An Interview with Director Casey Stangl
By Beatrice Basso
Scenic designer Robert Brill’s rendering for A.C.T.’s 2015
production of Love and Information
Director Casey Stangl returns to A.C.T. after staging David Ives’s Venus in Fur last spring. Now, Love and Information, a play that offered her a blank creative canvas that she describes as simultaneously “exhilarating and terrifying.”
Stangl brings her talent for seamless transitions and precise pacing to Love and Information, a play that offered her a blank creative canvas that she describes as simultaneously “exhilarating and terrifying.”
Stangl found her stride in directing new work and reimagining classics through a bold contemporary lens. Her movement background and interest in visual composition have helped her weave the complex fabric of Love and Information. At a new-play festival in Southern California a week before rehearsals began, Stangl was happy to talk about the themes and ideas that have piqued her imagination, what it’s been like to include the specific communities of San Francisco in Churchill’s scenes, and whether the gap between love and information is truly as wide as it may seem.
How did you react when A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff asked you to direct Love and Information?
I was thrilled. Carey described the play, which is made up of disparate scenes with no common characters. Then she talked about it being the first production at The Strand Theater, which is located in San Francisco at a kind of crossroads between various communities—from homeless people to tourists to tech workers to government workers to immigrant mom-and-pop store owners. She felt that Love and Information was the perfect play with which to open this new space.
What were your first impressions of the play?
Carey told me, “The play is wide open.” When you read the first scene, there are just lines and no character names. I remember thinking, “Wow, she wasn’t kidding, this is wide open.” When you have that amount of choice, you can do anything, but it also means you have to find a container and a way into the play. With most plays, the container is usually already built for you, so this is an interesting challenge.
You were already familiar with Caryl Churchill’s work, as you directed Top Girls for the Guthrie Theater over a decade ago.
Yes. They are very different plays, but they share some commonalities; for instance, Churchill’s ability to manipulate language, to write characters and scenes in which so much is happening below the words, is important in both works. Love and Information is so striking because these scenes range from a quarter of a page to three pages, but despite such a small amount of dialogue, you can pull back the curtain and imagine what’s happening between these characters. This illumination of a moment in someone’s life is thrilling to be able to evoke. Churchill has a very unflinching, unsentimental view of life, but there’s so much hope and humanity and joy in her perspective, as well.
Generally, directors are asked to guide an audience through a linear, narrative, realistic journey.
Absolutely. I would say there is almost always a story being told, even in plays that have a nonlinear structure, or that bounce around in time. But that’s not what we’re doing here. There’s not one specific story we’re telling; the play has a radical form in which several individual narratives add up to something larger that reveals how we live and what it means to be a human on this planet right now. Because there are so many different themes and ideas, they will resonate differently for different people.
What do you think makes this play relevant at this particular moment in time?
When somebody told me about the play originally, they said that it was about living in the Digital Age. So before I read it, I really thought that it was about dealing with the age of Facebook, and that sort of thing. There are certainly hints of that in the play, but it’s so much bigger and broader than that. Throughout history, there have been large technological leaps—such as the invention of the wheel or the Industrial Revolution—that have radically changed the way people live. With such changes, there have always been predictions that we’re going to lose our humanity. I remember when computers first became ubiquitous, people said, “Soon, no one will ever see each other, and we’ll never leave our homes, and robots will take over everything.” In fact, what happened was a proliferation of coffee shops so that people could actually come out and connect with each other. Churchill has tapped into the sense that, despite the constancy of dire predictions, humanity prevails. We just find different ways to continue to have this sense of connection.
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For tickets to Love and Information visit act-sf.org/information.