Director Seth Rozin talks about InterAct Theatre’s production of Silverhill
Part 2 of a series of chats with Philadelphia directors.
Before I plan a trip to Philadelphia, I always check to see if InterAct has a show running. This weekend, 6 members of The Ushers and Broadway Bound Meetup will be heading to Philly with me for a theatre-filled weekend. I can’t wait to introduce them to the brilliance of InterAct’s productions by attended their new production of Silverhill. I asked Director Seth Rozin to tell us about the production.
Joel: What is Silverhill about?
Seth: Silverhill follows a utopian community, in upstate New York in the late 19th Century, as it struggles to maintain its Christian faith with its communistic ideals. As the ‘money spirit’ and ‘marriage spirit’ find their way into the community, some of the younger members become enthralled with the romantic notions of personal ownership and exclusive relationships, leading the community in a whole new direction. The play examines both the politics and psychology of utopian communities; how they typically strive but fail to live by shared ideals that do not account for the imperfections of human nature. Silverhill also reveals both the intrinsic appeal and the insidious pitfalls of capitalism.
Joel: You have directed eight of playwright Thomas Gibbons’ plays.
Seth: I met Tom 20 years ago and we knew early on that we shared similar aesthetics. We both desire theatre to, as he often says, “Ask the audience what they think” about some provocative and/or complex and/or controversial issue. I have always been drawn to Tom’s incisive writing, his innate sense of theatricality, and his incredible trust of collaborators in the process of developing and producing his plays. Like the ancient Greeks, we both believe theatre can and should play a role in creating public discourse about the most pressing issues of our time.
Joel: Silverhill is based on the Oneida Community. Tell our readers about Oneida.
Seth: To be honest, I don’t do much research in advance of directing plays. My job is to make the play work for the audience, who won’t have access to any research themselves. I gather that the Oneida’s story is similar to Silverhill’s in that it was one of the more successful communistic, Christian groups that ultimately became a profit-driven community.
The most interesting thing I heard from some of the cast members (who did read voraciously about Oneida) is that the founder – John Noyes – was far more of a hypocritical leader than Silverhill‘s founder, Alden Prescott, and that he justified pedophilia and incest (sexual relations with his niece) within the ideals of the community.
Joel: What are some of the themes in Silverhill?
Seth: The surprising affinity between communism and Christianity. The intrinsic appeal of capitalism and freedom of choice versus the ideals of communistic sharing of wealth and property. The challenges any group has in living, equally, up to a set of political or spiritual ideals. The conflict between a passionate commitment to ideals and the individual’s personal desires.
Joel: In an interview with the playwright, Thomas said “I don’t think people understand how unusual Seth Rozin is among artistic directors..” What makes you such an ‘unusual director’?
Seth: I don’t think of myself as all that unusual, but I suppose what Tom is referring to is my openness in the production process. I have strong ideas of my own, of course, but I genuinely value the input of all collaborators and try hard not to ever be an autocrat. I also believe, deeply, that my job when directing a new play is to try to bring the playwright’s vision to life, as opposed to putting my “stamp” on it. I’m not invested at that level.
Joel: You have several actors in the show who are making their debuts at InterAct. Introduce us to your cast.
Seth: Tim Moyer, who plays Erastus, is performing in his fifteenth (I think) role with InterAct. I came to know him first when he replaced an actor in a production of Steven Dietz’ God’s Country in 1995, and he’s been one of our stalwarts ever since. Nancy Boykin (playing Kate) and Dan Hodge (playing Frank) have both worked with me before; they are two actors who I love working with. Jessica DalCanton (Tirzah), Mary Tuomanen (Mary), Pierce Cravens (Howard), and Chris Coucill (Alden) are working with me and with InterAct for the first time, and I couldn’t be happier with all of them. Chris has only worked in Philadelphia once before and I’m particularly thrilled to be featuring him in such a dynamic role. I hope he’ll get substantial exposure through our production.
Joel: Tell us about your vision for this production, and how much of that original vision we will see on the stage?
Seth: My primary vision for bringing Silverhill to full theatrical life was to create a sense of this utopian community operating in harmony, at first, then steadily becoming unsettled, then fragmented as its members grapple with the community’s first major spiritual crisis. To do this, I decided early on to utilize the transitions between scenes to show the community in action – moving the various set pieces around with effortless precision and singing community hymns.
Joel: What are some of the challenges you are having directing and staging the show in the InterAct space?
Seth: Limited height and wing space are always the biggest challenges, especially for a play of Silverhill‘s literal and theatrical scale. But while we always struggle with the space’s limitations, we try to capitalize on the space’s greatest feature – intimacy. Every nuance of human emotion can be perceived vividly in our theatre.
Joel: What will the “look’ of the show be?
Seth: We are trying to capture the unusual world of this fictional 19th Century utopian community by using elements we’ve found in images and songs from real-life communities, such as Oneida and the Shakers. The back wall of the set, for instance, is a simple wood wall with pegs for chairs, benches and other pieces of furniture, which the community members take down, as needed, for each scene. The costumes are similarly simple and pragmatic, within a Victorian look, to suggest the uniformity of the community. The songs are an amalgam of Shaker and other hymns, with some original tunes, recorded by our cast.
Joel: You are co-founder of InterAct Theatre and have been the Producing Artistic Director since 1988. What makes InterAct such a unique theatre?
Seth: I continue to be passionate about our mission and the body of work we have championed, which are both unique in the regional and national scene. In a time when most theatres are moving more aggressively to the mainstream, producing surer and safer plays in order to generate bigger box office receipts, we have stayed true to our mission, which, as far as I am concerned, is always vital.
Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave Silverhill?
Seth: First and foremost, I hope they have an engaging, surprising experience following this fascinating group of characters who are wrestling with issues that remain very relevant today. I hope that they find themselves questioning some of their assumptions – about Christianity, communism, capitalism, complex marriage, utopian communities.
Silverhill plays from October 22nd through November 14th at InterAct Theatre Company, in Philadelphia, PA. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.