Sunday, April 23, 2006

INTERVIEW: Rebecca Johannsen

You can’t write about Rebecca Johannsen without writing about Stone Soup Theatre Company. Rebecca Johannsen is the Artistic Director of Stone Soup and a founding manager (2001). We chatted recently about the Company and their next production, Ellen McLaughlin’s Tongue of a Bird.

In “A Message from the Artistic Director” (See Website) Rebecca has written the following: “Stone Soup Theatre began as a commitment by young graduates of SDSU’s theatre program to continue to practice the edgy, controversial work we were allowed to practice at the university...It began as a commitment by women artists to find a home for their craft and to promote women’s issues and women’s roles in the theatre.”

Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): Would it be accurate to say that your original intention (Mission Statement) has segued into something different from that original intention?

Rebecca Johannsen (RJ): Yes; the change began with our first production, Death and the Maiden, which was in pre-production during the September 11th attacks. From that time our focus changed to include an open dialogue with our audience; to minimize apathy towards social issues such as race, terrorism, sexuality and sanity.

CQK: How does your next production fit into that new mission statement?

RJ: Tongue of a Bird speaks to the issues of forgiveness and redemption for those left behind.

[Tongue of a Bird concerns a search and rescue pilot hired by a distraught mother to search for a missing 12-year old girl, who has been kidnapped. Although finding the girls grows faint, Maxine (pilot) continues to search for her, all-the-while rekindling her own heart and a reflection back towards memories of her own mother.]

CQK: After reading the play I feel that the underlying subject matter is both suicide and depression; would you agree?

RJ: All three of the plays Stone Soup has chosen for this season concern suicide to some degree. Tongue of a Bird focuses upon forgiveness and redemption; 4.48 Psychosis explores the mind of a depressed woman; Miss Julie explores depression faced by new roles provided to women in the late 19th century.

CQK: It looks as if your commitment to women artists is quite true in your first season at the 10th Avenue Theatre, downtown (Eveoke Space).

RJ: Yes; there are five roles for females and our director for this production will be Esther Emery, who recently directed Limonade Tous les Jours for Moxie Theatre.

CQK: Who’s in the cast?

RJ: Esther has assembled a brilliant cast ranging in age from 12 to 70. They include: Julie Sachs (Maxine), Robin Christ (Evie), Wendy Wadell (Dessa), June Gottleib (Zofia) and Abbey Howe (Charlotte).

CQK: How did Tongue of a Bird find its way into your current season?

RJ: I had originally asked Esther to direct 4.48 Psychosis, but she asked if I would consider Tongue of a Bird. After reading the script we felt it a perfect fit for Stone Soup and Emery and the season.

CQK: Although you are involved in this first production as the Artistic Director, your participation on the next two projects is more hands-on, correct?

RJ: I’ll be directing 4.48 Psychosis and starring in Miss Julie.

CQK: Will this be your first Company turn as director?

RJ: Yes; but I will have lots of support.

[Rebecca holds an MA from SDSU and is working towards her Ph.D. in Theatre through the UC system. She teaches “Development of Drama” at UC (Irvine) and theatre classes at Mira Costa College. Her doctorate thesis will tackle some of the issues in Stone Soup’s current season such as suicide.]

CQK: The second production of your season, 4.48 Psychosis, is not an easy read; do you have any particular ideas about staging this very powerful Sarah Kane drama?

RJ: It will be quite challenging in that Kane has left the piece open for interpretation, so it will take a tremendous effort to shape the piece dramatically. I will be pulling apart this play to discover the underlying issues within. I have some very strong ideas about the play, but it still remains a daunting challenge.

CQK: How do you work as a director?

RJ: I begin with table work; we discuss the play and the playwright’s intention and go from there. In the case of 4.48, since there is no driving action so I will be doing a lot of improvisation to find the right staging for her beautiful script.

CQK: Sarah Kane, the playwright, committed suicide after writing 4.48, correct?

RJ: Yes, before it was ever produced.

CQK: Changing the subject a bit, how did you find your new home?

RJ: Eveoke was looking for others who would share their new downtown space and it seemed to meet our needs at just the right time. They (Eveoke) are attempting to bring together several companies for a theatre collective that will have a time share concept.

CQK: What size audience can you accommodate in your new space?

RJ: From 100 to 120 seats.

CQK: What kind of an audience will fill those seats?

RJ: We are working with a marketing firm that hopes to target a younger audience who are more interested in non-traditional productions.

[As we came to the conclusion of our interview I asked Rebecca to tell me something about herself and this is what she had to say:]

RJ: I was born in San Diego and I’m happy to have the support of my family that lives here as well. I’ve produced five plays and I’ve worked in marketing (La Jolla Playhouse & a film company). I’m into my second year of working towards my Ph.D. and have funding for another three years.

I’m sure that San Diego audiences are hungry to eat up Stone Soup’s newest season. It promises to be quite dramatic, edgy, provocative and an opportunity to dialogue about serious issues not only facing women, but facing all of us. We wish them a pot of soup that will continue feeding a hungry demanding San Diego audience.

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