, like the “Auto-da-fe” scene, we’ll see certain solo lines and trios that tell us we need those particular costumes to stand out in that moment. And of course, the performers have to be able to move safely and well in the costumes, so we look to the music for clues that might affect physical movement: dance breaks, for example.
In our production, because we decided to have the orchestra onstage, incorporated into the action, the scenic design had to take the music into consideration more than usual: we needed to know the specific orchestration in order to build enough space for the players, and to avoid obstructed sightlines for singers, orchestra, conductor and audience.
Finally, there’s the matter of scheduling, and of figuring out exactly who can do what in this jigsaw puzzle of a score. Since we decided to fully stage it, with costumes (as opposed to having a seated chorus throughout), it took a lot of advance planning to determine who could be in which scenes, based on how much music there is to cover the costume changes for the next one. So I combed through the score to produce a chart delineating who in the chorus is available for which scenes, while others offstage changing costumes.