Making his first appearance as a director at Theatre Erindale, ted witzel is in the process of directing Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The play will be the first performance of Theatre Erindale’s 2016/2017 season. The Medium sat down with witzel to discuss his methods of directing.
The Medium: Have you directed for Theatre Erindale in the past?
ted witzel: No, but I’ve worked with a lot of student groups before, especially when I was doing my M.F.A. at York University. I’m here because David Matheson was interested in bringing in a new sort of work. I’ve noticed a lot of period plays happen at Theatre Erindale. You won’t see that in The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
TM: What inspired you to direct The Caucasian Chalk Circle? Do you have any ties with this production?
tw: David had already chosen [the play] and was looking for a director. It’s not a play that I picked. I do have a lot of ties to Bertolt Brecht, though. When I was at U of T St. George, Brecht’s granddaughter was one of our teachers. We got along really well and became really good friends. She directed some of the work I’ve done in Toronto, and asked me to direct some of her stuff in Germany. I actually lived on Brecht’s daughter’s couch for a whole summer in Germany.
I was forced in second-year theater school to read The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and it didn’t make sense to me until I read his early plays. When I met his granddaughter, I learned a lot about Brecht’s sense of play and sexuality, so she helped me become more familiar with his techniques and intentions.
TM: How does the crew function? Do you work as a team or lean towards working individually?
tw: We work very much as a team. Because of the size of the show, we really need the team to be coordinated. We almost always have three rehearsal rooms going at the same time. I’m in one doing scene work, Paolo Santalucia, an alumnus, is working with the musicians, and one of the coaches is doing tutorial work on character development in another room.
I also have to trust that this team can handle this show. My attitude when it comes to directing is that I can’t approach everything myself. Actors will ask me “What line do I move on?” and I will say, “Make me an offer.” There are 80 characters here. I can’t come up with three choices for each character. We work together to make choices that are the best for the overall play. That’s how we work as a team.
TM: Is there anything during the rehearsal process that has frustrated you or challenged you?
tw: It’s just such a huge show. Brecht was asked in an interview, “How long does it take you to make a show?” and he answered, “One more week than I have.” That’s how I feel. But the good thing is, I love working with students. I love their willingness and enthusiasm and energy and commitment.
The most frustrating thing is that it’s such an interesting and exciting script, and we only have seven weeks. I wish we could work through it in more depth. That way could be even more nuanced. We only get 25 hours a week. It’s insane.
TM: Have you made any significant creative decisions in this production that you feel are worth mentioning?
tw: Just about everything. Fifty percent of the props are mentioned in the script, and 50 percent are my choice. The revolving stage is a significant artistic choice. I felt after reading through the script that it’s such a road trip. There are a lot of changes in time in the play. Because of these changes in time, I felt like the play was asking for a revolving stage. The circled stage can help us tell the story of time in the play. Brecht also gives us room to make choices based on what we know about the characters. Every character and scene has a bunch of those choices attached to it.
TM: What do you want the audience to take away from this production?
tw: I don’t ever like to say that an audience should learn something from what I’m doing. When I direct, I’m trying to refine questions, but not provide answers. This is a play about resistance. The audience is given the opportunity to twist their ideas of morality. This is a play about covering your own ass in dire situations. In tyranny, you have to make sure there is food on your plate before you worry about anyone else. Tyranny makes every man for themselves. We aren’t often faced with the question of, “What are the hardships people actually face in violent situations?” and, “What does it actually cost to resist?” I think we all behave more selfishly than we like to admit to ourselves, so I think this play will make the audience think differently about these types of tyrannical situations.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle will premiere at Theatre Erindale on October 27.