Whether directing Michael Frayn’s classic comedy Noises Off or tackling the complexity of his Copenhagen - at Theater J through January 29 – director Eleanor Holdridge revels in the playwright’s theatrical puzzles. Get the inside scoop in this week’s Take Ten - and join Holdridge in her time-travel dreams!
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
I can’t quite remember, but I think it was a Shakespeare at a local high school. Maybe As You Like It. Maybe I was four? But I remember the silliness and the beauty.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
My middle school did Gilbert & Sullivan’s, so it was ether one of those (Iolanthe) or A Christmas Carol - can’t remember which came first. And then in high school I was training hard to be a dancer, so I was almost always in the chorus’ of the musicals - even did some singing.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
Don’t really have one. But I adore Shakespeare’s The Tempest - I think it gets at the core of our humanity and the possibility of humanity to forgive and to forge ahead. Musicals? I love Pippen for it’s brio and theatricality and Chess, because for all the flaws of the book, it gets at the yearning of an impossible love.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
Wow. Interesting question. I always find something in each production to love or to challenge me, so nothing is every the worst. I suppose there are those jobs that I accept for “business” reasons - I am available and don’t want to say no, or the money’s good - and those are never the jobs to take. It’s got to be a play that inspires me and makes me grow.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
I don’t think directors get to be embarrassed. Sure I do as a person, but the play is not “about” the director, it is about something larger than that. But sometimes when I go back to see a show and am being positively critical about it to learn, I have a wince at something that I could have solved easily and just didn’t in the rush to get the play up.
Copenhagen is like a huge puzzle. I directed Frayn's Noises Off some years ago, and it is has surprising similarities. Both have a theme and variation. In the comedy, it is the text of "Nothing On," and in this play, Copenhagen, it is numerous iterations of the 1941 meeting of Bohr and Heisenberg. The task is to look for the strength in the repetition, but to relentlessly explore the differences of each, to get at the nuances. This is the fun of directing - to create a strong forward moving narrative in a circular (or spiral) text. Also, I love that I know more about quantum mechanics than I did before. The first two weeks my brain hurt so much, that I just had to stop every now and then to rest as it filled up with new ideas and information. But now I know a lot more about physics and my perception of the world has been enriched.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
The actor/theatre producer Richard Burbage. The guy who created Falstaff for Shakespeare in the Henry IVs and Merry Wives. I’m sure he’d drink me under the table, but he’d tell a rousing story and be incredibly fun to hang out with; his theatre stories would be off the charts. The hangover would be well worth it.
8) What is your dream role/job?
Directing a show I love, with brilliant collaborative actors and a wonderful design team with a supportive producing theatre and a 5-week rehearsal process. So basically what I’m doing now, except for the latter bit, as the economics make a five week rehearsal process incredibly rare.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
The two warring Macbeths with Edwin Forrest and William Charles Macready that spawned the Astor Place Riot in 1849. English style of Shakespeare versus American. The whole city involved. Five points in an uproar. All because of a play.
10) What advice would you give to an 8-year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
Same for both. See as much as you can. Do as much as you can. Take charge of your life and initiate projects you are interested in. Develop your curiosity. Exercise your imagination. Keep your mind open and search for empathy in all things. Be fearless.
ELEANOR HOLDRIDGE's productions at Theater J include the world premiere of Caleen Sinnette Jennings’ Queens Girl in the World, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, After the Revolution, Body Awareness, and Something You Did. Off-Broadway productions include world premieres of Selma ’65 (LaMaMa), Steve & Idi (Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre), and Cycling Past The Matterhorn (Clurman Theatre). Her regional credits include world premieres of Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists (Cincinnati Playhouse) and Darius & Twig (Kennedy Center TYA), Gunderson’s I and You (Olney and Geva theaters), and Zorro (Constellaton Stage), which she co-wrote, and the rolling world premiere of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Round House Theatre). She has directed twenty-three of Shakespeare’s plays, some of them multiple times. Eleanor holds an MFA from Yale and is Head of Directing and Producer at The Catholic University. Her upcoming projects include the world premiere of Meg Miroshnik’s adaptation of Marivoux’ Infidelities (Olney Theatre Center).