Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Creating “Copenhagen”: An interview with Cara Tucker ‘12

Cara Tucker is an English major who loves her books. “Copenhagen” is a play about World War II, physicists, and the atomic bomb. Even Tucker admits that they are an unlikely pair. But starting tomorrow, March 25, you can see how this up-and-coming director has taken on this Tony award-winning play. In the midst of tech week, Tucker sat down with Intersections to talk about how she read “Copenhagen” on the floor of a Barnes & Noble and how she knew this play couldn’t just be her “vision on a stick.”

Q: First of all, can you tell us a little bit about “Copenhagen”?

A: It was written fairly recently, around 2000, and it’s centered on historical events from 1941. It’s about Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, physicists who worked together until Heisenberg became a professor. Niels Bohr was half-Jewish, and Heisenberg basically snuck around the Gestapo to visit him in Copenhagen. No one knows how they lost their SS tail, but in Copenhagen, they had a conversation, which is the subject of much speculation. Bohr had to flee to America, while Heisenberg went back to Germany and essentially worked for the Nazis. It’s believed that he undermined nuclear programming.

I hate to say that the play takes place in a “post-death” space, because that’s such a cliché. But it is a rehashing of the event, of the conversation between Heisenberg and Bohr. It questions what this conversation meant and if something that small can have such a large impact.

Q: What is your theater background? Have you directed any shows before?

A: Oh holy moly. I was in my first play in the fourth grade. I played a singing ladybug. My high school had a very small theater program, where you basically did everything. When I got here, I knew that I really wanted to direct. I figured that I would work my way up, so I did production work, costumes, design, and stage-managing for PSC [Princeton Shakespeare Company] and Intime. I was in Freshman One-Act festival last year and in PSC’s “The Miser” this year. I thought it would take longer to get to the stage where I could actually direct a show, but they gave me the opportunity this year. So I took it and ran. I’ve directed shorter things before, but I’ve never done a full play.

Q: Why “Copenhagen” and why now?

A: It’s always difficult to answer the “why now” question with a historical play. And the biggest risk with this play would be to try to interpret it in terms of modern events. But we’re in such a climate now where we can’t see everything clearly. When we look to the past we tend to think in terms of black and white, and if there is one conflict that we see in black and white, it’s this. It’s Hitler; it’s the Nazis. They’re the bad guys. But this play forces you to see everything as a gray area. There isn’t ever a clear answer.

The story of “why ‘Copenhagen’” is fun. Initially I wanted to propose Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig,” but I knew it wasn’t suitable for Intime. So I went to Barnes & Noble and just sat in the store reading all their plays. When I picked up “Copenhagen,” I couldn’t put it down. But I also couldn’t find a chair. So I sat on the floor of Barnes & Noble and read the play from cover to cover. There was an instant moment of “I don’t understand this. I need to direct it.”

Q: Tell us a little bit the process of putting “Copenhagen” together.

A: With a play like this, I knew that it couldn’t just be my vision on a stick. A production team is always essential, but I knew that this had to be a huge collaboration. So it was sort of a powwow of ideas. None of the cast members is studying physics, but one of the set builders is a Physics major, the set designer is a Computer Science major, and our stage manager’s mother works is a physicist. We talked to her to imbed the cast members in the physicist role.

In terms of putting the set together, the set is all white and built to be a metaphysical, disorienting space. It actually resembles an atom. There is a fair amount of sound in the play that is historically grounded. We play sound clips from propaganda and from banned films. There is a play between this concept of being outside of time, but still stuck in a particular moment.

Q: How is working in theater at Princeton different from working in theater elsewhere?

A: I would say that the biggest difference is the audience. You can’t get away with a show about physics and history anywhere else. We don’t have to walk people through this. We’re smart. The community’s smart. The community understands and is willing to take risks. It’s very freeing.

That, and the fact that everyone here is awesome at something.

Q: What was the first production you saw at Princeton and what is your favorite production you’ve seen at Princeton?

A: That’s so hard. The first production I worked on was “Richard III” for PSC. The first production I think I saw was “tick, tick…BOOM!” [Princeton University Players]. And my favorite production from this year was “God’s Country,” because Dominique [Salerno ‘10] is just a fantastic director.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m stage managing Sophie Gandler’s [‘10] thesis production “On the Verge.” And I’m trying to figure out what to propose for next year. I might be abroad in London in the fall, which would be awesome. There, I could follow “Mrs. Dalloway” [Viginia Woolf novel about a day in the life of a woman post WWI-England]! But I’ll propose for the spring, regardless. I have a long list of plays that I want to direct before I die.

Q: What would be your dream play to direct?

A: It changes daily. Right now, it’s “Fefu and Her Friends” by Maria Irene Fornes. Yes, that’s the one that’s occupying my mind at the moment.

Q: Is there anything else that you want people to know about “Copenhagen”?

A: Come see it! Don’t worry about it being about physics or history or about it being weird or uncertain. It’s extremely engaging and extremely powerful. Everyone can grasp on to something in it. It’s a play for everyone.

“Copenhagen” runs Thursday-Saturday, March 25-27 and Thursday-Saturday, April 1-3 at Theatre Intime. All shows at 8 p.m., with an additional 2 p.m. show on April 3.

Interview conducted, condensed, and edited by Meghan Todt ’11.

Pictured: Jenn Onofrio GS, Josh Zeitlin '11, and Brad Wilson '13 in "Copenhagen"

Photo by Francesca Furchtgott '12

1 comment:

Shelina said...