Q&A with Gem of the Ocean Director Gregg T. Daniel
By A Noise Within
September 24, 2019
Embark on a fantastical journey as Director Gregg T. Daniel shares about his passion for August Wilson’s play Gem of the Ocean, as well as his own path to discover himself as a renowned artist and director.
What attracted you to Gem of the Ocean?
August Wilson is one of the great playwrights of the 20th century. His ambitious goal to write a play chronicling the lives of African Americans decade by decade is remarkable. I’d be drawn to direct any work of this playwright. The delicious thing about Gem is I get to start with the very first play of the ten-play cycle.
Everything starts and in some ways ends with Gem. Within Gem, Wilson plants the seeds of what is to unfold for the next 90 years. Additionally, the use of myth, mysticism & folklore built into the DNA of the play makes it one of my favorites. There is a skillful use of the tradition of African storytelling in Gem. Selfishly, I’m hoping the next nine plays might be somewhere in my directing future.
What is the Director’s job? How did you begin your process for directing this show?
My job is to ask the right questions, the kind of questions which activate & stimulate the skill, craft, and imagination of our actors and design team. Any play which has a 285-year-old woman as a central character asks you to bring a bold imagination and fearless vision to it. One of the ways I prepare is, if the play has previously been mounted, I collect all the reviews, books & commentaries I can locate. Sometimes there’s a phrase used to access the work which triggers an idea and helps to shape my vision of the play.
Additionally, I enjoy delving into period plays as they shed light on a specific timeframe in history. Doing the necessary research to understand the world of the play is illuminating.
Oft times, I begin by asking myself what is the playwright wanting to say with this work and secondly, what do I want to say by directing it? The first week of rehearsals is actually one of my favorite times. We do what I call a, “stop and go” which means anyone at the table can stop at any time during our reading and ask a question about any aspect of the play. The question may be related to their character or not. I always find these discussions stimulating as I have all these talented & creative minds around me pondering some aspect of the play. The practice always ends up feeding the ensemble creatively.
How did you first become interested in directing?
Initially, I trained as an actor in a highly regarded conservatory program. Upon graduation, I left my native New York to do at least twelve years of regional theatre around the country. It was the best transition/exposure I could have had from the University system into the professional world.
Somewhere in those years, I began asking questions during rehearsals which were way beyond the scope of acting. It became clear to those generous and patient Directors I was working with (and I thank them) that I was being drawn toward the craft of Directing. Eventually, I began to assist professional Directors as well as direct smaller projects on my own (when time allowed, as I was still a professional actor). Having a hand in shaping the overall interpretation of a play became intoxicating to me.
What piece of the show are you most excited to see come to life?
The “City of Bones” journey (which Aunt Ester guides Citizen Barlow through in Act II) anchors the play. The Journey is a highly theatricalized segment which I’m hoping will transport our audience. It is a spiritual, physical and psychological journey which should visually and viscerally stun our audience. It will take the stagecraft of all our departments, lights, sets, costumes, props and sound to make it work. And of course, this mythical journey will challenge our actors to occupy a space somewhere between reality and fantasy. Every character involved in the, “City Of Bones” is changed when it ends, I’d like our audience to experience that change as well.
Are you ready to take this journey with us? Get tickets to Gem of the Ocean today!