It’s go time for Theatre Pro Rata.
As if making up for all of the art lost during the pandemic, the play-lovers are in the middle of their timely new production for Orlando—Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s gender-swapping novel that plays with the attributes of gender, sexuality, identity, and freedom—and that’s not all. The company also this week announced their upcoming 2022-2023 season and hosted a live script reading.
Amidst the excitement, we check in with Director Carin Bratlie Wethern and Courtney Stirn, who plays the titular Orlando.
DISPATCH: Live Theater! Is it real? How was opening night? Was it an outpouring of emotion on stage and off?
Courtney Stirn: Live Theater! It’s real and it isn’t, you know? Emotions are always high for me in the act of performance, but once I step offstage I feel sort of adrift in that moment, as if I’ve left it all out there. There are so many emotional arcs for Orlando in this piece, and I have identified with the character for years, so it’s been an emotional and complex process to be sure. Working with my own relevant experiences while also holding myself distinct from the character has been a compelling challenge.
Even though Woolf’s gender-bending novel is over 100 years old, much of the satire around social assumptions, pressures, and activities when it comes to gender still sticks. What keeps Orlando still so timely? Are there connections between past and present that you’re making or letting the adaptation do the work?
Stirn: As a trans person, social assumptions, pressures, and activities when it comes to gender are just my daily life. It is interesting to be following gender through many ages, and to end in a “present” that for us today is still in the past. Especially now, with the political climate around trans identity, it feels important to be loud and proud about gender difference, and to show how it has always existed, regardless of era. The show is about gender, true, but that is because gender plays a social role in Orlando’s life—Orlando’s life is not about gender, it is about living. People are living their lives, whatever their gender. We are all more than our gender experience; it is society’s expectations, the social assumptions, pressures, and activities, which create the reality where gender is the most important thing.
The basis for Theatre Pro Rata’s Orlando is Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel—after reading the screenplay and book, did you see the unbelievably good Tilda Swinton performance in Sally Potter’s film version?
Stirn: I have not seen the film—I had not yet seen it when I was cast, and I wanted to guard my own interpretation of the character against outside influence. The novel is very close to my heart, and the play is an outstanding adaptation I have loved for many years, so I felt well prepared to begin work on the piece without seeing Tilda Swinton’s version. I do, however, look forward to seeing it after the run!
What makes The Crane Theater a good spot to see performances like this?
Carin Bratlie Wethern: The Crane is an intimate venue (seats 80) but has an incredibly high ceiling for its size. Audiences can see every detail but not feel squashed in . . . it soars up. I love that!
As Artistic Director with a bunch of productions on the CV, how do land on something fun like Orlando? Is it on your TO DO LIST like (recent Theatre Pro Rata production) Top Girls by Caryl Churchill or do you say this is a good time for Orlando for a variety of reasons?
Bratlie Wethern: We first read Orlando in 2015 and I’ve been wanting to do it ever since, but I don’t usually have to wait this long! We finally got it slated for last March, and then had to postpone another year because of COVID. But . . . there’s something about the search for self over long periods of time that feels very appropriate for right now.
Theatre Pro Rata’s Orlando runs through March 27th. Tickets still available.