Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spotlight On...Elena Araoz

Name: Elena Araoz

Hometown: Newington, CT

Education: MFA from University of Texas at Austin, BA in Theatre and English from Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA

Favorite Credits: La traviata at New York City Opera at BAM, Falstaff with the Brooklyn Philharmonic also at BAM, and War Music that I adapted from Christopher Logue’s retelling of the Iliad and that played in NYC, Chicago and toured New England.

Why theater?: Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Because it’s painstaking to get it just right and it requires constant self-awareness.

Tell us about Be a Good Little Widow: Be a Good Little Widow is a very deceptive piece.  It’s short and sweet with a quirky, modern and youthful sense of humor.  But for all its seeming simplicity, Bekah Brunstetter drags her characters to hell and back. Hugely tragic events happen fast and furiously, and yet they are related with this dry, ironic wit that makes you laugh at the most sad and politically incorrect moments.  She has this amazing ability to make us laugh at ourselves.  She’s also riffing on ideas of American entitlement and wastefulness and the things we take for granted, like food and family – all of which I think are pretty important topics to expose.

What inspired you to direct Be a Good Little Widow?: On one level, the play lives in realism; the actors are all very ordinary people and they inhabit a space that is very recognizable and naturalistic.  On the other hand, the circumstances of the play are theatrical and even magical.  We decided to play up that paradox; I asked the designers to come up with a playing space that can be inhabited realistically – a living room where the characters can have wine and cheese and put their feet on the coffee table.  But I asked them to push the theatricality of the space – a place that heightens the purgatory that these characters are living in, without any walls or windows and those things that make a stage seem like a realistic room.  I have to say, the designers have come up with something beyond what I could ever have imagined. Another challenge to this play is in the acting.  It requires that each actor wear his or her emotions right at the surface, right under the skin.  At the same time, the text requires a dry, often deadpan sense of humor, and that kind of wit calls for an immense amount of technical precision. It’s been a great time trying to help the actors find that balance.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like theatre with a great sense of humor (it has to make me laugh!) and with epic events told theatrically but truthfully.  I am most excited by theatre that asks me to use my imagination and doesn’t try to do all the work for me.  I’m inspired by visual artists and writers who are playing with language and its tools and tricks.  I like putting the ordinary in the extraordinary and the extraordinary in the ordinary.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Tara Donovan and The Decemberists.

What shows have you recommended to your friends?: I love getting my friends out to see theatre.  I am always recommending tons of shows to everyone – trying to find the right matches for people.  Shows recently that I happen to be telling everyone about: A Night with Janis Joplin, anything by Mike Daisey, and Beowulf - A Thousand Years of Baggage by Banana Bag & Bodice.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would play myself because that would be really fun.  And it would probably be called something like "Twenty-Two". 

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: This question makes me feel funny – because I think in fact I don’t feel guilty about much.  I’d say not everyone knows about my passions for salsa dancing, singing like it’s a kickboxing class (both classical and belting), spider rolls, British sitcoms, formal dresses, and bread (I love carbs!).

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A surgeon.  I studied science for a very long time and I miss it tremendously.  Sometimes I wish I could feel more palpably the impact that I make in the world.  I think surgeons must feel that way.

What’s up next?: The two Mac Wellman pieces that I have staged, Horrocks (and Toutatis too) (which was developed at the New Museum, New Dramatists and the Great Plains Theatre Conference) and Wu World Woo (which was developed at the Great Plains Theatre Conference) will both be presented in Boston by ArtsEmerson and Sleeping Weazel.  Also, I’m currently workshopping Architecture of Becoming, a crazy group devised piece, which I will direct for the Women’s Project.  And I am also very excited that the production I directed of Jaclyn Villano’s Unanswered, We Ride will be presented at the 2014 Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska.

For more on Elena, visit www.elenaaraoz.com