February 13, 2011

Interview with director Eli Taylor

Why did you want to direct “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”?

I was handed this script this summer and found myself laughing hysterically after reading the first page. I do not consider myself lacking in a sense of humor but it’s very difficult for me to find a play that, while reading it silently, will move me to laugh out loud. “Doctor” did and continued to throughout the rest of the play. Moliere combines slapstick, commedia style characters, and biting social commentary to produce easily one of the funniest shows I have ever read.

The exciting challenge of “Doctor” is that, while much of the humor is contained in the script, there is plenty of room for collaboration with the actors and the designers. Every aspect of the play can be humorous, from over-sized props to elaborate, cartoonish chase scenes. Everyone’s creative involvement is necessary and benefits everyone else. This is ironic seeing that the play revolves around an idea of placing self-interest first, but I truly believe that this show cannot achieve its maximum potential without strong, creative, and positive collaboration.

What is your history with this show?

I directed a shortened version of this show this summer and had very little time to do it (roughly a week). I realized very quickly that, while our progress was fantastic for the time we were given, the play could achieve so much more. I found myself wanting to re-visit the play immediately. Bent Quill provided this opportunity.

Which character in “Doctor” do you most identify with?

I would like to believe that I most identify with Jacqueline, Lucinde’s maid. She is the sole voice of reason in the play and if anyone listened to her they would save a lot of money and prevent a lot of unhappiness. Unfortunately for her, society does not operate in such an enlightened way.

But the truth is, I’m probably more like Leandre, the long-winded, lovesick romantic who revels in his misery.

How do you prepare for auditions? What do you look for in an actor who will be part of your cast?

I read the play. As many times as possible. The best way to be prepared for an audition is to know what you’re looking for. This is not to say that I have a set idea of “type” but instead some basic concepts of how I want the character to be portrayed. For instance, Geronte, the father, has to be strong-willed and commanding. What that ends up looking like is part of the excitement of auditions.

I look for actors who make strong choices and have good ears. I generally allow actors to read a scene first and then give them a little bit of direction to see how they respond. I’m not interested in whether or not they make the “right” choices (in fact, I don’t know if I even believe in “right” choices), rather strong choices that are rooted in my direction. Also, I’m not interested in working with passive actors who succumb to the director. I want actors to challenge me, present ideas, and add to the collaboration.

Is there anything about Moliere, “Doctor”, or 17-century France that you think contemporary audiences will really connect with?

I was recently talking to my mom about the resurgence of Moliere’s plays and she told me about a conversation that she had had with a friend. The friend theorized that Moliere’s recent revival had to do with the popularity of Jon Stewart. I found this remarkably apt seeing they both approach massive societal problems with biting humor. I believe very strongly that change has to be positive and sometimes the only way to view problems is to make light of them.

“Doctor” is obviously commenting on the medical profession (did someone mention health care?) and while I don’t agree whole-heartedly with Moliere’s view on Doctors, I believe that he is speaking to us about the difference between selfishness and selflessness and this is at the base of the health care crisis in America. The frightening part is that if these problems were relevant in 17th Century France and they’re still relevant today, we still have a lot of work to do.

What do you like most about directing?

The collaboration. A director is nothing without a script, actors and a design team and it’s the director’s role to band them all together to tell a story. My favorite moments are when choices are made that I hadn’t even considered. I feel that this can only occur when I’m doing my job well, providing enough basis so the choices are grounded but stepping back enough to allow the choices to be discovered.

What do you do when you’re not directing?

Pour coffee, teach little kids how to use their imaginations, play tons of Scrabble, practice guitar, and, if I’m good to myself, sleep.

What does ‘Bent Quill’ mean?

The end of a writing utensil that has been curved from a straight position. But honestly, to me, Bent Quill means hope. Their mission of providing classical theatre in a modern context for little to no cost to the audience helps cultivate a new generation of theatre-goers. Theatre can be elitist, expensive, and way too self-involved. By taking the classics and, hopefully, doing them justice, we can work on making theatre universal again. Bent Quill means that.