Yael Farber on directing The Crucible (Digital Theatre Plus)

Yael Farber

Yael Farber talks about The Crucible for Digital Theatre plus. Screencap

Yael Farber was interviewed about directing The Crucible and the interview was put on Digital Theatre Plus (the variant for institutional subscribers) this week. This is a summary of the things that interested me, not a paraphrase of the entire half hour interview. Some of the stuff she said about her perspective on Miller or the play I have already articulated my disagreement with, so I will spare you that.

Much of the interview confirms things we’ve already heard in other venues and interviews, with more detail. For instance, she discusses her desire to cast actors who move, which she relates to her roots in the South African theater. This was her direction to the casting agent she worked with — and she says that she had two or three meetings to cast actors. In that sense she seems to think the encounter with Richard Armitage was “random.” She also told all the actors she worked with that they had not to be afraid of looking foolish or falling and having to get up and start over again.

Interesting: Armitage did not read with either Samantha Colley or Anna Madeley before any of them being cast. She just knew, could see, that they would have chemistry with each other.

There’s a long section where she praises her entire creative team — especially the movement coordinator. I thought when I saw the Nirbhaya trailer that Armitage tweeted that the general look of the plays seems similar, and she says in this interview (based on her quote of someone or other who believes that the stage is the place where anything can happen and something must) that she wants the space to be constructed in such a way that it can all be swept away at a moment’s notice. She didn’t want it to be weighed down with immovable things or have that feeling, and she related this desire to the way that the Massachusetts settlers had to create their new society, carve it out, from what was there.

Also interesting: all of the actors except William Gaunt (for reasons of age / health) were barefoot during rehearsals. Farber does not understand how you can pretend to be someone else when you’re wearing your own shoes. They did all do a warm up together before rehearsals. She and the movement coordinator also did a lot of extra work with the actors who played the young women, after rehearsals, to sort of push them to their breaking point in terms of their expressiveness. (To me, the way she described it, this sounded questionable, but I am not an actor.)

She thinks that a lot of what is being said in the play is said in the silences and in-between spaces. She felt that both Armitage and Madeley were artists who were able to capture this quality of saying things via silences. She made them rehearse up against walls, where they were extremely close to each other but could not touch, or so close they could smell each other (as she says). [After that part of the interview there’s a clip of part of Act Two and you can really see how something like that might be playing a role in their acting.]

In general, it was important to Farber to mark the social spaces between different people by means of understanding how they touched (or did not touch) each other. She felt that a major aspect of understanding relationships in the play relies on what the spaces are for personal and physical expression. If there are only certain spaces for sensuality in a particular context, then expression has to be seen on stage in those places. On the whole she feels that contemporary theater and acting do not show this element of relationships through physical attitudes and touches well enough.

The main impression I have of Farber after this interview is one I’ve had all along — she is authoritative and seriously uncompromising. Seen from the viewpoint of that impression, I find it interesting that she seems to be the person Armitage has currently fixed on as a creative partner.

~ by Servetus on April 10, 2015.

23 Responses to “Yael Farber on directing The Crucible (Digital Theatre Plus)”

  1. Very interesting. Thanks!


  2. Thanks for this. Wish we could see these interviews in full, and not just 1 or 2 minutes. I would be willing to pay for them separately, though I understand why they don’t, in a business sense.


    • I imagine that they make a lot of very predictable income off these institutional subscriptions and their contract says they will upload something new every week (I think). I wonder whether they’d really compromise their relationship with the institutional subscribers by publishing this stuff for sale elsewhere, but I’m not privy to their books.


  3. Thank you for sharing this. I may have to call on Hubby at the college. Sounds interesting. How do you rehearse against a wall?


  4. Thanks Servetus- a very interesting article.

    It doesn’t surprise me that Armitage might want to work with Farber again. He has always demonstrated a willingness ( even a desire) to be emotionally and physically uncomfortable in order to give the best possible performance- I’m thinking back to him saying the physical training for SB made him vomit, a statement that has been repeated about TH and TC to my knowledge. I believe he would put up with any kind of tyranny if it meant he was stretched artistically.

    And like you, I find the statement about how she pushed the younger actors somewhat disquietening.


    • RA has indeed great willingness/desire to push his own boundaries. In a paradoxal way, one has to feel really strong to allow someone else to model you like clay.
      “Farber does not understand how you can pretend to be someone else when you’re wearing your own shoes”, that’s an interesting image for baring oneself all.


  5. Rehearsing against the wall is a type of acting (or dancing) exercise that helps the actor understand a particular perspective – it may be one that the director wants to lead the actor to discover on his own (“Play the scene the way we have rehearsed it, only now with these boundaries. Can you still convey the message? Does it make the scene/character relationships more or less clear to the audience? What have you discovered about your character that you didn’t know before? Perform the choreography as learned, only do it against the wall or entirely on the floor. Run through the scene again only now balance this book on your head while you are doing the scene.”) or it may serve the director’s purpose. A good director wants to loosen his actors up physically, mentally, emotionally so that they can stretch physically, mentally, and emotionally to achieve the director’s vision. Good directors are trustworthy, and those are the kinds of directors actors would kill to work with. Trust is major for actors because they must be able to establish intimacy very quickly. Actors give themselves over completely to their directors, and Yael Farber has proven herself to be worthy of that kind of trust. She puts much emphasis on physicality and sensuality (I’ve only read of her work over the years -drat! I envy you who have actually seen her stuff!), and as such, is really to actors what catnip is to cats because of it. Hope that adds a little bit of understanding! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, btw, a glass wall would make for a very exciting excercise!


  7. Thanks for sharing!


  8. They would all have to be willing to turn their insides out (intestines and all) literally speaking. Sensory enhancement.
    I find it interesting that YF cast the three main characters separately, going on her instinct that they would be able to have/produce chemistry. I wonder how common that is?
    It speaks in RA’s favour that he’s definitely not afraid of working with strong-willed women.
    He seems to thrive professionally by being on some sort of mental journey in order to discover his own psyche via his art. Much like yourself (and some of us, I gather).


    • For all the girls (Colley et al) it was an essential prerequisite that they be able to hyperextend their spines. That probably cut down the list of candidates slightly as well.

      Agree re: working with women.


      • Hyperextend?? As in flex the spine – or being very flexible?
        Wauw! Would certainly reduce the number of candidates considerably. I imagine the contortions would enhance the perception of something other-woldly going on (in Salem).


        • she was probably using the term rather loosely, but I think Marama Corlett really can hyperextend her spine in the literal sense of the world. Some of the positions she put her body in seemed extremely unnatural to me.


      • Ought to say: other-worldly.


  9. Thanks! Very interesting to read. Wonder why the interview is not more widely available, I’d be very interested to see the whole of it.


  10. Thank you 🙂


  11. Thanks S i’d love to be able to watch the lot so thanks so much fo conveying the ideas and tone of it. And thanks everyone else for the input, also about technique.


  12. I think that YF and RA are completely on the same page. They definitely speak the same “language”. When Yael interviewed him he said he didn’t know if he could do it and she said I will take you there!! That is what he absolutely loves, being pushed beyond what he feels he is capable of doing, and she is a strong, very visual and talented director and obviously enjoys pushing her actors to reach places they never have before. When I see their messages on twitter or the exchange between them, I wonder what planet are they on. They are in complete sync with each other, and I can see why he would want to continue to work with her.


  13. […] is probably my favorite interview from this series so far (with apologies to Richard Armitage). If Farber has seemed to speak about the political and social aspects of the work, and Armitage and Madeley seem to have focused on the individual, relational, and […]


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