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Interview with Marie Antoinette Director Rosalind Faires

20 March 2016

Rosalind Faires
Cap T Artistic Director Mark Pickell got the opportunity to interview MARIE ANTOINETTE director Rosalind Faires about the show and her future.

Why did you chose to direct MARIE ANTOINETTE?

It was one of those plays where halfway through reading it for the first time I was excited and scared by the possibility of directing it. Digging into history and complicated texts thrills me and I was totally smitten by Adjmi’s incredible balancing act between hyper naturalistic dialogue– stuff that honestly sounds so real in its cadence that in rehearsal you sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between a word perfect line and something 97% ad-libbed– and then these tiny snippets of poetry and these huge philosophical and political debates and this magical realism and/or surreality? There were so many ideas in the play but there was also so much humanity and that’s such a difficult balancing act. Marie is a figure from history that has fascinated me since I saw the Coppola film and the play wasn’t reductive about her– it allows you to be both so deeply frustrated by her and deeply compassionate towards her and I was hungry for that. Also it was clear from page 5 that if you wanted this play to really hum, you couldn’t have any blackouts and since I hate blackouts, that suited me fine!
When was the moment you got bit by the theatre bug?

Uhh there was never really the option of not doing theatre with my family. My parents met doing a play together and I kind of grew up in rehearsal rooms. But I will say for directing- that click happened my second year of college in this class taught by Steven Wilson, who now works with The Hypocrites in Chicago. I’d acted before and liked it and took a couple of really cool playwriting classes but there just wasn’t that feeling of fit. But two weeks into the class and I felt this confidence and pure joy– here was an opportunity to combine my love of story-telling and my creativity with my inquisitiveness. I’d always loved diving into a text in English class– this was a chance to do that squirrel-y analysis and then turn in into something active.
Who are some playwrights that you admire?

Shakespeare is my bread and butter. I was named after Rosalind, the heroine of AS YOU LIKE IT so maybe that’s not a surprise. And I think the contemporary playwrights I love speak to the things I love about Shakespeare. I look for a richness of language. I love theatre that doesn’t apologize for not being a movie. I’m passionate about producing new work by and about women. Sarah Ruhl, Suzan Lori Parks, Sherri Kramer, Lauren Gunderson are all favorites. Parks’ 365 DAYS/365 PLAYS taught me what a playwright who doesn’t self-censor looks like– what if you put down your craziest idea and it’s the director’s job to figure out what it actually looks like on stage? Ruhl’s THREE SISTERS made me get Chekhov. Gunderson does the thing where I get to pretend I understand science because the play is about scientists. Kramer has this love of language and laughter and poetry that stuns me every time I read and reread her plays and she also happens to be a delight in person. I live for when she comes into town to teach at the Michener Center.
Can you tell us a little about your background and studies?

I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin last May with dual degrees in Plan II Honors– which is a liberal arts honors program unique to UT– and Theatre and Dance, with a focus on Directing. I did the Shakespeare at Winedale program between my freshman and sophomore years and that taught me incredible lessons about humility and collaboration and how to make performances into gifts for your audience. During my last two years in the theatre department, I was lucky enough to be a pupil of Sarah Rasmussen, who’s now the artistic director of The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. She was the advising professor on my thesis production of MACBETH, which was staged just two doors down from MARIE at the Off Shoot, and then she was generous enough to take me along with her to the Dallas Theater Center to assist direct Kate Hamill’s new adaptation of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, a play which was a master class in how to bring a novel to the stage with theatricality while still honoring the source material. Sarah always challenged me to show the play’s change– in all the design work and in the physical and emotional language of the play so that an audience member can never mistake the end of the show for the beginning.
What has it been like to work with this group of actors?

Honestly, it’s been a dream and a half! I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of good experiences doing theatre in my life, but I have never been in a room with a group this uniformly joyful, inquisitive, and hard-working. Everyone is so smart and they brought these incredible senses of humor into each and every rehearsal. People were so generous with their ideas and we had so much fun but it never came at the cost of getting the hard work done. I’m so, so grateful to each and every cast member and I would do another show with all of them in a split second.
If you could direct any show here in Austin what show would you love to share with the Austin community?

Oh there are so many! But I feel like immediately next on my hit list are GABRIEL, which is a play C. Denby Swanson is currently working on, and THE WOLVES. Both are all female casts, and that’s a rehearsal room that is so, so rare and one that I’m so excited to be in. Both plays speak immediately to the state of contemporary feminism but address it from this very human place. GABRIEL is about a group of religious young women battling out whether Mary had free will to choose to be the mother of God. It’s unapologetically intellectual but it’s so compassionate and funny too. THE WOLVES treats the experience of girlhood as a universal– in the same way so many works of fiction treat the experience of boyhood as universal– it never asks forgiveness for being about a high school girl’s soccer team. It allows its characters the room to be as brilliant and cruel and crude and foolish and heart-breaking and kind as young women truly are at that age.
What has surprised you most about working on this play?

The way it speaks to my classical training, absolutely. I came in knowing, okay, no blackouts, and we’ve got to find the momentum to make it feel like a train with no brakes and that’s very Shakespearean, I think. But such a big thing with Shakespeare– in its original setting, at least– is the daylight, the fact that you always see the audience and there’s no fourth wall, which is antithetical to the American tradition. And you have MARIE ANTOINETTE with its paranoia about watching and how celebrities are consumed– Marie talks about how she ought to be “pressed between glass slides” so people can take a good look at her, her life depends on the good will of the public, she never leaves stage– it was maybe a third of the way through the process when I realized, oh, duh, we keep talking about The People in the play, what they want, how they watch Marie and that’s us. That’s the audience. We’re the ones who won’t leave her alone. We’re the ones whispering about her. And that opened up so many opportunities for us. It gave Indigo someone to play against with all that material! When she says “I just don’t know what these people want”, she can look at us and our refusal to answer her is her obstacle. And that’s the ultimate Shakespeare technique but I didn’t expect to use it here and I was so glad to have that in my tool belt.
What’s next for Rosalind Faires?

I’m assistant directing MACBETH with Austin Shakespeare Festival– which is like the icing on the cake to my thesis work, honestly! I fell so hard for that play over the last year, I can’t believe I get to revisit it so soon! And then me and my friend Brooks Naylor are in the process of cooking something up for early fall, but we can’t say what yet.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’m going to be directing shows, that’s for sure! I can’t begin to guess where I’ll be, but I hope that I’ll have a theatre or seven that I feel I can call my artistic home(s) and that I’ll be pursuing a balance of classical and new work.
What do you hope the audience is talking about when they leave MARIE ANTOINETTE?

Oh, shoot, that’s hard. I kind of hope it takes a little while for people to articulate their thoughts on the play. I like when plays do that for me, when I walk out with a smile but my brows are furrowed and it takes me the whole walk to my car before I can say anything sensible about what I saw. I hope over drinks twenty minutes later though, that groups of friends who saw it together will have discussions about who we hold accountable for what and how we consume celebrities– especially female celebrities– and how on earth Adjmi fit it so many facts and big ideas and emotion into 90 minutes and also how beautiful everyone and everything looked in this production.