After the Rehearsal/Persona by Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Photo © Jan Versweyveld.
Two Ingmar Bergman screenplays will be reimagined for the stage in Dutch director Ivo van Hove's Center-funded US premiere of After the Rehearsal / Persona at the 2015 Fringe Festival, September 3–5. (Tickets are available at fringearts.com.) The production, from van Hove's theater company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, uses the screenplays as its text, though van Hove does not seek to recreate the films onstage; rather, he is interested in how these texts serve and inform the process of making live theater.
In an essay accompanying a series of programs related to the upcoming performances, theater editor and critic Tom Sellar describes van Hove's affinity for complex characters, his commitment to text, and his ability to transcend traditional disciplines. An excerpt of Sellar's essay follows.
"Reframing his sources, and filtering them through the sleek, sharp scenic architectures he creates with designer Jan Versweyveld, Van Hove seeks contemporary reverberations—whether he's working with text from the ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, or Ayn Rand (whose controversial novel The Fountainhead he staged in 2014). He consistently puts the human figure at the center of his scheme, drawn to characters—like Alma and Elizabeth Vogler in Bergman's Persona—who undergo mythic reckonings with circumstance and painful self-discovery. The actors in his permanent Amsterdam-based ensemble regularly—and fearlessly—journey to psychic and bodily extremes under his careful, nuanced watch.
Considered together, van Hove's reworked film scenarios could be viewed as a new form emerging from his syntheses of two older ones—and as a leading example of a new capacity for transforming sources in performing arts. In a world now supersaturated with media, how will live arts—theater, dance, performance—find ways to transpose video, film, television, web, and social media into the material dimensions of performance, using corporeality, space, and presence? Could hybrids—not only crossing but transcending traditional disciplines—expand the limits and possibilities of the live? With his large-scale search for theatrical fluidity and convergence with his film sources, van Hove has been opening a door to an even larger investigation—one now being taken up by the next generation of performance-makers.
Van Hove's visual flair has a reliably contemporary accent, situating classical and recent narratives alike in sleek, postindustrial frames created in collaboration with his longtime designer Jan Versweyveld. But he avoids recalling imagery from the original films when he reshapes them. In fact, the director says, he doesn't watch the film at all, instead using the original screenplay as a dramatic script to be explored and realized through rigorous experimentation with his company. That approach surprises some people, who rightly recognize his distinctive authorial signature but this is in keeping with van Hove's larger commitment to text and to actors."
Writer, editor, and curator Tom Sellar is professor of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism at Yale School of Drama, and serves as editor of Yale's international performance journal Theater. Sellar received his MFA and Doctorate of Fine Arts from Yale University, where he was twice awarded the John W. Gassner Memorial Prize for critical writing. He is currently completing Mind Attacks, a monograph on Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, and researching new time-based art projects. He is chief theater critic for The Village Voice, and his criticism and reporting have appeared in The New York Times, American Theatre, and the International Herald Tribune.