August 21, 2008
Charlie Newell, addressing the cast of Caroline, Or Change at First Rehearsal:
‘Welcome, everyone! The start of the season is always a peculiarly exciting time, and this year is my 15th at Court Theatre. It feels to me like it really took us 15 years to get to this room with this cast doing this show. Everything happens in its time. I can’t imagine a more appropriate show to open our season.
‘Caroline, Or Change is the largest single production that Court Theatre has ever attempted. We tried to do it in the past, we tried to figure out when and how, and only now have the stars aligned to make it possible. Don’t do Hamlet unless you know who’s gonna play Hamlet. With Miss E. Faye Butler we have our Caroline. The first time I ever worked with E. Faye I put her on roller skates and threw ping-pong balls at her. (E. Faye: “I thought you were insane. But I did it.”) When E. Faye and I worked together on Little Foxes we found that her character turned out to be the heart and soul of that entire production.
‘When we knew we were ready to do Caroline, we got an email from Tony Kushner, saying, essentially, “I’m so glad it’s finally happening in Chicago and I’m especially glad it’s gonna be at Court Theatre. Can I do anything to help?” Now, I mostly deal with dead playwrights. And we talk all the time, but not like this. I called Tony and he gave me incredibly helpful advice, insights, thoughts about how the piece developed, what’s happened to it—it’s been all over the world. He’s seen many other productions besides the original Broadway that George Wolfe directed. I have not seen any productions of this piece. Actors and musicians will hear from Tony throughout rehearsal, as I took detailed notes during that conversation. For today’s chat I want to share the following: Tony wrote this story out with no caps, no punctuation, single spaced; 12 scenes with an epilogue, and he handed it to Jeanine Tesori. She went away and she composed the first draft. Tony characterized his relationship with Jeanine as “psychotic admiration.” She took his autobiographical story, this incredible text that he wrote out, and she created this completely sung-through story with music. Doug and I are only beginning to understand the level and depth of the leitmotifs—there are phrases/ideas/themes/melodies/gestures/words that are established and then return in different ways by multiple people throughout the piece—variations on variations, and the density and complexity, as Tony said, is like Wagner. It’s the complexity of opera.
‘He doesn’t want to talk about what it means, but I’m gonna take a stab at it.
‘So, change. One of the ways we define ourselves as human beings is through an understanding that change is constant. We are constantly in a place of change. Kushner, through his own sense of loss, his own politics, grapples with a very complicated idea about how we humans handle/manage//respond to change. Most difficult is change you can’t control yourself. I’m a director, so I’m a control freak. So I often say, “I love change! Let’s try something different! We already did that, we’re gonna do something new!” But then I encounter change I can’t control; change I have to manage in all my ridiculous stupid humble doubt. And this piece taps into that in so many complicated ways. Don’t make any mistake—it ain’t just about Caroline’s managing of change. It’s about all of the people in this world. Everybody is dealing with change in profound ways. Everybody is dealing with profound loss. Loss is the kind of change you can’t control. Clearly Kushner & Tesori were interested in creating a musical which, at the eleventh hour everybody doesn’t end happy. It doesn’t end like a fairy tale. It’s a very mature, human story that carries you all the way to the end through music. And we’re taking a risk because people want musicals to do something else.
‘I’m a visual guy, so I look at the score—and it’s dense. On any given page there’s four things going on at once, just in the vocal lines. And that density is what excites me.
‘I want to be clear, even as much of this story is catalyzed out of loss, just listen to the music. It’s an incredible affirmation of human capacity—a celebration (I use that word carefully) of life as we deal with these complicated issues. That spirit infuses the piece from the top, a celebration of life even as these human beings are managing change.
‘We have a lot of work to do. We’re gonna have a hell of a good time. We have an open rehearsal policy, so there will be people around, observing. And if you come to watch, I’m gonna ask your opinion. Because we’re always pushing to the next place, making it better, clearer, and more complicated.’