The Pride Takes the Wallis by Storm
During the Pride month of June, the Los Angeles LGBT Center is pleased to support two LGBT-themed productions held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts: a concert by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles on June 3 and the Los Angeles premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, running from June 8 through July 9.
Wallis Artist-In-Residence and The Pride director Michael Arden spoke with The Wallis’ Associate Director of Communications William Nedved about the provocative play’s love triangle involving a man, his lover, and ex-wife. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
William Nedved: Let’s talk process. How do you know you want to direct a particular play?
Michael Arden: Sometimes it’s something I’ve read and felt a connection, or had an idea about how to make it a clear visual or aural experience for an audience. And, sometimes, I’ve seen a production and wanted to look at it through a new lens. It varies from project to project.
WN: And The Pride?
MA: I first saw a production in London a few years back directed by Jamie Lloyd. The material resonated with me as a gay man; I connected to the experiences in the play on a personal, emotional level. I felt it was a story that hadn’t been told before and about an aspect of gay life that isn’t widely discussed.
WN: And the next step?
MA: With The Pride, I called friends to come over to my living room. We read the play a couple of times, talking it through. I even read a role, playing different parts each time. I wanted to speak the words myself. I wasn’t thinking about the play physically but about the emotional life of the characters.
WN: And then you assembled your design team?
MA: Yes, and they are as much directors as I am. We also read the play—the stage manager, dialect coach, everyone—and discussed what’s relatable and what’s foreign, and how the design might express that. We all had to be 100% clear about what’s happening in the story. For The Pride, I wanted the design to be quite simple so the actors and I can truly build the piece in the room as opposed to having set pieces pre-designed before rehearsals. With this play, I’m relying on the human element to carry us.
WN: Which brings us to casting.
MA: That’s the most important piece: finding actors who understand the story and are able to convey the emotional lives of the characters without judgement.
WN: What’s your rehearsal process?
MA: We start at a table, reading the play ad nauseam. We ask, “Why do we say what we say? What’s happening in the air between the lines?” And from that, I start adding props, small pieces of furniture. The blocking comes organically from the text.
WN: So definitely an actor-based approach.
MA: In theater the actor has to carry the show each night for the audience. My job is to build the playground and make sure the story is being told in a clear way. All I can do is create a safe space where they can reach their greatest potential. On the other hand, I like the theater to be a dangerous space because there’s the possibility that anything could happen. I love being scared by actors.
WN: And then we get to tech.
MA: Yes, and then we get to tech and I’m telling them where to stand and to make sure they are in their light. [Laughs.] In the beginning, at least, it has to come from them.
WN: To borrow from Paul Valery, do you believe productions are finished or abandoned?
MA: Definitely never finished. Everything is a first draft. There’s always more to question, define, challenge. The theatre is a living, breathing, ever-changing thing.
VN: Finally, any opening night rituals?
MA: I like to gather with my cast and crew onstage and ask them to take the play into their care, and to continue questioning, exploring, and challenging themselves and the audiences. And then I have a stiff cocktail and hope for the best.
Learn more at TheWallis.org/Pride.
May 25, 2017