BWW Interview: Brian Davis of CONSTELLATIONS at Theatre Tallahassee
Theatre Tallahassee's Studio Theatre is kicking off the 2017-18 season with its production of Constellations, a play written by Nick Payne.
In the play, a meeting between a beekeeper and a cosmologist becomes a springboard for a time-bending prismatic look at relationships, "what-ifs," and living with decisions made (or not made).
Thank you to director Brian Davis for discussing this production's joys and challenges.
PK: One of the devices of this play is repetition. What type of demand does this put on the two actors?
BD: As one would imagine, having a repetition of one's lines can be a daunting task. When as an actor you are in a position of repeating the same scene several times over with only slight variation of language, the idea of becoming almost letter-perfect in memorization is essential; otherwise you might lose your place or completely derail the show. The other factor that I don't think any of us perceived was the "where are we" factor. Since the show involves repetition and a non-linear storyline, there have been times leading up to opening where the actors have essentially had to ask each other in the blackout "what's next?":
PK: Does being a physics geek make a difference in understanding that component of the play's plot/design?
BD: The show does not delve deep into the physics or astrophysics universe, and the concepts that are contained within are explained in a simple layman's terms. The inspiration for the show was taken from a quote in Scientific Magazine in an article written by Paul Davies:
"Our senses tell us that time flows; namely, that the past is fixed, the future undetermined and reality lives in the present. Yet various physical and philosophical arguments suggest otherwise. Time is an illusion."
PK: Beekeeping demands the beekeeper to develop an intimate relationship with the colony's ecosystem. There's not really an ecosystem here (or not an extended one) -- the world comes down to two individuals. What keeps the intense focus between the two actors alive for 75 minutes?
BD: It would be an easy pitfall to put actors on stage and have them perform their lines, without taking the time to make a connection with them. It became essential during our rehearsal process to constantly having the thought of "do we care about these two people?" It also critical that we made these people real, where sometimes on stage you want to create the illusion of separation from the audience, this show wants to invite the audience in, it's such an intimate setting and text that often times it feels like you are eavesdropping on their lives.
PK: What are the challenges (or advantages) of having a bare bones set?
BD: For me the first thing I had to get over was no props, so that removes a huge crutch for actors, but also as a director. Sometimes it's really easy to fill space with an "okay, take a drink here" or a "fumble with the magazines here." As far as the bare bones set went, it became necessary to include directives for the actors with suggestions of what they might be seeing or where they might be at certain times. I had to do things like explaining what I thought the living room might look like or the office that she works in so that they could put themselves into that environment. Environment dictates heavily on how an actor portrays a character. One wouldn't act the same in a circus tent as they would in a hospital. So having a clear sense of place was a necessity.
The Studio Theatre production of Constellations runs from September 28 through October 15. Hannah Talbot plays Marianne and Kevin Nickens plays Roland.
Thank you, Brian, for this insight into the production. ~ pk