(DG) Dialogues — a series of post-show conversations with theatre directors about their process, vision, and experience working on specific productions in the Philadelphia theatre community.
DG Dialogues Preview!
David Kennedy, Director of The Real Thing at The Wilma Theater, met with DG Creative Associate Kevin Rodden, and answered some questions about his process, vision, and experience with The Real Thing.
KR: Why this play here and now?
DK: It’s one of those plays that never goes out of style, being that it’s about fundamental things like art, love, and politics. And the play’s constantly shifting perspective on those subjects—always asking what is “the real thing”–means the debate should rage on long after the last scene. I think it’s Stoppard’s best play. It’s certainly my favorite of his, so it was a great honor to be asked to direct it at the Wilma, where the audience has a long and rich history with his work.
KR: How much of your vision was dependent on specific design elements? How much was created in the room?
DK: The overall idea of the show unfolding in a rehearsal room was absolutely dependent on the design and what we discovered in that process. After that, everything was flexible. That’s what I loved so much about the approach. It was extremely specific and yet left acres of room to discover in rehearsal.
KR: What were your goals on the first day of the rehearsal?
DK: A beautifully spoken, deeply felt, witty, engaging production. I also wanted the actors to be able to create real intimacy on stage. That’s always a tall order.
KR: A lot of the politics discussed in the play speak to a very specific time period. Were there any dramaturgical challenges? How important was the dramaturgy for this process?
DK: The dramaturgy was extremely important. We immersed ourselves in the research of the period. The nice thing about Stoppard is that everything you need to know to understand the play is in the play. But it was helpful to me and the company to be able to do the research, specifically on the politics of the British theatre in the early 1980s. Walter Bilderback, the resident dramaturg, was very helpful in pointing me in the right direction.
KR: What sort of work got done in previews? Were there major changes?
DK: With the actors, most of what we did in previews was apply what we had learned from the audience. On the micro level there were innumerable changes, many of them crucial, to small things actors were doing, how they played a moment or a scene. But we didn’t majorly re-stage anything. The basic architecture was in place before we had our first audience. That said, Thom Weaver’s beautiful lighting design kept evolving throughout previews, and it was quite different by the end. And, of course, we made a number of crucial design changes—new pieces of furniture, new costumes here and there, new paint choices—as we evolved our understanding of what we wanted from the overall visual look.
KR: Are there ways that you can describe how this process has been unique?
DK: A bit of a cliche to say that every process is unique, but it’s true nonetheless. Perhaps most striking was the choice to set it in a rehearsal hall, because that meant I could keep things very loose and not have to stage anything until very late in the game. Some scenes fell into place very late, only after they were sufficiently explored. I don’t always have that luxury.