Interview Column: Rebecca Bradshaw
This week, justArts spoke with Rebecca Bradshaw, a theater director, producer and public relations director in the Boston area who directed Brandeis Department of Theater Arts’ “Big Love,” which was performed this past weekend.
justArts: Is this your first time directing a show at Brandeis?
Rebecca Bradshaw: Yes, it’s my first time with Brandeis, but I’ve directed for other colleges around the area.
JA: How did you come across the opportunity to direct a Brandeis show?
RB: Well, I knew [Prof. Robert [Bob] Walsh] (THA) and Adrianne Krstansky (THA) from the Boston theater scene because they’re both professionals in the scene, and I had talked with Bob, I had done a reading about Gloucester Stage, and he is the director there as well. He gave me a call and said, “Would you be interested?” And I mean, I’ve been wanting to work with college students — I had done a couple small projects with them but not a full-stage production. So, I was very happy to get the call and start working with the team at Brandeis!
JA: What was your favorite part of directing “Big Love?”
RB: I think “Big Love” — the script itself [has] a lot of ideas but not much direction. It’s a lot of monologue that, as a director, is a little terrifying, because you look at it and you’re like, “How do all these things connect?” But, it’s also really liberating because Chuck Mee allows you to pretty much put your own personality and your own say on his piece, and he’s very open at the very beginning of the play — you can even see it online because all of his scripts are online, and you can see that he says “take this” or “leave that,” “change whatever you’d like,” and that’s really exciting for a director because then you really feel like you can put your take on it. I think my favorite part is [that] there’s a lot of big physical moments in the show. The two sections where the men and women do their tantrum dances — those were my favorite parts! The script just says that the women throw themselves to the ground, and then they keep repeating that, and then he kind of talks about how they go into a frenzy, but he doesn’t give you any other direction besides “they can overlap,” “they cannot,” “do whatever you want with it!” And that was really exciting because I knew I could use physical acting work that I really like and kind of mold those two worlds together and really let them kind of go wild with it. Those moments, especially, were really fun in rehearsal because the groups of them were just so energetic and wanting to try it like 10 different ways, and I’m like, “you guys still have energy for this?” And they just kept on wanting to try it different ways; they threw themselves — quite literally — into it.
JA: What was it like working with this cast of students who you had never met before?
RB: I mean, I always walk into a new room — sometimes I know some people, but sometimes I don’t know any of the actors — and this time especially, I didn’t know any of the actors. So, I think the big part of my direction is making sure the room feels comfortable and making sure everyone feels like they have a voice. So, especially with this group, especially [since] this piece is such an ensemble driven show, I first really made sure that we created a strong ensemble, so we did a lot of exercises and different movements at the very beginning, just to see how they worked together, before we even did scene work, because I think it was really important to see how they interact with each other outside of these very stereotypical characters, but as people first. I got to know them through just having really open conversations about the play, as well as doing a lot of movement exercises, and then we took what we discovered in those and put that to the script.
JA: What was the most challenging part of directing the show?
RB: The show kept growing. I remember talking in rehearsal to Hannah Mitchell [’17], my stage manager — she said to me at one point, “Every time someone opens their mouth, the play grows!” It was such a play that we could add so much to it, we could personify it so much and make it our own, that it grew. There was an initial idea and an initial concept, and the Brandeis staff and team allowed me and the designers to really dream, and then we talked about logistics after, which was very exciting because it wasn’t like, “You have this budget and this is all we can give you.” Instead it was, “How can we make this artistic vision come to life?” So it grew a lot over time, and I was able to challenge myself as a visual director to make it bigger and bigger or to make edits that helped the artistic vision versus thinking about numbers and dollar signs.
JA: What do you hope that the audience got out of watching this play?
RB: Like a lot of my plays, I really hope that this play started a conversation for anybody and everybody who was in it or had come to see it. I know a lot of us in the rehearsal room would have really long conversations about just a line that one of the actors [would] say and how it’s so universal. I think there’s a lot of ideas thrown out there in this play; it’s not a very central plot; it’s a lot of ideas. I hope someone took something away and connected it to their own life. I mean, Chuck Mee didn’t even make this a point, but there was blunt connection to refugees, and look at how topical that is now, in so many things about women and standing up for yourself, when there’s a society that won’t let you be a strong, independent woman. Or, I think even Constantine’s monologue — even though it’s really terrifying what he’s saying, it’s depicting a man who’s been taught that the only thing he’s supposed to do is to protect his wife or his family, and he can’t turn that level of protection and energy off. We connect that a lot to PTSD and sending young men to war, and when they come back to America having them deal with society and deal with the gentleness and tenderness of a relationship and how you’re kind of stripped of all of that when you go into the army or into the military. So, we talked about a lot of big, broad topics, so when I was directing the play, I wanted to see these stereotypes. But then, each of the characters has this kind of pop-out sanity moment, where we feel for them; even though we might not agree with their decisions, there’s a moment of humanity in them. So, I hope that people walked away thinking a lot about all the different topics that were brought up, but also connecting with these people, either at the very beginning or by the end — connecting with both sides.
— Lizzie Grossman