Emily Smith, a Directing Intern at Austin Shakespeare, blogs about Tom Stoppard, The Invention of Love, and her behind the scenes experience with the production.
Classical philosophy, absurdist Shakespeare, thermodynamics, and of course the complexities of human nature in regards to love: Tom Stoppard is no stranger to tackling difficult and often hard to understand concepts. At our first read thru, you could feel the apprehension in the room. Silent terrors at the Latin and Greek, I can’t pronounce that. What am I talking about here? Who is this poet? Who am I quoting? This is typical of almost every read thru, but Stoppard makes a special effort for his actors, guaranteeing no actor will get away with laziness.
And so we began the work. Fourteen actors ready to put in the hours of research and memorization, led by a fearless director and two brilliant dramaturges. For a week we stage, we ask questions, we get endless notes on pronunciation. A British accent is one thing, but speaking Latin in a British accent is quite another. Most of the early days actors were checking out books about A.E. Housman, Jerome K. Jerome, Catullus, Victorian poetry, etc. trying desperately to fully understand the historical and political context of Stoppard’s setting. At nights after rehearsal, a group would meet together, supposedly to relax, but the conversation always turned back to the play. To the words. To the meaning. You’d see a few of them huddled around the dramaturge discussing Catullus and Propertius, Horace and Platonic enthusiasm, Humanism and Erasmus–this play is difficult to walk away from.
Later on in the rehearsal process, just before moving to The Long Center, you could sense the actor’s frustrations. The actors, well cast and passionate, brought relationships to roles that could so easily get lost in words. They were ready to move past the words. They understood them now, but how to make them clear to an audience who has never seen them before? They were tired, most rolling in from full time jobs, sitting in traffic, or other rehearsals. Some living thousands of miles from their friends and family. One was even blessed to welcome his second child into the world. All these distractions, and yet they were here in rehearsal, tackling the mountain that is Invention of Love.
I’m never sure when it happens—finally reaching the summit. When the frustration, the work, the technical difficulties, the research, the friendships, all meld and create art. The process is hard; the work consuming. But these fourteen beautiful people have done it. I watched a bit of their February 18 preview (my first time to watch for almost a week), and it was as if I was seeing the show for the first time. It had bloomed into a stunning portrayal of a man and his life. His love. His poetry.
In that moment, I did not need to know all the research. I did not need to know every reference, or understand the Latin. The story was there, stunning and cathartic. A discussion of morality and art, set against the backdrop of the late 1800s. Friendship and virtue and love laid out before me on a stunning set, scored, costumed and lit magnificently. As the lights went down, I heard a gasp of air from the audience, taken aback by how unexpectedly they had been drawn in.
No one expects to relate to a story about Oxford and Cambridge professors discussing textual criticism, but surrender your expectations. Austin Shakespeare’s production of The Invention of Love has been masterfully handled from every angle, at every step, to ensure that every audience leaves feeling they are just a little bit more human than they were before.
Emily’s directing credits include Waking Up (WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Festival). Acting Credits: The Shaughraun, Song of the Canyon Kid (The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville), The Full Monty, Macbeth, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Treasure Island (Festival 56), Sweeney Todd (SummerStock Austin), and the regional premiere of Kooman & Dimond’s Dani Girl (Greyman Theatre Company).
Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love plays 8 pm Thurs- Sat and 3 pm Sunday from Feb. 19-March 8. TKTS http://thelongcenter.org/event/invention-love/ or call (512)474-5664