Ian Belton’s Big Debut
|October 1, 2013
Posted by Hitting the Stage
Troy M. Apostol is Director for Hitting The Stage. He is a frequent contributor to Hawai‘i’s theatre scene, mainly in acting and directing.
[I was able to get in an email interview with busy Big Love director Ian Belton, the new Assistant Professor, Directing for Stage at the Department of Theatre and Dance, UH Manoa. Having taken a class from Belton last semester and experienced his methods and madness firsthand, it was good to finally witness the work of one of Hawai‘i's newest directorial forces.]
HTS: Aloha, Ian! Please tell us a little bit about your theatre background
IB: I have been a freelance director for twenty years and directed four productions off-Broadway. I have degrees from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and the Juilliard School in New York; awards including an NEA Fellowship and have taught classes at over a dozen universities over the years.
HTS: And now you’re the Assistant Professor of Directing at UH, yes? What do you teach your students about directing?
God is in the details. How to create events, craft moments and not let the storytelling become muddy. I also hope that my students walk away with a sense that every show is a collaborative ownership. It is not the director’s show. It belongs to all of us.
HTS: What are your future plans for the directing program at UH?
IB: My hope is that UHM directors become revolutionaries, entrepreneurs, and community builders. The economy is such that you must make the most of the resources you have while not being overly precious or tyrannical about the work. Theatre is an amazing hub that brings people together, breathing the same air, looking at each other in the eye in an age where real human-to-human contact is more and more rare. With the graduate program we tackle the hardest material in the Western canon so that, upon leaving, alumni will be fearless in the face of all.
HTS: So why direct Charles L. Mee’s Big Love? Why now?
IB: Big Love is a piece that encompasses many of my passions: classical Greek theatre, collage art, cinematic expressionism, dream work… Also important investigations are feminist agendas, marriage equality, and PTSD as experienced by combat veterans. The play “breathes” culturally—meaning that it is not didactic or stoic or boring; which, sadly, is most people’s opinion of the theatre medium on the whole. Thus, the Greece and Italy of Big Love are epic, magical locations that extend beyond physical geography to our own by way of humanity—hence the ukuleles and Longboard™ beer. More vital still, the themes of love and marriage, what it is to protect your own and maintain tradition remain universal. This all seemed like a good place for me to start, this being my first major production at UHM.
HTS: How were rehearsals? Any problems or challenges?
Rehearsals were non-traditional and a little unpredictable. I don’t know if the cast believed me when I said, “I don’t know where we are going but I know how to get there.” The play is short (80-90 minutes) and this gave us a lot of time to play—as in the verb. The actors and I dug into the source material as well as our dreams that we had when incubating with the play. This technique is not so much psychoanalytic but rather an interpretation of the symbolic. (More Jung, less Freud.) I like to think of it as an organic backdoor into “the method.” From this we derive a palate from which to realize the play as well as having laid a solid foundation on which to build it.
Guest Artist, Brendan Connelly did the music and sound. He and I have done about 10 shows together previously so he was at most all the rehearsals. The end result is a cross between a traditional musical and film score. Also my collaboration with senior faculty and set designer Joe Dodd, as well as the graduate designers was fairly intense. My way of working is admittedly weirder than most. But they see now that it has a big pay-off. Their work is tremendous.
HTS: Tell us a little bit about your cast. What are they bringing to the production?
IB: Oh gosh… they are all such amazing people as individuals I wouldn’t know where to start. I will say that the men brought the pain with the Haka (or Ha’a in Hawaiian). Wow. So intense.
HTS: Why should audiences see the show?
IB: Audiences should come because it is entertaining, thought-provoking and moving. Granted the play is not standard fare for O’ahu but it would be great if it expanded the boundaries of what is possible in the theatre, even just a tiny bit. It is super fun and lighthearted, yet delves into the deepest and darkest of human pathos.
HTS: Any future directing plans?
IB: I am directing a portion of The Seagull by Anton Chekov alongside the students in my Graduate Directing Workshop. I will help out with the O’ahu Fringe Festival coming up. The cast of Big Love & I host a weekly reading series at Kennedy Theater—every Sunday at 6pm, free food, all are welcome! I want to work with the Palama Settlement House as they are an amazing resource for kids here. I will also be directing a play off-campus in the spring. So stay tuned!
HTS: Anything else you’d like the readers to know?
IB: In spite of everything you’ve heard, Troy M. Apostol is an alright guy.