Back In The Director’s Chair

Artistic Director Robert Falls reflects on a year without live theater and the exhilarating challenge of creating spontaneous stage magic for audiences at home.

By Neena Arndt

“Theater has been part of my life for so long,” says Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls, who is directing Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside, the first production on the Goodman stage in over a year. “This probably has been the longest period of time in my adult life—and my adult life has been spent mostly directing plays—where I wasn’t working on a play, in a rehearsal room or in a theatre. It’s a dream to be back in the director’s chair.” 

The Sound Inside is a part of the Goodman’s Live series, a trio of plays presented live from the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, with the audience watching from home. The play follows the story of Bella, a professor of creative writing at Yale, who develops an unusual relationship with her freshman student, Christopher. Bella and Christopher bond over a shared sense of social isolation and their love of writing and literature–but just as their friendship begins to flower, Bella must ask Christopher for an impossible favor. “Both of the characters face a complex ethical dilemma,” Falls notes. “The question is: how will they handle it? How should they handle it? Adam Rapp gives us a lot of questions and no easy answers.”

Throughout the gripping play, Rapp weaves in mentions of literary works with themes that dovetail with the play’s themes. In particular, mentions of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, in which the impoverished Raskolnikov kills a pawnbroker and her sister, intending to steal their money and use it to do good deeds, are prevalent. In both Crime and Punishment and The Sound Inside, however, it becomes clear that taking another person’s life into your hands—even if your intentions are honorable—leads to moral complications.

Falls is embracing new challenges: he is staging the production with camera blocking in mind and collaborating with a film crew who will use four cameras to broadcast each performance live. “I’ve worked a little bit in film and television and in those cases, you’re creating work that will be edited. Live transmission is an entirely different thing,” he muses. Falls notes that he’s working with an incredible group of collaborators who have plenty of experience creating live events, but are dipping their toes into the world of live theatrical events.

“I think it’s going to be more difficult,” he says, “but that’s what thrilling about it. The spontaneity of the theatre—the fact that you can’t rewind, you can’t redo, you can’t edit it together, you’ve just got to put it out there. In the way a production on our stages is spontaneous and alive, we’re going to be capturing that same thing with cameras. It is going to be a challenge—it’s going to be a new language that all of us, including the actors, the designers and the directors, will be learning as we do it.”

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