Importance of Being Earnest Q &A

By Peter Zemeske

The School of Theatre and Dance is performing “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday with additional shows at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be held at the Black Box Theatre in the Stevens building.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is about a wealthy landowner, Jack Worthing, who has many social obligations and employees who depend on him. In order to escape these commitments, Worthing adapts an alter ego, Ernest, the eccentric brother of Jack, who has no obligations whatsoever. Posed as Ernest, Worthing falls in love with Gwendolyn, a city girl who is unaware of Worthing’s double life. The plot is thick with deception and love.

Guest director Ann Filmer took the time to answer some questions about the creative vision of the upcoming shows.

Q: Are there any changes you’ve made to the traditional script? If so, for what purpose?

A: This is a contextual adaptation by Jon Steinhagen. We have set [the play] in Chicago. Chicago stands in for the city of London and Cortland, Illinois, which is a neighbor of DeKalb, is a stand in for the country. We’ve localized it to our area here, but it’s still set in 1895.

Q: What inspired you to choose this adaptation over the traditional script?

A: I’m always interested in how a play can be relevant in the time and place we’re in. We wanted this production to have lots of desire. It’s the story of secret identity and the pursuit of both pleasure and social status. We wanted to have the language feel closer to our own.

Q: Are there any other aspects that you’ve changed about the production?

A: No, I direct lots of new plays, so I like to always imagine the playwright is in the room, even when the playwright is dead long ago. I try to think what Oscar Wilde, the playwright, wants. He wouldn’t want the production to become a museum piece; he’d want it to feel fresh and subversive, so that’s what we’re bringing to the production.

Q: How long has the cast and crew been practicing for the production?

A: The crew has been practicing for the last week; we’ve just added costumes which are very beautiful and sexy, actually. The design is more of an art nouveau style as opposed to victorian. [The cast] has been practicing since the beginning of September.

Q: Have there been any challenges in putting the production together?

A: It’s a very challenging play; there’s a lot of words, there’s a lot of language. The actors need to rely heavily on the skills of articulation while also making their choices feel very active and real. It’s always a big challenge for actors. [Back then] they wore different clothes, but it’s still the same humanity and still the same problems and struggles that we deal with today; it’s just 123 years ago. That’s always a challenge of the play, making it feel very immediate while also maintaining the wit of the play.

Q: What are you looking forward to most next weekend?

A: I’m looking forward to having an audience. It’s always the final piece. When we’re doing a production, we’re alone in a room for so long with the artists, and until the audience comes and makes it alive with their laughter and attention, we don’t really have a play until that happens. I can’t wait to get the audience it to see it; I think it’ll be a really, really fun time.