A Few Words with Sarah Kitz – Director of Caryl Churchill’s Three Sleepless Nights – 2014 Playwright Project
Interview by Ryan Quinn
SK: I am!
RQ: And this show takes place around the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
SK: It’s early in her reign of terror.
RQ: Yeah! I was wondering if you could speak to the point of view the show takes on her. She was the first female British prime minister, but she didn’t leave a fantastic legacy.
SK: Well, it’s interesting because Churchill stridently doesn’t talk about her shows. Other people talk about them, but she doesn’t do interviews. So, you’re forced to just go to the text. She is such an overt feminist, and Margaret Thatcher obviously was no feminist, even though she was holding the highest office in the land, it was all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Women did not do better under her government, and minorities didn’t do better, and underprivileged people didn’t do better. It’s a political play because of the context, but we don’t hear people discussing much politics. What we get instead is people in tenuous circumstances that are getting increasingly dangerous and just the traps closing around them. We understand because of the framing of the show that that’s largely, but not totally, Thatcher’s doing.
RQ: A society or a community in flux, and how it affects the people in it.
SK: Yeah, and not so dissimilar from now, with the economic divide widening dramatically. The people on the bottom end of that are going from a hand-to-mouth situation that’s bearable into a really precarious place.
RQ: Well that’s something I wanted to ask you about, how the world of this show parallels our own, but you just touched on it, how social classes are becoming further apart.
SK: When I chose this show, I realized that with some of her work, you can get away with not doing a British accent very easily, but I don’t think this is one of them. It’s very “London working class”, so we decided to keep that, but the resonances in people with economic hardship is so unfortunately similar to what’s happening right now that I think that will reverberate very strongly.
RQ: How do you approach something like this that’s so similar to our world now, but also so firmly planted in a certain era?
SK: I think, fortunately, with someone like Churchill, she’s so clever in her writing that you can just serve the text and know that it will resonate. The actors are really, really good, and the scenes are stand-alone but interrelated so we get a few different viewpoints going on and that’s helpful as well. It’s not just one bedroom with two people for the entire show. One of the couples has a bit more money and resources than another, so you do see some change. I don’t think it’s ultimately a very optimistic play, but I think that making art is overtly an optimistic venture, so they balance out.
RQ: What is it about Caryl Churchill that you think makes her great for a festival like this?
SK: She’s so political, and the politics in our country are so in-your-face right now that we need to have more politics in our theatre. And her political discourses are very palatable in how theatrical they are. So you can come see a political show and it will be entertaining, not didactic, though there is a lot of substance in there. Plus, since she doesn’t talk about it, as artists working on the show, you can kind of do whatever you want in the realm of working with the script you have. She hasn’t said, like Shaw, the table must go here beside the french door. You can imagine it fresh every time and that’s really exciting. I don’t know what the other directors are doing with their shows, but I imagine we’ll see four drastically different, ambitious theatrical adventures, that’s really exciting.
RQ: What do you think the place is of these small festivals in a city with a few large festivals every year?
SK: I think it’s fabulous. With the Playwright Project in particular, we get to focus in on a particular writer, one who has a broad body of work to choose from. It’s incredible immersion. Plus I think the selection body is very interesting, why we choose these shows. Part of it is practicality, what we can do on a small budget in a small space. A lot of her shows are gigantic, and nobody in this festival is doing a show with a cast of fifty. Also, though, there’s not a lot of Caryl Churchill done in this city, and what is done is put on at a very high level like Alisa Palmer did Top Girls for Soulpepper, and then she did Cloud Nine for Mirvish. If you want to talk politics, that’s a different price bracket, those tickets. So there are a lot of people in this city that don’t have access to those shows just by virtue of how much they cost. And they have to cost that much because it costs so much to put them on.
RQ: So she’s a playwright that’s speaking directly to the hardship of the lower half of society, and yet most people in that lower half can’t afford to see it.
SK: I mean she doesn’t always put her words in the mouth of the lower class, but she does have a focus on the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the politically under-served. She is very populist in that way.
RQ: What do you hope people discuss, or think about, or argue about on the way home?
SK: I hope people argue about what the traps are, because I think there is more than one in my show. And also how familiar the refrains are that we get ourselves into in relationships. How much fine negotiation it takes to get out. Fine negotiation or revolution, explosions of the status quo.
RQ: In some senses, is the explosion ever justified, or is it ever essential?
SK: Exactly. If they’re justified, how they’re justified, and the disparity between the lip service and the execution. And if the execution ever happens, or if we stay trapped and talk about it and do nothing. If silent revolution is possible, or if that’s a lot of tongue wagging and a lot of sitting around.
London, 1980. Thatcher is newly in office. It’s the end of an era; it’s a new age. Late night communication breakdown. In the close quarters of the bedroom, enter people on the brink.
Directed by: Sara Kitz
Starring: Diana Bentley, Chala Hunter, Jeff Margolis, Ryan Rogerson,
Where: The Downstage (798 Danforth Avenue)
Tickets: Available HERE
Single Tickets: Weeknight Single Ticket: $10.00, Weekend Single Ticket: $15.00
Project Passes: Weeknight 2-Show Pass: $15.00 (see both shows playing on a weeknight), Weekend 4 Show-Pass: $45.00 (see all four shows playing on a Saturday or Sunday)About Sarah Kitz: A Toronto writer, director and actor, Sarah recently directed the hit show Savage in Limbo for Bob Kills Theatre, which extended its run at The Downstage. She has assistant directed Long Days Journey Into Night at Soulpepper (dir. Diana Leblanc); associate directed This Wide Night at Summerworks (dir. Kelli Fox), and has directed for Fringe, Summerworks, Here Is My Hand, Leah Posluns Theatre, One Night Stand, My Livingroom’s New Art Night, and Birmingham Readings at The Stratford Festival. As an actor Sarah has been a member of the Stratford Festival Company and a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, where she played Eliza in Pygmalion (dir. Chris Newton) and Fool in Lear (dir. Martha Henry). Sarah has played Olivia in Twelfth Night (Dream North); Hali in The Sicilian (Fringe); Portia in The Merchant of Venice (St Lawrence Shakespeare Company); One Woman Freak Show (Buddies/Cheap Queers). Upcoming Sarah is directing a new play by Nicolas Billon. This fall Sarah will play Edna St Vincent Millay in With Individual Desire, currently in development with Lady Parts Theatre and Nightwood Theatre, to be presented at Groundswell.