Life is a Dream, a play originally written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, was collectively adapted by my Approaches to Theatre class, GL/DRST 3955. The Spanish play, written in the 17th century, already possessed the theme of fate and free will. Our production upheld the play’s original motif, but aimed to bolster its relevance by adding the context of contemporary issues.
Overall impression: The dramaturgical ideas, as with our performances, formulated themselves as we developed a better understanding of the play’s theme. Once we identified our theme, it became the foundation for the rest of our individual and collective ideas in the creative process; that experience was astounding and humbling to participate in and watch unfold.
What went well and what could have gone better: We could have avoided the shaky start to the production process if we had informed each other beforehand of what we were getting ourselves into and the commitment needed to actualize the play. Once we really got the ball rolling, around mid-February, we were gliding.
Reflecting on whether it was a good or bad show and why: We adapted Life is a Dream into a phenomenal and hilarious experience; both for our team and the audience. It was a good show because, by our dress rehearsal, I felt all of its components tie together for the first time and take on a dramaturgical flow, rhythm and style that we could improvise with. The whole thing was a magical journey.
Reflecting on what is happening around the world and why/how it happens: We consciously tied in elements of contemporary real life (social media, group therapy, prostitution, gun violence, sexual and cartoon fantasies, video games and profanity) with elements that have been entrenched in society for a long time (power-struggle, incarceration, freedom, honour, greed, paranoia, superstition, vengeance, drugs, dance, music, love, sex, and relationships). All of these things happen intrinsically from both the human condition (like greed, love, and sex), and from social constructs (like power, paranoia, and group therapy).
What the production says about the world: I think we were saying that the world is a messed up, yet beautiful place, containing both magic and nihilism. Both love and hate. I felt that the play encapsulated most of humanity’s traits: Segismundo’s angst from imprisonment, Astolfo’s power-hungry strife, Basilio’s delusion of grandeur, Clotaldo’s plight between duty and family, Rosaura’s lovestruck vengeance, Estrella’s frenzy of bloodthirsty horniness, the Narrator’s self-absorbed sense of importance, Clarin’s Figaro-like comic relief, the conformity yet individuality of the Guards, the submission and fearful obedience of the Servants and the pervasive but hidden importance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Through Segismundo’s fresh eyes upon our world, the audience could revisit many of its facets, but have the opportunity to reformulate their opinion of it for the first time. As described by our stage manager Varsha’s brother in a review he wrote of our play, “Much like an alien, when you first lay sight on this distant plain called ‘earth’ and as you begin to grow privy to it, what do you envision your thoughts to be?”
Our workshops, modern ideas, and twists: By inserting dream sequences that briefly jumped the play’s setting into modernity, we meant to startle the audience by showing them just how unconscious and desensitized they are to the issues that society faces today. We exhibited social norms in the audience’s face that were rather shocking and horrible when contrasted with the play’s default backdrop of honour and dignity. The modern themes and Segismundo’s reaction to them allow the audience to look at themselves and their own judgments on life.
Our production, inspired by Brechtian theatre, was a morality play with Segismundo as the protagonist who, along with the audience, gets to view the many iterations and judgments that society has placed upon “good” and “evil”. We meant to keep the audience thinking about the real world. In rewriting and performing this production, we attempted to suspend asserting any sort of concrete moral statements about how the world is, but focused on merely showing it for what we think it is.