Director Gregg T. Daniel Talks About New 3 Sisters at the Lower Depth
Three Sisters After Chekhov opens July 9 @ The Lost Studio in Hollywood. Its director Gregg T. Daniel has a diversified and well-known career as director/actor of stage and television/film actor. His stage direction includes 2009's critically-acclaimed production of Tom Stoppard's Heroes at the Group rep and Sybyl Walker's Beneath Rippling Waters presented by the Company of Angels @ the Fremont Center in Pasadena in 2006. As actor, he currently has a recurring role as Reverend Daniels in HBO's True Blood.
In the following interview Daniel discusses the newly formed Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble that is about to present Three Sisters After Chekhov.
Tell me about The Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble and its mission. Since this is its inaugural production, what does it expect to bring to the Los Angeles theatre community that is decidedly different from what most other groups bring?
Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble (LDTE) was formed out of a passion of several mature theatre professionals to continue to grow. Our genesis as a company is unique in that our founding members did not recently graduate together from a theatre training program who then decided to form an ensemble. Rather, we've been doing theatre for decades, have ongoing careers while currently raising families. Our desire is to take the maturation and experience we've gained over a lifetime in
the theatre and reflect it in our choices on the stage.
Since our members work in classical, contemporary and new plays, we wish to include those in our repertoire. However, we may look to non traditional choices and places to supply the raw material. We've done a reading of a retelling of the Phaedra myth by playwright Nicole Brooks set on the island of Haiti. Our inaugural production of Three Sisters After Chekhov by Mustapha Matura sets the story on the island of Trinidad circa 1941. We envision an opportunity to interpret plays in the theatrical canon in unexpected and unique ways.
Why was Three Sisters After Chekhov selected as the first production? How does its message reflect the theatre group's overall and specific goals?
I wanted material which had a classical feel about it without feeling obligated or dictated to by the classics. Part of the company's mission is to present material, "through the lens of the
artist of color." Sounds great, but what does it mean? Well, with Three Sisters After Chekhov, I have an Afro- Caribbean playwright adapting a Russian Classic with largely African
American actors in the roles. It's the perfect synthesis of material, race and setting which challenges our perceptions of the world. What did it mean to be a bourgeois Caribbean family living under British rule in 1941? I was also taken by the unusual resonance the story attains from the playwright's transposition. I've seen many productions of Chekhov's Three Sisters but saw the material with fresh eyes in Matura's work.
As director, what is your main goal and perhaps underlying goals in the mounting of this play?
My main goal is to open up the richness of the play's culture and setting in a way which is familiar, appealing and urgent to audiences. I don't mean familiar as in a Frommer's guide to the
Caribbean. Rather, I want audiences to identify with the internal struggles of this family to achieve happiness. In our adaptation of Three Sisters, Cambridge, England stands for Moscow. But no matter the city, it still represents an idealized world of freedom, happiness and hope. It's the human condition for fulfillment we're exploring... wherever it's set.
What is your most challenging direction of a play to date?
They're all challenging, whether I'm directing a solo performance piece or a twelve character ensemble. Every play has its own unique set of needs and peculiarities. I love tackling plays which intimidate me, plays which feel insurmountable to me. That's when my work really begins. How do I give shape and meaning to the disorderly world of the play? My next directorial challenge is in mounting a staged reading of Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs. It's scheduled to be part of the Antaeus Company's annual Classicsfest (of which I'm a member). Talk about big ideas, Les Blancs deals with pan africanism, racism, independence, and ultimately identity.
Do you have a favorite director - either stage or film - that perhaps serves as a mentor to your work?
There are a multitude of directors I like for various reasons. Some are adept at excavating the text for meaning, some create startling visual images. Ann Bogart of the SITI company based in
New York has been a major influence on my work. I had a chance to study with her in Spoleto, Italy a number of years ago. What Ann suggests can be done with two actors occupying an empty space charges it with possibility. I always read her book, A Director Prepares before I direct a show. Ann's ideas push me beyond my perceived comfort zone.
I see a great change in the direction that casting of plays is taking not only in LA but everywhere. African American, Asian, Hispanic actors are cast in all roles, without differentiating race, color or creed, as it should be. Am I perhaps fantasizing this change or am I correct? Are you personally satisfied with this? Do you think most African American actors and directors are?
I do agree the palate for casting roles in plays, film and television has changed. There appears to be an acknowledgement we are living in a vast multicultural city, nation and world. I'm excited to see reflected on the American stage and screen, the faces of people I interact with daily. Coincidentally, Trinidad where our play takes place is considered one of the most ethnically mixed cultures in the world as a result of the sugar trade. However, I don't necessarily feel we should seek to erase differences of race, color or creed in our work. It's just incumbent
upon us not to use those differences in exclusionary ways. In our search for material, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble has tapped into a wealth of diverse playwrights and stories from playwrights of color around the world. These stories are as rich and varied as ones written by O'Neil, Chekhov or Strindberg. These are the stories LDTE hopes to bring to Los Angeles audiences.