I spoke with Lauren Wilson on the phone a few days before the opening of Dell'Arte's production of Blue Lake: The Opera, which she wrote and co-directed. She described researching the history of Blue Lake, and some of the fruits of that research are included in the production program as well as the opera itself.
I asked Lauren Wilson if she was Dell’Arte’s “playwright in residence.”
LW: They don’t usually start with a script. The training and the company are often based around the actor-creator, so the actors as an ensemble members create a piece and perform it. But once in awhile, like for the festival, for the outdoor stage, they opt to use a script as a starting point. There’s not really a playwright in residence. I just get to write plays once in awhile.
She described how playwriting figures into the Dell'Arte International school curriculum.
I teach acting and what I call writing for performance or dramatic writing, so it’s not so much sitting down and writing a play as it is thinking about how plays are structured, and helping people to write freely. Many people who come for actor training aren't necessarily drawn to writing, but because Dell'Arte asks of its students and performers that they be creative contributors to the piece, sometimes writing is a good avenue for discovery. So I teach a class in how to write as an exercise in group writing—--how to create a show together and use writing as part of that, but not all of that.
I asked what the particular challenges were in writing Blue Lake: The Opera.
The challenge is to not have the magic and real power of theatre be destroyed by too much text. One thing that Dell'Arte does that few other theatres or training programs do is to create a theatre that is physically and viscerally very alive in the space of the stage. Partly that comes from starting with the body, and starting with the actors body as the source of the theatre, rather than starting with the writing on the page as the source of the theatre. So when you start with a script, the challenge is to make that actually live.
It’s really hard, because words have such a paralyzing effect on us. Even really well-trained physical actors, really imaginative people, tend to just stand and deliver text as if it were enough to say the words. its a real hurdle to get over, to have the text serve the theatre rather than just all of us standing around serving the text. So when you write something at a computer it always has too many words, you forget the power of the body to tell a story, or to create an atmosphere or a feeling in the audience. Cause it's impossible to do that at the desk.
So at Dell'Arte I think we’re still figuring out what the relationship of the playwright is to this type of ensemble theatre that we are interested in creating. For me as a playwright it’s really about being able to write things and then let go of them. When the director and I see that we’re just serving the text right now, what would happen if we threw this text out, is there any other possibility?
For an opera—this classical form—it's very conventional,—it's a conventional narrative that tells a story set in Blue Lake in 1910. There’s a plot that is set in motion—there’s nothing abstract or avante garde about it. The fun of it was to take this conventional, classical type of theatre, and place it in Blue Lake, a rural—and in 1910, extremely rural place, where one wouldn’t expect to set an opera.