Eric Tucker is the Artistic Director of Bedlam, a theatre company in New York City “committed to the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and the audience,” creating works that “reinvigorate traditional forms” of theatre. They brought their four-actor, repertory versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Shaw’s Saint Joan to Olney Theatre Center in 2013. Also a freelance director, Tucker directs nationwide. He now brings the script and concept of Bedlam’s production of Sense and Sensibility by Kate Hamill, still running in New York, to DC audiences in a fresh production at Folger Theatre.
Sarah Scafidi: This is the same script as Bedlam’s production of Sense and Sensibility in New York City, right? What is different about this production?
Eric Tucker: Yes. Originally, this was going to be a straight transfer [of the Bedlam production], where we would just bring the production [to DC]. Because the Bedlam production kept running, and I wasn’t sure when it would close, the Folger asked if I would come and direct a new production here. But it’s going to be very much like that production. Obviously, the script is the same, and the basic concept of the rolling furniture from the other production is going to be the same. Obviously, it is a new cast, a very different space, and several of the designers are new. The Folger production has new costume, lighting and sound designers.
There are a lot of elements that will give [this production] its own twist or characterization, and there are several ideas that are coming with it from the New York production. It’s the same director, and we are only rehearsing three weeks, so it’s very much a hybrid of [the New York production] and all those other new elements. The [Folger] space is big, and it’s a proscenium in that Elizabethan style with the columns, so it’s very different from the alley-style set up that we have in New York.
That’s a pretty unusual situation to direct the same script with the same general concept but in a new production. What’s that been like?
It’s been kind of weird. I knew there were a lot of things that were going to change, but I didn’t count on making as many changes as I have. I want to honor what these [DC] actors bring to it. They are bringing their own thing, and I love that. There are a lot of little quirky things about this production that are very much just about these particular actors. It’s kind of weird because it’s a little déjà vu every day. Especially when the actors happen to make very like-minded choices to the [New York] actors without knowing it – just based on what the script is and what the event is. It’s cool to see how that works with actors. But it’s a really fun experience; it’s such a great script, and this cast is a lot of fun. We’re really having a blast doing it.
Sense and Sensibility
closes October 30, 2016
Details and tickets
Why Sense and Sensibility? Why Jane Austen? That’s a different choice for Bedlam.
Yeah, I didn’t know Jane Austen other than the films. [Bedlam ensemble member] Andrus Nichols (who ended up playing Elinor in the New York version) and Kate Hamill came to me and said, “Kate is writing the script. We wanted to play the Dashwood sisters,” and they asked if I would be interested. I said, “maybe at some point.” We were still in our first season with Saint Joan and Hamlet.
Then, I saw the first script, and it was fantastic: really smart and economical. There wasn’t any narration. I just thought it was great. I knew it would be very marketable. We do everything [at Bedlam] in rep– two plays at a time. The play I wanted to do next after Hamlet and Saint Joan was [Arthur Miller’s] The Crucible, and I thought, “oh, Sense and Sensibility would pair really well with The Crucible.” I thought that the themes of community and gossip and what the communities do to each other were similar; that there was a real parallel with the two communities albeit with very different results. And I thought that could be pretty fun.
Meanwhile, we were working on the script, doing workshops, and I found out that I couldn’t get the rights to The Crucible. They were on hold. This is like three years before the Broadway version that just came out. So, I knew it was probably coming to Broadway, and I thought, “well I’m just going to have to scrap that whole idea. Maybe some other day we’ll do Sense and Sensibility.”
Then, I decided I wanted to do Chekhov. Just for the heck of it, I thought, “let’s read The Seagull, and then we’ll read Sense and Sensibility, and we’ll read them together.” When we did, it felt really good. So, I kept it, and we did it. There was such a demand for Sense and Sensibility, that we brought it back in January to an Off-Broadway venue, [The Gym at Judson where it’s been extended through November 20th], and it’s been running ever since. I think it’s turned out to be something even non-Jane Austen people love because of the theatricality of the piece, and it is just a really fun evening at the theatre.
Tell me more about that: all of the furniture is on wheels. How did you come up with that?
I have done period pieces in the past where I used some rolling furniture to give it a more contemporary feel and give more zing to certain transitions, but never to this extent where everything is on wheels. Kate’s script moves along quite quickly, and you bounce from location to location really fast. It might be ten lines and we move to another scene, and then fifteen lines and we move to another scene; it’s quick. And I wanted that flow to it. I didn’t want to interrupt the text to make a scene change, but I thought things needed to shift and morph along the way. And so the wheels really allow for us, in fun ways, to be able to continue talking in a transition while things are rolling around or being swept in or pushed out or thrown across the stage. It makes for a really cool choreography. And that’s how I staged it. I just worked thorough, letting it morph and move. And the wheels allowed that to happen really quickly. It’s very theatrical too. It doesn’t scream period piece, but it makes it flow in the room a little easier. And it’s fun.
The characters are very eccentric. Kate’s sense of humor is so fantastic and Jane Austen’s sense of humor is so eccentric and fun, so the script itself is very funny. And with a good cast of funny, quirky, crazy people, I don’t think people expect that it’s going to be as off the wall as it is. They expect BBC drawing room melodrama. And it is not that. Which is good. I didn’t want that.
And this rolling furniture idea is staying for the Folger production?
Yes. That was a piece that Janet Alexander Griffin and Beth Emelson really liked and wanted [in the Folger production]. So, I knew all along that I was going to bring the same set designer and have all of those pieces built. What is kind of cool, is it allows us to leave the Folger stage bare. We’ve done some things to it, but it’s very open, and we use the structure that’s there with these pieces moved all around and in between. I love the space. It’s really cool.
How would you describe your aesthetic as a director?
I like to do as much of the storytelling as I can through the ensemble. I like things that are minimal, forcing people to use their imaginations. I like to try to find the most theatrical choices: things that are maybe more difficult than the first or second choice – to keep exploring. I think my aesthetic is theatrical: a pure theatricality over something that’s hyper-realistic. I want to always try to do things in the theatre that you can only do in the theatre. Part of that for me, are the live bodies on stage: storytelling through the actors. I’ll choose them over a special effect.
I’m thinking back to Bedlam’s Saint Joan and Hamlet, and yes, they were theatrical, but everything was done in a relatively simple way. There were no huge, technical effects, and it was still so incredibly effective.
Yeah, I think that’s the key. It’s finding what is most theatrical, but at the same time, cutting away what is not necessary or what is not needed and getting to the essence of a moment or event. I think that’s part of it.
What’s next for you after this?
Sense and Sensibility will run in New York until November 20th. It might actually move to Broadway – I’m not sure when, but it might be in the spring or next fall. So, Sense continues. Bedlam’s next new thing will be next fall/spring of 2017-18. It’s going to be three plays – a Shaw, a Shakespeare, and a Chekhov – all with six actors. So, we are going to do six weeks of rehearsal on the Shakespeare this fall. And then, we take our Hamlet/Joan to the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey in January and February. And then, I’m really freelancing until the end of next summer at four different places. Then, I’ll go back in to rehearsal in the fall for those three Bedlam plays and do those. We will probably try to open them all at once like we’ve done with other things, but I don’t know.
Is there anything else DC audience’s should know?
I think the big thing is that if you a not a Jane Austen fan or aficionado, you shouldn’t be scared away. The show is fun for people who don’t know the story or don’t necessarily care about that sort of a thing. And if you are [a fan], you’ll still really like it. The story is very tasteful to the novel, and yet, it is completely not the novel. It is a play, and it is not trying to be the novel. It’s very fun, and it moves forward at a nice pace. It’s not a typical costumed, period piece. It’s a lot of fun.