CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Theater major Sivan Battat ’15 about her Senior Capstone Project, "The Serpent," created in collaboration with her seven person ensemble, design team, and faculty advisor, Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky, in this entry from the Center for the Arts blog.
Can you talk a little about the history of "The Serpent" and the play itself?
This play emerged from the Open Theater and was created through a long process of exploring themes of the Bible. Playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie
did extensive interviews with each of his actors, and all their text
ended up in the script. It’s like a mash-up of biblical narrative and
contemporary experience. The play was traditionally done as a kind of a
Eucharist, a communion between actors and audience. It’s labeled The Serpent: A Ceremony.
Mr. van Itallie wanted it to be a ceremony that reflected the lives and
the minds and the experiences of the people performing it. That was the
intention of The Serpent from day one. So our production does
that. A lot of the text is the actors’ and was generated through a
series of devising exercises throughout the first half of the semester.
It’s a combination of Mr. van Itallie’s text, text from the Bible that
he put in the script, and then our own words to replace some of the
experiences in it that were maybe outdated for us or not as accessible.
Why did you choose "The Serpent" for your Senior Capstone Project?
chose this for my capstone because I was interested in devised theater
processes. Devised theater is ensemble-generated material that you then
use to create a piece. A playwright or director doesn’t come in with the
material, and often it will happen without a director. I was interested
in the role of director in devised theater, and I was interested in the
elements that make a strong ensemble. What are the things that I, as a
director, have to do to make this feel like a safe space, to make this
feel like an ensemble, to make this group of people function as one unit
that can create? So I was curious about those things, but most devised
processes are so long-term. You have to explore for so long and generate
for so long, and I was worried that, realistically, with college actors
and everyone doing a million other things, to do a legitimate devising
process in one semester wouldn’t be possible. So I decided to find a
text that I could begin with, as the foundation, and then riff and
devise off of the text, and The Serpent was the perfect tool
for that. It’s a very flexible text that allowed us to riff in different
directions and explore and really dive into the themes of it and
generate and then plug back into the text.
How did you cast the ensemble?
cast it saying I was looking for writers, dancers, actors, musicians,
anyone. More than anything I wanted people who I really wanted to work
with, people who I wanted in the room every day and who would bring
themselves to the process and fearlessly try.
What was your process like?
whole process was very collaborative. The first half of the semester
was really about playing, and while we maybe didn’t have as much time to
put the thing together as we would have loved, having the first half of
the semester to just play was awesome—to be able to say, for example,
let’s all bring in ten images of what comes to mind when you hear “The
Garden of Eden,” and then pick one image and make a movement score that
represents that image to you in some way, and then someone else make
sound for that movement score. It was a process of picking apart our
stereotypes of God and challenging our stereotypes of what Eve looked
like or what she felt. I remember one of my favorite rehearsals—I
brought in an apple and told the actors to respond as Eve might have
responded and that we were going to go until they couldn’t think of any
other ways to respond. So one by one they took the apple—like a Whose Line Is It Anyway? type of improv game—and they each took a bite and responded a different way. We went for an hour and a half doing this.
What have you learned from the process?
a little concerned that this piece is not very accessible, and I think
one of the big things that I’m taking away from this is that I want to
make work that is accessible. It bothers me if things are inaccessible,
and that’s an important thing to have learned about my own work. I’ve
also learned a lot about ensemble building and the tools that are most
helpful in making an ensemble. Something I’m always working on is how to
negotiate the relationship between actor and director. I’m always
learning more about that. With every rehearsal I learn something new.
And I’ve learned so much from them—each of the actors and designers has
brought so much of themselves to the process.
At the end of the day, what is this play about for you?
think it’s about being in the middle. I think it’s about transitional
moments in our lives—the moment when we bite, the moment when we kill,
the moment when we grow up. It’s about being between the beginning and
the end, and always this experience of middle-ness because that’s what
life is—there are transitional moments, but there are never stops.
The Serpent: Senior Capstone Project by Sivan Battat
Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 8pm
Patricelli ’92 Theater
FREE! Tickets required. Tickets will be made available on the day of each performance at the Wesleyan University Box Office.
Off-campus guests may call the box office at 860-685-3355 after 10am to
reserve tickets to be held in their names until fifteen minutes prior
to curtain. On-campus guests must pick up their tickets at the box
office. There is a two-ticket limit per person for free ticketed events.