Thursday, May 6, 2010

Interview with Eric Parness of the Resonance Ensemble

Today, I'm thrilled to feature Eric Parness, Artistic Director of the Resonance Ensemble in New York City.  I had the pleasure of working with Eric on productions with The Oberon Theatre Ensemble.  I asked him as my first theatre interview, because he is directing a production of Ibsen's The Master Builder, a play that figures thematically in Cara Mia.

Eric is offering a pair of tickets to one lucky winner!  To enter you must leave a comment for him by Wednesday, May 12th by 6PM EST.  I will draw a winner at random.  The winner will be posted here and on my Facebook Page Immortyl Revolution.  I will also contact the winner by e-mail.

Eric, welcome to Immortyl Revolution.  Tell my readers a little about yourself, your background and your company.

EP: I’ve been living and directing theatre in New York since 1998. I was part of a group of actors and directors that started Resonance Ensemble in the year 2001. All of us had experience working with classic plays by history’s most revered dramatists; plays that have survived the test of time and proven to be universally relevant. We were curious about how playwrights could participate in this exploration of these great plays as well, and so we started encouraging writers to create work that is somehow inspired by the classics, to try to create new plays that are just as timeless and universal. Ultimately, the new plays would be produced side-by-side with the classics that inspired them. We’ve now done seven full-scale repertory seasons that have paired new plays and classics using this formula.

What drew Resonance to produce this play?

EP: A friend of mine introduced me to a new play called THE GLASS HOUSE, which is the real-life story of architect Mies van der Rohe, and the story behind his design and construction of the famous Farnsworth House outside Chicago. I quickly noticed the parallels between van der Rohe’s story and the character of Solness from THE MASTER BUILDER. Both are aging artists, masters in their field who are struggling to stay relevant and true to their art in a world that favors the young and the new. Both have towering egos, and both are ultimately humbled by personal experience. Both face a younger architect-in-training, who challenges their stature, as well as several women, who may pose an even greater threat. With all these similarities, I thought it would be fascinating to see these plays side by side. And as I became more and more familiar with THE MASTER BUILDER, I noticed how much I wanted to bring that story to life.

For my readers unfamiliar with this play, can you give a quick synopsis?

EP: THE MASTER BUILDER was written in 1892 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who is often considered to be the father of modern drama. It tells the story of Halvard Solness, The Master Builder, who has achieved great notoriety for his work. However, as he gets older, he becomes more and more haunted by guilt about the past. He feels that so many other people have suffered in order for him to succeed, including his first employer, who now is forced to work for him, as well as a neglected wife, that he begins to fear retribution from the younger generation. Then, when the younger generation literally knocks on his door, in the form of a young woman named Hilda Wangel, he is forced to recognize that what he fears most is also the one thing he wants more than anything.

Talk a little about your concept.

EP: To me, the most striking thing about THE MASTER BUILDER is how contemporary it feels. Ibsen was pretty much the first writer in history to try to portray naturalism on stage, and in THE MASTER BUILDER, he explores deep, psycho-sexual issues that we often attribute only to more modern thinkers. So, what we’ve tried to do in this production is to recreate what Ibsen intended: to make the dialogue and the characters seem like real, complex, layered people having real, complex, layered conversation. This is especially difficult in translation, as we need to find the English equivalent to the Norwegian dialogue, so we worked hard on making the words seem natural. Though the production is set when Ibsen wrote it in the late 19th century, I think the result of our work is that it will feel like it could be happening today.

One of the reoccurring themes this play is an allusion to supernatural elements. Ibsen talks a lot about “demons”. Hilde speaks of Solness “calling to her” and in a sense controlling her. Ibsen also evokes the plundering spirit of the Vikings in an almost Nietzschean sense. What are your thoughts on this, or are there any insights you may have gained from your research?

EP: I think Ibsen was really predicting what we’ve come to understand from Freudian terminology as the “id.” The “demons” of the play are the agents that carry out Solness’s deepest desires without consideration of the consequences. I think most people can relate to the idea that it sometimes feels like there is a monster inside us that controls us, urging us to be arrogant and selfish and self-serving. Solness believes that the Vikings were able to do this; go out and plunder new lands; without their conscience, or “superego” getting in the way.

Some of the other supernatural elements I’ve found to be symbolic or insights into the characters. Solness’s guilt about how the “demons” have helped him to succeed has twisted his mind into thinking that he has the “power” to control and manipulate the world around him. Hilda is also a deeply layered character, who to me, because of some sort of dissatisfaction or, possibly even a traumatic event in the past, desires to be “carried off” by a Viking-like character. When two characters like this came together, they will naturally be drawn to each other.

 Ibsen based the character of Hilde Wangel on a relationship he had with a much younger woman. How do you see the relationship between Solness and Hilde? Why did Ibsen choose to call Hilde, a “bird of prey”?

EP: I’ve heard that some “birds of prey” actually have the ability to put their victims in an almost trance-like state before they attack. Solness as a character, I think, recognizes the danger that a young, alluring woman like Hilda represents to him as an older, married, professional man, at least on some level. He has to realize that her influence can absolutely lead to his destruction. Yet at the same time he is completely enchanted by her and what she represents, to the point where he really is almost hypnotized by her. And whereas, at first, is seems that Solness is the one “calling out” to and controlling Hilda, it soon seems that things may very well be the other way around.

When do you open and how can my readers order tickets?

EP: THE MASTER BUILDER and THE GLASS HOUSE run on a repertory schedule from May 9 through June 5, 2010, at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. Tickets are $18.00 and are available at the box office or at Ticket Central ( or 212-279-4200).

Where can my readers learn more about Resonance?

EP: More information is on our website at or search for our “Resonance Ensemble” group page on Facebook.

Eric, thanks so much for joining me!  Readers, if you are in the New York area, please take time out to look up this exciting company.  If you have any questions for Eric, please feel free to comment.

As I mentioned before the interview, The Master Builder inspired me when writing Cara Mia.  I read this play in college and always wanted to play Hilde.  Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity, but I drew upon this idea of a charismatic young woman, representing "the younger generation" who "knocks on the door" of an older, powerful man.  In the case of Cara Mia, this is represented by Mia and her Elder, Brovik.  I also took Brovik's name from the play, but the character he corresponds with is Solness, the master builder of the play's title.  Brovik in his past life was a viking raider.  He does what he must to acheive his goals, without too much thought about others.  Mia becomes his pawn and he plays a very nasty trick on her.  Although Mia is Ethan's concubine, according to Immortyl custom, she is fair game sexually to the elder.  Mia and Brovik are attracted to one another, and she falls under the spell of his forceful personality.  However, Mia doesn't take kindly to this deception and nurses a grudge for many years.  In the end, Mia has her chance at revenge. For more information on Cara Mia and the Immortyl Revolution series go to my website.

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