Director Blog: Opening Night


It’s opening night!!!

A million emotions fill your head on opening. Yes, we’ve had audiences for our previews, but today is it! My work is done! The play completely belongs to the actors and the Stage Manager now. It’s theirs to continue to love and grow throughout the course of the run. It’s a strange thing as a director… and it feels ripe for digging up a metaphor from the play (apologies).

This play isn’t just Orlando’s journey to the present moment. It’s her great voyage. One of my favorite lines in the play is when Orlando says, “our most daily movements are like the passage of a ship on an unknown sea.” That’s kind of what creating a play and sharing it with an audience feels like to me: Our rehearsal process is our preparation for this great voyage. We don’t know what the artists may encounter along the way. But we prepare for the journey the best we can. And when it comes time for the voyage to begin, the director stays on the shore, hoping and praying that the “unknown sea” will bring audiences who are excited to jump onto our little boat and enjoy the ride.

It started with an empty space…

ImageIt’s been transformed…

ImageNow the only thing missing is you…

ImageWe hope you’ve enjoyed our journey to the present moment. We can’t wait to see you at the show.

From Dramaturg Jenn Book Haselswerdt


Photo courtesy Ryan Maxwell Photography

When Amber asked me if I would come on as dramaturg for Orlando, I was thrilled. The book has long been on my “must-read” list, and what better time to start? Little did I know that working on the show would not only expose me to an amazing piece of literature, but would also send me down the most exquisite rabbit hole of research. From Virginia’s marriage and love affairs to the exploits of the Bloomsbury group and an invented style of literary biography, I’ve learned so much during this process. (The delicious life of a dramaturg!)

The book is Virginia Woolf’s hundreds-of-pages love letter to Victoria (“Vita”) Sackville-West, and its characters reflect locations and people in Vita’s life. None, it seems, was more influential to the person Vita grew to be than Violet Trefusis, portrayed in Orlando as the Russian princess Sasha.

The pair met one another in 1904, when Vita was 12 and Violet was 10. Their relationship began when they were teenagers, and they ran off to France several times together—usually during these trips, Vita passed as a man—much to the chagrin of Violet’s mother. Violet and Vita both married men, but continued their affair (as well as affairs with other women) for several years. In fact, when Violet slept with her own husband, Vita felt betrayed.

Both women were well-known writers: Violet mainly wrote novels, and Vita was a poet. Unlike our play’s Orlando, who struggles for hundreds of years to find the right words to write one master-work, Vita was recognized as a poet in her own time, made a Companion of Honour for her literary work in 1947, and winning the Hawthornden Prize for the “imaginative literature” of authors under the age of 41 twice (1927 and 1933), the only writer to do so. Last year, during conservation work at Vita’s home, Sissinghurst, a poem fell out of a book. The poem, written in French and translated by the scholar who found it, was written just five years after Vita married her husband Harold Nicolson.

When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress

In Portrait of a Marriage, Vita’s son Nigel Nicolson wrote about his mother, “She fought for the right to love, men and women, rejecting the conventions that marriage demands exclusive love, and that women should love only men, and men only women. For this she was prepared to give up everything… How could she regret that the knowledge of it should now reach the ears of a new generation, one so infinitely more compassionate than her own?” How appropriate to the story of Orlando, and how wonderful to find a new poem that illuminates these feelings.

Check out Jenn’s blog HERE!

Meet the Actors: Andrew Ferlo


ImageWHY ARE YOU HERE IN THE DC AREA DOING THIS PLAY, IN THIS PRESENT MOMENT?  I’m a DC native.  So in true Northern Charm/Southern Efficiency manner, I’ll just say it depends on what the meaning of the word “THIS” is. (Really though? I did the reading and wanted to see the piece grow on it’s feet)

THE MOST FEMININE ASPECT OF MY PERSONALITY IS:  I need wine and chocolate to watch Game of Thrones.

THE MOST MASCULINE ASPECT OF MY PERSONALITY IS:  Sometimes my burps taste like wine and chocolate.

WHAT ARE YOU ENJOYING MOST ABOUT ORLANDO?  (A special tech themed answer) I’m loving the costumes!  Deb Sivigny has done a great job making me look like a pretty woman, even with five-o’clock shadow.

WHAT DOES THIS PLAY HAVE TO SAY TO US IN 2014?  In the present day, we’re so pressed to define ourselves and then subsequently stick to the constraints and structures included in that definition.  Orlando is a reminder that everything changes, and that life’s great meaning, challenge, and triumph is adapting to those changes, not resisting them.


Director Blog: Week 3


Director Amber Jackson with playwright Sarah Ruhl following a performance of Passion Play by Epic Theatre Ensemble in 2010.

Let’s talk about Sarah Ruhl shall we? Not only is she the playwright who adapted Orlando for the stage, but she is also one of the most outstanding writers to hit the American theatre in the last decade. I came across her play Eurydice when I was in graduate school and immediately fell in love with the simplicity and poetry of her writing. The words melted off the page. Even her stage directions sang in new ways that I had never experienced with any other writer: “Orpheus looks at Eurydice. The world falls away.”

But directing her work is a challenge. Yes, I know every play is challenging in its own right. But TONE is such a delicate thing with Sarah Ruhl’s work. And here’s a recent quote from her that demonstrates why:

“I love small, humble moments, and I also love great epic things…the in-between is what bores me.”

This makes sense, because there is very little “in-between” in her work! When I wrote my thesis for Eurydice, I titled it “Balancing the Mythic and Mundane” because finding that tonal balance is one of the most difficult challenges in directing one of Sarah’s plays. Fellow DC-based director and friend Rex Daugherty recently shared similar concerns on the topic when we met for drinks as he was launching into his beautiful production of one of Sarah’s very early plays, “Late: A Cowboy Song” at No Rules Theatre. This tonal tightrope (as some reviewers have called it) is a scary place to live. It rarely feels “safe.”

BUT…isn’t that the kind of theatre we all want to see? I agree with Sarah. The in-between is boring. Most of our everyday lives exist in the in-between. Doesn’t a night at the theatre beg for extremes? We’re doing our best to build a show that satisfies your appetite for both the “small” and the “epic.”

CLICK HERE to read the full article from which the above quote was extracted.

CLICK HERE to view Sarah’s website and view a comprehensive list of her works.



ImageWHO ARE YOU?  Hello!  My name is Amanda Forstrom, and I am a relatively new actor to the DC/MD/VA area.  I will be playing the Russian Princess Sasha.  I completed my MFA in Acting from the University of South Carolina (go Gamecocks!) last May.  I was last seen as Hermia in Midsummer at Annapolis Shakespeare Co. and Chiron in the Riot Grrrls’ Titus Andronicus for Taffety Punk.  I am also a teaching artist.  I love animals, coffee, and painting.  Someday I would like to learn Chinese and ride in a hot air balloon.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?  I am originally from a small town in MN, so I grew up listening to country music and eating hotdish and lefse.   But now I live in Takoma Park, MD!

WHY ARE YOU HERE IN THE DC AREA DOING THIS PLAY, IN THIS PRESENT MOMENT?  I was very fortunate that WSC and Amber took a chance and asked me to come and audition for them!  I read for Sasha, and Sara Barker was there to read for Orlando – she was fantastic, and really helped me feel at ease.  I was also talking to myself in a Russian accent a few days before the audition.

THE MOST FEMININE ASPECT OF MY PERSONALITY IS:  I think this depends on what one deems to be a “feminine” trait.  I’m kind of a tomboy, so something I’ve noticed about myself since moving to the East Coast is that I now like to paint my nails?  I do like to dress up though, whether it‘s to go out for dinner or to get into a character.  And this is probably my age, but I’m finding that babies are getting more and more appealing!  I also clean when I’m stressed and anxious, but maybe that’s just me!

THE MOST MASCULINE ASPECT OF MY PERSONALITY IS:  Some traits about me that could be considered “masculine,” are that I love playing and watching almost any sport (this includes yelling at the TV).  I like to wear really comfortable clothes, and little or no makeup.  I have a very goofy, sometimes bawdy sense of humor; I am a very ambitious person, I speak my mind … and enjoy a nice cold adult beverage.

WHAT ARE YOU ENJOYING MOST ABOUT ORLANDO?  Working with this team is so much fun!  And there are so many possibilities for this play, which has its advantages and challenges.  But if I had to pick a favorite moment so far, I might have to echo Mario on this one; watching the chorus become Orlando’s three ladies in waiting is perfection.

WHAT DOES THIS PLAY HAVE TO SAY TO US IN 2014?  I think this play is a very satiric, yet honest observation about the status of men and women and how we define ourselves.  I think it highlights that our identity is not the social trappings of our clothing or even body, but instead is our inner selves, and this is constantly shifting. In the play Orlando’s changing gender creates restrictions and forces her to deal with discrimination that she never encountered as a man.

Meet the Actors: Sara Barker


I’m Sara Barker and I’m playing Lord/Lady Orlando

I spent my childhood in Ewing, NJ, my teenage-hood in Springfield, VA, my young adulthood in Annapolis, DC, Paris, NYC, and now I’m “settled” into not-so-young adulthood with dog, husband, baby, home in Arlington.


Okay, so I can say some more: I found the email I sent Christopher Henley (who was WSC Artistic Director before Tom Prewitt) back in November 2011. In it I stated: “I would love it if we tackled Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel Orlando. I won’t attempt false modesty – I would love to be seriously considered to play the title role.” So, after bugging Christopher and then Tom and after a very successful staged reading last April (thanks to director Amber Jackson), the dream of Orlando is coming to life. So very very thrilled.

THE MOST FEMININE ASPECT OF MY PERSONALITY IS:  Well, I’m quiet a lot – used to be even quieter. Quiet people are often perceived as demure, which is traditionally a feminine aspect of personality. However, I would not describe myself as demure, just quiet. Hmm, that’s not a very straightforward answer.

THE MOST MASCULINE ASPECT OF MY PERSONALITY IS:  I have a large appetite. I grew up with three older brothers and always ate as much as they did at the dinner table.

WHAT ARE YOU ENJOYING MOST ABOUT ORLANDO?  I love playing with gender and age. I love that I get to explore Orlando, this would-be poet, as a boy, a teenage boy, a young man, a woman in her young thirties, and a woman in her upper thirties. I love observing gender and age in other people: some people at the physical age of 60 seem 20; others at the physical age of 20 seem 60; some people who happen to be men seem far more feminine than, say, me; and some people who happen to be women seem far more masculine than, say, my husband. There is so much wonderful fluidity!

WHAT DOES THIS PLAY HAVE TO SAY TO US IN 2014?  Virgina Woolf and Sarah Ruhl had/has the courage to write about the wonderful diversity of gender (and age) within all of us. These traits (as opposed to their physical counterparts for the majority of humans) are fluid. We humans have always known about this internal diversity but have tampered it down to a certain extent (some points in history more than others). It is so exciting that in 2014 we are starting to move toward an age when gender – both feminine and masculine – is being freed up a bit from its physical counterpart. This play celebrates that fluidity.

Director Blog: Week 2



Design Runs are an adrenaline rush. In most cases, they are the first time the actors perform for a small audience (and yes, a team of fellow collaborators still counts as an audience). The cast may or may not have completed a full run through prior to the design run (we haven’t), and actors are usually still working to get off book…many of them still may have scripts in hand to remember lines/new blocking. Many kinks in the staging still haven’t been worked out. A lot of deeper scene work still needs to be done. Actors are still playing with tactics, physicality, accents… It can feel terrifying and messy for these reasons.

Designers may feel equally terrified. For the set designer, this will be the first time they will see how the team is attempting to use the space (even though we are only currently staging things on a taped out ground plan of the set):

ImageThe lighting designer will see for the first time what areas of the stage are being used for the various moments in the story. The costume designer will see, for the first time, what the actors bodies look like moving through the space. The sound designer will watch the pacing and tempo of the scenes, noting moments that can be enhanced with possible underscoring, and moments where sound needs to function in a purely practical transitional sense to cover time. Some designers may find that the run validates their instincts and the direction they are headed, while others may discover new things that shake up their ideas. Like I said…terrifying for everyone.

As the director I will learn so much. Since this is the first time I will be seeing the show from start to finish without interruption, it will be the first time I get a true sense for the arc of the play. I will watch our small audience: are they taking the journey with us? What moments are too slow, which ones are speeding by too fast? How are we shaping the overall tone of the play? Is it funny without trying too hard?

There’s something to be said for being pushed to do something before we’re ready to do it. One of the Viewpoints exercises we did on our second night of rehearsal exists for that specific purpose. The actors are asked a series of questions about their characters, based on facts from the text and assumptions they intuit from the text. They are then asked to create a series of movements using various Viewpoints (such as tempo, duration, topography, etc.) to express something about their characters. Actors often don’t feel ready to make these choices so early in the process. They’re still “getting to know” their characters. But the great thing about it, is that it challenges them to trust their instincts and impulses and not over think it. Everyone is thrown into the deep end together, and that kind of shared stress in itself creates a team spirit.

Tonight’s design run will feel like jumping into the deep end before we’re ready. But we’ll learn so much by doing so. (Even if we’re all craving a good stiff drink afterwards.)