Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
by Tori Boutin
An interview with Orion Jones (MFA in Directing, ’15) about his thesis production of King Oedipus: Zeus to Deus.
Why did you choose Oedipus for your thesis production?
King Oedipus was one of three plays under consideration for my thesis production. The others, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shaw’s Major Barbara, come squarely from the realist tradition. So KO represented an exciting challenge because it demanded a different style of performance. I also wanted the experience of working on a play that had a very tight structure. Each scene builds in a way that offers a unique contribution to the drama of the play. Having done a little scene work with the Yeats’ script last fall, I saw it was something that really excited the actors, too.
What does your production enlighten about the text?
Well, there are many, many translations of Oedipus Rex. And deciding on the Yeats version took some time. We did readings of four different translations, some of which were more contemporary, others more “classical.” Yeats, himself an adventuresome dramatist, offered language that is suited to the modern ear as well as a heightened treatment of the speeches and dialogue.
What makes this play and your production important to today’s audience?
The idea that certain themes are universal, i.e. applicable to people regardless of race, class, gender, etc., is not at the height of its fashion. There are practitioners who still defend the notion —Peter Brook is one example—but it is increasingly problematic. I think King Oedipus does, however, have universal themes. Among them is the simple truth that virtue and reward are not one in the same thing. Oedipus falls despite his best intentions; we fall despite ours. I hope the play reminds people that they aren’t alone in their trials. It’s our condition and there’s no ultimate reward in choosing endless pleasure and comfort.
How has your experience at CUA influenced your direction?
The professors in the drama department are exceptional. They all know the trade and understand the art, and that has allowed me to mature a lot in just a couple years. I year ago, I’d have been (and was) a nervous wreck with such a large production in front of me. Now I’m feeling pretty comfortable and learning that an important part of putting up a good production is enjoying the process, and helping those around you enjoy it too. Two years ago, it was less about the audience and more about “my art.” Now it’s the reverse.
What has your process been like working with your actors? Designers?
The designs were created over the summer while I was assisting a show in Massachusetts, so it was a challenge trying to communicate with everyone by phone and email. But everyone did the best they could and I think we have a very exciting, cohesive design. And the actors have been exceptional from the first read through. They are so receptive to the work that I have to remind myself to keep pushing them into new territory. As long as there is trust between the cast and the director, that creative tension can have exciting results. Everyone is there to get better at their craft and learn from each other.
How would you describe YOUR production to a potential audience member?
This new production of Sophocles’ most famous play about the rise and fall of King Oedipus, translated by W.B. Yeats, tells the story of a man’s ambition to learn a truth that may condemn his own life but save his realm. As the play progresses, it also explores the emergence of Christianity and its roots in Greek polytheism, provoking questions of reason and faith.
King Oedipus: Zeus to Deus runs in the Callan Theatre at Hartke October 9-12th, 2014