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THE FIGARO PLAYS are “one of the season’s more significant theatrical events” (Philadelphia Inquirer). Watch the video trailer and see for yourself!

Getting ready.

Opening Night awaits…

Putting on the final touches before opening night.

Janice Paran is a Senior Program Associate for the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, the former Director of Play Development at McCarter Theatre, and the dramaturg on The Figaro Plays. Emilia LaPenta is McCarter Theatre’s Literary Manager, and Janice’s daughter. They recently sat down and chatted about their experiences working on The Figaro Plays

Emilia LaPenta: In 1-2 sentences, how would you summarize your role as dramaturg on The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro?

Janice Paran: My primary role has been to serve as Stephen Wadsworth’s editor in preparing his translation/adaptations of the plays, offering feedback on everything from word choice to how individual scenes might function better with cuts, re-arrangement of text or additional material. A lot of that work happened before rehearsals started, but it has continued throughout the rehearsal process as actors weigh in with their points of view. There’s been a LOT of rewriting during rehearsal, which can be chaotic, given the number of people (actors, designers, stage management staff) who need to be kept current with script changes. Fortunately, the literary intern, Claudia Nolan, has been the official keeper of the script—she has attended every second of every rehearsal, maintaining and distributing a spreadsheet of daily changes. We’d be lost without her.

EL: That’s more than two sentences! But very informative.

JP: There’s a ton of other dramaturgy that goes on with a production like The Figaro Plays, though, and much of that has fallen to you, right? What has your to-do list consisted of?

EL: My office (which consists of aforementioned literary intern, Claudia Nolan, and myself) was responsible for what I call the “paper dramaturgy” or, perhaps, the “audience dramaturgy” of these productions. Together, Claudia and I conducted a lot of pre-rehearsal research to saturate ourselves in the world of the play (for example, we read a lot about the social, political, and cultural realities of eighteenth century France). We then decided (in consultation with director Stephen Wadsworth) what information was most essential and created a variety of supplementary materials, including a resource packet of historical information for actors, an image board for the rehearsal room featuring pictures that inspired Stephen and the design team, program notes, and various articles and activities for the production website (www.mccarter.org/figaroplays).

JP: Speaking of program notes, you assigned one of them to me: a brief biographical note on Beaumarchais. It was fun to write, but boy, your word-count limits kept me in check! 

EL: I know! Deciding where to trim and what not to include is often the most difficult part of creating these materials. A lot of our work is about contextualizing the plays for actors and audiences alike, and working closely with McCarter’s education and engagement team to enhance the playgoing experience. Actors often use dramaturgical resources to gain insight into their characters; some audience members enjoy similar materials because it deepens their understanding of the play, or provides a different perspective. Of course, it isn’t necessary to read these notes or articles in order to enjoy the play, but many delight in the additional information. As I mentioned earlier, all of this contextual work happened before rehearsals started. I’ve been in the room for a couple of rehearsals, but you’ve been a much more active part of that process. Do you have a favorite memory or story from this project so far?

JP: All my favorite moments from rehearsal sound idiotic when taken out of context. Most of them have to do with Stephen’s running commentary on the goings-on, his nicknames for actors in the room, or his propensity to demonstrate a particular “shape” that he’s looking for. One day when we were working on the trial scene from The Marriage of Figaro, he was trying to illustrate how a precise technical mastery of a pivotal moment that involved several actors moving and speaking practically simultaneously would pay off. His arms windmilling as he traversed the playing area in an up-tempo show-and-tell, he concluded by proclaiming with a flourish, “ching-chong, ching-chong, whee!” Which we somehow instantly understood as Wadsworth-speak for “perfect form equals utter delight.”

EL: You’ve worked with Stephen many times before; what has been different about this process?

JP: In some ways, not much has changed—Stephen and I still enjoy wrangling line-by-line with the great eighteenth century texts he has lovingly refurbished for McCarter over the years. Of course, the technology is better now—when we first worked together in 1992 on Marivaux’s The Triumph of Love, I had to fax my script comments to him a page at a time. Electronic editing has been a blessing, but we still try to have our script smack-downs in person whenever we can. And then there’s the generation thing. For the earlier productions, I was McCarter’s dramaturg and Director of Play Development, but now I’m a freelance dramaturg, happily returning to McCarter for The Figaro Plays. You were a pre-schooler when I brought you to see The Triumph of Love. Now you’re my boss on this project! What’s that like for you?

EL: It’s wild; I remember hanging out in the dressing rooms and playing with Stephen’s dog, Beanie, during some of those early productions! I adored coming to McCarter as a kid and my love for theater was certainly inspired and encouraged by the productions and artists I encountered here. And now I’m working with many of them! It’s a pretty incredible feeling. Similarly—I grew up watching you work with playwrights at McCarter; I certainly had a special insight into the world of dramaturgy at a young age. I think it wasn’t until I was in college, though, that I fully appreciated the scope of the work that you did and the importance of the productions that you were a part of. One of the joys of entering the professional world—along with finding my own artistic interests and aesthetic—has been interacting with you as a peer; I love seeing shows together, sharing thoughts on new plays and writers, and learning from your very wise example. This project has been a wonderful extension of that. It’s fun having another dramaturg in the room to exchange notes and “geek out” with (for example, I don’t know that anyone else was quite as excited when you discovered that the CIA had a whole file on Beaumarchais and his contributions to the American Revolution!).

JP: It’s true, there’s geek factor to dramaturgy, and you’ve clearly inherited that gene. But more than that, it’s been so gratifying to watch you come into your own as a young professional. You’re articulate and poised, you have sound dramaturgical insights to share, and you have a better fashion sense than I ever had.

EL: It’s also been great to collaborate on various projects and see you in action in the rehearsal room. I also don’t mind when you bring baked goods to my office, either.

JP: Is that a hint? 

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Holy programs, Figaro. First preview is tonight!

Let’s take today to will into belief that the creative endeavor that is theatre gives a child the tools to live a life that they create of their own design.
Diane Rodriguez,  Associate Producer/Director of New Play Production at Center Theatre Group

Stephen Wadsworth talks about bringing his new translations of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE and THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO to life at McCarter and why he doesn’t “need to throw forks anymore.”

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