A Q & A with The Electric Baby director Rick Barbour
What makes you excited to direct The Electric Baby?
I’m excited about working with some of Denver’s best actors and designers on this beautifully-written play. It requires and celebrates great ensemble acting and the simple, honest, transformative power of theatrical storytelling. Some contemporary plays read and feel and expect to operate as film or television does. Trouble is, when we try to produce camera-centric stories on stage, it usually doesn’t work out so well – theatre’s storytelling language is distinctly different than film or television’s. The stage is the place for metaphor, for heightened language, for poetry, if you will, and The Electric Baby was built for it. Bottom line: I get to work with great collaborators on a great script at a company that is dedicated to the power and beauty of actor-driven storytelling, on a schedule that is uniquely generous in supporting a depth of process unlikely to be encountered elsewhere. I’m in heaven.
What do you look forward to sharing with audiences?
Great acting within the intimacy of a black box space. Experiencing the power of this at the age of 15 propelled me into the theatre in the first place, and has sustained and driven me ever since. From the first time I read it and through each rehearsal, I’ve been deeply moved by The Electric Baby. It is not a heady or intellectually analytical play, it is very much an intuitive, heart-based play that works its magic in visceral ways. I’m eager to enjoy the play in live performance with our audiences – my hope is that we create a memorable experience of surprising, delightful, and emotionally powerful one-ness for our audiences with each and every show.
How does the idea of storytelling impact your vision of this production?
My vision of this or any other play is based on what the playwright gives, or suggests, or implies to us, through the writing on the page, through the actions of the characters. The Electric Baby is all about storytelling – it’s built on the strong and comprehensive use of folk lore, folk tales, parable, and metaphor, yet is simultaneously rooted in the painful realities of its contemporary, fully-dimensional, all-too-human characters – characters that we initially meet in varying degrees of emotional isolation, yet who wind up unexpectedly interconnected in ways that invite resurrection. My goal is to communicate the soul of the play as clearly as possible by fully embracing its nature, its structure, and by encouraging our actors and designers to breathe into each moment of the text with full attention, empathy, emotional courage, and intuitive confidence.
How does having stories within a story make it more challenging to direct?
I’m not sure that having stories within a story make it more challenging to direct. All the stories related or revealed in the play are, like all human utterances, based in need. That is to say, each story is expressed in the pursuit of a specific character need – no one is “telling a story” just for the sake of doing so. There’s motivation, purpose, and intent behind it. In rehearsal, our basic assumption has to be that the story is the best and most effective way for the character to get what they need from another person in that particular moment and situation. We do this all the time in real life. A well-constructed play like The Electric Baby uses this fundamentally human impulse in ways that might be more heightened than may be expected of most moments in our everyday lives, but that’s what dramatic writing is supposed to do – distill and elevate the truth of our shared humanity in ways that, at their most potent, invite catharsis.
This play has elements of magical realism. What are the important things to consider when directing a play with fantastic elements?
That what we may call fantastic elements are in fact expressions of the play’s essential DNA. That these elements are the defining features of the play’s world, its logic, its power and truth. That they are as “real” as any other element that defines the specific world of the play, and almost always more “real” than anything our everyday reality could possibly evoke. Theatre is at its best when it unapologetically embraces metaphor as its way of telling us the truth. As long as we are consistent in how we employ and relate to a play’s essential conventions, no matter how fantastic, an audience will follow us anywhere. With The Electric Baby, the playwright isn’t concerned with explaining how or why a baby that “glows like the moon” is the central presence, crossroads, and catalyst for the action of this hauntingly beautiful play. It just is. We are given it as fact. And as the play unfolds in delightful and unexpected ways, as we witness the struggles of its characters, as we are swept up in events that affect us and reward our faith in the power of story, The Electric Baby offers us a beautiful and desperately important reminder that only by opening ourselves to another can we possibly begin to heal. If metaphor and magical realism can open the way to truth such as this, then all of us – artists and audience alike – have cause for celebration.