Activist company

INTERVIEW: Shaw-focused company turns to “Candida”

Pictured: Candida stars Avanthika Srinivasan and RJ Foster. Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg / Provided by Matt Ross PR with permission.

The Gingold Theatrical Group, led by founding artistic director David Staller, completes its limited engagement of George Bernard Shaw’s candidiasis at Theater Row in New York. The final performance is scheduled for Saturday, November 19.

As a theater company, Gingold has a specific mission to focus on human rights, freedom of expression and individual freedom – while using Shaw’s work as a guide. candidiasis, which is also directed by Staller, is one of the playwright’s most famous works, but this time the company has changed things up a bit. For example, the original version is set in late 19th century London, while this revival is transported to Harlem, circa 1929. The main characters are still present and featured, including Reverend James Morell and his wife, Candida . Their lives are turned upside down when they welcome Marchbanks, a young poet, into their home, according to press notes.

Recently Hollywood soap box exchanged emails with Staller about the production and what audiences can expect from the new story time and location. The questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What inspired you to mount a new production of candidiasis in 2022? How does the play speak today?

It’s annoying how relevant Shaw’s work remains today. We live in a time that desperately needs perspective, clarity and humor. Shaw’s candidiasis was written to give us the opportunity to find it all on our own with the added bonus of being a comedy. Candida: The name comes from the root of the word light, illumination, candor, candle and candid. The play presents us with a group of six people emerging from a time in their lives where they had kind of locked themselves away, and it’s only the configuration of this group coming together on a fateful day that helps everyone find their own way. to forge a more personally informed path to their future.

It seemed particularly timely as we all come out of the dark years. As with all of Shaw’s work, he writes about us: Human nature hasn’t changed since he started writing plays in 1893. We’re just more imaginatively accessorized. He decided early in his life to devote himself to the defense of human rights and freedom of expression. He sought to help empower disenfranchised people, realizing that on some level it speaks to all of us. [Shaw] believed that no one ever has the right to dictate who or what we are or choose to be.

candidiasis was written in response to Victorian conventions of the 1890s, particularly in reaction to Ibsen’s revolutionary speech A doll’s house, in which Nora leaves her home, husband, and children out of frustration and dissatisfaction with her life. Although Shaw was greatly inspired by Ibsen’s modern and contemporary method of storytelling, he was furious that Nora would leave with no hope of creating a new productive life for herself in this socio-political environment: she had no practical skills. nor formation in which to forge an independent life. So, he created a play in which his leading lady, Candida, comes to terms with the fact that her life is going nowhere but instead of leaving remains to negotiate her terms. She also comes to the realization that she does not, in fact, need a man to define her life for herself and that she must take responsibility for herself as a free-thinking woman. and vital.

In a world where individual rights are challenged daily, that hasn’t changed since Shaw wrote the play. Shaw believed in the individual rights of all living beings: women, men, the LGBTQ community (before it had a name), children, and even animals. It was this social activism effort that ultimately inspired him to write 65 plays, all comedies, to help us ask ourselves the questions we need to answer regardless of our family, our government, our religion or our peers. As a lively, bright comedy that runs for an hour and 40 minutes (no, I didn’t cut it!), Shaw accomplishes all of that and more. So, inspired by my late friend, Stephen Sondheim, we have decided to let this particular coin be our contribution to our community this year.

How did the new period and the new setting influence your choices as a director?

Choosing the time change for this piece now seems incredibly obvious, but for the past few years it was a challenge I struggled with. There’s certainly nothing that doesn’t resonate with keeping the story set in London in the 1890s, but it was my longtime friend and Shaw fanatic, Stephen Sondheim, who I played with time and location changes. We considered several options together before realizing the perfect solution was clear: NYC in the 1920s.

There was no separation of church and state in England when the play was written, and the Church of England was all-powerful. Stephen Sondheim and I were first introduced when I was 15 by my godmother Hermione Gingold (for whom we named Gingold Theatrical Group). Our common bond was a fascination with George Bernard Shaw, especially his activism and humanitarianism. Sondheim claimed there was nothing he wrote that was not inspired by Shaw. We were treated to lively debates on the many unanswered questions raised by candidiasis, especially. It was the only Shaw piece he considered setting to music.

However [we] certainly had no intention of turning the play into a musical, but simply reset the play in a way Sondheim had been suggesting for years: in New York at a time when the church (desperate to bring people back for Sunday services) began sending their rock-star ministers to underserved communities in the late 1920s, matching the time Shaw wrote the play in 1890s London. At both times and places in history, people enjoyed a newfound freedom of finances, liberties, and frolicking. Saturday nights in restaurants and nightclubs kept people out of Sunday morning services and collection plates. It’s incredibly infuriating that Sondheim is no longer there to challenge us as we dive into this glorious comedy, but I feel this production has become a tribute to him, his love of [Shaw]and our long friendship.

How did you work with this company?

This group of actors is the dream team! Although none of them had ever worked with me before, they all jumped in head first: all excited, confident and bright. Each actor brings such a delightfully unique perspective to their roles with insight, humor and skill that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing their characters. Each has such a dynamic force of individual purpose and understanding of their own place in the universe that I learned a lot from each of them.

Why focus on Shaw’s work to achieve the company’s mission? How does this writer inspire you so much?

Well, here’s our official mission: Gingold Theatrical Group, now in its 17th year, creates theatrical and theatre-related programs that promote the humanitarian ideals central to the work of activist playwright George Bernard Shaw, including universal human rights. , freedom of thought and speech, the equality of all living beings and the responsibility of individuals to promote societal progress. All of Gingold’s programming is inspired by the opportunity to present and create art that embraces the core elements of the joys of diversity, empowerment and the chance to bring hope and clarity through life. art to a community in need.

For us, it wasn’t just about Shaw’s plays, but more about why he wrote them and the militant importance of art in our world.

Shaw is well known, but would you say his work is underrated or gets the right attention?

It was my godmother, actress Hermione Gingold, who first realized how useful Shaw would be to me as I began to try to figure out what the world was like and try to define my place in it. .

Shaw is a writer who may have suffered from his longevity and his fertile need to create. Having managed to recreate what we now call modern English drama, it survived the general perception of being relevant. His pieces also tend to read more cerebrally rather than emotionally on the page. As soon as his work takes hold, it flies, but it so often suffers from being presented as a museum piece. He fully understood the need for all art to be seen as living, breathing entities that require a program and a point of view. Since it is documented that he often wrote to people planning to present his works that they should not change a point, it is forgotten that he only wrote this to people in whom he had no faith or trust . With performers he knew would fully appreciate his intent, he would offer them full license to perform the pieces. …

What are the economic challenges of theater production in New York in 2022?

Unending! We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity now in our 17th year. Unlike commercial theater ventures, all of our programming exists as a community service, rather than a way to make money. All nonprofits reach out to all the same foundations, government agencies, and private donors, so the competition is intense!

By John Soltes / Editor / [email protected]

Candida, written by George Bernard Shaw and directed by David Staller, continues through Saturday, November 19 at Theater Row in New York City. The production is presented by the Gingold Theatrical Group. Click here for more information and tickets.