Hello and welcome to Talking Theatre. I am joined today by the Director of The Lady from the Sea by Henrik Ibsen adapted by the director himself, Michael Bradley, and the last show of the Timms Studio Theatre Season for 2016/17.
I’ve had you as a guest before and if anyone is interested in hearing more about your background they can listen to Episode 2 of the podcast. That being said, what was it like getting to this point in the program?
I’ve found since I’ve been here that I’ve been very fascinated by directors who take old things and make them new. Right now, the directors I am really drawn to include Thomas Ostermeier, Ivo van Hove, Declan Donnellan with Cheek by Jowl, and Peter Hinton’s work here in Canada. There’s a bunch of them and I’m attracted to them for various difference reasons. Take Romeo Castellucci for example, although I don’t think I’m trying to emulate his work, but I am fascinated by how he takes the bones of something old and says something new with it.
All that studying has led me to this project of adapting Ibsen’s work. It went in stages, I started looking at the modern classic canon and knew I was interested in that milieu. I looked at Ibsen’s plays that weren’t overly produced and tried to find what spoke to me. The mythos underneath this play really pulled me in, the Norwegian and Scandinavian sense of mythology and how they overlap with archetypes and Jungian embodied aspects of the psyche were very fascinating.
How did your research of the mythology of Norway fuel into this play?
Well the fascinating thing that I found was that it’s very much an embodied and physical spirituality. All of the mythical beings and creatures are things in the world. They can touch you and come and take you away. The spirituality of it is not ethereal, it is in nature and creature. So that’s what I find so interesting about it because I think it’s so impactful on Ibsen’s sense of the world.
This piece moves well into the mythical world because it’s one of his few pieces that isn’t set inside a house. It’s on the landscape of the Norwegian fjords, it takes place on a mountainside by fjords that are connected to the ocean but the ocean is not quite there. While it is a play about the sea, ultimately it is a play about the absence of the sea and the longing for that chaos.
How was the adaptation process of bringing this very specific Norwegian world into the contemporary?
What I found is that even by looking at the play I was passing through a couple filters. Coming from a sensibility of the world that is particularly Norwegian, in the sense of the mythology, and also passing through this other filter of Victorian society and playwriting style and conventions. I made the decision very early on that what I was most drawn to was that subterranean and primordial sensibility and so I wanted to take away the other barriers, or filters, between me and that.
At first I was going to look at a good adaptation of it, but I’ve yet to encounter an English adaptation of it set in contemporary times. Now there are ones written in contemporary language but they are all set in the period of the play. Ultimately what spoke to me were the voices of people I know, people like me. At the end of the day the reason why I am drawn to something is because I see myself in it. So I said to myself, rather than trying to put a round peg into a square hole in terms of putting everyone in t-shirts and jeans while they speak Victorian dialogue, why not re-write it instead so that I have the freedom to experiment.
What’s the rehearsal process been like so far? At this point I understand you’ve just begun your Q2Q process.
I really lucked into a great group of actors. I had high hopes that these people would come in and collaborate with me on this play. That’s the type of artist I like to work with, someone who will come in with ideas, offers, and challenge my concepts of the play. Because ultimately 10 of us working together along with the design team is going to create the best work rather than my ideas on high with everybody else trying to climb to get to them. That’s just not the kind of director I am.
We spent a lot of early days of exploration and play on our feet with exercises to get everybody playing together. We asked ourselves: well, this is our show so what are we going to do with it? What I’ve found is that so much of what we discover comes organically from that and my task is to help shape it and see what is coming out to make it more pronounced and direct.
You’ve been working in the Bleviss Laboratory Theatre for the last two years, so what was the transition like coming onto the Timm’s stage?
There’s just a lot more moving parts. Things take a little bit longer and there’s more people on task doing things, there’s more channels to go through to get things happening. Over at the Bleviss most of the people we were working with, including myself, were on their 1st, 2nd or 3rd attempts at that kind of massive collaboration within this institution. Now we’re in the Timm’s where very few people are doing what they’re doing for the very first time which is cool.
Some of them I am working with again. Tegan, our stage manager, I worked with last year. We have an understanding all ready and we’ve been building on that relationship.
Moving into tech has a lot more moving parts, there’s just so much more to see. It’s really exciting! I know that beginning directors don’t often get these opportunities, usually they have to work on smaller indie stages. So working on such a big proscenium stage with flies, moving lights, all the bells and whistles is exciting. It gives us lots of opportunities to tell the story.
Thank you for sitting down and talking with me today! To hear the rest of our interview and to learn more about Michael’s process and what drew him to this piece click the link to hear the whole thing or follow us on iTunes at Talking Theatre.
THE LADY FROM THE SEA
By Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Michael Bradley
May 18-27, 2017
Timms Centre for the Arts
Director – Michael Bradley
Production Designer – Ksenia Broda-Milian
Sound Designer – Matthew Skopyk