Stage Directions

Institute History

  • 1997 Theatre Lab


I’ve never been interested in conventional speech or in naturalistic forms, but rather in the physical, aural and visual world of play and how these forces shape the characters. Over the years, I’ve worked with the Romanian playwright Oana Cajal, whose plays have only been written in her third language, English. Because of her early limited English vocabulary and the political climate that was Romania in her youth, she was forced to keep the words simple, but her ideas, which she expresses in metaphor and action, are incredibly powerful. The words are simple, innocent and beautiful, but the actions, behaviors and images are challenging. No matter what language you speak, you can’t turn away from what is being said because it is not dependent on any spoken language for comprehension. I just returned from Prague, where I directed a play entitled SLADKY THERESIENSTADT, which is written and performed in Czech. I did not speak the language and its sounds and rhythms completely mystified me. I needed to start by establishing a context for communication. I did this by creating a physical and aural vocabulary for the play. As we moved through the creation of the piece, my understanding of the language began to come to me because the words had been physicalized within me and then translated onto the stage. Many people with no understanding of the Czech language have seen this play, without the help of a synopsis, and have come away with a complete understanding of it. This production will perform in many countries through 1998 and will never be dependent on the beautiful language spoken throughout it. I see STAGE DIRECTIONS as a vehicle to continue my exploration in a very intimate way. I have always been interested in the narrative contained between the spoken text of a play. The stage directions of such writers as Williams, O’Neill and Beckett provide an incredibly textured and emotionally detailed world for the characters to inhabit. I believe that characters are the sum total of their actions and not what they say. If you remove conventional speech from their mouths, you tear away all forms of protection and pretense and expose them as the characters they really are. With the absence of “conventional language” in Israel Horovitz’s STAGE DIRECTIONS, I can explore the lives of three people in a room, where proper words and emotions are failing and breaking down. I can examine things like emotion and motivations through physical behavior and music, which does not need words to convey an emotion or make us feel. Music will be a vital character in the making of this play. It is my hope that when the work is completed, it will communicate the story of the lives that live within it, even if you are deaf or if this country’s English fails you.
—Damien Gray

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