American Repertory Theater director Diane Paulus speaks at UCF
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 10:10
Engagement, collaboration and innovation. Those are the three words that UCF music education professor Mary Palmer used to describe the work of Diane Paulus, who is the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, Harvard professor and Tony Award-winning director. On Monday, Paulus spoke of her work and the importance of the arts at the Morgridge International Reading Center as part of the Arts @ UCF speaker series.
“[The purpose of the series is] to put more emphasis in having some programming to engage all areas of UCF in a discussion about the arts and how important it is in all aspects of education,” Laura Pooser of the UCF Foundation said.
The event was free and open to faculty and students. The room was full with a diverse crowd of people who wanted to learn more about putting on a production and wanted to support the arts.
“The arts feed a part of us that nothing else can touch,” sophomore theatre major Teresa Kilzi said. “It is so beyond the reach of any other field of study.”
Paulus began her speech by explaining her part in ART and discussing how she helped change it from a seemingly elitist organization to a more relatable and inviting group.
“I like to make work that feels inclusive,” Paulus said. “Our mission is to expand the boundaries of theater.”
She then went on to describe the works she has helped put on through ART and showed the way they have tried to make the theater a different experience than expected.
“I like never resting on the definition of what you think theater is,” she said. “We want engagement from the audience.”
Some of the different examples she gave included The Donkey Show, which she helped create with her husband, and is based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show was set in a black box theater, where the audience felt like it was in a nightclub dancing along to classic ’70s music.
“It taught me to never think your audience isn’t going to be a risk taker,” Paulus said.
The next show she showcased was Sleep No More, which is based on Macbeth and was shown at an abandoned public school instead of a theater. The audience put masks on and moved around the school going into different rooms, where different scenes were taking place.
Paulus described it as a sensory overload, in which everything was part of the show: the real food, the drawers the audience could open and the actors who literally had no space boundaries.
Another stand out show Paulus showcased was called Johnny Baseball, a musical about the Boston Red Sox and how they were one of the last teams to practice race integration. To have the audience that much more engaged, Paulus said they served beer and hot dogs to the audience as if it were a baseball game.
“It’s not appropriate for every show,” Paulus said. “But if the director’s vision is like that, then it works, and my vision is usually like that.”
Paulus described more than 10 different productions she has put on with ART including Gatz, The Blue Flower, Prometheus Bound and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.
“[Theater] brings out some great dialogue. It’s like going to a really good movie that gets you talking with your friends, ‘What about that concept?’”
Pooser said. “It really makes you think and causes you to stop, and that is what Diane believes the theater does as well.”
Although the audience was primarily faculty, there were also students such as junior graphic design major Marieliz Cecilio, who came to the event because it seemed like a good way to meet people and hear from an interesting speaker.
“Whether you are in theater or not, anything she said could be applied to any goals you have,” Cecilio said.
The event ended with a question-and-answer session in which students and faculty asked her about her Tony Award-winning production of Hair and the pressure she feels after her work has become more known.