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The Artist’s Journey – Without Walls (WoW) Festival Series: Kristin Idaszak of A WILLOW GROWS ASLANT: AN OPHELIA STORY - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

The Artist’s Journey – Without Walls (WoW) Festival Series: Kristin Idaszak of A WILLOW GROWS ASLANT: AN OPHELIA STORY

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Welcome to the second installment of The Artist’s Journey – WoW Festival Series! As mentioned last week, we’ll be giving you a closer look at the creative process and the behind-the-scenes of some of the Without Walls (WoW) Festival productions, narrated by the artists who are bringing these site-specific performances to glorious life from October 3-6, 2013.

Today, we’re sharing a piece by Kristin Idaszak, the playwright of A Willow Grows Aslant: An Ophelia Story, which takes the audience on a journey into the fractured psyche of a young woman torn between her father’s political ambitions, her boyfriend’s revenge fantasies and her own private dream of becoming a dancer. Creating an immersive, ambulatory experience that is different for each audience member, the labyrinthine corridors of Galbraith Hall’s basement will bloom with flowers and broken mirrors as Ophelia’s dreams for her future become nightmares. Reimagining Hamlet as seen through the eyes of its laconic heroine, A Willow Grows Aslant transports Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy to the theatre of modern-day politics.

For A Willow Grows Aslant tickets and info, click here.

of A Willow Grows Aslant at Without Walls (WoW) Festival

I’m writing this blog post from my porch, which is currently overflowing with 20 flats of plants. They comprise a small fraction of the flora that will create the environment of A Willow Grows Aslant: An Ophelia Story. When director Kate Jopson and designer Natalie Khuen approached me about adapting Hamlet with them back in February, my knee-jerk response was, well okay, but what do we have to add to the lineage of this melancholy Danish prince and his dysfunctional extended family? Then they took me into Natalie’s design studio and showed me a model of her set design. It depicted a miniature white walled-labyrinth carpeted with lush grass and purple flowers. (Natalie partly drew her inspiration from a public art installation in which an artist filled an abandoned psychiatric institution with 28,000 potted plants.) The final detail was a series of mirrors that popped up in unexpected corners of the labyrinth. Kate recognized the design as a perfect platform for the story not of Hamlet, but of the elusive, misunderstood Ophelia, a character whose story she has longtime interest in excavating. It’s incredibly unusual for a piece of theatre to originate with a scenic design, but as a playwright I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write a piece in response to Natalie’s surrealistic, transformative vision of an all-too-familiar space for the three of us—the basement of Galbraith Hall, which houses UC San Diego’s MFA Theatre and Dance Department.

My own work as a writer usually features strong, career-driven female protagonists, and trying to unlock Ophelia has proven an exciting challenge. She speaks only 58 times in Hamlet, and her dialogue accounts for less that 5% of the play’s nearly four thousand lines. Yet she is one of the most iconic female characters in Western literature, along with Helen of Troy or Joan of Arc. Like them, she is iconic because she actually recedes the more you try to pin her down. So Kate, Natalie and I embarked on a journey to capture her Shakespearean essence but transpose her descent into madness into a twenty-first century context. We focused in on the phenomenon of cyber-bullying and “slut shaming,” which has driven an increasing number of girls and young women to suicide. Ophelia is not a strong woman. She’s a dreamer, a lover, a teenager struggling with mental illness, and a girl coming of age in an unforgiving world. We have attempted to give her a voice. We want to crack open her experience so our audience members can slip inside her skin and see the world through her eyes. They will find themselves immersed in a verdant world of grass carpeting and living walls. They will also have the opportunity to look into the distorted mirrors that reflect Ophelia’s hopes and fears for her future. We hope you’ll come on in and explore with us.

Kristin Idaszak is currently pursuing her MFA in Playwriting at UC San Diego. As a playwright, her work has been developed or produced in New York, Chicago, Providence, D.C., and Southern California. She formerly served as Associate Artistic Director of Collaboraction and Associate Artistic Director/Literary Manager of Caffeine Theatre in Chicago.

During a rehearsal for A Willow Grows Aslant in Galbraith Hall. Photo courtesy of Kristin Idaszak.