– Artistic Statement –

My primary interest as a director, writer, and sound designer is the exploration of ambiguous worlds and liminal spaces; of people and characters struggling to navigate a life in which there are no final answers, only provisional moments of grace.  While I often gravitate toward works on the avant-garde, experimental, and formalist end of the spectrum (playwrights such as Caryl Churchill, Mac Wellman, Charles Mee, and Suzan-Lori Parks, along with the legacy of the historical avant-garde, Butoh dance, and contemporary companies like Punchdrunk and the Siti Company), such worlds, spaces, and moments are also found in a variety of styles and genres, including the plays of Euripides, Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry, Eugene O’Neal, and even in popular musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, Pippen, or In the Heights. Indeed, while ambiguity and liminality may seem inherently solemn, they do not have to be. Faced with an increasingly fractured political and ideological world, not to mention the environmental precipice we are currently teetering upon, I increasingly seek to create works that offer an opportunity for hope, wonder, and joy. This does not preclude my staging or writing darker plays, but it does mean that I refuse to accept violence, the grotesque, or the tragic as the only paths to the sublime.

 

As a director, I stage plays that I don’t necessarily understand and texts that refuse easy interpretation. Directing then becomes an embodied way to forge understanding by co-creating the production with actors, designers, technicians, and audiences. My aesthetic is often one of simplicity: lean lines and stripped down sets complemented with stylized light and sound to help create the world of the play. I begin from the assumption that performance, even with the most text-heavy of plays, is, first and foremost, a shared, embodied experience encompassing the performers, the technicians, and the audience together. My job is not to dictate what that experience will be, but to use as much foresight, clarity, understanding of human nature, and artistry at my disposal to shape the performance into one that allows each person to have as deep an engagement as possible. This means that I don’t necessarily use the same directing techniques when staging a realist play as I do when staging a Jacobean drama or the works of Constance Congden. But it does mean that all of my work proceeds from the common objective of creating a multi-faceted and emotionally rich experience for artists and audience alike.

 

Understanding theatre as a space for experience and not necessarily only that of story or character development deeply influences my work as a writer. I often create “impossible” plays in which I don’t necessarily know how they physically staged. I play with worlds that operate with their own particular logics and regularly use language like a musical score. Story and character development are not trivial in my work. Indeed, they can, depending on the project, take focus. However, they are not necessarily where I begin—or even end—when writing a play. Like the Symbolists, I often write in order to explore a particular mood or feeling. My plays are then meant to invite a production team and, eventually, an audience into further exploration of that feeling.

There is a deep sense of musicality that forms the bedrock to both my directing and my writing: the rhythm of language, the sound of bodies moving in space, the musical rest of a held breath. The aural dimension of theatre is, for me, nearly equal to that of the visual dimension. My work as a sound designer is the purest form of this sensibility. I use sound as an aural landscape to surround the actors and the audience, often using ambient effects at nearly inaudible levels. I pursue the musical in non-music elements such as the sounds of birds, insects, trains, air-conditioners, old television or radio programs, city spaces, rain, waves, children playing, construction machinery, and even nearly silent room tones. Regardless of whether I’m adding complementary room tones to a realist play or creating, on behest of the director, a sonic landscape that operates in tension with other elements of the production, my sound design is always meant to shape both feeling and space.

 

The work I do as an artist in an academic setting is never limited by that setting. However, creating work in collaboration with students does bring additional pedagogical responsibilities that are entirely integrated with my artistic concerns. To begin with, the nature of a university setting means that students, especially actors, can be given a greater range of opportunities than they might experience in the “professional” theatre world. Where someone of a certain physical type might be unlikely to be cast as a lead in regional, off-Broadway, or Broadway theatres based solely on their body type, the university can afford them just such an opportunity. Directing students also means that I take the time to reveal the why of things as effectively and transparently as rehearsals allow. Certainly the goal of a rehearsal is not the same as a classroom, and students can always learn something from experience alone. However, understanding how and what experience teaches, and then helping students recognize that process in themselves, is vital to producing academic art. Furthermore, because students working on a production are asked to take risks and push themselves in ways they might not be ready for, I take seriously my role as a mentor and guide. This means ensuring that my production spaces are places where professional behavior is modeled and where everyone—myself included—is expected to demonstrate respect and collegiality toward everyone else. The more supportive the rehearsal space, the greater the odds of students exceeding their own expectations.

 

The different modalities—directing, writing, sound design—require different skill sets and present different opportunities for me to explore how theatre creates experiences. However, they are all tightly intertwined by my sense of musicality and my firm belief that theatre is, at root, a generous sharing of time, place, and feeling.

 

Peter C.

Wood, PhD