Director Eric Ting on Gloria (Part One)

By Claire L. Wong 

“Think of the Greek gods,” says director Eric Ting. “Stories arise from our need to make sense of our world, to understand trauma and disaster.” Ting has been called a magician by the New Yorker, and his work “powerfully and ultimately sublime” by Variety. It’s no wonder he’s received critical respect nationwide, from TBA Awards here in the Bay Area to an Obie Award in New York. We spoke with him about his work on A.C.T.’s production of Gloria, written by his longtime friend and Gloria playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

Movement Coach Danyon Davis, Stage Manager Christina Hogan, Director Eric Ting, Voice and Dialect Coach Lisa Anne Porter, and actor Martha Brigham work on A.C.T.’s 2020 production of Gloria. Photo by Simon Hodgson.

What draws you to Branden’s plays?
There are these moments where, through the experience of a certain character, you recognize a sense of grace living in the heart of his plays. As much as they are often a collective reckoning, I like to think Branden and I share an affinity for going into the deep, dark recesses of people and society and finding not despair, but hope.

How does Gloria fit into that journey?
For me, Gloria lives solidly in Branden’s exploration of the legacy of trauma. I moved to New York City in the summer of 2001 and worked in a talent management agency. I have a very vivid memory of the city before and after the events of 9/11. While the event at the center of Gloria is nothing like that, it is also exactly like that. Before. And after. Hope; despair. The struggle to make sense of it all, in sometimes complicated, contradictory ways. That’s how I come to Gloria.

How do you see trauma functioning in the script? 
It’s hard not to talk about Branden’s work without talking about trauma, and the role trauma plays in our lives. He’s often wrestling with some experience of that, and that’s the heart of this play, literally. And so for me nostalgia is a force—the force of wanting things to go back to a certain way, to simpler times.

Trauma acts as a sort of ghost. The first act is haunting the second. There’s a clear moment the world pivots and leaves the characters unmoored. They’re trying to make sense of it by telling a story. So many of our ancient stories are born out of the human need to make sense of trauma and disaster, and the play becomes a mechanism for making sense of the world they’re now lost in.

Director Eric Ting poses with the cast of A.C.T.'s 2020 production of Gloria. Photo by Simon Hodgson.

In the second act, three of the characters write about the central event. What’s the role of storytelling in this play?
The way these stories of survival become commodified in the second act, it’s not hard to judge them. But I also like to think that these are just people trying to make sense of this thing that’s happened to them, to transform their pain into something of meaning, of purpose, of consequence.

What do you hope for the community to feel or experience when they see Gloria?
The last moments of the play deliver us to a space, if not of healing, then a space where healing can begin. To me, that’s the deepest layer of the play. There’s a layer about the traumatic event, about the cynical way in which we own and appropriate trauma narratives, about our deep inhumanity, and about this incredible narcissism that comes with existing in this kind of society. There’s all of that, but at the very bottom is this thing that feels like hope. Gloria looks at the haunting that affects people and stories and places. Branden’s play makes it a little easier for us to see the ghosts.

This interview is excerpted from the Gloria issue of Words on Plays. Want to read more? Order your copy here. Gloria is onstage at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater starting February 13. Click here for tickets!

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