We asked and LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST Director Amanda Denhert answered. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this free-spirited comedy comes with an original score. Get tickets >>>
What drew you to Love’s Labor’s Lost?
How hard it was to understand at first. It took a lot of thinking, puzzling over it, and letting my mind wander around the characters and figuring out what thread there was in it for me as a director to pick up and follow. It’s like a puzzle. What’s fun about getting a chance to do plays that aren’t produced as frequently is that they are either a little less well-known and when you do them you really have a chance to figure out your own journey through them as a director. That’s definitely Love’s Labor’s Lost.
Your version feels very vibrant and fresh. What did you pull from the initial text that you thought would really resonate with an audience?
What the initial group of four friends, the Navarre group, set out to do is something that on the surface looks almost bizarre. They’re going to give themselves a set of rules and for three years they’ll behave a certain way and be very strict with themselves, and they think it will lead them to something, some wonderful new version of themselves. People do that all the time.
I don’t really like comparing things to other things, but it’s easy to make fun of those characters, but actually they remind me of getting out of college and wondering if I should start a theater company. They remind me so much of movements in art. I thought a lot about Andy Warhol and Lou Reed and people who set out to combine the way they lived their lives with the way they made their art, and anyone who wants to try something radical and new. And not to change a whole society, but just to get together with a bunch of friends and do something that means something together.
It’s an incredibly specific thing to being in your early 20s or late teens, when you are really becoming yourself as an adult person, but you’re not done yet, you haven’t lived a lot of life, but you are ready to live life and you want to remake the world in your own image. There’s something in that to me that feels like a shared thing that is part of the human developmental process that people go through, and that was the stepping off point for me.
Then there was an understanding that this play anchors itself in the whole falling in love experience. Falling in love, or what you think is love, being so smitten that you just can’t get someone out of your head, and the fact that often it’s a first-time experience of something inside yourself. Lots of chaos comes from it, lots of intense feelings, lots of hurt feelings. And the same thing with the group of female-identifying characters in this the first time, and this is a gendered view, but experiencing being a woman in the world and seeing how you aren’t as limited in your own power as you might have been led to believe. Finding your voice. And that’s what they do. And yeah, it looks like acting out. It’s not nice, it’s not about it being a nice thing or a wise thing. It’s coloring outside the lines. Realizing you can color outside the lines. That’s probably the best way I can say that and the way that doesn’t limit it just to the female experience. That’s what the character group does. And those things happen simultaneously. One group is dealing with love and the other is dealing with coloring outside the lines. They interact, and they cause each other a tremendous amount of confusion and pain. There’s nothing like the first time you feel a pain. It’s the same as the first time you feel any intense feeling. It’s horrible. But it’s also necessary or, not even necessary, it’s just what living is. Being alive is experiencing things.
And then the play ends in a death and reckoning with a death that was expected, yet nobody in that moment was prepared. And I think that’s also pretty common. You don’t often have a chance to prepare for news that is going to change your entire world. And death is one of the more profound mysteries. So it’s a play about human experience in a way that I think is really visceral and tangible. And I just love how it’s flawed. The play itself is flawed. The playwright is messing around with language left right and center. It’s so much fun that way. Shakespeare’s also not following rules he invented. Or rules we think he invented. So that’s how it becomes vibrant.
There have been other musical adaptations of Love’s Labor’s Lost, what do you think it is about this play that lends itself so well to musical interpretation?
I would still lean towards calling it a play with a heck of a lot of music, but that might be splitting hairs. I think it’s that there’s an inner life for these characters that isn’t necessarily being expressed for all of them. The character of Berowne has the majority of the talks with the audience. We’re with that character when he’s working a lot of stuff out. But there’s also a lot going on in the inner lives of other characters. Music is a way to let an audience connect with a character on a different level, music is a different kind of language, and it has the ability to stir the spirit in different ways. It’s the perfect way to give the audience a window into what’s going on for groups of characters because you can express multiple points of view at the same time in song. The play doesn’t spend a lot of time or writing about Jacquenetta as a character, but what happens with Jacquenetta is really interesting, so I wanted to have a way to bring that out.
I’ve only recently started thinking about using songs to, specifically in classic plays, not to convert them so much as let them be modern, let them also be happening in a vernacular that is popular music, a vernacular that is of the now, because the audience is in the now all the time. There’s something for me just really exciting about incorporating whatever the play is and being present with the audience and letting those things clash. Music lets that happen.
What were some of your musical inspirations when you were constructing this? You mentioned Lou Reed, was he on your mind in the writing of these songs?
Definitely The Velvet Underground. I love all music so it can be tough for me to point to something. I would say The Violent Femmes, The Cure, Blondie, a lot of new wave, a lot of post-punk. Yeah, I guess that is what all that is. And some pop punk. And just to say Andrei and I don’t think that we are like those people. I should be so lucky to have written that music. It’s more that the sound of it is really inspired by that.
We’ll put a disclaimer: Amanda does not think that she’s Debbie Harry.
Please! I truly don’t. That people enjoy the songs is just truly rewarding, and it’s always very humbling. The band, the actor/musicians we have who are the band for the show are just phenomenal collaborators and really made this their own. It was just a blast to work with this on them.
That’s a perfect transition to the next question. Could you tell us what it was like to work with the cast? This was such a big undertaking for everyone involved. What was building this like?
From the integrating actor/musician/singer side of it, I was a musician before I even knew there was such a thing as theater, so it’s a really intuitive space for me to operate in. What I love about working with popular music, vernacular style, style-based music, whatever you want to call it, is you’re going to get together with a group of people who are the actors in your play as well as the core of the band on stage. You get to have band rehearsal! You’re gonna get in a circle, and you start to learn the songs, and everyone’s got their different instrument, and everyone starts brainstorming. I come in with a proposal about what I think the hook is and what the melody is and what the chords are, but then we find the song together.
It’s a form of collaboration that anyone who gets to do it, it’s like if you know you know, anyone who gets to sit in that circle, who does this as part of their work knows how much it’s just sheer fun. Then that fun ends up rippling out into all the work on the production. Working with actors on text really isn’t that different. You know you’re coming in with a chunk of information, in that case words, and a story, and ideas about what it all means, and you sit around a table, and you say the words out loud, and you start creating something from them, and it turns into its own creature. Doing it with music is just the best. I don’t know how else to say it, it’s just the best, and in our ensemble we’ve got a lot of really really talented musical people, who play things that they aren’t even playing in this show, who sing that aren’t singing as much in this show. Having a group of people who are capable of just picking something up and joining in instrumentally, I find more and more they’re a special kind of actor. They feel to me like my people and I’m very drawn to them.
I’m going to throw one last question out to you. We’re also asking the company members to do get to know you interviews, and we decided to include a silly question, which is, if you were a pool float, what kind of pool float would you be?
I would be a donut. I would totally be an inner tube. There’s just something about it that is so much fun to me. It’s this big thing that keeps you above the water but there’s a circle in the middle where there’s still water. I don’t know why, I just find them fun.