A Moment with the Director of THE CHILDREN Kara-Lynn Vaeni

Q: During your relatively brief time in DFW, you have made quite an impact as a sought-after director who specializes in highly theatrical, hard-to-stage pieces. The Children may fall under your specialization, but likely in a far more subtle and understated way. How do you find that this script both suits your directorial sensibilities and stretches new muscles, and in what ways ways do you find it to be different from your previous work in DFW?

A: Wow, this is very kind of you to say. I was initially attracted to the sci fi/ghost story undertones that waft their subtle way through The Children. It takes place in the near, pre-dystopian future (no robots, but a nuclear disaster with a robust group of survivors now living in a world with less technology and more farms). There is a floating ghost story about a lost village under the sea and sometimes, one can hear their church bells. There is a small fear of eggs hatching into monsters, which I think is a fun, telling way of talking about parenthood. And I love all that stuff. I love stories that address “the real” through the lens of “the imaginary.” I think that mode of story telling offers a special kind of hope for a better future, a better way of being that I find really attractive. Telling stories in that way tends to mean that I and the cast and designers have to invent a slightly different language for the piece. This can be a very physical language, like the second act of Noises Off that I did at T3 recently, or it can be a very sort of visual, rhythmic, tempo kind of language as we did in Reykjavik, which I directed at Kitchen Dog. I love doing that too, because I love the process of creating new ways to think about familiar things.

So The Children is right in my wheelhouse in those ways. In other ways…I am using some tools I haven’t picked up since I was in grad school, honestly. One example that comes to mind is that Hazel, played brilliantly by Lisa Fairchild, makes a salad over the course of 18 pages!!!!!! The playwright is very specific about this salad making including; what ingredients are in it, where they are in the kitchen, when she gets them, when she washes the lettuce leaves, when she chops the vegetables, when she mixes the salad, when she adds the dressing, on and on and on. And the actors all have to be able to eat it. So, the way I usually approach staging, which is to pick a few pages at a time, watch what the actors do and where their impulses take them and then edit and collate those impulses into story, was not going to work here. I had to do what I DO NOT prefer, which was plot it all out ahead of time with Lisa, and then drill those movements until they became second nature. Lisa as Hazel may not “feel like” making the salad …she may have the impulse to do something else. And normally, I’m all about exploring that other option, because who knows what great thing we may discover? But in this play, she can’t follow those impulses because if she doesn’t have X done by this line, then other lines don’t make sense. So working with that kind of strict adherence to repetition is a bit of a stretch for me. Fortunately my actors are brilliantly talented at it, so it’s fun to do!