Down on the waterfront, you can catch one of Samuel Beckett’s most challenging plays, Waiting for Godot. The actors, and the director, are young, enthusiastic, and helping out a good cause. Donations collected at shows go to Teen Feed, which provides meals and supportive relationships to homeless young people throughout the year.
As staged by Arts on the Waterfront, these free performances continue August 23, 24, 30, 31, and Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at 1300 Alaskan Way – look for the park on the pier next to the giant Seattle Ferris Wheel.
The play's director Bobbin Ramsey recently answered a few questions about the challenges and rewards of this particular Godot and how it appeals to people still in their teens and twenties.
The pier can be a tough space for any performance . I've seen amped-up productions of Jesus Christ Superstar there drowned out by the marine noise. How do you keep people engaged with an intimate work like Waiting for Godot?
In practical sense, we are having the actors facing the cements walls surround the park, allowing the voices of the actors to bounce off the walls and back towards the audience and the moments of intimacy have been staged to indicate subtlety and stillness, even while the actors continue to project. However, since our production is site-specific, the marine sounds, the sounds of the people, of the pier, are a part of our world of Waiting for Godot and experience of the production.
So you’ve turned the space into the setting of the play?
Estragon and Vladimir (the characters waiting for Godot) are living in a world where there is a lot of noise and activity, yet they are removed from it. They have been waiting on the pier for so long they have almost grown into it. They have removed themselves from society and no longer know how to interact with the public, all they know is that they must stay on the pier, to wait for Godot.
What is the one thing that you can't do on the pier that you could do in a theater?
The one thing that we can't do is have any sort of theatrical lighting. Lights are so helpful in guiding focus, emphasizing moments, and creating the world of the play. However, instead, the actors get to interact and explore our environment in real time with real lighting. The play does take place at twilight, after all. And audience gets to experience Seattle's beautiful summertime sunsets!
So what advantage does performing on the pier have over performing in a theater?
Instead of watching actors on a stage from a safe distance, attempting to find parallels between the abstracted world of the people onstage and your own life, we are blurring the line between reality and theatricality. There is no barrier between performer and audience. The audience sees the struggles that these men are going through in tangible, everyday circumstances.
Why did you decide o tackle this play?
The situation of Vladimir and Estragon was something I could relate to as a recent college grad. You are thrown into the "real" world with an inflated ego, a degree and no real sense of purpose. In the year of transition, I struggled with feeling like I didn't know where I was going, I had to wait for people to offer me jobs, money, and opportunities. I was intellectually lost.
Usually the characters are played as older, world-weary men. How does your production stay true to Beckett's tramps when played by much younger actors?
At first glance they appear much more modern than the traditional tramps. Estragon and Vladimir look like many of the runaway and homeless youth around Seattle, forced to leave home for abuse, addiction and many other reasons. Pozzo is more upscale, nautical dress and accessories, but maybe like he was kicked out of his parent's country club in the Hamptons. Lucky could be a high school drop out, who just got back from his second tour in Iraq. On the outside they appear like a slightly bizarre version of someone you might see on the street, but really, I think they have more in common with the traditional performances of the characters than one might think.
How does this play speaks to your generation?
Our Vladimir and Estragon explore being young and stuck, told to wait, and warned of the consequences of forging your own path. Same goes for Pozzo and Lucky. When does companionship turn to bullying and then slavery? Pozzo's obsession with appearing important and wealthy transforms his only human companion into a shell of a man, trapped in his mind. It is true that our characters do not have the same years of experiences and hardships that most of Beckett's characters are performed with, but they present a whole new form of cynicism and anxiety, one that is indoctrinated in them from their birth, one that threatens our whole generation.
Sounds like this play came along at a perfect time for you too.
Of course, the characters we see in Beckett's play are in a much more destitute position than I at my own crossroads. I do feel blessed for the education and experiences I have received. But I did honestly feel connected to the idea of waiting for someone to come along and tell you your purpose. I think the actors feel similarly as I. We believe that everyone has felt a similar loss of purpose or understanding at some point in their lives, and wanted to present a piece that was free, accessible and empathetic to our lives.
Also, much of the attraction came from the fact that, having just graduated from the UW with my degrees in Drama and Creative Writing, I had spent four years looking at dramatic texts and analyzing them through different theoretical lenses. Godot was on the reading list for three of my drama theory classes. I was very familiar with many theories, essays and speculations concerning Godot and wanted to take my classroom learning and use it practically. How does a four year education help to create powerful theatre? How does studying the productions of the past create innovation? A large part of it is kind of an educational experiment.