Reaching Beyond the Theater Stage
Artistic Director Paulus seeks to make A.R.T. an integral part of Harvard life
Under the new artistic direction of Diane Paulus, the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) is in for a massive rehaul. Forget about just breaking the fourth wall: Paulus is determined to conceive of the whole world as a stage, with audience members getting in on the play.
The focus of her plans, as expressed in “Experience the A.R.T.”—Paulus’ initiative—is to restructure the experience of theater to facilitate active spectator involvement in and out of the theater building. According to Paulus, viewers should not only enjoy the show as audience members, but also be able to take advantage of opportunities to dine, socialize, and perform with the artists.
“As a director, my driving source of inspiration is the audience. Theater is more than simply a play on the stage; it’s a ritual, a social occasion for people to come together and experience community,” Paulus wrote in her inaugural address as Artistic Director. The organization of the current season’s schedule attests to an emphasis on encouraging dynamic interchange between the performer and spectator.
The A.R.T. seeks to overcome the traditional stereotype of musicals and plays as one-sided, self-contained experiences. Instead, productions will be arranged into festivals, with multiple shows connected by one broad theme. The first festival, “Shakespeare Exploded,” features the Paulus-directed “The Donkey Show” as its premiere production. “The Donkey Show,” a simultaneous musical and dance party, gives audiences an idea of how the A.R.T. seeks to transform all of its shows into more accessible cultural spectacles.
Paulus, who has spearheaded this endeavor to blur the divide between the audience and the actors, is leading the A.R.T. with considerable expertise from her directorial background in theater and opera. Just this past year, she successfully revived an on-Broadway production of “Hair.”
“It’s been thrilling to have this opportunity to lead an organization as a producer as well as a director,” she says. “I’ve directed shows before, but to be able to shape the bigger picture of how theater is produced, how it is programmed, how we market it… I think these are things we have to think about holistically.”
With this all-encompassing scope, Paulus hopes to convince the Harvard community and others to reevaluate their perceptions of theater. According to Paulus, it is vitally important to make the A.R.T. a vibrant and central part of the arts at Harvard.
“It’s not just paying attention to the art piece. It’s also thinking about how to reach students, how to make theater important again,” she says.Besides focusing on the performance elements of the A.R.T., Paulus has recognized that the theater must consider the economic situation as it implements changes to its mission.
“We can’t separate art from business anymore, but we have to think in a very integrated way about what theater is and how we are most effective,” Paulus says. In some ways the current economic climate has even provided the necessary catalyst to initiate the A.R.T.’s venture into expanding the boundaries of theater.
“I think the [economic] crisis is a call to arms [because] you can’t do business in the same way anymore,” Paulus says. “It makes you think about how to make the most out of what you’ve got and not to be complacent about resources. It’s no question that it’s a difficult time, but I try to look at the opportunity within this economic moment and learn from it.”
The reach of the A.R.T.’s expansion project will even bypass the stage and the community, and extend into the classroom to reestablish closer ties to Harvard College. Paulus will co-teach a new course this fall with English professor and Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber. The class, “Theater, Dream, Shakespeare,” relates directly to the company’s performance season.
“I was excited about the breadth of opportunity here. You are not just running a theater—you are on a campus, you are a part of student life, you are in a city with all these college kids,” Paulus says. “I always thought there was great potential energy here.”
—Staff writer Eunice Y. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.