On the Record: Guest Director Barney O’Hanlon

Guest artist and member of Ann Bogart’s revolutionary SITI Company, Barney O’Hanlon directed Oberlin’s most recent main stage production, Eurydice. An emphatic Oberlin fan and Feve tot’s enthusiast, O’Hanlon sat down for an interview with the Oberlin Review.

Jimmy Hagan, Arts Editor

Can you elaborate on the production’s usage of the Viewpoints method (an acting technique developed by Anne Bogart, the founder of the renowned New York based acting institution, the SITI Company)? Did you see the training in the Viewpoints technique pay off onstage?

The cast trained in both Suzuki and the Viewpoints method. Suzuki is an intensely rigorous practice to hone in on concentration, focus, body awareness and intense listening. Viewpoints is also about … listening, but is more about getting in touch with impulse and intuition. Both trainings help cultivate ensemble sensibility, awareness of the others and a very strong presence. I couldn’t do any of the shows I do without them. They are part of my core values as an artist, and I try and share those values with others. The techniques should never be “seen” on the stage, but what they are both trying to get at invisibly should be very present, and I can say proudly that it was.

I think many people took home strong visuals from the production. Can you talk a little bit about the decisions that make the stage so reminiscent of the American skyscraper?

Wow, you got skyscraper? That’s cool. I’m very glad so many people came away with a strong visual sense, and I hope a strong aural sense. The work I do with Anne Bogart and SITI Company is intensely visual and aural, and I believe deeply in that. Visual art and music are huge influences in my work and also Brian Scott’s, the designer of the set and lights. It’s a part of our vocabulary, and we feel the theater has great potential to blur the lines between theater, visual art, music and dance.

The set was loosely inspired by the artist James Turrell, who makes these incredible sculptures/architecture or rooms called “skyboxes.” They are serene spaces to go into, and you quite literally look up at the sky through a pristine square or skylight, if you will, in the ceiling of the structure. That was the jumping-off point. But we also wanted it to reference the Greeks—hence the columns— and be slightly industrial —hence the galvanized metal—, and we also wanted it to feel open. The raked stage was an important element to bring the stage space and the audience space together to help make it one room. The image on the floor was something I found from the painter William Blake, and it was an image that could completely be related to the Orpheus myth.

The Stones, quite appropriately, function as a quasi-chorus. What did you hope to achieve by visualizing them in the way you did?

As is often the case, a happy accident occurred at the auditions. I had two actors, Rachel [Graf Evans ‘12] and William [Passannante ‘14], who played Big Stone, who were about the same height. When I saw them together I immediately thought of them as a mother and a father, or husband and wife. Once that image came into play, the rest of the Stones would obviously be their children. Though they exist in the Underworld, I kept imagining that the Stones were on a vacation somewhere. Perhaps [they were] seeing Disneyland when it first opened in California. So the Stones ended up being both a chorus of Stones and a family.

It was Chris Flaharty, the costume designer, who dressed them in a 1950s period in black, white and gray. I think with this production at Oberlin, through using more than just three actors as the script calls for, we ended up with a true Greek Chorus. Their presence became enormous in the telling of this story, and I frankly can’t imagine another production of this play without a larger group of Stones. I found it incredibly effective.

What projects do you have coming on the horizon?

Well, on Friday I travel to Sydney, Australia, to lead a two-week workshop. When I get back to New York, I will teach a couple of weeks, and then I will tour, as an actor with my company, our production of Radio Macbeth through New England. After that I will begin work [choreographing] Bizet’s opera Carmen, which Anne Bogart is directing for Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York.

Can you talk just briefly about your overall experience? Mainly, was it rewarding and will you come back?

First of all, they weren’t kidding when they said, “Winter Term.” I haven’t seen that much snow for a long time! But I had a fantastic time on so many levels. I miss my Eurydice cast so much and I wish we could have kept on doing the show. It just kept getting stronger and stronger. Everyone at Oberlin was so helpful and so supportive, and I’m deeply grateful to [Managing Director] Michael Grube at Hall Auditorium and his gang. It was a huge undertaking, and they were amazing!

And yes, I’d love to come back! Oh, I’ll also miss the tater tots at the Feve.