The SHSU theatre department is tackling a classic play in their next production of the season with Bertolt Brecht’s, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Dr. Victoria Lantz, professor of theatre, is directing the show.
Lantz talked about why she was excited to direct a production written by Brecht and why this classic playwright’s work is important for an actor’s experience onstage.
“I am a big fan of Bertolt Brecht as a playwright,” said Lantz. “He is one of the most influential playwrights of the 21st century. He fundamentally changed the way people particularly designed shows. It was coming off of a period of realism where people were creating very realistic sets and situations, and he made everything bigger and more theatrical. He calls it epic. That’s his term, ‘Epic Theatre.’”
“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is a story based on parables that teaches a moralistic lesson. Lantz noted that Brecht’s plays are very straightforward with their messages and tell a very specific story.
Lantz also talked about the specific nature of the characters and how Brecht has written them so broad. She commented on the fact that typically when directing, you encourage the actors to do research on their character’s backstory and develop the character’s specific qualities, but that is not the case with this show.
“In a realistic play, you’re really dredging into characteristics, who these characters are and where they came from, but you don’t do that with Brecht,” Lantz said. “There’s just no room for it. That’s been a challenge for them and for me. It’s a different way to direct.”
“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” has a large cast of 23 actors who are all essential pieces to the overall production. Lantz talked about the unique ways the cast uses their body language to illustrate the scenes as they happen onstage. Lantz also talked about the requirements of the characters and how she selected the actors to play them.
“I set little tasks to see what they could make, what shapes they could create, in order to see not how physically flexible they were, but how imaginatively flexible they were with their bodies,” Lantz said. “We have some very broad, over the top characters. So, one of the things I asked for was for them to go bigger and broader and louder and more fantastic.”
Exaggerated characters and body movements are not the only key parts of this show. Although the play is not a musical, there is music performed throughout. Lantz talked about the musical elements that are also included in the performance.
“All the music made in the show is done onstage,” Lantz said. “We have a set of three musicians, as well as a singer and the musicians and the singer narrate the show for the audience. So, the music in the show is something that we’ve also had to create in the rehearsal process. We’ve taken Brecht’s song lyrics and put them on top of music from America in the 20’s.”
Putting all of these different elements together has been no easy task for the cast and crew, but it has been an enriching one. Lantz talked about the challenges they have faced together as a production and how she has seen the actors grow and thrive throughout the process.
“I think it’s been a new and unique challenge for them,” Lantz said. “With it being a very language-driven show, with all of the body language movements we are putting into it. They’re all really capable and have really cool ideas that we are bringing and infusing into it. There has been some creative freedom and I think that the cast has really excelled.”
Lantz said the central message of the play is very clear. She talked about what the story is telling the audience and the point Brecht was trying to get across with his writing.
“There’s a line that says, ‘Children to the motherly, so that the children can thrive’. So, whether you’re the biological mother or not, may not be as important as if you are motherly, if you have the ability to care for something,” Lantz said. “It’s the simple idea of, [something] is yours if you’re willing to work at it and make something of it. Brecht isn’t subtle. He tells you what to think.”
Lantz believes that audiences will enjoy the play and really grasp the meaning of the story as well as be entertained. She talked about the balance of humor even though the show can be sad at times, containing a war, and how she hopes audiences will react.
“I’m hoping they will find the humor,” Lantz said. “The cast has done an amazing job of finding humor in Brecht which is sometimes a challenge. Also, that there is a sense of happiness even though it’s a bloody war show. The little moments of joy become really important.”
“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” opens Wednesday, November 11 at 8 p.m. in the Erica Starr Theater of the University Theatre Center with performances to continue through the weekend. For more information and to purchase tickets contact the UTC at 936-294-1329.