The production that changed my life was NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. I was 23 and I wept when it was over because I felt sure that I had seen the best show I would ever see. In the decades since I have seen thousands of shows, certainly some as great, but nothing has rivaled that experience. NN was a revelation. It articulated dramatically what was truly theatrical—the imagination of the actors, director and adaptors, and brought to life Peter Brook’s THE EMPTY STAGE. The brilliant acting challenged American naturalism with transformation, alienation and powerful emotion. The book, THE MAKING OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, details the process used to adapt the novel; the actors were directly involved. I think it made me fall in love with adaptation, dramaturgy, what we now call “devised theatre,” and a less hierarchical production process in which the director’s vision is not solely privileged, but the actors and all members of the team contribute substantially. Rehearsal is exceptionally improvisational and responsive, and the level of engagement is total. Of course this takes a lot of time, the lack of which, here, is the single most damning aspect of our art.
My best escapes? Work – exercising my brain and imagination to create. That’s the best escape from feeling the inevitability of mortality. My best escape from the daily grind is reading. I have always loved books, in theory and in my bookcases; Kindle me not. Reading is almost as necessary to me as air. If I had to pick a favorite novel, I’d be lost. Perhaps I fell in love with NICHOLAS NICKLEBY and adaptation because they bring together my husband and my mistress, theatre and literature.
And dogs. So clear about their needs and their state of mind, so lavishly appreciative. I watch my dog prance down the street, happy from the simple pleasure of being out in the world. Dogs remind me to have joy in simple things; to wag my tail.
What I dream of is seeing our goal of 50/50 in 2020 realized, and knowing I was part of the movement that made it happen.
Susan Jonas has held leadership positions at several theatres, and worked as a: producer; administrator; director; dramaturg and adaptor; in fundraising and grant-making; teaching in higher education; editing books and writing about theatre; curating many panels symposia. Susan’s scholarly passion is the restoration of women to the history and canon of theatre.