The Champaign-Urbana Theater Company (CUTC) will be putting on a production of The Importance of Being Earnest this week. The director, Jessica DeBolt, has experience in the theater world as director, actor, and in stage management. With a wide range of experience in each of these settings, DeBolt's allowance for versatility in her work brings opportunity for some really interesting stuff.
A taste of the breadth of her experience is seen in bom circo! a circus ensemble where she was the director; a haunted house where DeBolt was stage manager called Nightmare on R Street from the annual Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film; and comically, as an actor in Lab B&B a short satirical spin on the well known Air B&B, taking place in an active lab much to the lab tech’s clear dissatisfaction.
Smile Politely had the pleasure of talking with Jessica to get her take on the upcoming production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
SP: According to your CV, you’ve been directing since 2011. What has directing taught you over the past six years? What influences this experience? i.e.: is this contingent on the cast, staging, theater company, or other external/internal factors?
Directing has afforded me the opportunity to work with a myriad of unique individuals. Some of the most important things I’ve learned about are communication and empathy. I get this both from the people I have worked with and the shows we work on together. Everyone has their own individual way of speaking and viewing the world, and one of my favorite things about directing is the opportunity to learn how to see the things through their lens in order to communicate better with them. I’ve continued growing in this way because of the casts and types of shows I’ve been a part of.
SP: In the six years you been directing you’ve had a wide array of directing types: musicals, movement pieces, circus ensembles and traditional plays, to mention a few. Do you feel like with each production you have a style which transcends, regardless of the genre of the play? Or is your style more malleable to the needs of the production? What does your process look like?
DeBolt: I make a point of experimenting with something new every time I direct a show, and the range of styles I’ve worked on certainly helps me do that. The first thing I do is ask myself what the project needs of me and try to provide that. A circus Ensemble is going to need different guidance than a musical or a movement piece would. One thing that stays constant no matter what I do though is the way I approach the source material. I’m always looking for the truth that the playwright is trying to convey. Especially for scripted pieces like The Importance of Being Earnest. In any production I am working on, my choices always lead back to the script, and the question that the playwright is trying to answer in their piece. From there it becomes easy to conjure up a fitting concept and collaborate with the other artists in the production to create the show.
SP: Do you intend for this to be a strict retelling of Wilde, or is this an opportunity to take creative license? What influenced your choice to approach it in the way you did?
DeBolt: There are a few moments that we are taking some liberties with, for example we are taking out one of the act breaks so we only have one intermission. For the most part however, we are sticking to conveying Wilde’s words. Earnest is incredibly well written and our focus has been to bring out the humor and truth that inherently exists in the piece.
SP: Earnest, while being Wilde’s most famous play, is also considered to lack a conscious or adherence to cultural mores, especially for the time. How does this impact your interpretation?
DeBolt: One of the reasons I think that Earnest has lasted so long is because of the criticisms that Wilde injects into the piece. These characters definitely follow the strict rules and social mores of the time period, but as is stated throughout the script, they only do so on the surface. This was fairly accurate of the Victorian upper class. As long as you played the correct role, and followed the rules, you could get away with a great deal of mischief. Wilde pretty much hits the nail on the head with his interpretation of these characters, and finds the humor in it. What is fascinating to me, is how accurate it is to how we act today. Our presentation is often more important that what we are saying or whether or not it’s true. So as we explored the script we honed in on those things, and the humor that is derived from those hypocrisies.
The Importance of Being Earnest
, a CUTC Production, will be staged at the Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland College this weekend. Showtimes are Friday the 17th at 7 p.m., Saturday the 18th at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday the 19th at 2 p.m. All tickets are $12.50 and can be purchased at the door or online at CUTC.org
or just a fifty-cent upcharge
Editor's note: an earlier edition of this article incorrectly cited an upcharge for purchasing tickets online due to conflicting pricing information received from our sources. CUTC clarified that the price of tickets is always $12.50 regardless of where they are purchased. -- rk