Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

What is the sublime?

We have gathered up a few examples of how the sublime has been understood across time and discipline. This blog post is a work in progress. jen [at] (subject: The%20Sublime) (Let us know what the sublime is to you.)

1. "At once tiny and huge: what is this feeling we call sublime?"

"Have you ever felt awe and exhilaration while contemplating a vista of jagged, snow-capped mountains? Or been fascinated but also a bit unsettled while beholding a thunderous waterfall such as Niagara? Or felt existentially insignificant but strangely exalted while gazing up at the clear, starry night sky? If so, then you’ve had an experience of what philosophers from the mid-18th century to the present call the sublime."  - Sandra Shapshay, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington

Read this fascinating contemporary essay about the paradoxical experience of the sublime.

2. The sublime in webcomic form

This entry into the sublime is from philosophy-themed webcomic creator Corey Mohler. Corey's website is a wonderful dive into appreciating philosophy and the sublime. Also jokes.

3. The sublime in video form

Check out this video exploration of the sublime, produced by The video is a delightful, bite-sized retelling of an episode of BBC broadcaster Melvyn Bragg's podcast series "A History of Ideas".  The piece features the ideas of 18th-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, drawing from his 1757 treatise "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful." 

4. The sublime in art

In 2008, The Tate London produced an exhibition exploring The Art of the Sublime, from the Baroque era to the Contemporary. This large collection of academic articles and artistic works provides a rich jumping-off point into the vast body of scholarship and artwork inspired by the concept and emotion of the sublime. We found the wide range of imagery considered sublime through the ages fascinating. What pieces of art do you think of when you think of the sublime?

Pictured here:

Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada, California. oil on canvas (1868)
Mark Rothko, Untitled. Acrylic on paper (1969)
Andreas Gursky, Shanghai 2000. C-print (2000)

Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. Painting by Albert Bierstadt, 1868

Untitled. Mark Rothko. Acrylic on paper, 1969  Shanghai 2000. Andreas Gursky. C-print


5. The sublime in NY Times Magazine/ audio form

We propose, for your consideration, the story of the Cloud Appreciation Society

This blog post is a work in progress. jen [at] (subject: The%20Sublime) (Let us know what the sublime is to you.)

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!

A chat with THE CHILDREN actor Lisa Fairchild

Q: The Children focuses on three characters of the baby-boomer generation. But the Tony-nominated script was written by a millennial and this production is being directed by a Gen X-er. One of the interesting aspects of the script that makes it so dynamic is the respectful, open, and humane intergenerational dialogue that it creates. With the characters’ layered histories and this critical moment in which they find themselves, in what ways do you find this script and this production to be creating bridges of conversation?

A: Our creative team has discussed our surprise that the playwright, Lucy Kirkwood, was in her early 30’s when she published this play. Our characters are not written as baby boomer caricatures or villains responsible for all the current ills of the world. The dialogue allows discussion of climate change, natural vs. man-made calamity and personal responsibility without definitive generational blame.

At one point, my character Hazel says, “No good getting silly about nuclear because what is the alternative?” Hopefully, audience members who remember the effects of coal pollution and the limited sources of natural gas at that time will share that the development of nuclear power seemed a great advance for cleaner air in the early 70’s. The play certainly leaves room to question if physicists like our characters also recognized the potential for future disasters like Fukushima in Japan which resembles the disaster in our play. It shines a light on the question of what each generation “owes” the one before or after —technology keeps changing, the world is evolving and our planet is subject to not only issues that have been happening for centuries, but also new environmental problems. 

Another interesting dynamic in this play is the relationship of Robin and Hazel as parents of four children, and Rose as a single woman with no children. It’s an interesting contemplation for me as the mother of a millennial. If I had to make a choice to “save” my family or the entire world – what sacrifices would I make? What choice would she and my stepchildren who are Gen-Xers with children of their own want me to make?