By Gary Wien
The language in The Deacons is just wonderful. I guess that's what you expect when you have a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet like Yusef Komunyakaa penn the script?
Absolutely. You always have a heightened language because poets deal with words. The play is focused on the language. It's more language driven than story driven in terms of the internal stories that each character has to tell about what has happened to them more so than plot.
What are some of the themes you see in the play?
There are the themes of brotherhood, loss, forgiveness and betrayal. Certainly one of parenting - who are your parents and what does it mean when you find out who is and who isn't a parent. And secrets... how secrets are revealed about people.
It's interesting with the characters who are not talking and those characters are the dead people who have so many secrets that are immediately impacting what is going on in the current day and time.
There's also the struggles behind what these two men grew up understanding to be what was needed to form a family, to protect a community, and continue a tradition. They are being challenged by a whole another generation that doesn't hold those values the way that they do and we call that conflict the war inside and outside the house. There's a war going on.
How do you feel about the cast?
I have a wonderful cast! It's like three of the most fantastic people to work on a piece like this. They totally embraced the language. They really understand what it is to work on a new piece and the attention they give it is extraordinary!
What is it like directing a world-premiere?
Well, the experience is really that of a collaboration. Everyone is looking at it for the first time. I'm looking at it for the first time, the actors are looking at it for the first time and the playwright is looking at it for the first time. Yusef has been very active with us in rehearsals. It's been quite helpful because as questions come up, he's there to respond or to entertain other thoughts about it. This is really a collaborative process between the director, actor, and a playwright.
My background is of someone who really does do a lot of new works. It's not the fact that they're being premiered, it's the fact that this is the first time we're actually getting the chance to work on the piece. It's not the end of a play. Sometimes when you say premiere it's like the development of the play is over, but it's not. And, in this case, I think and I hope that this is a play that will continue to be worked on.
It may be premiering for the first time but with each sucessive production more work will be done. The playwright will see things, actors will bring more to the process, and the director will bring more to the process. In a lot of ways, we're getting a first look at what the play potentially will be.
I know you have acted in the past...
Scares me to death! I revere actors because I don't think people sometimes realize how much it takes to go out on that stage. The thing about being terrified every night was a bit too overwhelming. Every time I did it there was not a night that I was not terrified. So, I have great respect for actors because I know what that takes and they are people who are much better at it than I am or ever will be. I'm very happy to vacate a spot in acting for them!
You went to school for directing, is there a certain approach you would advise someone interested in being a director to take? I only went back for my MFA in the last five years. I was taught directing by people who were already in the field in Chicago. And because I was part of a small theatre there was an ability and encouragement to learn as much as you could from people who were actually doing what you wanted to do. When young people ask me about which way to go, I always say you can discover what it is that you're attracted to by being part of a small theater and trying out different things. One thing about being in a small theater is that they're going to need you to do a little of everything!
I started off acting when I went for my undergrad and that's what I focused on. I came out and joined a little theatre company in Chicago and was acting but then things began opening up from stage management to directing and that's what fit.
It took me being inside of a small company and really having an opportunity to do all of the little things from selling tickets to selling drinks to see what I wanted to do.
What did graduate school for directing do for you?
Sometimes when you feel like when you don't come up through that structure that you may have missed something and you go back to figure out or find out if that's true or not. It also gives you a chance to focus on world theatre. You get the classics, contemporary pieces, and new plays and can take the time to really indulge in directing the classics and all of the major works that you want. You can really broaden your background and build a resume of shows you've directed.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.