Who's the Lead?

Resident blogger, Jonty Crane, talk to Caleb Wells about adapting Faustus, and the unique take on how he captures the raw feeling of Faustus being out of his depth.

When did you first come across Marlowe's Doctor Faustus? What made you want to adapt it?

I grew up reading a lot of Shakespeare and he’s the best, but recently I’ve been reading more of his contemporaries, Middleton, Jonson, Marlowe, etc. I love reading a play from that time I’ve never heard of before, it’s familiar in style but the content and themes are all brand new. Doctor Faustus is a wild ride, with devils and damnation and brilliant Marlovian speeches brimming with ambition and pride.

Last year I did work with the Auckland Shakespeare Company on ‘cue scripts’, which was standard Elizabethan rehearsal practice – the script given to actors only contained their lines and the few words that cued them to speak, not the whole play. Furthermore, rehearsals were minimal, and cast members would frequently change around.

You often see versions of Doctor Faustus with the central character reacting to a number of devilish stage magic tricks, which is definitely an angle on the play which works.

But I wanted to capture the raw feeling of Faustus being entirely out of his depth and having to work hard to stay afloat.

I thought that throwing an unrehearsed Faustus in the mix, in that Elizabethan style, would give the organic reactions I was looking for.

You've got a new guest performer every night, how much will they know about the show?

They have the script, but with parts blacked out (other character’s lines, some stage directions, inspired by cue scripting) so the only thing they are 100% on are their lines and what Faustus does. They have a rehearsal with me where we talk about character and motivations, the language, and the rough outline of each scene. They know the play, but not our version of the play. They won’t know how scenes are being played, or exactly how certain effects and moments will be realized on stage.

What has been the most difficult part of the production?

Adjusting the focus of rehearsals! I usually like to rehearse work from the perspective of the audience: what are our audience getting out of this, what will they see, how will they react. Now we’ve had to add in to that mix our audience AND the guest performer. How can we guide them through the scene in an unobtrusive way? Do we be helpful, or make them work hard? There’s a lot of questions and it’s hard to test them without an endless supply of guests. We have had a few people as guests for trial runs and it’s always exciting. We can predict some things they might do but the guests always do something none of us are expecting.

What reaction are you hoping the show gets?

I’m hoping our audience is fully invested in the trials and tribulations of Doctor Faustus and our guest actor – finding amusement and thrill as the character/performer line is blurred. I’m hoping people find a new appreciation and angle for Elizabethan playwrights and the incredible flexibility of their work. I’m hoping all the stress and hard work our guest actor does translates into a powerful, organic performance – maybe even the performance of a lifetime!

The Faustus Project opens this week at The Basement Theatre. Who will you see in the leead role?

Book tickets and find out more here.