An Interview with Director Priscilla Lindsay
Currently the Associate Artistic Director of the Indiana Repertory Theatre, guest director Priscilla Lindsay is no stranger to Ann Arbor. A graduate of the Theatre Department, she and her husband Richard are also the proud parents of 2009 theatre graduate, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, whom Lindsay had the honor of directing in the Department’s production of You Never Can Tell in March 2008. Backstage caught up with Priscilla to ask about her return to guest direct the Department of Theatre & Drama’s October production of Tartuffe.
This will be your second show as a guest director with the Department. What excites you most about working with the students?
I had such a lovely time directing You Never Can Tell in 2008 – for so many reasons - not the least of which was that I was back in Ann Arbor! After graduating in 1971 and finishing up an MA in Theatre through a Professional Theatre Program Fellowship in 1972, I took off for life in regional theatre. It has been an amazing ride, culminating with my Associate Artistic Directorship at the Indiana Repertory Theatre for the last ten years. My relationships with fellow UM students, professors, and Ann Arbor friends have stayed strong, true and meaningful. I count many of my UM friends as valued colleagues. I consider the quality of my education to be the reason for success in my field. And I can say now, from first-hand experience, that today’s graduates from UM’s theatre, music, and dance departments are even better equipped to meet the professional world with confidence and expertise. Go Blue!
Why did you choose this play for the Department?
I chose Moliere’s Tartuffe because it is a comic masterpiece that allows the actors to play with heightened language, wonderful plot twists, and exacting characterizations. Our production uses a translation by Englishman Ranjit Bolt, who worked with director Peter Amster and Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s dramaturg, David Copelin in 2007, to change some British words and expressions to American ones while retaining the rhymed couplets. Some of the choices are definitely in the modern American vernacular with some vulgarities, but they make the verse very user-friendly and provide our young actors with a “window” into the text. Our job will be to maneuver through the plot points in fluid fashion, seldom if ever standing around, and never without a provocative thing to say: in the dining table seduction scene, Orgon’s wife, in extremis, tries to ward off the randy holy man, saying in the middle of the action, “And now you’re rushing to the sweet before we’ve had the soup and meat!” The result, we hope, will be witty, charming, naughty and accessible.
Rather than update the play, I chose to keep it in the 17th century French world, giving the actors a chance to learn the style of the period while at the same time exploring the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
What is your fondest memory from your time as a UM theatre student?
I’ve been asked to offer up a memorable experience during my time at UM….and of course this has proven difficult. Should I talk about the joy of sailing out over the heads of the Power Center audience in a swing, wearing a Wateau gown and singing “When daisies pied” in Loves Labours’ Lost? Or cooking a seven-course dinner with my theatre pals to host a thank-you celebration for our professors at the end of the semester? Or, as a freshman, staring up at Dr. Claribel Baird as she instructed me on how I might play Miranda in The Tempest, and knowing in my heart that I would never touch her brilliance? Or maybe the time the time Dr. Richard Burgwin played the overture from Les Troyens for us, and knew immediately what the size and scale of my Cleopatra needed to be.
Name your favorite scene or bit of dialogue from Tartuffe?
One of my favorite moments in Tartuffe has to be the entrance of the title character! The audience has heard about the rascal, pro and con, for two solid acts (in our case, scenes) and they are on pins and needles to finally meet him face to face. At first, we are teased by hearing only his voice “My hair shirt may need wringing out, also my scourge, Laurent. No doubt, when that is done, you’ll wish to pray. If anybody wants me, say I’m at the prison.” Every production of Tartuffe has the delicious opportunity to make this entrance memorable. When you see ours, see if you agree!
— Priscilla Lindsay, director Tartuffe
Mckean Scheu as Tartuffe
Photo by Peter Smith Photography
Department of Theatre & Drama
Arthur Miller Theatre
October 8 - 18, 2009
U-M Photo Services