Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
An interview with M.F.A Directing Candidate, Shirley Serotsky, about her upcoming thesis production The Love of the Nightingale by Timberlake Wertenbaker.
The male chorus, Captain, and Niobe on the ship to Athens. (Photo courtesy of the CUAdrama Instagram).
What about the play interested you when you were choosing your thesis production?
I first encountered this play over a decade ago. I directed a reading of it for the company that is now called WSC Avant Bard. We had a very short time to rehearse, and I remember that I barely made it through rehearsal at that time. The play is not long, but it is deceptively complex.
The thesis criteria I arrived at was quite specific: I wanted a play with imagistic language and some heightened text; one with a number of major “events” to be staged; and something that challenged me from a compositional perspective. This play definitely checks all of those boxes. It’s also a female-driven narrative, which is important to me.
“The Love of the Nightingale” is an adaptation of a Greek play. Do you have a history in directing adaptations or is this directing experience new for you?
Actually, this is pretty new for me. I’ve never staged a Greek play. I tend to do very contemporary work, actually. I’ve directed a lot of new plays. But again—I saw this as a chance to work on something that would really challenge me.
Your production has a large cast for an average play at CUA. How does this work differ than working with a smaller cast?
That’s true—it is a sizable cast! When I work on a show with more than ten people I think it’s important to find time to check in with the individual groups within the play. So we did some rehearsals in clusters: male chorus, female chorus, Phaedra (the play within the play) cast, the royal family, love interests, soldier/sailors, that kind of thing. It gave us a chance to be more specific about the relationships within those groups,
Then when we come together we can see the whole world of the play again. It gives us a chance to work in the microcosm, and then the macrocosm.
How did you approach the modern day setting? How does this setting enhance the main themes of the play?
The language in the play is of the time when it was written (1988), which for the most part sounds just like we speak today. While the setting has touchstones in Ancient Greece, Wertenbaker wants us to remember that the ideas put forth by the Greeks resonate today. People are still displaced. They are robbed of their agency and voices. Power corrupts. Men still hurt women. It is a play for our time, and for all time. In the words of a male chorus member in the play, it is “the oblique image of an unwanted truth, reverberating through time.”
If you were only able to describe the play to a potential audience member in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
A modern retelling of the Philomel myth: a story about sisters; about men and women; about the loss of a homeland; about what it means to be silenced; and what it means then to reclaim your voice.
The Love of The Nightingale runs in the Callan Theatre at the Catholic University of America from November 16th- 19th. Dates and times are below: November 16th at 7:30 pm, November 17th at 7:30 pm, November 18th at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, and November 19th at 2:00 pm. Link to tickets: http://drama.cua.edu/hartke-theatre/index.cfm