Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Blog Hijack: Valerie Redd on Ibsen and the Heart of Hedda Gabler

Wandering Bark Theater Co.'s Co-Artistic Director Valerie Redd takes over Theater in the Now to share her thoughts on playing the titular character in the company's new production of Hedda (Gabler) playing the IRT Theater!

What, if anything, has surprised you about this play?
The speed of the events of the play. Throughout the course of the play whole lives come crashing down and it all happens in less than 48 hours. The scenes sort of crash in on each's astonishing. The immensity and specificity of backstory needed was pretty surprising, too. Not just the time unseen by the audience within those 48 hours, but also years and years of exact history have to be constructed and agreed upon in the most minute detail or the whole thing won't function because the past runs underneath is all like fault lines.

photo by Jeff Farkash
How has working on this play been unique?
I'd have to say it's been unique for me to play a female role in a classical play and actually drive the plot. A lot of my past experience in classical plays has been with female roles that have a few famous scenes but then somehow fall out of the story. So to be the pivot point and the through line for the play has been a new experience for me.

photo by Jeff Farkash
What has been the greatest challenge?
Well, Hedda Gabler is one of the most complex roles ever written, so...there's that! She's an incredible compilation of contradictions and surprises. Fundamentally, she's both an idealist, devoted to poetic beauty and freedom, and a coward, too afraid to risk actually living that life. She's so tortured by that contradiction that when you add in that she's impulsive, manipulative, bored, destructive, confined, proud, with an extremely quick and subtle intellect it really adds fuel to the fire. So, playing all the angles and combinations of those elements has been a real thrill.

Photo by Jeff Farkash

How did you prepare for the role?
Oh, there was so so much to do! The preparation for this one really took me all over the place! I immersed myself in Ibsen biographies and plays. There was a lot to learn from his personal notes and letters. I actually took a lesson firing a pistol! I went down a bit of a rabbit hole with 19th century suicidal heroines and studied Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Miss Julie and it was really interesting to find the commonalities in personality and social restrictions as they apply to Hedda. I drank in imagery from painters from that time and region like Edvard Munch and Vilhelm Hamershoi and listened to classical piano music. I just wanted to give myself as rich and deep a well to pull from as possible. And then of course I had to get used to wearing a corset!

Hedda Gabler was written in 1890 as a modern day drama. How do you think it translates today?
It's funny, at the time it was written it was not well received at all! People hated Hedda! But today there is such a fascination with anti-heroes that we're drawn to her and not repulsed. I think that's actually a really exciting thing about this play. That through the empathic connection with Hedda the audience can tap into those dark, destructive traits in themselves within the safety of the theatre.
Even though it was written in 1890 the relationships and emotions don't feel at all distant from today. And there's still a conversation to be had today about the restrictions and inequalities put upon women in society. People today still feel trapped, betrayed, powerless, rebellious...and those are the things that shine out from this play. Matt's adaptation in particular has a sharpness to it that doesn't feel dated at all.

photo by Jeff Farkash
What do you hope people will take away from the show?
I love that Ibsen doesn't write characters that are all good or all bad, all right or all wrong. The situations in the play are not clear-cut so the audience really gets to form opinions and judgments for themselves. I think there is a lot of truth and honesty in that complexity and I hope after seeing the play the audience can discover how they feel about these issues of personal freedom, societal pressure, human frailty and the dissonance between idealism and reality.

For more on Valerie, visit and