ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Interview with Tyne Rafaeli

Posted on: November 9th, 2018 by Ted Sod

 

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod sat down with director Tyne Rafaeli to talk about her work on Usual Girls.

Tyne Rafaeli. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide you wanted to become a theatre director? Did you have any teachers who had a profound impact on you?
Tyne Rafaeli: I was born in London to American parents. My parents worked in the film industry, and they worked for American networks their entire careers. I’m deeply connected to London as a city but don’t have any real familial connection to the UK. I was a very serious child gymnast from the age of 6 to the age of 14, but I got injured. When sport left my life, theatre entered. Physical and visual artists like Pina Bausch, Simon McBurney, Peter Brook, and Ariane Mnouchkine were my early introduction to what theatre could be. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as an actor, and that was a very rigorous classical education from the Greeks to Chekhov to Shakespeare. It was at Guildhall that I met Patsy Rodenburg, who is one of the foremost Shakespeare teachers. She took me under her wing; she was the first person first to identify that I had a director’s instinct. I worked with her for many years after graduating Guildhall, and worked as an actor on stage and film, but gradually my directing work phased out the acting work. I was offered a generous scholarship to Columbia, and I went to grad school there for directing. Anne Bogart runs that program, and she is an extraordinary educator. Anne opened my eyes to the craft of directing. And it was really at Columbia that my early experimental influences, my classical education, and my desire to do work on a bigger scale all came together. It was at Columbia that I met Bartlett Sher. I met him through Anne, and Bart brought me on board as his assistant for Golden Boy on Broadway, which was my real first step into the professional American theatre. Bart Sher has had a profound influence on me and has been the most transformational teacher of my artistic life. I think we did about six or seven shows together. We share a value system. We share a frame of reference. We share a sense of humor!

Midori Francis, Jennifer Lim. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: Why did you choose to direct Usual Girls? What do you think the play is about, and how is the play relevant to you?
TR: Ming Peiffer, the playwright, and I were put together by people that I greatly trust, and the first time I read the play it shook me at my core. It is a celebration of the wonders and mystery of growing up as a woman in the world. It also shines a microscopic light on how we treat young women. And it has a very particular perspective of an Asian-American woman growing up, especially in relationship to her body and sexual identity. I use the word “celebration” specifically, because Ming has a wicked sense of humor and a strikingly honest voice. This play could not come at a more perfect time. It doesn’t come down on any side. It’s not political with a capital P. It’s human and, as I say, it shines light on things that I have never experienced in the theatre: how our bodies work, how silenced we are about our bodies, how as young women we discover things without any real guidance. Within the community of young girls, you are discovering things that there are no roadmaps for: what is this stuff that’s coming out of my body? What are these things that are growing on my body? What are these impulses I have? What are these feelings I have? Why am I treated this way by the world? We put words to them as a collective because no adult is giving us words that accurately describe our experience, so it’s funny and wondrous watching these girls in Ming’s play try to put language to the mystery of growing up as a woman.

TS: What do you find most challenging about staging the play in the Underground? Is it the space itself?
TR: Yes, the space is going to be an enormous challenge because we travel in time and location. We go from the characters being seven years old to being 30 years old. We jump from a playground to a bathroom to a basement (any many places in between!). The set designer, Arnulfo Maldonado, and I are excited about finding a way to do it in that small space. What I like about the space is its forced intimacy. We’re going to be looking at these girls very close up, and I think that’s incredibly important.

TS: I want to talk about the relationship between Kyeoung and Anna. It feels like that is the one relationship that has a beginning, middle, and end among the girls, and there’s a sexual overtone to it.
TR: The relationship between Anna and Kyeoung is incredibly complicated, and the sexual overtones are there. Sexual exploration is common between groups of girls growing up but very rarely dramatized! I don’t know what it’s like to be a young boy in the world, but I certainly know what it’s like to be a young girl. As a young girl growing up with a group of other young girls, you are exploring your sexual identity together. You feel certain things. You’re experimenting. Nobody is telling you anything, so who do you have to turn to except each other? That can create certain feelings and certain connections that are not articulated. It’s very beautiful, natural, and joyful. And then society starts to work its way between these two girls, and separation happens as they are trying to survive and identify with groups of people that they think will protect them. A kind of tribalism starts to set in. It wedges a gap between these two girls that goes to a very extreme place, but it is this kind of thing that we all share. We all start together in the sandbox, and then this differentiation and distinction starts to happen, and that can be cruel and painful. I guess the question the play is asking is, “Is it necessary?”

TS: I love this word “tribal.” One of the things that seems tribal in the play to me is this casual racism towards Kyeoung.
TR: I think it’s expertly woven into the play. It adds a whole other level when you have an Asian-American female protagonist. The play wrestles with being an Asian-American woman in the world and how people perceive you sexually, and also how you perceive yourself in terms of standards of beauty. We have elevated and made primary white European standards of beauty, which has caused enormous problems. Being a young Asian-American girl and trying to fit into those ideals is a very painful and complicated experience.

TS: Can you talk about the development process? How did that work?
TR: The play has changed and shifted significantly since Ming and I have been working together. Some of it has been purely dramaturgical, some of it has been in response to how the world has shifted. I think the hardest question Ming and I have grappled with—that I’m sure that we will continue to grapple with—is, can a female story be triumphant? We have come to the conclusion that the act of articulation is the triumph. The act of speaking about our experiences is the triumph. That’s what we’ve experienced with #MeToo in the last year. Have we solved gender discrimination in the world? Absolutely not. It’s a work in progress, but the active articulation that we have experienced in the last year—hearing these women’s stories, people feeling like they can talk about their own experience, talk about their oppression, talk about what they go through on a daily basis —that is an act of triumph for us. That is what Ming and I also feel about the play. Active articulation is the triumph. And that’s something we are working on making clear in the play.

Midori Francis, Abby Corrigan. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: What traits did you need from the actors in order to cast this play? Obviously you need actors who can play various ages, but what else were you looking for in casting?
TR: The casting process was very important. It was crucial that we have the right spirits at the center of this play, and I’m thrilled by the actors that we’ve been able to find. We needed actors who have a very open relationship to the universe, who are incredibly intelligent without being too knowing. There’s a purity that makes the play very, very funny. You can’t approach this play with cynicism, you can’t approach it with acidity.

TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
TR: Oh, my God, that’s a very complicated question. On the deepest level, what inspires me as an artist are acts of courage. Courage in both the artistic and personal realm. I think that’s what I am moved by. On a practical level, I definitely go into the world of dance and into the world of film to get a lot of inspiration. I go into the visual medium of film and the physical medium of dance to shake things up in my own work.

TS: Do you have advice for a young person who wants to direct for the theatre?
TR: I would say two things instinctively. One, to be a great director I think you have to be a student of the universe. So, I encourage you to travel, to read, to look at other cultures and how they create and what their practices are, before perhaps getting a formal training. And then the second thing is, there is no one path to doing what we do, which is enormously liberating and frustrating. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a path, but with directing, there really isn’t one. Listening to one’s own instinct and not allowing too much noise in is very important.


Usual Girls is playing at the Black Box Theatre through December 9, 2018. Best availability on Sunday nights. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Usual Girls


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Mothers and Sons on the World Stage

Posted on: November 8th, 2018 by Jason Jacobs

 

The complicated mother-son relationships in Apologia connect to a tradition in theatre history and one of the most primal archetypes in myth and psychology. Psychiatrist Carl Jung notes that, beyond any individual mother, the archetype of the Great Mother, capable of both creation and destruction, has a powerful resonance in our imaginations. Here is a selection of some classic plays that explore this dynamic.

This painting shows the infant Oedipus being discovered on a mountainside, where he has been left to die. The adult Oedipus returned to the city of his birth and married his mother without realizing their connection. The name of the artist, who worked in the 17th century, is unknown. Credit: Bolton Library.

OEDIPUS REX (430-426 BC)
Sophocles’ tragedy turns on the catastrophic revelation that, despite efforts to outwit a prophecy that her son would kill her husband and sleep with her, Queen Jocasta has in fact married her own son. While Jocasta and Oedipus are ignorant of violating the incest taboo, the play gave Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, inspiration for the “Oedipus Complex”—a stage of psychological development where a child sees the father as a rival for the mother’s affection. It’s noteworthy that this Freudian dynamic, conceived from a male perspective, has fascinated many male writers, including Shakespeare and Chekhov.

HAMLET (approx. 1601)
Shakespeare's Hamlet despairs that his widowed mother Gertrude has married his uncle Claudius, whom he suspects killed his father. Gertrude tries to make peace between her son and new husband, but Shakespeare leaves us to wonder if she is complicit in her first husband’s death. Hamlet graphically expresses disgust with his mother’s sexuality, and during their major confrontation (which takes place in her bedroom), he urges her not to sleep with Claudius. Freud, as well as many Shakespeare scholars, noted this relationship as an example of the Oedipus Complex.

THE SEAGULL (1896)
Chekhov’s breakthrough play portrays the dysfunctional relationship between Arkadina, a successful actress, and her son Konstantin, a struggling writer. Although sometimes affectionate, Arkadina publicly mocks Konstantin and his work and resents him for reminding her—and the world—of her own age. A key moment involves Arkadina bandaging Konstantin's self-inflicted gunshot wound. What begins as a tender scene erupts into a confrontation, pushing Konstantin one step closer to his eventual suicide.

Patch Darragh as Tom and Judith Ivey as his mother Amanda, in Roundabout’s 2010 revival of The Glass Menagerie. Photo by Joan Marcus.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE (1944)
Tennessee Williams took inspiration from his own family to create the Wingfields: mother Amanda, son Tom, and daughter Laura. Struggling during the Great Depression, Amanda pines for her youth and dreams of a better future for her children. However, rather than respecting their own wishes and wills, she treats them as projections of herself. Tom works in a factory to support the family but longs to be a writer and resents Amanda’s intrusions into his life. Their complicated love-hate relationship reaches a crisis when Tom abandons the family to pursue his own dreams.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1959)
Lorraine Hansberry showed the impact of racism and poverty on a struggling African-American family, particularly on the relationship between “Mama” Lena Younger and her thirty-year-old son, Walter Lee. A $10,000 insurance check sparks disagreement over what’s best for the family: the home Mama wants to buy, or the get-rich scheme Walter Lee believes will strike big, but ends in a bust. Ultimately, by defying their hostile white neighbors, Walter Lee stands up for his family and wins his mother’s approval.


Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia


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Second Wave Feminism

Posted on: November 3rd, 2018 by Jason Jacobs

 

ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WAVE

The history of feminism in the U.S. and Europe is viewed in four distinct “waves.” The first wave begins in the mid-19th century and culminates with the women's suffrage movement. In America, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920, while British women gained suffrage in 1928. Kristin Miller of Apologia would have come of age during the second wave, which began in the late 1950s and continued into the ‘80s, and had major social impact in the U.S., Britain, and most Western countries.

World War II put women into jobs previously allotted only to men and gave a newfound sense of fulfillment; but post-war society pushed women out of the workplace and back into the domestic sphere. Growing dissatisfaction with traditional roles in the 1950s, along with increased economic prosperity and new technologies, raised women’s awareness and sparked questioning of the social norms which limited women’s life choices. In 1961, the FDA approved the birth control pill, and, while not yet widely legal, abortion also gave women greater choice about having children and establishing careers. Together, these factors led to a forceful current of feminist thought and activism.

Women march for the right to vote at the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913. Credit: Library of Congress

THEY WROTE THE BOOKS...

As a feminist scholar, Kristin would likely be familiar with the major literature of the second wave, including:

Le Deuxieme Sexe.

The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir (1949)

De Beauvoir offers a historical view on how society holds women in subordinate roles. In declaring that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” De Beauvoir argues that gender roles are forced upon women. For example, World War II proved that women could transcend traditional gender roles, thus challenging the belief that they belonged in the domestic sphere.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)

Through interviews, Friedan gave women a voice to express dissatisfaction with their place in 1950s society. The “feminine mystique” refers to an assumption that women should be fulfilled by domesticity; the inability to live up to this ideal is “the problem that has no name.” The book was a major catalyst for the second wave, and Friedan was a co-founder of the National Organization of Women.

"The Personal is Political” by Carol Hanisch (1970)

In this widely-read essay, Hanisch argued that everyday activities, including the division of household labor and enforcing of gender roles, were political acts and that public discussions of personal problems have political impact beyond any individual.

FEMINISM’S TWO STREAMS

The second wave actually divided into two movements:

Mainstream, or “equal rights” feminism, focused on legislation and social pressure to change society from within. Equal-rights feminists were mostly older, white women from affluent backgrounds.

Radical feminism sought to disrupt society's hierarchical and patriarchal foundations. Radical feminists included younger white women and women of color, many of whom had been active in the Civil Rights movement.

BRITISH FEMINISM

In England, married women had limited rights to their own property. The 1964 Married Women’s Property Act allowed women to keep half of any savings they made from allowances received from their husbands (an indication of the limited rights women like Kristin would have had when she started her family). British feminism focused largely on issues of property and economic independence. The Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) organized eight national conferences between 1970 and 1978, leading to a series of demands for equality in marriage and the workplace, sexual freedom, reproductive rights, and protection from violence.

AMERICAN FEMINISM

Some victories of the second wave in America included passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which aimed to abolish the gender pay gap, and the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. A series of Supreme Court cases through the ’60s and ’70s gave women the right to use birth control, and the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed the right to an abortion. Title IX, part of the Education Amendment of 1972, protected women from discrimination in all educational programs receiving federal funding.

THE ENDPOINT AND THE AFTERMATH

The Second Wave ended in the 1980s. The United States’ failure in 1982 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment—which would guarantee all rights under the Constitution equally to all persons, regardless of their sex—is generally considered the demarcation point. Additionally, growing criticism of the focus on white women, to the the exclusion of others, led to a third wave in the 1990s. This movement put more emphasis on diversity of race, class, and sexuality, as well as the intersection of oppressed groups.

Apologia takes place in 2009, a time when some second wave feminists were defending their relevance and confronting negative side effects of their movement. A 2006 task force by the American Psychological Association noted that many younger women mistakenly believed that equality had been fully accomplished (significantly, the gender pay gap in 2009 was still 33%, and by 2016 it had only gone down to 20%). It also looked at how the media had created negative stereotypes of powerful women. A spokesperson for the effort acknowledged, “We've had trouble communicating feminism's continuing relevance to young people and people of color."

DIVORCE, BRITISH STYLE

Although American-born, Kristin’s marriage and divorce would be subject to British law, which was, and remains to this day, unfavorable to women’s best interests. While many American states have “no-fault divorce,” allowing either party to request a divorce without accusing their spouse of wrongdoing, Britain uses an adversarial court system, based on an official statement of blame.

Until 1857, divorce in the U.K. could only be granted by the church, or by Parliament, which was available only for the very wealthy. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 allowed people to divorce in the courts under strict conditions. Men could divorce their wives for adultery, but women had to prove adultery plus an aggravating factor, such as rape or incest.

In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act allowed couples to divorce without such offenses, but it also required them to live in separation for two years. While more restrictive than America’s no-fault divorces, divorce rates in England and Wales increased from 30,000 in 1950 to 144,000 in 1978. The two-year separation period is still enforced today.

Child custody was generally granted to the husband, under the assumption that he was the primary breadwinner. Children may live with their mother, who provided care and control, but divorced women were presumed dependent on their husbands for alimony and child support, determined by the wife’s needs rather than the husband’s assets. Writer Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch (1970) explained, “The working wife has her income assessed as a part of her husband’s, and he on the other hand is not even obliged to tell her how much he earns.”


Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia


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