CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talked with Director Jeffrey Sichel, S. Dylan Zwickel '14, Alma Sanchez-Eppler '14, and graduate students Gabriel Kastelle and Huan Li about this weekend's Theater Department production of "Peony Pavilion" in this entry from the Center for the Arts blog.
I found out very quickly that Director Jeffrey Sichel
is true to his word. Mr. Sichel is a specialist in Intercultural and
Interdisciplinary Performance Practice and Theory who holds an M.F.A. in
Directing from Columbia University and is working toward his Doctorate
in Performance Studies from The Shanghai Theatre Academy. Within a
couple minutes of talking with him about his collaborative,
process-driven ideology, he extended our interview to include the entire
ensemble, or what he calls the "brain trust," insisting I stay for part
of the rehearsal and talk with each and every ensemble member.
hours later, I emerged from the intimate setting of the theater and
realized that I had experienced something unique, something I wouldn't
have grasped from interviewing just one member of the ensemble. The
specialty of the ensemble's work lies in the safe but energized space
that it produces; the play is a product of close-knit collaboration and a
genuine eagerness for new modes of acting and thinking.
is a 400 year old Chinese opera that has been transformed, seemingly by
magic, into a story of love, death, and empowerment that is as simple
in essence as it is aesthetically beautiful. "Part Romeo and Juliet, part Orpheus,
and part Edgar Allen Poe," the narrative is "weirdly relatable, in the
way that musical theater is relatable. There are these people that are
doing these things that they wouldn't do in real life, but it makes
sense why they are doing them in the context of their world," explains
S. Dylan Zwickel '14, one of the three student dramaturges.
Sichel goes on to explain the work is "not experimental, or even
particularly strange, its just the other." The work is intercultural in
theme and style, but it is not what we think of as experimental from a
Western perspective; it is more formal in narrative and structure than
most plays performed at Wesleyan and in contemporary professional
theater, but unlike anything most people have seen before.
of their intercultural learning process, the ensemble learned Chinese
acting methods that forced them to learn characters “from the outside
in, rather than the Western method of learning characters from the
inside out.” The actors learned traditional choreography as well as
masculine and feminine physicalities before they learned about and
developed the characters, which made them see the characters in a
different light. The students were surprised that they “noticed specific
physicalities in the characters, but not gender.”
The actors in
the all-women ensemble explain that although it is an “all female cast,
it is not a specifically feminist play; Chinese traditional culture is
heteronormative and we did choose to have an all-woman cast, but gender
is not important in the play. The all-woman cast allowed characters
emerge in which gender doesn’t matter.” Alma Sanchez-Eppler '14, the
student dramaturge who took on the daunting task of adapting an almost
400 page manuscript, explains that the play is a story of self
actualization and empowerment of a female protagonist, but is more about
a character’s journey than dichotomies of gender.
support of her ensemble and incredible stamina, Alma narrowed the script
to 40 pages, extracting the love story that follows the protagonist.
Although she was not initially expecting a job of this magnitude, part
of Jeffrey’s talent “is forcing a project to be everyone’s project and
pushing [ensemble members] into roles that [they] would have never
imagined they could do.”
The play is accompanied by a live music
ensemble with original music by Gabriel Kastelle, a Wesleyan graduate
student of experimental music and composition. The music was able to
incorporate melodies from the score of the opera. The journey of the
score is as epic as the protagonist’s journey in the play. After finding
the score and receiving Wesleyan Library funding, another graduate
student, Huan Li, was tasked with picking up a version of the score from
China that had been poured over by scholars and meticulously translated
from the ancient notation to the more legible, modern Chinese notation.
He almost giddily explains, “I have fallen in love with lyrics; they
are so urgent and earnest to communicate. Lyrics want to share, want to
communicate and get out—I love handling that.”
compositions mirror the passion he and the rest of the ensemble have
exhibited throughout this process. This fervor will surely be translated
into the performances that run from Thursday through Saturday.
Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu
Directed by Jeffrey Sichel
Thursday, April 25 & Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm
Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 2pm & 8pm
$8 general public; $5 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/students, non-Wesleyan students; $4 Wesleyan students