Q & A With Director Jeffrey Sichel
Washington DC-Based Jeffrey Sichel is firmly planted in both theatre and opera--professional and academic theatre. He's worked on projects all over the country not only as a director, but also a librettist. He serves as Associate Professor of Theatre at the Catholic University of America in DC, where he also heads the MFA Theatre program. He's been given the challenge of directing Milwaukee Shakespeare's upcoming production of Cymbeline. He took the time to answer some questions about the nature of his work on the show.
There’s some question as to whether or not Cymbeline’s somewhat convoluted plot (amongst other things) may be evidence that it was a tongue-in check comedy. Are you taking the play as comedy or serious drama? Perhaps a little bit of both?
In terms of defining the play - I've never thought of it as an outright comedy. I think of it as a romance with a wide range of comedic elements from the wittiest of verbal sorties to the basest of physical lazzi. To me what makes Cymbeline difficult to define in terms of other Shakespearean works is that most of the characters exist in a marginalized space psychologically and by extension physically in the journeys that they take within the play. It is these extreme places and states that attract me to the play.
How are you handling the appearance of Jupiter in Act V?
. . . we are using a combination of large scale puppetry and sound design to achieve something otherworldly yet tangible (outside the realm of daily experience) that is inherent in the entirety of the masque section of the work
I understand that you and Misha Kachman wanted to transport the audience—to create a fantastic setting for the play. How do you do this while working in such a small space?
In directing I think it is my job to give an audience an experience that is unique for that particular play. That the idea of "watching a play" is by definition too passive of an experience. In all that we do in this production we invite the audience to enter into an installation that is Cymbeline rather then to sit and watch a show. We ask an audience to engage their imagination with what could be termed a series of carefully constructed thought experiments. Finally just in terms of creating this fantastic experience in such a small and intimate space it is about using carefully selected elements suited to the transformation of space and mood. That is about defining space rather then building scenery and particularly about focusing the actor audience relationship.
You’ve also worked extensively in opera. How does that experience inform on directing non-musical drama?
In terms of opera directing I think that it is uniquely related to working on Shakespearean text. Extremely similar in the need for interpreting a very fixed score and learning how to focus all the diverse production elements in support of an auditory experience. It's all about the poetry. May it be in music, words or both.