BWW Interview: Christine Scarfuto in New Haven
Christine Scarfuto is the Long Wharf Theatre's literary manager and resident dramaturg. Never heard of that position? "It's a pretty fascinating job," she says, one that she discovered after being in college for a while. Her job at the Long Wharf Theatre includes providing articles about the play and/or playwright for the already impressive programs that are designed by graphic artist Claire Zoghb, and for setting up the lobby displays.
Still, there is more to the job than that, and it often different with each play. "For a play like Endgame [opening this week at the Long Wharf Theatre], my role is a combination of gathering research for the actors and director," she says. Endgame is widely considered one of Samuel Beckett's finest plays, and "there is a ton of scholarly research" on it. She adds that Beckett kept production notes and there is a book of letters he wrote to Alan Schneider (No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider), which offer "a lot of useful information." She says that "the text is very rich," and she had to familiarize herself with what Beckett and different critics said. She has to delve into what a certain line means and what a character is saying. Remember when your high school teacher mentioned that Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, was really about the McCarthy era Communist witch hunts, not the ones in Salem, Massachusetts, even though that was the setting of the play. In the later part of stages of rehearsal, Christine works with the director to clarify and deepen things in the play. "It gives the audience the richest possible experience." She also facilitates some of the post-show discussions.
A graduate of the University of Iowa with an MFA in Dramaturgy, she considers this profession the "an interesting career choice." She previously worked as a dramaturg and held other positions at Premiere Stages, in her native New Jersey, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's summer lab, HVSF2, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Signature Theatre, Clubbed Thumb, Goodman Theatre, and Playwrights Realm, and taught at Fordham University and Rutgers University.
In addition to dramaturgy of established plays, she is passionate about working with new playwrights. While interning at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, Florida, she became really fascinated by the new development process. While working with emerging playwrights, she does research on the world of the play, including the culture. She also works closely with the writer on the script. "It's really important to have a preliminary conversation with the playwright to understand his/her intent." She reads subsequent drafts of the script and asks playwrights for elucidation when necessary to make sure "that the playwright's intensions are fully represented," she says. Christine acknowledges that "it's hard to write a play and there can be significant changes from page to page. It can be helpful to have an outside eye reading through to the audience's experience."
Although Christine is a huge fan of Beckett's works, she admits that his plays can be difficult. What are her suggestions for appreciating and enjoying Beckett? "I think it's really important [to know] you don't need a Ph.D. to understand Beckett. Most [people] understand it better than they give themselves credit for," she notes. "If you're going to see a Beckett play, come with an open mind. It's not a traditional play." It's moment to moment, with all the excesses stripped away. "It's a deep look at the human experience. It's universal in that way. It's unfamiliar and foreign to us at first.... Embrace it. Listen to the words. And watch what's happening. It will be a rich experience." She notes that audiences are inspired by Beckett's characters because they validate the resilience of the human spirit. Beckett, like Hemingway, was an ambulance driver in World War II and witnessed massive death and destruction. Additionally, he returned to Ireland just before the deaths of his mother of Parkinson's disease and his brother of cancer. These distressing experiences manifest themselves in Endgame as there is no more nature outside the characters' room. The play "has relevance whenever it's produced. It's about people trying to get by without the distractions we use to get us through. Confronting life head on and continuing to choose to live day after day. And relationships with other people," she says.
Endgame, directed by Gordon Edelstein and starring Brian Dennehy, Reg E. Cathey, Lynn Cohen, and Joe Grifasi, runs through February 5. The show runs approximately 90 minutes with no interruption. For more information, call 203-787-4282. The Long Wharf Theatre is located at 222 Sargent Drive in New Haven. www.longwharf.org