This week marks the opening of the Wesleyan Theater department’s production of “Summertime,” directed by Visiting Associate Professor of Theater, Kim Weild, at the Center for the Arts Theater. “Summertime,” written by Charles (Chuck) Mee, blends elements from Shakespeare, Molière, and more to tell a love story using unconventional narrative forms. The Argus sat down with Professor Weild to discuss the journey of bringing “Summertime” to life on stage at Wesleyan.
The Argus: Why did you decide to direct “Summertime” this semester?
Kim Weild: The decision to direct “Summertime” was made last year, in fall 2015. There were a number of plays that I proposed and the [Theater] department was particularly interested in a Charles Mee piece, in part because of knowing that there is a range of plays he has written, the ability to have a large cast, Chuck’s manifesto on casting, and choosing a play that was a bit in contrast to last year’s production of “Marisol,” in terms of not being a post-apocalyptic play, per se. For me, one of the things that I think Chuck does very well with his writing, and as a playwright, is that if what we do in the theater is to hold a mirror up to nature, as Shakespeare says, Chuck takes that mirror, smashes it on the ground, takes those thousand shards of mirror, and asks that we pick them up and bring them together to create an image, a reflection, of the mosaic of the world and the society we live in.
A: This is not the first time you’ve been working on a Mee piece. What keeps bringing you back to his works?
KW: I first met Chuck 16 years ago when I was training with Anne Bogart’s SITI Company. I was working on a play he wrote called “bobrauschenbergamerica.” It was the first time I had encountered any writing of this sort, and for me it was disorienting, yet thrilling, fun, epic, operatic, grounded, and real. What he does is that he asks all the company, from the director, to the designers, the actors, and everyone who’s involved in the production, to be co-authors in a way, and he leaves incredible room for creativity. His plays, when you read them on the page, have very different pagination from a regular play. There is a reason for that, and I think each person who reads one of his plays needs to discover for themselves what that is, but there is definitely a certain way I hear his plays. The musicality of his plays speaks to me. The physicality of his plays are incredibly physical: They’re large in their motions, yet incredibly intimate and specific in the human transactions that happen.
He’s also, as a playwright working with him, incredibly generous and very specific as well. When you do something that he’s not perhaps thrilled or excited about, he lets you know, but in a constructive way. He’s a great collaborator, so working with him is always a deep pleasure and a deep dialogue that we have. Also, his plays for me are so much about the human condition, and I believe that inside every great play lives a question. I also believe that every director, with every play that they do, is trying to find an answer to a very specific personal question that they have, and when they are 85 or 115, when they look back on their lives, and look at the work they have created, it is then in that moment that they will begin to perceive and understand what is that answer they were looking for, and what that question has been. I think inherent in Chuck’s plays, and certainly for me, consistently one of the questions is: What does it take to see another human being for who they really are? What does it require to love another human being in the fullness of who they are, and to allow them to be fully who they are without wanting to change them? Or even if you want to change them, letting go of that. For me his plays are very much full of the rich diaspora that is America. They can be cast any possible way, which is a gift and a challenge, at the same time.
A: How different it is working with student actors at Wesleyan compared to professional actors?
KW: Clearly the difference between working with professional actors versus student actors is experience and time. I would also say that there is a shared vocabulary that you have in the theater….There are students in this production that did not have that vocabulary when they started working on the show, but now they have it, and have taken hold of it and understand it incredibly well. And that’s part of what this process is about. Because it’s also providing an education in terms of the practice, and that is why the doing of it is so vital in bringing the theory and practice together.
There are also certain things I’ve chosen not to do. I’m not a big fan of aging young actors. I’ve taken a liberty with this play because there are older characters, but I’ve chosen not to have them portrayed as older people, and yet have worked with actors to find the essence of who those human beings are. I think, through this process, I have also seen the tremendous amount of growth in every single student. I’ve watched that progression toward mastery of what it means to be an actor, or a stage manager, or a director. This week particularly, as we have moved to tech, I have been listening and watching the actors, the crew, my stage manager, Olivia Riddick [’17]…and I am actually moved by the growth. It is a different kind of growth that happens in the professional world. The other thing about working on a student production is that I’m actually given more time to rehearse, which has also offered me, selfishly, the opportunity to go deeper in dialogue with the actors.
A: Can you talk about the design elements of the production and your experience working with the designers?
KW: So the set, working with Marcela [Oteíza], has been great. We went through a lot of different permutations and we worked on it over the summer…she sent a couple of drawings and we were getting closer to the deadline and I still was not happy…part of it was because Chuck’s shows are very physical and have you create a space that helps to tell and illuminate the story, but also is very physical and gives the actors permission to really move….It’s not realism. This play in particular, is a hybrid between real and surrealism…it’s this wild ride with singing, dancing, and crying. It’s a musical, but it’s not….It’s this other thing. So Marcela ended up sending me a photo of a skateboard park, and the minute I saw it I said yes, that’s it! And she got excited because she had had the same response. So that became the focal point for us. In working with Cybele [Moon] on costumes, I provided a lot of images of who the characters were for me…the story is a mashup of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “As You Like It…” the artist Magritte, visually…definitely Chekov’s “Cherry Orchard,” and “Uncle Vanya.” It’s this strange exciting mélange. What it felt was that we had to be clear about who the people were and their relationship to the other people. That had to be clear through costumes, representing a whole spectrum.
Working with Calvin [Anderson] has been great fun, too! Everybody! It’s just lots of ideas floating…I brought Jay Hilton in from Goodspeed Musicals and he’s doing sound design for us. That has also been really good, working with an outsider who is not a Wesleyan faculty [member].
A: What is the essence and message of “Summertime” for you?
KW: Is it possible for two people to find love in a deranged world?
A: That’s a great tag line! Finally, is there anything you would like to mention?
KW: There is strong language, and it’s not for kids! All of Chuck’s plays are available online for free at Charlesmee.org to download. You can read it before the show, which you may want to do because it’s a crazy show, in a great way! There will also be a talkback at the 2 p.m. matinee performance on Saturday with me, the cast, and Chuck, who will be Skyping in from Canada.
“Summertime” runs from Thursday, Nov. 17 to Sunday, Nov. 20 at the Center for the Arts Theater. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Box Office in the Usdan University Center.
This interview has been edited for length.